MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

VOLOKH CONSPIRACY

Mostly law professors, blogging on whatever we please since 2002 · Hosted by The Washington Post, 2014-2017 · Hosted by Reason 2017 · Sometimes contrarian · Often libertarian · Always independent

Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Satanic standing, Studebaker, and breaking into prison.

Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.

This fall, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states. That is, does the federal Constitution prevent state and local officials (rather than just federal ones) from imposing excessive fines disproportionate to the gravity of a given offense? The Indiana Supreme Court recently said no and permitted police to forfeit a $42,000 vehicle because its owner (who obtained the vehicle with legal funds) sold a few hundred dollars' worth of drugs. Click here to read IJ's just-filed merits brief (skip ahead to page 37 for stirring reading on why the Fourteenth Amendment's long-neglected Privileges or Immunities Clause incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause against the states).

  • In 1980, man breaks into Lorton, Va. federal prison, murders inmate. D.C. Circuit: Officials unlawfully delayed his parole hearing for a separate 1980 murder in D.C. If paroled, he'll begin serving another life sentence for a third 1980 murder in Maryland.
  • SWAT team raids Casco, Maine home of woman whose husband was suspected to be a felon in possession of firearms. Yikes! Turns out he's not a felon. First Circuit: She sought to challenge the validity of the search warrant too late in the litigation, and there's no cause to revisit her unsuccessful excessive force claim. Editorial staff: But there's always cause for a Judge Selya vocab quiz: anent, limning, and pellucid.
  • Philadelphia landlord buys home in 2009, declines in 2015 to renew lease of longtime tenants, who receive federal enhanced voucher rent assistance. (The family's now-deceased matriarch moved in in 1982.) Third Circuit (2017): Not a problem. Federal housing law does not bind landlords to perpetual leases. Third Circuit (en banc, over a dissent): Reversed. No evicting enhanced voucher tenants without good cause.
  • Disabled Philadelphia woman wants to leave her walker in lobby of her condo building when she goes out; the building's staff would prefer to store it behind the concierge desk and fetch it when she returns. Third Circuit: The building is not violating the Fair Housing Amendments Act.
  • Fifth Circuit: Texas medical officials' search of a doctor's records without first giving the doc a chance to challenge their subpoena violated the Fourth Amendment, but the doc can't sue because there's no precedent saying so. (There is now, though.) Judge Willett, concurring dubitante: "I add my voice to a growing, cross-ideological chorus of jurists and scholars urging recalibration" of qualified immunity.
  • After humble career, septuagenarian widower spends most of his time in Toledo, Ohio bars. Holy cow! He's worth $2.2 mil. When he dies, tenants in duplex he owned conspire with lawyer to draft fake will, obtain the money (which should have gone to his grandnephew). The plot's undoing? One tenant made 171 withdrawals in amounts less than $10k, some of them $9,999, which is the sort of thing the IRS notices. Sixth Circuit: The district court did not err in permitting a handwriting expert to testify; but some convictions and sentences need revisiting. (Click here for local news coverage of the case.)
  • And now a brief historical aside, courtesy of the Sixth Circuit: When the Studebaker company collapsed in 1963, closing its South Bend, Ind. plant, it defaulted on its pension obligations to over 11,000 autoworkers, setting in motion a chain of events culminating in ERISA, the 1974 federal law that regulates private pension and health funds.
  • Erlanger, Ky. police pull over minivan with obstructed plates, arrest mom for driving on a suspended license, detain rest of the family for an hour while the drug doggie comes. (New entry for the "things that police think are indicative of drug activity" file: having wrenches, screwdrivers, and other work tools in one's minivan.) No drugs found. Sixth Circuit: No qualified immunity for an officer who allegedly, after the drug doggie sniff had been completely, searched 17-year-old daughter's bra before letting her go to the bathroom.
  • Allegation: Milwaukee police suspect suspect is not really unconscious, administer sternum rub. The suspect awakes. Nonetheless, he renews complaint that he can't breathe. Police put him in a patrol car, ignore his requests for an ambulance. He dies. District court: No qualified immunity for 11 officers. Seventh Circuit: Back to the district court for an individual analysis of each officer's actions/immunity.
  • Allegation: Residents of Niles, Ill. assisted living facility retirement home berate, physically assault lesbian resident. She complains to management, who, rather than protect her, build case to evict her. District court: Can't sue over that. Federal law doesn't make a landlord liable for tenant-on-tenant harassment. Seventh Circuit: It does. The case should not have been dismissed.
  • Inmate at Lincoln County, Ark. prison attacks a sleeping inmate, who now has glass eye, walks with cane because of extensive nerve damage. The attack is caught on video and awakens most of the 54-man barracks, but no guard sees or hears it. Victim: Everybody knew the place isn't safe. There are violent attacks all the time. There's one guard for 108 inmates; guards don't have an unobstructed view into the barracks, and they frequently skip their scheduled rounds. Eighth Circuit (over a dissent): Can't sue over that.
  • Wells Fargo summarily terminates employees who it determines have been convicted of crimes involving dishonesty (which make them legally ineligible for employment at an FDIC-insured institution). And that policy is a business necessity, says the Eighth Circuit, regardless of whether it creates a disparate impact on African-American or Latino employees.
  • The Eighth Circuit makes short work of the Satanic Temple's attempt to challenge Missouri's abortion restrictions, noting that at no point during the lawsuit were any of the plaintiffs pregnant.
  • Does printing "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency violate the First Amendment? Or the Fifth Amendment? How about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? No, says the Eighth Circuit.
  • It's cruel and unusual, and so a violation of the Eighth Amendment, for Boise, Idaho officials to enforce the city's ban on sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no alternatives, says the Ninth Circuit.
  • In 2014, Oregon voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have allowed residents to obtain drivers' licenses without showing proof of their legal presence in the country. (No such requirement existed until 2008, when it was added to comply with the federal REAL ID Act). Plaintiffs: Voters were motivated by animus against Mexicans and Central Americans; state officials' subsequent refusal to issue such licenses violates equal protection and due process. Ninth Circuit: Case dismissed.
  • Man, once a "legit baller" in the NBA, takes out reverse mortgage on his home, dies within a year. His widow (who lives in the home with their minor daughter) does not repay the loan; the lender moves to foreclose. Widow: The reverse mortgage was HUD insured, and HUD is prohibited from insuring loans that allow for surviving spouses to be evicted. Eleventh Circuit (providing link to the man's highlight reel in the footnotes): Yes, but the contract in question allows exactly that; HUD probably shouldn't have insured the loan, but that's not the lender's fault.

Nice! The Texas Supreme Court has granted cert to Patricia Mosley, who appealed an adverse ruling (that will bar her from her occupation if it stands) in precisely the manner an administrative law judge told her to and state rules dictated—only to have her case tossed for being filed in the wrong venue. We say that violates procedural due process. Click here for an IJ op-ed urging cert; click here for an IJ amicus urging cert; or click here to listen to the podcast, wherein we discussed the case.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • AmosArch||

    I always found the whole satanism movement inherently odd in that its essentially a LARPing fanclub of something it claims to hate/not exist. Its kinda like a bunch of people dressing up and speaking Klingon at the local anti Star Trek Convention.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The first generation it's just LARPing. The second and third? Not necessarily.

  • Purple Martin||

    Yup, that's pretty much how all religions start. Just needs a few centuries to rub off the rough edges.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The first generation it's just LARPing. The second and third? Not necessarily.

  • RoyMo||

    I would be curious if there are any statistics on this, I have a friend who was a third generation Unitarian Universalists, he was pretty much the only one in years to have completed their confirmation equvalent, bridging or something like that, and a decade later neither he nor any of his siblings even knew there was a congregation in the city we were living in at the time. I remember reading once that an individual had higher odds of being a Unitarian Universalist later in life if they were not born in the denomination.

  • Toranth||

    Federal housing law does not bind landlords to perpetual leases. Third Circuit (en banc, over a dissent): Reversed. No evicting enhanced voucher tenants without good cause.

    Then the Federal Government pays enhanced voucher landlords above market rate to compensate for that taking, right? Or, no, it declares that once in, you can never leave - in fact, you don't have to enter the program yourself. Unrevokable multigenerational entitlements? What could possibly go wrong?

    It's cruel and unusual, and so a violation of the Eighth Amendment, for Boise, Idaho officials to enforce the city's ban on sleeping outside against homeless individuals with no alternatives, says the Ninth Circuit.

    Reading this was actually pretty interesting, and the actual ruling (extremely narrow) and the basis for it were educational. It's unfortunate that this summary skips so much of the actual material to produce a more dramatic 'headline'.

  • gormadoc||

    With regards to the first, some of the slummier landlords prefer such tenants, as the government picks up the remainder of the tab, providing for nearly guaranteed money, which wouldn't be guaranteed if they just rented to the normal customers. It's also a way of gaining some visibility for your units, if you publicize through non-profits or government resources that you accept tenants with vouchers.

    I am also sure that the government would claim that the landlord had, in fact, implicitly agreed to the arrangement when they purchased the property and allowed the family to remain. It is possible to evict such tenants as long as it isn't based on the fact that they receive the voucher, so I'm surprised that didn't work here.

  • FlameCCT||

    IIRC the new owner agreed to continue leasing to the HOH who was an elderly lady instead of evicting her when he completed the purchase. I haven't seen where the owner ever brought up the voucher.

  • John Cuyle||

    I would love more analysis of the 9th circuit ruling. It is narrow, but the reasoning behind it is extremely broad and could be applied to practically any behavior, the justification is convoluted, and it seems only to allow the homeless the option to camp on public lands but not anyone, which seems like it would be problematic.

  • Procyon Mustelid||

    The 3rd Circuit FHA disability case, reading the opinion... Is it fair to call the plaintiff's lawyers incompetent for pleading the defendants' affirmative defense for them?

  • nonzenze||

    The Indiana Supreme Court recently said no and permitted police to forfeit a $42,000 vehicle because its owner (who obtained the vehicle with legal funds) sold a few hundred dollars' worth of drugs.


    Independent of the merits of the legal question, maybe the Indiana legislature should venture a thought.

  • ReaderY||

    In the reverse mortgage case, it's by no means clear that the bank gains from its course of conduct. It succeeded in obtaining possession of the house. But it invalidated the mortgage insurance, and can't collect on it. If it had settled with the widow instead of litigating to a win, they might have been able to reach an agreement that would have kept the mortgage insurance valid.

  • ReaderY||

    In the Harris v. Claire case, it's worth noting the consequences of expanding the set of cases where the police can legitimately "suspect drug activity." Police are now free not just to seize any work van or any property of any laborer possessing work tools, but to subject it to forfeiture unless workers can prove their innocence.

    It's open season on the working class. If you are a worker, if you have to have work tools in your vehicle, police are now free to stop you and seize your vehicle and your property pretty much whenever they want.

  • Harvey Mosley||

    Regarding the Mosley case, the judges and other government employees who told her she couldn't appeal because she followed the state's instructions need to be summarily executed.

  • perlchpr||

    Now now. You must be more temperate.

    Suggest instead that it would be no tragedy if they accidentally slipped into a woodchipper. ;)

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Why do you hate the poor innocent woodchippers so much?

  • J.D.S.||

    What are the odds of SCOTUS overruling or seriously limiting the Slaughter-House Cases? The IJ brief touches on that subject. Do folks in particular camps of jurisprudence strongly favor or oppose it? I'm asking more broadly than the Eighth Amendment issue. The Slaughter-House Cases seem wrongly decided to me, but I also don't perceive a groundswell to correct the holding (probably because everyone relies on the Due Process Clause).

  • MonitorsMost||

    That Seventh Circuit case is just outrageous and needs to be en banc'd. Landlords can't be responsible for the actions of other tenants. Just as HOAs can't be responsible for the conduct of homeowners. There is no agency or control. So much for keeping the government out of your homes.

  • bernard11||

    I think you should read the opinion.

    The case is not as simple as the description in the OP.

    While landlords may not be liable for the actions of other tenants, they are responsible for their own behavior, and for their inaction when action is clearly called for and readily available.

    The abuse was severe, and the landlord responded by restricting Wetzel's access to common areas her lease gave her the right to use. The lease also,

    conditions tenancy at St. Andrew on re‐
    fraining from "activity that [St. Andrew] determines unrea‐
    sonably interferes with the peaceful use and enjoyment of the
    community by other tenants" or that is "a direct threat to the
    health and safety of other individuals."

    The landlord can evict those who violate those provisions, as Wetzel's antagonists surely did. Yet no one was evicted or, apparently, even threatened with eviction.

    There plainly was a significant degree of control. The landlord could have done a number of things to address the harassment, but did nothing.

  • EscherEnigma||

    If it were a typical apartment complex, then you might be right.

    But this was an assisted-living community, so the landlord is much more involved in the day-to-day lives of the tenets, and the contracts will include many things (as bernard11 noted) that aren't in typical rental leases.

  • ||

    The 3rd Circuit housing opinion was written by a black Obama appointee. That says all you need to do. Blacks, as a group, think that whites are perpetually obligated to provide them with everything they need.

  • ||

    "Wells Fargo summarily terminates employees who it determines have been convicted of crimes involving dishonesty (which make them legally ineligible for employment at an FDIC-insured institution). And that policy is a business necessity, says the Eighth Circuit, regardless of whether it creates a disparate impact on African-American or Latino employees."

    Good. Disparate impact is a joke.

    "Inmate at Lincoln County, Ark. prison attacks a sleeping inmate, who now has glass eye, walks with cane because of extensive nerve damage. The attack is caught on video and awakens most of the 54-man barracks, but no guard sees or hears it. Victim: Everybody knew the place isn't safe. There are violent attacks all the time. There's one guard for 108 inmates; guards don't have an unobstructed view into the barracks, and they frequently skip their scheduled rounds. Eighth Circuit (over a dissent): Can't sue over that."

    Ridiculous. The government has no obligation to protect you after it's imprisoned you. Outrageous.

  • Procyon Mustelid||

    Generally, the courts have said people it's imprisoned are the only people the government does have an obligation to protect, on the basis that it's taken away both their ability and right to protect themselves.

  • Toranth||

    Disparate impact is terrible; the last refuge of people that cannot understand basic statistics. However, in this case, it looks like they completely ignored the issue and said "Even IF it was disparate impact, it's still allowed". Which is good.

    I would have preferred they reject the claim entirely, but at least this time the court didn't go "More minorities impacted? Oh, my feelz! Must be RACISM!!1!" like so many other courts do.

  • bernard11||

    Disparate impact is terrible; the last refuge of people that cannot understand basic statistics.

    I'd say that depends on how disparate impact is measured. Careful data-gathering, which shows statistically significant differences in impact, seems to me to be pretty good evidence of discrimination.

    My impression is the courts, and politicians especially, are not good at understanding this.

  • Toranth||

    Oh, certainly. Statistics can be used to demonstrate discrimination. But as you say, it takes effort and good data, along with an understanding of what the data means.

    In cases like this, they claim "disparate impact" because a larger percentage of minorities were impacted than whites. That's not a statistical analysis; that's not even a statistical summary. But it is treated as one, first by the plaintiffs, and second by the ignorant courts.

    If the statistics are good, and show discrimination, there's no need for special "disparate impact" rules. If the statistics are bad, then "disparate impact" is designed to produce punishment without evidence.

  • JonFrum||

    I followed the link to the podcast, and the most recent episode is from 8/24 - where's the new one?

  • ||

    It seems like a no-brainer to me. If any given clause was part of the Constitution when a territory became a state or if the state voted to ratify an amendment containing the clause. then that clause applies to the states due to the fact that every state Constitution declares itself subordinate to the US Constitution as part of becoming a state, and every state government derives its authority from the state Constitution.

  • Rossami||

    re: "every state Constitution declares itself subordinate to the US Constitution as part of becoming a state,

    Uh, no they don't. Remember that several state constitutions predate the US Constitution.

    More to the point, the precise wording of the US Constitution makes most of its clauses restrictions strictly on the Federal government. Some but not all of its clauses have been incorporated against state governments despite not being clearly worded that way. Even if you (with some justification) believe that the incorporation doctrine is an incoherent mess, it's much more complicated than simple declarations of subordination.

  • ReaderY||

    In the 7th Circuit case, the underlying claim is probably doubtful at this point, especially in light of the change in composition of the Supreme Court.

    However, what happens if the other tenants claim that any action the landlord takes against them would constitute disability discrimination? Elderly people often do inappropriate things as a result of senility etc., and when landlords attempt to discipline them as if they were normal people, they are often able to make a successful disability claim that the landlord's action represents a failure to accommodate.

    What does the landlord do?

    One could easily imagine a variety of other scenarios where every tenant is protected by some law, and the landlord's obligations to one tenant requires treating another tenant in a way that obligations to the other tenant prohibit.

  • bernard11||

    However, what happens if the other tenants claim that any action the landlord takes against them would constitute disability discrimination?

    He points out that the lease expressly lets him evict them for

    activity that [St. Andrew] determines unreasonably interferes with the peaceful use and enjoyment of the community by other tenants" or that is "a direct threat to the health and safety of other individuals,"

    and that they were engaged in such activity.

    Does a claim that senility was responsible for your physical attack on another tenant make sense?

  • Krayt||

    ===When he dies, tenants in duplex he owned conspire with lawyer to draft fake will, obtain the money===

    "You guys don't need a criminal lawyer. You guys need...a criminal lawyer." -- Saul Goodman

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online