Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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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

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Nixon suffered from mental health problems. He sometimes lived with his long-time partner, Haberle, and their children. On May 20, 2013, he had “a serious mental health episode,” told Haberle that he was suicidal, broke into a friend’s home and took a handgun, then went to his cousin’s apartment. Haberle contacted Nazareth Police. Officer Troxell obtained a warrant for Nixon’s arrest and went to the apartment with other officers, who suggested getting Pennsylvania State Police crisis negotiators or asking Haberle to communicate with Nixon. Troxell called the other officers “a bunch of f[---]ing pussies.” He knocked and identified himself as a police officer. Nixon promptly shot himself. The Third Circuit affirmed, in part, the dismissal of Haberle’s suit. She claimed that Troxell unconstitutionally seized Nixon and that Nixon’s suicide was the foreseeable result of a danger that Troxell created, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101-213 by failing to modify Borough policies and procedures to ensure that disabled individuals would have their needs met during police interactions. Troxell merely knocked on the door and announced his presence, which is not enough to violate the Fourth Amendment. Even if there had been a seizure, it would have been pursuant to a valid warrant and not unlawful. Troxell’s actions do not “shock the conscience.” The court remanded to allow Haberle to amend her ADA claim. View "Haberle v. Troxell" on Justia Law

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Paladino, a New Jersey State Prison inmate, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights action against prison employees alleging a number of constitutional claims. The district court granted summary judgment on many of his claims, finding that he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995. The Third Circuit affirmed with respect to most of Paladino’s claims but vacated with respect to Paladino’s excessive force claim based on an alleged 2010 assault, finding a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether he exhausted that claim because there was a conflict between the prison’s records and Paladino’s deposition testimony. Some type of notice and an opportunity to respond are needed before a district court elects to decide factual disputes regarding exhaustion. View "Paladino v. Newsome" on Justia Law

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During Greene’s 1996 trial for murder, robbery, and conspiracy, the prosecution introduced the redacted confessions of Greene’s non-testifying codefendants. Pennsylvania’s High Court summarily dismissed an appeal in which Greene argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1998 "Gray" holding, decided after the Superior Court rejected Greene’s Confrontation Clause claim, entitled him to relief. Pennsylvania courts also rejected his post-conviction petitions. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of Greene's 2004 habeas petition, noting that Gray had not sought certiorari relief after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed his appeal and did not assert his “Gray” claim in his state post-conviction petition. Three years later, Greene filed a pro se Rule 60(b)(6) motion to vacate, arguing that appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance in failing to advise Greene to petition the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the Court’s 2012 decision (Martinez v. Ryan) that “[w]here, under state law, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel must be raised in an initial-review collateral proceeding, a procedural default will not bar a federal habeas court from hearing a substantial claim of ineffective assistance at trial if, in the initial-review collateral proceeding, there was no counsel or counsel in that proceeding was ineffective.” The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding (Davila v. Davis) that “a federal court [may not] hear a substantial, but procedurally defaulted, claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel when a prisoner’s state post-conviction counsel provides ineffective assistance by failing to raise that claim.” View "Greene v. Superintendent Smithfield SCI" on Justia Law

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Bradley was Director of Budget and Financial Planning at the West Chester University of Pennsylvania (WCU). During preparation of a budget report for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Bradley was instructed to increase a line item by several million dollars, to “swing” a multi-million dollar surplus to a multi-million dollar deficit. She was told that the report “was a political document[,] and if you don’t present this deficit, your appropriation money is at risk.” At a meeting of WCU’s Budget Committee, Bradley stated that alterations were “unethical and quite frankly, [possibly] illegal.” Her supervisor expressed his displeasure, stating that her “future was at risk.” Bradley subsequently circulated a memorandum documenting her concerns. Two years later, Bradley was assisting with a meeting of WCU’s Enrollment Committee. She presented her supervisor’s proposed budget, then answered a question and presented an alternate budget, which, she believed, “presents reality.” Although she was expected to speak at a presentation the next day, Bradley refused to do so unless she could present her version of the budget. Her supervisor told Bradley that her contract would not be renewed. Arguing that her termination was in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment, she sued. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. The institutional defendants were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; her speech was pursuant to her official duties, and, therefore not constitutionally protected. View "Bradley v. West Chester University of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Bradley was Director of Budget and Financial Planning at the West Chester University of Pennsylvania (WCU). During preparation of a budget report for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Bradley was instructed to increase a line item by several million dollars, to “swing” a multi-million dollar surplus to a multi-million dollar deficit. She was told that the report “was a political document[,] and if you don’t present this deficit, your appropriation money is at risk.” At a meeting of WCU’s Budget Committee, Bradley stated that alterations were “unethical and quite frankly, [possibly] illegal.” Her supervisor expressed his displeasure, stating that her “future was at risk.” Bradley subsequently circulated a memorandum documenting her concerns. Two years later, Bradley was assisting with a meeting of WCU’s Enrollment Committee. She presented her supervisor’s proposed budget, then answered a question and presented an alternate budget, which, she believed, “presents reality.” Although she was expected to speak at a presentation the next day, Bradley refused to do so unless she could present her version of the budget. Her supervisor told Bradley that her contract would not be renewed. Arguing that her termination was in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment, she sued. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. The institutional defendants were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; her speech was pursuant to her official duties, and, therefore not constitutionally protected. View "Bradley v. West Chester University of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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Karns and Parker (Plaintiffs), evangelical Christian ministers, were preaching and carrying signs on the railway platform at NJ Transit's Princeton Junction Station. Parker had previously been informed that a permit was required to engage in noncommercial speech on NJ Transit property. Neither had a permit. NJ Transit Officers had been instructed that if they observed an individual engaging in non-commercial speech without a permit, an officer should explain the permitting rules and take “appropriate enforcement action” if the individual, aware of the requirement, continues to engage in non-commercial expression. In response to a dispatch call, officers approached Plaintiffs and informed them of the requirement. Parker responded that he had been preaching at the station for years without any permit. The officers then asked for identification. Parker produced an expired college identification card. Karns refused to provide identification. The officers arrested Plaintiffs for obstruction and defiant trespass. Karns was acquitted. Parker’s defiant trespass conviction was reversed. Plaintiffs filed complaints, alleging violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. NJ Transit is an arm of the state, entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity for itself and the officers in their official capacities. The officers, as individuals. were entitled to qualified immunity on claims of selective enforcement and retaliation, and had probable cause to believe that Plaintiffs were engaged in criminal trespass. View "Karns v. Shanahan" on Justia Law