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

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In 2017, Sunuwar was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident based on a diversity visa. In 2018, he beat and strangled his wife, Sunuwar was convicted of strangulation and contempt for violating a protection-from-abuse order. Charged with removability as an alien who was convicted of an aggravated felony, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), a crime of domestic violence, section 1227(a)(2)(E)(i), and a crime involving moral turpitude, section1227(a)(2)(A)(i), and as an alien who was found to have violated a protection order, 1227(a)(2)(E)(ii), Sunuwar contested the charges of removability and sought asylum, withholding of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). His wife supported his petition but gave differing factual accounts.An IJ determined that Sunuwar is deportable and had committed a particularly serious crime that disqualifies him from all forms of relief except CAT deferral of removal. The IJ denied CAT deferral of removal based on an adverse credibility finding with respect to Sunuwar having been kidnapped and stabbed by Maoists in Nepal. The Third Circuit denied a petition for relief. Sunuwar was deportable, based on his violation of the protection order; there was no error in the particularly-serious-crime determination and the adverse credibility finding was reasonable. View "Sunuwar v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Aguirre-Miron pleaded guilty to child-pornography offenses: three counts of production, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), (e); one count of receipt, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), (b)(1); and one count of possession, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B), (b)(2). The district court adopted the calculations from the PSR. The Sentencing Guidelines require the grouping of certain closely related counts. The PSR grouped Aguirre-Miron’s receipt and possession counts but did not group Aguirre-Miron’s production counts; nor did it group the production counts with the receipt and possession counts. It listed four groups of offenses, determined that the offense level for the production counts was 38 and the offense level for the receipt and possession counts was 40, including a five-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2G2.2(b)(5) because Aguirre-Miron “engaged in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor” when he produced child pornography. With Aguirre-Miron’s combined offense level and other enhancements and reductions, the PSR offense level was capped by the Sentencing Guidelines at 43. The resulting Guidelines sentence was 130 years’ imprisonment.The court granted a downward variance, which produced a Guidelines range of 360 months to life imprisonment and sentenced Aguirre-Miron to 360 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit vacated, holding that the court miscalculated the Sentencing Guidelines range by not grouping the production counts with the receipt and possession counts under U.S.S.G. 3D1.2(c), which was a plain error that affected Aguirre-Miron’s substantial rights. View "United States v. Aguirre-Miron" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Martinez, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, has four decades of experience including general and orthopedic-surgery residencies and a spine fellowship. In 2016, a hospital hired Martinez on a three-year contract as its only orthopedic surgeon. In 2017, UPMC bought the hospital. UPMC’s representatives told Martinez that they would continue his contract and discussed acquiring new equipment. A month later, UPMC’s chief operating officer and its executive director of the musculoskeletal division fired Martinez, explaining only that the hospital was “moving in a different direction and [Martinez’s] services were no longer needed.” They stated that his firing “had nothing to do with [his] performance.” Martinez was then 70 years old. After firing him, the hospital hired two doctors, including Hunter, who took over at least some of Martinez’s job functions. The hospital posted an opening for an orthopedic surgeon. Martinez applied three times but got no response. The hospital hired Jarvis.Martinez sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, alleging that Hunter and Jarvis were “significantly younger,” “less qualified,” and “less experienced” than Martinez. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit reversed. The hospital knows the younger doctors’ exact ages and specialties, and discovery will let Martinez uncover those and other details in time for summary judgment and trial. View "Martinez v. UPMC Susquehanna" on Justia Law

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Attorney Smukler ran political campaigns for 30 years and developed expertise with Federal Election Commission law. In 2012, U.S. Representative Brady ran for reelection in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District in Philadelphia. Brady's challenger, Moore, struggled to raise money and personally loaned his campaign about $150,000. Brady agreed to give Moore $90,000 to drop out of the race. To steer the money to Moore, Smukler devised a plan that involved a bogus corporation, “dummy invoices,” and funneling cash through a political consulting firm. In the 2014 Democratic Primary for the Thirteenth Congressional District of Pennsylvania, Smukler dipped into the general election reserve on behalf of former U.S. Representative Margolies, then used friends and family as strawmen to evade federal election laws.Smukler was convicted on nine counts of election law violations. He was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, plus fines and assessments. The Third Circuit vacated the convictions on two counts but otherwise affirmed. The court upheld the jury instructions defining the term “willfully,” except with respect to counts that charged Smukler with violating 18 U.S.C. 2 and 1001(a)(1) by causing the false statements of others within the Brady and Margolies campaigns. A proper charge for willfulness in cases brought under those sections in the federal election law context requires the prosecution to prove that defendant knew of the statutory obligations, that he attempted to frustrate those obligations, and that he knew his conduct was unlawful. View "United States v. Smukler" on Justia Law

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Senke was arrested after starting an online conversation with an officer posing as an underage boy. Senke requested naked photographs of the boy, asked about the boy’s sexual experiences, transmitted graphic photographs of himself, and offered to buy the boy gifts. Senke traveled to meet the boy. Detectives took Senke into custody. He was charged under 18 U.S.C. 2423(b), 2422(b), 1470. His public defender moved to withdraw. After interviewing Senke, the court permitted him to proceed pro se, with the public defender as standby counsel. Senke filed multiple unsuccessful pretrial motions before agreeing to accept appointed counsel (Comerford). Senke later asserted that Comerford tried to pressure him to take a plea, did not take or return phone calls, refused to go over evidence, calling it “to[o] disgusting,” failed to turn over discovery, and was not preparing a defense strategy. Senke did not specifically request the appointment of new counsel. Defense counsel did not present any evidence at trial, relying solely on an entrapment defense.The Third Circuit affirmed Senke’s convictions. The district court’s failure to address Senke’s complaints regarding Comerford was an abuse of discretion but the court declined to review the error for prejudice on direct appeal in the first instance. Senke was not prejudiced by the court’s failure to verify on the record that Senke and his attorney discussed the presentence report. The court vacated in part; special conditions of supervised release banning Senke’s computer and internet use violated Circuit precedent. View "United States v. Senke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Nkomo came to the U.S. from Zimbabwe in 1985 and became a lawful permanent resident in 1992. In 2017, she was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, an aggravated felony. In removal proceedings, Nkomo applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the CAT. Nkomo’s U.S. citizen husband, Witkowski, then filed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. Witkowski was incarcerated; it was difficult for him to attend an interview. The IJ granted a continuance of Nkomo’s removal proceedings. Nkomo informed DHS that the IJ had adjourned proceedings until February 22, 2018, to allow for adjudication of the I-130 petition. DHS confirmed that it required Witkowski's presence. With the I-130 petition still pending, the IJ denied Nkomo’s removal objections. The BIA affirmed. Nkomo unsuccessfully moved to remand, arguing that the immigration court lacked jurisdiction because she was given a defective notice to appear.DHS did not set a date to interview Witkowski about the I-130 petition until Nkomo petitioned for a writ of mandamus. In March 2019. Nkomo attended the interview, but Witkowski’s presence was waived. DHS granted the petition. Nkomo moved to reopen her removal proceedings, emphasizing the government’s delay and that she was likely to succeed on the merits because she could show extreme hardship. The BIA denied the motion to reopen as untimely because it was filed more than 90 days after the removal order. The Third Circuit vacated. Nkomo put the BIA on notice of her equitable tolling claim and the Board itself raised the issue. The BIA’s suggestion that it did not have the authority to make decisions on equitable grounds was “perplexing.” View "Nkomo v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Bracey was convicted of murder in 1995. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Plummer, an alleged eyewitness, and Bell, who claimed Bracey had confessed to him. At trial, both acknowledged that they had received favorable plea agreements in exchange for their testimony. Bracey's appeal and state habeas petitions were unsuccessful. In 2010, Bracey learned the Commonwealth had disclosed only some of the cases that were pending against Plummer and Bell. State courts rejected Bracey's petition under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act as time-barred; the factual basis of the claim could have “been ascertained [earlier] by the exercise of due diligence.” The district court dismissed Bracey's 2011 federal habeas petition as untimely under 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1)(D), reasoning that the plea agreements were public records; Brace filed his petition more than one year after the “factual predicate” for his Brady claim “could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.” The Third Circuit denied review.Three years later, the circuit held (Dennis) that a defendant has no burden to “scavenge for hints of undisclosed Brady material” even if the material part could be found in public records. The prosecution’s “duty to disclose under Brady is absolute.” Bracey moved for reconsideration under Rule 60(b). The Third Circuit vacated a summary denial. Dennis effected a material change in Circuit law. A defendant can reasonably expect—and is entitled to presume—that the government fulfilled its Brady obligations because the prosecution’s duty to disclose in no way hinges on defense efforts. View "Bracey v. Superintendent Rockview SCI" on Justia Law

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Lucas, a financial advisor, wanted to take over Burke Farm to obtain funding from a New Jersey program that paid property owners for easements to preserve farmland. Lucas submitted a fraudulent application to assume Burke Farm’s mortgage; obtained a $250,000 loan from a client under false pretenses; and forged a signature on the promissory note. The farm was owned by Diamond, LLC. Lucas, his wife, and his father used the proceeds of his fraud to acquire the LLC. Convicted of wire fraud, engaging in an illegal monetary transaction, loan application fraud, making false statements to the IRS, aggravated identity theft, obstructing a grand jury investigation, and falsifying records in a federal investigation, Lucas consented to the criminal forfeiture of Burke Farm in conjunction with his 60-month sentence. The LLC filed an unsuccessful objection, 21 U.S.C. 853(n)(6)(A),The Third Circuit reversed. The LLC acquired Burke Farm over five years before Lucas’s crimes and is a legitimate, separate legal entity from Lucas. The court noted that the government could have sought criminal forfeiture of Lucas’s interest in the LLC and civil forfeiture of his family’s interests. Although illicit proceeds were involved in the family’s acquisition of Diamond, the LLC acquired the farm legitimately years before. The government must turn square corners when it exercises its power to confiscate private property. View "United States v. Lucas" on Justia Law

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In September 2016, 10 co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and theft of government property; nine were also charged with aggravated identity theft. They had filed false tax returns using stolen identities to obtain illegal refunds. One of the grand jurors was an alleged victim of defendant Liverpool. The juror’s full name was listed in the original indictment and in an exhibit presented to the grand jury. An IRS agent had interviewed the alleged victim eight months earlier. When the government identified Liverpool and the other defendants during the proceedings and asked whether the jurors knew any of the defendants, there were no positive responses. The alleged victim voted to return a true bill.The government learned of this in 2017. In September 2018, the government filed a superseding indictment, which was returned by a new grand jury weeks before trial, with only minor changes to the original indictment. The government disclosed the grand jury defect to three defendants who had pleaded guilty. Two defendants unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictments, arguing that the defect in the original grand jury violated the Fifth Amendment and that the superseding indictment was issued after the limitations period expired. The Third Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The order is not a “final decision” of the district court, 28 U.S.C. 1291, and is not a “collateral” order subject to immediate review. View "United States v. Alexander" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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When LaSpina began working for the Scranton Public Library, all Library employees were exclusively represented in collective bargaining by Local 668. No employee had to join the Union; an employee could join and pay full membership dues or decline to join and pay a lesser nonmember “fair-share fee.” LaSpina joined the Union. In 2018, the Supreme Court held, in "Janus," that compelling nonmembers to pay fair-share fees violates their First Amendment associational rights. LaSpina resigned from the Union and sued, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief, including a refund of the portion of the dues she paid the Union equal to the nonmembers’ fair-share fees, and a refund of membership dues deducted from her paycheck after she resigned.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. LaSpina had no standing to seek a refund of any portion of the dues she made prior to Janus because she cannot tie the payment of those dues to the Union’s unconstitutional deduction of fair-share fees from nonmembers. If LaSpina is due a refund of monies that were deducted from her wages after she resigned, the claim is not a federal one. LaSpina’s claim that the Union may not collect any dues from an employee until that employee knowingly and freely waives their constitutional right to resign from membership and withhold payments is moot as LaSpina no longer is a Union member. View "LaSpina v. SEIU Pennsylvania State Council" on Justia Law