Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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LeRoy Wheeler appeals from orders dismissing without prejudice his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action against prison officials and denying his request for reconsideration. In February 2021, Wheeler commenced this § 1983 action against North Dakota State Penitentiary officials (“State”) by serving a summons and complaint upon the State. Wheeler did not file the summons and complaint with the district court at that time, and has never served a notice of filing the complaint upon the State. In March 2021, Wheeler moved for a “continuance” to extend his time to reply to the State’s “answer,” which was served on Wheeler, but was never filed with the court. In February 2022, eleven months after Wheeler moved for a “continuance” in this case, the district court filed a “notice of intent to dismiss,” stating the court’s intent to dismiss the case without prejudice on its own motion unless a party requested, within three weeks, that the case remain open. None of the parties responded, and the court dismissed the action without prejudice. Wheeler requested reconsideration, alleging that he did not receive notice of intent to dismiss. The court denied the request to reconsider. Because these orders were not appealable, the North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Wheeler v. Sayler, et al." on Justia Law

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K.I., a minor who lives in Durham, North Carolina, was diagnosed with a variety of learning and psycho-social disorders. Dissatisfied with her school’s response to her request for special education services, K.I. and her mother J.I. asked for and received a hearing under North Carolina’s administrative procedures. Because they disagreed with the hearing decision, K.I. and J.I. tried to appeal it administratively. But their appeal was not considered because K.I. and J.I. did not follow North Carolina’s rules for filing appeals. K.I. and J.I. sued in federal court under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”). The district court found that K.I. and J.I.’s failure to properly appeal under North Carolina’s administrative rules meant that they had not exhausted their administrative remedies. So, it dismissed the federal action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. K.I. and J.I.’s appeal of that decision.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court held that it agreed with the district court because K.I. and J.I. did not challenge the court’s ruling on the ADA and Section 504 claims; the issue is waived. Second, the court found that the district court correctly analyzed these claims. Both the ADA and Section 504 claims sought relief due to the alleged failure of Durham Public Schools and the State Board to provide a FAPE to K.I. Thus, under Fry, the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement applied to those claims. The court also affirmed the district court in dismissing the ADA and Section 504 claims. View "K.I. v. Durham Public Schools Board" on Justia Law

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Appellant, proceeding pro se and under the pseudonym, “Publius Publicola,” appeals from the district court’s judgment (1) denying his motion to proceed under a pseudonym and (2) dismissing his claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against various state and municipal officials and agencies for actions they took in response to his efforts to seal records pertaining to criminal cases from his youth.   After the Court ordered him to refile his briefs under his real name, with leave to request filing under seal should circumstances justify the filing of a redacted version on the public docket, Appellant submitted a letter indicating his refusal to comply with the Court’s order.   On appeal, the Second Circuit was tasked with deciding (1) whether a litigant may comply with Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32(d) – which requires that “every brief, motion, or other paper filed with the Court of Appeals must be signed by the party filing the paper” – by signing his submissions under a pseudonym; and (2) whether a pro se appellant’s failure to comply with that requirement warrants dismissal of his appeal.   The Second Circuit dismissed the appeal. The court concluded that, because papers signed under a pseudonym cannot adequately “ensure that a readily identifiable attorney or party takes responsibility for every paper,” they do not satisfy Rule 32(d). The court further concluded that under Rule 3(a)(2) and our precedents emphasizing the obligation of pro se litigants to comply with Court orders, dismissal is warranted here. View "Publicola v. Lomenzo" on Justia Law

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In late 2012, 16-year-old Shane McGuire and a group of his friends smashed pumpkins and stacked bricks on the doorstep of a home in McGuire’s neighborhood. The teens were still on the property when the homeowner, City of Pittsburgh Police Officer Colby Neidig, arrived home with his wife and children. McGuire watched the family’s reaction to the vandalism and then banged on the front door and ran away, accidentally tripping over his own brick boobytrap in the process. Neidig saw McGuire running, and gave chase, catching McGuire, knocking him to the ground and punching McGuire in the face. Neidig was not wearing his police uniform at the time, nor did he identify himself as a police officer. Neidig called 911 and restrained McGuire until Officer David Blatt, an on-duty City of Pittsburgh police officer, arrived. Two years later, McGuire filed a federal lawsuit against Neidig, Blatt, and the City of Pittsburgh, asserting excessive use of force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 19833 and state law assault and battery claims. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in McGuire’s favor, finding that Neidig used unreasonable force against McGuire while acting under color of state law under Section 1983, and that Neidig was liable for McGuire’s assault and battery claims as well. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review involved whether the City of Pittsburgh had a statutory duty to indemnify one of its police officers for the judgment entered against him in a federal civil rights lawsuit. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that a federal jury’s finding that a police officer acted “under color of state law” for purposes of Section 19831 necessarily constituted a “judicial determination” that he also acted within the “scope of his office or duties” for purposes of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Thus, the judgment was affirmed. View "McGuire v. City of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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In 2021, Tennessee enacted a statute that vaccination, masking, and quarantine decisions: “A local health entity or official, mayor, governmental entity, or school does not have the authority to quarantine a person or private business for purposes of COVID-19,” and “a school or a governing body of a school shall not require a person to wear a face mask while on school property” unless various conditions are met. Before seeking accommodation under its terms, eight minor students with disabilities filed suit, alleging that the legislation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101m Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Supremacy Clause. The district court granted a preliminary injunction with respect to sections of the Act concerning face coverings for schools and provisions that prohibit local health officials and schools from making quarantining decisions as they relate to public schools.While acknowledging that the case is moot, the Sixth Circuit dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiffs’ argument that they are injured because the Act categorically violates the ADA amounts to an overly generalized grievance. They do not seek redress for a completed violation of a legal right; they seek only prospective relief to protect against future violations. Their injuries are not fairly traceable to any defendant, so no remedy applicable to those defendants (be it an injunction or a declaration) would redress the alleged injuries. View "R. K. v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, who identify as Moorish Americans, sought to enter the Caddo Parish Courthouse to file documents with the court clerk. Upon arriving at the security-screening station, plaintiffs informed the officers on duty that they wished to enter without passing through the security screening. After Plaintiffs’ repeated refusals to depart, the officers stated they would count to three and, if Plaintiffs refused to leave, they would be arrested. They did not depart and were arrested, charged with violating Louisiana Revised Statutes Section 14:63.3.Plaintiffs brought a litany of claims against various officials serving in Caddo Parish and the Louisiana state government based on their actions taken during the arrest. Plaintiffs also moved for recusal of the magistrate judge, which the district court denied.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiffs have pointed to no precedent that abrogates the general “search incident to arrest” rule when religious headwear is involved. Accordingly, the district court correctly granted summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity. Further, the court held that there was no error in the district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for recusal of the magistrate judge. The magistrate judge did not work on this case in private practice nor work with Defendants’ counsel in the practice of law while he was working on this case. Nor is there evidence of any bias or knowledge of the case that would have required the district court, in its discretion, to order recusal. View "Foley Bey v. Prator" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Floyd Bledsoe spent sixteen years in prison for the November 1999 murder of his fourteen-year-old sister-in-law Camille in Jefferson County, Kansas. In 2015, new DNA testing and a suicide note from Bledsoe’s brother Tom supported Bledsoe’s longstanding claim that Tom was the killer and Bledsoe was innocent. A state court subsequently vacated Bledsoe’s convictions and prosecutors dismissed all charges against him. In 2016, Bledsoe filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against ten named defendants, most of whom were Kansas law enforcement officers. Bledsoe alleged that Defendants conspired to fabricate evidence implicating him in the murder and intentionally suppressed evidence that would have proved his innocence, thereby causing him to be charged, tried, and convicted without even probable cause to believe he was guilty. At issue in this appeal was the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) by Defendant-Appellants, all of whom were law enforcement officers employed by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. In their motion, Appellants argued they were entitled to qualified immunity because Bledsoe: (1) failed to state claims adequately alleging that Appellants deprived Bledsoe of his constitutional rights; and/or (2) any constitutional violations Bledsoe did adequately allege against Appellants were not clearly established in 1999, when the events at issue occurred. The district court denied Appellants qualified immunity on most of Bledsoe’s claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment. The Court concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) did not preclude Bledsoe’s substantive due process claims. Further, the Court found Bledsoe adequately alleged substantive due process and Fourth Amendment claims against each Appellant for evidence fabrication and for suppressing exculpatory evidence, a malicious prosecution claim, conspiracy claims, and a failure-to-intervene claim. Lastly, the Court concluded all the constitutional violations Bledsoe alleged except his failure-to-intervene claim were clearly established in 1999. The district court, therefore, correctly denied Appellants qualified immunity on all but the failure-to-intervene claim. View "Bledsoe v. Board Cty Comm. Jefferson KS, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was dismissed from her role as a Cadre On-Call Response Employee (CORE) for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2017. Plaintiff claimed that her dismissal resulted from race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Following administrative proceedings in which an administrative law judge rejected her complaint, Plaintiff filed suit in federal district court. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s order granting FEMA summary judgment and denying her motion for additional time to conduct discovery, arguing that the court abused its discretion by declining to grant a continuance under Rule 56(d) as required by Chandler v. Roudebush.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that because Plaintiff failed to diligently pursue her limited discovery needs during the two-month continuance, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying her Rule 56(d) motion. Further, Chandler cannot be construed as demanding further discovery where, as here, the government acquiesces, but the employee fails to diligently pursue it. Plaintiff received a de novo trial and treatment equal to that afforded to a private-sector employee. The district court did not contravene Chandler by denying further discovery and granting the summary judgment motion. View "Dominick v. DHS" on Justia Law

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La Vonya Price worked intermittently as a part-time substitute special education aide at the Victor Valley Unified School District (the District) before applying for a full-time position. She received an offer for a full-time position that was contingent on passing a physical exam. When she failed the physical exam for not being “medically suitable for the position,” the District rescinded the offer, terminated her as a substitute, and disqualified her from any future employment with the District. Price sued the District for retaliation and various disability-related claims, but the trial court granted summary judgment to the District. Price appealed, contending the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment to the District because there were triable issues of fact concerning all of her claims. The Court of Appeal agreed as to her first claim for disability discrimination, but disagreed as to the rest of her claims. View "Price v. Victor Valley Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Brandon Fresquez filed suit against his former employer, defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), claiming that BNSF violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) by terminating his employment in retaliation for him engaging in certain activities that were expressly protected under the FRSA. A jury found in favor of Fresquez on his claim of retaliation under the FRSA, and awarded him $800,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Following the trial, Fresquez moved for an award of back and front pay. The district court granted that motion in part and awarded Fresquez a total of $696,173. BNSF argued on appeal: (1) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the merits of Fresquez’s claims; (2) alternatively, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. BNSF further argues that it was entitled to a new trial on the merits of Fresquez’s claims based on the district court’s admission of character and other prejudicial evidence; (3) it was entitled to a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by awarding Fresquez ten years’ worth of front pay. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed judgment. View "Fresquez v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law