Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The case involves the Office of the United States Trustee and a group of Chapter 11 debtors, John Q. Hammons Fall 2006, LLC, et al. The issue at hand is the remedy for a constitutional violation identified in a previous case, Siegel v. Fitzgerald, where a statute was found to violate the Bankruptcy Clause’s uniformity requirement as it allowed different fees for Chapter 11 debtors depending on the district where their case was filed. The government argued for prospective parity as the appropriate remedy, while the debtors argued for a refund.The Bankruptcy Court found no constitutional violation and did not address the remedial question. The Tenth Circuit reversed this decision, finding that the fee statute permitting nonuniform fees violated the Bankruptcy Clause and ordered a refund of the debtors’ quarterly fees. The U.S. Trustee sought certiorari, which was granted by the Supreme Court.The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit's decision. The Court agreed with the government that the appropriate remedy for the constitutional violation is prospective parity. The Court held that requiring equal fees for otherwise identical Chapter 11 debtors going forward aligns with congressional intent, corrects the constitutional wrong, and complies with due process. The Court rejected the debtors' argument for a refund, stating that such a remedy would require undercutting congressional intent and transforming a program that Congress designed to be self-funding into a significant bill for taxpayers. The Court concluded that neither remedial principles nor due process requires such an outcome. View "United States Trustee v. John Q. Hammons Fall 2006, LLC" on Justia Law

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In October 2022, Starship Enterprises of Atlanta, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Gwinnett County, challenging a 2015 county ordinance regulating "Adult Establishments." Starship, which owns two stores in Gwinnett County, had previously filed a similar lawsuit in 2017, which it voluntarily dismissed. The county, however, maintained its counterclaim, and the trial court granted the county a permanent injunction restraining Starship from "regularly making more than 100 sexual devices available for sale" at each of its locations. Starship appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of a permanent injunction against Starship.In the second lawsuit, Starship invoked a constitutional amendment that waives sovereign immunity for certain lawsuits, including lawsuits against a county for declaratory judgment and related injunctive relief. The trial court dismissed Starship’s lawsuit, holding that it was barred by sovereign immunity and by res judicata. Starship appealed to the Court of Appeals, which transferred the case to the Supreme Court of Georgia due to the novel constitutional question involved.The Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that although the constitutional waiver of sovereign immunity applied to Starship’s lawsuit, the suit was barred by res judicata. The court found that Starship's lawsuit sought relief from the county's prospective acts of enforcement, which will occur after January 1, 2021, and therefore the county’s sovereign immunity was waived under the constitutional amendment. However, the court also found that the lawsuit was barred by res judicata because the constitutional matters Starship now sought to raise could have been raised in the previous lawsuit. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing the lawsuit. View "STARSHIP ENTERPRISES OF ATLANTA, INC. v. GWINNETT COUNTY" on Justia Law

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Seattle Pacific University (SPU), a religious institution, filed a lawsuit against the Washington Attorney General, alleging First Amendment violations arising from the Attorney General's investigation into the university's employment policies and history under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). SPU prohibits employees from engaging in same-sex intercourse and marriage. After receiving complaints, the Attorney General requested documents related to SPU's employment policies, employee complaints, and job descriptions. SPU sought to enjoin the investigation and any future enforcement of WLAD.The district court dismissed the suit, citing lack of redressability and Younger abstention. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court held that SPU failed to allege a cognizable injury for its retrospective claims, as the Attorney General's request for documents carried no penalties for non-compliance. However, the court found that SPU had standing for its prospective pre-enforcement injury claims, as SPU intended to continue employment practices arguably proscribed by WLAD, the Attorney General had not disavowed its intent to investigate and enforce WLAD against SPU, and SPU's injury was redressable. The court also held that Younger abstention was not warranted as there were no ongoing enforcement actions or any court judgment. The case was remanded to the district court to consider prudential ripeness. View "SEATTLE PACIFIC UNIVERSITY V. FERGUSON" on Justia Law

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The case involves the American Alliance for Equal Rights (the Alliance), a membership organization dedicated to ending racial classifications and preferences in America, and Fearless Fund Management, LLC (Fearless), a venture capital fund that invests in businesses led by women of color. Fearless organized the "Fearless Strivers Grant Contest," a funding competition open only to businesses owned by black women. The Alliance, representing several members who wished to participate in the contest but were not black women, sued Fearless, alleging that the contest violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which prohibits private parties from discriminating on the basis of race when making or enforcing contracts.The district court denied the Alliance's request for a preliminary injunction to prevent Fearless from closing the application process. The court concluded that the Alliance had standing to sue and that § 1981 applied to Fearless's contest. However, it also concluded that the First Amendment "may bar" the Alliance's § 1981 claim on the ground that the contest constitutes expressive conduct, and that the Alliance hadn't demonstrated that it would suffer irreparable injury.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the Alliance has standing and that preliminary injunctive relief is appropriate because Fearless's contest is substantially likely to violate § 1981, is substantially unlikely to enjoy First Amendment protection, and inflicts irreparable injury. The court affirmed the district court's determination that the Alliance has standing to sue but reversed its decision and remanded with instructions to enter a preliminary injunction. View "American Alliance for Equal Rights v. Fearless Fund Management, LLC, et al" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Roy Padilla and Ray Torres, where Padilla, the landlord, filed a petition in the metropolitan court under the Uniform Owner-Resident Relations Act (UORRA), alleging that Torres, his tenant, had not paid rent. The metropolitan court ruled in favor of Padilla, ordering Torres to pay past-due rent and costs amounting to $927. Torres appealed this judgment to the Second Judicial District Court, but the appeal was dismissed because Torres had failed to request a recording of the metropolitan court’s trial.The district court held that without a record of the trial, it could not effectively review Torres’s appeal. The court also rejected Torres’s assertion that he had a right to a recording, explaining that Torres, as appellant, was required to provide an adequate record on appeal. Torres then appealed the dismissal to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the metropolitan court’s practice of not recording civil proceedings except on a party’s request was inconsistent with Section 34-8A-6(B) (1993) and violated his state and federal constitutional rights.The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico held that the failure to record the trial in this matter is contrary to Section 34-8A-6(B) (1993). The court concluded that the statute imposes a duty on the metropolitan court to create a record of its proceedings that will be sufficient to permit appellate review in this case. The court further held that Rule 3708(A) and other similar rules impermissibly conflict with Section 34-8A-6(B) to the extent that the rules condition the creation of this record on a party’s request. The court directed its committee for the Rules of Civil Procedure for the State Courts to correct the rules in conformance with its opinion. Finally, the court reversed and remanded this matter to the metropolitan court for a new trial. View "Padilla v. Torres" on Justia Law

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A dispute arose between the Alabama-West Florida Conference ("the Conference") of the United Methodist Church, Inc. ("the UMC"), and 44 Methodist churches in the Conference ("the churches"). Amid disagreements within the UMC over issues of human sexuality, the churches sought to leave the UMC with their properties under a provision of the Book of Discipline, the governing law of the UMC. After the Conference denied the churches the ability to vote to disaffiliate under that provision, the churches asked the Montgomery Circuit Court to order the Conference to grant them that vote. The trial court dismissed the suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.The Montgomery Circuit Court held an emergency hearing and heard evidence. The next day, the court dismissed the suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because, according to the court, the relief that the churches requested was "ecclesiastical in nature and would require Court interference in matters of church autonomy," which would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The churches appealed that judgment.The Supreme Court of Alabama reviewed the case and affirmed the trial court's judgment. The churches argued that the trial court erred in dismissing their suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because, they said, the case presents only "civil and property issues." However, the Supreme Court of Alabama held that the churches' central claims turn entirely on the interpretation of the provision of the Book of Discipline and whether their efforts to leave the UMC were consistent with that church law. Under existing First Amendment law and the court's precedent, that interpretive issue constitutes an ecclesiastical question that courts do not have jurisdiction to decide. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Aldersgate United Methodist Church of Montgomery v. Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Texas reviewed a case involving the State of Texas, Ken Paxton in his official capacity as Attorney General of Texas, the Texas Medical Board, and Stephen Brint Carlton in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Texas Medical Board (collectively, the State) against a group of women and physicians. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of Texas's abortion laws, specifically the Human Life Protection Act, which generally prohibits performing an abortion except when a pregnant woman has a life-threatening physical condition that poses a risk of death or serious physical impairment unless an abortion is performed.The case reached the Supreme Court of Texas as a direct appeal from a temporary injunction issued by the 353rd District Court, Travis County, Texas, which halted the enforcement of Texas's abortion laws in various circumstances. The State contested the injunction, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing, the State had sovereign immunity, and the current Texas law permitting life-saving abortion was not more limiting than the Texas Constitution permits.The Supreme Court of Texas held that one of the plaintiffs, Dr. Damla Karsan, had standing to challenge the Attorney General’s enforcement of the Human Life Protection Act against her. The court also concluded that the Declaratory Judgments Act waives the State’s immunity for a claim that a statute violates the state constitution. The court further clarified that under the Human Life Protection Act, a woman with a life-threatening physical condition and her physician have the legal authority to proceed with an abortion to save the woman’s life or major bodily function, in the exercise of reasonable medical judgment and with the woman’s informed consent. The court concluded that Dr. Karsan had not demonstrated that the part of the Human Life Protection Act that permits life-saving abortion is narrower than the Texas Constitution allows. As a result, the court vacated the lower court's injunction order. View "State v. Zurawski" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Justin Keener, who operated under the name JMJ Financial. Keener's business model involved purchasing convertible notes from microcap issuers, converting those notes into common stock, and selling that stock in the public market at a profit. This practice, known as "toxic" or "death spiral" financing, can harm microcap companies and existing investors by causing the stock price to drop significantly. Keener made over $7.7 million in profits from this practice. However, he never registered as a dealer with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).The SEC filed a civil enforcement action against Keener, alleging that he operated as an unregistered dealer in violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted summary judgment for the SEC, enjoining Keener from future securities transactions as an unregistered dealer and ordering him to disgorge the profits from his convertible-note business.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Keener appealed the district court's decision. He argued that he did not violate the Securities Exchange Act because he never effectuated securities orders for customers. He also claimed that the SEC violated his rights to due process and equal protection.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. It held that Keener operated as an unregistered dealer in violation of the Securities Exchange Act. The court rejected Keener's argument that he could not have been a dealer because he never effectuated securities orders for customers. It also dismissed Keener's claims that the SEC violated his rights to due process and equal protection. The court upheld the district court's imposition of a permanent injunction and its order for Keener to disgorge his profits. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Keener" on Justia Law

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A group of Arkansas landowners sued Lawrence County, alleging that a bridge constructed by the county had caused their farms to flood, constituting an unlawful taking of their properties without just compensation, in violation of the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions. The landowners claimed that the bridge acted as a dam, forcing excessive water into the Cache River, which then spilled onto their farms. They presented expert testimony to support their claims and sought damages based on the fair rental value of their properties during the period of the alleged taking.The district court upheld a jury award of nearly $350,000 to the landowners but rejected their request for an order to tear down the bridge. The county appealed the damages award, arguing that the landowners had failed to offer sufficient evidence of damages since they did not calculate the value of crops actually lost. The landowners cross-appealed the denial of their request for injunctive relief.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision on the damages award, holding that the evidence permitted the jury to make a fair and reasonable approximation of damages. The court found that the landowners were not obliged to prove damages by providing evidence of the amount of crops they expected to grow versus the amount of crops they actually grew due to increased flooding. Instead, they were entitled to recover the fair rental value of the property during the period of the taking.However, the court vacated the district court's order denying injunctive relief and remanded for the court to give the landowners' request a more focused consideration. The court found that the district court had relied heavily on the law of standing, which was not at issue, and had ventured into areas that had little bearing on a proper evaluation of the request for injunctive relief. View "Watkins v. Lawrence County, Arkansas" on Justia Law

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Cory Sessler, a religious preacher, and his group were preaching loudly at a commercial festival in Davenport, Iowa. The festival was held in a fenced-off area of the city's downtown streets and sidewalks, which were typically considered a "traditional public forum". However, during the festival, pedestrian access was controlled and vendors had rented spaces to sell goods. Sessler and his group, who were not paying vendors, were asked by police officers to relocate outside the fences due to complaints from nearby vendors. Sessler later sued the officers and the city, alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights.The district court denied Sessler's request for a preliminary injunction, a decision which was affirmed by the appellate court. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that the officers did not violate Sessler's rights and that they were protected by qualified immunity. The court also granted summary judgment to the city on the official-policy claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed that qualified immunity applied to the claims against the officers. The court found that it was unclear whether the fenced-off city streets and sidewalks remained a "traditional public forum" or served as a less-protected "limited public forum" during the festival. The court also found that no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the officers' actions were anything but content neutral or that such actions were unreasonable. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Sessler v. City of Davenport, Iowa" on Justia Law