Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Convicted of murder, Phillips has been incarcerated in Kentucky prisons since 1999. In 2014, Phillips and his cellmate got into a fight. Phillips later thought he had sprained his ankle. The pain and discoloration went away in a few weeks. Weeks later, Phillips noticed a growing lump on his calf. Dr. Tangilag measured the “mass” and ordered an ultrasound then scheduled a CT scan to rule out cancer. Phillips underwent the scan at a local hospital. Doctors concluded that a “plantaris rupture” was “related to an old injury/trauma” and assured Phillips that it was “not cancer or any bone lesion.” Phillips saw an outside orthopedic surgeon who agreed and concluded that Phillips did not need surgery. Dr. Tangilag met with Phillips a final time in August 2015. Phillips noted that he still experienced pain when walking. According to Phillips, the lump did not go away, and he continued to suffer pain.In 2016, Phillips sued, alleging that his doctors violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” by refusing to surgically remove the lump. Medical staff ordered another ultrasound, which found nothing remarkable. Phillips was given pain medication and referred to physical therapy. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Surgery is not the standard of care for a rupture, and a hematoma typically goes away on its own. Phillips lacks expert evidence suggesting that his doctors were grossly incompetent. View "Phillips v. Tangilag" on Justia Law

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Every Saturday morning since 2003, six-12 protesters have picketed Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel Synagogue, displaying signs on the grass by the sidewalk in front of the synagogue and across the street. The signs state: “Resist Jewish Power,” “Jewish Power Corrupts,” “Stop Funding Israel,” “End the Palestinian Holocaust.” The protests coincide with the arrival of the congregants to their worship service but the protesters have never prevented them from entering the building, have never trespassed on synagogue property, and have never disrupted their services. The signs, the congregants allege, inflict extreme emotional distress on congregants: one sometimes forgoes attending services or visits a different synagogue to avoid the signs; a Holocaust survivor, feels extreme distress when she sees the signs.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit that alleged that the protests (and the city’s failure to enforce a city sign ordinance against the protesters) violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb – 2000cc-5, civil rights statutes, and the congregants’ substantive due process and free exercise rights. While the plaintiffs have alleged a concrete and particularized harm to a legally protected interest, the First Amendment affords “robust protections” to nonviolent protests on matters of public concern. View "Gerber v. Herskovitz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging two sections of House Bill 2263: Section 216 criminalizes the performance of pre-viability abortions at cascading intervals of two to three weeks, beginning with the detection of a "fetal heartbeat" and continuing through a gestational age of 24 weeks; and Section 217 criminalizes the performance of an abortion if the physician "knows" the reason for the abortion is "because of" the race, sex, or a Down syndrome diagnosis of the fetus. Both sections contain an affirmative defense provision when the abortion was performed because, "in the physician's good faith, reasonable medical judgment," the abortion was necessary to avoid a medical emergency.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and concluded that the district court properly issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of Sections 216 and 217 of H.B. 2263 because the provisions are constitutionally unsound. The court stated that it is still clear that when burdens are substantial enough, a law restricting access to pre-viability abortions is unconstitutional. Because the court found that all provisions of Section 216 pose a substantial burden to a person seeking an abortion at the relevant time LMP, it is unnecessary for the court to fully address the State's interests. Even if the court were to consider the State's interests, there are questions about whether its declared reasons for the law are, in fact, genuine. The court stated that the Supreme Court has been clear that laws that have the purpose or effect of placing an obstacle in the path of a woman seeking abortion "cannot be considered a permissible means of serving its legitimate ends." The court explained that this legislative history indicates a likelihood that the justifications offered in court have been mere pretext and that the bill was passed with knowledge that it was unconstitutional. Therefore, it is likely that plaintiffs would succeed on the merits in demonstrating that Section 216 is unconstitutional because it is in direct violation of the principles established in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 117 (1973), and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 878 (1992).In regard to Section 217, the court concluded that the district court correctly determined that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their void-for-vagueness challenge. Declining to address whether Section 217 violates principles of substantive due process, the court concluded that the district court should resolve this issue in the first instance and, in doing so, should analyze the ban on abortions for Down syndrome separately from bans on abortions for reasons of race or sex.The court noted that it is unnecessary to decide whether the medical-emergency affirmative defense is constitutional because the injunction on other grounds moots the issue. The court further concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the other relevant factors weighed in favor of granting the preliminary injunction. Finally, the court stated that, although this circuit's recent—and alarming—decisions have broadened the extent to which the government may impede a person's constitutional right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term, the law remains clear that if a regulation is a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion, it is invalid. View "Memphis Center for Reproductive Health v. Slatery" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner on his claims that counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase and that he was denied a fair trial because of jury tampering. The court concluded that the Kentucky Supreme Court's ruling that petitioner suffered no prejudice from counsel's ineffective assistance at the penalty phase by neither investigating nor presenting mitigating evidence was not contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and was not so obviously wrong as to be beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement. The court also concluded that petitioner failed to provide credible testimony of jury tampering. Finally, the court concluded that petitioner defaulted on his juror bias claim. View "Hodge v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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The Training Academy hired Smith as a firefighter recruit. If Academy recruits do not pass their practical skills exams after three tries, they are dismissed. The vertical ventilation test requires climbing a ladder, then cutting a hole in the roof of a burning building, wearing full firefighting gear, within 10 minutes. Recruits study this skill in the classroom and then practice on a simulator. Smith and his squad took the test on the same house. Everyone passed on the first attempt, except for Smith and one other recruit, who passed on his second try. Smith failed all three attempts. The evaluating instructors noted that Smith hit the ladder with the running chainsaw, “would not follow directions," and “repeatedly cut towards his body.”Because Toledo was trying to attain a more racially diverse fire department, Smith was given two more opportunities to take the test. No other firefighter was ever given more than the initial three attempts. Contrary to Academy policy, Smith was allowed to complete the course with his squad and to participate in graduation. Before each additional attempt, the Academy provided Smith with individual instruction and practice. On his third attempt, Smith again failed three times. Smith was dismissed from the Academy and filed suit, alleging racial discrimination, 42 U.S.C. 1981 and 2000e-2(a)(1) (Title VII) and deprivation of a liberty interest, section 1983; conspiracy to violate civil rights, sections 1985(3) and 1986. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. View "Smith v. City of Toledo" on Justia Law

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While patrolling a known drug house, Sergeant Murch recognized a Buick that he had stopped twice before, each time culminating in a drug-related arrest. Murch ran the plates and discovered that the vehicle’s owner, Shehan, lacked a driver’s license. Murch saw the Buick speed away. Murch stopped the car for speeding and driving without a license. The driver identified himself as Garcia and admitted that he lacked a driver’s license. Because permitting someone without a license to drive a car violates Michigan law, the officers sought to discover whether Shehan was among the vehicle’s passengers. Two passengers gave names. The third refused to identify himself after repeated requests. A patdown of the unidentified man uncovered 11 empty plastic bags and $1033 in cash. Officers took him in for fingerprinting. Jail officials had the man remove his sweater. His arms bore tattoos: “Marc” and “Barrera.” After running the name through a database, officers confirmed that they had detained Barrera, a parole violator with outstanding arrest warrants. A strip search of Barrera revealed marijuana and cocaine. The Michigan trial court denied Barrera's suppression motion. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed his convictions.After leaving state prison, Barrera sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the officers s with respect to qualified immunity. The officers had probable cause to take Barrera to jail; his refusal to identify himself under these circumstances violated Michigan law. View "Barrera v. City of Mount Pleasant" on Justia Law

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Each of the petitioners obtained habeas relief in the Eastern District of Michigan because they were sentenced under Michigan’s formerly mandatory sentencing guidelines that included enhancements for judicially found facts. The state now agrees that Michigan’s mandatory guidelines violated the Sixth Amendment and concedes that petitioners are entitled to some form of relief but argued that instead of remanding for resentencing, the district court should have remanded the cases for a more limited remedy, a Crosby hearing, where the trial court determines whether it would have issued a materially different sentence had the Michigan guidelines been advisory rather than mandatory at the time of the original sentencing.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district courts acted within their discretion to dispose of these habeas cases as law and justice require. The U.S. Supreme Court has not clearly established whether a defendant sentenced under an unconstitutional sentencing scheme is entitled to a full resentencing or only a Crosby hearing but has a history of ordering resentencing hearings to correct Sixth Amendment violations. The fact that a full resentencing may require more state resources than a Crosby hearing is insufficient to find that ordering a resentencing is an abuse of discretion. View "Morrell v. Warden" on Justia Law

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Jackson was convicted of six counts of aggravated murder (with capital specifications), three counts of aggravated robbery, four counts of kidnapping, and one count of felonious assault, and sentenced to death. His first federal habeas corpus petition was denied in 2012. In 2020, Jackson filed the current federal habeas corpus petition, asserting that: the prosecution withheld material and exculpatory evidence in violation of "Brady," the prosecution presented false and coerced testimony in violation of "Napue," and Ohio’s postconviction scheme violates the Supremacy Clause. Jackson argued that his claims were not previously ripe for review and therefore not subject to 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)’s requirements for permission to file a successive petition.The Sixth Circuit denied Jackson’s motion for remand to the district court but granted permission to file a successive petition. It is unclear precisely how Jackson obtained the witness statements that he claims were suppressed under Brady, which bears on the question of whether “the factual predicate for the claim could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence.” However, Jackson’s proposed petition also explains that “the exculpatory evidence was first disclosed by the State in Clemency-related Public Records Act litigation,” which presumably would not have been available until Jackson’s date of execution approached. Jackson has also shown that “but for the constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found [him] guilty.” View "In re Kareem Jackson" on Justia Law

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In 2012, DeCrane became the director of training at Cleveland's Fire Training Academy and applied to be the chief. The mayor chose McGinnis to be the next chief. DeCrane said he was surprised because McGinnis had fallen behind in his required continuing education hours. When confronted, McGinnis lied. Someone tipped off the media. McGinnis resigned. The ensuing media coverage reflected poorly on the city. DeCrane did not leak the tip about McGinnis’s deficient training, which was an open secret in the department. According to DeCrane, Eckart mistakenly believed that he was the leak’s source. DeCrane contends that Eckart (among others) subjected him to three years of retaliation. DeCrane was not disciplined or demoted but he received no promotions, allegedly faced unfounded misconduct charges, had his Training Academy work undermined, and suffered a retirement-related slight. DeCrane sued Eckart, Cleveland, and others under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the individuals retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the other individuals and the city but denied Eckart summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Eckart’s claim of qualified immunity. While the First Amendment does not protect speech made as part of an employee’s government job, DeCrane would have tipped off the media as a private citizen rather than a public employee. View "DeCrane v. Eckart" on Justia Law

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Cartwright is serving a 24-year sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1). When Cartwright was sentenced in 2005, seven of his past convictions qualified as violent felonies. In 2015, the Supreme Court’s “Johnson” decision invalidated ACCA’s residual clause. Johnson removed at least four of Cartwright’s offenses from the category of violent felonies. Cartwright brought a habeas petition challenging his ACCA status by arguing that his remaining convictions for burglary and aggravated assault do not support his ACCA sentence. The district court held that, even after Johnson, Cartwright still had at least three ACCA predicates because his Tennessee first- and second-degree burglaries qualified as violent felonies.The Sixth Circuit reversed. The government acknowledged that Cartwright’s claim is based on Johnson, a “new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable.” All three degrees of Tennessee burglary include entering lawfully and then opening a “receptacle” inside, with no unlawful entry or remaining required, which extends the offense beyond generic burglary, which requires unlawful entry into or remaining in. A “receptacle” in the Tennessee burglary statute need not be attached to the house. View "United States v. Cartwright" on Justia Law