Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions
Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.
Hamdi Mohamud, then a teenager, spent about two years in prison after a federal officer outright fabricated a criminal case against her. But the Eighth Circuit dismissed her lawsuit against the officer because, it held, there is no constitutional remedy against federal officials who cause innocent people to be arrested and thrown in prison. (Nor has there been any other kind of remedy. Despite her perjury, the officer is currently a St. Paul police officer earning six figures a year.) This week, IJ asked the Supreme Court to take a look and reverse. Click here to learn more.
- A single family that owns 34 corporations that in turn own 362 Boston taxicab medallions sues Uber under various state law “unfair competition” claims. The claims relate to the period between 2013 and 2015 when whatever Uber was doing in Massachusetts was, shall we say, a “gray area.” There’s some dispute on what the correct standard is for “unfair competition” (with one possibility being the “rascality test”). But in any case, the First Circuit upholds the district court’s ruling for Uber, whose actions were not the “extreme or egregious business conduct” the taxicab owners needed to prove. (We discussed this case on the podcast.)
- When too few non-Black/Hispanic students apply for spots in Connecticut magnet schools, the seats that are reserved for them go empty even if Black and Hispanic students would like them. Does the regulation capping the schools’ Black or Hispanic population at 75 percent violate the Equal Protection Clause? The nonprofit that brought the suit doesn’t have standing to find out, says the Second Circuit.
- A civilian military contractor providing air traffic control at an Afghan airport directs an airplane into the side of a mountain. All souls lost, and their families sue. The district court grants the contractor summary judgment, citing a “combatant activities” immunity. Second Circuit: No, that only applies when “[t]he Government made me do it,” and it didn’t here. Go to trial, and you can argue over whether the pilot shares some of the blame.
- Allegation: Chinese businesses colluded to impose price controls on Vitamin C exports, a per se violation of the Sherman Act. Trial Court: Correct, and they must pay treble damages of $147 million. Second Circuit (2016): Actually, they owe nothing. SCOTUS (2018): Reversed. Second Circuit (2021): They still owe nothing, because the price controls were required by Chinese law; international comity prevents us from imposing liability. Dissent: Nonsense! The law imposed a minimum price for exports, but the companies conspired to fix a higher price.
- Believing individuals would be less likely to report crimes if they feared deportation, New Jersey’s AG adopted a policy in 2018 restricting how state law enforcement assists federal immigration officials. Ocean County: Federal law preempts the policy. Third Circuit: It is a little weird that a political subdivision is suing its own state in federal court, but they can when the Supremacy Clause and preemption are at issue. In any event, this federal law does not “preempt” the AG’s policy because preemption only occurs when a law regulates private, not state, conduct.
- Allegation: If you work for FedEx, you can get paid time off for jury duty, illness, or bereavement, but reservists can’t get paid time off for short-term military leave. Naval reservist sues, alleging this policy violates federal law. Third Circuit: Sounds like it. Employers must give service members the same rights and benefits that other employees on comparable leave would get.
- Conspirator in 1990 murder writes letter in 2016 to co-conspirator recanting the testimony that put away the co-conspirator. In fact, the putative co-conspirator
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