Findlaw Case Summaries: Constitutional Law 34

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May 31 – June 4, 2010.

U.S. Supreme Court, June 01, 2010 Levin v. Commerce Energy, Inc., No. 09–223 In an action by independent natural gas marketers (IMs) who offered to sell natural gas to Ohio consumers against the Ohio Tax Commissioner (Commissioner), alleging discriminatory taxation of IMs and their patrons in violation of the Commerce and Equal Protection Clauses, the Sixth Circuit’s reversal of the district court’s dismissal of the action is reversed where, under the comity doctrine, a taxpayer’s complaint of allegedly discriminatory state taxation, even when framed as a request to increase a competitor’s tax burden, must proceed originally in state court.

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, June 03, 2010 Chaparro v. Ruiz-Hernandez, No. 08-1989 In a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit brought by a group of twenty-two contract employees against a Puerto Rican municipality and its officers, a grant of plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is affirmed in part, vacated in part and remanded where: 1) plaintiffs had a reasonable expectation of continued employment; 2) a one-year term of employment with Puerto Rican government bodies is generally considered a protected property interest for procedural due process purposes; and 3) defendants’ claim that plaintiffs were not deprived of protected property interests without due process of law because the process Puerto Rico provided was adequate is rejected.

U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, June 04, 2010 Harrington v. Cty. of Suffolk, No. 09-3911 In an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983 asserting that defendants deprived plaintiffs of a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause by conducting an inadequate investigation into their son’s fatal traffic accident, the dismissal of the action is affirmed where plaintiffs had no property interest in an adequate police investigation.

U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, June 03, 2010 Harris v. Ricci, No. 09-2562 In habeas proceedings arising from a conviction for murder and a sentence of death, a denial of defendant’s petition is affirmed as defendant has not shown that the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision upholding the use of foreign jurors to ameliorate the effect of the pretrial publicity was contrary to law clearly established by the Supreme Court of the United States.

U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 04, 2010 Lewis v. Wheeler , No. 09-4 In a conviction of defendant for capital murder for hire and related crimes for the murders of her husband and stepson, district court’s denial of defendant’s petition for habeas relief and an order granting a certificate of appealability is affirmed where: 1) the state court’s adjudication of defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims is neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of the applicable precedents; and 2) defendant has failed to demonstrate that counsel’s failure to preserve and advise her of a possible Apprendi/Ring challenge to the constitutionality of Va. Code Ann. section 19.2-257 rises to the level of constitutionally deficient representation and has also failed to show that she was prejudiced as a result of counsel’s alleged deficiencies.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 01, 2010 Phillips v. Bradshaw , No. 06-4418 In habeas proceedings arising from a conviction for rape and aggravated murder and a death sentence, denial of the petition is affirmed where: 1) defendant did not meet his burden of demonstrating a reasonable probability that, but for the alleged error of omitting certain mitigating evidence, he would not have been sentenced to death, and he also failed to show that the state court’s decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of Strickland under the modified-AEDPA standard; 2) sufficient evidence supported defendant’s convictions; 3) defendant did not demonstrate any juror bias; and 4) the re-reading of identical jury instructions did not qualify as critical stages of trial, and defendant identified no prejudice stemming from his counsel’s absence during this event.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 04, 2010 White Oak Prop. Dev., LLC v. Washington Township, No. 09-3527 In a housing developer’s suit against a town and its trustees, alleging various claims of constitutional violations, district court’s grant of defendants’ motion for summary judgment is affirmed where: 1) plaintiff’s attempt to void the Zoning Regulation for vagueness fails; 2) district court properly granted summary judgment to defendants on the FHA claim; 3) district court properly granted summary judgment to defendants on the Equal Protection claim as plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the the Zoning Regulation’s prohibition against multiple-family dwellings, on its face, discriminates on the basis of race; and 4) plaintiff’s substantive due process claim was properly dismissed as it did not have a protected property interest in developing its property in accordance with its development plan.

U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 02, 2010 Plouffe v. Ligon, No. 08-3996 In an action seeking to enjoin attorney disciplinary proceedings that defendant initiated against plaintiff, dismissal of the action is affirmed where the district court properly abstained under Younger because: 1) the disciplinary proceedings against plaintiff implicated important state interests; 2) the attorney disciplinary proceedings provided plaintiff an adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional claims; and 3) Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(e) was not “flagrantly and patently” unconstitutional “in whatever manner and against whomever an effort might be made to apply it.”

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 03, 2010 Barnes-Wallace v. San Diego, No. 04-55732 In an action claiming that the Boy Scouts’ lease of public lands for its headquarters, accompanied by the Boy Scouts’ prohibitions on atheism and homosexuality, was unconstitutional, the Ninth Circuit certifies the following questions to the California Supreme Court: 1) Do the leases interfere with the free exercise and enjoyment of religion by granting preference for a religious organization in violation of the No Preference Clause in article I, section 4 of the California Constitution?; 2) Are the leases “aid” for purposes of the No Aid Clause of article XVI, section 5 of the California Constitution? and 3) If the leases are aid, are they benefiting a “creed” or “sectarian purpose” in violation of the No Aid Clause?

U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 03, 2010 US v. Farley, No. 08-15882 Defendant’s conviction and sentence for knowingly crossing “a State line” with intent to engage in a sexual act with a person under the age of twelve is affirmed where: 1) the First Amendment did not protect his sexually explicit conversations with an undercover officer who pretended to be offering her daughter for sex; 2) defendant’s conviction turned on the criminal intent with which he acted, not on the existence of an actual child; 3) even if the FBI did trick defendant into thinking their investigation was about terrorism, there was no evidence they made any promise that questioning would be limited to that subject, or gave him any assurance that statements relating to other crimes would not be used against him; and 4) there was evidence sufficient for a reasonable factfinder to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, defendant’s sentence is vacated where the thirty-year statutory mandatory minimum sentence imposed on defendant was not constitutionally dispropor! tionate

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