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Posts Tagged ‘Richmond’

In Tobey v. Jones, the Fourth Circuit needed to decide whether Aaron Tobey’s First-Amendment-based Bivens claim for money damages against two TSA officers (Jones and Smith, their real last names) survived the federal government’s 12(b)(6) motion. These officers (TSOs) radioed for police assistance after Tobey, having been selected for “enhanced secondary screening” at a Richmond (VA) International Airport security screening checkpoint, stripped down to his running shorts and socks to reveal portions of the Fourth Amendment written on his bare chest. When the airport police arrived, they arrested Tobey. They then questioned him and ultimately released him after about an hour. Tobey boarded his plane without any further difficulty. A few months later he sued the TSOs (Jones and Smith), the airport police, the airport commission, and some higher-level officials at the commission, the Department of Homeland Security, and the TSA.

The district court (Judge Hudson, EDVA) dismissed all of the claims except for a First Amendment-based claim that Smith and Jones “caused [Tobey's] seizure . . . because of the message conveyed by [his] silent, nonviolent expression of objection to the TSA’s screening policies . . . and thereby engaged in content and/or viewpoint discrimination.” The government appealed this denial.

A split panel of the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Judge Gregory, joined by Judge Duncan, held that Tobey’s complaint “plausibly set forth a claim that the TSA agents violated his clearly established First Amendment rights.” Judge Wilkinson authored an empassioned dissent.

Eugene Volokh and most commenters at Volokh Conspiracy have expressed agreement with the panel majority’s analysis. Are they  wrong about what “sounds right”? I think so. Not because of disagreement with Volokh’s take on the First Amendment, but because he focuses on First Amendment principles apart from the appropriate pleading rules and the particular facts of the case.

Viewed through the lens of Twombly and Iqbal, Tobey needed to plead facts rendering it plausible that the TSOs called the police because of disagreement with his message rather than because he stripped off his shirt and pants in the screening area. He did no such thing. Indeed, according to the district court, Tobey’s counsel conceded at oral argument that his behavior was bizarre, “and that the TSOs were justified in summoning the RIC Police for further inquiry.” It seems to me that should be the end of it, for that is all the TSOs are alleged to have done–summon the police. When people act in a concededly “bizarre” fashion in an airport screening area, the TSOs should call the police and let them handle the bizarreness. Whether the police should have handcuffed and arrested Tobey is a separate question from whether the TSOs should have called the police to deal with Tobey. And it is only that latter question that was at issue in the Fourth Circuit appeal.

I should also add that Judge Wilkinson’s take on the effect of taking off one’s shirt and pants in an airport screening area seems better grounded in the reality of modern air travel than Judge Gregory’s. Judge Wilkinson wrote that “[o]utside a few limited contexts, such as public swimming pools, removing one’s shirt and pants will always attract other people’s attention and distract them from whatever they happen to be doing.” Judge Gregory responds that “[p]assengers routinely remove clothing at an airport screening station, and in fact are required to do so by TSA regulations.” But this misses the point. Passengers do not routinely go bare-chested, nor are they are required to do so by TSA regulations. Judge Wilkinson may have overstated the case slightly in asserting that “[i]t is sheer fancy to think that defendants had anything on their minds other than eliminating the distraction that Tobey’s state of dishabille was causing.” But if so, only slightly. And in any event it was Tobey’s burden to allege facts making the alternative retaliation-for-protest explanation plausible.

Judge Gregory’s appeal to “autonomy and the celebration of difference” seems misplaced at an airport screening point. And he surely overstates the case when he writes that “[f]or us to hold today that it is reasonable to cause an arrest due to bizarre behavior and nothing more would violate the most basic [tenets] of our Constitution.” For that redescribes what the TSOs were alleged to have done (call the police) with what followed from that call through the decisions and actions of the police (Tobey’s arrest). Judge Gregory writes that “[i]t is an undoubtedly natural consequence of reporting a person to the police that the person will be arrested; especially in the scenario we have here, where TSA and RIC police act in close concert.” Yes, here, an arrest was a consequence. But to call it an “undoubtedly natural consequence” is to let the adverb and the adjective do too much work, depriving the police of any independent agency. Or so it seems to me.

 

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The twitterverse is alive with tweets about Justice Scalia’s headgear for today’s inauguration. At the risk of putting all the fun speculation to an end . . . The hat is a custom-made replica of the hat depicted in Holbein’s famous portrait of St. Thomas More. It was a gift from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond, Virginia. We presented it to him in November 2010 as a memento of his participation in our 27th annual Red Mass and dinner.

[UPDATE: Many have asked for more details about Justice Scalia's hat. It was made in Richmond, Virginia by milliner Camille Parham. Richmond lawyer and St. Thomas More Society executive committee member Stephen Reardon spearheaded our search for a "St. Thomas More hat" and presented the hat to Justice Scalia at the dinner after our Red Mass. A picture from the presentation and one from Justice Scalia's visit earlier in the day to the University of Richmond School of Law are below.]

(more…)

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Here’s an interesting tidbit from a Times-Dispatch story about a bank robber who was accidently released from the Richmond City Jail and promptly returned to rob the same SunTrust bank branch that he had robbed immediately prior to his jailing:

In his ramblings, Emile apologized profusely to witnesses, including the teller he robbed April 30 at the SunTrust branch in the 1800 block of West Broad Street. But he said he had meant her no harm and cast himself as a fool who committed a crime against a corporate entity and not against an individual. Prosecutor Elizabeth A. Hobbs argued that the robbery was a violent crime that terrified the teller.

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Brad Joondeph has a reminder at ACA Litigation Blog that tomorrow’s conference at the Supreme Court will include discussion of five of the six cert petitions addressing the constitutionality of the minimum essential coverage provision. I add to that a reminder that the University of Richmond Law School is hosting a conference about the ACA litigation on Friday November 11. This conference is about “everything but the merits” of the healthcare litigation. Details available in the conference brochure.

(Note to Virginia lawyers: The program has been approved for 6 MCLE credits; registration is free.)

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The Fourth Circuit issued a published decision today affirming the district court’s dismissal of all claims in A Society Without a Name, For People Without a Home, Millennium Future-Present v. Virginia. The case, also known as ASWAN v. Virginia, involves challenges to various steps taken by Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond to relocate services for the homeless away from downtown Richmond.

The panel ruling was divided along a couple of dimensions. Judge Gilman (senior Sixth Circuit judge sitting by designation) wrote the lead opinion affirming the district court’s dismissal of all claims. Judge Motz wrote a separate opinion concurring in Judge Gilman’s opinion except with respect to analysis of the Society’s ADA claim against VCU (which Judge Motz would have allowed to proceed). Judge Wynn wrote a separate opinion concurring in Judge Gilman’s opinion except with respect to analysis of whether various claims were barred by the statute of limitations (the majority said yes and Judge Wynn said no).

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The Fourth Circuit usually has its opinions posted by this time of day, but they are probably experiencing some minor delays stemming from this afternoon’s earthquake. Here at the University of Richmond School of Law, we felt tremors for maybe 30 seconds or so. The shaking knocked over some large piles of books in my office and caused some pictures to hang askew, but caused no major damage that I’m aware of.

 

UPDATE (4 p.m.): No opinions in argued cases issued today.

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A short introduction to my Stanford Law Review piece on jurisdiction over Virginia’s challenge to the individual mandate: Health Care: Why Jurisdiction Matters | University of Richmond School of Law Alumni Magazine: Summer 2011.

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