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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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NJBA, a non-profit trade association representing 88 New Jersey banks, sought to make independent expenditures and contributions to political parties and campaigns for state and local offices. NJBA has not made these payments because of N.J. Stats. 19:34-45, which provides that, “[n]o corporation carrying on the business of a bank . . . shall pay or contribute money or thing of value in order to aid or promote the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party.” NJBA brought a facial challenge on its own behalf and on behalf of third-party banks.The district court held that section 19:34-45’s prohibition on independent expenditures violates the First Amendment but that the ban on political contributions by certain corporations does not violate the First Amendment and passes intermediate scrutiny. The Third Circuit reversed, declining to address the First Amendment issues. The statute does not apply to trade associations of banks. NJBA is not “carrying on the business of a bank.” With respect to the facial challenge, NJBA does not satisfy the narrow exception to the general rule against third-party standing. View "New Jersey Bankers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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In New Jersey for a family party, Saint-Jean was driving home to Massachusetts with his uncle. Palisades Interstate Park Police stopped the vehicle for driving too slowly and for having tinted windows. In response to questions, Saint-Jean stated that he was originally from Haiti but was a U.S. citizen. Officers ordered the men out of the car, frisked them, and requested to search the vehicle. Saint-Jean signed a consent-to-search form. In a compartment between the front seats, they found small plastic bags containing heart-shaped objects that looked like Valentine’s Day candies. The officers suspected that the items were actually MDMA or ecstasy. Saint-Jean stated that they were Valentine’s Day candies from his coworker and offered her contact information. The officers declined, arrested Saint-Jean, and took him to a police station. The objects were not tested. The officers issued a traffic summons and a criminal summons for possessing a controlled substance, later downgraded to a disorderly persons offense. Many weeks later, the objects were determined to be candy. The prosecution continued for four more months.In Saint-Jean’s subsequent civil rights suit, the district court rejected the officers’ request for qualified immunity for Fourth Amendment claims but dismissed one constitutional claim against the officers and all of the claims against the prosecutor and the governmental entities. Before the officers appealed, Saint-Jean amended his complaint. The Third Circuit dismissed the appeal. Due to the prior amendment, the district court’s order was not final and there was no basis for appellate jurisdiction. View "Saint-Jean v. Palisades Interstate Park Commission" on Justia Law

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Freza, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, became a lawful permanent U.S. resident in 2004. In 2012, he was convicted of robbery, aggravated assault with a firearm, burglary, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. While Freza was serving his ten-year sentence, removal proceedings were initiated against him under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Freza told the IJ that he had attempted to contact pro bono legal organizations, but none could take his case; he had no resources. At Freza’s second master calendar hearing in February 2020, the IJ proceeded with Freza pro se. On March 18, Freza applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture. Due to staffing shortages during the pandemic, Freza’s third hearing occurred in October 2020, with Freza appearing pro se via video. The merits hearing was set for December and later rescheduled for January 2021. A pro bono attorney first spoke to Freza the day before the hearing.The IJ denied her motion to continue the hearing for 30 days, stating that Freza had been aware of his merits hearing “for quite some time.” The merits hearing continued with Freza proceeding pro se and testifying about his experiences of and fears of future violence. The BIA affirmed the removal order. The Third Circuit vacated. The IJ’s denial of a continuance for Freza’s counsel to prepare to adequately represent him violated Freza’s right to counsel. View "Freza v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Under the 1982 Victim and Witness Protection Act (VWPA), a court sentencing a defendant convicted of certain crimes could order restitution 18 U.S.C. 3663(a)(1); a restitution order was “a lien in favor of the United States,” that expired 20 years after the entry of the judgment.” The 1996 Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) made restitution mandatory and provides that a restitution lien never becomes unenforceable, and a defendant’s liability to pay expires 20 years after the defendant’s release from imprisonment. Days before MVRA took effect, Norwood committed a New Jersey bank robbery and was convicted of federal crimes. His $19,562.87 restitution order was governed by the VWPA. Norwood filed successful habeas petitions. His restitution order was not disturbed, although his sentence was reduced.In 2016, U.S. Attorney’s office sought money from Norwood’s prison account ($6,031.40) to satisfy Norwood’s outstanding restitution. The ensuing dispute continued until the 20-year anniversary of Norwood’s original judgment and restitution order. Under the VWPA, his liability to pay would have expired. The district court held that the government could enforce its lien under the VWPA because it filed its motion to do so before May 30, 2017. The court analogized to the tax code and concluded there was no ex post facto issue. The Third Circuit reversed. Retroactively applying the MVRA to extend the duration of Norwood’s restitutionary liability violates the Ex Post Facto Clause. View "United States v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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Barney’s wife got a restraining order against him and temporary custody of their son. She was subsequently found dead near their son’s daycare, her throat cut open. Barney was charged with murder. Barney had a rocky relationship with his defense lawyer, Riley, and claims that he told Riley of his plan to represent himself on July 14, 2005, then wrote the judge a letter. Though Barney had dated the letter July 21, the judge did not get it until August 10, the day before the trial began. In court, the judge held up the letter, explained that he had not read it, and handed it to Riley. Riley promised Barney that he would “deal with” Barney’s request. He never did.After a two-week trial, Barney was convicted of first-degree murder. His conviction was affirmed. In habeas proceedings, the New Jersey Superior Court found that Barney did not “clearly and unequivocally” tell the court or Riley that he wanted to represent himself. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. The state court ruling was not “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established” Supreme Court precedent, 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). Barney did not establish prejudice in his ineffective assistance claim; the trial court did not get Barney’s request until the eve of jury selection. View "Barney v. Administrator New Jersey State Prisons" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Frein ambushed Pennsylvania State Troopers, killing one and injuring the other. Knowing he had used a .308-caliber rifle, police got a warrant to search the home that he shared with his parents and seize that type of rifle and ammunition. They did not find a .308-caliber rifle but found 46 guns belonging to the parents. The officers got a second warrant and seized them. Frein was eventually arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. The government never used the parents' guns at trial, sentencing, or on appeal. The parents were not charged nor was it alleged that any of their guns were involved in the crime. The parents went to Pennsylvania state court and unsuccessfully asked to get their guns back, raising Second Amendment, takings, due process, excessive fines, and state-law objections.The parents then sued under 42 U.S.C.1983, arguing that by keeping the guns, the government is violating the Takings Clause and the Second Amendment’s right to “keep" arms and that the state’s procedure for letting them reclaim their property violated procedural due process. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit vacated in part. By keeping the parents’ guns after the criminal case ended, the officials took their property for public use without compensating them. Because the parents lawfully owned the guns, they also have a Second Amendment claim. However, they had a real chance to challenge the government’s actions and got procedural due process. View "Frein v. Pennsylvania State Police" on Justia Law

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Granthon was shot dead on a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania street corner. A day earlier, Granton had purchased an ounce of crack cocaine from Burton. Granthon “was short a couple grams” and sought a refund. The evidence linking Burton to Granthon’s death was “overwhelming.” Burton was convicted of first-degree murder. Williams was also charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy, and reckless endangerment of another but the evidence was weaker. No witness recognized Williams and no cell phone records placed him near the scene that night. Williams claimed he spent the night at a casino, but offered conflicting alibi stories and never used his casino rewards card that night. Williams’s trial lawyer’s “defense theory” was that Williams was “not placed at the scene.” He did not call Rochon, a witness at Burton’s trial whose testimony allegedly indicated that Granthon also shot a gun, nor did he make the case for self-defense or voluntary manslaughter.Williams was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of his petition for habeas relief, rejecting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. His trial attorney’s alleged negligence is not self-evident, as the attorney may have reasonably thought that self-defense arguments would detract from an alibi defense. To show his attorney was negligent, Williams would need to develop the record in district court but the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act forbids federal courts from supplementing the state court record under these circumstances. View "Williams v. Superintendent Mahanoy SCI" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 challenging a Jersey City ordinance curtailing the ability of property owners and leaseholders to operate short-term rentals. The plaintiffs alleged that having passed an earlier zoning ordinance legalizing short-term rentals, which enticed them to invest in properties and long-term leases, the city violated their rights under the Takings Clause, the Contract Clause, and the Due Process Clauses by passing the new ordinance, which, they allege, undermined their legitimate, investment-backed expectations and injured their short-term rental businesses. The plaintiffs also sought a preliminary injunction. The district court dismissed the complaint.The Third Circuit affirmed. Not every municipal act legalizing a business activity vests the business owner with a cognizable property right. The plaintiffs’ forward-looking right to pursue their short-term rental businesses is not cognizable under the Takings Clause, but the plaintiffs articulated three cognizable property rights: use and enjoyment of their purchased properties, long-term leases, and short-term rental contracts. Because the properties may still be put to multiple economically viable uses, there has been no total taking of those “properties.” Rejecting “partial takings” claims, the court noted that the plaintiffs may have relied on the previous ordinance in deciding to invest in short-term rentals but they failed to take into account the restrictions in place in that ordinance and the city’s strong interest in regulating residential housing. View "Nekrilov v. City of Jersey City" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Thompson was accepted a position as the Education Unit Supervisor for the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families (DSCYF) with a one-year probationary period. Thompson’s predecessor, Porter, successfully contested her termination. In 2017, Thompson was informed that Porter would be reinstated as Education Supervisor and that Thompson would become the Transition Coordinator. DSCYF did not permit Thompson to pursue a grievance. Thompson worked as the Transition Coordinator for several weeks, then had emergency surgery in May 2017. Thompson’s probationary period was set to end in July 2017. Unbeknownst to Thompson, her probationary period was extended. Thompson returned to work in October 2017. DSCYF demoted Thompson to a teaching position. Thompson was not allowed to contest the demotion. Thompson lacked the necessary special education certifications for her new position. Porter recommended in April 2018 that Thompson be terminated for failure to obtain special education certifications. Thompson filed a grievance. Thompson was terminated from DSCYF on July 2, 2018.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Thompson’s claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of her due process rights. As a former probationary employee at DSCYF, Thompson did not have a protected property interest in her employment. Thompson’s claim under the Delaware Whistleblowers’ Protection Act was dismissed because the Eleventh Amendment precluded the claim. View "Thompson v. State of Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families" on Justia Law

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Messina filed suit, accusing Coello—who was dating Messina’s former boyfriend— of harassment. Coello pled not guilty and the charge was dismissed. Subsequently, private attorney Estabrooks requested an appointment to prosecute Messina’s complaint. New Jersey Court Rules permit courts to appoint a “private prosecutor to represent the State in cases involving cross-complaints.” This 2007 prosecution did not involve a cross-complaint and Estabrooks did not disclose that she was also representing Messina in custody and other civil actions against Coello’s boyfriend. Without recording any findings as to the need for a private prosecutor or the suitability of Estabrooks, Municipal Judge DiLeo approved her application. Irregularities continued at trial and post-conviction. Without addressing Coello’s lack of representation or her evidence, DiLeo reinstated her jail term based on a letter from Estabrooks.In 2016, a New Jersey state court vacated Coello's harassment conviction. The prosecution, by then familiar with allegations of judicial misconduct against DiLeo, did not oppose the motion. In 2020, Coello filed this federal civil rights action against Estabrooks, DiLeo, and municipal defendants. The district court dismissed most of her claims as untimely, reasoning that at the time of her trial and sentencing, Coello had reason to know of her alleged injuries. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal, citing the special timeliness rules governing her precise claims. Under Heck v. Humphrey, her claims all imply the invalidity of her criminal prosecution; she could not file suit until her conviction was vacated View "Coello v. DiLeo" on Justia Law