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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
by
Plaintiff brought suit in state court against the officers for violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution and under Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution and for conspiracy to violate his federal and state constitutional rights. He also brought claims against the chief of police and the City of Des Moines for deliberate indifference under federal and state law. Defendants timely removed the suit to federal court. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on all counts except for the number of damages; Defendants filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on the basis of federal qualified immunity and state immunity.   On appeal, Defendants argue that the district court erred in denying the individual officers qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s federal law claims, in denying the officers state immunity on his Iowa law claims, and in denying summary judgment to the City on his deliberate indifference claim.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court reasoned that even combined with the fact that the stop occurred in an area known for criminal activity as well as a momentary display of nervousness on the part of a passenger, there is not enough here to justify the stop. The officers argue that there is no clearly established right to drive with a nervous passenger through a high-crime neighborhood with a temporary tag.  These facts, in isolation, do not support a conclusion that Plaintiff’s vehicle was connected to unlawful activity in general, much less to the specific kind of unlawful activity for which the officers pulled him over. View "Jared Clinton v. Ryan Garrett" on Justia Law

by
Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered National Firearms Act firearm. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from the trailer he occupied. He contends that the warrant was invalid because it lacked probable cause and failed to describe with particularity the items that police intended to seize.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court reasoned that the description of items found in the warrant meets the pragmatic standards imposed by the Fourth Amendment. Further, Defendant has not shown that the officers’ reliance on the warrant was objectively unreasonable. The warrant application affidavit passes muster. It was neither deceptive nor deficient. The district court did not err in admitting evidence found pursuant to the warrant. View "United States v. Philip Maccani" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Courthouse News is a national “news service that reports on civil litigation in state and federal courts throughout the country.” When Missouri switched to an e-filing system, same-day access became the exception, not the rule. Newly filed petitions remain unavailable until court staff processes them, which can sometimes take “a week or more.” Courthouse News sued the Circuit Clerk for St. Louis County and the Missouri State Courts Administrator, alleging First Amendment violations. In their motion to dismiss Defendants asked the district court to either abstain under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), or rule that Courthouse News’s complaint failed to state a First Amendment claim. The district court decided to abstain and never ruled on the merits.   At issue on appeal is: First, does sovereign immunity protect state-court officials who run an e-filing system that delays public access to newly filed civil petitions? Second, should federal courts abstain from hearing this type of case anyway? The Eighth Circuit reversed concluding that the answer to both is no. The court explained that the case-at-issue does not resemble the classic Younger situation: a litigant runs to federal court to cut off an impending or actual state-court proceeding that is unlikely to go well. Here, the dispute about who gets to see newly filed petitions and when, and neither is the subject of any pending state-court proceeding. The court reasoned that if Courthouse News eventually prevails on its constitutional claim, declaratory relief would mitigate this concern to some degree by giving Missouri courts “the widest latitude in the ‘dispatch of [their] own internal affairs.’” View "Courthouse News Service v. Joan Gilmer" on Justia Law

by
Defendant was charged with federal offenses of cyberstalking and extortion after he sent a series of e-mails to a candidate for the Nebraska legislature. A jury acquitted Defendant of extortion but convicted him of cyberstalking. Defendant appealed the conviction, arguing that the e-mails constituted speech that is protected by the First Amendment, and that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction.   The Eighth Circuit concluded that the evidence was insufficient under a proper interpretation of the cyberstalking statute, and therefore reversed the conviction. The court explained that to qualify as speech integral to criminal conduct, the speech must be integral to conduct that constitutes another offense that does not involve protected speech, such as antitrust conspiracy, extortion, or in-person harassment. In this case, however, the jury acquitted Defendant of extortion, and there is no other identified criminal conduct to which the jury could have found that Defendant’s e-mail communications were integral.   Further, under prevailing law, where an alleged victim of defamation is a public figure, a speaker’s assertions are unprotected speech only if the speaker acted with “actual malice”—that is, with the knowledge that his statements were false or with reckless disregard of their falsity. Here, on this record, the evidence is insufficient to support a finding that Defendant harassed the relevant parties with defamatory speech. Finally, the government did not charge Defendant with the separate offense of transmitting obscene materials via the internet and its belated obscenity theory is insufficient to sustain the cyberstalking conviction. View "United States v. Dennis Sryniawski" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, an individual and a registered Nebraska ballot campaign committee, challenged as contrary to the Equal Protection Clause a provision in the Nebraska constitution that establishes a signature requirement for ballot initiatives. The district court entered a preliminary injunction barring the Nebraska Secretary of State from enforcing the provision. The Secretary appealed.   The Eighth Circuit reversed explaining that because the signature distribution requirement “does not draw a suspect classification or restrict a fundamental right,” Plaintiffs must show that it cannot survive even rational-basis scrutiny. The court explained that Plaintiffs have not shown even a “fair chance” of carrying this burden. The Secretary identifies multiple legitimate government interests served by the signature distribution requirement.  A lawmaker could rationally conclude that the signature distribution requirement furthers this interest by weeding out initiatives with a small but concentrated support base.   The court explained that it need not decide here whether to extend this principle to requests for injunctions against the enforcement of state constitutional provisions because the balance of the remaining preliminary injunction factors weighs in the Secretary’s favor anyway. Thus, on balance, the preliminary-injunction factors clearly weigh in the Secretary’s favor. The district court abused its discretion by granting Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction View "Crista Eggers v. Robert Evnen" on Justia Law

by
Appellants (the “Bullion Traders”) are a collection of in-state and out-of-state precious metal traders or representatives thereof challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 80G, which regulates bullion transactions. The Bullion Traders argue the statute violates the dormant Commerce Clause.   The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s partial grant of the Commissioner’s motion to dismiss and the district court’s partial denial of the Bullion Traders’ motion for summary judgment. On remand, the court left to the district court to decide in the first instance whether the extraterritorial provisions of Chapter 80G, as amended, are severable from the remainder of the statute.   The court explained that certain in-state obligations, such as a registration fee for traders doing business in Minnesota, even when calculated considering out-of-state transactions, do not control out-of-state commerce. However, Chapter 80G does not merely burden in-state dealers with a monetary obligation that considers both in-state and out-of-state transactions. Rather, it prohibits an in-state dealer who meets the $25,000 threshold from conducting any bullion transaction, including out-of-state transactions, without first registering with the Commissioner. View "Thomas Styczinski v. Grace Arnold" on Justia Law

by
A jury convicted Defendant of conspiracy to distribute tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sections 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 846. Defendant appealed, arguing that the district court (1) abused its discretion by denying his motion for a continuance; (2) erred by admitting into evidence portions of recordings of phone calls that Defendant made from jail; (3) permitted trial delays that violated Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, and (4) erred at sentencing by declining to vary downward.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Defendant has not established that the court abused its discretion. The trial occurred nearly a year after Defendant’s arrest and arraignment. Defendant replaced his attorney in August of 2020, but he still had more than five months to prepare for trial with his trial counsel’s assistance. Five months falls within a range found in cases where the court has concluded that there was adequate time.   Further, the court explained the delays, in this case, are not attributable to the government as they resulted from delays requested by codefendants or ordered by the court in which Defendant acquiesced. This means that the relevant period is between October 19, 2020, and January 11, 2021, the date Defendant’s trial began. Thus, the court held that the period of delay does not trigger presumptive prejudice. View "United States v. Muzammil Ali" on Justia Law

by
A class of inmates who were juvenile offenders sued the state officials responsible for administering the parole process. The inmates alleged that the policies and practices of the parole officials violated their rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and to due process of law under the federal and Missouri constitutions. The district court determined that the parole review practices were constitutionally deficient, and ordered the State to implement an elaborate remedial plan.   The State appealed, and the Eighth Circuit concluded that there is no constitutional violation. The court explained that the Supreme Court’s juvenile-specific jurisprudence under the Eighth Amendment does not warrant declaring a constitutional violation and imposing on the State the elaborate set of parole procedures endorsed by the district court. A requirement to allow “some meaningful opportunity” for release, even if applicable to these juvenile homicide offenders, is satisfied here. The juvenile homicide offenders in Missouri received more process than offenders under the regular parole process: they presented more documentary evidence than adult offenders, received longer hearings than the average parole hearing, and were entitled to consideration of statutory factors that apply only to juveniles who were formerly sentenced to life without parole. View "Norman Brown v. Anne Precythe" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, a transgender youth, their parents, and two healthcare professionals, sought to enjoin Arkansas Act 626, which prohibits healthcare professionals from providing gender transition procedures to any individual under the age of 18 or from referring any such individual to any healthcare professional for gender transition procedures. The district court enjoined the Act, and the State appealed.The Eighth Circuit held that because a minor's sex at birth determines whether or not the minor can receive certain types of medical care under the law, Act 626 discriminates on the basis of sex. Thus, to be valid, the Act must be supported by an exceedingly persuasive justification. The Eighth Circuit determined that the Act prohibits medical treatment that conforms with the recognized standard of care for adolescent gender dysphoria and that the purpose of the Act is not to ban a treatment but to ban an outcome the State deems undesirable. Thus, the district court did not err in granting an injunction. View "Dylan Brandt v. Leslie Rutledge" on Justia Law

by
Defendant was convicted by an Arkansas jury on two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death. After the district court denied his second amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the Eighth Circuit vacated the dismissal of two claims and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the district court denied Defendant's petition with respect to his conviction but granted relief with respect to his sentence of death, imposing a sentence of life imprisonment. Both sides appealed.On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order affirming Defendant's conviction; however, the court reversed the district court's grant of relief. The Eighth Circuit explained that the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision concerning the scope of cross-examination of a government witness did not contravene or unreasonably apply Supreme Court precedent by concluding that the balance struck by the trial court was permissible under the Sixth Amendment, and his Confrontation Clause claim did not merit relief. Defendant's other claims were procedurally barred and Defendant did not show cause of prejudice to overcome the default. View "Ray Dansby v. Dexter Payne" on Justia Law