Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Barry, a judicial administrative assistant, alleged that Franklin County Municipal Judge O’Grady created a hostile work environment with vulgar comments about women, either coming from O’Grady directly, encouraged by him, or tolerated by him. After overhearing the judge and bailiffs discussing the sex life of a female lawyer, Barry posted about the conversation on Facebook and told the female lawyer about it. When O’Grady learned that Barry had reported the conversation to the female lawyer, O’Grady retaliated. Barry brought O’Grady’s behavior to the attention of the court administration. She was moved out of O’Grady’s chambers, and accepted a transfer to a less-desirable position as her only real option. Her work life continued to devolve; she suffered from mental-health issues. Barry sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming retaliation in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. O’Grady argued qualified immunity. The district court disagreed, finding disputed issues of material fact and concluding that a reasonable jury could find in Barry’s favor. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal because O’Grady’s argument relied on disagreements with the district court’s weighing of facts and factual inferences, not questions of law. View "Barry v. O'Grady" on Justia Law

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Slusser pleaded guilty in 2011 as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), waiving his right to “file any motions or pleadings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255 or to collaterally attack [his] conviction[] and/or resulting sentence,” except challenges involving ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. The court determined that he had at least three prior convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses and sentenced him to 180 months under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), noting a 1994 burglary, 2011 delivery of cocaine, and 1999 aggravated assault and burglary. Slusser did not appeal. In 2012, Slusser filed an unsuccessful section 2255 motion, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct. The Seventh Circuit declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Slusser filed an application in 2016 for authorization to file a second or successive section 2255 motion, citing the Supreme Court's invalidation of ACCA's residual clause in Johnson v. United States (2015). The Seventh Circuit allowed the filing. The district court denied his motion and certified that an appeal would not be taken in good faith. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In his negotiated plea agreement, Slusser waived his right to argued that his 1999 Tennessee conviction for Class C aggravated assault no longer qualifies as a “violent felony.” View "Slusser v. United States" on Justia Law

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Rhinehart, then a prisoner, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that medical providers associated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) denied him necessary treatment for his end-stage liver disease (ESLD). When he died, his brothers filed an amended complaint on behalf of his estate. The district court granted two doctors summary judgment on their Eighth Amendment claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. To establish a prison official’s deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, an inmate must show that the alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation and that the official acted with a culpable enough state of mind, rising above gross negligence. The Rhineharts failed to establish those elements. View "Rhinehart v. Scutt" on Justia Law

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The Warden appealed the district court's conditional grant of petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254 and petitioner cross-appealed the denial of relief on several alternative claims. The Sixth Circuit held that the Michigan courts adjudicated petitioner's claims on the merits, so the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) elevated standard of review applied. The court affirmed the district court's grant of habeas relief based on petitioner's Fifth and Sixth Amendment claims where the state conceded that petitioner's statements to the police were obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights and the error was not harmless, and trial counsel's failure to challenge the admission of the statements constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The court also held that the prosecutor's comments on petitioner's post-Miranda silence violated due process; reversed the denial of petitioner's Doyle claim; and affirmed the district court's holding that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction. View "Hendrix v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action alleging that jail personnel and members of Healthcare's medical staff violated federal and state law tort claims after her son died of a perforated duodenal ulcer in a detention center. The court held that the district court did not err in concluding that the record would not support a jury finding that defendants were deliberately indifferent to the deceased's serious medical needs. In this case, the facts supported a case of misdiagnosis rather than one of deliberate indifference. View "Winkler v. Madison County" on Justia Law

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In Ohio, judges in all courts of record are selected by election. Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4, governs the fundraising and political conduct of judicial candidates. Platt, an Ohio attorney, formed the Platt for Judge Campaign Committee in 2013. Platt believes that parts of Canon 4 violate his rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection: Rule 4.1(A)(2), which prohibits a candidate from making speeches on behalf of a political party or another candidate for office; Rule 4.1(A)(3), which prohibits a candidate from publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for another public office; Rule 4.4(A), which, save for three exceptions, prohibits a judicial candidate from personally soliciting campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(E), which creates a permissible window for soliciting and receiving campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(F), which limits the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates defeated before the general election; and Rule 4.4(G), which regulates the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates who die or withdraw from the election. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rejection of all of Platt’s claims. Ohio’s rules strike the delicate balance between the Constitution’s commands and the state’s desire to protect judicial integrity. View "Platt v. Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline of the Ohio Supreme Court" on Justia Law

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In 1996, at Madison Correctional Institution, Stojetz and other inmates stormed a unit housing juvenile offenders. After overpowering the guard, they proceeded to the cell of 17-year-old Watkins and attacked him. Watkins initially escaped but was cornered and stabbed to death by Stojetz and another inmate. Trial evidence indicated that Stojetz and his accomplices (members of the Aryan Brotherhood) killed Watkins, who was black, due in part to his race. Stojetz was charged with aggravated murder with prior calculation with a death-penalty specification--committing aggravated murder while a prisoner in a detention facility. The court accepted the jury's death-sentence recommendation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas corpus relief, rejecting Stojetz’s claims that trial counsel were ineffective for failing to: question prospective jurors about their views on race; life qualify the jury; accurately describe the nature of mitigating evidence during voir dire; investigate and present evidence; request voir dire of jurors concerning publicity during the trial; object to allegedly improper jury instructions and to incidents of prosecutorial misconduct; and object to opinion evidence regarding, Stojetz’s intent. The court also rejected claims of prosecutorial misconduct by failing to disclose Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction medical records to show that Stojetz’s throat was cut by another inmate; that the district court abused its discretion in denying a request for access to the grand-jury transcripts; that Stojetz was actually innocent of aggravated murder; and that his death sentence was arbitrary. View "Stojetz v. Ishee" on Justia Law

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In 2008, a jury convicted Cradler of violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), which prohibits convicted felons from possessing a firearm. This offense typically carries a maximum imprisonment penalty of 10 years. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), a defendant who violates section 922(g)(1) after being convicted of at least three violent felonies or serious drug offenses becomes subject to a mandatory minimum imprisonment penalty of 15 years, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1). The court sentenced Cradler under the ACCA, to a term of 222 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in 2011. In 2014, Cradler moved, under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his sentence in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Descamps decision. He argued that his convictions for sexual battery and third-degree burglary no longer qualified as violent felonies. The government conceded that it lacked the requisite information to support the argument that Cradler’s sexual battery conviction qualifies as a violent felony. The Sixth Circuit granted relief, first declining to address whether Cradler’s motion was timely or procedurally defaulted. FInding the Tennessee third-degree burglary statute divisible, the court applied a modified categorical approach, examined documents pertaining to Cradler’s conviction, and concluded the statute criminalizes more conduct than generic burglary and does not qualify as the enumerated offense of “burglary.” In so holding, the court abrogated a 2006 Sixth Circuit decision. View "Cradler v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, 11 minority firefighters who were laid off by Detroit in 2012 as part of a reduction in force (RIF) that followed the city’s bankruptcy, sued the city and their union, (DFFA), alleging a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court rejected their claims on summary judgment, finding that only one Plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies to pursue a claim against the city, but that even on the merits, Plaintiffs failed to present direct evidence or to establish a prima facie case under the circumstantial evidence approach, which includes a heightened burden in a RIF. The court concluded that Plaintiffs could not establish that the DFFA breached its duty of fair representation. The Sixth Circuit agreed that 10 Plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies, that there was no direct evidence of discriminatory motive, and that Plaintiffs’ statistical evidence was not probative and did not establish a circumstantial case. The court reversed as to DFFA, holding that a prima facie disability discrimination claim against a union does not require that a plaintiff demonstrate that the union breached its duty of fair representation. View "Peeples v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Sorrells, looking out of a window, saw men arguing. She knew Johnson, Levingston, and Grace from the neighborhood. Johnson knocked Grace to the ground. Sorrells saw the men standing over Grace, followed by flashes from their guns. Sorrells contacted the police 10 days later, saying she was “[o]ne hundred percent” sure Johnson and Levingston were the shooters. Sorrells asked for witness protection. At a rescheduled pre-trial hearing in front of Levingston, Sorrells expressed doubt, stating she was not wearing her glasses that night. At trial, Sorrells said that she changed her testimony based on what other people were saying and that she genuinely grew unsure. The court instructed the jury that it could consider Sorrells’ prior statements “as testified by her” only to impeach her credibility but that it could consider the prior statements and a recorded conversation through a detective’s testimony as substantive evidence under an exclusion to Ohio’s hearsay rule. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his federal habeas petition. Levingston did not establish that the state court unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent or relied on unreasonable fact findings, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). That Sorrells may have been a “witness” against Levingston when she spoke to police does not matter because Levingston had the opportunity to “confront” Sorrells at trial, for cross-examination. The nature of a police investigation does not permit cross-examination by the suspect’s attorney at the time of the initial statement. View "Levingston v. Warden, Warren Correctional Institution" on Justia Law