Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Vasquez and Miguel, convicted child sex offenders, must register as sex offenders and comply with state restrictions on where they may live. A child sex offender may not knowingly live within 500 feet of a school, playground, or child-care center, 720 ILCS 5/11-9.3. A few years after their convictions, Illinois added child and group day-care homes to the 500-foot buffer zone. When the men updated their sex-offender registrations, the Chicago Police Department told them they had to move because child day-care homes had opened up within 500 feet of their residences and gave them 30 days to comply. The men sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the statutory amendment imposed retroactive punishment in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause; that applying the amended statute to them constituted an unconstitutional taking of their property; and that the statute is enforced without a hearing for an individualized risk assessment and is not rationally related to a legitimate state interest, in violation of their due process rights. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of the suit on the pleadings. The amended statute is neither impermissibly retroactive nor punitive. The Takings Clause claim was unexhausted and the amendment was adopted before they acquired their homes, so it did not alter their property-rights expectations. The procedural due process claim fails because there is no right to a hearing to establish a fact irrelevant to the statute. The law “easily satisfies rational-basis review.” View "Vasquez v. Foxx" on Justia Law

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Flatoff took hostages at a Neenah, Wisconsin motorcycle shop. After Flatoff threatened to start shooting, police unsuccessfully attempted an entry. Hostage Funk escaped out the back door of the shop and was shot and killed in the alleyway by two police officers, who mistakenly believed Funk was Flatoff. Funk’s wife filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the officers and the city, alleging that both officers used unreasonable and excessive force against Funk. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that the officers’ conduct was not objectively unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and that even if their conduct was unreasonable, they were shielded from liability by qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the qualified immunity issue dispositive. The court noted that at least one officer believed that the situation was an ambush and that when Funk appeared in the officers’ line‐of‐sight holding a gun, the officers, in a matter of seconds, concluded that Funk was one of the people inside the shop who had shot at them only minutes ago. View "Mason-Funk v. City of Neenah" on Justia Law

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Mitchell is a transgender person who has identified as a woman her entire life. In 2008, Mitchell received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. She was convicted of a crime and sent to Wisconsin’s Columbia Correctional Institution in 2011. Mitchell requested hormone treatment, triggering a multistep process that the Department of Corrections outlined in its then-new policy on Health Care Treatment of Gender Identity Disorder. It took DOC over a year to evaluate Mitchell’s candidacy for hormone therapy. DOC then refused to provide Mitchell with the treatment its own expert recommended, on the ground that Mitchell was within a month of release from the prison. Although DOC’s Mental Health Director encouraged Mitchell to find a community provider to prescribe her hormones, the terms of Mitchell’s parole actually prohibited her from taking hormones or dressing as a woman. Mitchell sued. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the district court prematurely rejected some of Mitchell’s claims. Persons in criminal custody are entirely dependent on the state for their medical care, so prison officials have a constitutional duty to provide inmates with the care they require for serious medical needs. Prison staff cannot wait for an inmate’s sentence to expire before providing necessary treatments; state officials may not block a parolee from independently obtaining health care. The condition must be serious enough to trigger constitutional protection; otherwise, the nature of the disorder is irrelevant. View "Mitchell v. Kallas" on Justia Law

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After Indianapolis police officers Anders and Carmack divorced, Anders stalked and threatened Carmack. The police department eventually opened a criminal investigation and placed a GPS tracking device on Anders's car with a warning mechanism to alert Carmack if he passed nearby. Carmack spent nights away from home so Anders could not locate her. Anders eventually discovered the device on his car and called Robinett—his friend and fellow police officer—who examined it and confirmed that the device was a GPS. Robinett did not tell investigators that Anders had discovered the device. Days later Anders drove to Carmack’s house and killed her and himself. She was not alerted to his approach. Carmack’s estate sued the city, Robinett, and others. The judge granted the defendants summary judgment, holding that Robinett was not liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 because he did not act under color of state law. Robinett requested that the city pay his attorney’s fees and costs under the Indiana public-employee indemnification statute. The judge denied the motion, ruling that the statute applies only when the employee acted within the scope of his employment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A mere allegation that the employee acted within the scope of his employment does not trigger the indemnification obligation. View "Robinett v. City of Indianapolis" on Justia Law

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Wallace was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole in 2006. A few months after he entered prison, he assaulted a guard. He has been in solitary confinement ever since. Wallace lodged a proposed complaint against prison officials and the Illinois Department of Corrections, alleging that his prolonged isolation exacerbates his mental illness, increases his risk of suicide, and violates his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He is unable to pay the civil filing fee and sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. 1915. The district court denied the motion because Wallace had three “strikes” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act for frivolous cases and did not qualify for the statutory exception for a prisoner who is “under imminent danger of serious physical injury.” The Seventh Circuit vacated. Wallace has alleged sufficiently that he faces imminent danger of serious physical injury and has not yet received three “strikes” under the Act. Wallace cannot attend educational or religious classes, visit the law library used by the general population, or earn income from a prison job. Despite taking antidepressants for PTSD he experiences depression, anxiety, panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, and auditory hallucinations. He has attempted suicide at least five times, including three times during his years in segregation. Wallace’s motion to intervene in another prisoner’s suit under FRCP 24 did not qualify for a strike. View "Wallace v. Baldwin" on Justia Law

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On November 6, 2011, Lovelace and another inmate fought over pencils. Officers handcuffed Lovelace and walked him to a van to be taken to the segregation unit. Lovelace kicked through the van window. Lovelace claims that officers carried him out of the van and slammed his face into the ground. Lovelace was then placed inside another van, where officers continued to beat him. At the segregation unit, Officer Smith punched him in the ribs. In a cell, correctional officers removed Lovelace's clothes and continued the assault, leaving Lovelace for several hours without clothing or bedding. Lovelace testified that his eye was swollen shut, that his ribs were bruised, and that he had back pain. He presented evidence from his medical providers. Dr. Bochenek—a psychologist who treated Lovelace at Dixon on January 4, 2012—testified that that Lovelace “discussed his frustration with, what he perceives of as, the lack of attention to the grievance he filed ‘when the C/O’s [correctional officers] kicked my ass.’” The district court redacted the statement—“the C/O’s kicked my ass”—as inadmissible hearsay. Sullivan, a fellow inmate and Lovelace’s only witness to the alleged beating, was unavailable for trial, so designated portions from his deposition were read to the jury. The court excluded Sullivan’s deposition statements that elaborated on his ability to testify truthfully. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of the defendants, upholding those evidentiary rulings. View "Lovelace v. McKenna" on Justia Law

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Indiana uses “drug courts” to tackle substance-abuse problems more flexibly than traditional sentencing regimes, Ind. Code 33-23-16-5. These non-traditional court programs have been shown to reduce recidivism rates in some jurisdictions. The Clark County Drug Treatment Court (DTC) was not a success. Under the stewardship of Judge Jacobi, participants frequently languished in jail for weeks and even months as “sanctions” for noncompliance with program conditions, without the procedural protections required by Indiana law, such as written notice, a right to counsel, or a right to present evidence. DTC staff made arrests despite a clear lack of authority to do so. After these abuses were revealed, program participants filed a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Judicial Center shut down the program. The district court denied class certification, dismissed some claims, and resolved most others on summary judgment. A final claim was settled. The plaintiffs failed to win relief. On appeal of due process claims against three defendants and Fourth Amendment claims against two defendants, the Seventh Circuit stated that it had “no doubt that the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were violated,” but plaintiffs did not establish that these defendants were personally responsible for the systemic breakdown. View "Hoffman v. Knoebel" on Justia Law

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Lieutenant Perales (Hispanic) asked Officer Robinson (biracial) why he did not shave his facial hair in compliance with Department policy. Robinson’s doctor’s note was deemed inadequate. Robinson has folliculitis, a painful skin condition that most often occurs in black men who shave. Weeks later, Robinson revived the issue. Lieutenant Hersey (African‐American) was present. Perales told Robinson that his inquiry was not racially based and recounted that Chicago police used to say that “We don’t back n‐‐‐‐rs up” and Perales claimed, “That’s not me.” Hersey told Perales that this was inappropriate but did not report the incident. Weeks later, Robinson told Perales that he had scheduled another doctor’s appointment and invited Perales to look at his scars, caused by shaving. Perales responded, “it must be the n‐‐‐‐r in you.” Robinson's partner, Pawlik, overheard. Robinson submitted a grievance. Chief Richardson (African-American) imposed a 20‐day suspension. Robinson, Pawlik, and watch commander Spangler noticed that Perales was subjecting Robinson to particular scrutiny. Perales and Hersey directed Spangler to “go against” Robinson and Pawlik. Spangler refused. Another officer reported that Perales had stated that Robinson and Pawlik needed to “watch [their] asses.” Following Robinson's second grievance. Perales was found not to have engaged in any wrongdoing and was reassigned to Internal Affairs. Robinson was passed over for promotion. Spangler received two unwarranted notices of infraction, then was bumped from his watch commander position. In Robinson and Spangler's suit, the court granted the defendants judgment on all claims except for Robinson’s retaliation claim against Perales and the Board. A jury found against Perales and in favor of the Board, awarding Robinson one dollar. The court declined to award Robinson attorneys’ fees. The Seventh Circuit vacated the defendants' judgment on Robinson’s claim for racial harassment and Spangler’s claim for retaliation and otherwise affirmed. View "Spangler v. Perales" on Justia Law

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In 2006 Conway contracted to sell land in Broadview to Donahue, who assigned the contract to Chicago Joe’s Tea Room, LLC. Chicago Joe’s sole manager applied for the required special-use permit. Broadview denied the application in 2007. The land sale contract never closed and the planned strip club never opened. The LLC and Conway filed suit in 2007 alleging that Broadview violated the First Amendment. Broadview amended its ordinances multiple times during the lawsuit. One amendment led District Judge Gottschall, to conclude that Broadview’s amendment to its adult-use setback ordinance was “aimed solely at Chicago Joe’s.” After the case was transferred to Judge Lee, the parties litigated renewed summary judgment motions. Judge Lee granted Broadview summary judgment on Chicago Joe’s declaratory judgment and injunction claims, but denied summary judgment on the damages claim. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the claim for injunctive relief that established interlocutory appellate jurisdiction is actually moot, and affirmed its dismissal. At every stage of the process, Chicago Joe’s has proposed a use of property prohibited by then-current local law, so it has no vested rights. Since 2007, Chicago Joe’s has proposed to use the property in a way prohibited by Illinois statute, without challenging that statute. View "Chicago Joe's Tea Room, LLC v. Village of Broadview" on Justia Law

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McCaa suffers from mental illnesses, with a history of suicide attempts. In his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, he alleged that prison officials and staff were deliberately indifferent to his self‐harm on four occasions. After screening McCaa’s pro se complaint, the court allowed some claims to proceed, relating to officials’ failure to prevent McCaa’s self‐harm and failure to obtain medical assistance after self‐harm. McCaa’s unsuccessful motion to recruit counsel posited that the issues were complex, that he has serious mental illnesses, a fifth‐grade reading level, little legal knowledge, and extremely limited access—as a segregation inmate—to the law library and witnesses. McCaa's second unsuccessful motion added that he has a learning disability, had been transferred to a new prison, and did not know where his witness was located. After discovery began, McCaa's third unsuccessful motion noted that another attorney had joined the defense and that he previously relied on other prisoners for assistance but was having difficulty getting help. McCaa continued through discovery pro se. He did not conduct depositions. Defendants moved for summary judgment, McCaa filed his fourth unsuccessful motion, stating that he was having difficulty contacting witnesses who were no longer incarcerated and that his case was worthy for a jury. The court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. When denying McCaa’s third motion, the court did not specifically address circumstances that bore on McCaa’s ability to competently litigate his case. View "McCaa v. Hamilton" on Justia Law