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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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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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In 2013, the Department of Justice issued a guidance memorandum, the Cole Memorandum, that addresses enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., in cases involving marijuana. Plaintiff filed a pro se suit against state officials claiming that the Cole Memorandum unconstitutionally commandeers state officials and institutions, and claiming that all defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before publishing the memorandum. The court agreed with the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on plaintiff's lack of standing because he has not sufficiently alleged that setting aside the Cole Memorandum would redress his alleged injuries from the wider availability of recreational marijuana and new restrictions on medical marijuana, and that any adverse environmental effects of recreational marijuana on his own particularized interests are traceable to the memorandum. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "West v. Lynch" 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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This appeal arises from efforts to recover Secretary of State Clinton's private emails during her time at the State Department. Although the current Secretary (with the help of the National Archivist) has made efforts to recover those emails, neither the Secretary nor the Archivist has asked the Attorney General to initiate enforcement proceedings, as provided for in the Federal Records Act, 44 U.S.C. 3105(1). Appellants Judicial Watch and Cause of Action filed suit for agency action unlawfully withheld in violation of Section 706(1) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(1). The district court dismissed the suits as moot. The court concluded that, because the current Secretary and Archivist have neither asked the Attorney General for help nor shown that such a request could not lead to recovery of additional emails, the suits were not moot. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. The court remanded the case so that the district court can consider the merits in the first instance. View "Judicial Watch v. Kerry" on Justia Law

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Federally-registered lobbyists sued the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative, alleging that federal policy barring registered lobbyists from serving on the Industry Trade Advisory Committees “attaches an unconstitutional condition on the exercise of the First Amendment right to petition [the government],” and “draws an unconstitutional distinction between those who exercise their right to petition the government and those who do not.” The D.C. Circuit remanded after dismissal. Before the district court ruled on remand, the Office of Management and Budget revised the ban to apply only to lobbyists who serve on advisory committees in an individual capacity and the Department of Commerce issued an amended “Request for Nominations for the Industry Trade Advisory Committees.” The parties stipulated to dismissal, with lobbyists stating their intention to seek attorneys’ fees. The court denied that application under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412, reasoning that the remand did not ensure the lobbyists would enjoy a substantive victory, so they were not “prevailing parties.” The D.C. Circuit affirmed, noting that its earlier remand specified that dismissal might still be appropriate depending on the court’s analysis of whether the government’s interest in imposing the lobbyist ban “outweighs any impingement on Appellants’ constitutional rights.” View "Autor v. Pritzker" 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