Justia Daily Opinion Summaries

US Supreme Court
March 16, 2024

Table of Contents

Lindke v. Freed

Civil Rights, Communications Law, Internet Law

Pulsifer v. United States

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

O'Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier

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US Supreme Court Opinions

Lindke v. Freed

Docket: 22-611

Opinion Date: March 15, 2024

Judge: Barrett

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Communications Law, Internet Law

In a case involving a city manager's personal social media account, a citizen sued the city manager under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when the manager deleted his comments and blocked him from commenting further. The city manager argued that he operated his social media account in his private capacity, thus not constituting state action required for §1983 liability. The District Court and the Sixth Circuit affirmed this view, determining that the city manager's social media conduct did not constitute state action.

The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the Sixth Circuit's decision, remanding the case for further proceedings. The court held that a public official's social media activity constitutes state action under §1983 only if the official both (1) possessed actual authority to speak on the State's behalf on a particular matter, and (2) purported to exercise that authority when speaking in the relevant social-media posts. The court emphasized that the first prong is grounded in the requirement that the conduct causing the deprivation of a federal right be fairly attributable to the State. The second prong requires that the official must purport to use that authority. The court noted that the nature of the technology matters to the state-action analysis and that the state-action doctrine requires a fact-intensive inquiry.

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Pulsifer v. United States

Docket: 22-340

Opinion Date: March 15, 2024

Judge: Kagan

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The Supreme Court of the United States decided in the case of Mark Pulsifer, who was convicted for distributing methamphetamine and sought to minimize his sentence using the "safety valve" provision of federal sentencing law. This provision allows a sentencing court to disregard the statutory minimum if a defendant meets five criteria, one of which is related to the defendant's criminal history. The government argued that Pulsifer did not meet this requirement due to his previous three-point offenses, disqualifying him under the safety valve provision. Pulsifer, however, contended that he should be considered eligible as he did not have a two-point violent offense, arguing that only the combination of all three elements of the provision could prevent him from receiving safety-valve relief.

The court held that a defendant is eligible for safety-valve relief only if he or she satisfies each of the provision’s three conditions. More specifically, a defendant is eligible only if they do not have more than four criminal-history points, do not have a prior three-point offense, and do not have a prior two-point violent offense. This interpretation aligns with the text and context of the law and the Sentencing Guidelines. The court rejected Pulsifer’s attempts to invoke the rule of lenity, as the court found no ambiguity in the statute and, therefore, no room for lenity to play a role. The court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

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O'Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier

Docket: 22-324

Opinion Date: March 15, 2024

Two members of the Poway Unified School District Board of Trustees used their public Facebook pages to post content related to their positions, while also communicating with their constituents there. The Facebook pages indicated their official positions. One member also operated a public Twitter page similarly. A couple with children attending schools in the school district posted numerous comments on the social media posts of the Trustees. The Trustees deleted the comments and eventually blocked the couple from commenting. The couple sued for an alleged First Amendment violation under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

The trial court ruled that the trustees had acted under color of state law in blocking the couple. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that there was a close nexus between their use of the social media pages and their official positions.

The Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit's judgment, explaining that it had developed a different approach to this issue in a companion case that it had used to resolve a Circuit split. It remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings consistent with the opinion in the companion case.

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