A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.

Bound by Obeth podcast: The doors have been closed to federal courtshouses for civil rights plaintiffs. This episode examines state constitution and common law causes to action to try to hold officials accountable.

  • After being briefed about the pandemic in February 2020 by Senator Richard Burr, Senator Burr engaged in some questionable stock trading. This prompted media attention as well as a DOJ investigation. What can the L.A. Times get a look at hypothesized court records relating to a search warrant for the senator’s cellphone—and also the DOJ’s sealed motion in opposition? In a last-year ruling, the court of district said no. However, some disclosures made by the parallel SEC investigation into Senator and brother-in law led to the D.C. Circuit suggests that the district court take another look.
  • ExxonMobil filed a lawsuit to stop investigations by state prosecutors in New York, Massachusetts into ExxonMobil’s misleading statements about climate change. ExxonMobil claimed that the investigations were pretextual and intended to suppress one side. Second Circuit: ExxonMobil’s claim against NY attorney general was defeated when ExxonMobil filed an enforcement case against it. The suit was lost at trial. The claim against the MA attorney General is null and void, since ExxonMobil could also have made these arguments in the related state court case. (Another MA state court enforcement proceeding is still ongoing.
  • Allegation: After the Florida school shooting, a high school student from Virginia holds a civil and factual discussion with fellow classmates. One teacher listens in and interprets incorrectly the conversations. The student is reported to the school by the school police. They are investigating the report and suspend the student from school. Fourth Circuit. The First Amendment claim of the student against the school board which ratified his suspension shouldn’t have been dismissed.
  • Lucky!Just recently, the Fifth Circuit was assigned the same term paper for three classes. The sovereign immunity causes a number of challenges to Texas voting procedures. Judge Higginbotham dissents, who observes an alarming erosion in the rights of voters. Ex Parte Young doctrine).
  • Bossier Parish property owners and hunters have been subject to a series of disturbing crimes since 2010. There have been a string of disturbing crimes against hunters and property owners in Bossier Parish, La. These include thefts, burning deer stands and nails being left in driveways. Dogs were shot and killed and homes and cars are broken into. This is all believed to be the work of one perpetrator. He also leaves behind taunting correspondences and evidence to frame innocent persons, such as the plaintiff who was taken into custody in 2017 for two arsons. Yikes! This man, now suspected to be the criminal, had served as the confidential informant of the lead investigator since 2011. Fifth Circuit. Although the majority of plaintiff’s claims cannot be proven, he could sue his lead investigator for making false statements at a hearing and not disclosing any exculpatory material. He can also sue the sheriff for insufficient policies regarding preserving evidence or the use confidential informants.
  • Fifth Circuit (2018). A fair jury could locate a Southlake, Tex. Officer who forced a legally blind, diminutive woman to the ground on a brick patio (causing a herniated disc and bloody urine), used excessive force. No qualified immunity. Fifth Circuit (2022). No need to alter a jury’s verdict in favor of the officer. Nor was it error for the district court to allow the officers to re-characterize their efforts—repeatedly banging on doors at the woman’s home at 2 a.m. and entering without a warrant—as an “active investigation” rather than a “knock-and-talk.”
  • Houston Fire Department has at most two male supervisors who “accessed a private and intimate nude video that was being recorded by a female camera.” [plaintiff]Evidently, she had done this solely for her husband. She did not know or consent to it. It was repeated, on and off duty, by them alone or in front of their co-workers. Since 1999.” District court: She “cannot show that she was subjected to a hostile work environment – just that she is angry and embarrassed.” Fifth Circuit: Reversed.
  • Landlords. This Minneapolis ordinance requires that we rent to tenants whom we don’t want to include. It’s also a physical invasion to our property. Eighth Circuit, Guys: These are tenants, and not Vikings. It’s not an invasion. There is no preliminary injunction.
  • Allegiance: A group of officers under the command of Morton County N.D. shot peaceful protester who was protecting elderly women from violence. They used a bean bag filled with lead to smash his eye socket, and left him with lead inside. District court. He cannot sue due to HeckSee the summary below. Pretrial diversion was arranged to help him resolve criminal trespass charges and obstruction cases against him. To allow him to sue, it would invalidate those convictions. Eighth Circuit: He wasn’t convicted. Case undismissed. (IJ requested that the court reach this conclusion in amicus brief.
  • In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Heck v. Humphrey bars convicted criminals from bringing § 1983 suits when a victory would necessarily mean the underlying convictions were invalid. A student at an Arizona university made an unusual decision. wants To apply to the court Heck—and, in turn, its ability to toll statutes of limitations—to his claims. Ninth Circuit: Nice try. You don’t have to accept the disciplinary notice you received from school, even if it was based upon racist or falsified reports. Heck Or any similar. All cases dismissed for lack of time
  • Ninth Circuit: Sovereign immunity may prevent civil servants or diplomatic officials from filing employment-discrimination suits against Kuwait’s Consulate in Los Angeles, but that is no barrier for this lady, who seems like she mostly just typed stuff for them.
  • If you’ve ever been to California, you’ve undoubtedly seen a zillion signs—a product of California’s Proposition 65—warning you about the presence of chemicals “known to the state” to cause cancer. Private enforcement suits can be filed against businesses that do not display signs. The plaintiffs get 25 percent of the fines, plus attorney fees. The Ninth Circuit reminded everyone this week that filing these lawsuits is First Amendment protected activity. Noerr-Pennington doctrine.
  • You might be a plaintiff’s attorney celebrating the previous summary. But, this week, the Ninth Circuit reminded us all that the First Amendment also applies to compelled disclosures and that they must not be controversial. Because the scientific evidence on the dangers of acrylamide—a substance naturally occurring in some cooked foods and the same substance at issue in the previous case—is anything but uncontroversial, forcing businesses to put up Prop 65 warnings regarding acrylamide likely violates the First Amendment. Future Prop 65 lawsuits regardingacrylamide will be halted.
  • The California Dental Board—which, not coincidentally, is mostly made up of dentists and orthodontists—wasn’t so pleased when a company began selling clear teeth aligners direct-to-consumers online. Board members took numerous regulatory steps to eliminate the competition. Ninth Circuit. The online dentists claim that members of the board violated federal antitrust law. This IJ report is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about dental board shenanigans.
  • Ninth Circuit. It wasn’t clear in 2018 that “a school district couldn’t stop patronizing [a company] providing historical reenactments, and other events for student because the principal shareholder of the company had posted controversial Tweets that led parents to complain.” Los Angeles area school officials dropped the field trip location due to tweets that were sent from the shareholder’s private account. These tweets, such as one in which Black Lives Matter was compared to ISIS, give qualified immunity. Although money damages were not possible, the officials may have violated the First Amendment. Injunctive relief might be available.
  • Arizona law bars the state from funding gender reassignment surgery through its Medicaid program. Is this a violation of equal protection under Section 1557 (Affordable Care Act)? Ninth Circuit: The state is not required to pay for surgeries performed by the two plaintiffs. However, litigation continues below. But, the court erred when it decided that recent Supreme Court precedents on sex discrimination in Title VII did not apply to Section1557.
  • A truck driver takes a stand to get refueled at Laramie, Wyo. gas station and beat another truck driver, who then pleaded guilty to misdemeanor attack). The punchy driver can his employer be held responsible? The Tenth Circuit affirms that no. The Tenth Circuit says no.
  • New Mexico beef rancher sued beef companies over violating false advertising laws by labeling meat from abroad as a “Product of U.S.A.” Tenth Circuit (over an dissent). The federal government approved the label. Federal law preempts any state law claims. The majority of the court helpfully noted that you should look for “U.S.A.” labels if your goal is to find the authentic article. Beef, or “Fresh American Beef.”
  • Allegation: The pretrial detainee from Carter County Okla. jail died after failing to take prescribed medication for 19 days. District court: You can’t sue for that. Tenth Circuit: Reversed. The mother of the victim can sue the nurse in jail (who shouted at the guards when she called her) as well the sheriff who among other things, refused to employ any other medical personnel.
  • The Sixth Circuit has en banc information and will not consider its earlier decision that Ohio police arrested a fairgoer for wearing a “Fuck the Police T-shirt” but who also made statements similar to the above, do not enjoy qualified immunity.

We thought you would enjoy this feature from the Center for Judicial Engagement, called The State Con Law Case of the Week. The New Jersey Supreme Court has issued a surprisingly encouraging, but not entirely surprising opinion this week on an individual’s right to decide how to best pursue her financial and personal affairs without an attorney. Striking down a law that required parties to a “palimony” agreement (alimony, but for pals) to each consult a lawyer separately, the court engaged in some reasoning that … we engage with. Historical buffs will appreciate the discussion on the Provinces of East New Jersey & West New Jersey.