Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Beers was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric inpatient hospital in, 2005, after he told his mother that he was suicidal and put a gun in his mouth. Beers has had no further mental health issues. Beers challenged federal law prohibiting the possession of firearms by anyone who has previously been adjudicated as mentally ill or committed to a mental institution, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(4), arguing that, as applied to him, it violates the Second Amendment. Beers claimed that, although he was previously involuntarily institutionalized, he has since been rehabilitated, which distinguishes his circumstances from those in the historically-barred class. The Third Circuit rejected his arguments, noting that the traditional justification for disarming mentally ill individuals was that they were considered dangerous to themselves and/or to the public at large. Courts are ill-equipped to determine whether any particular individual who was previously deemed mentally ill should have his firearm rights restored. View "Beers v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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Trant and Ashby had a heated encounter at a gas station in Bovoni, St. Thomas, that ended with each displaying his pistol. After law enforcement officers looked into these events, Trant was convicted as a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion by granting the government’s motion to re-open its case-in-chief because Trant was not prejudiced. The motion was made before Trant had the opportunity to present his evidence, thereby giving him the opportunity to respond and also limiting any disruption to the proceedings. The court rejected Trant’s argument that the court should have permitted him to question Ashby about his possession of a firearm, suggesting it was probative of Ashby’s character for untruthfulness and necessary for the jury to evaluate Ashby’s credibility. The implausible nature of Ashby’s having an ulterior motive for testifying hardly made it “obvious” that Trant had the right to ask Ashby about the latter’s illegal possession of a firearm. Trant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence. View "United States v. Trant" on Justia Law

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The Passaic County Sheriff’s Office hired Tundo and Gilgorri as corrections officers on a trial basis. They were often absent and were frequently reprimanded for insubordination and incompetence. They were fired as part of a mass layoff before they had completed their 12-month trial period. Months later, Passaic County needed more employees. The Civil Service Commission created lists of former officers whom it might rehire, including Tundo and Gilgorri. Passaic County tried to remove the two from the lists based on their work history. The Commission blocked this attempt, restored them to the eligible list, and ordered Passaic County to place them in “a new 12-month working test period.” Passaic County then offered to rehire the two and asked them to complete a re-employment application, which asked them to agree not to sue Passaic County. They refused to complete the application. The Commission then removed them from the list. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of their 42 U.S.C. 1983 due process claims. The Commission has many ways to take anyone off its lists and did not promise that the two would stay on the lists nor constrain its discretion to remove them. Because there was no mutually explicit understanding that they would stay on the lists, the men had no protected property interest in doing so. View "Tundo v. County of Passaic" on Justia Law

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A reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer informed Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services in March 2018 that two of its agencies would not work with same-sex couples as foster parents. Human Services considered such a policy a violation of the city’s anti-discrimination laws. When the agencies confirmed that, because of their religious views on marriage, they would not work with gay couples, Human Services ceased referring foster children to them. One agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS), sued, claiming that the city violated its rights under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise, Establishment, and Free Speech Clauses, and under Pennsylvania’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. CSS will only certify foster parents who are either married or single; it will not certify cohabitating unmarried couples, and it considers all same-sex couples to be unmarried. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of CSS’s request for preliminary injunctive relief. Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy. CSS failed to make a persuasive showing that the city targeted it for its religious beliefs, or is motivated by ill will against its religion, rather than sincere opposition to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. View "Fulton v. Philadelphia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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Cabrera, born in the Dominican Republic in 1979, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1988. Two years later, he was adopted by a natural born U.S. citizen, Attenborough. Had he been Attenborough’s biological child, 8 U.S.C. 1409, would have provided him a pathway to automatic derivative citizenship. As an adopted child, the statute does not apply to him and his road to citizenship is more difficult. In 2014, Cabrera pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment. Upon his release, Cabrera was served with notice of removal proceedings based on conviction of an aggravated felony, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), and conviction of a controlled substance offense, section 1227(a)(2)(B)(i). Cabrera argued, on constitutional grounds, that he was entitled to derivative citizenship through his adoptive father and could not be removed. The Immigration Judge held that he lacked jurisdiction to hear the constitutional claim and ordered Cabrera removed. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. The Third Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting Cabrera’s argument disparate treatment between adopted and biological children violates the guarantee of equal protection under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. View "Cabrera v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Philadelphia police found drugs and a gun in an apartment that they thought was Randall’s. They arrested Randall. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office charged him but dropped all the charges in August 2015. When he was arrested in Philadelphia, he was already on probation in New Jersey and Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Hearing about his arrest, both jurisdictions issued detainers for him. After dropping the charges, Pennsylvania released Randall into New Jersey’s custody. He remained in custody, first in New Jersey and then in Delaware County, until December 24, 2015. On December 26, 2017, Randall sued the Philadelphia Law Department and the police officers who had arrested him under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed Randall’s claims as time-barred. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting Randall’s “continuing-violation” argument. Section 1983 borrows the underlying state’s statute of limitations for personal-injury torts. In Pennsylvania, that period is two years. When a Section 1983 claim accrues is a matter of federal law, under which a malicious-prosecution claim accrues when criminal proceedings end in the plaintiff’s favor. For Randall, that happened in August 2015, so he had until August 2017 to file his suit unless something tolled the statute of limitations. The continuing-violation doctrine focuses on continuing acts, not continuing injury. No Philadelphia defendant detained Randall beyond August 2015. View "Randall v. Philadelphia Law Department" on Justia Law

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Piasecki was convicted of 15 counts of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to three years’ probation. Pennsylvania sex offenders were then subject to “Megan’s Law” registration requirements. While Piasecki pursued appellate relief, that law expired and was replaced with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to “bring the Commonwealth into substantial compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006,” which applied retroactively to Megan’s Law registrants. SORNA had increased registration and reporting requirements. Among other restrictions, Piasecki was required to register in-person every three months for the rest of his life and to appear, in-person, at a registration site if he were to change his name, address, employment, student status, phone number, or vehicle ownership. As a Tier III SORNA registrant, he could petition a court to exempt him from the requirements after 25 years. Piasecki was only subject to the SORNA restrictions when he filed his 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas petition, challenging his conviction. His probation and conditions of supervision had expired. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit held that Piasecki was “in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State Court,” as required for jurisdiction. SORNA’s registration requirements were sufficiently restrictive to constitute custody and were imposed pursuant to the state court judgment of sentence. View "Piasecki v. Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County" on Justia Law

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Philadelphia has received funds under the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program every year since the program’s 2006 inception in 2006. The Justice Department notified the city that it was withholding its FY2017 award because the city was not in compliance with three newly implemented conditions that required greater coordination with federal officials on matters of immigration enforcement. The city filed suit and was awarded summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed the order to the extent that it enjoins enforcement of the challenged conditions against the city and vacated the order to the extent it imposed a requirement that the federal government obtain a judicial warrant before seeking custody of aliens in city custody.. Where, as here, the Executive Branch claims authority not granted to it in the Constitution, it “literally has no power to act … unless and until Congress confers power upon it.” Congress did not grant the Attorney General this authority and the Challenged Conditions were unlawfully imposed. The Byrne statute itself provides no such authority and the conditions are not authorized by 34 U.S.C. 10102, the provision establishing the “Duties and Functions of Assistant Attorney General.” View "City of Philadelphia v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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When McKinney was granted tenure in 1974, his employment was governed by University Policies that provide that tenured faculty can be terminated only “for cause” and provide yearly salary raises for faculty who perform satisfactorily or meritoriously. Any salary increase for “maintenance” or merit becomes part of the base contract salary. No explicit provisions govern salary decreases; the Policy provides procedures to address complaints about salary decisions and requires that a faculty member “judged unsatisfactory” be informed of specific reasons related to teaching ability, achievements in research and scholarship, and service. In McKinney’s 2010 and 2011 reviews, Dean Keeler expressed concern about declining enrollment in McKinney’s classes, poor student evaluations, and a stagnant research agenda, but granted standard 2.0% and 1.5% maintenance increases. In 2012, McKinney ranked last among the Grad School faculty and was rated “less than satisfactory.” McKinney’s salary was increased by 0.5%. He was told that if his performance did not improve, he could receive a salary reduction. McKinney again ranked last in the 2013 review. Dean Keeler reduced his salary by 20%. McKinney sued, alleging that the University unconstitutionally deprived him of his property interest in his base salary. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit concluded that he had no such property interest. The Policy language is not sufficient to give McKinney a “legitimate expectation” in the continuance of his base salary. The appeal provisions and the three-tiered rating structure indicate that salaries are subject to “possible annual adjustments,” and that McKinney had no more than a “unilateral expectation of receiving [his] full salary,” View "McKinney v. University of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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Patterson, an African-American male and a longtime Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) employee, arrived at an Eddystone, Pennsylvania PLCB-run store to inquire about the store’s operating condition. Patterson identified himself to the assistant manager as a PLCB maintenance worker and asked whether the store’s electricity and plumbing were in working order or if the store might otherwise need repairs. The assistant manager became “very rude.” Patterson exited the store, entered his state-owned van, reported the assistant manager to his foreman over the phone, then drove toward another PLCB store in Newtown Square. En route, Patterson was stopped by the police and questioned about “robbing” the Eddystone store. An officer informed Patterson that the Eddystone assistant manager had called to report a “black guy” in a “state van” who was trying to “rob her store.” Patterson sued the PLCB, alleging race discrimination and violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed, finding that the PLCB was entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed, employing a three-factor test to determine PLCB’s sovereign immunity status: whether the payment of the judgment would come from the state; what status the entity has under state law; and what degree of autonomy the entity has. View "Patterson v. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board" on Justia Law