Civil Rights Law Decisions: Decided

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Chicago was home to 700 homicides in 2016. (And that milestone was reached by December 1.) The city has long been trying to curb gun violence, but has received judicial pushback on its strict gun control laws. So it's perhaps no surprise that the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a comprehensive statute regulating gun ranges in the city of Chicago, a law that included a ban on anyone under 18 from entering a shooting range.

So what avenues are left for a city trying to diminish its death toll?

Let's say that you live in New Hampshire. And let's posit that you don't like abortion. If both of those are the case, you might not be too pleased with New Hampshire's law allowing reproductive health care facilities to enforce a buffer zone banning anti-abortion advocates from protesting the clinic or its patients within 25 feet of the facility. You might be so displeased with the law that you sue the state in an effort to invalidate the law.

Here's the problem, though: the law has never been enforced. No facility in the state has created or demarcated such a buffer zone. Your First Amendment rights have not been chilled, your expressive activities have not been affected, and, thus, you have suffered no injury. Therefore your case is getting tossed out of court.

This week, the Detroit Public School Teachers' Union agreed to settle one of the two cases it has brought against the school district and state because of the school system's many failures. The parties were able to come to a compromise regarding claims over the poor building conditions. The settlement agreement provides for a new process to ensure that building repairs get completed in a timely fashion, and appoints an oversight committee to enforce the agreement.

The condition of some Detroit schools are so appalling that this litigation was actually necessary. Teachers complained not just about overcrowding and low pay, but also about the literal conditions of the buildings. Classrooms had mold, vermin, and were actually crumbling. While the Detroit schools are facing a funding crisis, the teachers are dismayed about the conditions that the children are subjected to. So much so that early last year, they organized a walk out that shut down nearly 90 percent of district's schools for one day.

The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City are most likely remembered as the first since 9/11, or the first to feature more extreme cold-weather sports like snowboarding, moguls, and aerials. (Or maybe you remember it for the bribery scandal that surrounding the site bidding process.)

But for many of those who attended and worked at those winter games and the Olympians that competed, 2002 will be remembered for the National Security Agency "spying on anyone and everyone in the Salt Lake City area" at the time. And now they're suing about it.

A recent appellate decision in California is causing a minor stir throughout the mental health treatment community, particularly for those involved in the treatment of sexual addiction or compulsion.

A certified drug and alcohol counselor and two licensed marriage and family therapists in California sought a court declaration protecting the privacy rights of their patients' therapy sessions. All three plaintiffs work with patients that struggle with sexual addiction/compulsion. As a result of a change in California law in 2015, the three are now required to report to law enforcement when their patients disclose having viewed child pornography online. Needless to say, many therapists have been feeling the implications of the new law since it took effect.

In a decision handed down January 9, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States explained that a New Mexico police officer acted reasonably when he fatally shot a suspect without warning in October 2011. While officers generally are required to announce their presence, particularly before exerting physical force, let alone deadly force, the Supreme Court was ruling about a very particular, peculiar situation that unfolded in October 2011 where an officer arrived late to an active scene.

The case involved an active police investigation into a road rage incident. The suspects allegedly did not realize that police were present. Instead, they thought that they were under attack. So they came come out of the home firing guns. An officer who arrived at the scene shot and killed one of the suspects.

Police officers from Battle Creek, Michigan were recently cleared of wrongdoing for killing two dogs that barked at officers during the execution of a search warrant. The owners of the two dogs were living with a known drug dealer who had recently been released from prison and was suspected to be selling drugs.

The owners filed a civil lawsuit against the officers and police department, which was dismissed on summary judgment. The case went up to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the judgment of the Michigan Federal Court.

In a controversial case out of Florida, an appellate court judge ordered a criminal defendant to tell police his iPhone passcode. This ruling is significant as it has been routinely held that a court order could not compel a defendant to give up his passcode (although a court could order a person to touch their fingerprint to a fingerprint sensor). Fortunately, this ruling may only affect Floridians.

The appeals judge is being criticized for missing the mark in this ruling, particularly when it comes to analogizing cases. The main issue that legal scholars take with this ruling is that it diminishes the Fifth Amendment and the protection against self-incrimination.

A Federal judge in Texas is making a big impact from coast to coast on businesses that have salaried employees making less than $45K per year. The overtime pay rules that were slated to go into effect on December 1st have been put on an indefinite hold as the court figures out whether the new rules are legal. The indefinite hold is the result of an emergency preliminary injunction that was ordered at the request of 21 states that have joined together to block the new rules from taking effect.

The challengers to the new rules assert that the Department of Labor overstepped their authority in revising the overtime rules. The new rules would have effectively made all employees who are currently salaried and make less than about $45K per year eligible for overtime pay. Currently, the overtime pay rule applies only if a person's salary is less than approximately $23K per year or $455 per week.

In a decision that was bound to be controversial regardless of the result, a Missouri appeals court ruled that the frozen embryos of a divorced couple are not people, and refused to grant custody of the embryos to either spouse. While this result may seem completely logical, it is seemingly at odds with Missouri law. In Missouri, pretty much any time after conception, an unborn child is considered a human being with protectable rights. The dissenting judge's opinion highlights the decisions conflict with Missouri law.

The case involved a divorce couple that had a few embryos frozen prior to their divorce. After the divorce, the former wife wanted to use the embryos, while the former husband wanted to either donate the embryos to a third party or have them destroyed. The judge basically blocked either from being able to get want they want by ruling that both former spouses had to consent to how and by whom the embryos could be used.