Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Hundreds of plaintiffs sued the drug manufacturer Merck, alleging that the osteoporosis drug Fosamax caused them to suffer serious thigh bone fractures. Each brought a state-law tort claim alleging that Merck failed to add an adequate warning of the risk to Fosamax’s FDA-approved drug label. Many also brought claims including defective design, negligence, and breach of warranty. Plaintiffs’ suits were consolidated in multi-district litigation in the District of New Jersey. Following discovery and a bellwether trial, the court granted Merck summary judgment, based on the Supreme Court’s holding in Wyeth v. Levine, that state-law failure-to-warn claims are preempted when there is “clear evidence” that the FDA would not have approved the warning that plaintiffs claim was necessary. The Third Circuit vacated. Preemption is an affirmative defense; Merck did not carry its burden to prove that it is entitled to that defense. The Wyeth “clear evidence” standard is demanding and fact-sensitive. It requires a court sitting in summary judgment to anticipate the range of conclusions that a reasonable juror might reach and the certainty with which the juror would reach them. Here, plaintiffs produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that the FDA would have approved a properly-worded warning about the risk of thigh fractures—or to conclude that the odds of FDA rejection were less than highly probable. View "In Re: Fosamax Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Delaware State University hired Dr. Grevious as an associate professor and as a department chairperson in August 2010, with a contract to end in June 2011. Grevious complained that her supervising administrators were impeding her work on reaccreditation based on her gender. In 2011, the University gave Grevious a renewable contract as an associate professor for the 2011- 2012 academic year. Grevious was unable to meet the reaccreditation deadline. The University terminated her term as chairperson. Grevious filed an EEOC charge of discrimination; the investigation was closed for lack of corroborating evidence. The University revoked Grevious’s renewable contract and issued her a terminal contract ending her employment effective May 2012. Grevious claims that the Provost admitted that this was based on the EEOC charge, unrelated to her teaching or professional performance. She filed a second EEOC charge. The Provost denied making such admissions, stating that the decision was based on Grevious’s documented interpersonal conflicts at the University. Grevious sued, alleging retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3, and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court rejected her claims on summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to her contract revision claim, but otherwise affirmed, holding that at the prima facie stage, a plaintiff need only proffer evidence sufficient to raise the inference that her engagement in a protected activity was the likely reason for the adverse employment action, not the but-for reason. View "Carvalho-Grevious v. Delaware State University" on Justia Law

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In August 2012, Aliments, a Canadian snack purveyor, contacted its American broker, Sterling, to purchase thousands of pounds of raw pistachios. Sterling contacted Pacific, another broker, which called Nichols, a California pistachio grower, who agreed to the proposed quantity and price. In September, Sterling contacted Pacific with another order from Aliments. Pacific contracted with Nichols again. Sterling sent sales confirmations to Aliments and Pacific. Pacific did not forward the Sterling sales confirmations to Nichols but issued its own confirmations to Nichols and Sterling. Neither Aliments nor Nichols was aware that two confirmations existed, with the same terms, including a 30-day credit term. However, while Sterling’s confirmations contained arbitration clauses, not all of the confirmations generated by Pacific contained arbitration clauses. Aliments believed that the Sterling confirmations, though unsigned by either party, represented binding contracts to purchase pistachios from Nichols, with payment due 30 days from delivery, “as usual.” Nichols thought that the 30-day term was but a placeholder. The parties were unable to agree to payment terms. Despite being notified of an arbitration, Nichols did not attend. Aliments was awarded $222,100 in damages. Nichols refused to pay. The district court denied Aliments’ petition to enforce the award and granted Nichols’s cross-petition to vacate because no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the parties failed to enter into “an express unequivocal agreement” to arbitrate. The Third Circuit vacated, finding multiple issues of fact. View "Aliments Krispy Kernels Inc v. Nichols Farms" on Justia Law

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Egan worked for the Port Authority, 2008-2012, primarily managing fleet vehicles. During his first two years, only a small percentage of his work involved “economic development.” He did not perform any economic development work after 2010. Egan suffers from migraine headaches and claimed that their frequency increased with his transfer to the Engineering Department. He applied for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave in April 2012. The Port Authority approved intermittent FMLA leave. An issue arose in July because Egan had been reporting only the “approximate” number of hours he worked. In October, Egan was informed that all “economic development functions” were being eliminated, his “temporary reassignment” to the Engineering Department was “deemed completed,” and he was terminated. Egan alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, and retaliation for exercising his FMLA rights, 29 U.S.C. 2601. A jury rejected his claims. The Third Circuit vacated as to the FMLA claim; the district court erred in refusing to give a mixed-motive jury instruction. A Department of Labor regulation permits a plaintiff to rely on a mixed-motive theory if the evidence, direct or circumstantial, permits a reasonable juror to conclude that use of FMLA leave was a negative factor in the employer’s adverse employment decision. View "Egan v. Delaware River Port Authority" on Justia Law

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While investigating Doe concerning online child pornography, agents executed a warrant and seized iPhones and a computer with attached hard drives, all protected with encryption software. Forensic analysts discovered the password for the computer and found an image of a pubescent girl in a sexually provocative position, logs showing that it had been used to visit sites with titles common in child exploitation, and that Doe had downloaded thousands of known child pornography files, which were stored on the encrypted external drives and could not be accessed. Doe's sister related that Doe had shown her hundreds of child pornography images on those drives. A magistrate, acting under the All Writs Act, ordered Doe to produce his devices and drives in an unencrypted state. Doe did not appeal the order but unsuccessfully moved to quash, arguing that his decrypting the devices would violate his Fifth Amendment privilege. The magistrate held that, because the government possessed Doe’s devices and knew the contents included child pornography, the decryption would not be testimonial. Doe did not appeal. Doe produced the unencrypted iPhone, which contained adult pornography, a video of Doe’s four-year-old niece wearing only underwear, and approximately 20 photographs focused on the genitals of Doe’s six-year-old niece. Doe stated that he could not remember the hard drive passwords and entered incorrect passwords during the examination. The court held Doe in civil contempt and ordered his incarceration. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that Doe bore the burden of proving that he could not produce the passwords and had waived his Fifth Amendment arguments. View "United States v. Apple Macpro Computer" on Justia Law

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Chavez-Alvarez, a citizen of Mexico, became a lawful permanent resident in 1989, then served in the U.S. Army. In 2000, Chavez-Alvarez penetrated the vagina of an intoxicated platoon member with his fingers and performed oral sex without consent. He initially denied the allegations, but later admitted the assault and was convicted under the Code of Military Justice: 10 U.S.C. 907, 925, and 934 for making false official statements; sodomy; and adultery and indecent assault. He was discharged and confined for 18 months. Chavez-Alvarez was charged as removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227, having been convicted of an aggravated felony with a term of imprisonment of at least one year and of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude not arising out of a single scheme. An IJ determined he was ineligible for a waiver of inadmissibility. Following a remand, the BIA concluded that Chavez-Alvarez was removable under the moral-turpitude provision, rejecting his argument that he was only convicted of sodomy, a constitutionally protected activity under Supreme Court precedent. The BIA disagreed, reasoning that Chavez-Alvarez’s crime was subject to a sentence enhancement, having been committed forcibly, which was the “functional equivalent” of a conviction for forcible sodomy, a crime involving moral turpitude, and that his two false-statements convictions were separate crimes of moral turpitude. The Third Circuit reversed, rejecting the BIA’s reasoning that “for immigration purposes a sentence enhancement can serve as the functional equivalent of an ‘element’ of an offense.” View "Chavez-Alvarez v. Attorney General , United States" on Justia Law

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Edinboro, a Pennsylvania public university, collaborated with Edinboro University Foundation, a nonprofit entity, to construct new dormitories. In 2008, the Foundation amended its Articles of Incorporation to authorize borrowing funds “to acquire, lease, construct, develop and/or manage real or personal property.” The University leased property to the Foundation in a favorable location; the Foundation issued bonds to raise the funds and completed construction. Since 1989, the University required non-commuting first-year and transfer students to reside on-campus for two consecutive semesters. Two and one-half years after the first phase of the new dormitories opened, the University amended its policy to require certain students to reside on-campus for four consecutive semesters. Businesses that provide off-campus housing sued, asserting that the University and the Foundation conspired to monopolize the student housing market in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2. Plaintiffs did not sue the University, conceding that it is an arm of the state subject to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. The University’s actions are not categorically “sovereign” for purposes of “Parker” immunity, so the court employed heightened scrutiny, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Hallie v. City of Eau Claire, (1985), which requires anticompetitive conduct to conform to a clearly articulated state policy. The University’s conduct withstands Hallie scrutiny. The Foundation’s actions were directed by the University, so the Foundation is also immune. View "Edinboro College Park Apartments v. Edinboro University Foundation" on Justia Law

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Fried bought a home in 2007 for $553,330; an appraisal estimated the home’s value at $570,000. Fried borrowed $497,950 at a fixed interest rate. Because the loan-to-purchase-price ratio was more than 80%, Chase, the servicer for Fried’s mortgage required her to obtain private mortgage insurance. Fried had to pay monthly premiums for that insurance until the ratio reached 78%; projected to happen around March 2016. After the housing market crashed in 2008, Fried had trouble making mortgage payments. Chase modified Fried’s mortgage under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, by reducing the principal balance to $463,737. By reassessing the value of Fried’s home at the time of the modification, Chase extended Fried’s mortgage insurance premiums to 2026. The district court declined to dismiss Fried’s purported class action under the Homeowners Protection Act, 12 U.S.C. 4901. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the Act does not 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; the Act requires that the ending of that obligation remain tied to the initial purchase price of the home. View "Fried v. JP Morgan Chase & Co" on Justia Law

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Doe, a second-year student, joined the residency program at Mercy, a private teaching hospital in Philadelphia. Doe alleged the director of that program, Roe, sexually harassed her and retaliated against her for complaining about his behavior. Doe claims that Mercy’s human resources department repeatedly referred Doe to a psychiatrist and eventually told Doe that to remain in the program, she would have to agree to a corrective plan, while Roe’s conduct escalated. Doe received a termination letter. She and Roe appeared before an appeals committee, which upheld Doe’s dismissal. She declined another appeal and quit the program. No other residency program has accepted her, precluding her full licensure. Doe sued two years later, alleging retaliation, quid pro quo, and hostile environment under Title IX of the Education Amendments, 20 U.S.C. 1681. She never filed a charge with the EEOC under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court dismissed, holding that Title IX does not apply because Mercy is not an “education program or activity” and that Doe could not use Title IX to “circumvent” Title VII’s administrative requirements. The court also found Doe’s hostile environment claim untimely. The Third Circuit reversed in part, reinstating Doe’s Title IX retaliation and quid pro quo claims. Mercy’s program is subject to Title IX. Her hostile environment claim is time-barred. View "Doe v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center" on Justia Law
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Pearson, a Pennsylvania prisoner, was hospitalized twice in April 2007: first for surgery to remove his appendix and later for surgery to repair a urethral tear caused by insertion of a catheter during the first surgery. Pearson claims that he was in intense pain for several hours before each hospitalization and that medical staff were dismissive of his complaints. In 2009, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that prison officials and an independent medical contractor were deliberately indifferent to those needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. After remands, the district court granted defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to one defendant, a nurse, but otherwise affirmed. Rhodes claimed that the nurse refused to examine him and forced him to crawl to a wheelchair, claims that do not require extrinsic proof or expert testimony. Pearson did not present sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the other defendants were deliberately indifferent. View "Pearson v. Prison Health Service" on Justia Law