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

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Heffernan joined the Paterson Police Department in 1985 and became a detective. In 2006, Heffernan’s friend, Spagnola, a former Paterson police chief, sought to unseat the incumbent mayor. Heffernan was unable to vote in the city, did not work on the campaign, and did not consider himself “politically involved.” At the request of his bedridden mother, Heffernan picked up a Spagnola campaign sign, to replace one that had been stolen from her lawn. A member of the Mayor’s security staff observed Heffernan with Spagnola's campaign manager. The next day, Heffernan was demoted to a “walking post” because of his “overt[] involvement in a political election.” Heffernan sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. His free-association claim resulted in a jury verdict of $105,000. The judge retroactively recused himself and vacated the verdict. A new judge granted the defendants summary judgment; on remand, another judge concluded that Heffernan did not establish that he actually exercised his First Amendment rights. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. In remanding for trial, the Third Circuit stated that, if, when Heffernan was disciplined, the city had in effect (written or unwritten) a neutral policy prohibiting officers assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police from overt involvement in political campaigns, such a policy meets constitutional standards. The district court must then determine whether Heffernan was aware or reasonably should have been aware of such a policy and whether he was disciplined for what reasonably appeared to be a violation. View "Heffernan v. City of Paterson" on Justia Law

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Under the Facebook account name “Billy Button,” Browne began exchanging messages with 18-year-old Nicole. They met in person and exchanged sexually explicit photographs of themselves through Facebook chats. Browne threatened to publish the photos online unless Nicole engaged in oral sex and promised to delete the photos only if she provided him the password to her Facebook account. Using that account, Browne made contact with four minors and solicited explicit photos. Once he had their photos, he repeated the pattern, threatening to publish their images unless they engaged sexual acts. Alerted by the Virgin Islands Police Department, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents investigated, arrested Browne, executed a search warrant on his residence, and seized a cell phone from which text messages and photos of the minors were recovered. Browne admitted ownership of the phone and Facebook account. Facebook provided five sets of chats and a certificate of authenticity executed by its records custodian, which were admitted at trial. The Third Circuit affirmed his convictions for child pornography and sexual offenses with minors. While rejecting the government’s assertion that, under Rule 902(11), the contents of the communications were “self-authenticating” as business records accompanied by a certificate from the records custodian, the court found that the record reflected sufficient extrinsic evidence to link Browne to the chats and satisfy the prosecution’s authentication burden under a conventional Rule 901 analysis. View "United States v. Browne" on Justia Law

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Leonard takes photographs of stem cells using electron microscopes. Only a few photographers engage in this highly technical type of photography. The images first appear in black and white, and Leonard uses his “artistic judgment” to enhance the photos in color. Leonard created the images at issue in the 1990s but did not register them with the Copyright Office until 2007, when he planned to file suit. Stemtech “formulates” and sells nutritional supplement products through thousands of distributors. In 2006, Stemtech contacted Leonard about using Image for its internal magazine and its website. Stemtech declined to license the image for website use because the price was too high but used the image twice in its magazine. Leonard billed Stemtech $950 but was only paid $500. Stemtech then used the images without a license in its other promotional materials, including websites, In 2007, Leonard discovered his images on numerous Stemtech-affiliated websites. He took screenshots of and archived the webpages and retained copies of emails he sent to the contacts on various sites. When Stemtech refused Leonard’s requests, Leonard filed suit for copyright infringement. A jury returned a $1.6 million verdict in Leonard’s favor. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to various rulings, but vacated the district court’s denial of Leonard’s request for pre-judgment interest. View "Leonard v. Stemtech Int'l, Inc" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People submitted an ad for display at the Philadelphia International Airport, offering to pay the prevailing market rate for the ad, which read: “Welcome to America, home to 5% of the world’s people & 25% of the world’s prisoners. Let’s build a better America together. NAACP.org/smartandsafe.” The City of Philadelphia rejected the ad, based on informal practice, While the NAACP’s lawsuit was pending, the city, which owns the airport, adopted the formal policy, preventing private advertisers from displaying noncommercial content at the Airport. Paid advertisements are allowed. The city argued that the policy helps it further its goals of maximizing revenue and avoiding controversy. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment, finding the ban unconstitutional. The court noted that the city acknowledged “substantial flaws” in the city’s justifications. The ban is unreasonable, violates the First Amendment and cannot be enforced as written. View "Nat'l Ass'n for the Advancement of Colored People v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Watson claims that during a 2011 cell search Officer Kline pulled the antenna of Watson’s radio so that it broke off. Kline claims the antenna was already broken and secured with tape. Kline explained that a broken radio was considered contraband that had to be confiscated. Watson accompanied Kline to fill out the confiscation paperwork. Watson asked Kline to prepare an incident report documenting that Kline broke the antenna. Kline refused. Watson then unsuccessfully requested a grievance form. Later that day Watson was summoned to the security office where he was reprimanded for giving officers a “hard time” and was told that he would receive a misconduct. Watson then obtained a form from another prison and filed his grievance against Kline. Watson was ultimately found guilty of misconduct. The penalty was confiscation of Watson’s radio. The Department of Corrections’ Program Review Committee denied an appeal. The district dismissed Watson’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, reasoning that prison officials would have issued the misconduct regardless of Watson’s protected activity. The Third Circuit affirmed in part, but remanded the retaliation claims. Not every violation of prison protocols supported by some evidence will bar a First Amendment retaliation claim, particularly relatively minor offenses, such as a radio antenna secured by tape. View "Watson v. Rozum" on Justia Law

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Carter headed a Pennsylvania drug ring, which he operated from Detroit, sending Cook and Macon to Pennsylvania to oversee the business. Cook was responsible for transporting drugs and readying them for sale. Macon’s responsibility was to keep detailed financial records and pay expenses, including the salaries of “employees.” Carter tasked Earheart with finding a house where Macon could live and run the drug operation. Earheart found the secluded Stoney Run house in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, which did not require a lease or a name on a utility bill. Carter inspected the property and ordered Macon to give Earheart the money for the security deposit and rent. Stoney Run became a base of operations. Carter’s organization maintained a second house; Cook lived at Bedford Street, and processed heroin there for delivery to Stoney Run for distribution, paying rent with funds from Macon, directly authorized by Carter. Following an investigation, which included searches of the premises and recovery of drugs at each location, Carter pleaded guilty under 21 U.S.C. 846. The agreement allowed Carter to challenge application of a two-level sentencing enhancement for maintaining a residence for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance, U.S.S.G. 2D1.1(b)(12). The Third Circuit affirmed Carter’s sentence (180 months), upholding application of the enhancement. View "United States v. Carter" on Justia Law
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After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder. The jury sentenced Defendant to death. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the convictions on appeal, rejecting Defendant’s claims that the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland. The Supreme Court denied Defendant’s application for postconviction relief. Defendant then filed an application under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The district court granted Defendant a conditional writ of habeas corpus and directed the Commonwealth to retry Defendant or release him, concluding that the prosecution had breached its obligations under Brady by withholding three pieces of exculpatory and material information. The Third Circuit initially vacated the district court’s order, but subsequently, acting en banc, affirmed. The suppressed Brady material—a receipt corroborating Dennis’s alibi, an inconsistent statement by the Commonwealth’s key eyewitness, and documents indicating that another individual committed the murder — effectively gutted the Commonwealth’s case against Dennis. The withholding of these pieces of evidence denied Dennis a fair trial in state court. View "Dennis v. Sec'y PA Dept. of Corrs." on Justia Law

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In 2001, Mary Edmond was shot near a North Philadelphia gas station. She died from her injuries. During the investigation, Garcia gave a confession to the police that was self-incriminating, but indicated that Lambert pulled the trigger. When Lambert and Garcia are jointly tried in Pennsylvania state court, Garcia declined to testify, depriving Lambert of the ability to cross-examine him about the confession. The judge redacted the confession in an effort to comply with the Supreme Court holding in Bruton v. United States (1968). When the jury heard Garcia’s confession, Lambert’s name was replaced with terms like “the other guy.” During closing arguments, however, the prosecutor made statements that the defense believed revealed that Lambert was “the other guy.” The judge denied a motion for mistrial, but instructed the jury that the confession could only be used against Garcia and must not be considered as evidence against Lambert. Both were convicted. The Third Circuit reversed and granted habeas relief, based on the Sixth Amendment violation caused by the closing arguments. The error was not harmless. View "Brown v. Greene" on Justia Law

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After a fellow Bucknell University student (Stefanowicz) claimed that Dempsey had sexually assaulted her in his dorm room, the University’s Public Safety Officers (who are police officers) investigated and eventually filed a criminal complaint with an affidavit of probable cause. The charges were later dropped. Dempsey brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Bucknell University, claiming violations of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. In light of the evidence corroborating in substantial part Stefanowicz’s story and the existence of a period of time in which no one disputes the two were alone together in Dempsey’s room, “even taking into account certain facts recklessly omitted from the affidavit of probable cause, a reasonable jury could not find a lack of probable cause.” View "Dempsey v. Bucknell Univ." on Justia Law

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The Goldmans, proceeding before an arbitration panel operating under the auspices of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), alleged that their financial advisor and Citigroup had violated federal securities law in their management of the Goldmans’ brokerage accounts. The district court dismissed their motion to vacate an adverse award for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, stating the Goldmans’ motion failed to raise a substantial federal question. The Third Circuit affirmed. Nothing about the Goldmans’ case is likely to affect the securities markets broadly. That the allegedly-misbehaving arbitration panel happened to be affiliated with a self-regulatory organization does not meaningfully distinguish this case from any other suit alleging arbitrator partiality in a securities dispute. The court noted “the flood of cases that would enter federal courts if the involvement of a self-regulatory organization were itself sufficient to support jurisdiction.” View "Goldman v. Citigroup Global Mkts., Inc" on Justia Law