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Elliott worked in a coal mine until 1993 and developed a chronic cough. Three after his retirement, he developed more acute breathing problems. Elliott sought Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901–45, benefits in 2012. Helen Mining conceded it was the responsible employer, but challenged Elliott’s entitlement to benefits. The parties stipulated that Elliott had a totally disabling respiratory impairment. Because Helen Mining conceded disability and because Elliott demonstrated more than 15 years of employment, the ALJ determined that section 921(c)(4) applied and that the other elements, including causation, would be presumed, and shifted the burden to Helen Mining. Helen Mining offered the opinions of two doctors, attributing Elliott’s respiratory impairment to adult-onset asthma unrelated to coal dust exposure. The ALJ did not find their testimony persuasive, concluded that Helen Mining had failed to rule out coal dust-induced pneumoconiosis as a cause of Elliott’s disability, and awarded benefits. The Benefits Review Board upheld the award. The Third Circuit affirmed, upholding the application of the 2013 regulation, specifying the standard a coal mine operator must meet to rebut the presumed element of disability causation, 20 C.F.R. 718.305(d)(1). The regulation permissibly fills a statutory gap and Helen Mining did not meet that rebuttal standard. View "Helen Mining Co v. Elliott" on Justia Law

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Norman and Elkin were the only shareholders of USM, a company that acquired and sold rights to radio frequencies. Norman held a minority interest and sought legal relief after he discovered that Elkin had transferred to another company the ownership of several frequencies purchased by USM, that Elkin had treated capital contributions as loans, and that Elkin had paid himself from USM funds without giving Norman any return on his minority investment. Despite two juries agreeing with Norman, verdicts in his favor were overturned. Most of his claims were held to be time-barred after the district court rejected his argument that a state court case he had brought to inspect USM’s books and records under the Delaware Code tolled the statute of limitations. Other claims were eliminated for insufficient evidence. The Third Circuit vacated in part. The district court erred in concluding that tolling of the statute of limitations is categorically inappropriate when a plaintiff has inquiry notice before initiating a books and records action in the Delaware courts and erred in vacating the jury’s award of nominal damages for one of Norman’s breach of contract claims. Norman’s fraud claim was not supported by sufficient proof of damages. View "Norman v. Elkin" on Justia Law

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Members of the notorious Salvadoran gang, MS13, shot Serrano-Alberto's brother, leaving him paralyzed; extorted Serrano-Alberto , an acclaimed professional soccer player; and, when he ceased to pay, shot Serrano-Alberto, his nephew, and a neighbor, killing the neighbor and leaving the others in serious condition. Police refused to take a report because Serrano-Alberto did not know the names of the shooters. Fearing reprisal, Serrano-Alberto twice attempted to flee but was returned by Mexican authorities. In 2009-2012, Serrano-Alberto was imprisoned in El Salvador on extortion charges; he was ultimately absolved. Gang members continued to search for him. They shot another his brothers for refusing to divulge Serrano-Alberto’s whereabouts. In 2012, Serrano-Alberto escaped harm in a drive-by shooting by diving under a car. Serrano-Alberto moved multiple times. His mother warned that gang members were continuing to pursue him. In 2014, Serrano-Alberto observed apparent gang members in his new neighborhood and fled to the U.S.He was apprehended and applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. At his hearing, the IJ was “confrontational, dismissive, and hostile, interrupting and belittling Serrano-Alberto’s testimony, time and again cutting off his answers to questions, and nitpicking immaterial inconsistencies.” She ordered removal. The BIA denied relief. The Third Circuit vacated and urged reassignment on remand. The Fifth Amendment protects the liberty of all persons within U.S. borders, including aliens in immigration proceedings who are entitled to a meaningful opportunity to be heard. View "Serrano-Alberto v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Rodriquez was elected to serve in the Virgin Islands Legislature. After his election, plaintiffs sued, challenging Rodriquez’s qualifications. Plaintiffs had learned that Rodriguez had filed a bankruptcy petition in Tennessee, swearing that he was a resident of Tennessee. Rodriquez removed that suit to federal court and filed his own action against the 32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands and its president, seeking a ruling that only the Legislature can decide who is qualified to serve in the Legislature. Because of an injunction issued by the Virgin Islands Superior Court, Rodriquez was not sworn in and has not taken a seat in the Legislature. The Governor of the Virgin Islands issued a proclamation calling for a special election to fill the vacancy.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Rodriguez's suit and dismissed an appeal of the removal. Because a judicial determination of whether Rodriquez is qualified to serve as a member of the Virgin Islands 32nd Legislature would infringe on the separation of powers between the Virgin Islands legislative and judicial branches, that action is no longer justiciable. Rodriquez does not having standing to appeal the district court’s removal order because he was a prevailing party. View "Rodriquez v. 32nd Legislature of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Vickers punched his victim once but the victim suffered a fractured skull, brain hemorrhaging, and was in a coma for four days. Pennsylvania law provides that for a criminal case to be tried without a jury, “[t]he judge shall ascertain from the defendant whether this is a knowing and intelligent waiver, and such colloquy shall appear on the record. The waiver shall be in writing, made a part of the record, and signed by the defendant, the attorney for the Commonwealth, the judge, and the defendant’s attorney.” Those procedures were not followed in Vickers’s case. The judge found Vickers guilty. Vickers sought state post-conviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. Because Vickers’s private attorney had been replaced by a public defender, the attorney was unaware that the process had not been followed, but recommended that Vickers pursue a bench trial for strategic reasons and thought that Vickers wanted a bench trial. The court concluded that Vickers “freely, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his jury trial rights.” Vickers sought habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Third Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of relief. The proper prejudice inquiry is whether there is a reasonable likelihood that, but for his counsel’s deficient performance, Vickers would have exercised his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. He failed to make that showing. View "Vickers v. Superintendent Graterford SCI" on Justia Law

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Raymond and Sandra have lived in their Ambler, Pennsylvania home since 1993. They took on a mortgage from AmeriChoice. They fell behind on their payments. In 2012, AmeriChoice filed a foreclosure action; AmeriChoice obtained a default judgment. AmeriChoice scheduled a sheriff’s sale. The day before that sale, Raymond, acting alone, filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, triggering the automatic stay and preventing the sale. The case was dismissed six months later after Raymond failed to make payments. AmeriChoice rescheduled the sale. On the rescheduled date, Raymond filed a second Chapter 13 petition. The Bankruptcy Court granted relief from the stay. On the second rescheduled date, Sandra filed her Chapter 13 petition. Days later the court dismissed Sandra’s petition for failure to obtain prepetition credit counseling. In Raymond’s second case, AmeriChoice moved (11 U.S.C. 1307(c)) to either convert Raymond’s case to Chapter 7 or dismiss, arguing bad faith use of bankruptcy. Raymond unsuccessfully moved to postpone a hearing and the day before the hearing sought dismissal under section 1307(b). Raymond did not appear at the hearing. The court dismissed Raymond’s case, stating that he was “not permitted to file another bankruptcy case without express permission.” Sandra was subsequently enjoined from filing bankruptcy for 180 days. The Third Circuit vacated. While a bankruptcy court may issue a filing injunction while approving a section 1307(b) voluntary dismissal, the injunction against Raymond, beyond what had been requested, was not supported by reasoning. View "In re: Ross" on Justia Law

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Gillette, an inmate at Golden Grove Correctional Facility on St. Croix, filed suit alleging various constitutional and statutory claims relating to his medical care and failure to protect. Gillette moved the district court to convene a three-judge court under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3626. The court denied Gillette’s motion, finding that he had not satisfied the prerequisites for convening a three-judge court: the party seeking a prisoner release order must show that “a court has previously entered an order for less intrusive relief that has failed to remedy the deprivation of the Federal right sought to be remedied through the prisoner release order” and that “the defendant has had a reasonable amount of time to comply. Before the court could adjudicate the merits of Gillette’s claims, he filed an appeal. The Third Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The order denying Gillette’s motion for a three-judge court is neither a final order nor subject to any exception to the final judgment rule, View "Gillette v. Prosper" on Justia Law

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Officers executed sealed search warrants at the home and office of Fattah. More than two years later, a grand jury indicted Fattah on 23 counts relating to bank fraud and tax evasion. Before the indictment, the press learned about the investigation; reporters waited at Fattah’s home to report the story. At Fattah’s trial, an FBI agent admitted that he had disclosed confidential information to a reporter in exchange for information pertinent to the investigation. Fattah argued that the agent’s conduct violated the Sixth Amendment because the pre-indictment press caused him to lose his job, which rendered him unable to retain the counsel of his choice, and that the agent’s conduct violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process. The Third Circuit affirmed Fattah’s convictions, noting that Fattah’s claim to unrealized income was contradicted by his statements and actions and that the FBI agent’s actions were not “so outrageous that due process principles would absolutely bar the government from invoking judicial processes to obtain a conviction.” View "United States v. Fattah" on Justia Law

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In multi-district litigation involving 315 product liability claims, plaintiffs alleged that Pfizer’s drug, Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), caused cardiac birth defects. The Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee introduced several experts to establish causation. The testimony of each of these experts was excluded in whole or in part. In particular, Nicholas Jewell, Ph.D., a statistician, used the “Bradford Hill” criteria to analyze existing literature on the causal connection between Zoloft and birth defects. The district court conducted a Daubert hearing, excluded Jewell's testimony, and granted summary judgment to defendants, stating that Jewell: “failed to consistently apply the scientific methods he articulates, has deviated from or downplayed certain well-established principles of his field, and has inconsistently applied methods and standards to the data so as to support his a priori opinion.” The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not require replication of significant results to establish reliability, but merely made a factual finding that teratologists generally require replication of significant results, and this factual finding did not prevent it from considering other evidence of reliability. View "In Re: Zoloft t (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Debtors filed a voluntary Chapter 13 petition. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed a plan that required payments of $2,485 each month for 60 months. Later, because of an increase in mortgage payments, the plan was amended to increase the payments to $3,017 for the remainder of the 60-month period. Debtors made consistent payments and, after 60 months, had paid $174,104, slightly exceeding their projected plan base. The Trustee subsequently moved to dismiss the case under 11 U.S.C. 1307(c), alleging that Debtors still owed $1,123 to complete their plan base. Debtors cured the arrears within 16 days. The motion had been joined by an unsecured creditor, who claimed that the plan and the Code required completion within 60 months. The Bankruptcy Court agreed that the failure to completely fund the plan base within 60 months was a material default constituting cause for dismissal, but found that the default was not the result of Debtors' unreasonable delay, that Debtors promptly corrected the deficiency, and that the delay did not significantly alter the timing of distributions. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed and rejected an adversary proceeding, objecting to the discharge. Bankruptcy courts have discretion to grant a brief grace period and discharge debtors who cure an arrearage in their plan shortly after the expiration of the plan term. View "In re: Klaas" on Justia Law

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