A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

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

Short Circuit Podcast: New Special Live Edition on D.C. Circuit, with ex-D.C. Circuit clerks Lisa Blatt and Kelsi brown Corkran (aswell as regular Supreme Court arguers), are Paul Clement.

  • A cemetery company acquires a 180-acre parcel in Readington Twp. N.J. (that has been zoned for burial) and offers significant concessions for township officials. Officials: No, but it is still possible. There is no permit available for you. District court: State laws that require localities to consent to the construction of new cemeteries are unconstitutional. They give officials an “unfettered” discretion to refuse applicants for “cronyism,” economic protectionionism, ethnic and racial biases, preference for one religion, or any other reason. Third Circuit (nonprecedentially),: Inverted Local authorities have discretion under the law. The legislators—not police, judges, or juries—so it’s fine.
  • After going to the Supreme Court, it is now possible to determine whether the lawsuit brought by Baltimore officials against 26 multinational fossil fuel firms over climate change and the attendant flooding, heat waves, and power cuts within the city limits, can proceed in federal or state court returns to Fourth Circuit. This document, which covers 93 pages, examines the eight arguments of the defendants for federal jurisdiction, and then rejects them all. Baltimore City Circuit Court
  • After the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia eliminated standardized tests from the admissions criteria for the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology, Asian-American enrollment dropped from an average of 71% to 54% for the class of 2025. District Court: It violates equal Protection. Fourth Circuit: With concurrence and dissent, the ruling is suspended pending appeal.
  • Steven Biss, an attorney, is best known for filing frivolous lawsuits against Devin Nunes, a former congressman, including ones against CNN, Esquire and The Washington Post. Because of this, Judges are less likely to grant him the benefit-of-the doubt. However, in the Fourth Circuit case the trial court was incorrect to issue Rule 11 sanctions against Biss; the records before the court showed that Biss could not have been concluded that Biss’s arguments were “having” “.Please enter noChance of Success” even though the Fourth Circuit understands its frustration.
  • Defense Distributed uploaded CAD files to the internet back in 2013 for a single shot pistol that could be 3D printed. The federal authorities pursued the company for violations of international arms-trafficking laws. They are still available online, although Defense Distributed is prohibited from sharing them. This happens because nothing ever goes away on the internet. This is the Fifth Circuit’s latest update on the First/Second Amendment story. The Fifth Circuit, over a dissent, issues rare mandamus orders, instructing the District court to reverse the partial severance of the New Jersey AG, and allow the transfer of all claims against it to the District of New Jersey.
  • You will find many different ways for lawyers to lose their cases in the Federal Reporter. But district judges within the Fifth Circuit can lose cases too—in the sense of reassignment to different jurists. And if you preside over an antitrust case while criticizing antitrust law and suggesting that Standard Oil wasn’t a real monopoly …
  • A vote of 2:1 votes the Fifth Circuit to dissolve a national preliminary injunction against Executive Order 14043. It requires federal executives to be immunized against COVID-19. Employees who refuse to get the vaccine may be fired with backpay, provided the suit succeeds. In this way they won’t suffer irreparable injury.
  • After fleeing from the police in several communities along Michigan’s downriver, he ends up at Detroit River (in Jan) where he is eventually arrested. He is handcuffed facedown, and he doesn’t resist being arrested. One or two officers then allegedly repeatedly kick him in his face, breaking his nose. Officer: He said that he wasn’t 100% sure which officer kicked him. Are you eligible for immunity? District court: Sixth Circuit: Nope on jurisdictional grounds. Concurrence: Yes (on merits).
  • Landlord: Minnesota’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium prevented me from evicting a tenant who “operated a car and boat repair shop … in violation of city ordinances” and others who “threw raucous parties.” A violation of the Constitution? A Contract Clause violation? District court: Party on, raucous dudes! I am submitting this complaint. Eighth Circuit: Please turn down the music. At the very least, it states that there is a cause for action. Remanded.
  • Randolph County Mo. A court clerk denies a request by a seventeen-year-old to apply for permission from the courts to perform an abortion, without informing her parents. Is she allowed to sue the clerk Clerk: That was what the judge ordered me to do! Eighth Circuit. If so, then the clerk is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. However, the judge claims he can’t recall the case and would not normally give this direction. So (over a dissent) no QJI. No qualified immunity is granted either, since the rights to seek judicial consent for abortion without parental notification are clearly established.
  • Creighton University fraternity brother get drunk at chapter house, and are then left on campus at 1 AM. A random student is attacked by him as he wanders into her dorm and cuts across her neck with a pocketknife. (She survives.) She can sue the fraternity. According to the Eighth Circuit, no.
  • A man steals a pistol from his parents and drives from Wyoming to Washington, DC with a vague plan to kill then-President Trump. After reaching Nebraska, he abandoned his plans and called his dad. He gave him the advice to call his dad and return home for psychiatric care. Yikes! He’s convicted (and sentenced to time served—20 months) of making a threat against the president based on hearsay testimony from medical staff about the phone call with his dad. Eighth Circuit: This doesn’t seem to be the best way of using prosecutorial resources. However, the conviction remains.
  • Oklahoma Board of Dentistry sued Oklahoma dental anesthesiologists after they were denied specialty licenses. Tenth Circuit. But Oklahoma amended the law so that the Board will grant licenses to dentists who reapply. This moots their potential claims. The dentists were able to dismiss all their claims regarding retrospective damages.
  • After being disciplined by two Palm Beach County firefighters for criticizing the executive vice-president of their union in violation the department’s social media policy, they sued, alleging various First Amendment theories. Eleventh Circuit. And their claims for free speech or overbreadth may be allowed to proceed. However, their vagueness and claims to free association are out.
  • Allergy: Madison County, Ala. officers slam suicidal and non-resisting veterans on the head without warning. It caused serious neck injuries. Eleventh Circuit: It was wrong to dismiss the excessive force case against the officer. The supervisory liability claim should not have been dismissed because the former sheriff didn’t seem to investigate or discipline officers who use excessive force.

Brookside police in Ala. pulled Brittany Coleman over on her 25th birthday for a false arrest. After handcuffing her, they made her sit in the sun and searched her car’s every inch for more than 30 minutes. Brittany was falsely charged with marijuana possession. They then tried to tow her vehicle. Even though the charge was dropped, she was forced to pay nearly $1k in towing fees and court costs—making her just one of thousands of victims of the police department’s predatory pursuit of profit. In 2020, the last year for which Brookside has made numbers available, the town got 49 percent of its revenue from fines and forfeitures—a more than 1,000% increase in such revenues since 2017. IJ has filed a lawsuit in class action. You can read all about the case in