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    Public Law Legal Research Blog

    John M. Stone

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    CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Requiring Major Political Party Affiliation for State Court Judges Runs Afoul of First Amendment Right of Association

    Posted by John M. Stone on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 @ 11:06 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 44 No 4

    John Stone—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                In Delaware, a judicial nominating commission, with members balanced between the two major political parties, provides recommended candidates to the Governor for the appointment of judges to the state courts. When a position becomes open, the commission gives public notice of the position, including the major party membership required for nomination to a particular judgeship. The party membership requirement has its origins in article IV, § 3 of the Delaware Constitution, which effectively excludes all candidates for state judge positions who are not members of either the Republican or the Democratic Party.

                A Delaware resident and member of the Delaware Bar considered applying to become a state judge, but in the end, he did not apply because as an independent politically, his application would have been futile in light of the constitutional provision. Nonetheless, first a United States district court and then a federal appellate court found that he had standing to challenge the limitation on judicial candidates to the two major political parties for the Delaware Supreme Court, the Superior Court, and the Chancery Court on the ground that such exclusion of persons not members of those parties was an unjustified infringement on the plaintiff's First Amendment freedom of associationAdams v. Governor of Del., No. 18-1045, 2019 WL 1549857 (3d Cir. Apr. 10, 2019).

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    Topics: Delaware, constitutional law, John M Stone, political party membership, appointment of judgeship, constitutional requirement

    LOCAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT: State Is Immune from Liability for Sexual Abuse by Adopted Child

    Posted by John M. Stone on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 @ 16:02 PM

         The parents of a child sexually abused by a child they adopted brought an action against the state of Nebraska for negligent failure to warn or disclose, and failure to supervise.  A state employee incorrectly stated to the parents before the adoption that the adopted child had no sexual abuse history. After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment for the State based on the defense of sovereign immunity. When the parents appealed, the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed the lower court ruling.  Jill B. v. State, 297 Neb. 57, 899 N.W.2d 241 (2017). 

        Like statutes in many other states, Nebraska's Tort Claims Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 81-8,209 et seq., includes a waiver of the state's sovereign immunity from tort liability, but it also retains such immunity for some broad categories of conduct. Statutes authorizing a lawsuit against the State are strictly construed, since they are in derogation of the State's sovereignty. Under the intentional torts exception, sovereign immunity is not waived for claims arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit, or interference with contract rights. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 81-8,219(4).

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    Topics: adopted child, local government, intentional tort, negligence, sovereign immunity

    CONSTITUTIONAL LAW:    Maryland "Assault Weapon" Ban Upheld by Fourth Circuit

    Posted by John M. Stone on Mon, May 8, 2017 @ 10:05 AM

    John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

                Largely in response to mass shootings in places such as Newtown, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado, Fort Hood, Texas, and Virginia Tech, in 2013, the General Assembly of Maryland enacted the Firearm Safety Act ("FSA"), which bans military-style rifles and shotguns (referred to as "assault weapons") and detachable large-capacity magazines. Affirming in relevant part a decision by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Kolbe v. O'Malley, 42 F. Supp. 3d 768 (D. Md. 2014), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the FSA against a constitutional challenge based on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.  Kolbe v. Hogan, 849 F.3d 114, 2017 WL 679687 (4th Cir. Feb. 21, 2017).

                The appellate court concluded that the assault weapons and large-capacity magazines that were banned by Maryland's FSA were not protected by the Second Amendment; they were most useful in military service, in that they were designed to kill or disable the enemy on a battlefield, and they had a capability for lethality far beyond that of other firearms.

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    Topics: constitutional law, Fourth Circuit affirmed, assault weapon ban, Maryland Firearm Safety Act

    CIVIL RIGHTS: Help America Vote Act Creates Individual Right Enforceable Through § 1983

    Posted by John M. Stone on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @ 13:03 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 41, No 3

    John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         A federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is most closely associated with providing a remedy for individuals whose federal constitutional rights have been violated by persons acting under color of state law. However, although they comprise a relatively small subset of § 1983 cases, claims under § 1983 can, under certain circumstances, be based upon violations of federal rights derived from federal statutes, not from the U.S. Constitution.

         In a recent example of such a claim, a voter in Puerto Rico brought an action challenging a Puerto Rico statute that struck her and more than 300,000 other voters from a voter-registration roll because they did not vote in the prior general election. The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico issued injunctive and declaratory relief barring the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission ("SEC") from removing otherwise eligible voters from an active election registry unless the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act ("HAVA") were met. Colón-Marrero v. Conty-Perez, No. CIV. 12-1749CCC, 2015 WL 3508142 (D.P.R. signed June 4, 2015). The President of the SEC appealed, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court. Colón-Marrero v. Velez, No. 15-1356, 2016 WL 386428 (1st Cir. Feb. 1, 2016).

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    Topics: civil rights, John M Stone, Help America Vote Act, Colon-Marrero v. Conty-Perez, removal from active election registry barred

    CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Involuntary Commitment Scheme Violates Due Process

    Posted by John M. Stone on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 @ 16:12 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 40 No 11

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    Topics: constitutional law, John M Stone, involuntary commitment, periodic review of grounds for commitment

    CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Denial of Medical Care for an Inmate Was Cruel and Unusual Punishment

    Posted by John M. Stone on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 @ 17:09 PM

    CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Denial of Medical Care for an Inmate Was Cruel and Unusual Punishment

    The Lawletter Vol 40 No 7

    John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

         It is no easy task for a prisoner to succeed on a claim that he was denied medical care in circumstances that violated his federal constitutional rights. Such a cause of action is not simply a prisoner's version of a medical malpractice case but, rather, requires a more demanding showing by the plaintiff. Mere negligence in diagnosis or treatment will not suffice. To state an Eighth Amendment claim for cruel and unusual punishment based on deficient medical care, a prisoner must allege an objectively serious medical condition and an official's deliberate indifference to that condition. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). "Deliberate indifference" to a prisoner's serious medical needs occurs when a defendant realizes that a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner exists but then disregards that risk.

         In a recent case, a prisoner appearing on his own behalf, and perhaps benefiting from the relative leniency afforded pleadings from pro se litigants, convinced a federal appeals court to reinstate his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of medical care after his claim had been dismissed by a federal district court. Perez v. Fenoglio, No. 12-3084, 2015 WL 4092294 (7th Cir. July 7, 2015). While an inmate at a state prison, Perez was injured during a prison basketball game. He suffered a torn ligament in his right hand, dislocation of his thumb, tissue damage, and a "gaping wound" between his thumb and right index finger. What ensued was a succession of failures by medical personnel and prison officials to see to it that Perez received adequate treatment for his serious injuries. The recurring theme was unnecessary delays, prison red tape, some outright indifference to Perez's condition, and, at least as to some of the defendants, a desire to retaliate against Perez. The result was permanent damage to his hand and a diminished ability to use it.

         Not only did Perez's complaint state a violation of his Eighth Amendment right to medical care, but a succession of persons or entities who made contact with him after his injury were found by the Seventh Circuit to be culpable, assuming that Perez could support his allegations with proof. The prison physician determined that the wound was so serious that it required a specialist's care, but then Perez had to wait four days and file a grievance before he was sent to the specialist, by which time it was too late for the wound to be sutured. Then Perez had to wait seven months and file another grievance before he was sent to the specialist for follow-up care. The prison physician also ignored recommendations of the specialist. Altogether, Perez was forced to wait 10 months from the time of his injury until receipt of meaningful treatment in the form of surgery, despite his complaints of ongoing symptoms, including pain, bleeding, swelling, and loss of function.

         A prison nurse had knowledge of the severe injury yet failed to provide adequate treatment to Perez herself, such as by suturing his wound, or to ensure that others did, such as by contacting supervisory personnel to voice any concerns about the treatment being provided to him. The private corporation that served as the prison's health-care provider also could be found liable on allegations that the prison nurse told Perez that she could not stitch his wound or prescribe medication without a "doctor there" and that a doctor was not "there" because of the provider's policy or practice of not having a full-time doctor stationed at the prison at all times or on call to suture open wounds as necessary. The prison's health-care administrator also contributed to the violations, as he was the individual responsible for approving requests for inmates to be seen by outside doctors. Furthermore, despite the prison physician's determination that Perez's gaping wound and open dislocation were so serious that he should see a specialist, the administrator, without explanation, refused to grant the referral request for four days, causing Perez needless pain and suffering and worsening the injury.

         Even some nonmedical personnel at the prison were subject to being held liable. Grievance officials, who had been made aware of Perez's predicament by way of his grievances and other correspondences, obtained actual knowledge of the serious medical condition and inadequate medical care through coherent and highly detailed grievances and other correspondences from Perez. Each of these officials failed to exercise his or her authority to intervene on behalf of Perez to rectify the situation, suggesting that they either approved of, or turned a blind eye to, his allegedly unconstitutional treatment.

         According to Perez's handwritten complaint, the suffering experienced from the neglected injuries to his hand was compounded by the fact that the defendants were retaliating against him over an earlier series of events. He sufficiently alleged that because he had brought a previous grievance against prison officials for the withholding of his prescribed depression medication, members of the prison's medical staff, including the prison physician and the prison's health-care administrator, denied him adequate care when he severely injured his hand. This constituted a separate, additional violation, this time of his rights under the First Amendment. To state a First Amendment claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must allege that (1) he engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment; (2) he suffered a deprivation that would likely deter First Amendment activity in the future; and (3) the First Amendment activity was at least a motivating factor in the defendants' decision to take the retaliatory action. Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541 (7th Cir. 2009).

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    Topics: constitutional law, John M Stone, Eighth Amendment, The Lawletter Vol 40 No 7, medical care, inmate

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