Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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A jury determined that four Muslim Michigan inmates collectively suffered $900 ($150 for each Ramadan the prison officials disrupted) in damages when prison officials did not provide them with adequate meals during Ramadan to accommodate their fasting. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting the inmates’ claim that the jury ignored the spiritual harms they suffered. The jury found that the inmates suffered spiritual injuries but, unlike economic injuries, spiritual injuries are hard to quantify. The jury heard the inmates’ testimony and saw their medical records, then weighed all the evidence and concluded that each inmate suffered $150 worth of harm for each Ramadan the prison officials disrupted. The district court did not downplay the inmates’ spiritual injuries nor did it require that the inmates submit medical records to substantiate those injuries; the court merely noted that objective evidence (like medical records) might have helped the jury reach a higher damages calculation. Without such concrete, objective evidence, the district court had no room to disagree with the value that the jury assigned to the inmates’ spiritual damages. View "Heard v. Finco" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of federal habeas relief to petitioner, who argued that he was entitled to a resentencing hearing, essentially because the guidelines were considered mandatory at the time of his hearing, even though not at the time that his sentence became final. The court held that declining to conduct such a new hearing in this case was not contrary to, nor did it involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. Furthermore, there was no constitutional error in the substance of the sentencing court's decision. View "Magnum Reign v. Gidley" on Justia Law

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Lopez was charged with possessing a firearm as an alien “illegally or unlawfully in the United States,” 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(A). The district court thought that section 922(g)(5)(A) as applied to Lopez was unconstitutionally vague in light of administrative guidance from the Department of Homeland Security, giving “prosecutorial discretion” as to certain (DACA) aliens who had entered this country without authorization as children. Lopez, along with his family, entered the U.S. without authorization when he was four years old and had obtained deferred action under DACA in 2017. Lopez was arrested for DUI and officers found a 9mm pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun in his vehicle. The Sixth Circuit reversed, rejecting his argument that once he was granted relief under DACA, Lopez was “lawfully present” in the United States. The Secretary’s grant of deferred action under DACA, therefore, did not, and could not, change Lopez’s status as an alien “illegally or unlawfully in the United States” for purposes of section 922(g)(5)(A). That relief represented only the Secretary’s decision temporarily not to prosecute him for that status. View "United States v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Ohio Revised Code 4123.88 addresses how workers' compensation claimant information is handled and protected by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and contains the solicitation ban at issue: “No person shall directly or indirectly solicit authority” (1) to “represent the claimant or employer in respect of” a worker’s compensation “claim or appeal,” or (2) “to take charge of” any such claim or appeal. The district court rejected Bevan's challenge on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that the state has prohibited all solicitation, whether oral or written, by any person to represent a party with respect to an Ohio workers’ compensation claim or appeal and that such a prophylactic ban violates the First Amendment under the Supreme Court’s 1988 "Shapero" decision. The court rejected an argument that the constitutionally questionable language is part of a larger statutory scheme that Bevan allegedly violated by obtaining claimant information from the Bureau in an unlawful manner. Whether Bevan violated other statutory provisions governing disclosure of claimant information is not relevant to whether the solicitation ban itself is constitutional. The solicitation ban makes no distinction as to how the person doing the soliciting learned of the claimant’s information: it bans all solicitation regardless of where or how that information was obtained. The prohibition is repugnant to the First Amendment's free speech clause. View "Bevan & Associates, LPA v. Yost" on Justia Law

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Berkshire has a long history of mental health issues. Berkshire was incarcerated, 2001-2014, for second-degree home invasion. He began to improve while he was in the Macomb Correctional Facility's Residential Treatment Program (RTP). Berkshire was a Housing Unit Representative on a “Warden’s Forum.” After Berkshire brought complaints, Dr. Dahl unilaterally raised Berkshire’s Global Assessment Functioning score so that Berkshire was ineligible for RTP. Berkshire claims the move was retaliation. Once discharged from RTP, Berkshire deteriorated. Berkshire’s care was overseen by Beauvais, the unit chief of the outpatient mental-health program; Sermo, a psychologist with that program; and Dr. Pozios, a private doctor working for the government. Berkshire had homicidal thoughts and engaged in self-injury. Eventually, Berkshire attempted suicide; Beauvais and Sermo transferred Berkshire to a Crisis Stabilization Program, stating that they “could not transfer [Berkshire] to Mars.” Berkshire claims that the three exhibited deliberate indifference to Berkshire’s serious medical needs. After Berkshire attempted suicide, he was restrained. When Berkshire requested a bathroom break. Sergeant Nelson told Berkshire to “hold it” and that he was going to “stay just like that until [his] mental illness goes away.” Sergeant Nelson never returned, leaving Berkshire to lie in his own urine and feces for several hours. In Berkshire’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to all the defendants. Berkshire produced sufficient evidence to show violations of clearly established constitutional rights. View "Berkshire v. Dahl" on Justia Law

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Officers, attempting to serve a civil levy on Watson, knocked on the door of Watson’s presumed residence until Watson came outside. Watson said that the house belonged to his girlfriend, who was inside, and that he did not live there. Watson actually rented the house with his girlfriend. Watson said that he did not have keys and could not get back inside. The officers asked Watson whether he had anything against which they could levy then told Watson that he was free to leave. After Watson left, the officers walked around the house's exterior to “look for items that could possibly be levied.” They smelled marijuana coming from the crawl-space vent; they claim that they saw partially smoked marijuana joints outside. The “joints” were never tested. The officers obtained a search warrant for the residence later that day based on that evidence, previous complaints about activity at the residence, Watson’s criminal record, and a confidential informant's tip. Inside, they located a large amount of marijuana and evidence indicative of its sale and use. Tennessee courts suppressed the evidence. In Watson's suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the court agreed that Watson’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, but held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Under clearly established law, Watson did not disclaim his privacy interest in the residence, and the property was not abandoned; the officers exceeded the scope of their implied license to enter and remain on the curtilage. View "Watson v. Pearson" on Justia Law

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Three women allege that Memphis failed to submit for testing the sexual assault kits (SAKs) prepared after their sexual assaults. They allege that Memphis possessed over 15,000 SAKS that it failed to submit for testing, resulting in spoliation, and sought to certify a class of women whose kits Memphis failed to test. The district court dismissed with prejudice all of Plaintiffs’ claims except those under the Equal Protection Clause. Two years of discovery apparently cost Memphis over $1 million. Discovery revealed that the SAKs of two plaintiffs were tested soon after their assaults. The third plaintiff’s SAK was submitted for testing 10 years after her 2003 assault. The district court granted Memphis summary judgment as to two plaintiffs and struck the class allegations, finding that no amount of additional discovery would allow Plaintiffs to sufficiently demonstrate commonality. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Plaintiffs were moderately diligent in pursuing discovery, although somewhat blameworthy in relying on the city’s representations that discovery would be forthcoming. Memphis unreasonably delayed producing discovery material and additional discovery might have changed the outcome. Expenditures of time and money alone do not justify terminating discovery where a plaintiff has been diligent and may still discover information that could establish a genuine issue of material fact. View "Doe v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law

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Dennis committed several drug offenses, leading to a mandatory life sentence in 1997. In 2017, President Obama commuted his sentence to 30 years. Dennis filed a 28 U.S.C. 2241 habeas petition, arguing that he should have faced only a 20-year mandatory sentence because one of his Ohio convictions did not count as a felony under the recidivism enhancement. The district court held that it had no authority to question the commuted sentence and dismissed the petition as moot. The Sixth Circuit denied the petition on the merits, finding the Ohio conviction qualified for the enhancement; it was for a drug crime, and Ohio law allowed more than a year of punishment for that crime. Because the commutation did not alter the reality that Dennis continues to serve a sentence and could obtain a sentence of fewer than 30 years if he obtained the requested relief, the petition is not moot. Generally, a prisoner who receives a presidential commutation continues to be bound by a judicial sentence. The commutation changes only how the sentence is carried out by switching a greater punishment for a lesser one. The altered sentence does not become an executive sentence in full, free from judicial scrutiny with respect to mistakes the courts may have made. View "Dennis v. Terris" on Justia Law

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Senn testified that he saw Winkler and Jenkins in his yard. Jenkins dropped a gasoline jug and ran into the woods with Winkler. Senn told his wife, Sherri, to call the police and fired shots into the woods. Senn smelled gasoline and saw that it had been poured on his porch, the side of his house, and on his cars. Sherri testified that her brother, Abercrombie, had a long-running feud with Winkler. Abercrombie lived approximately 100 yards from her house. Sherri testified that, days before the incident, her sister-in-law played for her a voicemail message from Winkler, stating: “You are going to die, you are going to burn.” Winkler unsuccessfully moved to impeach Senn with his previous felony conviction for reckless endangerment. Winkler unsuccessfully objected to Sherri’s testimony as inadmissible character evidence. Convicted of two counts of attempted first-degree murder and for attempted aggravated arson, Winkler appealed. His counsel filed the trial record, except for the transcript of his motion for a new trial. Without it, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed the evidentiary issues for plain error, found none, and affirmed; that court also denied Winkler’s post-conviction petition, stating that counsel's failure to prepare an adequate appellate record does not, alone, amount to ineffective assistance. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his habeas petition, rejecting his argument that under Supreme Court precedent (Entsminger (1967)), failure to file a portion of the record entitled him to presumed prejudice in the ineffective-assistance analysis. View "Winkler v. Parris" on Justia Law

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Michigan prisons allow Wiccan inmates to worship as a group for eight major holidays (Sabbats). Wiccans celebrate other holidays (Esbats) 12-13 times a year. Wiccans are not permitted to congregate on Esbats and permits Wiccan inmates to use candles and incense only in the prison’s chapel. Cavin asked the Department of Corrections to allow him and other Wiccans to celebrate Esbats together. Officials denied his request. He filed suit, requesting injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc-1(a), and sought damages. At summary judgment, the court ruled that Eleventh Amendment immunity barred the damages claims against the Department of Corrections; that Chaplain Leach deserved qualified immunity; and that only Cavin’s RLUIPA claim for religious accommodation could proceed. After a bench trial, the court rejected Cavin’s RLUIPA claim for injunctive relief, concluding that the prison’s regulations implicate but do not burden Cavin’s exercise of religion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of qualified immunity and the denial of appointed counsel but vacated with respect to injunctive relief under RLUIPA, remanding for a determination of whether the Department’s policy survives scrutiny under RLUIPA. A policy substantially burdens religious exercise when it bars an inmate from worshipping with others and from using ritualistic items. View "Cavin v. Michigan Department of Corrections" on Justia Law