Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiffs, licensed taxi and limousine operators, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging an agreement between Newark and Uber as violating their rights under the Takings, Due Process, and Equal Protection Clauses. In order to operate in Newark without taxi medallions or commercial driver’s licenses, setting its own rates, Uber agreed to pay the city $1 million per year for 10 years; to provide $1.5 million in liability insurance for each of its drivers; to have a third-party provider conduct background checks on its drivers. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The agreement places the plaintiffs in an “undoubtedly difficult position” but the situation cannot be remedied through constitutional claims. Even if plaintiffs have a legally cognizable property interest in the medallions themselves, they remain in possession of and able to use their taxi medallions to conduct business. The decrease in the market value of the medallions is not sufficient to constitute a cognizable property interest necessary to state a claim under the Takings Clause. The city controls the number of medallions in circulation and maintains the ability to flood the market with medallions. With respect to equal protection, it is rational for the city to determine that customers require greater protections before accepting a ride from a taxi on the street than before accepting a ride where they are given the relevant information in advance. View "Newark Cab Association v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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Newark Police received a report that the Audi had been carjacked at gunpoint. Three hours later, State Troopers spotted the Audi. Bland was behind the wheel. They activated their police lights., Bland drove recklessly, running red lights and shutting off his headlights, reaching speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Several officers joined the pursuit. Bland drove the wrong way down a one-way street, colliding with occupied police vehicles, which struck an unoccupied car. The cars became entangled. Officers surrounded the Audi and ordered Bland to surrender, then fired 28 shots, none of which hit Bland. Bland revved the engine and freed the Audi, striking the police car again. He drove over a curb and through a public park, then continued to speed through Newark with his lights off. During the chase, a police car struck an occupied civilian vehicle. Bland eventually drove to an intersection where an unmarked police vehicle rammed the Audi, sending the Audi into scaffolding that surrounded a school. It became entangled. Troopers surrounded the Audi and fired their weapons. Bland denies that the troopers shouted any commands or that he made evasive movements. Bland was shot 16-18 times and suffered a traumatic brain injury, respiratory failure, vision loss, and facial fractures. No officer observed Bland with a weapon. Bland sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Their conduct was within the bounds of Supreme Court decisions regarding the use of lethal force; they did not violate Bland’s clearly established constitutional rights. View "Bland v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Peppers was indicted for numerous federal firearms and drug offenses, including murder with a firearm. After a trial, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. On remand, Peppers pleaded guilty as an armed career criminal in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(e)(1). The charging document stated that Peppers had previously been convicted of felonies in six separate proceedings. Peppers was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment--the mandatory minimum under the Armed Career Criminal Act. In his second habeas petition, Peppers challenged that sentence, citing the Supreme Court’s “Johnson” decision, which invalidated ACCA’s residual clause. The district court denied relief. The Third Circuit vacated. The jurisdictional gatekeeping inquiry for successive section 2255 motions based on Johnson requires only that a defendant prove he might have been sentenced under the now-unconstitutional residual clause, not that he was actually sentenced under that clause. A Rule 11(c)(1)(C) guilty plea does not preclude a defendant from collaterally attacking his sentence if his sentence would be unlawful once he proved that ACCA no longer applies to him. A defendant seeking a sentence correction in a successive section 2255 motion based on Johnson, who uses Johnson to satisfy the section 2255(h) gatekeeping requirements, may rely on post-sentencing cases to support his claim. Peppers’s convictions under Pennsylvania’s robbery statute, are not categorically ACCA violent felonies. Peppers did not prove his Johnson claim with respect to his Pennsylvania burglary conviction. The court remanded for analysis of whether treating the robbery convictions as predicate offenses under ACCA, was harmless in light of his other convictions. View "United States v. Peppers" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Green was sentenced to 687 months of imprisonment for federal drug and firearms convictions. While serving that sentence, Green attacked another inmate with a shank, then pleaded guilty assault with intent to commit murder, 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(1), and was sentenced to 151 months, as a “career offender” under the residual clause of the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. The Presentence Report did not specify which of Green’s prior convictions qualified as predicate offenses. The sentence, at the low end of the Guidelines, was to run consecutively to the 687 months that he was already serving. The Third Circuit affirmed and, after the Supreme Court’s “Johnson” holding that the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act was void for vagueness, affirmed the dismissal of Green’s motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his sentence. The court concluded that Green’s motion was untimely because the one-year limitations period to bring a challenge on collateral review had passed by the time he filed this motion. Johnson did not constitute a newly recognized right, that would have provided Green a year from when Johnson was decided to file his section 2255 motion, in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 "Beckles" opinion, that vagueness challenges cannot be brought to the advisory Sentencing Guidelines, View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

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Reeves was convicted of robbery, carrying a firearm without a license, and second-degree murder relating to a 2006 armed robbery of a gas station convenience store that resulted in the clerk's death. Reeves, arrested three years later, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He filed a four-months-late federal habeas petition, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel and seeking to excuse his untimeliness based on the "Schlup" actual innocence exception to procedural default, extended to time-barred petitions in 2013. The Third Circuit remanded, finding that Reeves identified evidence that may show actual innocence that was not presented to the jury. When a petitioner asserts ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s failure to discover or present the very exculpatory evidence that demonstrates his actual innocence, such evidence constitutes new evidence for purposes of the Schlup actual innocence gateway. The court noted evidence that was known but not presented, pertaining to an individual (Anderson) who had previously been convicted of other crimes who failed to show up at a work-release center located near the site of the crime and who fit the physical description of the robber. Anderson called the mother of his child days after the robbery, telling her he had “a lot of money” for outstanding child support. Two witnesses stated that Anderson told him that he was involved in the robbery and had recounted details. View "Reeves v. Superintendent Fayette SCI" on Justia Law

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In 1995, a Pennsylvania jury found Abdul-Salaam guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy. After a one-day penalty phase hearing in which Abdul-Salaam’s counsel presented three mitigation witnesses, the jury sentenced Abdul-Salaam to death. Abdul-Salaam, after exhausting his state remedies, filed a federal petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. 2254, challenging his sentence, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to investigate adequately and to present sufficient mitigation evidence at sentencing. The Third Circuit reversed the denial of relief. Trial counsel could not have had a strategic reason not to investigate Abdul-Salaam’s background, school, and juvenile records, to acquire a mental health evaluation, or to interview more family members about his childhood abuse and poverty, counsel’s performance was deficient. There is a reasonable probability that the un-presented evidence would have caused at least one juror to vote for a sentence of life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. Abdul-Salaam has met the prejudice prong of the ineffective assistance of counsel inquiry. View "Abdul-Salaam v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The district court refused to enjoin the School District from allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with the students’ gender identities rather than the sex they were determined to have at birth. The District required students claiming to be transgender to meet with licensed counselors. There are several multi-user bathrooms; each has individual stalls. Several single-user restrooms are available to all. "Cisgender" students claimed the policy violated their constitutional rights of bodily privacy; Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681; and tort law. The Third Circuit affirmed. Under the circumstances, the presence of transgender students in the locker and restrooms is no more offensive to privacy interests than the presence of the other students who are not transgender. The constitutional right to privacy must be weighed against important competing governmental interests; transgender students face extraordinary social, psychological, and medical risks. The District had a compelling interest in shielding them from discrimination. Nothing suggests that cisgender students who voluntarily elect to use single-user facilities face the same extraordinary consequences as transgender students would if they were forced to use them. The cisgender students were claiming a broad right of personal privacy in a space that is just not that private. The mere presence of a transgender individual in a bathroom or locker room would not be highly offensive to a reasonable person. View "Doe v. Boyertown Area School District" on Justia Law

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Mothers and children fled violence perpetrated by gangs in Honduras and El Salvador and were apprehended near the U.S. border. They were moved to a Pennsylvania detention center. Immigration officers determined that they were inadmissible. They were ordered expeditiously removed, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1), and unsuccessfully requested asylum. They sought habeas relief, claiming that Asylum Officers and IJs violated their constitutional and statutory rights in conducting the “credible fear” interviews. The Third Circuit initially affirmed the dismissal of the claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court held that, while the Suspension Clause of the Constitution would allow an aggrieved party with sufficient ties to the U.S. to challenge that lack of jurisdiction, the petitioners’ relationship to the U.S. amounted only to presence for a few hours before their apprehension. The children were subsequently accorded Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status—a classification intended to safeguard abused, abandoned, or neglected alien children who are able to meet rigorous eligibility requirements. The Third Circuit then reversed the dismissal, noting that protections afforded to SIJ children include eligibility for application of adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent residents, exemption from various grounds of inadmissibility, and procedural protections to ensure their status is not revoked without good cause. The jurisdiction-stripping provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act is an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus as applied to SIJ designees seeking judicial review of expedited removal orders. View "Osorio-Martinez v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Ricks, a former inmate at a Pennsylvania State Corrections facility, alleged that during a routine morning pat-down, Corrections Officer Keil rubbed his erect penis against Ricks’ buttocks through both men’s clothing. When Ricks stepped away and verbally protested to Keil’s supervisor, Lieutenant Shover, Ricks alleges that Shover “slammed” Ricks against the wall, causing injuries to his face, head, neck, and back. The district court dismissed his 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, stating that “a small number of incidents in which a prisoner is verbally harassed, touched, and pressed against without his consent do not amount” to an Eighth Amendment violation. The Third Circuit reversed. A single incident of sexual abuse can constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment if the incident was objectively sufficiently intolerable and cruel, capable of causing harm, and the official had a culpable state of mind rather than a legitimate penological purpose. Although his sexual abuse claim as to Shover under a participation or failure-to-intervene theory was properly dismissed, Ricks’ excessive force claim stands on a different footing and should have been permitted to survive the motion to dismiss. View "Ricks v. Shover" on Justia Law

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.In 1990, 19-year-old Bennett was sitting in the passenger seat of a getaway car when his conspirator entered a jewelry store to commit a robbery, shooting the clerk and killing her. Bennett was convicted of first-degree murder. After a capital sentencing hearing, the jury returned a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Two state courts later vacated Bennett’s first-degree murder conviction, finding that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that it could convict Bennett of first-degree murder based on the shooter’s intent to kill. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the conviction. The Third Circuit granted Bennett’s federal habeas corpus petition, finding that the trial court’s erroneous jury instructions deprived him of due process of law. The court analyzed the issue de novo, concluding that Bennett’s due process claim was not adjudicated on the merits in state court. Due process is violated when a jury instruction relieves the government of its burden of proving every element beyond a reasonable doubt. There is “‘a reasonable likelihood’ that the jury at Bennett’s trial applied the instructions in a way that relieved the state of its burden of proving the specific intent to kill. View "Bennett v. Superintendent Graterford SCI" on Justia Law