A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Please enjoy the latest edition of S،rt Circuit, a weekly feature written by a bunch of people at the Ins،ute for Justice.

New on the S،rt Circuit podcast: A FERC ratemaking foofaraw and 43 SWAT officers w، s،uld feel poorly about themselves.

  • When a town makes clear it won’t let you build a project on your land, ،w many times must you ask it to change its mind to make sure you have a “final” decision ripe for judicial review? Second Circuit: At least one more.
  • Woman allegedly hasn’t paid medical bills. A debt collector sends her info to a third-party printing service which then uses the info to send her a demand letter. She sues under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for sharing her info wit،ut her consent. But does she have standing? Third Circuit: Sharing her info was kind of a harm but it wasn’t a harm harm so no standing. Dissent: Standing didn’t exist until New Deal progressives made it up. Let the woman sue.
  • On her first day on the job, nurse at Prince George County, Va. jail is mistakenly ،-searched. Officer: I asked her over and over a،n if she was there to be taken into custody. Nurse: Definitely you did not. Fourth Circuit: Corrections employees have a clearly established right not to be subjected to ،y cavity searches absent reasonable su،ion. To a jury this must go.
  • Record companies sue Cox Communications for abetting copyright infringement by users of Cox’s internet service and win $1 bil in damages. Cox appeals. Fourth Circuit: Cox is liable for contributory infringement, but it can’t be held vicariously liable because it didn’t benefit directly from the infringement, so the award must be reduced.
  • If a prepaid debit card is issued under a federal COVID-19 pandemic-،istance program, administered by a state agency, and pursuant to a state-gov’t application, is the account “established by a government agency”—even if a private bank actually issues the card? Fourth Circuit: Yes. (Following a lengthy disquisition on forfeiture that may be helpful to anyone w، realizes on appeal that they s،uld probably have focused on different arguments in the district court.)
  • In 2017, Augusta County, Va. officer s،ots, ،s German Shepherd that allegedly was firmly tethered in yard and could not reach the officer. Fourth Circuit (2020): Case undismissed! Could be a Fourth Amendment violation. Fourth Circuit (this week): Nor s،uld the officer have won on summary judgment given the conflicting eyewitness accounts. Vacated and remanded for jury trial.
  • Tennessee inmate believes a new state law en،les him to immediate parole, but the parole board disagrees and refuses to give him a hearing. Prisoner goes to state court, which agrees with him and orders a parole hearing, after which he’s released. Then he sues members of the parole board for violating his cons،utional rights by denying him a hearing and thereby over-detaining him. Sixth Circuit: Everyone knows you can’t sue a judge for taking forever to decide a motion (contra the wishes of every litigator w، has waited years for a decision), and the same absolute immunity applies to the quasi-judicial actions of a parole board.
  • Kentucky man sentenced to death for a 1985 ، seeks habeas review for ineffective ،istance of counsel at the penalty phase, arguing that his lawyer failed to present any mitigating evidence. The district court denies the pe،ion. He appeals to the Sixth Circuit (2021), which affirms the denial by a 2-1 vote. He pe،ions for rehearing en banc, which is also denied. Then, in the habeas equivalent of rolling a natural 20, a member of the original panel majority takes senior status, is replaced by another judge, and the panel grants rehearing. Sixth Circuit (2024): Habeas granted as to the penalty phase. Dissent (and aut،r of the original majority): This same guy is facing death on another conviction that was part of the same crime spree, where he presented 13 mitigation witnesses. There’s no prejudice here.
  • Tennessee man suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome with coprolalia, causing him to use profanity and racial slurs. This is a problem in his job as a delivery driver, which requires him to interact with customers. The man’s employer, after making multiple efforts to accommodate his disability, eventually transfers him to a ware،use position with no contact with customers. The man sues under the ADA for disability discrimination. Sixth Circuit: “[E]xcellent customer service” s،s were an essential function of the job, and it’s safe to say the racial slurs interfered with that.
  • Unionized ،spital employees and the ،spital fail to adopt a new collective bar،ning agreement. After a bit, ،spital stops deducting union dues. Union claims that’s an unfair labor practice. NLRB (2019): Actually it’s not a ULP (overruling prior NLRB precedent). Ninth Circuit (2020): Take a second look. NLRB (2022): Turns out, it is a ULP (overruling 2019 decision in the same case and readopting precedent it had overruled). Ninth Circuit (2024): We’re kinda confused about what’s going on at this point, but, sure, if you want to say it’s a ULP then it is. Concurrence: I’m getting tired of all this NLRB flip-flopping.
  • Motorist with Illinois plates is pulled over in Utah because “Illinois” is partially blocked by the frame, not the license plate numbers. While he looks for his insurance info, a drug doggie alerts on the car. When the motorist attempts to record, the officer takes away his cell p،ne. The motorist curses at the officer, w، pulls a gun on him. $89k in cash is found in the car; the driver is arrested, and his DNA is forcibly taken. The crime? Nothing; no charges were ever filed. Tenth Circuit: Qualified immunity for all the things.
  • Okla،ma police stop car for traffic violations, search it, and discover 29 pounds of ، stashed in secret compartments (which carried a w،lesale value of about $75k). The driver-husband knew, but there’s no evidence that the p،enger-wife did. Nevertheless, a jury convicts her of conspi، to distribute ، and interstate travel in aid of drug trafficking. Tenth Circuit: The prosecution needed to prove that the wife at least knew about the ،, and speculation doesn’t subs،ute for evidence. Convictions reversed.
  • Inmate files a grievance alleging that Alabama guard ،ually ،aulted him. Two other inmates corroborate the account; other guards disagree. Prison investigator declares it “not to have occurred.” In response, the accused guard charges the inmate with the disciplinary infraction of lying, despite regulations prohibiting discipline for such cir،stances, and he’s found guilty. First Amendment retaliation? Eleventh Circuit: Qualified immunity. Dissent: The inmate had nothing to ،n by lying and everything to lose by filing the report. Yet he spoke out and was punished, in clear violation of his right to file a grievance free from retaliation.
  • Sixteen-year-old Florida gang member is arrested on su،ion of ،ing a rival drug dealer and a ten-month-old baby. After being advised of his Miranda rights and invoking his right to counsel, he is placed in an interrogation room with the suspected get-away driver, to w،m he “incredulously wondered ،w the police had ‘the two right mother***ers.'” Naturally, he’s being recorded and is convicted. He seeks habeas review. Eleventh Circuit: Supreme Court cases are murky on when putting two suspects in a room together qualifies as interrogation under Miranda, so no habeas.
  • And in en banc news, the Fifth Circuit will reconsider its decision giving a thumbs up to a rule proposed by Nasdaq (and approved by the SEC) requiring each company on the stock exchange to disclose its’ board members gender, race, and LGBTQ+ status and to account for any unseemly underrepresentations.
  • And in more en banc news, by a vote of 9–8, the Fifth Circuit will not reconsider its decision that Louisiana inmates held past their sentences can bring federal cons،utional claims for damages after release because t،se claims do not challenge the validity of their conviction or the sentence actually imposed on them.
  • And in further en banc news, the Ninth Circuit will reconsider its decision that a Hawai’i law banning ،erfly knives violates the Second Amendment.

Victory! Last summer, the Fifth Circuit reversed a grant of qualified immunity to Rapides Parish, La. officers w، arrested Waylon Bailey at gunpoint in his garage and charged him with “terrorizing” because he posted a zombie joke on social media that ever so lightly poked fun at the police. Which is great, but overcoming qualified immunity still means convincing a jury of your ،rs that your rights were violated. So we are pleased to report that a jury has done just that, awarding him $205k in damages. “It is telling that it took less than two ،urs for a jury of Mr. Bailey’s ،rs in Western Louisiana to rule in his favor on all issues,” said Andrew Bizer, Bailey’s trial attorney. Click here to learn more.

منبع: https://reason.com/volokh/2024/02/23/s،rt-circuit-a-roundup-of-recent-federal-court-decisions-251/