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

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Before his trial for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 846, Jackson unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence of coconspirators’ cellphone calls intercepted as authorized by court orders. The interceptions, pursuant to Title III of the federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, comprised a significant amount of the trial evidence, though Jackson was a participant in only a few calls. Intercepted calls were placed and received outside Pennsylvania, but concerned, in part, cocaine trafficking in Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania state court had authorized wiretaps sought by state law enforcement officers and information obtained from those wiretaps was used in affidavits when federal wiretap orders were sought. Jackson argued that the state court lacked jurisdiction to permit the underlying wiretaps of cellphones outside of Pennsylvania. The Third Circuit affirmed Jackson’s conviction, upholding the denial of the motion to suppress; admission of a case agent’s testimony interpreting the contents of telephone calls; admission of co-conspirators’ testimony about their convictions and guilty pleas for the same crime; and the prosecutor’s mention of a co-conspirator’s Fifth Amendment right not to testify when she was prompted to identify the evidentiary rule that permitted the admission into evidence of what otherwise would have been inadmissible hearsay. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Brown and others were charged in a 69-count indictment with crimes related to multiple conspiracies to purchase, transport, and distribute cocaine as part of an enterprise organized by Tapia, a Virgin Islands law enforcement officer. Only Brown and Hill proceeded to trial. Although both were connected to the enterprise, there was no allegation that the two conspired with one another. Brown communicated with and helped deliver cocaine to Tapia, while Hill assisted in the subsequent transportation of the purchased cocaine. Before trial, the court observed that, “[w]hile initially there was an overarching conspiracy, there is none now. And nothing that ties the two defendants together … [o]ut of an abundance of caution,” the court decided to impanel two juries. Counsel agreed. His jury convicted Brown for using a communication to facilitate a drug crime, 21 U.S.C. 843(b); (d)(1); 18 U.S.C. 2. He was acquitted on nine other counts. The court calculated the guideline range of imprisonment as 78-97 months. Because the minimum term under the guidelines exceeded the statutory maximum sentence, the court sentenced Brown to 48 months. Brown did not object. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the use of dual juries violated Brown’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights and that the sentencing court should have solicited objections. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law
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Douglas was charged with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 846, and conspiracy to engage in money laundering, 18 U.S.C. 1956(h). While on bail, Douglas booked a flight to Jamaica. The district court did not revoke his bail. Douglas failed to appear for the first day of trial. The next day he submitted documents showing that he had been admitted to the emergency room, with chest pain. Douglas’s EKG revealed possible heart blockage. His blood tests indicated he had an abnormal white blood cell count and an elevated enzyme level that can indicate a heart attack. The court stated that “[t]here’s no solid evidence … that he was suffering from a medical condition.” He was convicted. The PSR recommended that Douglas be held responsible for 450 kilograms of cocaine; a two-level enhancement because Douglas had been convicted of conspiracy to engage in money laundering; a two-level enhancement for abuse of a position of trust; and a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice, resulting in a Guidelines sentence of life imprisonment. The court noted testimony that Douglas smuggled 10-13 kilograms of cocaine, 40-50 times, that Douglas used his airport security clearance, and Douglas’s failure to appear, and imposed a sentence of 240 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit upheld the court’s conclusion regarding drug quantity and its application of the enhancement for abuse of a position of trust, but reversed the enhancement for obstruction of justice. View "United States v. Douglas" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs, inmates in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, were each sentenced to death and housed on the death row of his respective institution. Eventually, their death sentences were vacated, but several years elapsed before they were resentenced to life without parole. In the interim, Plaintiffs spent several years in the solitary confinement of death row. They sought damages, alleging violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process by continuing to subject them to the deprivations of solitary confinement on death row without meaningful review of their placements after their death sentences had been vacated. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There is a constitutionally protected liberty interest that prohibits the state from continuing to house inmates in solitary confinement on death row after they have been granted resentencing hearings, without meaningful review of the continuing placement, however that principle was not previously clearly established, so prison officials are entitled to qualified immunity. The court noted scientific consensus concerning the harms of solitary confinement and recent precedent involving non-death row solitary confinement. View "Williams v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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An informant told a Pennsylvania State Trooper that Steiner, a convicted felon, was staying in a camper on the informant’s property and had a sawed-off shotgun, which Steiner called a “cop killer.” The officer obtained a search warrant and told the informant to drive Steiner to a gas station, where officers would arrest Steiner on a warrant that had issued for Steiner’s failure to appear on an unrelated sexual assault charge. Executing the warrant, police seized a shotgun and ammunition. The informant stated that he had seen missing pieces of the shotgun at Steiner's home; police obtained another warrant for that home, where they found those parts and more ammunition. Steiner was convicted as a felon-in-possession of ammunition, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), and sentenced to an 87-month prison term. The Third Circuit affirmed, upholding admission of the evidence related to the sexual assault warrant and the court’s failure to instruct the jury that it was required to reach a unanimous verdict. Following remand by the Supreme Court, for reconsideration under its 2016 decision, Mathis v. United States, concerning predicate offenses and the “categorical approach,” the Third Circuit affirmed the conviction as unaffected by Mathis, but vacated the sentence. The district court used a 1993 Pennsylvania burglary conviction as a predicate “crime of violence” under the Sentencing Guidelines, which was plain error; Steiner’s Guidelines range should not have been enhanced. View "United States v. Steiner" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs, immigrants, ages 18 to 21, fled war, violence, and persecution in their native countries to come to the U.S., arriving here since 2014. International refugee agencies resettled them in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. None are native English speakers. All fall within a subgroup of English language learners: “students with limited or interrupted formal education.” The School District administers numerous schools, including McCaskey High School, a traditional school that includes an International School program for English Language Learners, and Phoenix Academy, operated by Camelot Schools, a private, for-profit company under contract with the District. Phoenix is an accelerated program. Plaintiffs obtained a preliminary injunction, compelling the District to allow them to attend McCaskey rather than Phoenix, to which they had been assigned. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding likely violations of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. 1703(f), which prohibits denial of equal educational opportunity on account of race, color, sex, or national origin. Plaintiffs showed a reasonable probability that Phoenix’s accelerated, non-sheltered program is not informed by an educational theory recognized as sound by some experts in the field; plaintiffs’ language barriers and resulting lost educational opportunities stem from their national origins. View "Issa v. Lancaster School District" on Justia Law

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Capps was hired in 1989, to operate a mixing machine.Capps suffers with Avascular Necrosis: A “loss of blood flow, severely limiting oxygen and nutrient delivery to the bone and tissues, essentially suffocating and causing death of those cells.” Capps developed arthritis in both hips which necessitated bilateral hip replacement in 2003. He experiences severe pain, sometimes lasting for days or weeks at a time. Capps was continuously recertified for intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601, leave until his employment was terminated in 2014, for violation of a policy concerning dishonesty. Capps purportedly tried to use FMLA leave for DUI court dates. The Third CIrcuit affirmed summary judgment, rejecting Capps’ claims of interference with and retaliation for exercise of his FMLA rights and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101. An employer’s honest belief that its employee was misusing FMLA leave can defeat an FMLA retaliation claim. While, under certain circumstances, a request for intermittent FMLA leave may also constitute a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, in this case, even if such a request was made, there is no evidence that the employer failed to provide any requested accommodation. View "Capps v. Mondelez Global LLC" on Justia Law

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Doe was president and “sole proprietor” of Company A, but a 2008 document purports to memorialize Doe’s sale of all shares to Company B for $10,000. Numerous filings and tax documents suggested that Doe maintained control and ownership of Company A after the transfer. Multiple individuals have sued Doe and his businesses in state courts. Doe and the companies were investigated by a federal grand jury. The government obtained access to Doe’s email. Doe filed an interlocutory appeal to prevent its disclosure. While the appeal was pending, the district court granted permission to present the email to the grand jury, finding that although the email was protected by the work product privilege, the crime-fraud exception applied; in 2016, the grand jury returned an indictment, charging conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. The Third Circuit initially dismissed an interlocutory appeal, but, on rehearing, reversed, concluding that, while the grand jury investigation continues, it retains jurisdiction, and that the crime-fraud exception did not apply. The 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 fraud, not that the client had actually done so. An actual act to further the fraud is required before attorney work product loses its confidentiality. View "In re: Grand Jury Matter #3" on Justia Law

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Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield provides health insurance products and services to approximately 3.7 million members. Two laptop computers, containing sensitive personal information about members, were stolen from Horizon. Four plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of themselves and other Horizon customers whose personal information was stored on those laptops, alleging willful and negligent violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681, and numerous violations of state law. The district court dismissed the suit 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. The Third Circuit vacated. 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. View "In re: Horizon Healthcare Inc. Data Breach Litigation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs used ocean common carriers to transport vehicles between foreign countries and the United States. Direct purchaser plaintiffs made arrangements with and received vehicles directly from the carriers, while indirect purchaser plaintiffs obtained the benefit of the carrier services by ultimately receiving vehicles transported from abroad. In 2012, law enforcement raided the offices of Defendants, ocean common carriers, in connection with antitrust investigations. Several Defendants pleaded pleaded guilty to antitrust violations based on price-fixing, allocating customers, and rigging bids for vehicle carrier services. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that Defendants entered into agreements to fix prices and reduce capacity in violation of federal antitrust laws and state laws. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case. Defendants allegedly engaged in acts prohibited by the Shipping Act of 1984, 46 U.S.C. 40101, which both precludes private plaintiffs from seeking relief under the federal antitrust laws for such conduct and preempts the state law claims under circumstances like those at issue. The Act responds to “the need to foster a regulatory environment in which U.S.-flag liner operators are not placed at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis their foreign-flag competitors.” The Federal Maritime Commission has regulatory authority displacing private suits. View "In re: Vehicle Carrier Services Antitrust Litigations" on Justia Law