Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. Tyler Kistner is the candidate of the Republican Party for the United States House of Representatives in the Second Congressional District of Minnesota; Angela Craig is the incumbent Representative and the candidate of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for that office; and Jenny Winslow Davies is a voter in the district. The dispute arose from the death of a third candidate in the race, Adam Charles Weeks, the Candidate for the Legal Marijuana Now Party, on September 21, 2020. At issue is whether Minnesota has authority to forego the election for Representative on November 3, 2020, and schedule a special election for February 2021. The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting a preliminary injunction. The court agreed with the district court that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted by federal law. Even assuming for the sake of analysis that federal law permits a state to cancel an election and thereby to produce a "failure to elect" in certain extraordinary situations, the court concluded that federal law would allow that course only in truly "exigent" circumstances. The court concluded that the death of candidate Weeks is likely not the sort of exigent circumstance that permits the state to refrain from holding the election for United States Representative on the date prescribed by federal law. Nor do the unofficial results announced by the Secretary of State suggest that the balloting on November 3 failed to elect a Representative. Therefore, the court saw no error in the district court's determination that Craig and Davies would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction, as they would be left without representation in the House of Representatives between the end of the incumbent's term in January 2021 and the seating of a new Representative after a special election in February 2021. Furthermore, the balance of harms and the public interest do not militate against an injunction, especially when there is a likelihood of success on the merits of the complaint. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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After Drake University and its Board of Trustees expelled plaintiff for sexually assaulting a female student, plaintiff filed suit for violations of Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities (ADA), as well as claims related to breach of contract. On appeal, plaintiff challenges the district court's grant of summary judgment on his Title IX claim based on an erroneous outcome theory, his ADA claim, and his breach of implied duty of good faith and promissory estoppel claims.After determining that the court had jurisdiction to review plaintiff's appeal, the court held that there is no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether being male was a motivating factor for plaintiff's expulsion from Drake; Drake's Code of Student Conduct and Policy on Sexual and Interpersonal Misconduct processes, although not equivalent to those provided in nonacademic settings, are not reflective of gender bias, either in statement or in application; the hearing panel did not reach decisions contrary to the weight of the evidence; and the pressure that was being put on Drake to investigate and adjudicate Title IX complaints by females against males does not appear to have approached that described in Doe v. University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, 974 F.3d at 865, nor was it combined with the clearly irregular investigative and adjudicative processes that were found to support a prima facie claim of sex discrimination in Doe v. Columbia University, 831 F.3d at 56-57, and in Menaker v. Hofstra University, 935 F.3d 20, 35 (2nd Cir. 2019).The court rejected plaintiff's ADA claim and affirmed the district court's ruling that no genuine issue of material fact existed regarding plaintiff's need for accommodations. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claims for breach of implied duty of good faith and promissory estoppel. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Drake and remanded with instructions to dismiss with prejudice the claims that had previously been dismissed without prejudice by stipulation. View "Rossley v. Drake University" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law dictates that election officials only count ballots received by election day. The Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Education Fund filed suit against the Secretary, alleging that Minnesota's statutory deadline was unconstitutional. The Secretary and the Alliance entered into a consent decree that essentially made the statutorily-mandated absentee ballot receipt deadline inoperative. After the Minnesota state court confirmed the decree, the Secretary directed election officials to count absentee ballots received up to a week after election day, notwithstanding Minnesota law.Plaintiffs, both Minnesota registered voters and also certified nominees of the Republican Party to be presidential electors, filed suit alleging that the consent decree and the state court's order confirming it violate the United States Constitution. The district court denied plaintiffs' requested injunction, concluding that they lack standing to bring their claims.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction and remanded to the district court to enter an injunction requiring the Secretary and those under his direction to identify, segregate, and otherwise maintain and preserve all absentee ballots received after the deadlines set forth in Minn. Stat. 203B.08, subd. 3.After determining that plaintiffs have Article III and prudential standing to bring their claims, the court considered plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to evaluate the propriety of preliminary injunctive relief rather than remanding for the district court to decide the merits in the first instance. The court held that the Secretary's instructions to count mail-in ballots received up to seven days after Election Day stand in direct contradiction to Minnesota election law governing presidential elections, and plaintiffs have strongly shown likely success on the merits since the Secretary's actions are likely to be declared invalid under the Electors Clause of Article II of the United States Constitution. The court stated that only the Minnesota Legislature, and not the Secretary, has plenary authority to establish the manner of conducting the presidential election in Minnesota. The court also held that the Secretary's plan to count mail-in ballots received after the deadline established by the Minnesota Legislature will inflict irreparable harm to plaintiffs. Furthermore, the balance of the equities and the public interest weigh in favor of the issuance of an injunction. Finally, the court held that the injunction does not violate the Purcell principle. View "Carson v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his arresting officers and others, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Fourth Amendment, after the officers seized him without probable cause.The Eighth Circuit held that the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, would support a finding that the arresting officers violated plaintiff's clearly established right to be free from an unreasonable seizure without probable cause under the circumstances. In this case, about seven minutes after a black juvenile male with a gun fled from police in Kansas City, officers arrested plaintiff a mile away from the scene. Plaintiff and the suspect shared only generic characteristics in common: black, juvenile, and male. However, plaintiff had several characteristics distinct from the suspect: he was taller than the suspect; had distinguishable hair from the suspect; and wore shorts, shoes, and socks that differed from those donned by the suspect. Furthermore, these distinctions are depicted on a police video recording that the arresting officers reviewed. Plaintiff was in custody for three weeks before a detective reviewed the video and concluded that plaintiff was not the offender. Therefore, the district court erred in granting qualified immunity to the arresting officers where no reasonable officer could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff based on the plainly exculpatory evidence available to them. The district court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the remaining defendants and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bell v. Neukirch" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of portions of Mo. Rev. Stat. 115.302, which provides for voting by mail-in ballot due to the ongoing global pandemic. Plaintiffs alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating mail-in ballots differently than absentee ballots, requiring the former to be returned by mail only while allowing the latter to be returned by mail or in-person, either from the voter himself or a relative within the second degree of consanguinity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs and the Secretary entered a temporary administrative stay of the preliminary injunction.The Eighth Circuit granted the Secretary's motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court held that the Secretary has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, under the Anderson-Burdick standard, that the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by USPS mail is a minimal burden and a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction. The Secretary has also shown that the State will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not grant the stay, and that the remaining factors of injury to other parties and the public's interest weigh in favor of granting the motion to stay. View "Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied the motion for an administrative stay and stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction in a dispute relating to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. The section states that the governor "shall issue a writ calling for a special election to be conducted on the second Tuesday in February of the year following the year the vacancy in nomination occurred"—in this case, February 9, 2021.The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The court held that appellant is not likely to succeed on the merits of his contention that section 204B.13, as applied to the current situation, may coexist with the federal election laws. The court stated that even if the death of a Republican or Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate could qualify as an exigent circumstance that would allow the State to cancel an election and trigger a vacancy in office, it is unlikely that the rationale would extend to the death of a third-party candidate from a party with the modest electoral strength exhibited to date by the Legal Marijuana Now Party in Minnesota. Furthermore, that a short period of uncertainty affected campaign fundraising and tactical decisions by the candidates also does not justify a stay of the injunction without a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of U.S. Bank's motion for summary judgment in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the Bank fired her because of her age and in retaliation for reporting discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.The court held that the Bank articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate plaintiff with adequate support in the record: performance issues. The court also held that plaintiff failed to show that the Bank's explanation for her firing is mere pretext for intentional discrimination. In this case, none of the employees that she compares herself to are similarly situated in all relevant respects, and the evidence does not present a change in basis for firing her. Furthermore, plaintiff offered no evidence to support causation for her retaliation claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Finally, the Bank's decision not to hire plaintiff in another position was not based on a discriminatory and retaliatory motive, and plaintiff failed to establish pretext. View "McKey v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner based on the ineffective assistance of counsel. Petitioner was convicted for two counts of first degree murder among other things and was sentenced to death. Petitioner claims that counsel at his third penalty-phase trial was ineffective for failing to argue that the passage of time had undermined his mitigation case.The court held that petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel is not "substantial enough" to excuse his procedural default. The court explained that when postconviction counsel filed petitioner's petition in 2010, the law was far from settled that a 10-year delay between conviction and sentencing would give rise to a constitutional claim, much less that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the argument two years earlier. The court stated that failing to make an argument that would require the resolution of unsettled legal questions is generally not outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. In this case, postconviction counsel's performance was reasonable and the Martinez exception—the only conceivable basis for excusing petitioner's procedural default—is unavailable to him. Finally, the court held that petitioner is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. View "Deck v. Jennings" on Justia Law

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Avitso, a citizen of Togo, entered the U.S. as a student in 2004 and married a U.S. citizen. In 2011, USCIS denied a Petition for Alien Relative filed by Avitso’s wife and an application for adjustment of status filed by Avitso, concluding they had entered into a fraudulent marriage to procure immigration benefits, which made Avitso removable, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(C)(i), 1227(a)(1)(A). Notice of removal proceedings was mailed to Avitso at the address where USCIS investigators had been told he resided. In 2012, DHS mailed notice to a different address. The immigration court also mailed notice; it was returned, marked “moved left no address.” Avitso failed to appear. The IJ entered a removal order.In 2019, remarried and represented by new counsel, Avitso moved to reopen, alleging that he “did not personally receive" notice but a copy was forwarded to him by his then-attorney. The motion cited ineffective assistance of counsel. The IJ denied the motion, concluding Avitso failed to meet case law requirements to establish ineffective assistance and even if those requirements were satisfied, the outcome would not have been different. The BIA dismissed Avitso’s appeal. The Eighth Circuit denied a petition for review. Avitso’s motion to reopen included no evidence that he notified former counsel of his ineffective assistance claims, provided her an opportunity to respond, or filed a complaint with disciplinary authorities. The BIA enforces those requirements to discourage baseless allegations and deter meritless claims. View "Avitso v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former student at the University, filed suit against the Board of Trustees and several university officials, claiming that they violated his rights in a disciplinary action against him. This case stemmed from another University student's accusation against plaintiff for sexual assault. After the initial decision by the Title IX coordinator finding no misconduct, the other student herself publicly criticized the University's decision. Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that the University was under pressure and fearful of sanctions from the Office for Civil Rights, so it took steps harmful to him to alleviate and lessen the scrutiny that it was attracting from the other student's media blitz and protests. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.The Eighth Circuit held that the complaint stated a claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that is plausible on its face. First, the allegations in the complaint support an inference that the hearing panel reached an outcome that was against the substantial weight of the evidence. Second, the panel's chosen sanctions are allegedly contrary to the ordinary disposition in cases of sexual assault by force. Third, plaintiff alleged that the University was under pressure on multiple fronts to find males responsible for sexual assault. The court held that these circumstances, taken together, are sufficient to support a plausible claim that the University discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of sex. However, the court held that plaintiff's due process claims against the University officials in their official and individual capacities were properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville" on Justia Law