Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiffs are brothers, aged eight and twelve, were crossing a street in a crosswalk with the walk signal with their seven-year-old younger brother. Defendant negligently drove his pickup truck through the crosswalk, running over the youngest boy and narrowly missing the other two. The brother who was struck died at the scene. The two surviving brothers witnessed their brother’s death and experienced serious emotional injuries as a result. This case tasked the Oregon Supreme Court to consider the circumstances, if any, under which damages could be recovered by a bystander who suffers serious emotional distress as a result of observing the negligent physical injury of another person. The trial court dismissed the action and the Court of Appeals affirmed, both relying on the “impact rule,” which allows a plaintiff to seek damages for negligently caused emotional distress only if the plaintiff can show some physical impact to himself or herself, thus precluding the claims brought by plaintiffs in this case. The Supreme Court concluded that plaintiffs should be able to pursue their claims notwithstanding the fact that they did not themselves suffer physical injury. The Court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and the judgment of the circuit court, and remanded the case to the trial court. View "Philibert v. Kluser" on Justia Law

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In 2009, plaintiff American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Inc. (ACLU), made a request under the Oregon Public Records law to inspect and copy certain documents of the Civilian Review Board of the City of Eugene pertaining to city police officers' use of a Taser against "Mr." Van Ornum. The request was ultimately denied, and the ACLU sued for release of the documents under ORS 192.420 (1). The City of Eugene cited, as grounds for its denial the records request, a conditional exemption in the statute. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the exemption did not apply when “the public interest requires disclosure of the information. . . .[W]hen that exemption applies, a trial court must determine, as a matter of both law and fact, the nature and significance of two competing interests - the public’s interest in disclosure and the public body’s interest in confidentiality. Then, the court must balance those competing interests and determine, as a matter of law, which interest predominates." In this case, after considering the nature and significance of the competing interests, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the public interest in disclosure of the requested records predominates, and the trial court erred in declining to order their disclosure. View "American Civil Liberties Union v. City of Eugene" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Chester Westfall brought a civil action against the State claiming that the Department of Corrections had kept him in prison longer than his lawful term of incarceration. Specifically, he alleged that the department had unlawfully extended his prison term by having a sentence run consecutively to another sentence imposed the same day, rather than running consecutive to a sentence that had been imposed previously. The State moved for summary judgment, asserting that it was entitled to discretionary immunity because the department's written policies required its employees to treat the sentence as consecutive to other sentences imposed the same day. The trial court agreed and granted the State's motion. The Court of Appeals reversed on appeal, concluding that any discretionary immunity that applied to the department's decision to adopt the written policies did not also apply to those employees who carried out the policies. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred in its analysis, and the Court rejected plaintiff's alternative argument that the actions of the department and its employees were not the kind protected by discretionary immunity. The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals, however, for consideration of plaintiff's other arguments that the Court of Appeals did not address. View "Westfall v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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This case concerned an employment discrimination dispute between Portland State University (PSU) and Portland State University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (the Association). Those entities entered into a collective bargaining agreement that included a dispute resolution process for alleged violations of the agreement. That dispute resolution process included a "Resort to Other Procedures" (ROP) provision that permitted PSU to decline or discontinue a grievance proceeding if an Association member brought a claim regarding the same matter in an agency or court outside of PSU. PSU invoked that provision to halt a grievance proceeding after an Association member filed discrimination complaints with two outside agencies. The Association subsequently filed a complaint with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB), alleging in part that PSU had engaged in an unfair labor practice by discontinuing the contractual grievance proceeding. ERB concluded that PSU's invocation of the ROP clause constituted unlawful discrimination. It therefore declined to enforce the ROP clause and ordered PSU to submit to the grievance process. On PSU's appeal, the Court of Appeals determined that ERB erred by applying the wrong legal standard in ordering PSU to submit to the grievance process, and it therefore reversed and remanded the case for ERB's reconsideration. The Association sought review of that decision. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals's decision, concluding that ERB correctly held that the ROP clause at issue in this case imposed a form of employer retaliation for protected conduct that reasonably would impede or deter an employee from pursuing his or her statutory rights. "The resulting harm is neither theoretical nor trivial, but qualifies as a substantive difference in treatment. The ROP provision is therefore facially discriminatory . . . Accordingly, ERB properly declined to enforce that illegal contract provision. " View "Portland St. Univ. Ass'n of Univ. Professors v. Portland St. Univ." on Justia Law

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The Sheriffs of Jackson and Washington Counties withheld concealed handgun licenses from persons who met all of the statutory conditions for the issuance of such licenses, but admitted to being regular users of medical marijuana. When the sheriffsâ actions were challenged in court, the sheriffs responded that the stateâs handgun licensing scheme does not take medical marijuana use into consideration. The reason why the sheriffs denied the handgun licenses was because the state law is preempted by the federal prohibition on the possession of firearms by persons who are âunlawful users of controlled substances.â Both the trial and appellate courts rejected the preemption argument, and held that the concealed handgun licenses were wrongfully withheld. The sheriffs appealed. The Supreme Court held that the Federal Gun Control Act did not preempt the stateâs concealed handgun licensing statute, and accordingly, the Court ordered the sheriffs issue or renew the requested licenses.