Findlaw Case Summaries: Constitutional Law 40

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October 11-15 2010.

United States First Circuit, 10/14/2010
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston v. Seger-Thomschitz
In an art museum’s action for a declaratory judgment to confirm its rightful ownership of a painting, which a sole surviving heir of the painting’s artist claimed that the artist was forced to sell under duress after Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938, district court’s grant of summary judgment for the museum on statute of limitations grounds is affirmed where: 1) because defendant did not make a demand on the museum more than three years after her causes of action accrued, summary judgment was properly granted on the museum’s limitations defense; 2) defendant has not shown that application of the Massachusetts statute of limitations to the Massachusetts causes of action in this case would cause a significant conflict with, or threat to, the federal interests and policies embodied in section 510(c)(3); and 3) the Massachusetts statute of limitations does not conflict with the federal government’s foreign policy. ..

United States First Circuit, 10/15/2010
Statchen v. Palmer
In plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against police officers, claiming that they used excessive force in arresting him for public intoxication and in transporting him from a station house to jail, district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on the basis of qualified immunity is affirmed as the district court had no basis for sending the case to a jury because plaintiff’s own deposition provided no evidence to indicate that the force exerted was unnecessary, or that a reasonable police officer would have thought otherwise.

United States Second Circuit, 10/12/2010
Amore v. Novarro
In a civil rights action alleging a false arrest, a denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity is reversed where the district court erred in deciding that it would have been clear to a reasonable officer in defendant’s position that making the arrest was unlawful.

United States Second Circuit, 10/13/2010
DeFabio v. E. Hampton Union Free Sch. Dist.
In a case involving a student’s assertion of a First Amendment right to return to school and make a statement disavowing a racial slur attributed to him, wherein plaintiff alleged violations of a student’s rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as related state law claims, summary judgment for defendants is affirmed where the school officials alleged to have violated the student’s rights were entitled to qualified immunity from such claims where the record demonstrated a significant probability that the student would be assaulted were he permitted to return to school and deliver his message.

United States Second Circuit, 10/14/2010
Tracy v. Freshwater
In a civil rights action alleging excessive force by police, summary judgment for defendants is affirmed in part where a reasonable officer would have construed plaintiff’s conduct as intentional and threatening. However, the judgment is vacated in part where an issue of material fact remained in dispute with respect to plaintiff’s excessive force claim based on defendant’s use of pepper spray. Read more…

United States Seventh Circuit, 10/14/2010
Taylor v. Watkins
In a prisoner’s 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against several officers and employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections, claiming that defendants violated his civil rights by contaminating his food, tampering with his mail, depriving him of his sleep, and assaulting him, district court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) on the ground that he has previously incurred three “strikes” in dismissing the case is affirmed and plaintiff’s request to proceed IFP on appeal is denied as plaintiff has not shown that he was in imminent danger.

United States Seventh Circuit, 10/14/2010
Turley v. Gaetz
In a prisoner’s pro se lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. section 1983,claiming that a warden, guards and other employees at a correctional center retaliated against him for litigation previously filed regarding his conditions of confinement, district court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) in dismissing the complaint is reversed and remanded as plaintiff has not accumulated three strikes and remains eligible for IFP status because, consistent with the plain language of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the dismissal of an action, in part for failure to exhaust and in part as frivolous, malicious or for failure to state a claim, does not constitute a strike under section 1915(g).

United States Seventh Circuit, 10/15/2010
Sherman v. Koch
In a student’s suit against an Illinois school superintendent and the school district, claiming that Section 1 of the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act, which makes it mandatory a period of silence in public schools, is unconstitutional, district court’s grant of plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is reversed and remanded where: 1) plaintiff’s First Amendment challenge fails as the Illinois legislature had a secular purpose in passing Section 1, there is no evidence that the secular purpose is a sham and that Illinois’s true purpose was to promote prayer, and there is nothing impermissible about clarifying that students may pray during that time period; 2) Section 1 does not advance or inhibit religion, but rather mandates only a period of silence; 3) there is no state entanglement with religion; and 4) plaintiff’s vagueness challenge also fails because Section 1 is not unconstitutionally vague in all of its operations.

United States Ninth Circuit, 10/13/2010
Graves v. Arpaio
In Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s appeal from the district court’s order requiring him to take affirmative measures to address conditions in Maricopa County jails that violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the order is affirmed where: 1) it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to hear evidence on both rights and remedies at one hearing; 2) the district court did not clearly err in finding that air temperatures above 85° F greatly increased the risk of heat-related illnesses for individuals who took psychotropic medications; and 3) there was no error in ordering prospective relief to address inadequate food. …

Supreme Court of Florida, 10/14/2010
Jones v. Florida Parole Comm’n
The Fourth District’s affirmance of a dismissal of an inmate’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the parole commission’s determination that he violated the terms and conditions of his parole is quashed as the application of section 95.11(5)(f) to petitions for writs of habeas corpus is unconstitutional, and as such, the question of whether the inmate’s habeas petition was untimely under that section is moot.

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