Civil Rights Law News - U.S. First Circuit
U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog

Recently in Civil Rights Law Category

It's not all sunshine, smiles, and drinks with little umbrellas in them in Puerto Rico today. Yesterday, a federal district judge upheld the territory's ban on same-sex marriage, placing Puerto Rico in threadbare company with Louisiana as the only two jurisdictions whose federal courts upheld a state or territorial same-sex marriage ban.

Unlike the Louisiana court, however, Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez dismissed on "procedural" grounds.

Ever since City of Renton v. Playtime Theaters, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed cities to zone out of existence businesses it didn't like, as long as the city was nominally zoning based on "secondary effects" and not targeting a particular kind of expression. In Renton, it was -- and this gives you an idea how old the case is -- an "adult" theater.

From the First Circuit, Showtime Entertainment v. Town of Mendon takes us back to that old "secondary effects" doctrine and just how far it can go.

Back in August, the First Circuit decided Penn v. Escorsio, an arguably obvious case where qualified immunity was denied to prison guards who knew about an inmate's suicide risks, ignored his very vocal threats to do exactly that, then found him strung up in his cell. The inmate, Matthew Lalli, suffered severe brain damage and will require $9 million in care, according to his mother, who brought suit on his behalf.

Now, despite plans to appeal the First Circuit's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case itself will return to the district court and be scheduled for trial, as the First Circuit denied a request to hold the case pending further appeal, reports the Bangor Daily News.

For the longest time, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections dispensed HIV-positive prisoners' medication through the "Keep on Person" (KOP) program, where prisoners were given a bimonthly or monthly supply of the drugs to keep in their cell. In 2009, as a cost-saving measure, the DOC switched to dispensing HIV meds at a dispensary window.

Why? Because HIV drugs are expensive, making up more than 40 percent of the DOC's pharmacy budget. The KOP program would result in wasted medication, as prisoners would be transferred, skip taking meds, lose meds, die, or be released. The switch not only reduced costs, but also seemed to have a positive effect on the HIV-positive prisoner population as a whole; 95 percent of these prisoners now having an undetectable viral load, compared to 83 percent before the switch.

Despite that bit of positive news, five inmates sought an injunction to return the meds to the KOP program, arguing cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference. As may have already guessed, their claims failed.

The McLaughlin Group won. No, not the TV show with political pundits -- this McLaughlin Group, comprised of active-duty members of the United States armed forces and National Guard, veterans, and their same-sex spouses, challenged the Defense of Marriage Act. They were one of many groups challenging the law, and when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the heterosexist definition of marriage present in the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, they won.

There was never an argument against their case. The Obama administration took a no-defense, full-enforcement approach to the law, despite the president's own feelings that the law was unconstitutional.

A defense and enforcement without merit? To the McLaughlin Group, this sounded like the circumstances covered by the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which allows attorneys fees when the government takes an unjustifiable position on a civil rights case.

In Massachusetts, sexually dangerous persons (SDPs), sex offenders who have been ordered to civil commitment, reside in the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. In 1974, following lawsuits alleging "medieval" conditions at the Center, a district count entered consent decrees ordering the Center to shape up. In 1999, the district court concluded that the problems had been remedied and terminated the consent decrees, but still made the Center subject to a settlement plan.

In 2001, Jeffrey Healey brought suit to enforce the provisions of the plan and to allege constitutional violations. After more litigation and two trials, the district court found that it had breached the terms of the plan by failing to provide "adequate pharmacological evaluation and treatment." This appeal followed, where the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) wanted the determination in Healey's favor reversed, along with a determination that the settlement plan wasn't an enforceable order.

Slocking. It's nothing new. Rappers Kool G and Tupac referenced padlocks in socks years ago. And if softcore adult films on Netflix are your cultural reference points of choice, [spoiler alert] Red got slocked by Vee in the penultimate episode of the second season of "Orange is the New Black."

Take a prison-issued padlock. Put it in a sock. Beat your fellow prisoners. It's ingenious and not altogether unheard of. And that's these two prisoners' point: Why are prisons still handing out padlocks? The two slocking victims argue that ignoring the obvious problem is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.

A little more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts abortion buffer-zone law, Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick signed a new law limiting protests outside of abortion clinics.

No sooner than the law was signed, opponents and Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley spoke out against it.

Here's what you need to know about the new law, and what lawmakers have to say about it:

This week we examine a duo of First Amendment cases. The first garnered national media attention last week as the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts "buffer zone" law. The other case, though less widely known, also addresses the First Amendment.

Read on to learn more about the opinions.

It seems the federal judiciary has a case of summeritis, as we're not seeing that many ground- breaking cases being decided lately. We'll blame it on the snowy winter.

That said, there are new developments in the traffic stop video taping case, and the First Circuit breathed new life into quid pro quo sexual harassment. And while those cases were decided, we're still waiting to see how the court will rule on an extradition case.

Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.