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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting Defendant for disclosure of social security numbers and aggravated identity theft, holding that the district court did not commit clear or obvious error in refusing to ask prospective jurors about racial bias. On appeal, Defendant argued that there was a reasonable possibility that racial bias might have affected the jury because she requested that the district court ask the prospective jurors as a group a question during voir dire about whether any of them harbored racial bias and the district court denied that request. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant objection to the district court's failure to ask a question about racial bias during voir dire was at least forfeited; and (2) it was not clear or obvious error for the district court to refuse to ask such a question. View "United States v. Cezaire" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the order of the district court dismissing the indictment against Defendants after a first trial ended in a mistrial, holding that the district court erred in concluding that Defendants were protected from a retrial by double jeopardy principles. Four defendant were charged with multiple counts of wire fraud, honest-services wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit both species of wire fraud. After trial began, one juror was diagnosed with a brain tumor requiring immediately surgery. The government was unwilling to consent to a reduced jury, and the court subsequently declared a mistrial. Defendants moved to preclude retail and to dismiss the indictment under the Double Jeopardy Clause on the ground that the government could not establish manifest necessity for its decision to force the mistrial. The court granted the motion to dismiss the indictment. The First Circuit reversed as to three of the four defendants, holding that the district court's decision to declare a mistrial rested on manifest necessity, and because the mistrial was not the produce of any purposeful instigation or other government misconduct, double jeopardy principles did not prohibit the government from retrying the defendants. View "United States v. Garske" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to suppress approximately twenty pounds of methamphetamine that a postal inspector delivered in two United States Postal Service Priority Mail Express packages, as well as the fruits of the packages' search, holding that the warrant authorizing one package's search was valid and that the warrantless search of the other package was constitutional. The district court assumed arguendo that Defendant held a reasonable expectation of privacy in the searched packages then concluded that neither search was unconstitutional. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the warrant authorizing the search of one package was not facially invalid despite the government's attachment of the incorrect attachment because the error was a mere technical error and the package was described with sufficient particularity and there was no reasonable probability of another package being searched; and (2) the warrantless search of the second package was justified by both the private search doctrine and the consent of the package's addressee. View "United States v. Moss" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint in part and otherwise vacated the judgment, holding that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst violated Plaintiff's federal constitutional right to due process in suspending him for five months without prior notice or a fair hearing but did not violate his rights in expelling him after providing a fair expulsion hearing. After the university suspended and then expelled Plaintiff, Plaintiff brought this action seeking compensatory damages, declaratory relief, and an injunction preventing the university from enforcing the expulsion. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The First Circuit (1) affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims challenging the adequacy of his expulsion hearing, Plaintiff's section 1983 claims for money damages against the university officials acting in their official capacities, and Plaintiff's Title IX claim; but (2) vacated for the entry of nominal monetary damages the dismissal of Plaintiff's section 1983 claims challenging the constitutionality of the manner in which the university suspended Plaintiff without prior notice or an adequate hearing. The Court then remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Haidak v. University of Massachusetts-Amherst" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; aiding and abetting violent crimes in aid of racketeering, namely murder or attempted murder under Puerto Rico law; conspiring to engage in drug trafficking; and other offenses, holding that Defendant's challenges to their convictions were unavailing. The three defendants in this case were members of a vicious Puerto Rican gang called La ONU. Defendants appealed their convictions, bringing a variety of claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying a motion to suppress a cache of guns and drugs seized during a warrantless search of a house; (2) the judge did not err in finding that no courtroom closure occurred during the proceedings; (3) the judge did not err in denying Defendants' motion for a mistrial; and (4) the remainder of Defendants' arguments on appeal did not entitle them to reversal of their convictions. View "United States v. Lanza-Vazquez" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court's partial denial of Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from Defendant's home on the day of his arrest on drug and money laundering charges, holding that the district court properly determined that certain items were lawfully seized but that it could not be determined on the record that other items were lawfully seized. The district court concluded that federal law enforcement agents validly relied on exceptions to the warrant requirement when they searched Defendant's home, a cargo van inside Defendant's garage, and a minivan parked in Defendant's driveway. The First Circuit held (1) the district court correctly determined that certain items were lawfully seized from the first floor; (2) it could not be determined whether items on the second floor and in the cargo van were lawfully seized, and therefore, remand was required for further findings concerning the duration and scope of the purported protective sweep; (3) remand was required for reconsideration of the issue of application of the automobile exception to the cargo van based on the court's conclusions regarding the sweep; and (4) as to items seized from the minivan, remand was necessary for a determination whether the minivan was within the curtilage of Defendant's home. View "United States v. Hernandez-Mieses" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants, the Town of Duxbury, Massachusetts and the Town's chief of police, and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint filed under 42 U.S.C. 1983, holding that Plaintiff could not reasonably have expected privacy in his phone service provider's cell and home phone records. In 2015, the chief of police opened an internal investigation concerning Plaintiff, a police officer with the Town. In 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint alleging that Defendants compelled Plaintiff to turn over his phone records in connection with the investigation and that this constituted an illegal warrantless search in violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that a phone subscriber has no reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone service provider's records of the numbers that the subscriber has dialed and from which the subscriber as received calls, and Defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the records simply because he asked for a copy of the records at issue. View "Johnson v. Town of Duxbury, Massachusetts" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Harold Shurtleff's request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the City of Boston from denying him a permit to temporarily raise a "Christian flag" on a government-owned flagpole in front of its City Hall, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Shurtleff's request for a preliminary injunction. Shurtleff, in his role as director of Camp Constitution, a volunteer organization, organized an event to be held at the plaza in front of City Hall to celebrate the Christian community's contributions to the City and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Shurtleff sought a permit from the City to raise a Christian flag on one of the City Hall Plaza flagpoles during the celebration. The City denied Shurtleff's flag-raising request. Shurtleff and Camp Constitution filed suit raising Establishment Clause, Free Speech and Equal Protection claims and seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the City from denying them a permit to raise the flag. The district court denied the injunction. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to establish a likelihood of success on their claims against the City. View "Shurtleff v. City of Boston" on Justia Law

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In this Title III adversary proceeding the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Ambac Assurance Corporation's constitutional and statutory challenges to measures the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has taken to block payments to holders of Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA) bonds, holding that the Title III court lacked the authority to grant the declaratory and injunctive relief that Ambac sought. Ambac, a financial guaranty insurer and individual holder of HTA bonds, commenced this adversary action in the so-called Title III court within the context of HTA's debt-adjustment proceedings pursuant to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. Ambac brought Contracts Clause, Takings Clause, Due Process Clause, preemption, and statutory challenges to the Commonwealth's actions and sought a negative injunction preventing the Commonwealth from continuing to impair the flow of HTA revenues to bondholders. The Title III court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the Title III court was barred from granting Ambac declaratory or injunctive relief in this case. View "Ambac Assurance Corp. v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" on Justia Law

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After a divided panel of the First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Mark Eves's equitable claims against Paul LePage and dismissed his 42 U.S.C. 1983 damages claims on the basis of qualified immunity, the First Circuit granted Eves's petition for rehearing en banc and held that LePage was entitled to qualified immunity. In 2016, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the First Amendment retaliation suit brought by Eves, then-speaker of Maine's House of Representatives, against LePage, then-Governor of Maine, in which Eves alleged that LePage leveraged discretionary state funding in a yet unpasted state budget to coerce an organization to terminate Eves's upcoming employment as its president. In his en banc petition, Eves pursued only his damages claim against LePage for alleged political affiliation discrimination. The First Circuit en banc court held that, under the facts of this case, LePage was entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable governor in the position of LePage could have believed Eves's position as the new president of the organization to be a policymaking position for which political affiliation was relevant. The Court then reinstated in part its prior panel opinion and affirmed the dismissal of this action. View "Eves v. LePage" on Justia Law