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

Articles Posted in U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals

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In 2008 Smith, Norman, White, and Merin were sentenced for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 371. Each was also convicted of one or more substantive counts of bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, and multiple counts of aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A, based on their participation in a conspiracy to defraud banks. On direct appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the convictions, but vacated the sentences and remanded for consideration in light of a holding that account holders who suffer only temporary losses are not victims for purposes of the victim enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(2) and recalculation of a criminal history level. On resentencing, the court reduced the term of imprisonment as to each one, imposed the same special assessment, maintained or lowered the term of supervised release, and confirmed the existing orders of restitution against White, Norman, and Merin, but increased Smith’s order of restitution by $9,000, from $68,452 to $77,452. The Third Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision to allow additional evidence regarding the number of victims, finding that the defendants were not prejudiced, but vacated the order of restitution. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania troopers responded to a domestic disturbance involving someone “under the influence … waving a loaded firearm … dragging his daughter.” The daughter’s friend relayed information the daughter was sending by text message. The dispatcher advised that the father was believed to be White, who previously had resisted arrest. Arriving at the home, the troopers saw two individuals behind a mud room screen door. Guns drawn, the troopers ordered them out. White emerged and walked unsteadily, leading the troopers to conclude he was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. As instructed, White went down on the ground, was handcuffed, and subjected to a pat down search. White did not have any weapon. White’s adult daughter, Samantha, emerged. Given her size and apparent victim status, the troopers decided not to handcuff Samantha. A trooper opened the door and seized two guns from the floor just inside the mud room. He walked through the home with Samantha, finding no other person but observing gun cases and a burnt marijuana cigarette, none of which he seized. An officer advised White of his Miranda rights. White stated he was a gun collector, owned firearms, had been carrying guns because he believed people were trying to kill him, and had shot at animals earlier that day. Weeks later, after obtaining a warrant based on the seized firearms, police seized 91 firearms. Indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), White unsuccessfully moved to suppress all firearms and inculpatory statements. The Sixth Circuit remanded for further proceedings regarding reasonable suspicion and exigent circumstances. View "United States v. White" on Justia Law

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In 1986 when the United States sought an injunction under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. 1997, and entered into a Consent Decree, under which the Virgin Islands would attempt to remedy the conditions at Golden Grove Correctional Facility with respect to unreasonable fire safety risks, physical violence by other inmates or staff, adequate sanitation, and medical care. The district court entered several additional orders when conditions at Golden Grove failed to improve according to plan. In 2011, the Virgin Islands sought to terminate prospective relief under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 18 U.S.C. 3626(b), (e). The court concluded that all but one of the orders entered after the 1986 Consent Decree constituted prospective relief under the PLRA and did not include the findings required under the statute. The court ordered a hearing to determine whether “prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current and ongoing violation of a federal right at Golden Grove … and, if so, to ensure that the prospective relief is narrowly tailored to that violation in the manner required by the PLRA.” Gillette, a prisoner at Golden Grove, was denied leave to intervene. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that the United States adequately represents Gillette’s interests and that others will be prejudiced if intervention is permitted. View "United States v. Territory of VI" on Justia Law

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Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. To send and receive data over cellular networks (3G), customers had to purchase a data contract from AT&T and register on an AT&T website. AT&T prepopulated the user ID field on the login screen with customers’ email addresses by programming servers to search for the user’s Integrated Circuit Card Identifier to reduce the time to log into an account. Spitler discovered this “shortcut” and wrote a program, the “account slurper,” to repeatedly access the AT&T website, each time changing the ICC-ID by one digit. If an email address appeared in the login box, the program would save that address. Spitler shared this discovery with Auernheimer, who helped him to refine the account slurper, which collected 114,000 email addresses. Auernheimer emailed the media to publicize their exploits. AT&T fixed the breach. Auernheimer shared the list of email addresses with Tate, who published a story that mentioned some names of those whose email addresses were obtained, but published only redacted email addresses and ICC-IDs. Spitler was in California. Auernheimer was in Arkansas. The servers t were physically located in Texas and Georgia. Despite the absence of any connection to New Jersey, a Newark grand jury indicted Auernheimer for conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2)(B)(ii), and identity fraud under 18 U.S.C. 1028(a)(7). The Third Circuit vacated his conviction. Venue in criminal cases is more than a technicality; it involves “matters that touch closely the fair administration of criminal justice and public confidence in it.” View "United States v. Auernheimer" on Justia Law

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Thomas was in custody pending trial for shoplifting and failing to pay fines. He was assigned to a small unit with an upper level open to the lower level, housing minimum and medium security detainees. The facility has four or five fights reported every day; 20-30 are estimated to be unreported. Thomas had a reputation as a bully, known for stealing food. One day Thomas found about 12 angry inmates outside of his upper level cell. A verbal dispute ensued. Officer Martinez was with the crowd; Officer Wilde was on the lower level. Martinez said something about locking everybody down. The inmates laughed, but did not disperse. Inmate Santiago yelled, “come down here and take stuff from me.” Thomas began to walk to the lower level. Within seconds after he arrived, Santiago struck Thomas. Martinez restrained Santiago, but another inmate struck Thomas. Martinez was immediately next to Thomas yelled for everyone to lock down. The inmates complied. Three to four minutes had passed between the beginning of the argument on the upper level and the violence on the lower level. Inmates stated that the officers could and should have stopped the argument. Thomas suffered a concussion and loss of sight in one eye. Thomas sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, The district court granted the county summary judgment. The Third Circuit vacated, finding genuine issues of material fact concerning deliberate indifference to the need for pre-service training in conflict de-escalation and intervention and whether the lack of such training had a causal relationship to Thomas’s injuries. View "Thomas v. Cumberland Cnty." on Justia Law

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Cooper was convicted of rape in Oklahoma in 1999 and paroled in 2006, before enactment of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 18 U.S.C. 2250; 42 U.S.C. 16901. He complied with sex offender registration laws in effect at the time. After enactment of SORNA, Cooper moved to Delaware in 2011. He did not register in Delaware, nor did he inform authorities of his new address. He was convicted of failing to comply with SORNA sex offender registration requirements. On appeal, he challenged the constitutionality of the provision of SORNA in which Congress delegated to the Attorney General the authority to determine the applicability of registration requirements to pre-SORNA sex offenders. The Third Circuit affirmed his conviction, stating that it found “delegation of this important decision curious at best,” but not an unconstitutional abdication. View "United States v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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Abbott was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), among other charges. His sentence included a 15-yearmandatory minimum for violating the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e). The court found that three of his previous convictions were “serious drug offenses” under the ACCA. Abbott’s attorney did not object. Abbott challenged an unrelated portion of his sentence on direct appeal. The Third Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court affirmed. Abbott filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, alleging that his attorney at sentencing was ineffective for failing to contest the use of his prior conviction for possession with the intent to distribute, under 35 PA. STAT. 780-113(a)(30), as an ACCA predicate offense. The district court denied the petition without a hearing, finding that the sentencing court properly employed the modified categorical approach. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the Pennsylvania statute is “divisible,” so that use of the modified categorical approach was proper. The statute can be violated by the possession of and intent to distribute many different drugs, the types of which can increase the prescribed range of penalties, so the statute includes several alternative elements. View "United States v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Thompson was hired as a mortgage underwriter by Security Atlantic and assigned to a training class led by a representative of REMN, identified as a sister company of Security Atlantic. In 2010, allegedly in response to a HUD investigation into mortgage practices, Thompson and others were asked to fill out applications to work for REMN. Thompson completed the application; her subsequent paychecks were issued by REMN. Security Atlantic is no longer in business. Thompson and her colleagues continued to do the same work, at the same desks, at the same location. Thompson’s pay rate, work email address, and supervisors remained the same. Thompson alleged that the companies and individual supervisors permitted her and others to regularly work more than eight hours per day and more than 40 hours per week without overtime compensation; misrepresented to workers that they were exempt, salaried employees, ineligible for overtime pay. The district court dismissed her claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219, and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, N.J. Stat. 34:11-56a. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded Thompson provided sufficient information about the scope of the individual defendants’ workplace authority and of specific statements concerning overtime pay, to allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that they are liable. View "Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network" on Justia Law

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Medicare (42 U.S.C. 1395ww) reimbursement includes an adjustment for “disproportionate share hospitals” (DSH), that serve high numbers of low-income patients. The calculation formula takes into account the number of patient days for those patients eligible for Medicaid, and may also include patient days for those patients ineligible for Medicaid, but who received benefits under a Medicaid “demonstration project,” 42 U.S.C. 1315. The Medicare DSH formula was initially regarded by intermediaries, at least in some states, as including days covered under state general assistance (GA) and charity care programs. In 1999 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services clarified that the DSH formula only permitted the inclusion of patient days wherein the patients were eligible for Medicaid, excluding state general assistance and charity plan patient days, but, under the final rule hospitals could count patient days for individuals covered under a Section 1115 waiver project. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 essentially ratified the rule. The district court concluded that the regulation was arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, reasoning there was no rational basis to exclude from reimbursements patients covered by Pennsylvania’s General Assistance plan, while including patients covered under a federal statutory waiver program. The Third Circuit reversed. View "Nazareth Hosp. v. Sec'y, U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law

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New Jersey enacted the 2002 Off-Track and Account Wagering Act, N.J. Stat. 5:5-127, providing for establishment of 15 off-track wagering (OTW) facilities. The Act authorized a license for the N.J. Sports and Exposition Authority, conditioned upon NJSEA entering into a participation agreement with other entities that held horse racing permits in 2000 (ACRA and Freehold). NJSEA, ACRA, and Freehold entered into an agreement, allocating permit rights. By 2011, only four facilities had opened. NJSEA had leased control of its tracks to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NJTHA) and another. The 2011 Forfeiture Amendment provided that permit holders would forfeit rights to any OTW not licensed by 2012, unless they demonstrated “making progress” toward establishing an OTW; forfeited rights would be available to other “horsemen’s organizations” without compensation to the permit holder. NJTHA qualified for forfeited rights. The 2012 Deposit Amendment extended the forfeiture date and allowed a permit holder to make a $1 million deposit for each OTW facility not licensed by December 31, 2011, retaining the “making progress” exception. The Pilot Program Act allowed installation of electronic wagering terminals in some bars and restaurants, by lessees or purchasers of NJSEA-owned racetracks, who could exchange unused OTW licenses to install electronic terminals. NJTHA secured such a license. ACRA and Freehold submitted challenged the constitutionality of the amendments under the Contracts, Takings, Due Process, and Equal Protection Clauses. The Commission determined that both ACRA and Freehold had made progress toward establishing their unlicensed OTW facilities and absolved them of the obligation to submit deposits. The district court dismissed a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1988 on Younger abstention grounds. Subsequently, the Supreme Court decided Sprint Communications v. Jacobs, (2013), clarifying the Younger abstention doctrine. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the action does not fit within the framework for abstention. View "Acra Turf Club, LLC v. Zanzuccki" on Justia Law