New opinions

This post catches up on opinions issued earlier this week.

Hope v. Warden York County Prison — immigration / covid — reversal — Hardiman (8/25)

In early April, the Chief Judge of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, nominated by George W. Bush, granted release to 22 people at heightened risk from covid infection who were being held in immigration custody in two Pa. prisons.

The Third Circuit held that the district court erred in initially granting relief by ex parte temporary restraining order, subsequently requiring the government to meet the higher reconsideration standard, and violating other provisions of Civil Rule 65. The Third Circuit also ruled that the district court abused its discretion when it found reasonable likelihood of success on the merits and in its evaluation of irreparable harm, the balance of harms, the public interest, and remedy. I can’t recall ever seeing a Third Circuit opinion that found error on so many different grounds.

Hardiman was joined by Smith and Scirica. The opinion noted that Judge Shwartz recused. Arguing counsel were Scott Stewart for the government and Witold Walczak of ACLU-PA for the petitioners.


Romero v. A.G. — immigration — affirmance — Rendell (8/25)

The Third Circuit upheld an immigration judge’s determination that an immigrant from Mexico did not have a reasonable fear of torture or persecution.

Joining Rendell were Greenaway, Jr., and Shwartz. The appeal was decided without oral argument.


Delade v. Cargan — civil rights — reversal — Porter (8/25)

This appeal arose from a strange arrest. During a manhunt following a shooting at a Pa. state trooper barracks, officers received a report a particular man was walking down a highway 15 miles a way carrying a rifle. When police ran the man’s name, the found that he had an outstanding warrant in Florida but that the warrant did not seek extradition back to Florida. So the officer called up Florida authorities, persuaded them to change to warrant to one seeking extradition, and then arrested the man based on that extradition warrant.

After that charge was later dropped, the man sued, alleging that his arrest violated his Fourth and Fourth Amendment due process rights. The district court granted the summary judgment for the officer on the Fourth Amendment claim but not the due process claim.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the officer was entitled to summary judgment on the due process claim too because unlawful-arrest and unlawful-pretrial-detention claims all fall under the Fourth Amendment only. Specifically, it held that unlawful-detention claims are not cognizable as due process claims for detention occurring before the detainee’s first court appearance, a conclusion it said was compelled by a Supreme Court dissent by Justice Alito and tracks the Fourth Amendment’s original public meaning.

Joining Porter were Chagares and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Danielle Mulcahey of Wright Reihner & Mulcahey for the arrested man and Michael Scarinci of the Pa. A.G.’s office for the trooper.


Weimer v. County of Fayette — civil rights — partial reversal — Fisher (8/25)

A woman was convicted in Fayette County, Pa., of murder and spent 11 years in prison before she was exonerated. She then sued the people she alleged were responsible for her wrongful conviction, including the former county DA, Nancy Vernon, who had participated in the investigation as well as the prosecution. The former DA sought dismissal of the claims against her based on absolute and qualified immunity. When the district court allowed some of the claims to proceed to discovery, the former DA appealed.

The Third Circuit reversed in part. It held that the former DA was not entitled to absolute immunity for acts that were investigatory rather than prosecutorial. The former DA was entitled to qualified immunity for two of the claims (for failure to intervene in the reckless police investigation and for ordering further investigation into bite-mark junk-science evidence) for lack of clearly established law and remanded for further proceedings.

Joining Fisher were Hardiman and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Joseph Culleiton of Blank Rome for the woman and  Marie Jones of JonesPassodelis for the former DA.


Defense Distributed v. A.G. — civil / Second Amendment — dismissal — Shwartz (8/25)

The lucid introduction:

Defense Distributed, the Second Amendment Foundation (“SAF”), and other firearm interest organizations, together with one of their members (“Plaintiffs”), challenge the New Jersey Attorney General’s efforts to prevent unregistered and unlicensed persons from distributing computer programs that can be used to make firearms with a three-dimensional (“3D”) printer. When Plaintiffs sued in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, the same claims by some of the same plaintiffs were already pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas (“the Texas action”). Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction in New Jersey, but the District Court stayed the proceedings until the Texas action was resolved and dismissed the injunction motion. Plaintiffs appeal the District Court’s orders, asking us to direct that Court to decide the motion for a preliminary injunction. Because the District Court’s stay and dismissal orders are not appealable, we will dismiss for lack of appellate jurisdiction. [Footnote omitted]

Judge Phipps dissented, arguing that denying review renders orders staying proceedings based on the first-filed rule free of meaningful appellate review.

Joining Shwartz was McKee, with Phipps dissenting. The appeal was decided without oral argument.


Starnes v. Butler Co. Court of Common Pleas — civil rights — partial affirmance— Hardiman (8/24)

A woman employed by Butler County, Pa., alleged that a judge in the county, Thomas Doerr, sexually harassed her, coercing her into a years-long sexual relationship in exchange for her job and then retaliating against her after the relationship ended and she filed a harassment complaint. When the woman sued, the judge sought dismissal, which the district court granted in part.

The Third Circuit affirmed in part, holding that the judge was not entitled to qualified immunity from the woman’s claims that (a) he violated right to equal protection by discriminating against her on the basis of sex, (b) he created a hostile work environment, (c) he violated her First Amentment rights to free expression and petitioning the government. The court ruled in the judge’s favor on one count, holding that he was entitled to qualified immunity on her claim that the judge violated her right to free association by either forcing her into a sexual relationship with him or by interfering with her subsequent relationship with her future husband.

Joining Hardiman were Rendell and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Karin Romano of Thomas Thomas & Hafer for the judge and Edward Olds of Olds Russ for the woman.