Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Eleventh Circuit
U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

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State and federal laws protect a person's ability to live in a housing unit with a service animal even if the landlord or homeowners association has a no pets policy. This is because a service animal isn't a "pet," it's a service animal.

A Florida homeowners association didn't seem to think so. It was skeptical of one tenant's claim that he needed a service animal that exceeded the HOA's weight limit. The Eleventh Circuit decided last week that its demands for more information were unreasonable.

Add yet another victory to the list for same-sex marriage advocates in Florida. After victories in four counties, a federal judge made a statewide ruling earlier today. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee held that Florida's ban violates guarantees of equal protection and due process, but stayed his decision pending appeal. The decision covers both in-state and recognition of out-of-state marriages.

What's the real-world effect? Very little, for now. It's a near certainty that the Supreme Court will take on the issue of same-sex marriage during its next term, which begins this fall. Given that Judge Hinkle's opinion was stayed pending appeal, and any appeal to the Eleventh Circuit would likely not happen before SCOTUS weighs in, this is but a minor footnote, albeit a positive one.

Here are five takeaways from Judge Hinkle's ruling:

Free speech? Or professional conduct regulation? The Florida law at issue prohibits doctors from asking a patient about his or her guns, unless gun ownership is relevant to the patient's medical care. A violation can lead to a suspended or revoked license to practice medicine, along with a fine of up to $10,000.

The doctors sued, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights. But the Eleventh Circuit panel's majority disagreed, calling a permissible regulation of professional conduct.

Now the doctors are asking for an en banc rehearing, hoping that the larger court will agree with Judge Charles Wilson's dissent, where he called the law a "gag order."

An ordinance in West Palm Beach, Florida, prohibits using amplified sound within 100 feet of the property line of any health care facility. Sounds neutral, but the real purpose of the law is to prevent anti-abortion protesters from using megaphones outside of abortion clinics.

The appellants in this case, Mary Susan Pine and Marilyn Blackburn, are two such protesters. They sued the city for an injunction on First Amendment grounds. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied the injunction, and on August 6, the 11th Circuit affirmed.

First it was Monroe County. Then, late last week, it was Miami-Dade County. And if the plaintiffs have their way, it'll soon be the entire state of Florida.

Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel held Friday that Florida's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in a case that only applies to Miami-Dade County. The decision came a little more than a week after Circuit Judge Luis Garcia's similar decision in Monroe County. Both decisions are expected to be appealed, but the plaintiff-appellees in the Monroe County case are asking that the process be expedited by skipping the state appeals court and heading straight to the Florida Supreme Court.

If the motion is granted, a decision by the Florida Supreme Court would have statewide effect. If not, a parallel challenge to the state's ban in federal court could have the same effect. A decision in the federal case is expected soon.

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We've seen court after court after court, including a federal circuit court of appeal, rule in favor of gay marriage. But courts in the Eleventh Circuit have been conspicuously silent on the issue -- until now.

This afternoon, Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garica overturned Florida's 2008 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It's a narrow victory for gay rights proponents in Florida -- it only applies to Monroe County (the Florida Keys) -- but with four cases in the state racing towards decisions, it's a good sign of things to come, and yet another entry in a long winning streak for gay marriage nationwide.

Here are a few takeaways from the decision:

Hobby Lobby was about a lot of things: religious rights of corporations, substantial burdens, compelling interests in contraception, readily available alternative means to provide contraception, and dictionaries. The end result was this: closely held corporations with religious owners can't be forced to pay for health coverage that provides contraception, especially since there is an existing exemption program for religious nonprofits that these employers could easily be wedged into.

But what if that exemption program itself, which requires the organization to fill out a form and find a third-party administrator to provide contraceptive coverage on the government's dime, is a burden on religion? The Little Sisters of the Poor were the first to make this argument, and the Supreme Court stepped in to grant an injunction. The Eleventh Circuit did the same for EWTN, a Catholic television network, mere hours after Hobby Lobby, with a surprising special concurrence by Judge Bill Pryor.

Fun fact: if your cell phone is turned on, your phone carrier can tell where you are.

How? Your phone's radio is constantly connecting to cell phone towers, which means even without a GPS signal, the carrier can approximate your location. You may have already know this (it shows up in movies all the time), but if you didn't, well, you do now. What you probably didn't know is that it might be legal for the police to snatch this data without a warrant.

Unless you reside in the Eleventh Circuit.

If you enjoy reading stories of police misconduct being properly punished, today's Eleventh Circuit selection will warm the cockles of your heart.

A handful of police officers responded to a 911 call from a drunk, lost woman. When they arrived, she claimed that she was in danger and that someone had been beating Jerry Morris's horses. When officers woke Morris up with a knock, he tried to put on his boots to check on his animals. Instead, the officers entered his house and told him that he wasn't going anywhere.

These are my favorite kinds of opinions, the ones that base their reasoning completely on the plain text of a statute. They're the easiest to read, easiest to understand, and they always make you wonder: how did this get all the way to the appeals court?

Florida had a voter purge in 2012, first in the primary, then in the general election. The program used DMV data to compile a big list of suspected ineligible voters, which was later whittled down from around 180,000 to 198. Ultimately, approximately 85 voters were removed. For those 85 names, the Florida Division of Elections spent $92,500 in legal fees, according to the Tampa Bay Times.