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

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For decades, the U.S. Virgin Islands Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) experienced annual deficits between its assets and projected liabilities to participants. Its aggregate shortfall is now about three billion dollars. The Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) has sometimes failed to remit to GERS all the employer contributions it is statutorily mandated to make. GERS sued GVI for these contributions, first in 1981, resulting in a consent judgment, and most recently in 2016, when GERS sought to enforce that judgment. GERS claimed that, as far back as 1991, GVI had contributed tens of millions of dollars less than required by the statutory percentages of employee compensation. GERS also claimed that independent of these fixed-percentage contributions, GVI must fund GERS to the point of actuarial soundness.The district court awarded GERS an amount calculated to reflect GVI’s historical percentage-based under-contributions. The Third Circuit affirmed that award of principal but vacated an enhancement of the award that applied late-arriving interest and penalty statutes, enacted in 2005, retroactively. The consent judgment does not require GVI to fund GERS for the gap between its assets and liabilities. Virgin Islands law apparently fails to obligate anyone to fund GERS when employee-compensation-based contributions and associated investment returns fall short of the assets required, based on actuarial assessments, to meet future pension commitments. The citizens of the Virgin Islands (population 106,4052) simply cannot pay the necessary billions. The cure for GERS’s chronic underfunding is legislative. View "Government Employees Retirement System of the Virgin Islands v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Hamer underwent open-heart surgery using LivaNova’s 3T Heater-Cooler System. He developed an infection in the incision, which his physicians suspected stemmed from a non-tuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM). The hospital had experienced an outbreak of NTM infections in other patients who had undergone surgery using the 3T System. Hamer’s treatment team never isolated NTM from any of the swabs or cultures. Hamer, alleging that his treatment caused him lasting injuries, filed suit under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) for failure to warn and inadequate design.Hamer’s case was transferred to Multidistrict Litigation case 2816, along with other cases alleging damages from the NTM infection caused by the 3T System. Case Management Order 15 (CMO 15) required plaintiffs to show “proof of NTM infection” through “positive bacterial culture results.” Hamer did not comply but opposed dismissal, claiming he had stated a prima facie claim under Louisiana law and sought remand.The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal. The court could have dismissed Hamer’s claims without prejudice, could have suggested remand, or could have dismissed Hamer’s claims with prejudice, if it found that Hamer had not stated a prima facie case under Louisiana law. .Under the LPLA, Hamer’s facts might state a prima facie case for defective design. Hamer’s allegations may diverge from those of other cases in MDL 2816 in which an NTM infection was verified but stating alternative theories of liability cannot justify foreclosing his claims. View "Hamer v. LivaNova Deutschland GMBH" on Justia Law

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Peroza-Benitez awoke, hearing Reading Police Officers breaking down his apartment door. They were executing a search warrant related to suspected drug offenses. Peroza-Benitez climbed out of his window onto the roof wearing undergarments and flip flops and led officers on a rooftop chase. Officer Smith radioed that Peroza-Benitez had a firearm. Peroza-Benitez apparently dropped the firearm, which landed in an alley. Peroza-Benitez denies having a firearm. Peroza-Benitez entered an abandoned building and attempted to escape through a window. Smith and Haser grabbed Peroza-Benitez and attempted to hoist him back inside; he resisted. Haser punched Peroza-Benitez. The officers let go. Peroza-Benitez fell and landed in a below-ground, concrete stairwell. Officers’ testimony differs as to whether Peroza-Benitez voluntarily moved upon landing. Peroza-Benitez testified that he was knocked temporarily unconscious. Officer White tased Peroza-Benitez, without providing a verbal warning. Peroza-Benitez was taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery for arm injuries and a fractured leg.The district court rejected his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit on summary judgment, citing qualified immunity. The Third Circuit vacated. There was a “clearly established” right for an injured, visibly unarmed suspect to be free from temporarily paralyzing force while positioned as Peroza-Benitez was. A reasonable jury could conclude that Haser “repeatedly” punched Peroza-Benitez in the head and caused him to fall, in violation of that right. Tasing a visibly unconscious person, who just fell over 10 feet onto concrete, also violates that person’s Fourth Amendment rights. View "Peroza-Benitez v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Basic underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is equal to the policy's bodily injury limits; Pennsylvania insureds can reduce costs by making a “request in writing” for lower UIM coverage. Gibson signed a State Farm (SF) insurance application for bodily injury coverage of $250,000 with $100,000 in stacked UIM coverage; for the Gibsons' three cars, the total UIM coverage described was $300,000. The application's signature block attested that “the limits and coverages ... were selected by me”; the last page referenced other “required” documents, including an acknowledgment of UIM coverage selection. SF did not provide those additional forms. Gibson was seriously injured in an accident. Weeks later, Gibson returned to SF and signed the form, stating that UIM benefits “are available with limits up to the Liability Coverage limits for bodily injury” and that she had selected “lower limits of $100,000 (per person)/$300,000 (per accident).”Gibson sued for UIM coverage, breach of contract, and bad faith, demanding “the maximum amount of UIM coverage,” of “$300,000.” A Magistrate granted SF summary judgment on the bad faith claim. A jury awarded Gibson $1,750,000. SF moved to mold the verdict to the UIM policy limit, $300,000, listed on the application and in the complaint. Gibson successfully cross-moved to mold the verdict to $750,000 (the $250,000 bodily injury limit stacked for three cars), arguing that the application to elect a lower UIM policy limit did not comply with Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law. The Third Circuit reversed. The statute’s minimal requirement of a “request in writing” for the lower optional UIM coverage was met. The court affirmed the dismissal of the bad faith claim. View "Gibson v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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Morton pleaded guilty to drug crimes. The government claims that during the investigation, it intercepted telephone calls between Morton and Fagan, revealing that Morton sold cocaine to Emanuel. Morton asked Fagan to collect the proceeds from Emanuel in exchange for a finder’s fee. This transaction was not mentioned in Morton’s plea agreement. Morton separately agreed to provide information about her knowledge of and participation in any crimes, without any promise of immunity. Morton testified as a government witness in several matters.When Morton was called to testify at a hearing to revoke Fagan’s supervised release, based on Fagan’s attempt to collect Emanuel’s debt, Morton invoked the Fifth Amendment. The court directed her to answer or risk charges of criminal contempt. Morton declined. The government indicted Morton under 18 U.S.C. 401(3); the court did not allow the government to introduce the plea or cooperation agreements into evidence, nor did it allow Morton's attorney to testify about the advice he provided; it allowed the introduction of excerpts from the revocation hearing transcript when the court warned Morton her invocation of the Fifth Amendment was inappropriate. Convicted, Morton was sentenced to 37 months’ imprisonment, consecutive to her 97-month sentence for her drug offenses.The Third Circuit vacated the contempt conviction. Without knowing whether Morton’s testimony at the revocation hearing could have tended to incriminate Morton in new crimes, the court order requiring Morton to testify was invalid. Without a valid court order, there is no criminal contempt. View "United States v. Morton" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Raia ran for election to the Hoboken city council and chaired a political action committee, promoting a ballot referendum to weaken rent control laws. Raia’s PAC cut $50 checks to hundreds of voters. Raia claimed that those voters had done get-out-the-vote work, such as wearing campaign-branded t-shirts and handing out campaign literature. Raia lost the election. The government concluded that Raia instructed campaign workers to collect unsealed mail-in ballots so that he could verify whether each bribed voter cast his ballot as directed before having a $50 check issued to the voter. Charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, 18 U.S.C. 371, with the underlying offense being the use of the mails to facilitate an “unlawful activity” in violation of the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(3) (state bribery offenses), Raia’s co-conspirators pleaded guilty. Raia was convicted.The court calculated Raia’s Guidelines range as 15–21 months’ imprisonment and sentenced Raia to three months. The government appealed, claiming that the court miscalculated the Guidelines offense level by not applying a four-level aggravating role enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3B1.1(a) and a two-level obstruction of justice enhancement under section 3C1.1. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for the district court to make whatever factual findings are necessary to determine whether either or both of the enhancements apply. View "United States v. Raia" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the government challenged the sentences given to Campbell, one year plus one day for possession of guns and ammunition as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), and Yusuf, 30 months for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349, and aggravated identity theft, section 1028A(a)(1). Each pled guilty and agreed not to argue for a sentence outside the range recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines. The government contends that both defendants breached their plea agreements by actually seeking sentences below the guidelines-recommended ranges.The Third Circuit vacated the sentences. Although courts must give both defense counsel and the defendant an opportunity to speak before imposing a sentence, Rule 32(i) does not give defendants license to disavow their obligations under a plea agreement. The defendants affirmatively advocated for sentences below the agreed-upon guidelines range. The court also rejected Campbell's claim that evidence discovered during the traffic stop leading to his arrest should have been suppressed under the Fourth Amendment; the police officer involved was justified in stopping Campbell’s vehicle and did not impermissibly extend the duration of the stop. View "United States v. Yusuf" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Simko began working for U.S. Steel in 2005. In 2012, Simko successfully bid on a new position. During training, Simko requested a new two-way radio to accommodate his hearing impairment. U.S. Steel did not provide the new radio or any other accommodation. Although Simko completed the training, he alleges that his trainer refused to “sign off” that he was able to perform the position’s duties because of his disability. Simko resumed working at his former position.In May 2013, Simko signed an EEOC charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101, asserting discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation In December 2013, U.S. Steel discharged Simko after an incident. In May 2014, Simko was reinstated but was discharged again in August 2014, based on a safety violation. About three months later, the EEOC received Simko's handwritten claim that he was discharged in retaliation for his EEOC filing. In December 2015, the EEOC communicated to Simko’s counsel that it had notified U.S. Steel that an amended charge was pending. In January 2016, Simko’s counsel filed an amended EEOC charge. In February 2019, the EEOC issued a determination of reasonable cause. A right-to-sue letter issued in April 2019.In June 2019, Simko filed suit, asserting only retaliation, without alleging disability discrimination or failure to accommodate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Simko failed to file a timely EEOC charge asserting retaliation. His amended charge claiming retaliation was filed 521 days after his termination. Simko was not entitled to equitable tolling; he was not misled by the EEOC or prevented from filing the amended charge and offered no reason why he could not file a timely claim. View "Simko v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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The Appellants, with a $594,000 Small Business Administration loan, bought a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania property that became a pub. They executed a note, mortgage, and unconditional guarantees, providing that federal law would control the enforcement of the note and guarantees and that they could not invoke any state or local law to deny their obligations. The Appellants defaulted on the loan and sold the property. The SBA allowed the sale to proceed but declined to release the Appellants from their loan obligations, which were assigned to CBE for collection. The Appellants sued, citing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681, and the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL). CBE sought sanctions under Federal Rules 11 and 37, arguing that the Appellants brought frivolous claims and disobeyed discovery orders. The Appellants filed an untimely brief opposing sanctions and summary judgment, which did not include the separate responsive statement of material facts required by Local Rule. The district court granted summary judgment and denied the sanctions motions, reasoning that neither FDCPA not UTPCPL applies to commercial debts and the Appellants identified no material facts supporting their other claims. The Third Circuit affirmed and granted CBE FRAP 38 damages. The Appellants filed a brief that was essentially a copy of the one filed in the district court. The substance of their appeal “is as frivolous as its form.” View "Conboy v. United States Small Business Administration" on Justia Law

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Orexigen produced a weight management drug, Contrave. In June 2016, Orexigen agreed to sell Contrave to McKesson, which provided the drug to pharmacies. The Distribution Agreement permitted “each of [McKesson] and its affiliates … to set-off, recoup and apply any amounts owed by it to [Orexigen’s] affiliates against any [and] all amounts owed by [Orexigen] or its affiliates to any of [McKesson] or its affiliates.” MPRS and Orexigen entered into a “Services Agreement” weeks later; MPRS managed a customer loyalty discount program for Orexigen. MPRS would advance funds to pharmacies selling Contrave and later be reimbursed by Orexigen. The agreements did not reference each other. McKesson and MPRS were distinct legal entities.When Orexigen filed its 2018 Chapter 11 petition, it owed MPRS $9.1 million under the Services Agreement. McKesson owed Orexigen $6.9 million under the Distribution Agreement. With setoff, Orexigen would have owed MPRS $2.2 million; McKesson would have owed Orexigen nothing. McKesson objected to a sale of Orexigen's assets. McKesson agreed to pay the $6.9 million receivable; Orexigen agreed to keep that sum segregated pending resolution of the setoff dispute. Parties may invoke setoff rights when the debts they owe one another are mutual, 11 U.S.C. 553.The bankruptcy court, the district court, and the Third Circuit rejected McKesson’s request to set off its debt by the amount Orexigen owed MPRS. McKesson wanted a triangular setoff, not a mutual one, as allowable under section 553. View "In re: Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy