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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dealt with two consolidated cases involving two New Jersey parents, who claimed they were retaliated against for protesting school policies related to mandatory masking during the COVID-19 pandemic. One parent, George Falcone, was issued a summons for defiant trespass after refusing to wear a mask at a school board meeting, while another parent, Gwyneth Murray-Nolan, was arrested under similar circumstances. Falcone claimed retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights, while Murray-Nolan argued the same and also claimed she was deprived of substantive due process. The district court dismissed both cases. On appeal, the court found that Falcone had standing to sue, reversing and remanding the lower court's decision. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of Murray-Nolan's case, concluding that refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic was not protected conduct under the First Amendment. View "Murray-Nolan v. Rubin" on Justia Law

by
In the case at hand, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by a group of students and Children’s Health Defense, Inc. against Rutgers University. The plaintiffs challenged the university's COVID-19 vaccination policy, which required in-person students to be vaccinated or else enroll in online programs or seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons. The court found that the university's policy did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional or statutory rights.The court held that there is no fundamental right to refuse vaccination. It applied the rational basis review and concluded that Rutgers University had a rational basis for its policy given the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the policy was ultra vires under New Jersey law, determining that Rutgers was authorized to require COVID-19 vaccinations under state law. Furthermore, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' equal protection claim, concluding that Rutgers had a rational basis for its differential treatment of students and staff, as well as vaccinated and unvaccinated students. View "Children's Health Defense Inc. v. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey" on Justia Law

by
This case involved a dispute over the rights of retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms in New Jersey. The plaintiffs, three retired officers and two organizations, sued New Jersey officials, arguing that a federal statute, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA), gives them a federal right to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in the United States, including within New Jersey, and that LEOSA preempts any more burdensome state requirements. The state countered that the federal statute does not provide such an enforceable right, and even if it did, it would only apply to officers who retired from federal or out-of-state law enforcement agencies. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that LEOSA does provide certain retired officers with an enforceable right to carry concealed firearms, and that this right extends equally to officers who retired from New Jersey agencies and those who retired from federal or out-of-state agencies. The court concluded that LEOSA also preempts contrary aspects of New Jersey law. Therefore, the court affirmed the District Court’s order granting declaratory and injunctive relief to the retired officers. View "Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

by
This case involves a dispute over the interpretation of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 (LEOSA), which allows certain qualified retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms, and its relation to New Jersey’s more restrictive retired police officer permitting law. The retired law enforcement officers from various agencies claimed that LEOSA provided them with a federal right to carry concealed firearms in New Jersey, superseding the state law. The State of New Jersey argued that LEOSA did not provide an enforceable right and, if it did, it would only apply to officers who retired from federal or out-of-state law enforcement agencies—not to officers who retired from New Jersey law enforcement agencies.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that LEOSA does provide certain retired officers who meet all the statutory requirements with an enforceable right, and that right extends equally to officers who retired from New Jersey agencies and those who retired from federal or out-of-state agencies. The court held that the federal statute also preempts contrary aspects of New Jersey law. Therefore, the court affirmed the District Court’s order granting declaratory and injunctive relief to the retired officers, allowing them to carry concealed firearms. View "Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

by
In Pennsylvania, four family members, including two elderly parents, were injured during a pre-dawn, no-knock raid by the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) of the Pennsylvania State Police. The police acted on information about alleged drug sales by a family member, but none of the four injured individuals were suspected of any wrongdoing. They sued the officers for excessive use of force, but the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the officers, ruling that they were entitled to qualified immunity.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the District Court's decision. The court found that the officers' conduct was objectively unreasonable as they had used substantial force against individuals who were unarmed, cooperative, outnumbered by law enforcement, not suspected of wrongdoing, and in their own home. Furthermore, the court held that the right to be free from such excessive force was clearly established at the time of the officers' conduct, and that any reasonable officer would have known that their actions were unlawful. Hence, the court concluded that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity.The case has been remanded to the District Court for further proceedings. View "Anglemeyer v. Ammons" on Justia Law

by
In this case, two New Jersey parents sued various school and law enforcement officials, alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated when they were punished for refusing to wear masks at school board meetings. George Falcone was issued a summons and Gwyneth Murray-Nolan was arrested. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that Falcone had standing to sue because his alleged injuries were directly traceable to the defendants who allegedly conspired to violate his First Amendment right to engage in political and symbolic speech. The court reversed and remanded the lower court's order dismissing Falcone's complaint for lack of standing.However, the court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Murray-Nolan's complaint. The court held that refusing to wear a mask is not expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. Further, Murray-Nolan's retaliation claim failed because the police had probable cause to arrest her and she did not link her constitutionally protected speech activities (such as her social media posts) to any of the defendants' allegedly retaliatory actions. View "Falcone v. Dickstein" on Justia Law

by
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a group of former union members alleged that their First Amendment rights were violated when their respective unions continued to deduct membership dues from their paychecks after they had resigned from the unions. The appellants had previously signed union membership applications authorizing the deduction of dues from their paychecks, with the authorizations being irrevocable for a year, regardless of membership status, unless the member provided written notice of revocation within a specified annual window. The appellants resigned from their respective unions after their annual revocation windows had passed, and the unions continued to deduct dues until the next annual revocation window. The appellants argued that the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, which held that public-sector unions charging fees to nonmembers is a form of coerced speech that violates the First Amendment, should extend to their situation. The Third Circuit disagreed, holding that Janus was focused on preventing forced speech by nonmembers who never consented to join a union, not members who voluntarily join a union and later resign. The court further rejected the appellants' due process claims, finding that they had not been deprived of any constitutional rights. The court also dismissed the appellants' contract defenses, finding that they had not alleged that the terms of their original membership agreements entitled them to membership in perpetuity. The court affirmed the District Court's orders dismissing the appellants' claims. View "Fultz v. AFSCME" on Justia Law

by
In a case involving the Second Amendment rights of 18-to-20-year-olds in Pennsylvania, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that these individuals are included in "the people" whose right to bear arms is protected under the Second Amendment. The plaintiffs, including three individuals who were aged 18 to 20 when the case was filed, along with two gun rights organizations, challenged Pennsylvania's statutory scheme that effectively bans 18-to-20-year-olds from carrying firearms outside their homes during a state of emergency. The Court found that the term "the people" in the Second Amendment presumptively encompasses all adult Americans, including 18-to-20-year-olds, and there was no founding-era law that supported disarming this age group. The Court reversed the District Court's decision dismissing the case and denying the plaintiffs' request for preliminary injunctive relief, and remanded the case with instructions to enter an injunction forbidding the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police from arresting law-abiding 18-to-20-year-olds who openly carry firearms during a state of emergency declared by the Commonwealth. View "Lara v. Commissioner PA State Police" on Justia Law

by
This case involves Bradley Barlow, Frances Biddiscombe, and others who were members of either the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668 or the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 13. They all signed union membership agreements authorizing the deduction of membership dues from their paychecks. The authorizations were irrevocable, regardless of union membership status, unless they provided written notice of revocation within a specified annual window. After resigning from their respective unions, their membership dues continued to be deducted until the next annual revocation window. They sued, claiming that the continued collection of dues after their resignations constitutes compelled speech, violating their First Amendment rights. They relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, which held that public-sector unions charging fees to nonmembers is a form of coerced speech that violates the First Amendment. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's dismissal of their complaints, holding that Janus was focused on nonmembers who never elected to join a union, not members who voluntarily join a union and later resign. The court also rejected their due process claims for failure to provide procedures for notice and the ability to object to how their dues were spent, as these procedures were based on avoiding subjecting nonconsenting individuals from subsidizing a political agenda, which was not the case for these appellants. The court also rejected the appellants' contract defenses. View "Barlow v. Service Employees International Union" on Justia Law

by
Larry Trent Roberts spent 13 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit. After being exonerated, he sued several state actors involved in obtaining his wrongful conviction, including Assistant District Attorney John C. Baer. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that Baer is not entitled to absolute immunity from liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because his actions of seeking a new witness to establish a motive for the murder served an investigatory function, not a prosecutorial one. The court noted that prosecutors are not entitled to absolute immunity when they perform investigative functions normally performed by a detective or police officer. Baer argued that he was immune from liability as his conduct occurred post-charge and was designed to produce inculpatory evidence for trial. However, the court clarified that the timing of a prosecutor's actions as pre- or post-indictment and the presence or absence of a connection to a judicial proceeding are only "relevant considerations" in determining whether a prosecutor’s action served a prosecutorial function. They are not enough to establish that a prosecutor's post-charge effort to fabricate evidence for trial served a quasi-judicial function. The court affirmed the District Court's decision denying Baer's motion to dismiss. View "Roberts v. Lau" on Justia Law