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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Kidis, driving home, after drinking heavily, caused a minor accident, exited his vehicle, and fled. Officer Reid attempted to arrest Kidis; he fled with a handcuff attached to his wrist. He jumped barbed-wire fences before entering a wooded area. Eventually, Kidis surrendered, lying face down, his hands stretched out above his head. Kidis asserts that Officer Moran thrust his knee into Kidis, punching and strangling Kidis, yelling that he was going to “teach [him] to . . . run.” Kidis pleaded guilty to resisting and obstructing a police officer, operating a motor vehicle with high blood-alcohol content, and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.Kidis filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against both officers. Rejecting Kidis’s deliberate indifference claim, the court found that Kidis could not prove that either officer was aware of Kidis’s medical needs. The court rejected an excessive force claim against Reid. A jury found that Moran used excessive force but that Kidis did not prove that this force caused his injuries. The jury awarded Kidis $1 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages. The court rejected the officers’ motions for attorneys’ fees but awarded Kidis $143,787.97 in fees. The Sixth Circuit reversed the punitive damages award but otherwise affirmed. Measured against the harm and compensatory damage findings, the punitive damages award runs afoul of due process principles. On remand, the court is to reduce the award to no more than $50,000. View "Kidis v. Reid" on Justia Law

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Trooper Malone stopped Snoddy for speeding and learned that there were Georgia warrants out for Snoddy’s arrest, including for drug crimes. Malone and another officer arrested Snoddy on the warrants. Malone suspected that Snoddy might have drugs in the car. Immediately after making the arrest, the officers sought consent to search the car. Snoddy refused. Malone stated, “I’m gonna have to get the car towed ... and we have to do an inventory on the car.” Malone repeatedly asked Snoddy for consent, warning Snoddy that if he did not consent, the car would be inventoried. Roughly eight minutes after the arrest, Malone called the tow truck but continued to seek consent. About five minutes after calling the truck, Malone began conducting an inventory. Malone discovered and seized approximately one pound of methamphetamine, two handguns, and a set of scales.Snoddy unsuccessfully moved to suppress the drugs and guns. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Snoddy conceded that the traffic stop was lawful, that his arrest was valid, that it was within Malone’s discretion to impound the car, and that an inventory was required once Malone decided to tow the car. Snoddy did not challenge the scope of the search. The district court did not err in rejecting his argument that the decision to impound and inventory the car was a pretext for a warrantless investigative search. View "United States v. Snoddy" on Justia Law

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Griffith was arrested after a failed robbery attempt and was held at Franklin County Regional Jail. Griffith suffered seizures six days into his detention. He was sent to a local hospital, where he suffered another seizure, and was then airlifted to the University of Kentucky Hospital. He recovered but continues to suffer headaches and other negative symptoms. Griffith sued county defendants and SHP, a private medical company that provides medical services at the jail, and SHP medical staff under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that he received unconstitutionally inadequate medical care. Griffith argued that the defendants were deliberately indifferent because they failed to adequately monitor him for drug withdrawal, allowing his vomiting to progress to the point of dehydration, which led to his kidney failure, which caused his seizures.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that Griffith failed to establish that they acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. There is no evidence that the nurse knew or should have known that Griffith’s vomiting evinced a substantial risk to his health or that he was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. Griffith made no effort to obtain further care other than two sick call slips he filled out in detox; there is no evidence that the nurse would have expected that he had not responded to the treatment provided. Even a failure to follow internal processes does not, alone, indicate deliberate indifference. View "Griffith v. Franklin County" on Justia Law

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Simmons pleaded guilty to drug charges. Simmons’s judgment became final on September 22, 2016, He had until September 22, 2017, to file a motion to vacate. On August 13, 2018, Simmons moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 and cited Section 2255(f)(2), which provides “[t]he limitation period shall run from . . . the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action.” Simmons explained that, after his sentencing, he returned to state custody until December 2016 and served time at Wayne County Jail after that. Simmons claimed that those law libraries did not have federal law materials, which was an impediment to filing a 2255 Motion. He arrived at a federal facility on August 29, 2017. He claimed that the only way to obtain Section 2255 materials there was to request them but “you have to know what you need.”The district court dismissed, finding that Simmons had not sufficiently alleged what specific legal materials he was missing and how the lack of those materials prejudiced his ability to pursue his section 2255 rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Even if a lack of federal materials, combined with a lack of a legal assistance program, constituted an unconstitutional impediment, a prisoner is required to allege a causal connection between the purported constitutional impediment and how the impediment prevented him from filing on time. Simmons did not. View "Simmons v. United States" on Justia Law

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Gerics and Monahan were Flint, Michigan neighbors. Gerics was regarded as “unstable” and was notorious for occupying others’ property and digging holes. Monahan was the neighborhood association president. Gerics, over several months, used a megaphone to allege that Monahan “[i]s an HIV positive mother fucking pedophile.” Gerics filed multiple unsuccessful lawsuits against Monahan and put up signs alleging that Monahan had stolen from Gerics’s family and that Gerics would kill Monahan and his partner if they came near Gerics’s house. Sergeant Hall was sent to investigate. Given Hall’s knowledge of Monahan’s allegations and his observation that morning, Hall arrested Gerics. Another officer searched Gerics’s clothing and found a bag of marijuana.The state court found Hall had no probable cause to arrest Gerics and quashed the proceedings against him. Gerics sought damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Hall violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully arresting him and by unreasonably seizing his cell phone. A jury ruled in favor of the defendants. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Gerics alleged the district court, at summary judgment, erroneously found a material question of fact on whether Hall had probable cause to arrest Gerics. Although the probable-cause issue was not one for the jury, a party may not appeal an order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the merits. View "Gerics v. Trevino" on Justia Law

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In January 1996, Coleman killed Stevens to keep her from testifying against him at his trial on charges of drug trafficking. A jury convicted him for aggravated murder (with a capital-specification for his killing a witness and a firearm-specification) and of unlawful possession of a firearm. The Ohio trial court sentenced him to death and four-and-a-half years in prison.Coleman unsuccessfully sought relief on direct appeal, then unsuccessfully pursued state post0conviction relief. While Coleman’s first petition for post-conviction relief was pending, he returned to the trial court in 2002, with a motion for relief from judgment, a motion for a new trial, and a successive petition for postconviction relief, all raising claims of actual innocence and that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of “Brady.” The court dismissed the petition without a hearing, The Ohio appellate court affirmed.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his federal habeas petition. The decision of the Ohio court of appeals, that a purported confession by another inmate lacked credibility and was not “Brady” material, neither contravened nor unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court precedent. The state court evaluated the totality of the mitigation evidence and reweighed it against the evidence in aggravation to reasonably conclude that Coleman experienced no prejudice from his counsel’s conduct in failing to raise certain mitigation arguments. View "Coleman v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law

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In 1986, Mitchell, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury of raping two white women in Tennessee. It is undisputed that the prosecution’s decision to strike a black prospective juror violated the Supreme Court’s 1986 holding, Batson v. Kentucky. The district court granted relief on Batson grounds in 1995, but the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that Mitchell had to first establish “cause and prejudice” for failing to develop the claim before the state court. Multiple remands left Mitchell in a “procedural thicket.”In 2012, the Supreme Court decided "Martinez," holding that when a state limits the consideration of ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims to collateral review, a habeas petitioner may establish cause for procedural default if state post-conviction counsel was ineffective under Strickland and the underlying claim has “some merit.” The holding changed prior law--that post-conviction counsel’s “ignorance or inadvertence in a post-conviction proceeding,” including failure to raise ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims, does not qualify as cause to excuse procedural default.The Sixth Circuit then granted Mitchell a conditional writ of habeas corpus, concluding that “Martinez” enables Mitchell to show the necessary “cause,” and authorizes him to raise his underlying ineffective assistance of counsel claim and to seek redress through a Rule 60(b) motion. View "Mitchell v. Genovese" on Justia Law

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Ta’Naejah, born in 2011, was in the custody of her mother, who severely abused her, including through repeated burnings and beatings. Ta’Naejah was hospitalized and interviewed by Cuyahoga County caseworkers, but ultimately was returned to Crump’s custody. Throughout the next year, the county received further reports of abuse and interviewed Ta’Naejah several more times, but never acted to remove her from the household. The abuse eventually resulted in Ta’Naejah’s death. Her estate filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting claims based on Ta’Naejah’s due process rights and state-law causes of action. The district court dismissed, holding that the Constitution does not create a right to state protection from private harm.The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. While several of the federal claims are foreclosed by precedent, the plaintiffs also allege that the state affirmatively increased Ta’Naejah’s risk of harm by repeatedly interviewing her in the presence of her alleged abusers, in violation of state regulations. Those allegations plausibly allege a claim under the state-created danger doctrine. The court rejected the defendants’ motion to seal the plaintiffs’ brief, which allegedly contained confidential information obtained through discovery, which had been subject to a protective order. The defendants do not explain why the information in question should be kept from the public, other than because it is covered by the protective order. View "Lipman v. Budish" on Justia Law

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International, an outdoor advertising company, sought to erect digital billboards in two separate locations within the City of Troy. International's permit and variance applications were denied. International filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983), alleging that the ordinance granted unfettered discretion and contained unconstitutional content-based restrictions as it exempted from permit requirements certain categories of signs, such as flags and “temporary signs.” During the litigation, Troy amended the Ordinance.The Sixth Circuit remanded. The original Ordinance imposed a prior restraint because the right to display a sign that did not come within an exception as a flag or as a “temporary sign” depended on obtaining either a permit or a variance. The standards for granting a variance contained multiple vague, undefined criteria, such as “public interest,” “general purpose and intent,” “adversely affect[ing],” and “hardship.” Even meeting these criteria did not guarantee a variance; the Board retained discretion to deny it. The amendment, however, rendered the action for declaratory and injunctive relief moot. The severability of the variance provisions rendered moot its claim for damages. The court reinstated a claim that the ordinance imposed content-based restrictions without a compelling government interest for reconsideration under the correct standard. A regulation of commercial speech that is not content-neutral is still subject to strict scrutiny. View "International Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Troy" on Justia Law

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On January 18, 2019, the plaintiffs went with Covington Catholic High School classmates to Washington, D.C. to attend the March for Life. They later gathered near the Lincoln Memorial to await buses to return to Kentucky. Following interaction with other groups, Native American activist Phillips approached them, beating a drum and chanting. A video of this interaction was posted online and went viral. Some of the students were displaying the “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan; some were performing the “tomahawk” chop; one student is standing close to Phillips. The plaintiffs complained of online harassment in response to the video’s dissemination. Representative Debra Haaland, a Native American, on her official Congressional Twitter account, posted: “This Veteran [Phillips] put his life on the line for our country. The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration.” She later sent a tweet from her campaign Twitter account that linked to an interview with Phillips, in which he stated that the students were chanting “build that wall.” Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a tweet from her official Senate Twitter account, stating “Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran Nathan Phillips endured hateful taunts with dignity and strength."The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as barred by sovereign immunity, 28 U.S.C. 2679(b)(1). Members of Congress routinely broadcast their views on current events; the statements were made within the scope of their employment. The United States was properly substituted as the defendant and the court correctly dismissed Senator Warren and Representative Haaland from the suit. That the United States has not waived its immunity to libel suits is irrelevant. Plaintiffs may pursue their claims against the remaining defendants in state court. View "Does v. Haaland" on Justia Law