Archive: 31 October 2022

African American boy.

Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S. Ct. 1861 (2014)

FACTS: Robert Tolan was unarmed on his parents’ front porch approximately 15 to 20 feet away from police sergeant, Jeffrey Cotton. Cotton shot Tolan in the chest and punctured his right lung.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Tolan (Petitioner) sued Cotton (Respondent) for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Cotton moved for summary judgment and the district court granted the motion. Tolan appealed but the Fifth Circuit affirmed. Tolan then filed a petition of certiorari. SCOTUS granted the petition.

JUDGMENT: Vacated and remanded.

ISSUE: Whether the lower court failed to view the evidence and facts at summary judgment in the light most favorable to Petitioner.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: Courts must follow the fundamental principle that at the summary judgment stage, reasonable inferences should be viewed in light most favorable to the non-moving party.

RATIONALE: The lower courts failed to determine whether Respondent’s actions violated established law. The lower courts also failed to properly credit evidence and draw factual inferences in Petitioner’s favor. SCOTUS made clear that to resolve the questions of qualified immunity at summary judgment, courts should engage in a two-pronged inquiry. First, courts must look at the evidence from the lens of the injured party, and ask whether an officer’s conduct violated a federal right. Second, courts should ask whether the right was “clearly established” at the time of the constitutional violation.

CONCURRENCE: (Alito, J., Scalia, J, concurring) The issue to be determined is whether the relevant evidence is viewed in light most favorable to the non-moving party. Relevant evidence should also support a judgment against summary judgment. While they disagreed, in part, with SCOTUS’ characterization of the evidence, they agreed Petitioner’s case had genuine issues of material fact and that, summary judgment should not have been granted.

Abestos on the job site.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986)

FACTS: Myrtle Catrett alleged her husband’s exposure to Celotex Corporation’s asbestos products resulted in his death.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Catrett (Respondent) sued Celotex (Petitioner) for strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. The district court granted Petitioner’s summary judgment motion. Respondent appealed. The appeals court reversed the decision of the district court. Petitioner filed certiorari. SCOTUS granted the petition to resolve the conflict.

JUDGMENT: Reversed and remanded.


ISSUE: Whether the Petitioner sufficiently demonstrated the Respondent lacked evidence to establish elements of their case at trial.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: A party cannot move for summary judgment with a conclusory assertion that plaintiffs have no evidence to prove their case.

RATIONALE: The standard for granting summary judgment is similar to the directed verdict standard. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a). In SCOTUS’ view, lower courts must construe Rule 56 with due regard of individual asserting the claims and defenses that will eventually be tried by a jury. The rule must also be construed with due regard for the individual in opposition that those claims and defenses have no factual basis.

CONCURRENCE: (White, J., concurring) A plaintiff does not have to initiate any discovery or reveal their witnesses or evidence unless the court orders or they are required to do so by discovery rules. According to Justice White, it is the defendant who must negate a plaintiff’s basis for the suit.

DISSENT: (Brennan, J.; The Chief Justice; Blackmun, J., dissenting) The Dissenters felt the Court did not explain what the requirement is for the party who claims a non-moving party cannot prove their case, and then moves for summary judgment. Be that it may, the Dissenters felt Celotex failed to both, provide affirmative evidence and attack the Respondent’s evidence. Because Celotex failed to discharge its burden of production under Rule 56, the district court erred when it granted summary judgment.

Haddle v. Garrison, 525 U.S. 121 (1998)

FACTS: Federal agents investigated Jeanette Garrison (et al.) for Medicare fraud. Michael A. Haddle, an at-will employee of Garrison, cooperated in the investigation. Haddle was also set to testify against Garrison at a grand jury. However, Haddle claims Garrison terminated his employment to deter him from testifying at the criminal trial.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Haddle (Petitioner) sued Garrison (Respondents) for conspiracy to deter cooperation in a criminal trial and, conspiracy to retaliate for his attendance before a grand jury. Petitioner also asserted damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) and other state claims. The district court granted the Respondents motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The appeals court affirmed. SCOTUS granted certiorari.

JUDGMENT: Reversed and remanded.


ISSUE: Whether a plaintiff states a claim for damages when he alleges his employer was provoked by § 1985(2), to conspire to terminate his at-will employment.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: SCOTUS held a claim for relief is stated under §1985(2) when a third-party interferes with an employee’s at-will employment relationship.

RATIONALE: SCOTUS said nothing in § 1985(2) requires a plaintiff to suffer an injury to their “constitutionally protected property interest” before they can claim damages under § 1985(2). Petitioners allegation that Respondents interfered with his at-will employment meets the definition of intentional interference with contractual relations.

Incommunicado Detention

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)

FACTS: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detained and arrested Javaid Iqbal on criminal charges. Iqbal claims Robert Mueller and John Ashcroft’s carceral policies discriminates against him on the basis of his national origin, race, and religious beliefs. Iqbal further claims jailors assaulted him and violated his right to bodily integrity.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Iqbal (Respondent) brought a class action suit against Ashcroft (Petitioners) for racial discrimination. The district court denied Petitioners’ motion to dismiss. Before the final judgment of the case, Petitioners brought an appeal before the Second Circuit. The appeals court affirmed the district court’s decision.

JUDGMENT: Reversed and remanded.

ISSUE: Whether Respondent’s complaint met the Twombly standard to survive a motion to dismiss.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: SCOTUS held Respondent did not plead enough facts in his complaint to state a claim against Petitioners for discrimination.

RATIONALE: Respondent failed to show Petitioners intended to discriminate against him based on a protected characteristic. Although Rule 9 reduces the pleading standard for discriminatory intent, plaintiffs cannot plead the plain elements of a cause of action. If so, this would circumvent the function of Rule 8.

SYNTHESIS: Under the flexible ‘plausibility standard,’ as stated in Twombly, a plaintiff must delineate their factual allegations for them to be plausible. However, SCOTUS found the present case to be dissimilar from Twombly, as the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to Bivens and § 1983 claims. Thus, a plaintiff’s complaint should delineate how a government official, individually, violated their constitutional right.

High speed internet

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)

FACTS: William Twombly and Lawrence Marcus (Respondents) argues Bell Atlantic Corporation (Petitioners) conspired to prevent access to Respondents’ telephone and high speed internet services markets. Respondents also argue the Petitioners violated § 1 of the Sherman Act when they impeded competition and, allotted markets and customers to each other.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Respondents sued Petitioners for violations of the Sherman Act. The district court dismissed Respondents’ complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Respondents appealed to the Second Circuit and, it reversed the district court’s decision. Petitioners appealed to the SCOTUS and it granted certiorari.

JUDGMENT: Reversed and remanded.

ISSUE: What must a plaintiff plead in order to state a claim under § 1 of the Sherman Act?

HOLDING OF THE COURT: Plaintiffs must follow 9(b)-(c)of the Fed. R. Civ. P. and, particularize their factual allegations.

RATIONALE: While the appeals court found plaintiffs do not have to plead plus factors for an antitrust claim to persist, SCOTUS stated under Rule 8(a)(2), plaintiffs must show they are entitled to relief. According to SCOTUS’ rationale, if a plaintiff’s complaint includes blind assertions disguised as factual allegations, a plaintiff is not entitled to relief. Rule 9(b)-(c).

SYNTHESIS: While the Conley Court stated a plaintiff’s complaint need only have a short statement and give defendants fair notice, the Twombly Court disagreed. In fact, it criticized, questioned, and overturned Conley’s “no set of facts” language. In SCOTUS’ view, the plaintiff should expound on the facts, not their legal right to bring suit.

Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)

Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)

FACTS: Railroad companies in Texas and New Orleans (“Railroads”) terminated several of its African American employees. Although the Railroads claimed the action it took was due to retrenchment, it hired Caucasians to fill the vacant positions. The Railroads further demoted African Americans in senior positions and, rehired them in lower positions.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The African American employees (Petitioners) sued the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks (Respondents) for discrimination. Respondents filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim for which could be granted. The District Court granted Respondent’s motion. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision. SCOTUS granted certiorari.

JUDGMENT: Reversed and remanded.

ISSUE: Whether the Federal Rules requires one to detail the facts upon which they base their claim.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The Federal Rules only require a plaintiff to give ‘a short and plain statement of the claim, which gives the defendant fair notice and grounds for those claims.

RATIONALE: The Court examined Rule 8(f), which states ‘all pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice.’ In the Court’s view, not only did the Petitioners’ complaint have a short statement, but it also gave the Respondents fair notice. The Court also reasoned that pleadings are not a ‘game of skill,’ and that mistakes in pleadings cannot determine the merits of a case.

Pillars of the Supreme Court

Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)

FACTS: The State of Kentucky (Respondent) indicted Baston, a Black man (Petitioner) on charges of second-degree burglary and receipt of stolen goods. At trial, the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike all Black persons on the venire, which left a jury composed only of White persons.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Defense counsel moved to discharge the jury before it was sworn on the ground that the prosecutor’s removal of the Black veniremen violated Petitioner’s constitutional rights. The trial judge denied the Petitioner’s motion. Thereafter, the jury convicted Petitioner on both counts. The Petitioner appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court and raised the peremptory challenge argument. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed. The Petitioner appealed to the SCOTUS.

JUDGMENT: Reversed.

ISSUE: Whether a State’s exercise of peremptory challenges to exclude members of a Black defendant’s race, from a petit jury, violates the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: When a trial court decides that the facts establish purposeful discrimination and the prosecutor does not come forward with a neutral explanation for excluding a particular race from the jury, the Petitioner’s conviction must be reversed.

RATIONALE:. Due to the heterogeneous population of the U.S., SCOTUS requires trial courts to be sensitive to the racially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges and enforces the mandate of equal protection. Indeed, the exclusion of Black citizens from service as jurors is a primary example of the evil the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to cure. If courts ensure that no citizen is disqualified from jury service because of their race, public respect for the criminal justice system and the rule of law will be strengthened.

Medical care

Lassiter v. Department of Social Svcs., 452 U.S. 18 (1981)

FACTS: The Durham County Department of Social Services (Department) alleged, Abby Gail Lassiter did not provide her son William with proper medical care. Based on this fact, the Department took custody of William. The Department further claims Lassiter did not make future plans for William, ceased all contact with him, and left him in foster care.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The trial court served Lassiter (Petitioner) with the petition and with notice of hearing. At the hearing, the trial court terminated Petitioner’s parental rights. Petitioner argued on appeal that she was indigent. She further argued that the trial court violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to counsel when the trial court refused to provide counsel for her. The Appeals Court rejected Petitioner’s appeal and the Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the decision.

JUDGMENT: Affirmed.

ISSUE: Whether Petitioner the Due Process Clause requires the appointment of counsel when a State seeks to terminate an indigent’s parental status.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The trial court did not err when it failed to appoint counsel for the Petitioner.

RATIONALE: SCOTUS articulated that the right to appointed counsel exists only where a litigant may lose her physical liberty if she loses the litigation. In the present case, the Petitioner expressly declined to appear at a child custody hearing. She also failed to speak to her retained lawyer after she was notified of the termination hearing. While Petitioner failed to make an effort to contest the termination proceeding, the litigation did not result in the loss of her physical liberty.

SYNTHESIS: It was not a struggle for SCOTUS to decide that the Eldridge factors—the protection of parental rights in judicial proceedings—did not overcome the presumption against the right to appointed counsel. Due process does not require the appointment of counsel in every parental termination proceeding. While Gideon v. Wainwright recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel exists to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial, SCOTUS resurrected the decision of Betts v. Brady. In that case, SCOTUS decided that a defendant did not have a constitutional right to counsel. SCOTUS further relied on Betts and refused to extend the right to appointed counsel to include proceedings that did not result in a defendant’s loss of personal liberty. In SCOTUS’ view, as a litigant’s interest in personal liberty diminishes, so does their right to appointed counsel.

SEPARATE OPINION: (Blackmun, J.; Brennan, J.; Marshall,J., dissenting). The Dissenters argued that the unique importance of a parent’s interest in the care and custody of their child cannot constitutionally be extinguished through formal judicial proceedings without the benefit of counsel. To do so would revive the ad hoc approach that SCOTUS discredited in Gideon v. Wainwright. For instance, SCOTUS rejected the Betts reasoning that counsel for indigent criminal defendants was ‘not a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial.’ Although the Dissenters used the same approach to evaluate the “three distinct Eldridge factors” as the majority, it came to a different conclusion. In their view, the countervailing governmental interest was insubstantial. Thus, the majority should have decided whether Petitioner was given a meaningful opportunity to be heard when the State moved to terminate her parental rights.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 688 (1984)

FACTS: Charles E. Strickland kidnapped, tortured, murdered, assaulted, extorted victims and committed theft. Strickland later confessed to a third of the criminal episodes.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The State of Florida indicted Strickland (Respondent) for kidnaping and murder, and appointed an experienced criminal lawyer to represent him. Counsel advised Respondent to invoke his right under Florida law to an advisory jury at his capital sentencing hearing. Respondent rejected the advice and waived the right. The case proceeded to bench trial. There, Counsel did not seek out character witnesses for Respondent, nor did he cross-examine the medical experts who testified about the manner of death of Respondent’s victims. The trial judge sentenced Respondent to the death penalty. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentences on direct appeal. Thereafter, the Respondent appealed the decision and argued ineffective assistance at the sentencing proceedings.

JUDGMENT: Reversed.

ISSUE: Whether the Constitution requires a conviction or death sentence to be set aside because counsel’s assistance at the trial or sentencing was ineffective.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: The Court held the District Court properly declined to issue a writ of habeas corpus, as Respondent suffered insufficient prejudice to warrant setting aside his death sentence.

RATIONALE: A court hearing on an ineffectiveness claim must consider the totality of the evidence before the judge or jury. In order for a defendant to succeed on an ineffective assistance claim, he must show that counsel’s performance was deficient. In other words, counsel made errors so serious that counsel had not functioned as “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. The defendant must also show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel’s errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable. Respondent asserted counsel was ineffective because he failed to move for a continuance, did not request a psychiatric report, nor investigated and presented character witnesses. Respondent further argued Counsel did not seek a presentence investigation report, did not investigate the medical examiner’s reports, nor cross-examine the medical experts. The Court found the omitted evidence to be irrelevant, and stated there was no reasonable probability that it would have changed the conclusion of the sentence imposed.

SYNTHESIS: In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel exists to protect the fundamental right to a fair trial. The Constitution guarantees a fair trial through the Due Process Clauses, which includes the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for a defense. While the Court acknowledged that the effective assistance guarantee of the Sixth Amendment is to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair trial, it did not find the deficiencies in Counsel’s performance in the present case prejudicial enough to the defense to constitute ineffective assistance under the Constitution.

SEPARATE OPINION: (Brennan, J.) Justice Brennan wanted to vacate the Respondent’s death sentence because he believes the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Justice Marshall (dissenting) argued that “every defendant is entitled to a trial in which his interests are vigorously and conscientiously advocated by an able lawyer.” A proceeding in which the defendant does not receive meaningful assistance, in Justice Marshall’s view, does not constitute due process. Justice Marshall further stated if counsel had investigated evidence, he could have presented that evidence at trial. If additional evidence were presented, it could a resulted in the Respondent being given a life sentence instead of the death penalty. In all, Justice Marshall contends Counsel’s failure to investigate was more than sufficient to establish a violation of the Sixth Amendment and to entitle respondent to a new sentencing proceeding.

Evidentiary hearing

Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970)

FACTS: Residents of New York City receiving financial aid under the federally assisted program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or under New York State’s general Home Relief program alleged that the New York State and New York City officials administering these programs terminated, or were about to terminate, such aid without prior notice and hearing, thereby denying them due process of law.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: An action was brought in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. The District Court held that only a pre-termination evidentiary hearing would satisfy the constitutional command. It rejected New York officials’ argument that the combination of the post-termination ‘fair hearing‘ with the informal pre-termination review disposed of all due process claims.

JUDGMENT: Affirmed.

ISSUE: Whether the Due Process Clause requires that the recipient be afforded an evidentiary hearing before the termination of benefits.

HOLDING OF THE COURT: Due process requires an adequate hearing before termination of welfare benefits (later constitutionally fair proceeding does not alter the result).

RATIONALE: When welfare is discontinued, only a pre-termination evidentiary hearing provides the recipient with procedural due process. The pre-termination hearing need not take the form of a judicial or quasi-judicial trial. While the Court reasoned that counsel need not be provided at the pre-termination hearing, it did state that a recipient must be allowed to retain an attorney if [s]he so desires. The Court also noted that a welfare official’s prior involvement in some aspects of a case will not necessarily bar them from acting as a decision maker, however, they should not participate in the determination under review.

DISSENT: (Black, J.) When federal judges use judicial power for legislative purposes, they wander out of their field of vested powers and transgress into the area constitutionally assigned to the Congress and the people. Justice Black stated no provision in our Constitution paralyzes the governments’ efforts to protect itself against making payments to people who are not entitled to them. It strains credulity to say that the government’s promise of charity to an individual is property belonging to that individual when the government denies that the individual is honestly entitled to receive such a payment.

Justice Black felt the majority reached its result by a process of weighing ‘the recipient’s interest in avoiding’ the termination of welfare benefits against ‘the governmental interest in summary adjudication.’ According to Justice Black, today’s balancing act requires a ‘pre-termination evidentiary hearing,’ yet there is nothing that indicates what tomorrow’s balance will be. The end result of the Court’s decision may be that the government, once it decides to give welfare benefits, cannot reverse that decision until the recipient has had the benefits of full administrative and judicial review, including, the opportunity to present his case to this Court. For Justice Black, this case is a new experiment carrying out a welfare program that should not be frozen into the U.S.’s constitutional structure. It should be left, as are other legislative determinations, to the Congress and the legislatures that the people elect to make our laws.