Tag Archives: Reversals

Two messy new opinions

Oliver v. Roquet — civil rights / civil commitment — reversal — Krause

This appeal arose after a state psychologist recommended an unfavorable action against a civil detainee in a report that referred critically to the detainee’s pro se litigation and legal assistance for other detainees. The psychologist said the detainee’s legal work could be “counter-therapeutic” for him.

In an interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit today held that the district court erred in denying the psychologist’s qualified-immunity motion. The court first rejected the detainee’s argument that the psychologist’s assertion of qualified immunity came too late because it was not included in her first motion to dismiss.

The court then held that the detainee’s First Amendment claim failed to adequately allege causation. A state actor’s mere consideration of protected activity normally is enough to plead retaliation in a retaliation case, but more than mere consideration of protected activity is required to state a valid retaliation claim against a mental health professional at a state institution for the civilly committed: “There must be particular facts alleged that allow the court to reasonably infer it is the protected activity itself, and not simply medically relevant behavior associated with that activity, that formed the basis of the defendant’s adverse action.”

Finally, the court alternatively held that the detainee’s asserted right was not clearly established.

Joining Krause were Ambro and Smith. Arguing counsel were David DaCosta of the NJ Attorney General’s office for the psychologist and Stephen Fogdall of Schnader as amicus counsel for the detainee. The court thanked Fogdall “for accepting this matter pro bono and for the quality of his briefing and argument in this case.”

 

Fahie v. People — criminal — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit today affirmed a Virgin Islands criminal conviction. The court held that it was not an abuse of discretion for the court to issue an aiding-and-abetting instruction even though the co-defendant had pled to being an accessory after the fact, rejecting the defendant’s argument that the plea meant there was no one for him to abet.

The case was unusual in two ways. First, the Third Circuit granted certiorari to review the Virgin Islands ruling after Congress revoked the court’s cert. jurisdiction. But the court applied its prior precedent to hold that the revocation did not apply to cases that had commenced in the Virgin Islands courts before the revocation, precedent the Virgin Islands bar association decried in an amicus brief as “absurd.” Second, the court dismissed as improvidently granted a second issue on which the court had granted certiorari, concluding that the issue turned in territorial rather than federal law. A bit of a mess.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were David Cattie for the petitioner, Su-Layne Walker of the VI Attorney General’s office for the people, and Edward Barry for the bar association amicus.

New opinion — error to dismiss inmate’s claim that prison retaliated against him for doing his job as legal assistant

Wisniewski v. Fisher — prisoner civil rights — reversal — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s dismissal of an inmate’s civil-rights suit.

The prisoner, Thomas Wisniewski, worked as an inmate legal aide in SCI Smithfield’s law library. In the course of helping a mentally ill inmate prepare a grievance — doing his job — Wisniewski obtained a similar grievance from another inmate to use as a model. The prison treated this as circulating a petition, which is insane. (For starters, the prison’s own guidelines defined petitions as containing 3 or more signatures.) So the prison put poor Wisniewski in restricted housing for almost 90 days for misconduct, and Wisniewski alleged that they retaliated in several other ways including firing him from his law-library job. The district court dismissed, ruling that Wisniewski failed to allege a First Amendment retaliation claim and his other claims were time-barred.

Today the Third Circuit crisply reversed, holding that the prisoner’s allegations stated a valid First Amendment claim and that the district court erred in failing to consider whether tolling during administrative exhaustion rendered his other claims timely.

Joining Vanaskie were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Hardiman clerk (famously so) Richard Heppner Jr. of Reed Smith for the prisoner and Debra Rand of the PA DOC for the prison defendants. The opinion expressed sincere appreciation to Heppner and his Reed Smith co-counsel Patrick Yingling, a Fisher clerk, for their “excellent representation,” noting they “performed admirably” and were “of immense assistance to the Court.”

New opinions — an immigration reversal and 1L property-class flashbacks

Flores v. AG — immigration — reversal — Fuentes

Our government decided to remove a Guatemalan woman who had pled guilty to being an accessory after the fact to murder — she saw her jealous ex-boyfriend kill her current boyfriend, but did not tell police because because the murderer threatened to kill her and her 3-year daughter if she did. She contested her removal because “her father, who had physically and sexually abused her as a child, wanted to kill her” and “she had been raped by members of a local gang immediately following her previous removal to Guatemala.” The BIA ruled against her on the grounds that her conviction was related to obstruction of justice and thus so serious that she was ineligible for withholding of removal. The Third Circuit today reversed in a thorough and compelling opinion.

Joining Fuentes was Ambro; Shwartz dissented. Arguing counsel were Marcia Kasdan for the petitioner and Andrew Insenga for the government.

US v. Cardaci — property / tax — partial affirmance — Jordan

I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this sentence in a court opinion before: “To give one admittedly extreme example, it stands to reason that a healthy twenty-six-year-old wife would have a greater interest in a life estate than would her ailing eighty-nine-year old husband.” Will today’s opinion containing that sentence become the leading case for this proposition? I’m eager to find out.

After a husband’s business nosedived and he failed to pay around $80,000 in taxes, the government sued him for back taxes, seeking a forced sale of the home where he lived with his wife. The district court decided the husband’s share of the jointly owned house wasn’t worth enough and instead ordered the husband to start paying the government rent instead. Today, the Third Circuit held that the district court did have the power to order a forced sale of a jointly owned house in New Jersey, but it remanded for reconsideration of the remedy.

Joining Jordan were Greenaway and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Julie Avetta (subject of this 2009 Washington Post “OnLove” essay, and also an accomplished classical singer) for the government and Anthony Monzo of Monzo Catanese for the homeowners.

Three big new opinions by Judge Hardiman

In re: Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park — civil — reversal — Hardiman

Pennsylvania law bars insurance companies from paying out fire insurance to a “named insured” if the owner of the property owes back taxes on it. The main purpose of this law, the Third Circuit noted today, is to keep property owners from profiting from arson.

This appeal arose from a fire at a beach club owned by one corporation and operated by another. The operator insured the club against fire damage, there was a fire, and the operator submitted a claim. It emerged that the owner owed taxes on the property; the non-payment happened long before the operator ever entered the picture. But the upshot was that the vast majority of the operator’s insurance payout — hundreds of thousands of dollars — went to various government bodies to pay off the owner’s back taxes, not to cover the fire losses of the operator who paid the policy. Not surprisingly, the operator sued. (The suit was transferred to bankruptcy court when the owner filed for bankruptcy.)

The district court ruled that the operator was entitled to the insurance payout because the PA statute was ambiguous and the legislative intent was to apply it only to insureds who were themselves the tax-delinquent property owners. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the plain language of the statute required it to be applied to any named insured and rejecting the operator’s argument that the outcome violated the takings clause. The court left the door open for the operator to try to recover money from the owner in the bankruptcy proceedings.

Now, I’m no insurance expert, but I suspect this holding could create a giant mess for Pennsylvania. Does the Third Circuit’s reading of PA law mean that now every would-be tenant in the state needs to research and then monitor their property owner’s property tax payments or face catastrophic loss from denial of fire-insurance proceeds they bought and paid for in perfect good faith? Is that realistic? How many PA tenants don’t even know the identity of their property owner? Do PA tenants need to insist that future property leases require the owners to be and stay current on property taxes as a lease condition? What about current leases? Unless I’m mistaken, the consequences of today’s paean to plain meaning could be broad and profoundly disruptive.

The opinion does not address these concerns, but it defends its holding with a policy argument of its own, warning that the insurer’s “interpretation could incentivize an end run around Section 638 by permitting unscrupulous owners to use the corporate form to collect insurance proceeds without satisfying their delinquent taxes.” Fair point. But, in my view, the problem the court avoids is nothing compared to the problems it creates. If the operator seeks en banc rehearing, I think it deserves a serious look.

Joining Hardiman were Fisher and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were John Mizner for the operator-insured and Arthur Martinucci of Quinn Buseck for the appellants.

 

Cazun v. AG — immigration — affirmance — Rendell

The Third Circuit today affirmed the denial of an asylum applicant’s appeal, upholding the government’s rule that aliens subject to reinstated removal orders are ineligible to apply for asylum. Although the panel was unanimous on the outcome, it divided along ideological lines on the rationale. The majority found the statute ambiguous and applied Chevron deference to the agency’s interpretation, but the concurrence in the judgment found the statute unambiguous and thus that Chevron was inapplicable.

Joining Rendell was McKee; Hardiman concurred in the judgment. Arguing counsel were Keren Zwick of the National Immigrant Justice Center for the asylum applicant and Carmel Morgan for the government.

 

US ex rel. Gerasimos Petratos v. Genentech — civil / qui tam — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit issued a significant False Claims Act ruling yesterday, affirming on alternative grounds the district court’s dismissal of a pharmaceutical qui tam action.

The appeal arose from a drug company’s marketing of its “multi-billion dollar cancer drug” Avastin; the company’s head healthcare data analyst alleged that the company concealed key information about the drug’s side effects, which resulted in doctors prescribing the drug more often and the government paying out more Medicare claims. The analyst then sued under the False Claims Act.

The district court dismissed the suit on falsity grounds based on its view that the analyst had to prove that how the drug was used had been rejected by the FDA, not by individual doctors. The Third Circuit disagreed, holding that the district court had conflated two different statutory standards. But the Third Circuit affirmed on alternative grounds, holding that the suit failed on materiality grounds under the recent USSC Escobar decision, essentially because the government continued paying out Medicare claims even after the analyst revealed his information. The court concluded, “Petratos’s allegations may be true and his concerns may be well founded—but a False Claims Act suit is not the appropriate way to address them.”

Joining Hardiman were Scirica and Rosenthal SDTX by designation. Arguing counsel were Matthew McCrary of San Francisco for the appellants, Mark Mosier of Covington & Burling for the company, and Weili Shaw for the government.

UPDATE: this post on JDSupra calls Genentech a “gift to qui tam defendants” because it relied on the government’s non-intervention as evidence that the alleged wrong was immaterial. The post asserts that the government chooses to intervene in less than 25 percent of cases, and “No authority has ever suggested … before” that non-intervention suggests immateriality.

New opinions — Third Circuit reverses in an immigration appeal and rejects the government’s jurisdictional challenge in a criminal appeal

Myrie v. AG — immigration — reversal — Ambro

Jarndyce and Jarndyce, I just learned from Wikipedia, is “a fictional court case from the novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens” which “has become a byword for seemingly interminable legal proceedings.”

The Third Circuit invoked that fictional case today in an opinion sending back — for a fifth time — a Panamanian citizen’s challenge to removal. From the start, the man has argued that, if sent back to Panama, gangs there would target him with impunity. This time, the basis for reversal was that the Board of Immigration erroneously reviewed only for clear error his claim that he likely would be tortured with official acquiescence if removed; the Third Circuit held that this was a mixed question of law and fact that the BIA should have instead reviewed de novo. The court also directed the BIA to consider the petitioner’s circumstantial evidence of official acquiescence to torture.

Joining Ambro were Chagares and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Nathanael Kibler of Tennessee for the petitioner and Erica Miles for the government.

 

US v. Rodriguez — criminal — affirmance — Restrepo

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district’s denial of a motion for a sentencing reduction. The defendant argued that it was substantively unreasonable for the district court to deny his motion for a sentencing reduction based on a change to the Sentencing Guidelines after his sentencing. The most significant aspect of today’s ruling was that the court rejected the government’s argument that it lacked jurisdiction to review the appellate claims like the one raised here, joining three circuits and splitting with one.

Joining Restrepo were Chagares and Roth. Arguing counsel were Ronald Krauss of the MDPA federal defenders for the defendant and MDPA AUSA Carlo Marchioli for the government.

New opinion — Third Circuit sides with insurer in asbestos-coverage fight, again rejecting an asserted waiver

General Refractories v. First State Insurance — insurance — reversal — Vanaskie

If you made a list of the most fun things about being a circuit judge, I suspect that “reviewing the district court ruling of a judge who since has become your colleague on the appeals court” would be pretty far from the top.  But it happens, and yesterday it resulted in a unanimous reversal in an asbestos-insurance-coverage appeal.

The dispute arose from a Pennsylvania insurance policy that excluded losses “arising out of asbestos.” The policyholder argued that this only excluded losses related to raw asbestos, not asbestos-containing products. The insurer argued it excluded both.

The district court — Judge Restrepo, before his 2016 elevation to the Third Circuit — sided with the policyholder, ruling that “asbestos” was ambiguous and that the insurer’s asserted exclusion of asbestos-product liability was unenforceable. But yesterday the Third Circuit reversed, holding that, even if “asbestos” meant only raw asbestos, under PA law the words “arising out of” unambiguously encompassed all losses that would not have occurred but for the raw asbestos, thus including asbestos-product losses.

For the second time in less than a week, the court (indeed, the exact same panel) grappled with whether to rest its holding on a position not asserted below, and again it took the more assertive route. The policyholder argued that the insurer waived its but-for causation argument by not raising it below, instead focusing on the meaning of the word asbestos. The Third Circuit ruled that the two arguments were close enough, and alternatively that, even if the causation argument were waived, this was an exceptional circumstance where the public interest would require it to be heard. “Were we to ignore the consistent and explicit meaning assigned to the phrase in Pennsylvania insurance exclusions,” it said, “we would cast doubt on a tradition of interpretation that many parties have relied upon in defining their contractual obligations.”

It’s hard to be sure from the opinion how sound its no-waiver ruling is, but I think the alternative public-interest ruling is wrong. One sentence — “The causation argument is waived so we don’t reach it and nothing in today’s opinion casts doubt on PA’s well-settled rule” — would have protected state law and the waiver rule.

I’d have predicted that the court would be especially unwilling to reverse one of its own this way, but evidently not so.

Joining Vanaskie were Jordan and Krause. Arguing counsel were Theodore Boutrous Jr. of Gibson Dunn for the insurer and Michael Conley of Offit Kurman for the policyholder.

New opinion — a landmark prisoner-civil-rights win in solitary-confinement case

Palakovic v. Wetzel — prisoner civil rights — reversal — Smith

The Third Circuit issued a major prisoner-rights decision today, ably summarized in its opening paragraph:

Brandon Palakovic, a mentally ill young man who
was imprisoned at the State Correctional Institution at
Cresson, Pennsylvania (SCI Cresson), committed suicide
after repeatedly being placed in solitary confinement.
His parents, Renee and Darian Palakovic, brought this
civil rights action after their son’s death. The District
Court dismissed the family’s Eighth Amendment claims
against prison officials and medical personnel for failure
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. We
write today to clarify and elaborate upon the legal
principles that apply to Eighth Amendment claims arising
out of prison suicides. For the reasons that follow, we
will vacate the District Court’s dismissals.

The opinion chillingly documents Palakovic’s alleged suicide-risk red flags, and it notes that the complaint alleges that the prison’s ” practice for dealing with mentally ill prisoners like Brandon was to relegate them to solitary confinement.” And the court “acknowledge[d] the robust body of legal and scientific authority recognizing the devastating mental health consequences caused by long-term isolation in solitary confinement” and “the increasingly obvious reality that extended stays in solitary confinement can cause serious damage to mental health.”

Joining Smith were Jordan and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center for the prisoner’s estate, Howard Hopkirk of the PA AG’s office for the defendant prison officials, and associate Cassidy Neal of Matis Baum for the defendant medical providers.

New opinion — Third Circuit tackles antitrust-jurisdiction issues in pharma reverse-payments appeals

In re: Lipitor Antitrust Litig. — civil / jurisdiction — partial affirmance — Fisher

In two sprawling MDL antitrust class actions involving drug-company reverse payments consolidated into one appeal, the Third Circuit yesterday addressed two antitrust-jurisdiction issues. First, it held that it (not the Federal Circuit) had jurisdiction over suits involving fraudulent procurement and enforcement of patents, where “patent law neither creates plaintiffs’ cause of action nor is a necessary element to any of plaintiffs’ well-pleaded claims.” Second, it held that the district court erred in denying a post-removal motion to remand to state court on the ground that the defendants had potential federal patent-law defenses, because “federal jurisdiction depends on the content of the plaintiff’s complaint, not a defendant’s possible defenses.” The court remanded appeal involving this second issue for jurisdictional discovery.

Joining Fisher were Ambro and Smith. Amongst a list of counsel that ran 10 pages long in the opinion, arguing counsel for the appellants were: Barry Refsin of Hangley Aronchick, Scott Perwin of Florida, David Sorensen of Berger & Montague, James Cecchi of Carrella Byrne, and James Alioto of California. Arguing for the appellees (the pharmaceutical-company antitrust defendants) were Robert Milne of White & Case, Jay Lefkowitz of Kirkland, and Noah Leibowitz of Simpson Thacher.

New opinions

I’m out of the office this week, and next week is the Third Circuit conference, so my posting will be a bit irregular for a while. To wit, here are yesterday’s two published opinions.

In re: Lansaw — bankruptcy — affirmance — Melloy

The first paragraph:

The filing of a bankruptcy petition operates as an automatic stay of debt collection activities outside of bankruptcy proceedings. 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). If “an individual [is] injured by any willful violation of [the] stay,” that individual “shall recover actual damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, and, in appropriate circumstances, may recover punitive damages.” Id. § 362(k)(1). In the present case, Frank Zokaites committed several willful violations of the automatic stay arising from Garth and Deborah Lansaw’s bankruptcy petition. Because of these violations, the Bankruptcy Court awarded the Lansaws emotional-distress damages as well as punitive damages under § 362(k)(1). The District Court affirmed the awards, and Zokaites now appeals. We conclude that § 362(k)(1) authorizes the award of emotional-distress damages and that the Lansaws presented sufficient evidence to support such an award. We also conclude that the Lansaws were properly awarded punitive damages. Accordingly, we will affirm.

Joining Melloy CA8 by designation were Fisher and Krause.

 

Andrews v. Scuilli — civil rights — reversal — Nygaard

The first paragraph:

David Andrews was found not guilty of the crimes for which he was charged. He brought suit against Officer Robert Sciulli for false arrest and malicious prosecution.1 On appeal he contends that the District Court erred by granting summary judgment, on the basis of qualified immunity, in favor of Sciulli. We agree. We will reverse the District Court’s judgment and remand the cause for trial.

Joining Nygaard were Vanaskie and Krause.

New opinion – housing-rights win for emotional-support-dog owners

Revock v. Cowpet Bay West — civil / housing / disability — reversal — Restrepo

The Fair Housing Act’s protection against housing discrimination covers a disabled person’s reasonable and necessary use of an emotional-support animal in one’s home despite a rule prohibiting one, the Third Circuit ruled today. The court reversed a district court grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant condominium, holding that a plaintiff’s FHA claim survived her death under federal common law and that there was a factual dispute over whether the condominium refused to accommodate. The court also found a factual dispute over whether the defendants — including a neighbor who criticized the plaintiffs on his blog — interfered with the plaintiffs’ housing rights by harassing them after they complained.

The parties did not dispute, and the court did not decide, whether the plaintiffs were disabled or whether the accommodation they requested was reasonable. Suffice to say emotional-support animals are not universally beloved, as this scathing 2014 New Yorker article confirms.

Restrepo was joined by Fuentes and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Karin Bentz of St. Thomas for the plaintiffs; James Parker of Florida, Boyd Sprehn of Benham & Chan, and Kyle Waldner of St. Thomas for the defendants, and April Anderson for the government as amicus supporting the plaintiffs.

UPDATE: I’m mighty skeptical that private citizens should be subject to FHA liability for saying mean things online about emotional-support-animal-owning neighbors. I think it’s not unlikely that private citizens will say mean things about today’s opinion.

 

New opinion — Third Circuit rules for defendants on CAFA jurisdiction

Ramirez v. Vintage Pharmaceuticals — civil / class action — reversal — Vanaskie

In 2005, Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act to make it easier for defendants to keep large class actions from being decided by state courts. Under CAFA, a suit can be eligible for removal if more than 100 plaintiffs seek a joint trial, but consolidation only for pretrial purposes doesn’t qualify.

Today, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of defendants seeking to keep a case in federal court, holding that language in the 100+ plaintiffs’ single complaint that “claims have been filed together . . . for purposes of case management on a mass tort basis” wasn’t clear enough to defeat removal: “Where, as here, more than 100 plaintiffs file a single complaint containing claims involving common questions of law and fact, a proposal for a joint trial will be presumed unless an explicit and unambiguous disclaimer is included.”

Joining Vanaskie were Chagares and Krause. Arguing counsel were Angela Vicari of Arnold & Porter for the defendants and Keith Bodoh of Georgia for the plaintiffs.

New opinions — Third Circuit takes sides in circuit split on federal jurisdiction over suits seeking declaratory and legal relief

Rarick v. Federated Mutual — civil / jurisdiction — reversal — Hardiman

Federal courts have broad discretion to refuse to hear declaratory-judgment suits, but a “virtually unflagging” duty to hear suits seeking legal relief. Today, the Third Circuit addressed the intersection of these two standards, deciding how much discretion federal courts have about whether to hear suits seeking both declaratory and legal relief.

Other circuits have split over what jurisdictional standard to apply to these hybrid declaratory/legal suits. The Seventh and Ninth Circuits have ruled that if the legal claims are not independent of the declaratory claims, the court may decline jurisdiction over the entire suit. Three other circuits apply the virtually-unflagging standard. And one has focused on which claims constitute the “heart of the matter,” and this is the standard that district courts within the Third Circuit had followed, including in the two cases decided in today’s appeal.

Today, the Third Circuit adopted the independent-claim test, reversing the district courts. It explained, ” The independent claim test is superior to the others principally because it prevents plaintiffs from evading federal jurisdiction through artful pleading.”

Joining Hardiman were Chagares and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Charles Spevacek of Minnesota and James Haggerty of Haggerty Goldberg.

 

US v. Repak — criminal — affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit today issued a 68-page opinion affirming a public official’s conviction for extortion and bribery. Ronald Repak, the longtime head of Johnstown, PA’s redevelopment authority, was convicted of getting contractors who did business with the authority to replace the roof on his home and excavate land for his son’s gym. (Something tells me indicted admitted-new-roof-gift-receiver Philadelphia DA Seth Williams won’t enjoy reading this opinion much.)

The opinion addressed a flurry of claims:

  • The court affirmed admission of other-bad-acts evidence under FRE 404(b), even though the district court had failed to explain how the evidence was relevant to the defendant’s mental state or why the unfair prejudice did not outweigh its probative value.
  • The court affirmed admission of evidence that Repak had an affair, rejecting his FRE 403 claim.
  • The court rejected the defendant’s challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence for the Hobbs Act extortion counts and the bribery counts.
  • The court rejected Repak’s plain-error challenges to the extortion and bribery jury instructions.
  • The court rejected Repak’s argument that the indictment was constructively amended.
  • The court denied Repak’s claim that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing arguments. The court did say that the prosecutor’s reference to Repak’s affair was “inappropriate, irrelevant to any issue at trial, and unnecessarily prejudicial.”

Joining Smith were McKee and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Laura Irwin for the government and Timothy Lyon of Pittsburgh for the defendant.

New opinion — Third Circuit vacates Fosamax summary judgment

In re: Fosamax — civil — reversal — Fuentes

Plaintiffs alleged that an osteoporosis drug sold by Merck caused thigh-bone fractures. Merck sought summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs’ product-liability claims were preempted because the FDA would not have approved the warning the plaintiffs tendered. Today, the Third Circuit vacated, emphasizing that the predictive preemption defense at issue is “demanding” and that the plaintiffs’ evidence was enough to defeat summary judgment.

Of particular note is this paragraph near the end of the opinion:

There is a deeper problem lurking in the District Court’s decision to grant Merck a merits judgment in all of the MDL cases. A mass tort MDL is not a class action. It is a collection of separate lawsuits that are coordinated for pretrial proceedings—and only pretrial proceedings—before being remanded to their respective transferor courts.170 Some purely legal issues may apply in every case. But merits questions that are predicated on the existence or nonexistence of historical facts unique to each Plaintiff—e.g., whether a particular Plaintiff’s doctor would have read a warning in the Adverse Reactions section and ceased prescribing Fosamax as a result—generally are not amenable to across-the-board resolution. Each Plaintiff deserves the opportunity to develop those sort of facts separately, and the District Court’s understandable desire to streamline proceedings cannot override the Plaintiffs’ basic trial rights.171 As a technical matter, Merck’s actual burden at the summary judgment stage was to prove that there is no genuine dispute in every single MDL case that Plaintiffs’ doctors would have continued to prescribe Fosamax even if the fracture warning had been added to the Adverse Reactions section before May 2009. It could not do so, and the District Court’s grant of summary judgment on the merits was therefore erroneous.

Joining Fuentes were Chagares and Restrepo. The opinion ran 78 pages with 172 footnotes. Superstar arguing counsel were former Assistant to the Solicitor General David Frederick of Kellogg Hansen for the plaintiffs and John Beisner of Skadden Arps for Merck. Audio of the oral argument is here.

New opinions — three civil reversals

The Third Circuit issued three published opinions yesterday, all three reversing at least in part.

Aliments Krispy Kernals v. Nichols Farms — civil / arbitiration — reversal — Fuentes

The Third Circuit remanded for a district court to resolve a factual issue about whether the parties to a contract agreed to arbitration. The district court had denied the motion to enforce arbitration, but the Third Circuit ruled that at least two material factual disputes must be resolved first.

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

 

Egan v. Delaware River Port Authority — civil / employment discrimination — partial reversal — Shwartz

The Third Circuit vacated a defense verdict in a suit brought under Family and Medical Leave Act, holding that the district court erred in requiring the plaintiff to support his FMLA claim with direct (as opposed to circumstantial) evidence. The court affirmed the defense verdict on the plaintiff’s claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Significantly, Judge Jordan concurred in the judgment, noting his “discomfort” with Chevron deference and urging that the doctrine “deserves another look.” (He expressed similar views in during a public program in January.)

Joining Shwartz was Smith, with Jordan concurring in the judgment. Arguing counsel were Michael Salmanson of Salmanson Goldshaw for the plaintiff, Rachel Goldberg for the government as amicus supporting the plaintiff, and Zachary Davis of Stevens & Lee for the defendant.

 

Carvalho-Grevious v. Delaware State Univ. — civil / employment discrimination — partial reversal — Fisher

A professor sued a university and administrators under Title VII, alleging retaliation for complaining about discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants, but the Third Circuit reversed in part, reviving claims against the university and an administrator. The court endorsed the Fourth Circuit’s view that retaliation plaintiffs need only show at the prima facie stage that retaliation was the likely reason for the employer’s adverse action, criticizing the Sixth and Tenth Circuit’s view that such plaintiffs must prove but-for causation.

Joining Fisher were Ambro and Smith. Arguing counsel were Christine Burke of Karpf Karpf & Cerutti for the professor and James Taylor Jr. of Saul Ewing for the defendants.

Three new opinions, including an immigration reversal

Chavez-Alvarez v. AG — immigration — reversal — Ambro

Years after a lawful permanent resident was convicted by a military court of sodomy and other crimes, the government sought to deport him on the theory (among others) that his sodomy conviction was for a crime involving moral turpitude. The BIA upheld removal, “determining that because Chavez-Alvarez’s particular crime was subject to a sentence enhancement because it was committed forcibly, and because the application of the enhancement in his case was the “functional equivalent” of a conviction for the enhanced offense, he was convicted of forcible sodomy.”

Today, the Third Circuit reversed. Applying the categorical approach, the court ruled that a military conviction for sodomy did not require proof of force and, given Lawrence v. Texas, was not a crime involving moral turpitude. The court rejected the argument that the president’s military sentencing guidelines functioned to create separate offenses for categorial-approach analysis.

Joining Ambro were Vanaskie and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Craig Shagin of the Shagin Law Group for the petitioner — by my quick count, this is the fourth CA3 published win for Shagin since 2015! — and Sabatino Leo of the DOJ for the government.

 

Fried v. JP Morgan Chase — civil — affirmance — Ambro

In my book, this is opinion-introduction perfection:

Ginnine Fried bought a home in 2007 for $553,330. It was near high tide in the real estate market, but she had to believe she was getting a bargain, as an appraisal estimated the home’s value to be $570,000. Fried borrowed $497,950 at a fixed interest rate to make her purchase and mortgaged the home as collateral. Because the loan-to-purchase-price ratio ($497,950 / $553,330) was more than 80%, JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“Chase”), the servicer for Fried’s mortgage (that is, the entity who performs the day-to-day tasks for the loan, including collecting payments), required her to obtain private mortgage insurance. Fried had to pay monthly premiums for that insurance until the ratio reached 78%; in other words, the principal of the mortgage loan needed to reduce to $431,597, which was projected to happen just before March 2016.

We now know that the housing market crashed in 2008, and the value of homes dropped dramatically. Fried, like many homeowners, had trouble making mortgage payments. Help came when Chase modified Fried’s mortgage under a federal aid program by reducing the principal balance to $463,737. The rub was that Chase extended Fried’s mortgage insurance premiums an extra decade to 2026. Whether it could do this depends on how we interpret the Homeowners Protection Act (“Protection Act”), 12 U.S.C. § 4901 et seq. Does it permit a servicer to rely on an updated property value, estimated by a broker, to recalculate the length of a homeowner’s mortgage insurance obligation following a modification or must the ending of that obligation remain tied to the initial purchase price of the home? We conclude the Protection Act requires the latter.

Joining Ambro were Vanaskie and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Jonathan Massey of Massey & Gail (the attorney who won the Chavez en banc last year) for the bank and Antonio Vozzolo of NJ for the homeowner.

 

Edinboro College Park Apts. v. Edinboro University Foundation — antitrust / sovereign immunity — partial reversal — Smith

When apartment owners sued a state university’s foundation and its president for conspiring to monopolize the student-housing market, the defendants asserted they were state actors immune from antitrust liability. Today, the Third Circuit agreed because the university’s anticompetitive conduct conformed to a clearly articulated state policy and the foundations were directed by the university.

Joining Smith were McKee and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Matthew Wolford of PA for the apartment owners, Matthew McCullough of MacDonald Illig for the foundation, and Kemal Mericli of the PA AG for the president.

 

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 — a stone-crazy Philadelphia murder trial results in rare habeas reversal

McKernan v. Superintendent — habeas corpus — reversal — Roth

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s denial of habeas corpus relief, holding that the trial counsel provided ineffective assistance and the state court’s ruling to the contrary was unreasonable.

Today’s case arose from a late-90s Philadelphia murder trial.  Mid-trial, the judge told the victim’s family in chambers that she was very disturbed that they were criticizing her publicly and that she did not want to hear the case if they were unhappy with her. The family’s website described how the judge had been criticized by Charlton Heston as “Let ’em Loose Lisa” and “a bleeding heart judge that often sympathizes with murderers,” which the judge told the family was “a total lie.” Defense counsel was present when the judge said all this, but he advised the client not to seek the judge’s recusal. In the end the judge found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder.

In the part of the opinion likely to have the broadest significance, the court held that defendants’ right to an impartial trial extends to bench trials (trials such as this one where judges not juries are the factfinders). On the merits of McKernan’s ineffective-assistance claim, the court found that, “in the unique circumstances of this case,” counsel’s failure to seek the judge’s recusal was deficient performance because any competent attorney would have done so.

Joining Roth were Fisher and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Maria Pulzetti of the EDPA Federal Community Defender for the petitioner and Joshua Goldwert of the Philadelphia DA’s office for the Commonwealth.

Early Reuters coverage of today’s opinion here, and Jeremy Roebuck’s Philly.com story is here.

New opinions — a partial sentencing reversal and an odd dual-juries affirmance

US v. Douglas — criminal sentencing — partial reversal — Shwartz

The Third Circuit today held that a district court erred when it imposed an obstruction-of-justice enhancement to a defendant’s criminal sentence. The enhancement was imposed because the defendant missed his original trial date due to an emergency room visit, but this was error because the government did not prove that the failure to appear was willful.

Over Judge Greenaway’s dissent, the court rejected the defendant’s claim that the court also erred by imposing a sentencing enhancement for abuse of a position of trust. The majority held that being a non-supervisor airline mechanic with a security clearance qualified for the enhancement.

Judge Greenaway’s dissent began:

The Sentencing Guidelines are meant to constrain judicial discretion, focusing and channeling decisions about criminal punishment in order to provide consistent,disciplined conclusions. I fear that my colleagues have shed those constraints. By disregarding the binding source of law here—the Sentencing Guidelines themselves—the majority has left the abuse of a position of public trust enhancement without limits on its scope. The Guidelines, and our consistent precedent in applying them, delineate particular sorts of abuse of trust which trigger this enhancement. The majority’s interpretation sweeps those textual and precedential distinctions away, rendering the enhancement indiscriminately applicable to a panoply of criminal actors.
Joining Shwartz was Vanaskie in full and Greenaway in part. Arguing counsel were Arnold Bernard, Jr. of Pittsburgh for the defendant and Michael Ivory for the government. The case was argued last March.

 

US v. Brown — criminal — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit held that a district court did not commit plain error when it empaneled separate juries, one for this defendant and one for his co-defendant, for the same trial. The court noted that dual-jury trials “seem[] to have very little precedent in this Circuit,” and “we do not mean by this ruling to encourage the practice.”

Brown also urged the court to reconsider its 2014 en banc holding that defendants must object to procedural errors at sentencing to avoid plain error review. Problem was, he didn’t actually assert any errors with his sentence!

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Hardiman. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinion — court grants resentencing after remand from Supreme Court

US v. Steiner — criminal sentencing — reversal — Fuentes

The Third Circuit today vacated a criminal sentence, ruling that the district court committed plain error when it sentenced the defendant as a career offender using a conviction under Pennsylvania’s burglary statute. That statute is not divisible and thus the sentencing court was obligated to apply the categorical approach instead of the modified categorical approach it used.

The posture of the case was interesting. The court had affirmed the defendant’s conviction in a 2016 published opinion that I discussed here. (I’m not rehashing the parts of today’s opinion that remained unchanged, though they are significant.)  In his petition for certiorari, as the court explained maybe a wee bit defensively, the defendant raised his sentencing argument for the first time, and the Supreme Court vacated and remanded. On remand, the government confessed plain error, and the court agreed.

Also of note: the court recognized that the defendant likely had already served longer than he would be resentenced to and therefore ordered him released pending expedited resentencing.

Fuentes was joined by Jordan and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel remained Renee Pietropaolo for the defendant and Jane Dattilo for the government.

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses course in grand-jury-appeal jurisdiction case [updated]

In re: Grand Jury Matter #3 — criminal / jurisdictional — reversal — per curiam

This past October, a divided Third Circuit panel ruled in this case that it lacked jurisdiction to hear an appeal from grand jury evidentiary ruling because, while the appeal was pending, the grand jury indicted the defendant. (My post on the prior ruling is here.)

Today, the same Third Circuit panel granted rehearing, vacated its prior opinion, and now ruled that it did have jurisdiction because the grand jury investigation was continuing. On the merits, it held that the district court erred in admitting the evidence:

With jurisdiction, we turn to an important question
involving the limits of the exception to the confidentiality
normally afforded to attorney work product. It loses
protection from disclosure when it is used to further a fraud
(hence the carve-out is called the crime-fraud exception).
The District Court stripped an attorney’s work product of
confidentiality based on evidence suggesting only that the
client had thought about using that product to facilitate a
fraud, not that the client had actually done so. Because an
actual act to further the fraud is required before attorney work
product loses its confidentiality and we know of none here,
we reverse.

The panel remained McKee, Ambro, and Scirica. Counsel for the John Doe appellant was Scott Resnik of New York, with Mark Dubnoff for the government.

UPDATE: Keith Donoghue, an appellate-unit assistant federal defender in Philadelphia, has posted this helpful analysis of the opinion on the Federal Defender Third Circuit Blog.

New opinion — a big plaintiffs’ standing win in data-breach class action appeal

In re: Horizon Healthcare — class action — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today ruled in favor of a putative class of data-theft victims who sued the company that their data was taken from. The introduction of the Court’s opinion:

The dispute at the bottom of this putative class action began when two laptops, containing sensitive personal information, were stolen from health insurer Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc. The four named Plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of themselves and other Horizon customers whose personal information was stored on those laptops. They allege willful and negligent violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., as well as numerous violations of state law. Essentially, they say that Horizon inadequately protected their personal information. The District Court dismissed the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of Article III standing. According to the Court, none of the Plaintiffs had claimed a cognizable injury because, although their personal information had been stolen, none of them had adequately alleged that the information was actually used to their detriment.

We will vacate and remand. In light of the congressional decision to create a remedy for the unauthorized transfer of personal information, a violation of FCRA gives rise to an injury sufficient for Article III standing purposes. Even without evidence that the Plaintiffs’ information was in fact used improperly, the alleged disclosure of their personal information created a de facto injury. Accordingly, all of the Plaintiffs suffered a cognizable injury, and the Complaint should not have been dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1).

Joining Jordan was Vanaskie. Judge Shwartz concurred in the judgment based on her view that the plaintiffs’ loss of privacy, apart from any statutory violation, constitutes injury in fact. Arguing counsel were associate Erich Schork of Chicago for the plaintiffs and Kenneth Chernof, litigation co-chair of Arnold & Porter, for the company.

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.

Third Circuit re-issues Mateo-Medina

After issuing a published opinion on December 30 and then mysteriously withdrawing it on January 3, the Third Circuit today issued a revised opinion in US v. Mateo-Medina, again remanding for resentencing on a finding that the district court committed plain error by relying in part on arrests that did not result in convictions.

It’s not immediately obvious to me exactly what changes the panel made to the previously-issued opinion, which no longer is on the court’s website for side-by-side comparison.

UPDATE: see D’s helpful comment with a link to the old opinion and identifying changes.

New opinion — Third Circuit closes the year with a remarkable criminal-sentencing reversal [updated]

US v. Mateo-Medina — criminal — reversal — McKee

UPDATE 1/3/17: as discussed in the comments here, the court vacated this opinion today. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1/9/17: revised opinion here, and the original opinion is no longer on the CA3 website.

The Third Circuit today reversed a criminal sentence under plain error review, holding that the district court plainly erred when it considered the defendant’s bare arrests (arrests that did not result in convictions) in deciding his sentence.

Two points bear noting.

First, the court reversed under plain error even though the district court did not explicitly say it was considering bare arrests in deciding the sentence. The district court said it could not overlook his rather extensive criminal history, and it noted his seven [actually six] arrests and two convictions. The court said the error was still plain because the court could not have thought the two convictions alone were a rather extensive criminal history. That makes sense as far as it goes, although offhand I’m not sure how comfortably it jibes with all the other ways sentencing judges consider conduct the defendant was never convicted of.

Second, the court emphasized that relying on bare arrests exacerbates the impact of implicit bias on sentences:

The Sentencing Project Report also remarked on recent research indicating that police are more likely to stop, and arrest, people of color due to implicit bias. Implicit bias, or stereotyping, consists of the unconscious assumptions that humans make about individuals, particularly in situations that require rapid decision-making, such as police encounters.32 “Extensive research has shown that in such situations the vast majority of Americans of all races implicitly associate black Americans with adjectives such as ‘dangerous,’ ‘aggressive,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘criminal.’”33 In addition, a recent empirical study analyzed thirteen years’ worth of data on race, socioeconomic factors, drug use, and drug arrests.34 The study found that African-Americans, Hispanics, and whites used drugs in roughly the same percentages, and in roughly the same ways.35 The study controlled for variables such as whether the participant lived in high-crime, gang-controlled areas. Despite those controls, the study concluded that “in early adulthood, race disparities in drug arrest[s] grew substantially; as early as age 22, African-Americans had 83% greater odds of a drug arrest than whites and at age 27 this disparity was 235%.”36 With respect to Hispanics, the study found that socioeconomic factors such as residing in an inner-city neighborhood accounted for much of the disparity in drug arrest rates.37

Pretty extraordinary.

Joining McKee were Fuentes and Roth. The case was decided without oral argument.

 

New opinion — a significant Eleventh Amendment immunity reversal

Malandi v. Montclair State Univ. — civil — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit today held that Montclair State University is an “arm of the state” and thus entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from federal suit. The opinion resolves a split among district courts in the circuit and gives a thorough review and application of the court’s Eleventh Amendment precedent applicable to state universities.

Joining Krause were Ambro and Thompson D-NJ by designation. Arguing counsel were Jennifer McGruther for New Jersey and Michael DiChiara of Krakower DiChiara for the appellees.

New opinions — an immigration win and two criminal-appeal affirmances

Rodriguez v. AG — immigration — petition granted — Shwartz

The Third Circuit today granted a Domincan Republic citizen’s petition for review because the conviction that triggered his removal proceedings had been vacated and the notice of removal did not say that his placement in a deferred adjudication program supported removal.

Shwartz was joined by Ambro and Fuentes. The case was decided without argument; winning counsel was Fabian Lima.

 

US v. Robinson — criminal — partial affirmance — Roth

A divided Third Circuit panel today affirmed a criminal conviction but remanded, after the government’s concession of error and with no analysis, for a re-determination of whether the defendant is a career offender. The key issue on appeal was whether a defendant who uses a gun during a Hobbs Act robbery commits a “crime of violence” per 18 USC 924(c). The court held that the gun-use crime qualifies as a crime of violence when the defendant is tried and convicted together of both gun use and robbery.

Roth was joined by McKee; Fuentes concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. Arguing counsel were Brett Sweitzer of the EDPA federal defender for the defendant and Bernadette McKeon for the government.

 

US v. Galati — criminal — affirmance — Roth

A similar panel affirmed another criminal conviction against a similar challenge brought by the same counsel. The panel expressly followed the Robinson decision described above and described this case as bearing a striking resemblance.

Joining Roth were McKee and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Brett Sweitzer for the defendant and Mark Coyne for the government.

 

New opinions — employment and bankruptcy

FOP Lodge 1 v. City of Camden — employment discrimination — reversal in part — McKee

Camden, NJ, adopted a policing policy they called “directed patrols,” which required officers to make brief passes through specific areas. During these passes officers were to interact with community members and try to get their names and addresses. The local police union filed suit, arguing the policy violated NJ state law barring policing quotas, that officers suffered retaliation for not complying with and protesting against it, and other claims. The district court dismissed on all counts. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed on all grounds except for claims brought under NJ’s employee-whistleblower statute, on which it reversed and remanded.

Joining McKee were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Gregg Zeff for the police union and John Eastlack Jr. of Weir & Partners for the city.

 

In re: Energy Future Holdings Corp. — bankruptcy — reversal — Ambro

The introduction to this opinion reads:

We address what happens when one provision of an indenture for money loaned provides that the debt is accelerated if the debtor files for bankruptcy and while in bankruptcy it opts to redeem that debt when another indenture provision provides for a redemption premium. Does the premium, meant to give the lenders the interest yield they expect, fall away because the full principal amount is now due and the noteholders are barred from rescinding the acceleration of debt? We hold no.

A confession: I haven’t the foggiest what that means.

Joining Ambro were Smith and Fisher. Arguing counsel, bankruptcy specialists all, were Philip Anker of Wilmer Cutler for one appellant, Gregory Horowitz (a Stapleton clerk) of Kramer Levin for other appellants, and Andrew McGaan of Kirkland & Ellis for the appellees.

New opinion — Voiding union contracts in budget crisis violated Contract Clause

United Steel Paper & Forestry Rubber Manu. Allied Ind. & Svc. Workers Int’l Union AFL-CIO-CLC v. Gov’t Virgin Is. — labor — reversal — Fisher

The introduction of yesterday’s opinion is a model of concision and clarity:

In 2011, the Virgin Islands faced a severe budget crisis as a result of the economic recession. In response to this crisis, the Government of the Virgin Islands enacted the Virgin Islands Economic Stability Act of 2011 (“VIESA”), 2011 V.I. Sess. Laws 84, which reduced most Government employees’ salaries by 8%. Many of the Government employees, however, were covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated on their behalf by their representative unions. The collective bargaining agreements, agreed to and signed by the Governor on behalf of the Government, set forth detailed salary and benefit schedules to be paid to covered Government employees.

The unions brought suit alleging that the salary reductions in VIESA constituted an impermissible impairment of the collective bargaining agreements, in violation of the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution. The District Court, after a bench trial, held that VIESA did not violate the Contract Clause. We will reverse.

The court rejected the government’s mootness argument, finding the ‘evading review’ exception inapplicable but ruling that the challenged law’s continuing collateral consequences preclude mootness. On the merits, the court ruled that VIESA violated the Contract Clause because it was unreasonable: the government knew about the financial crisis when it negotiated the contracts it later voided, and it promised the unions it could pay the contract rates in exchange for other concessions. Said the court, “The Contract Clause is not toothless.”

Joining Fisher were Krause and Roth. Arguing counsel were Nathan Kilbert for the unions and Samuel Walker for the government.

UPDATE: News coverage in the St. Thomas Source is here.

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 — ripeness and arbitratrability

Marshall v. Commissioner PA DOC — capital / ripeness — dismissal — per curiam

Having already removed his first set of appointed lawyers, a capital inmate moved to remove the next set of lawyers, too. While his motion was still pending, he filed a notice of appeal, and some time after the district court denied the motion. Today, the Third Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the district court’s post-notice ruling did not cure the lack of ripeness.

The opinion was per curiam; the panel was Smith, Hardiman, and Restrepo. The case was decided without argument.

South Jersey Sanitation v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Co. — civil / arbitration — reversal — Greenaway

The Third Circuit today reversed a district’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration, holding that the challenges to arbitration failed because they applied to the contract as a whole instead of the arbitration agreement alone, and thus were issues for the arbitrator to decide instead of grounds to avoid arbitration.

Joining Greenaway were Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Thomas Quinn of Wilson Elser for the appellant and Louis Barbone of Jacobs & Barbone for the appellee.

 

New opinion — local official entitled to qualified immunity

Zaloga v. Borough of Moosic — civil rights — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s denial of summary judment on qualified-immunity grounds. The introduction:

This case is an appeal from an interlocutory decision denying defendant Joseph Mercatili’s claim to qualified immunity. Dr. Edward Zaloga, who had been engaged in an ongoing feud with local government officials, publicly opposed Mercatili’s reelection as the President of the Moosic, Pennsylvania Borough Council. Mercatili allegedly retaliated against Zaloga by seeking to damage his business interests.

Zaloga brought this § 1983 suit against several county entities and individuals, alleging various constitutional violations, including Mercatili’s retaliation. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to all defendants except Mercatili. The Court decided that Mercatili’s claim to qualified immunity depended on disputed facts and would have to be resolved by a jury.

Mercatili now appeals, arguing that he is entitled to qualified immunity because his conduct, even if Zaloga’s allegations are true, did not violate clearly established law. We agree and will reverse and remand for the District Court to grant summary judgment in Mercatili’s favor.

Joining Jordan were Smith and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Joshua Autry of Lavery Law for the appellants and Joseph Healey of O’Malley Harris for the appellees.

New opinions — Third Circuit bashes trial court and prosecution but affirms anyway, plus a maritime case

U.S. v. Bailey — criminal — affirmance — McKee

The Third Circuit today held that a district court violated Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence when it admitted evidence of the defendants’ other bad acts, but that the error was harmless given the overwhelming evidence of their guilt. The defendants were convicted of heroin dealing; the erroneously admitted evidence included a surveillance video of a murder that was related to their drug trafficking. The court noted that it was disturbed by the prosecution’s tactic in using the murder video and “extremely troubled” by the district court’s admission of it, noting (cites omitted):

The extent of the district court’s [Rule 403] balancing regarding this piece of evidence was an off-handed and rather casual remark that the video of James being shot in the head at point blank range “wasn’t very graphic.” With that comment, the district court concluded that the video evidence would be admitted. For reasons known only to the court, the judge added that the admission of this evidence would give the defendants “an appeal issue.” The court was right.

Zing. And because the district court did not explain its 403 reasoning, the Third Circuit didn’t even apply the deferential abuse-of-discretion standard it normally would. But after the obligatory impotent Berger quote — which the opinion itself admitted “seems all too often to resemble the falling tree that no one hears” — the court found the error harmless and affirmed.

The opinion included this remarkable footnote:

Chief Judge McKee notes that he will begin naming attorneys who engage in such tactics in his opinions in order to deter such conduct. He hopes that this practice will stress that harmless error review is not an invitation to resort to unduly prejudicial tactics merely because the evidence is strong enough to obtain a conviction that will likely be immunized against reversal by the harmless error doctrine. He invites his colleagues to do the same.

Well, I’m not his colleague, but the docket lists as lead trial counsel for the prosecution Patrick C. Askin.

Joining McKee were Jordan and Roth. Arguing counsel were John Holiday, Gina Capuano, William Spade, and James Murphy for the four defendants and Norman Gross for the government.

 

Hargus v. Ferocious and Impetuous — maritime — reversal — Vanaskie

In the circuit’s most interestingly captioned case of the year to date, the Third Circuit today vacated a civil judgment for lack of maritime jurisdiction. And you don’t see this every day:

It bears noting that no entry of appearance was made on behalf of Hargus. Nor was a brief filed on his behalf and neither Hargus nor an attorney acting on his behalf participated in oral argument.

Vanaskie was joined by Fuentes and Restrepo. Arguing counsel was Matthew Duensing of the Virgin Islands for the appellants.

New opinion — paying employees for meals doesn’t excuse failure to pay them for overtime

Smiley v. E.I. DuPont — employment — reversal — Rendell

Employees of DuPont sued the company under the FLSA and state law for not paying them overtime for their off-the-clock time donning and doffing their uniforms and consulting with other employees. DuPont argued that it didn’t have to pay them this overtime because instead it paid them for their meal-break time, which it was not legally required to do. It argued that it could use the meal time for which it paid employees to offset the other time for which it didn’t. The district court agreed with DuPont, but today the Third Circuit reversed.

Joining Rendell were Vanaskie and Krause. Arguing counsel were Thomas Marrone for the employees, David Fryman of Ballard Spahr for Dupont, and Rachel Goldberg for the US Department of Labor as amicus curiae.

New opinions — an immigration reversal on aggravated felonies and a sentencing reversal on loss amount

Singh v. AG — immigration — reversal — Scirica

The Third Circuit today held that a Pa. conviction for possession of counterfeit drugs with intent to deliver is not an aggravated felony that would make the person convicted ineligible for discretionary relief from removal. The court held that the BIA erred by not applying the modified categorical approach. The court granted the petition for review and remanded.

Joining Scirica were Ambro and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Craig Shagin for the petitioner and Elizabeth Chapman for the government.

 

US v. Free — criminal sentencing — reversal — Fuentes

Here’s one you don’t see every day. A guy with plenty of money to pay his debts filed for bankruptcy and hid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets, except he still had enough assets to pay his creditors in full. Not for nothing does the Third Circuit describe this as “bizarre.” The asset-hiding led to criminal convictions for bankruptcy fraud and a two-year sentence.

The issue in today’s appeal was how to calculate the loss amount for sentencing purposes, given that the creditors lost nothing. The district court used the amount the defendant concealed and the amount of debt he sought to discharge in bankruptcy. The Third Circuit reversed for resentencing, ruling that the loss amount is the amount the creditors lost or the amount the defendant intended to gain. The court noted that the resentencing court still could impose the same sentence, even without any loss enhancement, through an upward departure for lying and disrespect to the court. The court rejected as “too clever by half” his argument that the absence of loss rendered the evidence legally insufficient.

Joining Fuentes were Shwartz and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Martin Dietz for the defendant and Laura Irwin for the government.

 

 

New opinions — a wiretap-suit-standing shocker and a qui tam reversal [updated]

Schuchardt v. President of the U.S. — civil — reversal — Hardiman

Today the Third Circuit ruled in favor of a solo civil practitioner named Elliott Schurchardt appearing pro se and appealing the denial of a pro se suit he brought against the government on behalf himself and others similarly situated. The pro se filer alleged that the NSA’s electronic monitoring violates the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed his suit on standing grounds, but the Third Circuit held that the pro se filer’s allegations were sufficient to survive dismissal on standing grounds, even though he alleged that the harm here resulted from collection of “all or substantially all of the email sent by American citizens by means of several large internet service providers.”

I’m going to go way out on a limb and predict a government rehearing petition and/or cert petition.

Joining Hardiman were Smith and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Schuchardt (his address in the caption is in Virginia, his website lists Tennessee, and 2015 news coverage says Pittsburgh) pro se, and Henry Whitaker of the DOJ appellate section for the government.

UPDATE: seemingly intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the miraculously prevailing appellant already has been quoted in this news story as follows:

The appellate court ruling, however, limits his ability to subpoena evidence and depose witnesses, apparently exempting anything with a national security classification.

“If that’s the case, I’m not sure how much further the case can go because obviously, this entire area is classified,” said Schuchardt, who is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court on that part of the decision.

Sigh.

U.S. ex rel. Customs Fraud v. Victaulic — civil / qui tam — reversal — Roth

A divided Third Circuit panel today ruled that a district court erred in denying on futility grounds a qui tam relator’s motion for leave to amend its complaint. This appeal arises from the same amazing sitting I wrote about a couple weeks ago, the tenth published opinion from that panel.

Joining Roth was Krause; Fuentes dissented with vigor, arguing, “Whereas Twombly and Iqbal require plausible allegations of wrongdoing, CFI gives us unsupported assumptions and numerical guesswork.” Arguing counsel were Jonathan Tycko of D.C. for the appellant, Henry Whitaker (same one) for the government as amicus appellant, and Thomas Hill of D.C. for the appellee.

 

 

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses in hard-fought Avaya appeal

Avaya v. Telecom Labs — civil / antitrust — reversal — Jordan

In an appeal that pitted a former Solicitor General against a former president of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, a divided Third Circuit today held that a district court erred by granting a mid-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law in this gigantic antitrust and civil suit. The majority slip opinion runs 118 pages. The dissent, another 15 pages, argues in part that the majority should not reverse based on an argument first made in the reply brief.

Jordan was joined by Greenaway; Hardiman dissented. Superstar arguing counsel were Seth Waxman for the appellant and James Martin for the appellees. (Argument audio here.)

New opinion — Third Circuit blocks hospital merger

Federal Trade Comm’n v. Penn State Hershey Medical Ctr. — antitrust — reversal — Fisher

The Third Circuit today ruled that the government was entitled to a preliminary injunction blocking the proposed merger of the two largest hospitals in the Harrisburg, Pa., area. The district court had denied the injunction, ruling that the FTC had failed to properly define the relevant geographic market. The Third Circuit’s review was plenary because the lower court misapplied economic theory. On the merits, it explained:

We find three errors in the District Court’s analysis. First, by relying almost exclusively on the number of patients that enter the proposed market, the District Court’s analysis more closely aligns with a discredited economic theory, not the hypothetical monopolist test. Second, the District Court focused on the likely response of patients to a price increase, completely neglecting any mention of the likely response of insurers. Third, the District Court grounded its reasoning, in part, on the private agreements between the Hospitals and two insurers, even though these types of private contracts are not relevant to the hypothetical monopolist test.

Joining Fisher were Greenaway and Krause. Arguing counsel were William Efron for the FTC and Louis Fisher of Jones Day for the hospitals.

Early news coverage by Pennlive here and Legal Intelligencer here. My prior post on the case (quoting a former FTC general counsel saying the district court’s ruling was “appallingly bad”) is here.

New opinion — a quirky little treaty case

Didon v. Castillo — treaty — reversal — Greenaway

The Hague Convention allows a parent to petition for return of a child who has been removed from her country of “habitual residence” in violation of the parent’s rights. In a clear and thorough opinion, the Third Circuit today held that the Hague Convention does not permit a child to have two “habitual residence” countries at the same time, and ruled that the parent’s petition here must be dismissed because the child’s country of habitual residence does not recognize the Hague Convention.

Joining Greenaway were McKee and Fisher. Arguing counsel were civil appeals lawyer Anthony Vetrano of Vetrano Vetrano & Feinman for today’s losing parent and Michelle Pokrifka of CGA Law Firm for the winning parent.

Two big new opinions for the civ pro nerds [updated]

The Third Circuit issued two published opinions today, both fascinating if you enjoy tricky civil procedure issues.

 

Hoffman v. Nordic Naturals — civil — affirmance — Fuentes

Imagine you file a suit in state court. The defendant removes the case to federal court and then urges the federal court to dismiss your suit on a procedural ground. You’re sure the federal court has no jurisdiction at all to hear the case and so must remand it. The district court agrees with the defendant that dismissal would be warranted on the procedural ground — and it agrees with you that it has no jurisdiction. So what should the district court do?

Before today, I would have said the answer was dead obvious — the district court has to remand because it lacks jurisdiction. Without jurisdiction, it can’t decide your case, no matter how good it thinks either party’s arguments are, and no matter whether those arguments go to the merits of your claims or instead rest on a procedural ground.

But today the Third Circuit reached the opposite conclusion: “The District Court was . . . permitted to ‘bypass’ the jurisdictional inquiry in favor of a non-merits dismissal on claim preclusion grounds,” because “a court is not required to establish jurisdiction before dismissing a case on non-merits grounds.” That rationale seems wrong to me.

Here’s how the issue arose: plaintiff Harold Hoffman brought class-action lawsuit #1 in state court. The defendants removed the suit to federal court pursuant to CAFA, which gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear class actions big enough to meet certain thresholds, including that the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. The district court denied Hoffman’s remand motion because it held that the suit met CAFA’s thresholds, and then on the merits it dismissed the suit on the pleadings. (Having dismissed the suit on the merits, the court gave Hoffman a chance to amend his suit, which he didn’t do.)

Hoffman then filed suit #2, again in state court. His new claims were basically the same as his old claims, but this time he defined the class more narrowly. Said the Third Circuit, “The purpose of this change, was, it seems, to reduce the amount recoverable and therefore defeat federal jurisdiction.” The defendant again filed notice of removal, Hoffman sought remand because this time CAFA did not confer jurisdiction, and the district court dismissed suit #2.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed. But, critically, the court did not hold that the district court had jurisdiction over suit #2. Instead, it held that the district court didn’t need to have subject-matter jurisdiction over the case — that is, the removal need not have been legal — if the court ends up dismissing on non-merits grounds, citing the Supreme Court’s 2007 Sinochem case. Sinochem held that “a court need not resolve whether it has authority to adjudicate the cause (subject-matter jurisdiction) or personal jurisdiction over the defendant if it determines that, in any event, a foreign tribunal is plainly the more suitable arbiter of the merits of the case.” In my view, Sinochem is night-and-day different from what the court does here. Sinochem was just about forum selection and efficiency, not about courts nuking cases they don’t have the power to hear.

The whole point of the second removal was to throw out the second suit based on the federal court’s view of the merits. If the federal court didn’t have jurisdiction over the second suit, then it shouldn’t be the one to decide the preclusive effect of its merits ruling in the first suit. Nor should it decide whether tactical gamesmanship in repackaging the second suit warranted its dismissal. Only a court that has jurisdiction over the second suit — here, the state court — should get to decide those things.

As the hypothetical I began this post with suggests, I read today’s opinion to mean that federal courts can decide and dismiss removed state-filed suits — even if the removal was patently illegal — any time they can find a non-merits basis for dismissal. Suffice to say such a rule would be a big deal.

The introduction to today’s opinion emphasizes that the plaintiff here is a “serial pro se class action litigant.” (See, e.g., this law firm’s web page entitled, “Have you been Sued by Harold Hoffman?”) That fact wasn’t relevant to the court’s legal reasoning, but its prominent mention in the opinion may help explain the outcome here. And, frankly, it isn’t easy to imagine the court being eager to grant a rehearing petition filed by that same serial-filing pro se attorney. That’s a shame, because I think today’s opinion does warrant rehearing.

Joining Fuentes were Krause and Roth. The case was decided without oral argument.

 

UPDATE #1: After I posted the above, I was contacted by the losing party and ultimately retained to prepare a petition for rehearing in the case. I had no connection at all to the case at the time I wrote the post.

UPDATE #2: The same day the court issued its opinion, it also entered an order granting Nordic’s motion under FRAP 38 for sanctions and double its costs for filing an utterly frivolous appeal.

 

Wallach v. Eaton Corp. — civil — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit issued a wonderfully cogent opinion today deciding a little point of antitrust procedure and a not-so-little point of class action procedure. The opinion’s introduction crisply explains:

In this case, we are called upon to determine, among other things, the fount and contours of federal common law applicable to the assignment of federal antitrust claims and the reach of the presumption of timeliness for motions to intervene as representatives of a class. Consistent with the Restatement of Contracts and the doctrines undergirding federal antitrust law, we hold that an assignment of a federal antitrust claim need not be supported by bargained-for consideration in order to confer direct purchaser standing on an indirect purchaser; such assignment need only be express, and that requirement was met here. We also hold that the presumption of timeliness, that is, the presumption that a motion to intervene by a proposed class representative is timely if filed before the class opt-out date, applies not only after the class is certified, as we held in In re Community Bank of Northern Virginia, 418 F.3d 277, 314 (3d Cir. 2005), but also in in the pre-certification context. Because the District Court failed to apply that presumption and the intervenors’ motion here was timely considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude the District Court abused its discretion in denying their motion to intervene on that basis. Accordingly, we will reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

On the antitrust standing issue, the holding (antitrust claim assignments don’t require consideration) matters less than how the court got there. The court followed its prior precedent to conclude that the issue was controlled by federal common law. Since no precedent answered the question, the court then had to decide where to look for the content of federal common law. One side urged the court to look at the state law in all 50 states and adopt the prevailing approach; the other side urged it to follow the Restatement. The court decided that the Restatement was the right starting point and accepted the Restatement’s rule.

The class action timeliness-of-intervention rule has broad significance. The way the issue arose is that the defense sought to knock out the named plaintiff for lack of standing, other members of the putative class realized that the whole suit could be thrown out if the defense standing argument prevailed, so other putative class members moved to intervene but the district court said the intervention request was untimely. The Third Circuit disagreed for practical reasons:

[C]lass members would be compelled to intervene in every class action to protect their interests in the event the proposed class representatives are ultimately deemed inadequate”—giving rise to inefficiencies the class action device was designed to avoid  both before and after class certification. Denying the presumption to putative class members also could result in great inefficiencies and reductions in judicial economy in cases like the one before us, which would be dismissed after years of motion practice and discovery, only to be filed anew by plaintiffs who were unable to simply intervene and carry the motion for class certification through to its conclusion. Further, if the presumption of timeliness applied only to certified classes, then motions to intervene brought prior to class certification might be deemed untimely, even though those same motions would be timely if brought years later, after a class was certified.

(Internal quotation marks, alteration, and citation omitted.) Analyzing the timeliness of the motion to intervene itself, the court ruled that it was timely.

Joining Krause were Chagares and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Emmy Levens of Cohen Milstein for the appellants and Pratik Shah, of Akin Gump, for the appellees. On the appellee’s side alone, I count 22 lawyers on the brief from at least 6 household-name big firms. Fun fact: the lawyer who argued the losing side is co-head of Akin Gump’s Supreme Court and appellate practice; the lawyer who argued the winning side is an associate.

New opinions — is the Third Circuit raising the bar for class certification again?

In re: Modafinil Antitrust Litig. — civil / class action — reversal — Smith

Today a divided Third Circuit panel vacated a district court order certifying a class in a pharmaceutical antitrust suit, announcing a new framework for analyzing the size of the class (“numerosity”). The majority directed that the numerosity inquiry “should be particularly rigorous when the putative class consists of fewer than forty members.” It ruled that the district court erred by placing too much weight on the late stage of the proceeding, directing that on remand the court should not take into account the sunk costs of litigation nor the risk of delay if certification were denied. The majority also held that the district court failed to “fully” explore whether class members could just join instead. The panel unanimously rejected the class defendants’ predominance arguments.

Judge Rendell dissented vigorously from the majority’s numerosity analysis, beginning thus:

Today, the Majority concludes that the able District Court judge abused his discretion by purportedly focusing on a consideration that we have never—indeed, by my research, no court has ever—stated it should not consider. How can that be? Furthermore, how can it be that the Majority mischaracterizes the late stage of the proceedings as being the focus of Judge Goldberg’s ruling when his reasoning actually focuses on the considerations that our case law dictates it should? Also how can it be that in analyzing judicial economy district courts are prohibited from considering the stage of the proceedings? I am perplexed. I am similarly perplexed as to why the Majority is directing the District Court on remand to figure out whether joinder is practicable when the appellants have failed to make that case themselves. I therefore respectfully dissent from part III.A of the Majority’s opinion.

This was Rendell’s second major dissent in two weeks.

Joining Smith was Jordan, with Rendell dissenting in part. Arguing counsel were Bruce Gerstein of Garwin Gerstein for the appellees, and Rowan Wilson of Cravath Swaine and Douglas Baldridge of Venable for the appellants.

UPDATE: news coverage on PennRecord.com, describing the court’s ruling as “surprising,” here.

 

Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund v. Management Resource Sys. — civil / labor — reversal — McKee

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court order dismissing a suit challenging a company’s failure to make contributions to employee funds.

Joining McKee were Fisher and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Stephen Holroyd of Jennings Sigmond for the appellants and Walter Zimolong III for the appellees.

 

In re: Asbestos Pros. Liab. Litig. — civil — reversal in part — Scirica

In 1999, the Supreme Court described asbestos litigation as “elephantine.” Over a decade and a half later, the elephant is still lumbering along.

A worker exposed to asbestos died of lung cancer, and his estate sued the corporation whose equipment contained the asbestos he had been exposed to. In a fact-bound ruling applying Indiana law, the Third Circuit today affirmed dismissal of claims related to some of the equipment but reversed dismissal of claims related to other equipment.

Joining Scirica were McKee and Ambro. Arguing counsel were Robert McVoy from Illinois and Christopher Conley from Georgia.

Three new opinions

Associated Builders v. City of Jersey City — civil — reversal — Krause

Jersey City, NJ, offers tax exemptions to developers, but only if they meet certain labor conditions including using union labor, rejecting strikes and lock-outs, and a set percentage of local hiring. Today, the Third Circuit held that, in enacting the labor conditions, the city was acting as a regulator not a market participant. The ruling reversed the district court and meant that the conditions were reviewable for pre-emption and dormant-Commerce-Clause violation.

Joining Krause were Chagares and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Russell McEwan of Littler Mendelson for the appellants, Zahire Estrella for the city, and Raymond Heineman of Kroll Heineman for an intervenor.

 

Goodwin v. Detective Conway — civil rights — reversal — Fuentes

Rashied Goodwin sued police officers for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution after he was arrested; he alleged that the officers should have known he was innocent because they had a booking sheet indicating he was in jail at the time of the crime. The defendants moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, the district court denied the motion, and today the Third Circuit reversed. The court reasoned that the booking sheet did not show that Goodwin was in custody at the relevant time. (I was confused when I read the opinion because the key dates are replaced with empty brackets; I missed fn.6 explaining these are redactions requested by the parties.)

Joining Fuentes were Chagares and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Eric Pasternack for the officers and Catherine Aiello of Lowenstein Sandler for Goodwin.

 

US v. Adeolu — criminal — affirmance — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit affirmed a criminal sentence, holding that the USSG 3A1.1(b)(1) vulnerable-victim sentencing enhancement does not require actual harm to the victim, only a nexus between the victim’s vulnerabilty and the crime’s success.

Joining Vanaskie were Greenaway and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Karina Fuentes of the FPD for the defendant and AUSA Jose Arteaga for the government.

 

New opinions — Bridgegate disclosure, taxpayer standing, and antitrust standing

NJ Media Group v. United States — civil — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today vacated a district court order that had required disclosure of the names of the unindicted co-conspirators in the NJ Bridgegate scandal. The opinion explained, “Although the appeal arises out of a matter of high public interest, the issue presented is basic and undramatic.” The court ruled that a prosecution letter identifying the co-conspirators should be treated like criminal discovery, not a bill of particulars, and thus was not subject to public disclosure.

Joining Jordan were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Jenny Kramer of Chadbourne & Parke for the appellant, Bruce Rosen of McCusker Anselmi for media groups seeking disclosure, and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman for the government.

Early news coverage of the opinion by Ted Sherman on NJ.com is here.

 

Nichols v. City of Rehoboth — civil — affirmance — Fisher

A divided Third Circuit panel today held that a taxpayer lacked standing to sue because she failed to show any illegal use of taxpayer funds.

Fisher was joined by Rendell; Cowen dissented. Arguing counsel were David Finger of Finger & Slanina for the appellant and Max Walton of Connolly Gallagher for the appellees.

 

Hartig Drug Co. v. Senju Pharma. — civil / antitrust / class action — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today ruled that a district court erred when it dismissed an antitrust class action suit under F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) on standing grounds, holding that antitrust standing is not an issue of subject-matter jurisdiction. The appeal arose out of an antitrust suit alleging wrongful suppression of generic competition in the sale of medicated eyedrops. The winning argument was not made by the appellant, prompting the court to write, “Remarkably, Hartig neglects to address the argument at all, except to acknowledge that amici have raised it.” The opinion has some sharp words (“simply not so,” “attempt to change the discussion,” “wholly new argument”) for the appellees, too. Quite a victory for amici.

Joining Jordan were Ambro and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Brent Landau of Hausfeld for the appellant and M. Sean Royall of Gibson Dunn for the appellee.

 

Addie v. Kjaer — civil — affirmance in part — Fisher

The Third Circuit largely upheld a district court’s rulings under Virgin Islands law granting pre- and post-judgment interest but denying attorney’s fees. The court ruled that certain prejudgment interest should have been paid at a statutory rate.

Fisher was joined by Krause and Roth. Arguing counsel were former Rendell clerk Robert Palumbos of Duane Morris for the appellants and Sherry Talton of Texas and Maria Hodge of the Virgin Islands for the appellees.

En banc court — minus two judges listed as voted on rehearing, including the panel author — reverses in Chavez v. Dole Food

Chavez v. Dole Food — civil — reversal — Fuentes

The en banc Third Circuit today unanimously reversed a district court order dismissing a suit by Central American farmworkers over alleged pesticide exposure. The prior panel opinion had come out the other way, with Nygaard joined by Greenaway in the majority and Fuentes dissenting.

Needless to say, it is unusual to see a unanimous en banc ruling that reaches a different outcome than the panel majority did. So what happened? Two things, both interesting.

First, Greenaway switched sides. He joined Nygaard’s panel opinion in favor of Dole, but today he joins the en banc court ruling against Dole. He did not write separately to explain his switch.

Second, Nygaard did not participate. He wrote the panel opinion, and the order granting en banc rehearing stated he would participate, but the docket shows he did not participate in oral argument and he was not a member of the en banc panel today. Also, Hardiman was listed as participating in the en banc vote but was not on the en banc panel for argument or decision.

So, why did Nygaard and Hardiman not participate? Answer: I don’t know. Neither today’s opinion nor the docket entries say.

This is a case with a lot of blue-chip-corporation parties like Dow Chemical and Shell Oil, and it would not be surprising if some of the judges owned stock in one of them and thus had to recuse. Now, it would be surprising to me if such a conflict went unrecognized until after the en banc ruling. (But as I mentioned recently, during now-Justice Alito’s Scotus confirmation proceedings, then-Chief Judge Scirica said in 2005 that CA3 judges had been listed by mistake on en banc corams many times. That could explain well Hardiman but not Nygaard.)

For Nygaard, no potential financial conflicts jump out at me on a quick glance at his 2012 financial disclosure, the most recent of his posted on judicialwatch. But what matters is what he owned in 2016, not 2012, and that is not publicly available. Bottom line, if he recused after writing the panel opinion, I can’t tell why. (It does not appear to be health-related since, for example, his is sitting on argument panels next week.) In any event, his withdrawal is unusual.

As to Hardiman, he disclosed dividend income from Dow Chemical in his 2012 disclosure, also the most recent disclosure up on Judicialwatch, although that does not necessarily mean he still did at the time of this en banc case.

Anyway, I’ve gotten all sidetracked on the composition of the court here and haven’t said a thing about the substance of the opinion. From the introduction (footnote omitted):

Our resolution of this appeal is therefore threefold. First, we conclude that the Delaware District Court abused its discretion under the first-filed rule by dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice. Second, we conclude that the Delaware District Court erred by refusing to transfer the plaintiffs’ claims against Chiquita Brands International to another forum. And third, we conclude that the timeliness dismissals entered by the Louisiana District Court do not create a res judicata bar to the plaintiffs’ Delaware suits. As these cases come to us today, there is a serious possibility that no court will ever reach the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims. More than twenty years after this litigation began, we think that outcome is untenable—both as a matter of basic fairness and pursuant to the legal principles that govern this procedurally complex appeal.

Joining Fuentes were McKee, Ambro, Smith, Fisher, Chagares, Greenaway, Vanaskie, Shwartz, Krause, and Restrepo. Arguing counsel were Jonathan Massey of Massey & Gail for the appellants and Andrea Neuman of Gibson Dunn and Steven Caponi (formerly) of Blank Rome for the appellees.

New opinions in three civil cases

Black v. Montgomery County — civil rights — reversal — Chagares

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in a remarkable civil rights suit, holding that the plaintiff was seized for purposes of her Fourth Amendment malicious-prosecution claim and that she stated a valid due process claim for fabricated evidence even though she was acquitted at trial. The case arose from what the plaintiff alleged was a badly bungled fire investigation and prosecution; the accused was found not guilty of arson after the jury deliberated less than 40 minutes.

Joining Chagares were Krause and Scirica. Arguing counsel for the appellant was Michael Schwartz of James, Schwartz & Associates; for the appellees, Carol Vanderwoude of Marshall Dennehey, Philip Newcomer of the Montgomery County Solicitor’s Office, and Claudia Tesoro of the Office of the Attorney General.

 

DePolo v. Board of Supervisors — civil — dismissal of appeal — McKee

The Third Circuit held that a ham radio operator’s federal suit challenging denial of permission to build a 180-foot radio tower (!) was precluded by his failure to appeal a prior adverse ruling by a township zoning appeals board.

Joining McKee were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Fred Hopengarten of Massachusetts (whose solo telecom practice focuses on antenna and tower issues and whose website includes an image of his Third Circuit bar admission certificate) for the appellant, and Maureen McBride of Lamb McErlane and John Larkin of Gawthrop Greenwood for the appellees.

 

NY Shipping Assoc v. Waterfront Comm’n — affirmance — Nygaard

The Third Circuit upheld district court rulings upholding the NY Waterfront Commission’s power under an interstate compact to require non-discriminatory hiring policies.

Joining Nygaard were Fuentes and Roth (the case was argued on July 9, nine days before Fuentes went senior, so the panel composition comported with 3d Cir. IOP 3.1 even though all three judges were senior at the time the opinion issued). Arguing counsel for various appellants were Donato Caruso of New York and Kevin Marrinan of New York, and Peter Hughes of Ogletree Deakins; arguing counsel for appellees was Phoebe Sorial of the NY Harbor Waterfront Commission.

A notable non-precedential immigration case, highlighting an “unfortunate mistake” by government counsel

In a non-precedential opinion today in Chang-Cruz v. AG, the Third Circuit ruled in favor of an Ecuadoran citizen legally in the U.S. who argued that he’s eligible for cancellation of removal because his state convictions for drug-trafficking-related acts near a school were not aggravated felonies. Judge Krause wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Ambro and Nygaard.

Any pro-petitioner immigration ruling is noteworthy, but the end of today’s opinion is particularly interesting:

In closing, we note our expectation that on remand and in future cases the Government will refrain from engaging in the problematic conduct that has marked its performance here. The last time this case was before us, the Justice Department requested and we granted a remand to the BIA for the limited purpose of the BIA considering “what effect, if any, Descamps has on this immigration case.” J.A. 619. Once back before the BIA, however, the Government asserted that Descamps was inapplicable and instead proceeded to argue that the plea transcript was relevant to whether Chang-Cruz should receive discretionary relief, along with an inadequate explanation for why it failed to obtain that plea transcript before the IJ rendered her initial decision cancelling Chang-Cruz’s removal. These were issues well outside the scope of our remand. See Pareja v. Att’y Gen., 615 F.3d 180, 197 (3d Cir. 2010). Most troubling, however, is the Government’s resort before the BIA to a frivolous argument that Chang-Cruz engaged in “obstructionism” by opposing the Government’s remand to the IJ to consider the plea transcript. See J.A. 879. It comports with neither the professionalism nor the ethical mandates of Government counsel to chill vigorous advocacy by asserting that an alien who avails himself of the congressionally prescribed opportunity to seek cancellation of removal thereby loses the privilege of cancellation. We trust that this was an unfortunate mistake that will not be repeated.

 

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.

New opinions — habeas corpus relief and three affirmances

OFI Asset Management v. Cooper Tire — civil — affirmance — Jordan

In a 51-page opinion, the Third Circuit today rejected an appellant’s challenge to the district court’s management of a complex securities-fraud class action. The court criticized the clarity appellant’s underlying complaint, then wryly observed:

Now that OFI [the plaintiff-appellant] has come to us with the same kind of broad averments that drove the District Court to demand specificity, we find ourselves more than sympathetic to that Court’s position.

The court also rejected a long list of intensely factbound substantive arguments.

Joining Jordan were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were James Harrod of Bernstein Litowitz for the appellants and Geoffrey Ritts of Jones Day for the appellees.

 

Goldman v. Citigroup Global — civil — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of a securities suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, rejecting the plaintiffs’ arguments under Grable & Sons v. Darue Engineering that the court had jurisdiction despite the absence of a federal cause of action. The court refused to be bound by language in a prior precedential opinion such “a summary and unexplained jurisdictional ruling” where jurisdiction was not in dispute has no precedential effect. The court also rejected the appellants’ argument that an arbitration panel’s manifest disregard for the law created a federal-question jurisdictional hook.

Joining Jordan were McKee and Roth. Arguing counsel were Richard Gerace for the appellants and Brian Feeney of Greenberg Traurig for the appellees.

 

Dempsey v. Bucknell University — civil rights — affirmance — Krause

College student Reed Dempsey was arrested after another student accused him of assaulting her. The affidavit of probable cause accompanying the criminal complaint “recklessly omitted” certain facts. After the charges were later dropped, Dempsey brought a civil rights suit alleging that the arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment against Dempsey because, even considering the omitted facts, a reasonable jury could not find lack of probable cause to arrest. The court rejected Dempsey’s argument that, in analyzing a probable cause issue at summary judgment, a court must ignore unfavorable disputed facts. It held that, “when a court determines that information was asserted or omitted in an affidavit of probable cause with at least reckless disregard for the truth, it must perform a word-by-word reconstruction of the affidavit.” It ruled that information was recklessly omitted, reconstructed the affidavit to include it, and held that the any reasonable juror would find that the reconstructed affidavit established probable cause.

Joining Krause were Vanaskie and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Dennis Boyle (formerly) of Fox Rothschild for Dempsey and James Keller of Saul Ewing for the defendants.

 

Brown v. Superintendent SCI Greene — habeas corpus — reversal — Ambro

The introduction of today’s opinion granting habeas corpus relief:

This case has a familiar cast of characters: two co-defendants, a confession, and a jury. And, for the most part, it follows a conventional storyline. In the opening chapter, one of the defendants (Miguel Garcia) in a murder case gives a confession to the police that, in addition to being self-incriminating, says that the other defendant (Antonio Lambert1) pulled the trigger. When Lambert and Garcia are jointly tried in Pennsylvania state court, the latter declines to testify, thereby depriving the former of the ability to cross-examine him about the confession. The judge therefore redacts the confession in an effort to comply with Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968). As a result, when the jury hears Garcia’s confession, Lambert’s name is replaced with terms like “the other guy.” The idea is that the inability to cross-examine Garcia is harmless if the jury has no reason to think that the confession implicates Lambert.

During closing arguments, however, there is a twist when the prosecutor unmasks Lambert and reveals to the jurors that he has been, all along, “the other guy.” Now, instead of a conclusion, we have a sequel. Based on a Sixth Amendment violation caused by the closing arguments, we conclude that Lambert is entitled to relief. We therefore remand so that the District Court can give Pennsylvania (the “Commonwealth”) the option either to retry or release him.

In holding that the Bruton error was not harmless, the court noted that the prosecution’s key witness had flaws and rejected the state’s argument that error was harmless because the jury already knew about these other flaws and believed the witness anyway.

Joining Ambro were Krause and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Ariana Freeman of the EDPA Federal Community Defender for Brown and Susan Affronti of the Philadelphia DA for the state.

New opinions — a rare plain-error reversal of a criminal sentence, and an expansion of disabilities-suit exhaustion

US v. Dahl — criminal — reversal — Scirica

The Third Circuit today held that it was plain error for the district court to sentence a criminal defendant as a sex-offender recidivist under USSG § 4B1.5. The district court had focused on the actual conduct underlying the defendant’s prior convictions in deciding whether his prior crimes qualified as sex offense convictions, but the Third Circuit held that courts are required instead to apply the categorical approach, focusing on whether the elements of the prior crime necessarily qualify, just as in the armed-career-criminal-enhancement context.

The court disavowed dicta from its 2012 ruling in Pavulak purporting to apply a modified-categorical approach. It reversed under plain error, even though it was undisputed that this defendant’s prior acts would have qualified as sex offenses, stating, “We generally exercise our discretion to recognize a plain error in the misapplication of the Sentencing Guidelines.”

Joining Scirica were Chagares and Krause. Arguing counsel were Brett Sweitzer of the Federal Community Defender in Philadelphia for the defendant and Bernadette McKeon for the government.

 

S.D. v. Haddon Heights Bd. of Educ. — civil / education / disability — affirmance — Greenaway

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is one of many constitutional or statutory protections against disability-related discrimination. The IDEA requires plaintiffs to administratively exhaust their claims before they can file suit. In its 2014 ruling in Batchelor, the Third Circuit held that the IDEA exhaustion requirement applies to claims that are raised under other statutes but which arise from rights explicitly protected by the IDEA. Today, the court extended Batchelor “narrow[ly]” to hold that IDEA’s exhaustion requirement also applies to non-IDEA claims that are “educational in nature and implicate services within the purview of the IDEA,” even when they “do not . . . arise from their enforcement of rights explicitly under the IDEA.”

Joining Greenaway were Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Sarah Zuba of Reisman Carolla for the appellants and William Donio of Cooper Levenson for the appellee.

Three new opinions — antitrust, criminal sentencing, and prisoner civil rights

It’s mid-August, so clerkships are ending and opinions are issuing thick and fast. Three more today, including a significant prisoner-rights opinion.

Deborah Heart & Lung Ctr. v. Virtua Health — civil / antitrust — affirmance — Roth

A dispute between two health care providers over patient referrals led one of them to bring an antitrust suit against the other. The district court ruled for the defendant, and today the Third Circuit affirmed. The opinion begins, “In antitrust suits, definitions matter,” and the court found that the plaintiff failed to meet its own undisputed definitions of the relevant products and markets. The court stated that it wrote in order to clarify the plaintiff’s burden under Section 1 of the Sherman Act when the plaintiff doesn’t allege that the defendants have market power: such plaintiffs must show anti-competitive effects on the market as a whole.

Joining Roth were Fuentes and Krause. Arguing counsel were Anthony Argiropoulos of Epstein Becker for the appellant and Philip Lebowitz of Duane Morris for the appellees.

US v. Jones — criminal — affirmance — Hardiman

When defendants commit a crime while they are on supervised release, they get a new, revocation sentence, and the length of that sentence depends on the seriousness of the original offense. But what if the seriousness of the offense has changed between the time of the original conviction and the time of the revocation sentencing?

Jermaine Jones was sentenced back in 2000 as an armed career criminal. Since that time, the Supreme Court decided cases that Jones says would make him ineligible to be sentenced as an armed career criminal today. So when Jones violated the terms of his supervised release and faced revocation sentencing, the sentencing court had to decide how to calculate his revocation sentence now–as a career criminal or not? Jones argued that he should be sentenced today based on how his original offense would be classified today; it would be unconstitutional to sentence him as an armed career criminal now, so it would be wrong to classify him now as an armed career criminal when imposing a revocation sentence. The government argued he should be sentenced today based on how his offense was classified at the time.

Today, the Third Circuit agreed with the government and affirmed, holding that it was correct to classify Jones as an armed career criminal for purposes of calculating his revocation sentence.

Hardiman was joined by Smith (Sloviter also had been on the panel before she assumed inactive status). The case was decided without oral argument.

 

Parkell v. Danberg — prisoner civil rights — reversal in part — Chagares

A Delaware inmate fell and seriously injured his elbow. In the suit he eventually filed, he alleged a disturbing year-long ordeal of mistreatment and neglect by prison guards and health-care staff. He also alleged that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by three-times-daily visual body cavity searches even though he had no contact with anyone. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants.

Today in a 38-page opinion the Third Circuit reversed summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment cavity-searches claim, holding that the Fourth Amendment gives inmates a “very narrow” right to bodily privacy and that the prisoner here may be able entitled to prospective injunctive relief. The court affirmed summary judgment on his Eighth Amendment conditions-of-confinement and deliberate-indifference claims, as well as his effort to recover money damages on his Fourth Amendment claim, essentially because the pro se inmate had failed to marshal enough proof about who was actually responsible.

Joining Chagares were Fisher and Cowen. Arguing counsel for the inmate were Suzanne Bradley and former Barry clerk Brendan Walsh of Pashman Stein, who the court thanked for the quality of their pro bono representation. Counsel for the defendants were Devera Scott of the Delaware AG’s office and Chad Toms and Daniel Griffith of Whiteford Taylor.

New opinions — Cosby unsealing appeal dismissed as moot, plus a civil rights attorney-fees reversal

Constand v. Cosby — civil / justiciability — dismissal — Ambro

Sometimes I can’t summarize a case more clearly than the opinion does itself. The problem occurs frequently with Ambro opinions. To wit:

William H. Cosby, Jr., appeals the District Court’s order unsealing certain documents that reveal damaging admissions he made in a 2005 deposition regarding his sexual behavior. There was no stay of that order, and the contents of the documents received immediate and wide publicity. While the parties dispute whether the District Court properly balanced the public and private interests at stake in unsealing the documents, we must decide at the outset whether Cosby’s appeal has become moot due to the public disclosure of their contents. The Associated Press (the “AP”) argues in favor of mootness because resealing the documents after they have already become public will have no effect. Cosby claims this is not the case for two primary reasons, as resealing the documents would (1) at least slow the dissemination of their contents and (2) might affect whether they can be used against him in other litigation. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the appeal is moot.

Interestingly, the opinion relies in part on the results of a Google search performed the Friday before the opinion issued, including what looks to me like the first-ever circuit citation to Deadspin.

The court in a footnote expressed “serious reservations” about the district court’s reasoning that unsealing the documents was supported by Cosby’s image as a “public moralist,” a phrase the court described as “vague and undefined” and having “no basis in our jurisprudence.”

Joining Ambro were Smith and Krause. Arguing counsel were George Gowen III of Cozen O’Connor for Cosby and Gayle Sproul of Levine Sullivan for AP.

 

Raab v. Ocean City — civil / attorney’s fees — reverse in part — Chagares

A two-judge Third Circuit panel today held that a settling civil-rights plaintiff can be a prevailing party eligible to recover attorney’s fees where the district court dismissed the suit sua sponte in an order incorporating and retaining jurisdiction over the private settlement, even though the district court entered no consent decree and apparently did not review the settlement before entering its order.

Joining Chagares was Restrepo; Van Antwerpen was on the panel when the case was orally argued but died before the opinion issued. Arguing counsel were Paul Rizzo of DiFrancesco Bateman for the plaintiff, A. Michael Barker of Barker Gelfand for one defendant, and Thomas Reynolds of Reynolds & Horn for another defendant.

New opinion — prison’s failure to timely respond to an inmate’s grievance opens door to the inmate’s federal suit

Robinson v. Superintendent — prisoner civil rights — reversal — Hardiman

A unanimous Third Circuit panel today held that a  Pennsylvania prison’s repeated failure to respond to an inmate’s grievance rendered its administrative remedies “unavailable” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, reversing the district court and allowing the inmate’s civil-rights suit to proceed. The court explained:

The District Court concluded that SCI Rockview’s * * * response to Robinson—which was provided more than four months late and six weeks after Robinson filed suit, and did not even address the correct incident— rendered the prison’s administrative remedies “available” to him under the PLRA. We disagree.

The opinion had some pointed words for the prison:

If prisons ignore grievances or fail to fully investigate allegations of abuse, prisoners will feel disrespected and come to believe that internal grievance procedures are ineffective. If prisoners do not believe they will get a response from prison administration, they will be more likely either to bypass internal procedures entirely and file a complaint in federal court or use a federal lawsuit to prod prison officials into a response, thus taxing the judicial resources that Congress meant to conserve by passing the PLRA. Accordingly, we hope that the events that transpired in this case are not reflective of the way in which SCI Rockview responds to inmate grievances generally.

Joining Hardiman were Jordan and Greenaway. Arguing counsel for the prisoner was John Jacobus of Steptoe & Johnson (a Barry district court clerk) and Howard Hopkirk of the state AG’s office for the prison. The opinion thanked the Steptoe lawyers for handling the appeal pro bono.

After panel rehearing, Third Circuit reverses course in non-precedential media case

Earlier this week the Third Circuit issued a non-precedential opinion in Cheney v. Daily News, reviving a firefighter’s defamation and invasion-of-privacy claims against a newspaper that used his photo, naming him in the caption, to accompany a news story about a fire department sex scandal he had nothing to do with. The same panel had issued an opinion coming out the other way back in February, then granted panel rehearing and heard oral argument.

I don’t have an intelligent view about the merits here, but I do applaud the panel’s willingness to reverse course. I’m a firm believer in panel rehearing. Modern appellate judges simply don’t have the luxury of agonizing forever over each case. Panel rehearing plays a valuable role in helping courts decide cases efficiently and accurately, but fulfilling that role requires judges confident enough to admit their rare mistakes.

As Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”

New opinion — Third Circuit reaffirms the “picking off” exception to mootness

Richardson v. Director Federal BOP — inmate civil rights / class action — reversal — Smith

Class-action plaintiffs won a major victory in the Third Circuit today, as the court reaffirmed a rule that makes it harder for defendants to moot impending class-action suits by picking off the plaintiffs before they can seek class certification.

First, the facts. An inmate at USP Lewisburg housed in that prison’s “Special Management Unit” alleged that the prison had an unwritten policy of increasing inmate-on-inmate violence by housing hostile SMU inmates together and painfully restraining inmates who refused a hostile cellmate. Specifically (record cites omitted):

In support of this claim, Richardson [the inmate plaintiff] explains how—after seven months of living with a compatible cellmate—corrections staff asked him to “cuff up” on the cell door so that a new inmate could be transferred into his cell. Richardson alleges that this inmate, known among the prison population as “the Prophet,” had attacked over twenty former cellmates.  Richardson refused to “cuff up” because he did not want to be placed with “the Prophet.” Corrections staff then asked if Richardson was refusing his new cellmate, and he replied that he was. After taking “the Prophet” away, corrections staff returned thirty minutes later with a Use of Force team and asked Richardson if he would submit to the use of restraints. Richardson complied.

Richardson was then taken down to a laundry room where he was stripped, dressed in paper clothes, and put in “hard” restraints. Next, he was locked in a cell with another prisoner (who was also in hard restraints) and left there for three days before being transferred yet again. All told, Richardson alleges that he was held in hard restraints for nearly a month, was forced to sleep on the floor for much of that time, and frequently was refused both showers and bathroom breaks. Richardson also claims that there have been at least 272 reports of inmate-on-inmate violence at USP Lewisburg between January 2008 and July 2011 and that dozens of other inmates have suffered treatment similar to his as a result of this unwritten practice or policy.

The inmate sued for damages and injunctive relief and sought class certification. The district court denied certification on ascertainability grounds, and the inmate appealed. The prison argued that the claims for injunctive relief were moot because they moved the inmate out of the SMU after he sued and before he sought class certification. The prison also argued that all the named defendants had retired or changed jobs and that this too mooted any claim for injunctive relief.

Today, the Third Circuit reversed, rejecting both of the prison’s mootness arguments in a thorough, 44-page opinion. In the opinion’s most important holding, the court reaffirmed the “picking off” exception to mootness, which bars defendants from dodging class suits by mooting named plaintiffs before they have a fair opportunity to seek class certification and reduces premature certification motions.

Joining Smith were Hardiman and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project for the inmate and Michael Butler for the prison.

New opinion — restitution award against child-porn producer does not bar later civil suit

Doe v. Hesketh — civil — reversal — Greenaway

Matthew Mancuso adopted a five-year-old girl, sexually abused her, took photos and videos of the abuse, and traded this child pornography online. He was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor and received a sentence that included $200,000 in restitution to the victim. The victim later sued Mancuso under 18 USC 2255, but the district court held that the civil suit was barred by the prior restitution award. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that section 2255 allows victims to sue for damages even if they already have received restitution for the same conduct.

Joining Greenaway were Scirica and Roth. Arguing counsel were Sidney Moore of Georgia for the appellant and Stanley Greenfield of Greenfield & Kraut for the appellee.

New opinion — the circuit’s next big internet-privacy opinin

In re: Nickelodeon Consumer Privacy Litig. — civil — partial affirmance — Fuentes

The opinion’s cogent introduction:

Most of us understand that what we do on the Internet is not completely private. How could it be? We ask large companies to manage our email, we download directions from smartphones that can pinpoint our GPS coordinates, and we look for information online by typing our queries into search engines. We recognize, even if only intuitively, that our data has to be going somewhere. And indeed it does, feeding an entire system of trackers, cookies, and algorithms designed to capture and monetize the information we generate. Most of the time, we never think about this. We browse the Internet, and the data-collecting infrastructure of the digital world hums along quietly in the background.

Even so, not everything about our online behavior is necessarily public. Numerous federal and state laws prohibit certain kinds of disclosures, and private companies often promise to protect their customers’ privacy in ways that may be enforceable in court. One of our decisions last year, In re Google Inc. Cookie Placement Consumer Privacy Litigation, addressed many of these issues. This case addresses still more.

This is a multidistrict consolidated class action. The plaintiffs are children younger than 13 who allege that the defendants, Viacom and Google, unlawfully collected personal information about them on the Internet, including what webpages they visited and what videos they watched on Viacom’s websites. Many of the plaintiffs’ claims overlap substantially with those we addressed in Google, and indeed fail for similar reasons. Even so, two of the plaintiffs’ claims—one for violation of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act, and one for invasion of privacy under New Jersey law—raise questions of first impression in our Circuit.

The Video Privacy Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1988, prohibits the disclosure of personally identifying information relating to viewers’ consumption of video-related services. Interpreting the Act for the first time, we hold that the law permits plaintiffs to sue only a person who discloses such information, not a person who receives such information. We also hold that the Act’s prohibition on the disclosure of personally identifiable information applies only to the kind of information that would readily permit an ordinary person to identify a specific individual’s video-watching behavior. In our view, the kinds of disclosures at issue here, involving digital identifiers like IP addresses, fall outside the Act’s protections.

The plaintiffs also claim that Viacom and Google invaded their privacy by committing the tort of intrusion upon seclusion. That claim arises from allegations that Viacom explicitly promised not to collect any personal information about children who browsed its websites and then, despite its assurances, did exactly that. We faced a similar allegation of deceitful conduct in Google, where we vacated the dismissal of state-law claims for invasion of privacy and remanded them for further proceedings. We reach a similar result here, concluding that, at least as to Viacom, the plaintiffs have adequately alleged a claim for intrusion upon seclusion. In so doing, we hold that the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal statute that empowers the Federal Trade Commission to regulate websites that target children, does not preempt the plaintiffs’ state-law privacy claim.

Accordingly, we will affirm the District Court’s dismissal of most of the plaintiffs’ claims, vacate its dismissal of the claim for intrusion upon seclusion against Viacom, and remand the case for further proceedings.

Joining Fuentes were Shwartz and Van Antwerpen. Arguing counsel were Jason Barnes for the appellants, David O’Neil of Debevoise & Plimpton and Michael Rubin of Wilson Sonsini for appellees, and Alan Butler of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Jeffrey Wall of Sullivan & Cromwell for amici.

New opinion — court rules for pornography producers in challenge to records laws

Free Speech Coalition v. AG — civil — vacatur — Smith

A divided Third Circuit panel today ruled in favor of pornography-industry plaintiffs challenging federal laws requiring them to maintain and allow inspection of certain records. The majority ruled that the statutes and regulations were content based and thus subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment. It further held that the inspection provisions facially violated the Fourth Amendment. Dissenting on the First Amendment issue, Judge Rendell argued strict scrutiny should not apply. This case was before the court for the third time; I discussed the previous round here.

Joining Smith was Scirica, with Rendell dissenting. Arguing counsel were J. Michael Murray for the plaintiffs and Anne Murphy for the government.

New opinions — a major immigration reversal, and an Alito loss

Cen v. Attorney General — immigration — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit today struck down an immigration regulation, and it’s hard for me to imagine what possessed the government to take the position it did. Here’s the introduction from today’s opinion:

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows a child under the age of twenty-one whose alien parent has married a U.S. citizen abroad to obtain a temporary “K-4” visa to accompany her parent to the United States and, based on the parent’s marriage, to apply to adjust her status to that of a lawful permanent resident. On a petition for review of a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), we now consider the validity of a regulation that makes it impossible for a child who entered on such a visa to remain with her family and adjust her status from within the United States if she was over the age of eighteen at the time of her parent’s marriage. Because the regulation departs from the plain language of the INA, contravenes congressional intent, and exceeds the permissible scope of the Attorney General’s regulatory authority, we conclude it is invalid. We therefore will grant the petition for review and will reverse and remand to the BIA for further proceedings.

The Seventh Circuit struck down the same regulation in 2013, but the government has continued to enforce it outside that circuit. The Third Circuit today held that the regulation failed at step two of Chevron analysis. The opinion is thorough, and vigorous: “the Government’s reading of § 1255(d) would transform K-4 visas for older K-4 children into nothing more than tourist visas, giving their holders only a glimpse of what life with their families might have been like in America before being sent home because they are legally incapable of fulfilling § 1255(a)(2)’s eligibility requirement. Such a reading defies common sense.”

Joining Krause were Shwartz and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Scott Bratton for the petitioner and Robert Stalzer for the government.

 

1621 Rt 22 West Operating Co. v. NLRB — labor — affirmance — Jordan

If I were a circuit judge, would I be a little nervous about ruling against a party represented a Supreme Court Justice’s sister? I might. But that’s what the Third Circuit fearlessly did today, ruling in favor of the NLRB in a case where arguing counsel for the petitioner was Rosemary Alito, the Justice’s younger sister and quite a formidible lawyer in her own right.

The appeal arose out of a workplace union election. After the NLRB ruled that the employer engaged in anti-union activities, the employer argued for the first time on appeal that the NLRB’s acting general counsel was serving illegally and therefore his complaint and all that followed were invalid. The Third Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear this argument because it was not exhausted. The court also rejected the employer’s arguments that an NLRB member should have recused because his chief counsel had previously represented the union in this case but did not participate in the NLRB’s review, that its labor practices were legal, and that the NLRB imposed the wrong remedy.

Joining Jordan, who has been on an opinion tear lately, were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Alito of K&L Gates for the employer and Jeffrey Burritt and Benjamin Shultz for the government.

Divided panel issues significant abortion-clinic-access ruling

Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh — First Amendment — vacate in part — Jordan

The overwhelming majority of circuit court decisions are uncontroversial and essentially non-ideological. This ain’t one of them.

The Third Circuit today vacated an order dismissing First Amendment challenge to Pittsburgh’s ordinance prohibiting certain speech within fifteen feet of health care facilities. The suit was brought by five plaintiffs who “engage in what they call ‘sidewalk counseling’ on the public sidewalk outside of a Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood facility in an effort, through close conversation, to persuade women to forego abortion services.”

The blockbuster language from Jordan’s opinion:

Considered in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, the First Amendment claims are sufficient to go forward at this stage of the litigation. The speech at issue is core political speech entitled to the maximum protection afforded by the First Amendment, and the City cannot burden it without first trying, or at least demonstrating that it has seriously considered, substantially less restrictive alternatives that would achieve the City’s legitimate, substantial, and content-neutral interests. McCullen teaches that the constitutionality of buffer zone laws turns on the factual circumstances giving rise to the law in each individual case – the same type of buffer zone may be upheld on one record where it might be struck down on another. Hence, dismissal of claims challenging ordinances like the one at issue here will rarely, if ever, be appropriate at the pleading stage. Instead, factual development will likely be indispensable to the assessment of whether an ordinance is constitutionally permissible.

Fuentes disagreed:

I agree with the majority that the allegations in the Complaint, taken as true, establish that Pittsburgh’s Ordinance restricting certain speech within 15 feet of designated health care facilities violates the intermediate-scrutiny standard for time, place, and manner regulations. I disagree, however, with the majority’s reasoning in support of that result. In particular, I disagree with its conclusion that the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley requires governments that place “significant” burdens on speech to prove either that less speech-restrictive measures have failed or that alternative measures were “seriously” considered and “reasonably” rejected. That interpretation distorts narrow-tailoring doctrine by eliminating the government’s latitude to adopt regulations that are not “the least restrictive or least intrusive means of serving the government’s interests.” Nothing in McCullen or the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence requires us to apply such a rule. Accordingly, as to Plaintiffs’ free-speech claim, I concur only in the judgment.

In an especially strongly worded footnote, the majority fired back (emphasis mine):

The concurrence repeatedly tries to downplay the significance of McCullen – variously referring to the opinion as “incremental,” “modest,” and “unexceptional” (Concurrence at 4-5) – and devotes much of its energy to narrowing that case only to its facts. It does so, presumably, in service of a desire to avoid the import of the Supreme Court’s decision. Consider our colleague’s reading of McCullen: “[u]nlike the majority, I do not believe that McCullen announces a general rule requiring the government to affirmatively prove that less-restrictive measures would fail to achieve its interests.” (Concurrence at 1-2.) Then try to reconcile that with the actual language of McCullen: “To meet the requirement of narrow tailoring, the government must demonstrate that alternative measures that burden substantially less speech would fail to achieve the government’s interests, not simply that the chosen route is easier.” 134 S. Ct. at 2540. We are more ready than our colleague is to take the high Court at its word, and that is the heart of our disagreement with him.

I’d certainly expect a petition for en banc rehearing here. I’m not making any prediction about whether it would be granted, but I expect it would get a very careful look.

Joining Jordan was Vanaskie; Fuentes joined in part and concurred in the judgment on the First Amendment issue. Arguing counsel were Matthew Bowman (a CA3 Alito clerk) of the Alliance Defending Freedom for the challengers and Matthew McHale for the city.

Civ Pro refresher: suing the wrong defendant isn’t a standing issue

Davis v. Wells Fargo — civil — vacate in part — Jordan

The Third Circuit vacated in part in this messy civil appeal arising out of a foreclosure dispute between a homeowner, Wells Fargo bank, and an insurer. The court affirmed dismissal of the homeowner’s claims against Wells Fargo on claim preclusion and statute-of-limitations grounds. But the court reversed the dismissal of claims against the insurer. The district court had dismissed the case on standing grounds because the homeowner sued the wrong corporate entity, but the Third Circuit explained that “this case is not about standing at all” and that whether plaintiff sued the right defendant should have been decided under Rule 12(b)(6), not 12(b)(1). The opinion gives a lucid analysis of when each rule applies and why it matters.

While affirming dismissal of the claims against Wells Fargo, the court included this striking footnote:

Although we affirm the District Court’s dismissal of Davis’s claims against Wells Fargo, we would be remiss if we did not add a note about the disturbing allegations he has made. If they are true, the bank locked Davis out of his home before starting foreclosure proceedings, initiated a series of fraudulent assignments of the mortgage, and obtained insurance on the Property as part of a kickback scheme with the insurer while Davis paid excessive premiums. Although the insurance should have covered the leak and damage to the wall, Wells Fargo allegedly settled the damage claim for a payment of $317 – for roof repairs – but then took no action to actually repair the roof. And all of this took place during and around the time that Davis was serving three years of active duty in the United States Army in a time of war.

When asked about those facts during oral argument, Wells Fargo did not dispute their veracity, nor did its counsel seem particularly concerned about the brazenly exploitative character of the alleged actions of the bank. In one telling portion of the argument, when asked whether the bank had the right to make an insurance claim, take money for a roof repair, and then pocket that money and not make the repair, all while knowing the result could be further deterioration and structural damage to the Property, counsel said simply, “that is what the mortgage gives them the right to do.” See Oral Argument, http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/oralargument/audio/15-2658Davisv.WellsFargo.mp3, at 19:13-19:38 (argued March 2, 2016). If the allegations are true, they raise serious questions about bad faith that we are not now in a position to address. Suffice it to say, however, that although we affirm the dismissal of Davis’s claims, we hope the allegations of the amended complaint do not reflect Wells Fargo’s actual business practices.

Congratulations, Wells Fargo and counsel on your appellate victory!

Joining Jordan were Greenberg and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Earl Raynor for the homeowner, Stacey Scrivani of Stevens & Lee for Wells Fargo, and Matthew Faranda-Diedrich of Dilworth Paxson for the insurer.

Two new opinions — a big telecom case and a little criminal-sentencing case

Stirk Holdings v. FCC — agency / telecom — vacate and remand — Ambro

Here is the remarkable introduction to Judge Ambro’s remarkable opinion today scolding the FCC:

Twelve years have passed since we first took up challenges to the broadcast ownership rules and diversity initiatives of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”). In some respects the Commission has made progress in the intervening years. In key areas, however, it has fallen short. These shortcomings are at the center of this dispute—the third (and likely not the last) round in a protracted battle over the future of the nation’s broadcast industry. Specifically, the parties present challenges to the Commission’s “eligible entity” definition, its Quadrennial Review process, and its rule on television joint sales agreements.
Although courts owe deference to agencies, we also recognize that, “[a]t some point, we must lean forward from the bench to let an agency know, in no uncertain terms, that enough is enough.” Public Citizen Health Research Group v. Chao, 314 F.3d 143, 158 (3d Cir. 2002) (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted). For the Commission’s stalled efforts to promote diversity in the broadcast industry, that time has come. We conclude that the FCC has unreasonably delayed action on its definition of an “eligible entity”—a term it has attempted to use as a lynchpin for initiatives to promote minority and female broadcast ownership—and we remand with an order for it to act promptly.

Equally troubling is that nearly a decade has passed since the Commission last completed a review of its broadcast ownership rules. These rules lay the groundwork for how the broadcast industry operates and have major implications for television, radio, and newspaper organizations. Although federal law commands the Commission to conduct a review of its rules every four years, the 2006 cycle is the last one it has finished; the 2010 and 2014 reviews remain open. Several broadcast owners have petitioned us to wipe all the rules off the books in response to this delay—creating, in effect, complete deregulation in the industry. This is the administrative law equivalent of burning down the house to roast the pig, and we decline to order it. However, we note that this remedy, while extreme, might be justified in the future if the Commission does not act quickly to carry out its legislative mandate.

Whereas the first two issues before us involve agency delay, the third is a challenge to agency action. The Commission regulates the number of television stations a company can own. In 2014, it determined that parties were evading its ownership limits through the influence exerted by advertising contracts known as joint sales agreements. As a result, it created a rule designed to address this perceived problem. However, we conclude that the Commission improperly enacted the rule; hence we vacate it and remand the matter to the Commission.

Ambro was joined by Fuentes; Scirica dissented in part because he would have gone further and ordered the FCC to issue its 2010 quadrennial review within 6 months. Arguing counsel were David Gossett for the FCC, and Helgi Walker of Gibson Dunn, Patrick Philbin of Kirkland & Ellis, and Georgetown Law professor Angela Campbell for various petitioners/intervenors.

 

United States v. Nerius — criminal sentencing — affirmance — Shwartz

Jean Nerius was convicted of two crimes. He was classified as a career offender at sentencing, resulting in a sentencing guidelines range of 37 to 46 months. Although his pre-sentencing prison-discipline record was bad, the judge sentenced him at the bottom of that range, 37 months. But the career-offender designation was error, so Nerius was resentenced. This time his guideline range was 30 to 37 months. And since his original sentencing his disciplinary record had been spotless. But this time the sentencing judge sentenced him to 36 months, near to top end of the guideline range and just one month less he’d gotten than when he was deemed a career offender.

On appeal, Nerius argued that his new sentence was presumptively vindictive — that the sentencing judge should be presumed to have punished him for winning his first appeal by going from a bottom-of-the-old-range sentence to an-almost-top-of-the-new-range sentence, when the only thing that had apparently changed since the first sentencing (besides the fact that he was no longer deemed a career offender) was that he’d been a model prisoner for the past two years.

Today, the Third Circuit rejected Nerius’s argument and affirmed his sentence. The panel said that no presumption of vindictiveness applies because the new sentence was shorter than the old one, period. The fact that the sentence went from the bottom of the guideline range to near the top, with no intervening bad acts, did not trigger the presumption.

If you believe that sentencing judges put much stock in guidelines ranges and career-offender designations, you’re more likely to think this ruling is unjust. If you don’t, well, you probably don’t. In that vein, it’s interesting that the panel consisted of two former district judges and one former magistrate judge.

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

New opinion — Third Circuit reverses on civil-procedure error

In re: Asbestos Prods. Liability — civil — reversal — Hardiman

A railroad worker was exposed to asbestos used for insulation on railcars. He contracted asbestosis and mesothelioma and sued the railcar manufacturers under state law. The defendants argued that the state-law claims were pre-empted, and the district court agreed and dismissed the suit. Today the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the district erred procedurally by dismissing based on facts that were not pled in the complaint. The court acknowledged that the district court could treat the motion as one for summary judgment instead of dismissal, but held that summary judgment was not appropriate here either because the defendants did not provide evidentiary support for the district court’s factual finding, or, at a minimum, there was a factual dispute and the court had to draw inferences in the non-movant’s favor.

Joining Hardiman were Ambro and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were John Roven of Houston for the appellant (joined on the brief by Howard Bashman ) and Holli Pryer-Baze of Akin Gump and Joseph Richotte for the appellees.

New opinion — ‘interesting tax-accounting appeal’ is not an oxymoron, apparently

Giant Eagle v. Commissioner — tax — reversal — Roth

A supermarket offered its customers a discount on gas purchases: for every $50 spent on groceries, they got 10 cents off a future gas purchase. Naturally, at the end of the tax year, there were customers who had earned a gas discount but had not yet redeemed it. In its taxes, the supermarket claimed those earned-but-not-yet-redeemed discounts as deductions, reducing the total amount outstanding by past redemption rates. The IRS and the tax court disallowed the deductions, but today a divided Third Circuit reversed, ruling in the supermarket’s favor.

Joining Roth was Fisher; Hardiman dissented. Both opinions are excellent. Arguing counsel were Robert Barnes of Marcus & Shapira for the supermarket and Julie Avetta (who had quite a wedding announcement) for the government.

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.

New opinions — a rare criminal reversal and a bankruptcy reversal

US v. Lopez — criminal — reversal — Vanaskie

Criminal defendants don’t win too many Third Circuit appeals, especially by published opinion and most especially under plain-error review. But it happened today. The court vacated Victor Lopez’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, holding that the prosecution violated Doyle v. Ohio by impeaching Lopez with his post-Miranda silence and ordering a new trial despite trial counsel’s failure to object to the error. The court ruled that the error affected the outcome because the error impacted Lopez’s credibility and the case hinged on credibility.

In a footnote, the court lamented that the Doyle error was “particularly egregious” because such errors “unfortunately resurface[] too often, threatening to undermine the integrity of proceedings in our courts.” After reiterating that it remained troubled by the recurring violations, the court “commend[ed] Assistant United States Attorney Steven G. Sanders for his forthright acknowledgment of the Doyle error during oral argument,” noting, “He was a model of professionalism in apologizing for the error at trial and vowing to take steps to avoid having this type of error recur.” Audio of the oral argument is here.

For criminal defense counsel, three prejudice points bear noting:

  1. The whole record matters. In finding that the error affected the outcome, the court didn’t just look at the testimony, it also looked at how the prosecutor argued that testimony at closing and at the questions jurors asked during deliberations.
  2. The fact that the credibility contest was between a defendant and police officers did not prevent the court from finding a reasonable probability that the error affected the outcome. Nor did the fact that the dispute was over whether the cops framed the defendant. In other words, the court recognized a reasonable probability that, without the improper impeachment, the jury would have believed that the defendant was telling the truth that the cops framed him, and that two police officers were lying when they said they found the gun on him.
  3. The court rejected the government’s argument that the Doyle error did not make a difference because the jury also had valid reasons to disbelieve the defendant (he had prior felony convictions and gave a false name when arrested).

Joining Vanaskie were McKee and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Steven Sanders for the government and my former colleague Maria Pulzetti of the EDPA Federal Community Defender for Lopez.

 

In re: World Imports — bankruptcy — reversal — Jordan

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court ruling in a bankruptcy case, holding that contractual modifications to a creditor’s maritime liens were enforceable on goods in the creditor’s possession.

Joining Jordan were McKee and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Brendan Collins for the creditor and David Braverman for the debtor.

New opinion — Third Circuit decides a major preemption case

Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive — civil — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit today held that federal aviation-safety law does not preempt state-law products-liability claims, reversing on interlocutory review a district court grant of summary judgment. The appeal arose from a fatal Cessna plane crash in 2005; the pilot’s wife alleged that the crash was caused by faulty design of the plane’s carburetor.

The opinion features a thorough and thoughtful discussion of preemption, “a necessary but precarious component of our system of federalism.” (On this point the opinion cites a 1995 Kennedy concurrence, notable because Krause clerked for Kennedy in 1994-95.) The court rejected an expansive interpretation of prior landmark preemption case, Abdullah v. American Airlines, 181 F.3d 363 (3d Cir. 1999), holding that Abdullah does not govern products-liability claims. It then proceeded to a close analysis and Congressional intent and relevant precedent.

Joining Krause were Chagares and Van Antwerpen. The high-powered arguing counsel were Teijinder Singh of Goldstein & Russell for the appellant and Kannon Shanmugam of Williams & Connolly for the appellees.

 

New opinion — partial reversal in an arbitration appeal

Hamilton Park v. 1199 SEIU — civil / arbitration — partial reversal — Ambro

The Third Circuit today affirmed in part and reversed in part in an appeal arising from an arbitration. The opening of the opinion aptly lays out the basics:

Hamilton Park Health Care Center filed a petition to vacate an arbitration award in a dispute with the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union. The District Court denied the petition and confirmed the award. On appeal, Hamilton Park asserts that the Court erred by approving a multi-year arbitration award when the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) only contemplated a single-year award. Because the parties consented at arbitration to a multi-year award, we affirm this portion of the Court’s order.

Hamilton Park also argues that, even if a multi-year award is permissible, the Court should have severed a provision authorizing a new round of arbitration at a later date. We agree; thus we reverse and remand as to this portion of the order.

The conclusion clarifies the basis for reversal:

Our deference to an arbitrator’s award does not include the rubber stamping of a self-perpetuating arbitration provision that the parties did not agree to include. We therefore reverse the portion of the District Court’s order approving the inclusion of a new arbitration provision for disputes arising for the year starting June 30, 2015. We remand the case with instructions for the Court to void only the portion of the award providing for that arbitration. We affirm the Court’s order in all other respects.

(Citation and footnote omitted).

Joining Ambro were Jordan and Scirica. The case was decided without oral argument.

Today’s opinion was the court’s first published opinion since March 11.

New opinion — a petitioner win in an immigration appeal [updated]

Orozco-Velasquez v. Attorney General — immigration — remand — Roth

The Third Circuit issued a late-in the day opinion granting an immigration petition for review and remanding with instructions for the immigration court to consider the petitioner’s application for cancellation of removal. The appeal turned on interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s “stop-time” rule, and the court expressly disagreed with other circuits’ interpretation of the rule.

Joining Roth were McKee and Ambro. Arguing counsel were Amanda Johnson of Dechert for appointed amicus petitioner (the petitioner was pro se) and Robert Tennyson Jr. for the government. The opinion expressed appreciation to Stuart Steinberg and former Van Antwerpen clerk Ryan Moore of Dechert for undertaking the amicus curiae assignment pro bono, and noted that law student Johnson argued “adeptly.” It was issued a year and a week after the oral argument.

UPDATE: Amanda Johnson argued the case as third-year law student participating in Penn Law’s federal appellate litigation externship, supervised by Professor Louis Rulli as well as counsel at Dechert. Here is a Penn Law news release with background on the case.

New opinions — an extraordinary debt case and a jurisdictional dismissal

Goldenstein v. Repossessors Inc — civil — partial reversal — Krause

Oh, what a story. (The facts are taken from the opinion.)

A guy borrowed $1000 from a lender, offering his car as collateral. The interest rate on this loan was 250 percent. The lender wired the money into the guy’s account, and then the lender started withdrawing $208 each month. After two months the guy took the money out of the account because he didn’t realize it was the lender making those withdrawals. The next month, when the lender couldn’t withdraw the third payment, it promptly contracted to repossess the guy’s car. Then — the lender having already collected $415 in monthly installments and $50 as a transfer fee — the repossessor told the guy that to get his car back — this is just a few months after the guy took out the $1000 loan — he had to sign a release, pay a $250 repossession fee, and pay $2143 to satisfy the loan.

Which he did. Then he sued, under RICO, the FDCPA, and state law. Eye poppingly, the district court granted summary judgment, on all claims, against the guy.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed as to one claim — upholding denial of the FDCPA claim because the defendants had a right to possess the car even if the underlying loan was illegally usurious — but reversed on everything else. The court emphatically rejected the district court’s view that RICO’s prohibition against collecting unlawful debt did not apply to seizing collateral. And the court reversed the summary judgment on the state law claims after offering this withering observation:

The District Court granted summary judgment against Goldenstein on his PFCEUA and UCC claims without addressing the substance of the PFCEUA claim, without even mentioning the UCC claim, and despite the fact that Appellees did not argue those claims in their motion for summary judgment.

Kapow.

Joining Krause were Greenaway and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Robert Salvin for the guy and Neal Thakkar for the appellees.

S.B. v. KIndercare Learning — civil — jurisdictional dismissal — Sloviter

After a child was allegedly injured at a daycare center, her mother sued in state court. The daycare removed the case to federal court. The plaintiffs retained a new lawyer, who sought to voluntarily dismiss without prejudice because the child (age 4) was too young to explain her injury. The district court granted dismissal but ordered the plaintiffs to pay the daycare’s attorney fees and refile within 4 years (extendable for good cause). The plaintiffs appealed. and today the Third Circuit held that the voluntary dismissal without prejudice here was not an appealable final order. The court left open the possibility that a litigant could appeal the attorney fees once their amount had been set, and that a litigant could appeal the conditions in an appeal from a later dismissal with prejudice for failing to comply.

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

 

 

Two new opinions, with a rare Third Circuit benchslap

Mammaro v. NJ Division of Child Protection — civil rights — reversal — Ambro

New Jersey child services took away a mother’s one-and-a-half-year-old child for “a few days” because the mother twice tested positive for marijuana and moved out of approved housing. After the mother got her infant back, she filed a civil rights suit against child services and the caseworkers involved. The district court dismissed the suit against child services but refused to dismiss a substantive due process claim against the caseworkers. The caseworkers appealed, and today the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the caseworkers were protected by qualified immunity. The court assumed a consensus of persuasive authority that temporary removal of a child could violate due process, but found no consensus that removing the infant was an “unconstitutional interference with the parent-child relationship” because no prior case so held.

Practitioners should take special note of a footnote in the opinion, inserted apparently at Chief Judge McKee’s request:

A hair follicle test [of the mother] in November 2011 showed a very small amount of marijuana and cocaine, but the amount found was too low to meet the standard for a positive test.

Although Chief Judge McKee joins this opinion in its entirety, he notes his concern with the misleading nature of the Division’s brief on this point. The brief stated that Mammaro “submitted to a hair follicle drug test, which was positive for cocaine and marijuana.” However, at oral argument, after counsel for Mammaro represented that she never tested positive for cocaine, the Division’s counsel (who was involved in drafting the brief) was given an opportunity to clarify whether the hair follicle test for cocaine was positive, as represented in the brief, or negative. Counsel first responded that the result was “inconclusive,” but then
conceded that Mammaro’s hair follicle analysis was “negative” for cocaine.

* * * given the thresholds employed by the lab and the Division’s own guidelines, Mammaro’s test results were negative.

Chief Judge McKee believes that it is (at best) unfortunate and (at most) disingenuous and intentionally misleading for the Division to have stated, without qualification or explanation, that Mammaro was using cocaine. The failure to explain or qualify such an assertion is particularly egregious here where the focus of our inquiry is the reasonableness of the challenged interference with Mammaro’s custody of her child, and the alleged bad faith of the Division. Moreover, the misstatement in the brief should not be minimized merely because the removal of Mammaro’s child preceded the disputed cocaine analysis. By its own statement, the Division provided the misleading lab results for “background information.” Since the information was, by the Division’s own admission, irrelevant to its decision to interfere with
Mammaro’s parental rights, Chief Judge McKee is concerned that it may have been offered in an attempt to “poison the [analytical] well.”

Not how any appellate attorney wants to be remembered in a published circuit opinion.

Joining Ambro were McKee and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Michael Walters of the state attorney general for the child services defendants and Kenneth Rosellini for the mother.

Cunningham v. M&T Bank — civil — affirmance — Ambro

The Third Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling that a class-action lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations and not subject to equitable tolling based on any fraudulent concealment.

Joining Ambro were McKee and Scirica. The case was decided without argument.

New opinion — illegal to fire employee who complained about executive’s giant salary

MCPc v. NLRB — labor — vacate in part and remand — Krause

A company employee named Galanter was having lunch with a few co-workers, and they discussed how shorthanded and busy they were. Galanter commented that the company could have hired several workers with the $400,000 a year it was paying a new executive. Galanter was canned 8 days later; the company alleged that Galanter lied when confronted about the disclosure. NLRB counsel issued a complaint alleging that the company illegally fired Galanter for complaining about working conditions. The NLRB ruled for the employee and the company appealed.

Today, the Third Circuit reversed in part. It ruled that the employee’s lunchtime disclosure was protected activity as concerted conduct, but remanded for reconsideration of whether that protected activity was the reason for the firing. The opinion is a tour de force.

Joining Krause were Fuentes and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Dean Falavolito of Margolis Edelstein for the employer and Gregory Lauro for the NLRB.

New opinions — qui tam and Sarbanes-Oxley

United States ex rel. Moore & Co. v. Majestic Blue Fisheries — qui tam — reversal — Rendell

The False Claims Act enables someone to sue someone else for defrauding the government — FCA suits are commonly called qui tam suits. (For example, there’s a big qui tam suit against disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong related to his doping while sponsored by the US Postal Service.) This case involves a law firm that brought a qui tam suit alleging that foreign nationals fraudulently obtained fishing licenses reserved for citizens. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, but today the Third Circuit reversed. The main issue was whether the law firm’s suit survived the FCA’s public disclosure bar, and the court held that it did because it alleged information that was independent of and materially added to publicly disclosed information about the alleged fraud.

Joining Rendell were Vanaskie and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Clay Naughton for the law firm and Robert Salcido of Akin Gump for the appellees.

 

Wiest v. Tyco Electronics Corp. — civil — affirmance — Greenberg

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s ruling granting summary judgment against a former employee in an action for retaliation brought under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Joining Greenberg were Fuentes and Chagares. The case was decided without oral argument.

Third Circuit revives employment-discrimination suit

Connelly v. Lane Construction — employment discrimination — vacate & remand — Jordan

Sandra Connelly was a truck driver. According the suit she later filed, her male co-workers harrassed her, and her complaints about this harassment strained her work relationships. When the company then laid off drivers, she alleged, she was let go before less-senior male drivers, and when the company recalled laid-off drivers, the company brought back less-senior men but not her. She sued under title VII and state law, but the district court dismissed based its conclusion that she failed to plead a sufficiently plausible gender-discrimination claim. Today, the Third Circuit vacated that dismissal, holding that Connelly’s claims were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. The court reiterating that a complaint need not establish a prima facie case in order to survive dismissal, and that the test is whether the complaint is plausible on its face, a test that can be met “even if one believed it ‘unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits.'”

Joining Jordan were Fisher and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Emily Town (formerly of Stember Cohn but now a WDPA clerk) for the employee, Samantha Clancy (formerly of Ogletree Deakins but now corporate counsel) for the appellant, and Christine Back for the EEOC as amicus appellant. (Neither Town nor Clancy are on their firms’ websites.)

New opinions — another blow against class arbitration, and a plain-error sentencing reversal

Chesapeake Appalachia v. Scout Petroleum — arbitration — affirmance– Cowen

Last year in Opalinski the Third Circuit held that the availability of class arbitration is an issue for courts to decide unless the parties’ arbitration agreement provides otherwise “clearly and unmistakeably.” Today, the court held that the parties’ arbitration agreement here, which incorporated rules promulgated by the American Arbitration Assoc., did not delegate the class arbitrability decision to the arbitrators with the requisite clarity, and therefore it affirmed the district court’s order vacating the arbitrator’s decision.

Joining Cowen were Shwartz and Krause. Arguing counsel were Robert Pratter of Cohen Placitella for the appellants and Daniel Donovan of Kirkland & Ellis for the appellee.

US v. Moreno — criminal sentencing — reversal in part — Fisher

Applying plain-error review, the Third Circuit today vacated a criminal defendant’s sentence because the defendant’s right of allocution was violated when the court permitted the prosecutor to vigorously cross-examine the defendant during his allocution. The court held that the error was plain even though “no previous cases have explicitly proscribed cross-examination during allocution,” because cross-examination was clearly contrary to the purpose of allocution. Interestingly, the opinion went on to say that, even if the error here were not plain, the court would still exercise its supervisory power to hold that defendants may not be cross-examined during allocution. The court also affirmed the defendant’s conviction (concluding it was clear a Confrontation Clause violated occurred when a witness read into the record law enforcement reports, but that the error was harmless) and rejected a challenge to imposition of a sentencing enhancement.

Joining Fisher were Chagares and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Brett Sweitzer of the federal defender for Moreno and Jane Datillo for the government.