6th Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Sixth Circuit
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The Sixth Circuit was always the outlier when it came to same-sex marriage. Over the past two years, the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have all found a constructional right to same-sex marriage. Meanwhile the Sixth went it alone, rejecting the plaintiffs' claim that refusing to allow them to marry violated their equal protection and due process rights.

That ruling was overturned today, as the Supreme Court announced this morning that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage.

In a case where the Tennessee Department of Children's Services sought to remove two children from their father, the father sought to remove the case to federal court. The removal of the children, and termination of parental rights, may well go ahead, but removal to federal court cannot, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Monday.

When the Department filed a petition to terminate Shaun Winesburgh's parental rights over his two children due to neglect and severe abuse, he claimed they were discriminating against him based on his mental disability and sought to remove the case to federal court. According to the Sixth, however, his federal counterclaims and invocation of civil rights removal provisions were insufficient to take his case out of state court.

Constitutional violations are injuries in and of themselves and prisoners asserting them do not have to allege a concomitant physical injury, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Monday. That means that such suits are not prohibited by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which prohibits prisoners from asserting 1983 claims alleging only mental or emotional injuries. A violation of one's First Amendment rights is a separate injury, not limited by the PLRA's preclusion.

The Sixth's ruling puts it in the more permissive side of a long standing circuit split over whether prisoners can sue for constitutional violations that did not result in physical injury. Following yesterday's ruling, not only will prisoners' constitutional claims survive the PLRA, prisoners may also be entitled to compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

6th Cir. Creates Split in Private Searches on Computers

What are the limits of the "private search doctrine" when it comes to a computer? The Sixth Circuit answered that question last week in a case that is sure to make it to the Supreme Court.

Aaron Lichtenberger was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender. His girlfriend, wondering why she was never allowed to use his computer, hacked into it and found images of child pornography. She notified the authorities, police obtained a warrant to search the computer, which led to more pornography. The Sixth Circuit, however, suppressed all this evidence as the product of an unconstitutional search.

Police Can't Arrest Gun Owner Just for Open Carry Gun: 6th Cir

What good is a law allowing the open carrying of handguns when the police are just going to arrest you for it? Shawn and Denise Northrup of Toledo, Ohio were just walking their dog one evening when a motorcyclist saw them and yelled, "You can't walk around with a gun like that!"

For, you see, Shawn was walking the dog while armed with a semiautomatic handgun. The motorcyclist, Alan Rose, called the police, who confirmed that it was legal to carry openly in Ohio, but nevertheless sent an officer out to investigate.

After Leslie Ashmore, a convicted felon, was found in possession of firearms, he was tried for violating federal law and sentenced to 20 years in prison. On appeal however, he earned a new trial, since the court had improperly introduced evidence that was obtained through the use of a two step Miranda technique meant to undermine the effectiveness of Ashmore's Miranda rights.

One October night, police found Ashmore passed out in his vehicle, alongside drug paraphernalia. A search of the car revealed two firearms, safely tucked away in a lock box for which Ashmore had the key. Two weeks later, a team of 10 to 20 officers, including the city's SWAT time, was deployed to arrest Ashmore. Special Agent Jamie Jenkins questioned Ashmore as to whether there were any guns in the car he was arrested in -- before he received his Miranda warnings.

6th Cir: Ky. 300-Foot Polling Place Buffer Zone Unconstitutional

Kentucky law prohibits electioneering signs within 300 feet of a polling place -- or, at least, it did until October, when a federal judge held the law unconstitutional, finding that the 300-foot restriction was much larger than necessary to combat the evils of voter coercion and intimidation.

Today, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling, finding the statute facially invalid under the First Amendment for prohibiting way more speech than was necessary.

Mich. City's Ban on Outdoor Donation Bins Unconstitutional

The city of St. Johns, Michigan passed an ordinance banning unattended outdoor charitable donation bins. Planet Aid is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable food production and healthy lifestyles. Part of its business involves the use of such outdoor bins to get donations of clothes and shoes.

Of course you know where this is going, right? In January 2013, St. Johns directed Planet Aid to remove its donation bins, claiming the bins attracted "boxes and other refuse." Planet Aid refused and the city removed them. A year later, the city council passed an ordinance banning such bins, leading to this lawsuit.

Court Strikes Parts of Mich. Sex Offender Law for Vagueness

Courts are continuing the trend toward striking down Draconian laws targeting sex offenders. Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal disapproved of California's requirement that sex offenders hand over all their Internet usernames to the state attorney general. Last month, the California Supreme Court overturned a state law categorically banning sex offenders from living in certain areas.

At the end of March, a federal district judge in Michigan similarly struck parts of that state's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA).

A man stopped for speeding and arrested for possessing a kilo of heroin did not have his Fourth Amendment rights violated when police detained him so that a dog could sniff his car, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Tuesday. Sniffing out a car isn't a search under the Fourth, the court held, and does not implicate a citizen's reasonable expectation of privacy.

The case, United States v. Winters, challenged the further detention of Patrick Winters after he was pulled over and issued a speeding ticket and the use of the dog to sniff his car without a warrant.