Three new opinions [updated]

US v. Jackson — criminal — reversal — Cowen

The government appealed from the criminal sentences imposed on a husband and wife for abusing their foster children. A divided Third Circuit reversed for resentencing on a host of grounds.

The 82-page majority opinion noted:

This case implicates a number of rather unusual sentencing issues. This is not surprising because Defendants were not convicted and sentenced for committing enumerated federal crimes of the sort that federal courts consider on a regular basis. Instead, they were convicted and sentenced in federal court for state law offenses “assimilated” into federal law pursuant to a federal statute, the ACA.

The panel majority held that the district court erred in concluding that the federal sentencing guideline for assault was not sufficiently analogous to use to calculate the defendants’ guideline range. The district court also erred in refusing to make sentencing-related findings of fact beyond the findings found by the jury at trial. And it erred some more by “focusing on state sentencing principles to the exclusion of basic federal sentencing principles.” Judge McKee dissented, mainly to disagree with the majority on the analogous-guideline point.

Finally, Judge Cowen’s majority opinion concluded that “we do conclude” that the sentences were substantively unreasonable. But a footnote in the majority opinion stated that Judge Fuentes “would vacate” on the preceding procedural grounds “without reaching” substantive unreasonableness. (A footnote in Judge McKee’s dissent states that he refrains from reaching the issue.) So is there a precedential holding on substantive unreasonableness? It’s possible to argue either way, and I expect future litigants will do exactly that. I think the substantive reasonableness section probably is precedential, but the opinion’s failure to be clear on that point is strange.

Joining Cowen was Fuentes; McKee dissented with some harsh language for the government. Arguing counsel were John Romano of the NJ US Attorney’s office for the government, Herbert Waldman of Javerbaum Wurgaft for the wife, and Louise Arkel of the NJ federal defender for the husband.

 

Knick v. Township — civil — affirmance — Smith

A Pennsylvania township enacted an ordinance that authorizes officials to enter any property to “for the purpose of determining the existence of and location of any cemetery” and compels private cemeteries to open themselves to the public during daylight hours.

The Third Circuit described the ordinance as “extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,” noting “it is difficult to imagine a broader authorization to conduct searches of privately owned property” and urging the township to abandon it. But the court affirmed dismissal of a suit challenging the ordinance, holding that the the plaintiff lacked standing to raise a facial Fourth Amendment challenge because her rights were not violated and that her Fifth Amendment takings claim is not ripe because she had not first sought compensation under the state’s inverse-condemnation procedure. (Embarrassingly, the court noted that the standing issue had not been raised by the township, and that it did raise a “curious” argument that the plaintiff failed to satisfy Monell because she failed show show a cognizable injury.) The opinion helpfully clarifies the different burdens for facial and as-applied challenges and distinguishes facial takings from facial challenges.

Smith was joined by McKee and Rendell. Arguing counsel were J. David Breemer of the Pacific Legal Foundation for the plaintiff and Thomas Specht of Marshall Dennehey for the township defendants.

 

Taha v. County — class action — affirmance — Greenberg

The Third Circuit affirmed an order granting class action certification in a suit against defendants who created a web page that made available information about over 60,000 people who had been held at a county jail, including persons whose records were expunged. The defendants had argued that the court erred in deciding certification after ruling on a motion for partial summary judgment, but the court held that this challenge was waived because it was not raised below. The defendants also argued that the court erred in certifying a punitive damages class on several grounds, including standing and predominance, but the court disagreed.

Joining Greenberg were Greenaway and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Burt Rublin of Ballard Spahr for the county defendants and Robert LaRocca of Kohn Swift for the plaintiffs.