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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Jury selection in Howell’s 2004 prosecution consisted of two venire panels. The first included 35 individuals, two of whom were black; both were excused for hardship. The second panel included 25 potential jurors, all of whom were white. Howell, a black man, was convicted for the 2002 felony murder of a white man by an all-white jury. Before jury selection, Howell filed a Motion to Ensure Representative Venire, arguing that he was entitled to a jury pool that represented a fair cross-section of the community, particularly with respect to race. The court held a hearing on Howell’s allegations that black individuals were systemically under-represented in Allegheny County’s jury pools and considered expert testimony that black individuals made up 4.87% of Allegheny County’s jury pool but made up 10.7% of the population of Allegheny County eligible for jury service. The court denied Howell’s motion. The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that Howell had not been denied a trial by a fair cross-section of the community. In Howell’s federal habeas proceeding, the court assumed, without deciding, “that the Superior Court erred in requiring [Howell] to show discriminatory intent,” but concluded that Howell failed to establish a Sixth Amendment violation because other courts found no constitutional violation in cases with higher percentages of disparity. The Third Circuit affirmed. Any underrepresentation in Howell’s jury pool was not caused by a systematically discriminatory process. View "Howell v. Superintendent Rockview SCI" on Justia Law

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Bank of Hope sued Ryu for embezzling money from its customers. As the case went on, Ryu began sending letters to the Bank’s shareholders, alleging that the Bank’s claims were baseless and were ruining his reputation. He hoped that the letters would pressure the Bank to settle. The Bank asked the magistrate judge to ban Ryu from contacting its shareholders. The district court affirmed the magistrate’s order imposing that ban. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court marshaled no evidence that this restriction on speech was needed to protect this trial’s fairness and integrity and it considered no less-restrictive alternatives. Courts have inherent power to keep their proceedings fair and orderly. They can use that power to order the parties before them not to talk with each other, the press, and the public. The First Amendment, however, requires an explanation of why restricting speech advances a substantial government interest, consider less-restrictive alternatives, and requires that the court ensure that any restriction does not sweep too broadly. View "Bank of Hope v. Chon" on Justia Law

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Freethought proposed an ad to run on Lackawanna County public buses: “Atheists” with the group’s name and website. County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) rejected the ad under its 2011 policy, prohibiting ads for tobacco, alcohol, firearms, political candidates; ads that in COLTS’s “sole discretion” were “derogatory” to racial, religious, and other specified groups; and ads that are “objectionable, controversial[,] or would generally be offensive to COLTS’[s] ridership. In promulgating the policy, COLTS considered vandalism directed at atheist posts in other locations. In 2013, COLTS added a prohibition on ads: that promote the existence or non-existence of a supreme deity, deities, being or beings; that address, promote, criticize or attack a religion or religions, religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs; that directly quote or cite scriptures, religious text or texts involving religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs; or [that] are otherwise religious in nature. The Third Circuit concluded that the policy discriminates based on viewpoint and violates the First Amendment. Government actors cannot restrict speech because they “disapprov[e] of the ideas expressed.” That a message is “decidedly religious in nature” does not relegate it to second-class status Even if COLTS’s ban on religious speech were viewpoint neutral, it is not reasonable. COLTS never received a complaint about an ad, even one sponsored by a racist and anti-Semitic blog. No one complained about the religious and political ads COLTS ran before it enacted its policies. View "Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society v. County of Lackawanna Transit System" on Justia Law

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Garrett sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and retaliation. Garrett alleged that, while incarcerated, he had been prescribed a wheelchair and walker. When he was transferred to SCI Houtzdale in 2014, medical staff allegedly discontinued Garrett’s use of a walker and wheelchair, forbade him from receiving walking assistance from other inmates, and discontinued his “psych” medication. He acknowledged in his complaint that he had filed grievances but the grievance process was not complete. The district court dismissed many of pro se Garrett’s claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a), and dismissed the remainder for failure to satisfy the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “short and plain statement” requirement, Rule 8. The Third Circuit vacated. Garrett’s original complaint was defective because, as a prisoner when he filed it, he failed to first exhaust his administrative remedies. Two years later, Garrett filed an amended and supplemental complaint (TAC) under Rule 15, which superseded Garrett’s prior complaints. The TAC’s claims relate back to the original complaint because they concern the same core operative facts. When he filed the TAC, Garrett was no longer a prisoner and was not subject to the PLRA’s administrative exhaustion requirement. The TAC cured the original filing defect. The claims in Garrett’s pro se complaint are sufficiently “short” and “plain” and adequately put the defendants on notice of Garrett’s claims. View "Garrett v. Wexford Health" on Justia Law

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Velazquez and his girlfriend had a physical altercation. He threatened her at his preliminary hearing and, from prison, sent threatening letters. Velazquez refused to enter his detention cell; the guard sustained scratches during the struggle. Velazquez was charged with burglary, intimidating a witness, terroristic threats, harassment, and aggravated assault. Due to Velazquez’s history of mental illness, his attorney advised him to enter a guilty but mentally ill (GBMI) plea under Pennsylvania law, waiving the right to a jury trial. If that plea is accepted, the defendant may receive mental health treatment while serving her sentence. A judge may not accept a GBMI plea unless she examines certain reports, holds a hearing, and determines that the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the offense. If the judge does not accept the GBMI plea, the right to a jury trial is returned. Velazquez’s GBMI plea was not accepted. The judge did not examine reports nor hold a hearing and did not determine whether Velazquez was mentally ill. Velazquez’s right to trial was not reinstated. The judge recorded that Velazquez had entered a normal guilty plea. Counsel did not object. The Third Circuit granted relief on Velazquez’s habeas petition, finding ineffective assistance of counseI. The district court had habeas jurisdiction although the petitioner merely asserted that the wrong guilty plea was entered. The requisite prejudice can be shown although the appropriate plea would not have resulted in a reduced sentence. View "Velazquez v. Superintendent Fayette SCI" on Justia Law

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Haberle’s long-time partner, Nixon, suffered from severe mental illness. Nixon committed suicide during an encounter with the Nazareth Police Department. Haberle alleged that the Department’s failure to accommodate mentally disabled individuals constituted a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101–213. After a remand, Haberle filed an amended complaint. The district court dismissed it for failure to allege intentional discrimination. The Third Circuit again reversed and remanded. Haberle’s complaint raises a plausible claim that the Police Department was deliberately indifferent in failing to enact policies accommodating mental disability. Haberle alleges Department officers and its chief “routinely” encountered “mentally challenged individuals,” including two named individuals and that officers were often “verbally abusive” and “harassing,” and performed arrests without accommodating the individuals’ disabilities. In response to those and similar events, Officer Lahovski drafted a policy to guide Department interactions with disabled individuals, relying on his personal mental health training, Police Department procedures, and consultation with mental health professionals. Haberle alleged that in drafting that proposed policy, Lahovski identified the grave risks to mentally challenged persons as a result of the Police Department continuing to operate without proper policies and procedures for the accommodation of mentally disabled persons, but the Department did not adopt that or any other accommodation policy. View "Haberle v. Borough of Nazareth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights

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The Pennsylvania House of Representatives begins most legislative sessions with a prayer. Plaintiffs challenged two practices: the House invites guest chaplains to offer the prayer, but it excludes nontheists (those who do not espouse belief in a god or gods, though not necessarily atheists) from serving as chaplains on the theory that “prayer” presupposes a higher power and visitors to the House chamber pass a sign asking them to stand for the prayer, and the Speaker of the House requests that audience members “please rise” immediately before the prayer. At least once a House security guard pressured visitors who refused to stand. The Third Circuit upheld the practices as to the Establishment Clause because only theistic prayer can satisfy the historical purpose of appealing for divine guidance in lawmaking, the basis for the Supreme Court taking as a given that prayer presumes a higher power. Legislative prayer is government speech and not open to challenges under the Free Exercise, Free Speech, and Equal Protection Clauses. With respect to the statement “please rise” for the prayer, the court held that the single incident involving pressure from a security guard is moot. The sign outside the House chamber and the Speaker’s introductory request that guests “please rise” are not coercive. View "Fields v. Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives" on Justia Law

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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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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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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