Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Defendants were arrested after interrupting an oral argument session of the United States Supreme Court. On appeal, defendants challenged their conviction under 40 U.S.C. 6134, the statue that prohibits making a "harangue" or "oration" in the Supreme Court building. The district court struck the words "harangue" and "oration" from section 6134 as unconstitutionally vague, and the Government appealed. The court concluded that the district court erred in striking these words as unconstitutionally vague where the core meaning of these words was delivering speeches of various kinds to persons within the Supreme Court's building and grounds, in a manner that threatens to disturb the operations and decorum of the Court. In the context of the Supreme Court's building and grounds, the court explained that the terms' core meaning proscribes determinable conduct. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Bronstein" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit seeking damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, alleging that IRS employees barred him from representing taxpayers before the Service without due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The district court dismissed the case because the Internal Revenue Code's remedial scheme for tax practicitioners foreclosed a Bivens action. The court did not reach the issue and ruled on the alternative ground that plaintiff failed to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because his complaint contains no allegation that defendants deprived him of a constitutionally protected interest. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Bowman v. Iddon" on Justia Law

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Two nonprofit organizations, ANSWER and MASF, challenge the District's sign-posting rule that requires removal of signs relating to an event within 30 days of the event, whether the 180-day period for signs on public lampposts had expired or not. The court concluded that the regulation does not impose a content-based distinction because it regulates how long people may maintain event-related signs on public lampposts, not the content of the signs’ messages; the "event-related" category itself is not content based; and therefore, under the intermediate First Amendment scrutiny that is applicable, the rule is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. The court explained that the regulation is narrowly tailored to further a well-established, admittedly significant governmental interest in avoiding visual clutter, and the regulation’s definition of event-based signs also guides officials’ enforcement discretion sufficiently to avoid facial invalidation on due process grounds. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for MASF and remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of the District. However, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of ANSWER’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 damages claim that the District retaliated against it in violation of the First Amendment, and MASF’s claim that the District’s regulation imposes a system of strict liability the First Amendment does not allow. Finally, the court vacated the district court’s imposition of discovery sanctions against the District for seeking discovery without leave of court. View "Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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The ANSWER Coalition challenges a 2008 Park Service regulation authorizing a priority permit setting aside a fraction of those spaces for identified Presidential Inaugural Committee uses on Inauguration Day. The Coalition contends that authorizing Freedom Plaza bleachers in the priority permit violates the Coalition's First Amendment right to instead use the same space for a mass demonstration. The court concluded that the regulation authorizing the priority permit, including the space on Freedom Plaza for the bleachers, is not a content- or viewpoint-based speech restriction, but a reasonable time, place, and manner regulation of the use of a public forum. The court explained that the regulation sets aside bleacher areas, including on Freedom Plaza, for the Inaugural Committee’s use as part of the package the rule reserves to the Committee as event organizer. However, the First Amendment does not support the Coalition's claim of a right to displace spectator bleachers with its own demonstration at Freedom Plaza. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Park Service. View "A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition v. Basham" on Justia Law

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Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing Choice Voucher Program, 42 U.S.C. 1437f, housing agencies use HUD funds to issue housing subsidy vouchers based on family size. The Montgomery County, Maryland Housing determined, based on a medical form, that Angelene has a disability and requires a live-in aide. HUD regulations mandate that any approved live-in aide must be counted in determining family size. The Commission issued Angelene a two-bedroom voucher. Angelene’s sister was Angelene’s live-in aide. Angelene decided to move to the District of Columbia. Program vouchers are portable. Angelene obtained a two-bedroom voucher from the D.C. Housing Authority. The sisters moved into a two-bedroom District apartment. Within weeks, they received a letter revoking Angelene’s right to a live-in aide and her legal entitlement to a two-bedroom voucher. They sued, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132, Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, and Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(1). The court denied motions for a temporary restraining order and to seal their complaint, medical records, and “nondispositive materials.” While the case was pending, the Authority sent another letter reaffirming that Angelene’s request for a live-in aide was denied, but stating that the decision did not reverse the two-bedroom voucher. The court dismissed, finding no allegation of injury-in-fact. The D.C. Circuit reversed with respect to the motion to seal and the dismissal. At the pleadings stage, plaintiff’s allegation that the government denied or revoked a benefit suffices to show injury-in-fact. Angelene’s loss of a statutory entitlement traces directly to the Authority’s letter and would be redressed by a court order to approve her aide request. View "Hardaway v. District of Columbia Housing Authority" on Justia Law

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Smith sued the United States and Capitol Officers Rogers and Anyaso, alleging that while working for a federal agency on November 5, 2009, he drove officials to Capitol Hill, and, at an attended barricade, Rogers, in uniform, “began to chastise and yell at him for dropping off his passengers at that location.” Smith made a U-turn and left the area. Rogers radioed other officers, allegedly stating that Smith’s car struck Rogers’s leg. Minutes later, Anyaso arrested Smith for assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer. Charges were dismissed months later. The defense provided a video recording (no audio) of the incident and an audio recording of Rogers’ radio transmission, which had been provided to Smith while his criminal case was pending. On the audio recording, Rogers states that Smith “intentionally almost struck this officer.” The video showed aggressive driving by Smith. The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, upholding a determination that no material facts were in dispute and the court’s refusal to allow Smith to conduct discovery before its ruling. The officers had probable cause to arrest Smith. A “reasonable officer” would have felt threatened by the proximity of the fast-moving vehicle. The existence of probable cause foreclosed Smith’s claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, Fourth Amendment violations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. View "Smith v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a 59-year-old African-American, filed suit alleging that he was improperly terminated by his employer in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.; the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. 1981; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. 621. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Washington Post. The court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that the Washington Post’s proffered non-discriminatory reason – “willful neglect of duty and insubordination” – “was not the actual reason” for plaintiff's termination. Furthermore, a reasonable jury could conclude that, but for the fact that plaintiff was fifty-nine years old, he would not have been terminated. View "DeJesus v. WP Company LLC" on Justia Law

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After two warrantless searches of his home by MPD members, plaintiff filed suit against the District and individual MPD officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. The court concluded that, even assuming, without deciding, that the initial sweep of plaintiff's home by the MPD Emergency Response Team (ERT) was justified under the exigent circumstances and emergency aid exceptions to the warrant requirement, the second top-to-bottom search by the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit (EOD) after the MPD had been on the scene for several hours was not. In this case, the MPD had already secured the area and determined that no one else was inside plaintiff's home and that there were no dangerous or illegal items in plain sight; plaintiff had previously surrendered peacefully to MPD custody; and the information the MPD had about plaintiff failed to provide an objectively reasonable basis for believing there was an exigent need to break in plaintiff's home a second time to search for hazardous materials. And assuming, without deciding, that the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement applies to a home, the court concluded that the scope of the second search far exceeded what that exception would allow. Because the law was clearly established at the time that the law enforcement officers must have an objectively reasonable basis for believing an exigency justifies a warrantless search of a home, and because no reasonable officer could have concluded such a basis existed for the second more intrusive search, the court concluded that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity across the board. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Corrigan v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was terminated from his position as a police reserve officer for making harsh and accusatory statements to his superiors in emails with his co-workers cc’d. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that he was terminated in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech. The court concluded that, under Pickering v. Board of Education, plaintiff's emails are not protected under the First Amendment where his interest in sending them is outweighed by the police department’s interest in promoting office harmony and efficiency. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case and denial of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. View "LeFande v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Rothe filed suit alleging that the statutory basis of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 8(a) business development program, Amendments to the Small Business Act, 15 U.S.C. 637, violates its right to equal protection under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Rothe is a small business that bids on Defense Department contracts, including the types of subcontracts that the SBA awards to economically and socially disadvantaged businesses through the 8(a) program. The court rejected Rothe's claim that the statute contains an unconstitutional racial classification that prevents Rothe from competing for Department of Defense contracts on an equal footing with minority-owned businesses. The court concluded that the provisions of the Small Business Act that Rothe challenges do not on their face classify individuals by race. In contrast to the statute, the SBA’s regulation implementing the 8(a) program does contain a racial classification in the form of a presumption that an individual who is a member of one of five designated racial groups (and within them, 37 subgroups) is socially disadvantaged. Because the statute lacks a racial classification, and because Rothe has not alleged that the statute is otherwise subject to strict scrutiny, the court applied rational-basis review. Under rational-basis review, the court concluded that the statutory scheme is rationally related to the legitimate, and in some instances compelling, interest of counteracting discrimination. Finally, Rothe's evidentiary and nondelegation challenges failed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment granting summary judgment to the SBA and DOD. View "Rothe Development v. DOD" on Justia Law