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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Plaintiffs, high school students, filed suit against two Northwest Missouri State police officers for allegedly violating certain statutory and constitutional rights during the investigation of misconduct by plaintiffs attending a summer camp on the university campus. Plaintiffs' claims arose from an incident where the officers directed the high school coach to gather students in a room to hold them there "for interrogation" following a report that someone was photographing a female coach in one of the dormitory rooms.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the officers' motion to dismiss the claims against them based on qualified immunity. The court concluded that, given the state of the law, a reasonable officer could have proceeded on the understanding that a student seizure is permissible if it is reasonable under the standard of New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985). In this case, a reasonable officer could have believed that the seizure was reasonable where a reasonable officer could have believed that they were authorized to investigate the incident to comply with both Title IX and Missouri law regarding invasion of privacy. Furthermore, the seizure was reasonable in scope and duration. Finally, 18 U.S.C. 5033 and 5038 are inapplicable here, and thus the officers are entitled to dismissal on these claims. Finally, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity on the conspiracy claim. The court remanded with directions to dismiss the claims against the officers. View "T.S.H. v. Green" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, who was employed with Andersen from 2000-2018, was terminated for violating lock-out, tag-out (LOTO) safety procedures. After plaintiff filed suit against Andersen, he voluntarily dismissed four of his eight claims and the district court granted summary judgment on the remaining four claims.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment, concluding that Andersen did not violate the Minnesota Whistleblower Act by terminating his employment in retaliation for his previous sexual harassment and falsified documentation complaint. The court explained that plaintiff failed to show causation between the protected activity and his discharge, and summary judgment was therefore appropriate. The court also concluded that plaintiff was unable to establish the causal link necessary for a prima facia case of retaliation under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff's retaliation claim under the Family Medical Leave Act also failed for lack of causation. View "Lissick v. Andersen Corp." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the VA in an action brought by plaintiff under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging race discrimination, retaliation, constructive discharge, and a hostile work environment she experienced during her employment at the Kansas City VA.Applying the McDonnell Douglass burden-shifting framework, the court concluded that plaintiff's claims failed at the first step because she did not establish a prima facie case of race discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, or constructive discharge. In this case, many of the events plaintiff presents as adverse employment actions—the decision not to "board" the Coding Document Improvement Program (CDI) position, inadequate training on CDI duties, assignment of additional coding work, her performance review, and the written counseling—are not adverse employment actions for purposes of Title VII. View "Watson v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was terminated from CRC through its "no-fault" attendance policy, she filed suit alleging that her termination violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of CRC and dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's ADA discrimination claim where the undisputed evidence established that she was unable to perform the essential functions of her position. In this case, many of plaintiff's duties as the sole office assistant required her physical presence at the office and she admitted that her absences burdened co-workers by detracting from the time they could spend on their own duties. Furthermore, because plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of ADA discrimination, her failure-to-accommodate claim necessarily fails. In regard to plaintiff's retaliation claim under the ADA, the court concluded that she failed to present sufficient evidence of the required but-for causal connection.In regard to plaintiff's FMLA claims, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal because CRC did not deny plaintiff FMLA leave to which she was entitled because it was justified in assessing unexcused absence points. In regard to the FMLA discrimination claim, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to establish a causal connection between her requests for FMLA leave and her termination. Even assuming that plaintiff made a prima facie case of discrimination, the court concluded that CRC had a legitimate, non-discriminatory ground for termination that was not pretextual. View "Evans v. Cooperative Response Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against defendants alleging claims related to the kidnapping and murder of Jacob E. Wetterling. Jacob was abducted at the end of plaintiff's wife's driveway. Plaintiff asserted First Amendment retaliation, a derivative claim for municipal liability, and state law claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in determining that plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 was time-barred by the six year statute of limitations under Minnesota law. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in determining that the defamation claim and intentional infliction of emotional distress claim were time-barred by the two-year statute of limitations under Minnesota law. In this case, plaintiff's claims accrued in 2010, when the alleged tortious acts of naming plaintiff as a person of interest and searching plaintiff and his wife's property occurred, regardless of when they believed they had enough evidence to convince a judge or jury and obtain relief. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err by denying plaintiff's request to equitably toll the statutes of limitations where plaintiffs lacked diligence in filing, which was not prevented by invincible necessity. Furthermore, no factor outside plaintiff's control prevented the filing. View "Rassier v. Sanner" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of several days of street protests during the September 2017 riots that occurred following the acquittal of a former St. Louis police officer for the on-duty shooting of a black man. Plaintiffs are a protester who allegedly was maced, a person whose cell phone was seized and searched as he filmed arrests, and an observer who was allegedly exposed to chemical agents and arrested on September 17.The Amended Complaint alleged that the City (i) violated the First Amendment by retaliating against plaintiffs for engaging in protected expressive activity; (ii) violated the Fourth Amendment because its custom, practice, and failure to train and supervise caused unlawful seizures and the use of excessive force by police officers; and (iii) violated the Fourteenth Amendment when officers failed to warn before deploying chemical agents, failed to provide opportunities to disperse, and arbitrarily enforced two ordinances of the St. Louis Code. The City subsequently appealed the district court's order denying its motion to dissolve the preliminary injunction that included affirmative mandates pending a prompt trial on the merits of plaintiffs' claims for a permanent injunction, and the district court's order granting class certification.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the City's motion to dissolve the temporary injunction and remanded with directions to vacate and dissolve the injunction no later than October 31, 2021, if it has not been replaced with a final order either granting a permanent injunction or denying injunctive relief. The court explained that, given the rigorous 42 U.S.C. 1983 burdens of proof, the evidence at the preliminary injunction hearing relating to the events of September 2017, while relevant and sufficient to persuade the court to grant a preliminary injunction pendente lite, will not be sufficient to warrant permanent injunctive relief imposing the same levels of indefinite federal court control over the City's law enforcement responsibilities.The court vacated the class certification order without prejudice to plaintiffs renewing their request after a final order has been entered on their claim for permanent injunctive relief, at which point the district court can better assess whether a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) class is appropriate and necessary to afford proper equitable relief. The court explained that, given the individualized inquiries plaintiffs' disparate claims require, the massive class action certified neither promotes the efficiency and economy underlying class actions nor pays sufficient heed to the federalism and separation of powers principles in Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit precedent. View "Ahmad v. City of St. Louis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his son filed suit against three officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment, violation of the Iowa Constitution, and common law invasion of privacy. The district court denied summary judgment, but reversed in part and remanded for trial. On remand, the district court held a trial on the state law claims, as well as the federal excessive force claim. On the state claims for invasion of privacy and Iowa illegal search or seizure, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law. The jury found in favor of defendants on the excessive force claims.In Wilson I, the Eighth Circuit ruled that defendants' acts were reasonable as a matter of law. The court explained that the substantive standard for search and seizure does not vary between Iowa and federal law. Therefore, any error was harmless, since it would not change the result: regardless of who theoretically must show the officers' conduct was reasonable, defendants did show their conduct was reasonable. Accordingly, the district court did not err in granting judgment as a matter of law and denying plaintiff's motion for a new trial on the state search and seizure claims. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in granting judgment as a matter of law and denying plaintiff's motion for a new trial on the invasion of privacy claim. In this case, plaintiff cannot state a claim for intrusion upon seclusion because the officers' conduct was not a highly offensive intrusion on the private affairs or concerns of plaintiffs, and the stop of plaintiff's vehicle was lawful. The court also concluded that the district court properly instructed the jury on the elements of Fourth Amendment and Iowa Constitution excessive force claims. Because the Iowa Supreme Court's standard for excessive force does not materially differ from the federal standard, the court explained that the district court did not need to separately instruct the jury. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Wilson v. Lamp" on Justia Law

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After the University dismissed plaintiff from its medical residency program, plaintiff filed suit for wrongful termination and alleged that the University discriminated against her based on age and disability, as well as retaliated against her.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the University, concluding that the University established a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination. In this case, assuming that plaintiff made a prima facie case for age discrimination, the University produced a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating plaintiff by explaining that she made an egregious error affecting patient safety despite supervisor and attending efforts. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to show evidence of pretext. The court also concluded that plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act because there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether the University regarded her as disabled at the time before her termination. View "Canning v. Creighton University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Ford under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), claiming that Ford terminated him twice and took other adverse employment action against him based on his asthma and scoliosis. The district court dismissed the FMLA claim as time-barred, and dismissed his ADA and MHRA claims on the ground that he exhausted his administrative remedies.The Eighth Circuit concluded that FMLA claims were sufficient to survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion. The court also concluded that plaintiff has cleared the exhaustion hurdle on his MHRA claim but has pulled up short on his three ADA claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Weatherly v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to a deputy sheriff in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the deputy sheriff failed to safeguard plaintiff's health and safety and had thereby inflicted injuries upon him. In this case, the deputy sheriff was transporting plaintiff from a medical appointment to the Lee County Correctional Center when city police dispatch advised of an armed robbery nearby. The deputy sheriff drove to the bank with the intent of observing the crime in progress, saw the robbery suspect flee on foot through a vacant lot, and drove his cruiser at approximately 20 to 25 miles per hour through the lot to follow the fleeing suspect. During the pursuit, the suspect shot at the cruiser and the deputy sheriff turned sharply to the right and drove away from the scene. Plaintiff, who was shackled and "thrown around" in the back of the cruiser without a seatbelt during these events, alleged that the deputy sheriff subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.The court could not say that the deputy sheriff's actions in this quickly evolving emergency situation were anything more than negligent and thus were clearly insufficient to constitute deliberate indifference. In the absence of a showing that he acted with deliberate indifference, plaintiff has failed to establish the existence of an Eighth Amendment violation. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to enter an appropriate order. View "Stark v. Lee County" on Justia Law