Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

By
Pearson, a Pennsylvania prisoner, was hospitalized twice in April 2007: first for surgery to remove his appendix and later for surgery to repair a urethral tear caused by insertion of a catheter during the first surgery. Pearson claims that he was in intense pain for several hours before each hospitalization and that medical staff were dismissive of his complaints. In 2009, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that prison officials and an independent medical contractor were deliberately indifferent to those needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. After remands, the district court granted defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to one defendant, a nurse, but otherwise affirmed. Rhodes claimed that the nurse refused to examine him and forced him to crawl to a wheelchair, claims that do not require extrinsic proof or expert testimony. Pearson did not present sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the other defendants were deliberately indifferent. View "Pearson v. Prison Health Service" on Justia Law

By
In 2005, off-duty police officer Flomo was shot to death while sitting in his car in North Philadelphia. The shooting occurred after Flomo had stopped his car and solicited Bowens, a prostitute and Slaughter’s and Johnson’s long-time drug customer. Johnson and Slaughter were charged with murder based on witness identifications and forensic testimony. A jury acquitted both defendants of first-degree murder, but convicted Slaughter on third-degree murder and criminal conspiracy. It failed to reach a verdict on remaining charges as to Johnson. At Johnson’s retrial, the prosecution introduced a statement that Slaughter had given police that implicated Johnson, in violation of Johnson’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses. A jury found Johnson guilty of third-degree murder and criminal conspiracy; he was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 20-40 years and 10-20 years. After unsuccessful state post-conviction proceedings, Johnson unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief, based on the introduction of that statement and the prosecutor’s calling Slaughter to testify knowing that Slaughter would invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege. The Third Circuit affirmed. denial of Johnson’s habeas petition, reasoning that Slaughter’s statement was cumulative so that Johnson could not show prejudice and that the prosecutor did not necessarily know that Slaughter would invoke the Fifth Amendment. View "Johnson v. Lamas" on Justia Law

By
In 1998, McKernan was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his former roommate, Gibson. McKernan admitted to hitting Gibson with a bat but claimed that it was self-defense and that Gibson’s injuries arose from Gibson hitting his head on the curb. During McKernan’s bench trial, after the Commonwealth had rested but before the defense had started its case-in-chief, the judge called the victim’s mother, his brother, the prosecutor, and defense counsel, into her robing room. McKernan was not present. The meeting was transcribed. The judge discussed online criticism of her decisions, including statements on the Gibsons’ website, and stated that she “want[ed] to make sure that you folks are happy with me.” Defense counsel did not object. The judge and Gibson’s brother agreed that the judge could “redline” the website. After conferring with McKernan, defense counsel told the judge and prosecutor that his client had “concerns” because “he thinks that you may be constrained to lean over backwards,” but advised McKernan to continue before the judge. After exhausting state remedies, McKernan filed an unsuccessful federal habeas petition. The Third Circuit reversed the denial of relief, finding that the state courts unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent as to whether McKernan’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to seek and for advising McKernan not to seek the judge’s recusal. View "McKernan v. Superintendent Smithfield SCI" on Justia Law

By
Before his trial for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 846, Jackson unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence of coconspirators’ cellphone calls intercepted as authorized by court orders. The interceptions, pursuant to Title III of the federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, comprised a significant amount of the trial evidence, though Jackson was a participant in only a few calls. Intercepted calls were placed and received outside Pennsylvania, but concerned, in part, cocaine trafficking in Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania state court had authorized wiretaps sought by state law enforcement officers and information obtained from those wiretaps was used in affidavits when federal wiretap orders were sought. Jackson argued that the state court lacked jurisdiction to permit the underlying wiretaps of cellphones outside of Pennsylvania. The Third Circuit affirmed Jackson’s conviction, upholding the denial of the motion to suppress; admission of a case agent’s testimony interpreting the contents of telephone calls; admission of co-conspirators’ testimony about their convictions and guilty pleas for the same crime; and the prosecutor’s mention of a co-conspirator’s Fifth Amendment right not to testify when she was prompted to identify the evidentiary rule that permitted the admission into evidence of what otherwise would have been inadmissible hearsay. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiffs, inmates in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, were each sentenced to death and housed on the death row of his respective institution. Eventually, their death sentences were vacated, but several years elapsed before they were resentenced to life without parole. In the interim, Plaintiffs spent several years in the solitary confinement of death row. They sought damages, alleging violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process by continuing to subject them to the deprivations of solitary confinement on death row without meaningful review of their placements after their death sentences had been vacated. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There is a constitutionally protected liberty interest that prohibits the state from continuing to house inmates in solitary confinement on death row after they have been granted resentencing hearings, without meaningful review of the continuing placement, however that principle was not previously clearly established, so prison officials are entitled to qualified immunity. The court noted scientific consensus concerning the harms of solitary confinement and recent precedent involving non-death row solitary confinement. View "Williams v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

By
In 1996, Gardner and others were convicted of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, conspiracy to commit murder, murder in aid of racketeering, carjacking resulting in death, and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death. Gardner was sentenced to concurrent terms of life imprisonment on each count and 120 months on Count 4. The Fourth Circuit affirmed on direct appeal and, later, denial of his petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel. In 2014, Gardner sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241, citing the Supreme Court’s intervening “Alleyne” holding that “[a]ny fact that, by law, increases the [mandatory minimum] penalty for a crime is an ‘element’ that must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.” The district court dismissed, finding that Gardner’s claims should have been raised in a section 2255 motion in the court that sentenced him. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting section 2241’s limited scope. Alleyne simply extended the logic of Apprendi to mandatory minimums for criminal sentences; neither makes previously criminal conduct noncriminal. Because section 2255 is not inadequate or ineffective to raise an Apprendi argument, it is not inadequate or ineffective to raise an Alleyne argument. View "Gardner v. Warden Lewisburg USP" on Justia Law

By
Maliandi alleges that she began working for Montclair State University (MSU) in 2007 and took medical leave for breast cancer treatment in 2013. Despite having complied with all policies and procedures for taking such leave, Maliandi allegedly was denied her original position when she returned and instead was offered an inferior position, which she declined. She was subsequently terminated. Maliandi then filed suit against MSU, citing the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. 2601 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J. Stat. 10:5-1 to -49. The district court denied a motion dismiss, determining that MSU is not the state’s alter ego for purpose of Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Third Circuit reversed, applying a balancing test to the “close case” and concluding that MSU is an arm of the state. While the funding factor counsels against immunity the status under state law and autonomy factors weigh in favor of extending MSU immunity from suit. In analyzing the funding factor, the court considered the state’s legal obligation to pay a money judgment entered against MSU; alternative sources of funding from which MSU could pay such judgments; and specific statutory provisions that immunize the state from liability for money judgments. View "Maliandi v. Montclair State University" on Justia Law

By
In 2011, in response to a severe budget crisis, the Government of the Virgin Islands enacted the Virgin Islands Economic Stability Act (VIESA), which reduced most government employees’ salaries by 8%. Many government employees were covered by collective bargaining agreements that set forth detailed salary and benefit schedules. Their unions sued, alleging that the VIESA salary reductions constituted an impermissible impairment of the collective bargaining agreements, in violation of the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court, after a bench trial, held that VIESA did not violate the Contract Clause. The Third Circuit reversed, first holding that the issue is not moot, although VIESA has expired. The court’s determination will have a preclusive effect in pending arbitration between the unions and the government, concerning wages not paid in the interim. VIESA’s substantial impairment of the collective bargaining agreements was not reasonable in light of the fact that the government knew of its precarious financial condition when it agreed to the contracts. View "United Steel Paper and Forestry Rubber Manufacturing Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union AFL- CIO- CLC v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

By
Baptiste, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1972. In 1978, Baptiste was convicted of atrocious assault and battery in New Jersey and was sentenced to a suspended 12-month term of imprisonment. In 2009, Baptiste was convicted of second-degree aggravated assault, N.J. Stat. 2C:12-1b(1): “A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he . . . [a]ttempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely or knowingly or under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life recklessly causes such injury.” The Board of Immigration Appeals ordered his removal as an alien convicted of an “aggravated felony,” 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), defined as a “crime of violence,” 18 U.S.C. 16; and two crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs) under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii). Analyzing the statute under the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision, Johnson v. United States, which invalidated the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), as unconstitutionally vague, the Third Circuit concluded that the section 16(b) definition of a crime of violence is unconstitutionally vague, so that Baptiste was not convicted of an aggravated felony. The court held that Baptiste is nonetheless removable based on the two CIMTs. Baptiste may apply for relief from removal that was previously unavailable to him as an alien convicted of an aggravated felony. View "Baptiste v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

By
Zaloga owns Correctional Care, a medical company, which contracted with theCounty Prison Board to provide medical services to the Lackawanna County Prison. Zaloga was frustrated with how the Borough (Moosic) handled disputes between Zaloga and a tire company that occupied a facility immediately adjacent to the Zalogas’ home. Among other actions, Zaloga opposed Mercatili’s reelection as the President of the Borough Council. About a month later, the Lackawanna County Solicitor notified Zaloga that the County intended not to continue the contract with Correctional Care upon its expiration, but that Correctional Care could compete in bidding for a new contract. Prison Board members and others indicated Mercatili and another were attempting to block Correctional Care’s contract renewal. Despite the purported political pressure, the County unanimously voted to award Correctional Care a three-year contract renewal. Zagora filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging retaliation in response to Zaloga’s exercise of his First Amendment rights. The district court decided that Mercatili’s claim to qualified immunity depended on disputed facts and would have to be resolved by a jury. The Third Circuit reversed. Mercatili’s conduct, even if Zaloga’s allegations are true, did not violate clearly established law. View "Zaloga v. Borough of Moosic" on Justia Law