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.
The fact pattern may sound familiar by now: DEA seized a large amount of cash ($43,167, to be exact) from a woman at an airport without any allegation of wrongdoing—much less actual evidence of misconduct. The money was entirely legitimate, and the woman explained she was bringing it along for a trip to a casino. Unmoved, DEA held the cash for half a year, only to return it last week without apology or explanation. Now IJ is pressing on with class action claims challenging DEA’s unconstitutional and unlawful airport cash seizure practices.
- Last summer, the Department of Justice announced it would resume federal executions with a single-drug protocol. D.C. Circuit (April): the feds’ execution protocol doesn’t have to go through notice-and-comment requirements, nor does it need to conform to certain state requirements. The case is then sent back down to resolve other claims, and the feds execute seven of the condemned. D.C. Circuit (November, with several opinions and partial dissents): the feds’ unprescribed use of the drug violates federal law, and the execution protocol might well violate the Eighth Amendment. Supreme Court: Injunction vacated. (Followed by another execution late Thursday night.)
- Crime-committing children cannot constitutionally receive mandatory life-without-parole sentences. What about 20-year-olds who receive discretionary life-without-parole sentences? That’s fine, says the First Circuit, for a gang member who catfished and murdered multiple teens. Bonus Judge Selya vocab quiz: impuissant, golconda, adumbrated, limns.
- Former all-star New York Knick Charles Oakley attended a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on a night that went south. He says the Knicks’ owner directed security to remove him without reason, and security then shoved him to the ground without reason. Second Circuit: Might well be assault and battery. His claims shouldn’t have been dismissed.
- Allegation: Suffolk County, N.Y. corrections officer sexually harassed and assaulted female inmates pervasively during his 25-year tenure. But can the municipality be held liable for his bad acts? Second Circuit: You guys have been doing internal-affairs investigations of this guy since the 90s; if the allegations are true, you’re on the hook.
- Can you make a federal case out of automotive air fresheners? It depends, the Second Circuit explains: If you call your air freshener “Black Ice,” and your competitor calls theirs “Midnight Black Ice Storm,” that’s a trademark claim that deserves to go to the jury. But not so much if you call your freshener “Bayside Breeze” and your competitor calls theirs “Boardwalk Breeze.”
- Is it RICO? No, the Third Circuit explains, in this case involving an allegedly traumatic trip to the dentist. It definitely isn’t RICO.
- Practice tip: When a court posts a sign prohibiting “electronic devices,” and the courtroom bailiff tells you to turn off your phone, you generally shouldn’t disrupt court proceedings by arguing with the bailiff. Even if you think the rule doesn’t apply to you as a lawyer. And, the Fourth Circuit holds, the same is true if the court is an agency and the judge is an immigration judge.
- Four years ago, a West Virginia company sought an exemption from EPA’s clean-fuel regulations. EPA denied the exemption, but, in 2018, the Fourth Circuit found a bevy of errors and sent the case back to EPA—which denied the exemption again on remand. Now, in 2020, the Fourth Circuit finds the EPA still can’t get this one right. Try again, EPA. (But, note, no exemption for the company in the meantime.)
- Murphy Brown (the hog producer, not the fictional character) appeals a jury verdict awarding millions in damages to neighbors of its industrial-scale hog feeding farm. Fourth Circuit: The verdict finding a nuisance stands. And while the state has recently limited compensatory damages in nuisance cases, that law is forward-looking only; in fact, a contrary ruling would raise serious constitutional concerns, as it would interfere with the neighbors’ vested
Article from Latest – Reason.com