by
Glass pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). The district court applied a career-offender enhancement, U.S.S.G. 4B1.1, based on two prior state convictions under 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. 780-113(a)(30) (from 2001 and 2004) then applied a downward variance, primarily on the observation that the pre-sentence investigation report overstated the seriousness of Glass’s criminal past. The court also noted Glass’s significant family responsibilities, his drug addiction, and his relatively young age and imposed a prison term of 132 months. The Third Circuit affirmed the imposition of the career-offender enhancement. Noting that Glass failed to challenge the inclusion of his convictions as predicate offenses for career-offender purposes prior to appeal and Glass’s first appellate counsel acknowledged that trial counsel had conceded the issue, the Third Circuit applied plain error review. The Pennsylvania law does not sweep more broadly than section 4B1.2; it is a “controlled substance offense” and may serve as a predicate offense to a career-offender enhancement under section 4B1.1. View "United States v. Glass" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
After initiating Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, Debtors entered into an Agreement: NextEra would acquire Debtors’ 80% interest in Oncor, the largest electricity transmission and distribution system in Texas, for approximately $9.5 billion. The Agreement obligated Debtors to pay NextEra $275 million if NextEra did not ultimately acquire Debtors’ interest in Oncor and Debtors either sold to someone else or otherwise emerged from bankruptcy, with several exceptions. If the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) did not approve the merger, payment would not be triggered if the Agreement was “terminated . . . by [NextEra] . . . and the receipt of PUCT Approval (without the imposition of a Burdensome Condition) [wa]s the only condition . . . not satisfied or waived in accordance with this Agreement.” About a year after approving the Agreement, and after PUCT expressed concern about the condition, the bankruptcy court granted a motion for reconsideration and disallowed the Termination Fee in the event that the PUCT declines to approve the transaction and, as a result, the agreement is terminated, regardless of whether the Debtors or NextEra subsequently terminates the agreement. Were it not for that order, NextEra would be entitled to the $275 million. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting NextEra’s arguments that the motion was untimely and, alternatively, that the motion should have been denied on the merits because the termination fee provision, as originally drafted, was an allowable administrative expense under 11 U.S.C. 503(b). View "In re: Energy Future Holdings" on Justia Law

by
Rinaldi, a Lewisburg inmate, alleged that he had been assaulted by Cellmate 1. His informal and subsequent formal "Assault Requests" were denied. The following day, Rinaldi was transferred. According to Rinaldi, Counselor Baysore had warned Rinaldi that unless he stopped filing requests, she would have him placed with a cellmate who was known for assaulting his cellmates. Officer Gee allegedly told Rinaldi he was being moved was because he “didn’t listen.” Cellmate 2, Rinaldi alleges, threatened to kill Rinaldi. Rinaldi claims he “suffered cuts and bruises and emotional distress” from altercations with Cellmate 2. Rinaldi allegedly was concerned about further retaliation and did not file an informal resolution with Lewisburg. He filed his “Retaliation Request” with the Regional Director, where it was rejected with directions to file it at Lewisburg. Separately, Rinaldi sought relief for the assault by Cellmate 2. The Regional Director responded: [T]here is no record of you being assaulted by your previous or current cellmate. . . your appeal is denied." Rinaldi’s further appeal to the General Counsel was denied on the merits. The Third Circuit vacated, in part, the dismissal of RInaldi’s claims. Rinaldi’s Assault Request was denied at the highest level on the merits and was properly exhausted under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). Rinaldi’s Retaliation Request satisfies the objective test for unavailability. Accepting his allegations as true, “a reasonable inmate of ordinary firmness and fortitude” would be “deter[red] . . . from lodging a grievance.” A Federal Tort Claims Act claim was properly dismissed as concerning discretionary functions. View "Rinaldi v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Jutrowski was involved in a single-car accident while intoxicated. During his subsequent arrest, Jutrowski was kicked in the face, breaking his eye socket. Two Riverdale Police Officers and two New Jersey State Troopers involved in the arrest and their employers acknowledge that an officer kicked Jutrowski. Each officer asserts he neither inflicted the blow nor saw who did so. Jutrowski, whose face was pinned to the pavement when the kick occurred, cannot identify his assailant. Jutrowski brought excessive force and conspiracy claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court, relying on Third Circuit precedent that a civil rights action defendant must have “personal involvement” in the alleged wrongs, determined that Jutrowski’s inability to identify his attacker defeated his claims and granted the defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed as to Jutrowski’s excessive force claim but reversed and remanded his conspiracy claim. Despite the unfortunate situation created for plaintiffs who are unable to identify their attackers through no fault of their own, a plaintiff alleging that one or more officers engaged in unconstitutional conduct must establish the “personal involvement” of each named defendant to survive summary judgment. Nonetheless, where a plaintiff adduces sufficient evidence of an after-the-fact conspiracy to cover up misconduct, even of an unidentified officer, he may be able to state a claim for the violation of the due process right of access to the courts. View "Jutrowski v. Township of Riverdale" on Justia Law

by
Dissatisfied with NYCM’s handling of his insurance claim related to a serious car accident, Clemens filed suit, asserting a contractual underinsured motorist (UIM) claim and a claim under the Bad Faith Statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. 8371. After NYCM removed the case to federal court, the parties settled the UIM claim for $25,000. The bad faith claim proceeded to trial. A jury awarded Clemens $100,000 in punitive damages. As the prevailing party under the Bad Faith Statute, Clemens then sought $946,526.43 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The district court reviewed every time entry submitted, performed a traditional lodestar analysis, and concluded that 87 percent of the hours billed had to be disallowed as vague, duplicative, unnecessary, or inadequately supported by documentary evidence. In light of that substantial reduction, the court deemed Clemens’s request “outrageously excessive” and exercised its discretion to award no fee. Represented by new counsel, Clemens appealed. The Third Circuit affirmed, formally endorsing a view adopted by several other circuits: where a fee-shifting statute provides a court discretion to award attorney’s fees, such discretion includes the ability to deny a fee request altogether when, under the circumstances, the amount requested is “outrageously excessive.” View "Clemens v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
Workman, one of two people to shoot Hunt in 2006, was convicted of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania on a theory of transferred intent. His trial counsel, pursuing “a unique theory of criminal liability,” did not meaningfully test the Commonwealth’s case, having told Workman that he could not be convicted of murder because Hunt was already dead when he was struck by Workman’s bullet. Based on this representation, Workman declined a plea bargain for a 20-year term of imprisonment. Workman’s post-conviction counsel failed to make a claim for ineffective assistance of trial counsel based on failure to present a cogent defense. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of his habeas petition, 28 U.S.C. 2254. Although his claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel was procedurally defaulted in state post-conviction relief proceedings, that default should be excused because his state post-conviction counsel rendered ineffective assistance. On the face of the record, trial counsel’s assistance was manifestly ineffective, having included calling no witnesses, presenting no evidence, and arguing inconsistently with the testimony in evidence. View "Workman v. Superintendent Albion SCI" on Justia Law

by
From 1910-1986, Greenlease owned the Greenville Pennsylvania site and operated railcar manufacturing facilities there. Trinity acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. A state investigation of Trinity’s waste-disposal activities resulted in criminal prosecution and, eventually, a plea-bargained consent decree, requiring that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. The district court held that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601 (CERCLA), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, Trinity is entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. After eight years of litigation, and having sorted through a century of historical records, the court allocated 62% of the total cleanup costs to Greenlease and the remainder to Trinity. The Third Circuit affirmed pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions but vacated the cost allocation determination. The agreement between Trinity and Greenlease did not shift liability away from Greenlease after a three-year contractual indemnification period expired. Trinity’s response costs were necessary and reasonable. The court’s methodology, however, failed to differentiate between different remediation activities and their varied costs, and, as applied, treated data measured in square feet as equivalent to data measured in cubic yards. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co" on Justia Law

by
Homeland Security Agent Kuc posed as a Pennsylvania drug trafficker, communicating by phone with men called Cejas and Juan, who used telephone numbers with Mexican country codes. They sent two kilograms of methamphetamine to a Springfield, Pennsylvania mailbox. Kuc received the methamphetamine on May 29, 2015, and deposited $2,000 in an agreed-upon bank account the following day in Philadelphia. On June 3, Kuc traveled to Los Angeles and spoke to Cejas, who stated that he would direct his local contact to contact Kuc. Kuc received a phone call from Renteria. The two planned to exchange methamphetamine and heroin for $146,500, which included $28,000 owed for the Pennsylvania methamphetamine shipment. The next day, the men met at a Huntington Beach restaurant. Kuc saw the drugs and gave other agents a prearranged signal, Renteria was convicted of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and one kilogram or more of heroin, 21 U.S.C. 846, and was sentenced to 153 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was not a proper venue because it was not reasonably foreseeable that conduct in furtherance of the conspiracy would have occurred there; that the court gave incorrect jury instructions concerning venue; and that the court erred in its sentencing calculation. The court declined to adopt the “reasonable foreseeability” test; Renteria’s activities constituted overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, sufficient to establish venue under section 3237(a). View "United States v. Renteria" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Plaintiffs, convicted of drug offenses between 1997 and 2007, applied to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) for jobs that involved operating vehicles. Each filled out a form disclosing his criminal history and authorizing SEPTA to obtain a background check. SEPTA denied them employment. SEPTA did not send Plaintiffs copies of their background checks before it decided not to hire them, nor did it send them notices of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which required SEPTA to send both before it denied them employment, 15 U.S.C. 1681b(b)(3). Plaintiffs filed a putative class action, which the district court dismissed for lack of standing, reasoning there was only a “bare procedural violation,” not a concrete injury in fact because Plaintiffs alleged that SEPTA denied them jobs based on their criminal history, which Plaintiffs disclosed before the background checks. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim based on failure to provide notice of FCRA rights. Plaintiffs became aware of their FCRA rights and were able to file this lawsuit within the prescribed limitations period, so they were not injured. The court reversed the dismissal of the claim based on failure to provide copies of the consumer reports. That right exists whether the report is accurate or not; FCRA clearly expresses Congress’s “intent to make [the] injury redressable.” View "Long v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

by
Lupu refinanced his home loan and mortgage with Loan City, which transferred both to IndyMac, then they went to Fannie Mae, next to OneWest, and finally to the current holder, Ocwen. After defaulting, Lupu sued to void the instruments evidencing his debt, challenging the use of the MERS System, a private mortgage registry that allows its members to avoid county-level public recordation when transferring mortgage interests. MERS is named as the mortgagee, as its members’ nominee, so members can transfer mortgage interests among themselves without recording. The system is generally in accord with Pennsylvania law. At one point, Lupu alleged forgery, The district court dismissed his action. A Stewart Title policy insured Loan City, its successors, and assignees, requiring Stewart to pay costs, attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred in defense of the title or the lien, but not “those causes of action which allege matters not insured against.” Steward denied Ocwen's request for defense coverage, except with respect to the forgery claim, stating “Lupu’s arguments concerned the securitization of the note secured by the insured mortgage and the validity of assignments of the insured mortgage rather than the execution and witnessing of the insured mortgage.” The Third Circuit ruled in favor of Stewart, predicting that state courts would not apply the “complete defense" rule, whereby a single covered claim triggers an obligation for the title insurer to defend the entire action. The court applied Pennsylvania’s rule that potentially covered claims are identified by “comparing the four corners of the insurance contract to the four corners of the complaint.” View "Lupu v. Loan City LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law