Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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A pregnant inmate, Lidia Lech, filed a lawsuit against several healthcare providers and staff at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center (WCC), alleging that they ignored her serious medical symptoms and denied her requests to go to the hospital, resulting in the stillbirth of her baby. The district court permitted most of Lech's claims to proceed to trial, but granted summary judgment in favor of one of the correctional officers. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion in two evidentiary rulings. The first error was allowing the defense to use Lech's recorded phone calls to impugn her character for truthfulness. The second error was excluding testimony from Lech's friend, which would have corroborated her version of events. The court concluded that at least one of these evidentiary rulings was not harmless, vacated the jury verdict, and remanded for a new trial against most of the defendants. However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the correctional officer, as well as the jury verdict in favor of one of the medical providers. View "Lech v. Von Goeler" on Justia Law

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Clare Mundell worked as a licensed clinical psychologist for Acadia Hospital in Maine. She discovered that her male colleagues were paid significantly more than her for comparable work. Mundell brought a sex discrimination action against Acadia under federal and state law, specifically the Maine Equal Pay Law ("MEPL"). The district court found Acadia liable under the MEPL and awarded Mundell treble damages. On appeal, Acadia argued that the district court erred in holding that Mundell could prevail without establishing Acadia's discriminatory intent and because Acadia claimed a reasonable-factor-other-than-sex defense to explain the pay difference. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the MEPL does not impose an intent requirement on a plaintiff, nor does it permit a defendant to rely on a catch-all affirmative defense such as market factors to explain pay disparity. The court also concluded that treble damages are available for MEPL violations. View "Mundell v. Acadia Hospital Corp." on Justia Law

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In a case involving an attorney father, Scott D. Pitta, and the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Pitta's claim that he had a First Amendment right to video record a private meeting discussing his child's Individualized Educational Program (IEP). The court found that an IEP Team Meeting does not occur in a public space, is closed to the public, and involves discussion of highly sensitive information about a student. Furthermore, the court stated that public school teachers and administrators carrying out their IEP obligations are not akin to the "public officials" in previous cases that established a First Amendment right to record. The court also noted that Pitta's claimed right to record was not linked to the public's right to receive information. Finally, the court reasoned that even if there were a First Amendment right to record such meetings, the school district's prohibition of video recording served a significant governmental interest and was narrowly tailored to promoting candid conversations and protecting sensitive information during IEP discussions. View "Pitta v. Medeiros" on Justia Law

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In November 2010, Mario Cruzado was brought in for questioning by Boston police regarding the death of Frederick Allen III, a gay, African-American man. During the interview, Cruzado used a racial slur when referring to a picture of Allen. In 2012, Cruzado was charged and convicted of first-degree murder for killing Allen and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Cruzado's conviction was based, in part, on the recorded police interview, which was admitted as evidence to show Cruzado's racial animus and thus his motive for the killing. Cruzado appealed his conviction and the denial of his motion for a new trial, arguing that the admission of the recorded police interview violated his right to due process.The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) consolidated Cruzado's appeals and denied them, holding that the state trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the probative value of the evidence outweighed its prejudicial effect. The SJC also stated that Cruzado's argument that the admission of the racial slur violated his due process rights was unavailing, as the slur came from his own mouth. Cruzado then filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus, which was denied by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.In an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Cruzado argued that the admission of the recorded police interview violated his right to due process. The Court held that Cruzado's due process rights were not violated, as the racial slur held substantial probative value in demonstrating whether the crime may have been partially motivated by racial animus. The Court also noted that the potential prejudicial effect of the racial slur was mitigated by the trial judge conducting an individual voir dire of potential jurors to eliminate potential bias and that Cruzado did not request a limiting instruction to disregard or not infer anything from his use of the racial slur. Therefore, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's rejection of Cruzado's petition for habeas relief. View "Cruzado v. Alves" on Justia Law

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This case involves the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp., which challenged the temporary admissions plan for three selective public schools in Boston. The admissions plan was based on students' grade point averages (GPAs), zip codes, and family income, rather than on standardized test scores. The Coalition claimed that the plan had a disparate impact on White and Asian students and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Massachusetts law.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that the Coalition's claim lacked merit. It held that the Coalition failed to show any relevant disparate impact on White and Asian students, who were over-represented among successful applicants compared to their percentages of the city's school-age population. The court also found that the Coalition failed to demonstrate that the plan was motivated by invidious discriminatory intent. It pointed out that the Plan's selection criteria, which included residence, family income, and GPA, could hardly be deemed unreasonable.The court noted that any distinction between adopting a criterion (like family income) notwithstanding its tendency to increase diversity, and adopting the criterion because it likely increases diversity, would, in practice, be largely in the eye of the labeler. It emphasized that the entire point of the Equal Protection Clause is that treating someone differently because of their skin color is not like treating them differently because they are from a city or from a suburb.The court also rejected the Coalition's appeal of the district court's denial of its motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), which sought relief from the judgment based on newly discovered evidence that some members of the School Committee harbored racial animus. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion, as the Coalition had failed to show that the newly discovered evidence was of such a nature that it would probably change the result were a new trial to be granted.The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Boston Parent Coalition for Acad. Excellence Corp. v. The School Committee of the City of Boston" on Justia Law

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A plaintiff, Elvin Torres-Estrada, brought claims against several Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and Bivens, alleging violations of his constitutional and statutory rights. The district court dismissed his complaint, arguing that some of his claims were not filed within the required time frame and that the FTCA's discretionary function exception stripped the court of jurisdiction over his other claims. Torres-Estrada appealed the dismissal, arguing that his claims are timely, the discretionary function exception does not apply, and even if it does, it does not cover the alleged misconduct of the FBI.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the district court erred in its interpretation of the discretionary function exception. The court explained that this exception does not serve as a bar to FTCA tort claims that plausibly allege constitutional violations. In addition, at least two of Torres-Estrada's claims could be subject to the "continuing violation" doctrine, which means the district court erred in dismissing his claims as untimely without considering this doctrine. Given that new facts have emerged throughout the litigation, the court granted Torres-Estrada leave to amend his complaint. Therefore, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings.The background facts of the case are that Torres-Estrada was detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, pending prosecution for drug and money laundering offenses. During this time, he was investigated by the FBI as a potential suspect in the murder of a correctional officer at the MDC. Torres-Estrada alleges that the FBI violated his rights through various actions, including the use of informants to elicit incriminating statements about the murder, subjecting him to invasive body searches, and maintaining records falsely linking him to the murder. View "Torres-Estrada v. Cases" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court granting summary judgment to Defendants, several city officials of the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts, in this First Amendment action brought by Plaintiff, the Harbormaster of the city, holding that Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that Defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment by retaliating against him for his giving expert testimony in a maritime tort dispute. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, at the time of the alleged retaliation, the law did not clearly establish that the value of Plaintiff's speech outweighed the city's interest in the efficient provision of public services by the Harbormaster's office. View "Ciarametaro v. City of Gloucester" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the suit brought by Plaintiff seeking to enjoin the New Hampshire Secretary of State from "accepting or processing" the "ballot access documentation" brought by Donald Trump, the former President of the United States, for the 2024 Republican presidential primary in the state of New Hampshire, holding that Plaintiff lacked standing.Plaintiff, a United States citizen and Republican primary presidential candidate, brought this complaint alleging that section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment barred Tump from "holding" the office of President of the United States again on the ground that he "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against [the U.S. Constitution], or [gave] aid or comfort to the enemies thereof." The district court dismissed the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, concluding that Plaintiff lacked standing under U.S. Const. art. III, 2 and that his section 3 claim presented a nonjusticiable political question. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to show that he could satisfy the "injury-in-fact" component of Article III standing. View "Castro v. Scanlan" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court ruling that the underlying suit was time barred as to all defendants in this action brought by Plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of her late son's estate on the six-year anniversary of his death, holding that the lawsuit was time barred.Plaintiff sued jail staff and a medical contractor (collectively, Defendants), alleging that while her son was detained in the Somerset County Jail, Defendants failed to recognize his serious mental illness, thus leading to his death following a suicide attempt. Defendants moved to dismiss the suit as time barred. The district court granted the motion. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff was not entitled to relief on her allegations of error. View "Martin v. Somerset County" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in this lawsuit alleging disability discrimination, hostile work environment, and other claims, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Plaintiff filed this action claiming disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act (RA), hostile work environment under the RA and Americans with Disabilities Act, retaliation in violation of Title VII, and failure to accommodate under the RA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the VA on all counts. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) correctly concluded that 5 U.S.C. 8461(d) did not bar its review of Plaintiff's claims at summary judgment; (2) did not err in rejecting Plaintiff's preclusion claim; and (3) did not err in granting summary judgment. View "Dixon-Tribou v. McDonough" on Justia Law