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

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Englewood amended its ordinances to address aggressive antiabortion protests that had been regularly occurring outside of a health clinic that provided reproductive health services, including abortions. Some of the “militant activists and aggressive protestors” support violent reprisal against abortion providers. The ordinance restricted the use of public ways and sidewalks adjacent to healthcare facilities during business hours to persons entering or leaving such facility; the facility's employees and agents; law enforcement, ambulance, firefighting, construction, utilities, public works and other municipal agents within the scope of their employment; and persons using the public way solely to reach another destination. The ordinance created overlapping buffer zones at qualifying facilities. Turco, a non-aggressive “sidewalk counselor,” filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. The district court concluded that the statute was overbroad and not narrowly tailored to serve the government’s interest. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that genuine issues of material fact preclude the entry of summary judgment to either side. The buffer zones’ exact impact on the sidewalk counselors’ speech and the concomitant efficacy of their attempts to communicate is unclear. Turco admitted that she continued to speak with patients entering the clinic. The city considered and attempted to implement alternatives before creating the buffer zone. View "Turco v. City of Englewood" on Justia Law

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According to its website, the University of Northern New Jersey, founded in 2012, was “nationally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and the Commission on English Language Accreditation” and “certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Student and Exchange Visitor Program to educate international students.” The site included a statement from UNNJ's President, Dr. Brunetti, and its social media accounts informed students of closings for inclement weather and of alumni marriages. The University never existed. The Department of Homeland Security created the “sham university” to catch brokers of fraudulent student visas. It ensnared many such brokers; hundreds of foreign students “enrolled.” The government initially conceded that those students were innocent victims, but later suggested that they were akin to participants in the fraudulent scheme. Each enrolled student (including the plaintiffs) received a letter informing them that their student status had been terminated due to fraudulent enrollment. The government charged 21 individuals with fraudulently procuring visas. The plaintiffs filed a class action. The district court dismissed the claims, finding that there was no final government action. The Third Circuit vacated. Reinstatement proceedings are not required and would not afford an opportunity for review of DHS’s decision to terminate their F1 visa status. The students need not wait until removal proceedings are instituted to challenge the termination of their student status; neither immigration judges nor the BIA have authority to overturn the denial of reinstatement. View "Fang v. Director United States Immigration & Customs Enforcement" on Justia Law

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The five Petitioners were convicted, among other offenses, of violating 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), which proscribes the use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a “crime of violence” or “drug trafficking crime,” as well as the possession of a firearm in furtherance of any such crime. Section 924(c)(3) defines “crime of violence” to mean a felony offense that “(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another” (elements clause) or “(B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense” (residual clause). Each petitioner filed a second or successive habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255(h)(2) to challenge their sentences section 924(c), arguing that 924(c)(3)’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague, given its textual similarity to the residual clauses found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States, (2015), and Sessions v. Dimaya (2018). The Supreme Court subsequently found 924(c)(3)(B) unconstitutionally vague, United States v. Davis, (2019). The Third Circuit granted the petitions, noting that they are now timely under Davis, precluding the need for analysis of the applicability of Johnson and Dimaya. View "In re: Williams" on Justia Law

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Golden was researching Golden’s then-forthcoming book, Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities. Golden requested documents from public universities, including three requests to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, N.J. Stat. 47:1A-1–47:1A-13 (OPRA). Many of the NJIT documents originated with the FBI and were subject to prohibitions on public dissemination. The FBI directed NJIT to withhold most of the records. NJIT obliged, claiming exemption from disclosure. After this suit was filed, NJIT and the FBI reexamined the previously withheld records and produced thousands of pages of documents, formerly deemed exempt. Golden then sought prevailing plaintiff attorneys’ fees under OPRA. The district court denied the fee motion. The Third Circuit reversed. Under the catalyst theory, adopted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees if there exists “a factual causal nexus between [the] litigation and the relief ultimately achieved” and if “the relief ultimately secured by plaintiffs had a basis in law.” Before Golden filed suit, NJIT had asserted OPRA exemptions to justify withholding most of the requested records. Post-lawsuit, NJIT abandoned its reliance on those exemptions and produced most of the records. Golden’s lawsuit was the catalyst for the production of documents and satisfied the test. That NJIT withheld records at the behest of the FBI does not abdicate its role as the records custodian. View "Golden v. New Jersey Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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Inmate Mammana felt ill after eating and visited the medical ward. A physician assistant checked Mammana’s blood sugar level, and told Mammana “to return the following day after eating.” For several days, Mammana continued to feel ill after eating and returned to the medical ward. The physician assistant referred Mammana to Allenwood’s psychologist, who could not determine the cause of Mammana’s discomfort. Medical Assistant Taylor said she would not re-admit Mammana to the medical ward, despite having never examined Mammana. Nonetheless, Mammana was escorted back to the medical ward. After taking his blood pressure, Taylor accused him of “harassment, stalking, and interference with the performance of duties.” Mammana was transferred to administrative segregation. Mammana refused his assigned segregation cell and was placed into the “Yellow Room,” which was regarded as “mental and physical abuse.” Mammana was stripped of his clothing and given only “paper-like” coverings; the room had a “bright light” "24 hours a day” and was “uncomfortably cold.” Mammana had no bedding or toilet paper. Mammana continued to feel ill, yet his requests for medical treatment were refused. Mammana remained in the Yellow Room for four days. A hearing board eventually concluded “there was no basis” for Taylor’s report. Mammana remained in administrative segregation for four months after leaving the Yellow Room. The district court dismissed his claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of his Eighth Amendment claim; Mammana has adequately alleged a sufficiently serious deprivation rather than merely “uncomfortable” conditions. View "Mammana v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission sets and collects Turnpike tolls. Act 44 (2007) authorized the Commission to increase tolls and required it to make annual payments for 50 years to the PennDOT Trust Fund. Act 89 (2013) continued to permit toll increases but lowered the annual PennDOT payments. Plaintiffs, individuals and members of groups who pay Turnpike tolls, assert that since the enactment of Act 44, tolls have increased more than 200% and that the current cost for the heaviest vehicles to cross from New Jersey to Ohio exceeds $1800. Pennsylvania’s Auditor General found that the annual “costly toll increases place an undue burden” on Pennsylvanians and that “the average turnpike traveler will ... seek alternative toll-free routes.” More than 90 percent of Act 44/89 payments—approximately $425 million annually— benefit “non-Turnpike road and bridge projects and transit operations.” Plaintiffs sued, alleging violations of the dormant Commerce Clause and their right to travel. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, 105 Stat. 1914 permits state authorities to use the tolls for non-Turnpike purposes, so the collection and use of the tolls do not implicate the Commerce Clause. Plaintiffs have not alleged that their right to travel to, from, and within Pennsylvania has been deterred, so their right to travel has not been infringed. View "Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission" on Justia Law

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Bastardo-Vale, a citizen of Venezuela, who entered the U.S. on a student visa, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals decision that his Delaware conviction for second-degree unlawful imprisonment constituted a “particularly serious crime,” rendering him ineligible for asylum and withholding of removal relief, 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2), 1231(b)(3). His state conviction arose from a forcible sexual encounter with a fellow student; he pleaded no contest to second-degree unlawful imprisonment and was sentenced to the maximum term of one year’s imprisonment, which was suspended for eleven months of time served. The Department of Homeland Security then charged Bastardo-Vale with removability under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(i), for being convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, and under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(1)(C)(i), for failing to comply with the conditions of his nonimmigrant status. Overruling its own precedent, the Third Circuit denied the petition for review. The phrase “particularly serious crime” as used in both the asylum and withholding of removal statutes includes, but is not limited to, aggravated felonies. The phrase “particularly serious crime” means the same thing in both statutes, and the language of those statutes shows that aggravated felonies are a subset of particularly serious crimes. View "Bastardo-Vale v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Hillocks, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and a lawful U.S. permanent resident, was convicted of using a communication facility to facilitate a felony. The Board of Immigration Appeals applied the modified categorical approach, looked to Hillocks’s plea colloquy, and found that Hillocks used a phone to facilitate the sale of heroin. The Board found that his conviction was therefore both an aggravated felony and related to a controlled substance, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2) and ordered Hillocks removed. The Third Circuit vacated the removal order. The categorical approach does not call for the consideration of the facts of a particular case; the court presumes that the state conviction rested upon the least of the acts criminalized by the statute, and then determines whether that conduct would fall within the federal definition of the crime. The modified approach only applies when the statute of conviction has alternative elements, and “at least one” of the alternative divisible categories would, by its elements, be a match with a generic federal crime. Pennsylvania’s statute does not have enumerated categories that suggest alternate elements, it does not provide different punishments depending on the underlying crime; the underlying felonies serving as a basis for a conviction under the statute are means, not separate elements. View "Hillocks v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania inmate Shifflett was attacked by fellow inmates who broke his jaw. The surgery on his jaw went badly, causing him intense pain for most of a year. He alleges he was denied adequate pain medication and given the run-around by different providers, each saying it was someone else’s responsibility. Shifflett claims he had still not received fully adequate corrective surgery over eight months later. The district court dismissed his suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deliberate indifference to severe medical need in violation of the Eighth Amendment and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, finding that he had not exhausted his administrative remedies within the prison system as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, 42 U.S.C. 1997e. The Third Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to appoint counsel and to permit the filing of an amended complaint. A prisoner exhausts his administrative remedies as soon as the prison fails to respond to a properly submitted grievance in a timely fashion. Shifflett exhausted his remedies and acquired the right to file in federal court when the prison did not decide the initial appeal of his grievances within the time limits specified by the grievance policy. View "Shifflett v. Korszniak" on Justia Law

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Charte, a district manager, became aware of American Tutor’s questionable billing and recruiting practices and expressed her concerns to the company's officers. Charte was terminated. Charte contacted the New Jersey Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education about the practices she had observed. American Tutor sued Charte in state court for defamation, tortious interference with advantageous economic relations, and product disparagement. While that state lawsuit was pending, Charte brought this qui tam action on behalf of the United States. As required by the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(A), the action remained under seal for seven years while the government investigated. The state court action was dismissed after the parties settled. The federal government did not intervene. The district court unsealed the complaint, then found that the qui tam action was barred by New Jersey’s equitable entire controversy doctrine. The Third Circuit vacated, finding the doctrine inapplicable. The qui tam suit did not belong to Chartre when she entered into the settlement agreement; she could not unilaterally settle and dismiss the qui tam claims during the government’s investigation. Charte followed every statutory requirement, including filing the qui tam action under seal and not disclosing its existence; she was “not trying to hide the ball.” Application of the entire controversy doctrine to this case, where the relator was the defendant in a previously filed private suit, would incentivize potential False Claims Act defendants to “smoke out” qui tam actions by suing potential relators and then quickly settling. View "Charte v. American Tutor Inc" on Justia Law