Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Around 8:30 p.m., Milwaukee officers responded to a complaint by a store employee that a Mercury Grand Marquis drove around the store’s parking lot five times. Officer Newport believed this was consistent with preparation for a robbery. He knew that this store had been robbed recently, with firearms. The store closed at 9 p.m. and would soon be empty. Newport observed a Mercury Marquis about 30 feet from the store's entrance, parked next to a Chevrolet Malibu, driven by Green. Newport claims, and Green disputes, that Lindsey, the Marquis driver, stood next to the Malibu's front passenger door, leaned inside, and stood back up. Newport suspected that Lindsey had concealed a weapon. The officers told the men to put up their hands and directed Green to exit the vehicle. Newport claims, and Green disputes, that Green exited with his right arm kept tight to his body while his left swung freely and that after asking Green to raise his arms, Green raised only his left arm. Newport grabbed Green’s wrist but Green resisted. Newport proceeded to pat him down and discovered a handgun in Green’s waistband. Green sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1988. The court ruled that the investigatory stop violated a clearly established constitutional right, and denied qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Newport had a plausible reason to suspect that Green was armed and dangerous. View "Green v. Newport" on Justia Law

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Kolton deposited money into an interest-bearing bank account in Illinois. Years passed without activity in the account, so the bank transferred Kolton’s money to the state as the Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act requires. The Act is not an escheat statute; it gives Illinois custody, not ownership, of “presumed abandoned” property. Most such property gets invested, with any income that accrues earmarked for Illinois’s pensioners. Owners may file a claim for return of their property, but the Act limits the Treasurer to returning the amount received into custody. Kolton brought a purported class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of the Takings Clause, which protects the time value of money just as much as it does money itself. The judge dismissed for want of subject-matter jurisdiction, stating that under the Supreme Court’s “Williamson” holding, a plaintiff usually must try to obtain compensation under state law before litigating a takings suit. Kolton filed neither a claim with the Treasurer nor a lawsuit in state court seeking just compensation. The Seventh Circuit vacated, noting that Section 1983 does not create a cause of action against the state and the Treasurer, personally, did not deprive Kolton of his money. Williamson was not concerned with jurisdiction. View "Kolton v. Frerichs" on Justia Law

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Streckenbach, an inmate of Wisconsin's Redgranite Correctional Institution, left two boxes of personal property for his son to pick up. Under the prison’s policy, property on deposit had to be collected within 30 days. If that did not occur, the prison’s staff was to ship the property to someone the inmate had designated; if the inmate’s account did not have enough money to cover shipping costs, the property was to be destroyed. The policy warned inmates that they were responsible for ensuring that their accounts had enough money on the 30th day. Streckenbach’s son did not retrieve the boxes within the allotted time. VanDensen, the sergeant in charge of the mailroom, calculated a shipping cost of about $9.50, $2 more than Streckenbach had available. VanDensen had the property destroyed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Streckenbach’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which Streckenback claimed that VanDensen violated his due process rights by destroying his property without notice. He claimed that the policy, promulgated in 2013, had not been communicated to the prisoners. VanDensen was not responsible for giving notice. VanDensen only carried out the policy. Negligent bureaucratic errors do not violate the Due Process Clause. View "Streckenbach v. Van Densen" on Justia Law

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An Indiana county may subsidize private dispute resolution in domestic-relations cases. Under Marion County's Plan, a party to a domestic-relations suit may request subsidized mediation, or the court may order it of its own accord. King asked the Marion Circuit Court to refer his case to mediation and authorize a subsidy. The court ordered both. King, who is deaf, also requested an American Sign Language interpreter. The judge denied that request. In court King would have had an interpreter at no cost to him. King proceeded through mediation, employing his stepfather as his interpreter. King then sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that, by refusing to provide him with a free interpreter in mediation, the court “by reason of [his] disability … denied [him] the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity,” 42 U.S.C. 12132. The district court awarded him $10,380. The Seventh Circuit reversed without addressing the merits. The Marion Circuit Court is a division of the state. Indiana has asserted sovereign immunity. Congress cannot authorize federal litigation against the states to enforce statutory rights under grants of power other than the Fourteenth Amendment, such as the Commerce Clause; to the extent that statutory rules are unnecessary to prevent constitutional violations, they do not overcome sovereign immunity. View "King v. Marion County Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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Doornbos was leaving a Chicago train station when a plainclothes police officer confronted him, grabbed him, and with the help of other plainclothes officers, forced him to the ground. Doornbos was acquitted of resisting arrest. He sued the officers and the city for excessive force and malicious prosecution, claiming that Officer Williamson failed to identify himself as an officer and then used excessive force. Williamson claims that he properly identified himself and that Doornbos fled when Williamson attempted to stop and frisk him. The Seventh Circuit vacated a verdict in favor of the defendants. The court properly admitted evidence that Dornbos had marijuana in his pocket. Although the marijuana was unknown to the officers at the time, it arguably tended to corroborate their account of Doornbos’s behavior. The jury instructions on Terry stops, however, were inadequate. Over Doornbos’s objection, the court instructed the jury only on investigatory stops but not frisks. Williamson’s testimony indicated that he was starting a frisk when he first approached Doornbos and that he did not have reasonable suspicion that Doornbos was armed and dangerous. Doornbos was entitled to have the jury know that the attempted frisk, which produced the use of force, was unjustified. In addition, the jury asked whether plainclothes officers must identify themselves when conducting a stop. The judge said no. In all but the most unusual circumstances, where identification would itself make the situation more dangerous, plainclothes officers must identify themselves when initiating a stop. These errors were not harmless. View "Doornbos v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Mourning worked for Ternes from 1997 until the company fired her in 2013. In February 2013, Frey, Mourning’s manager, granted Mourning leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. 2615, to treat her encephalopathy. Mourning returned to work less than two months later. While Mourning was on leave, eight of her 10 subordinates submitted an internal complaint, alleging that Mourning intimidated and publicly humiliated them, acted unpredictably, and micromanaged her team. Before that submission, Mourning had never been the subject of a written complaint, nor had she ever been disciplined. Frey had rated Mourning’s performance as above “exceptional,” at her last evaluation in May 2012. Upon her return from leave, Mourning responded with a written rebuttal and her own internal complaint against the staff. A client indicated that Mourning’s “performance was not up to his standards.” The company fired Frey and Mourning. The company promoted another female to Mourning’s position. Mourning sued, alleging discrimination based on her sex (Title VII, 2 U.S.C. 2000e-2), and retaliation for taking medical leave. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment rejecting Mourning’s claims. Mourning did not have any direct evidence of sex discrimination nor did she produce evidence from which it could be inferred that she was meeting legitimate expectations, she was similarly situated to a more favorably treated employee, or that the reason for firing her was pretextual. View "Mourning v. Ternes Packaging, Indiana, Inc" on Justia Law

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Murphy was convicted of rape by force in Los Angeles 37 years ago and was required, while he resided in the state, to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Murphy moved to Wisconsin 21 years later and was convicted of aggravated assault. While he never registered in Wisconsin as a sex offender, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections determined that because of his California conviction, Murphy should register as a sex offender for the rest of his life once he was released from prison, in Wisconsin. Murphy challenged that determination. The Department removed Murphy from the registry. For almost two years, Murphy was free from sex offender restrictions and from the state’s registration requirements. Murphy filed a civil rights suit. The Department determined that it had erred and returned him to the registry. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, rejecting an argument that Murphy was denied due process before being placed on the registry because he did not receive prior notice and an opportunity to be heard. The Supreme Court has been clear that the Constitution does not require that a state provide individuals with process before being placed on a sex offender registry if the decision is based upon a conviction. View "Murphy v. Rychlowski" on Justia Law

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Stinson spent 23 years in jail for a murder he did not commit. No eyewitness testimony or fingerprints connected him to the murder. Two dentists testified as experts that Stinson’s dentition matched the teeth marks on the victim’s body. A jury found Stinson guilty. After DNA evidence helped exonerate Stinson, he filed this civil suit against the lead detective and the dentists alleging that they violated due process by fabricating the expert opinions and failing to disclose their agreement to fabricate. The district court denied the defendants’ motions for summary judgment seeking qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit dismissed appeals for lack of jurisdiction. The court distinguished between appeals from denials of summary judgment qualified immunity based on evidentiary sufficiency and those “presenting more abstract issues of law.” The appeals failed to take the facts and reasonable inferences from the record in the light most favorable to Stinson and challenge the sufficiency of the evidence on questions of fact, precluding interlocutory review. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction to consider and affirmed the denial of absolute immunity. That denial was correct because Stinson’s claims focus on the defendants’ conduct while the murder was being investigated, not on their trial testimony or trial testimony preparation. View "Stinson v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Farmer was convicted of armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113(a) and (d), and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). Farmer drove the getaway car and was not in the bank during the robbery. Her convictions were premised on an accomplice theory under 18 U.S.C. 2. In 2014 the Supreme Court held (Rosemond) that a section 924(c) conviction under an accomplice theory requires proof that the accomplice had “foreknowledge that his confederate [would] commit the offense with a firearm.” The jury at Farmer’s 2012 trial was not instructed on a foreknowledge requirement. In a motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255, after Rosemond was decided, Farmer argued that her trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the section 924(c) instruction. The district judge denied relief because Farmer failed to establish that she was prejudiced by that failure to object. On appeal, she attempted to raise the Rosemond issue directly rather than through trial counsel’s ineffectiveness. The Seventh Circuit held that Farmer procedurally defaulted that claim and must establish cause and actual prejudice to excuse the default. She did not do so. The government presented plenty of evidence that Farmer had advance knowledge that a gun would be used, so the Rosemond error was not grave enough to cause actual prejudice. View "Farmer v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, African-Americans, worked for Union Pacific as “Signal Helpers,” an entry‐level job. After a probationary period, both became eligible for promotion. Union Pacific did not respond to their requests to take a required test, then eliminated the Signal Helper position in their zones. Both were terminated. They filed charges with the EEOC. After receiving notification from the EEOC, Union Pacific provided some information but failed to respond to a request for company-wide information, despite issuance of a subpoena. The EEOC issued right‐to‐sue letters, 42 U.S.C. 2000e‐5(f)(1). Plaintiffs sued. The district court granted Union Pacific summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While that action was pending, the EEOC issued Union Pacific a second request for information, served a second subpoena, and brought an enforcement action. The district court denied Union Pacific’s motion to dismiss, rejecting its arguments that the EEOC lost its investigatory authority either after the issuance of a right to sue notice or when Union Pacific obtained a judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting a split in the Circuits. Given the EEOC’s broad role in preventing employment discrimination, including its independent authority to investigate charges of discrimination, especially at a company‐wide level, neither the issuance of a right‐to‐sue letter nor the entry of judgment in a lawsuit brought by individuals bars the EEOC from continuing its own investigation. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law