Tag Archives: Circuit splits

New opinions — a Title IX blockbuster and a prisoner-civil-rights reversal with a blistering reprimand for the lower court

Two opinions published today — both of them authored by Judge Fisher, both of them partial reversals in favor of civil plaintiffs, and both broadly significant.

Doe v. Mercy Catholic Med. Ctr. — civil / sex discrimination — reversal in part — Fisher

In a major Title IX opinion, the Third Circuit today ruled in favor of a medical resident whose Title IX sex discrimination claims had been dismissed by the district court. The resident alleged that her supervising doctor sexually harassed her and retaliated when she rebuffed him. The court reversed dismissal of claims for retaliation and quid pro quo and affirmed dismissal of a hostile-environment claim on statute of limitations grounds.

First, it ruled that the medical center’s residency program fell within Title IX’s scope, reading education broadly while rejecting the center’s argument that Title IX reaches only principally educational entities. The court listed features for deciding if something is an “education program or activity covered by Title IX:

(A) a program is incrementally structured through a particular course of study or training, whether full- or part-time; (B) a program allows participants to earn a degree or diploma, qualify for a certification or certification examination, or pursue a specific occupation or trade beyond mere on-the-job training; (C) a program provides instructors, examinations, an evaluation process or grades, or accepts tuition; or (D) the entities offering, accrediting, or otherwise regulating a program hold it out as educational in nature.

Second, the court held that Doe’s private causes of action for retaliation and quid pro quo were cognizable under Title IX, rejecting the argument that Title VII’s employment-discrimination provisions (with its elaborate administrative exhaustion requirements) were her exclusive remedy. On this point the court expressly split with the Fifth and Seventh Circuits while joining the First and Fourth Circuits. The court did not reach whether Doe’s private hostile environment claim was cognizable because it held that Doe’s was time-barred, rejecting her argument that her dismissal was part of a continuing violation.

Joining Fisher were Krause and Melloy by designation. Arguing counsel were Joshua Boyette of Swartz Swidler for Doe, Christine Monta for the government as amicus supporting Doe, and Robin Nagele of Post & Schell for the medical center.

 

Pearson v. Prison Health Svc. — prisoner civil rights — partial reversal — Fisher

After an inmate at SCI Somerset in Pennsylvania had a botched surgery for appendicitis, he sued prison and medical staff for Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference, and the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. Today the Third Circuit ruled in the prisoner’s favor as to one of the defendants and affirmed as to the others.

The court rejected the lower court’s view that expert testimony was always necessary to establish deliberate indifference. The court ruled that lay jurors were capable of deciding that (1) a prison nurse acted with deliberate indifference when he forced the prisoner, screaming in pain, to crawl to a wheelchair to obtain treatment, and (2) delay or denial of treatment for a non-medical reason was deliberate indifference.

The court also “[r]egretfully” criticized Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto and District Judge Kim Gibson (though neither is named in the text of the opinion) for irrelevant editorializing generally to the effect that too many prisoner suits were frivolous:

When we remanded this case, we were hopeful that the Magistrate Judge and District Judge would cease making these kinds of irrelevant, categorical statements for several reasons, including that they are unnecessary and might cast our judicial system in a bad light by leading an observer to question the impartiality of these proceedings. In addition, it is antithetical to the fair administration of justice to pre-judge an entire class of litigants, and we expect courts to conduct, at a minimum, a careful assessment of the claims of each party. By failing to exhibit such an individualized inquiry, these statements disserved the important principle that “justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.” Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 13 (1954).

Despite our optimism, and despite our admonishment of these sorts of categorical statements, this commentary continued since we last remanded this case to the District Court. ***

As we noted in Pearson’s prior appeal and will reiterate now, Pearson suffered from two serious medical conditions, and “it does not appear . . . that he filed this lawsuit for recreational purposes or to harass prison personnel.” Pearson, 519 F. App’x at 84. It appears he filed this suit because he genuinely believes that the prison officials acted deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of his constitutional rights. Whether or not he ultimately prevails, equality before the law is one of the founding principles of our government and Pearson deserves to have his case treated as carefully and thoughtfully as any other litigant’s.

While we remain convinced that the Magistrate Judge and District Judge are capable of handling Pearson’s trial without any bias, we trust that our message will be heard on this third remand and that this editorializing will cease going forward.

Extraordinary stuff.

In a footnote, the court added that district judges are responsible for magistrate judges’ reports that they adopt in their entirety, and it noted that district judges and magistrates must recuse, sua sponte, whenever their impartiality might reasonably be questioned!

Joining Fisher were Krause and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Brandon Verdream of Clark Hill for the prisoner, and Kemal Mericli of the PA AG’s office and Kathryn Kenyon of Meyer Unkovic for the defendants.

New opinion — Third Circuit issues major ADEA ruling creating circuit split

Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC — employment discrimination — partial reversal — Smith

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees who are 40 and older against age discrimination, and a plaintiff can prove an ADEA violation by showing that that the employer’s action had an age-based disparate impact.

But suppose the employer takes an action that disproportionately impacts only its oldest employees, not all over-40 employees. For example, imagine an employer has a round of layoffs where it terminates lots of its over-60 employees, but keeps enough of its age-40-to-60 employees that, overall, the impact on over-40 employees (i.e. all employees who fall within ADEA’s scope) is proportionate. Can proof of a disparate impact on only the over-60s — a ‘subgroup claim’ — state a valid ADEA age-discrimination claim?

Today, the Third Circuit answered that question in the affirmative. In so holding, it expressly split with the Second, Sixth, and Eighth Circuits, noting, “While we are generally reluctant to create circuit splits, we do so where a “compelling basis” exists.” It’s a tour de force opinion, thorough and clear and persuasive. An explicit circuit split on an important issue makes this a strong candidate for Supreme Court review, naturally.

The court also reversed the district court’s exclusion of a statistics expert under Daubert and FRE 702, summarizing the Daubert standard thus (cites omitted):

“The test of admissibility is not whether a particular scientific opinion has the best foundation, or even whether the opinion is supported by the best methodology or unassailable research.” Instead, the court looks to whether the expert’s testimony is supported by “good grounds.” The standard for reliability is “not that high.” It is “lower than the merits standard of correctness.”

Joining Smith were McKee and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Samuel Cordes from Pittsburgh for the plaintiffs, David Becker from Chicago for the company, Neal Mollen of Paul Hastings as amicus US Chamber of Commerce supporting the company, and Anne Occhialino of the EEOC as amicus supporting the plaintiffs.

New opinions — “crime of violence” deportation trigger is unconstitutionally vague

Baptiste v. AG — immigration — reversal — Greenaway

The Third Circuit held that the statutory “crime of violence” standard, like the armed-career-criminal residual clause, is unconstitutionally vague. This holding deepens a circuit split. The court ruled that the petitioner here still is deportable, though, because he was convicted of two ‘crimes involving moral turpitude.’

Joining Greenaway were Scirica and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Dickinson School of Law student Penelope Scudder of for the petitioner and Jesse Bless for the government.

 

US v. Henderson — criminal — affirmance — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit today upheld a district court’s ruling that a criminal defendant was an armed career criminal (and thus subject to a much more severe sentence), holding that PA’s Controlled Substance Act — sorry, what follows is gibberish unless you do criminal appeals —  is divisible and thus subject to the modified categorical approach. The case was argued just over a year ago.

Joining Vanaskie were Fuentes and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Renee Pietropaolo for the defendant and Laura Irwin for the government.

New opinions: a big immigration win for the government, and a little preemption circuit split

Castro v. U.S. D.H.S. — immigration — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit issued a blockbuster immigration ruling today, holding that (1) federal courts lack jurisdiction to review challenges to expedited removal orders, and (2) the statute depriving courts of such jurisdiction does not violate the Suspension Clause.

On the statutory issue, the court joined a majority of courts to address the issue, citing opinions from the Second, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits and rejecting opinions from the Ninth Circuit and two district courts.

On the Suspension Clause issue, the court admitted it was “very difficult.” The opinion summarized the issue thus:

Petitioners argue that the answer to the ultimate question presented on appeal – whether § 1252 violates the Suspension Clause – can be found without too much effort in the Supreme Court’s Suspension Clause jurisprudence, especially in I.N.S. v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289 (2001), and Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), as well as in a series of cases from what has been termed the “finality era.” The government, on the other hand, largely views these cases as inapposite, and instead focuses our attention on what has been called the “plenary power doctrine” and on the Supreme Court cases that elucidate it. The challenge we face is to discern the manner in which these seemingly disparate, and perhaps even competing, constitutional fields interact. Ultimately, and for the reasons we will explain below, we conclude that Congress may, consonant with the Constitution, deny habeas review in federal court of claims relating to an alien’s application for admission to the country, at least as to aliens who have been denied initial entry or who, like Petitioners, were apprehended very near the border and, essentially, immediately after surreptitious entry into the country.

Joining Smith were Hardiman and Shwartz. Hardiman also briefly concurred dubitante to express doubt about the opinion’s reasoning on the Suspension Clause issue. Arguing counsel were Lee Gelernt of the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project for the appellants and Erez Reuveni for the government. A large number of amici participated, represented by an impressive array of local and national counsel, and the opinion thanked amici for their valuable contributions.

Given its importance, the case is an obvious candidate for a petition for en banc rehearing, but the panel composition makes me suspect that finding a majority for rehearing will be difficult.

Update: Steve Vladeck has early commentary on the opinion in a post on his Just Security blog here. And it’s harsh commentary: “incredibly novel and misleading,” “simply nuts,” and “hopefully, a strong candidate for en banc review.”

Update2: Noah Feldman has this critical commentary (“The decision is wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court should review it”) on Bloomberg View.

Rosenberg v. DVI Receivables XVII — civil — reversal — Ambro

Today the Third Circuit held that § 303(i) of the bankruptcy code does not preempt state-law claims predicated on the filing of an involuntary bankruptcy petition by non-debtors. The opinion creates a circuit split with the Ninth Circuit.

Joining Ambro were Jordan and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Lewis Pepperman of Stark & Stark for the appellants and Peter Levitt of Florida for the appellees.

New opinion — Third Circuit clarifies authentication of social media content

US v. Browne — criminal — affirmance — Krause

The lucid introduction to today’s opinion affirming in a criminal appeal:

The advent of social media has presented the courts with new challenges in the prosecution of criminal offenses, including in the way data is authenticated under the Federal Rules of Evidence—a prerequisite to admissibility at trial. Appellant Tony Jefferson Browne was convicted of child pornography and sexual offenses with minors based in part on records of “chats” exchanged over Facebook and now contests his conviction on the ground that these records were not properly authenticated with evidence of his authorship. Although we disagree with the Government’s assertion that, pursuant to Rule 902(11), the contents of these communications were “self-authenticating” as business records accompanied by a certificate from the website’s records custodian, we will nonetheless affirm because the trial record reflects more than sufficient extrinsic evidence to link Browne to the chats and thereby satisfy the Government’s authentication burden under a conventional Rule 901 analysis.

The court appears to split with the Fourth Circuit over whether Facebook pages are self-authenticating, see slip op. 19 n.8. The opinion also addressed admissibility. It held that the chats were admissible as party-opponent admissions, except for one statement that should not have been admitted but the error was harmless.

Joining Krause were Fisher and Roth. Arguing counsel were Everard Potter for the government and Omodare Jupiter for the defendant.

En banc court upholds habeas relief in capital case, plus two divided panels and a sentencing affirmance

Another blockbuster August day today, with a big capital-habeas en banc ruling and three panel opinions. Over 300 pages of opinion today.

Dennis v. Secretary — capital habeas corpus — affirmance — Rendell

The en banc Third Circuit today affirmed habeas corpus relief for James Dennis, holding in a landmark habeas opinion that the prosecution suppressed evidence that effectively gutted its case and that the Pa. Supreme Court unreasonably applied Brady v. Maryland when it denied relief. The 2015 panel ruling (Fisher with Smith and Chagares) had ruled for the state.

Joining Rendell were McKee, Ambro, Fuentes, Greenaway, Vanaskie, Shwartz, and Krause, and by Jordan in part. McKee concurred “to underscore the problems inherent in eyewitness testimony and the inadequacies of our standard jury instructions relating to that evidence.” Jordan concurred in part and concurred in the judgment, noting:

Every judge of our en banc Court has now concluded that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s contrary determination was not only wrong, but so obviously wrong that it cannot pass muster even under AEDPA’s highly-deferential standard of review. In other words, it is the unanimous view of this Court that any fairminded jurist must disagree with the Dennis I court’s assessment of the materiality and favorability of the Cason receipt. Yet somehow a majority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court endorsed Dennis’s conviction and death sentence. The lack of analytical rigor and attention to detail in that decision on direct appeal is all the more painful to contemplate because the proof against Dennis is far from overwhelming. He may be innocent.

Fisher dissented, joined by Smith, Chagares, and Hardiman, and Hardiman also authored a dissent that Smith and Fisher joined. Arguing counsel were Amy Rohe of Reisman Karron for Dennis and Ronald Eisenberg of the Philadelphia D.A.’s office for the state.

 

Watson v. Rozum — prisoner civil rights — reversal in part — McKee

A divided Third Circuit panel today ruled in favor of a prisoner alleging a First Amendment retaliation claim.

Joining McKee was Ambro; Ambro also concurred, explaining the court’s rejection of caselaw from the Fifth and Eighth Circuits and its disavowal of prior non-precedential circuit rulings. Hardiman dissented. Arguing counsel were Kemal Mericli of the Pa. A.G.’s office for the state and former Fisher clerk Ellen Mossman of Dechert for the prisoner.

 

NAACP v. City of Philadelphia — First Amendment — affirmance — Ambro

It’s unusual enough for the same panel to issue two precedential opinions on the same day, but it’s rare indeed for the same judge to dissent in both cases. But so it was here, where Hardiman again dissented from a McKee-Ambro majority. In this case, the majority affirmed a district court ruling that Philadelphia’s policy of banning non-commercial advertising at its airport violates the First Amendment.

Arguing counsel were Craig Gottlieb for the city and Fred Magaziner of Dechert (who clerked for Rosenn) for the challengers.

 

US v. Carter — criminal — affirmance — Shwartz

The Third Circuit affirmed a district court criminal sentence applying a sentencing enhancement for maintaining a stash house. The defendant had argued he did not maintain the stash house because he did not own or rent the house and did not pay for its operation from his own funds.

Joining Shwartz were Fuentes and Restrepo. The case was decided without oral argument.

Three new opinions, featuring two judges writing separately on substantial standing and waiver issues

Freedom From Religion Foundation v. New Kensington Arnold S.D. — civil / First Amendment —  reversal in part — Shwartz

For the past 60 years, a public high school in Pennsylvania has a had a granite monument on school grounds inscribed with the Ten Commandments. A student, a parent, and a group dedicated to the separation of church and state sued the school, alleging that the monument violated the Establishment Clause, but the district court dismissed the suit on standing and mootness grounds. Today, the Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that the parent had standing because she had direct contact with the monument and remanding to determine whether the parent was a member of the group.

Joining Shwartz were Smith and Hardiman; Smith concurred dubitante in a lengthy opinion explaining his doubt that a claim for nominal damages should suffice to confer standing or overcome mootness.

Arguing counsel were Marcus Schneider of Steele Schneider for the appellants, Anthony Sanchez for the school district, and Mayer Brown associate Charles Woodworth for amicus.

 

NLRB v. Fedex Freight — labor — petition denied — Scirica

A group of Fedex Freight drivers voted to unionize but Fedex refused to bargain with them, arguing that another group of employees had to be included, too. The NLRB ruled against Fedex and Fedex filed a petition for review. Today, a divided Third Circuit panel denied the petition for review. Apart from the merits issues, the majority and concurring opinions feature an important back-and-forth about when cursory presentation of an argument in district court will result in waiver on appeal.

Joining Scirica was Ambro; Jordan concurred in part and concurred in the judgment, explaining his view that Fedex waived one of its central arguments below by making it only in passing in a footnote. Arguing counsel were Milakshmi Rajapakse for the NLRB and Ivan Rich Jr. for Fedex.

 

US v. Stevenson — criminal — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit today affirmed a criminal defendant’s conviction and sentence, rejecting a series of challenges including his argument that the dismissal of the charges against him for a speedy-trial violation should have been with prejudice, not without. The court also held that indictment defects are subject to harmless error analysis, overruling its own prior precedent based on intervening Supreme Court precedent and splitting with the Ninth Circuit.

Joining Hardiman were Smith and Shwartz. The case was decided without argument.

New opinion — a Fourth Amendment reversal

U.S. v. Vasquez-Algarin — criminal / Fourth Am. — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit today decided an interesting and important search and seizure case today, holding that officers entering a dwelling to arrest someone must at least have probable cause to believe the person is there. The opinion ably explains matters:

Law enforcement officers need both an arrest warrant and a search warrant to apprehend a suspect at what they know to be a third party’s home. If the suspect resides at the address in question, however, officers need only an arrest warrant and a “reason to believe” that the individual is present at the time of their entry. This case sits between these two rules and calls on us to decide their critical point of inflection: how certain must officers be that a suspect resides at and is present at a particular address before forcing entry into a private dwelling?

* * *

We conclude that to satisfy the reasonable belief standard law enforcement required, but lacked, probable cause. The officers’ entry was therefore unconstitutional and, because the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule is inapplicable here, the evidence seized from Vasquez-Algarin’s apartment should have been suppressed.

The court joined four other circuits in interpreting reasonable belief as at least functionally equal to probable cause, splitting sharply with the D.C. Circuit and less sharply with two others.

Joining Krause were Fuentes and Roth. Arguing counsel were Frederick Ulrich of the MDPA Federal Public Defender for the defendant and Daryl Bloom for the government.