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

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Marsalis is a nursing-school dropout but on dating websites, he was “Dr. Jeff,” a high-flying physician at the University of Pennsylvania and also a NASA astronaut. When an unsuspecting woman fell for Marsalis’s ruse, he drugged her drink, then offered to let her recover at his apartment. As the woman blacked out, he sexually assaulted her. In total, 10 women accused Marsalis of rape, each telling a version of that same story. A jury acquitted him of rape, convicting him only of two sexual assaults. The judge found that he was a sexually violent predator and sentenced him to the maximum: up to 21 years in prison. On state habeas review, Marsalis argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present an alibi defense and investigate a victim’s medical condition. The court dismissed his petition, and the Superior Court affirmed.Marsalis filed this federal habeas petition, arguing that trial counsel should have objected to a doctor’s expert testimony. The district court rejected the ineffective-counsel claim because Marsalis had not raised it during state habeas. The Third Circuit affirmed. Marsalis’s federal habeas challenge was untimely and a jury would have convicted him even if his lawyer had been adequate. View "Marsalis v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Inmate Rivera was temporarily transferred in order to represent himself in a trial challenging his conditions of confinement. He was assigned to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) from which inmates may access a “mini law library.” Rivera’s trial was scheduled to begin on a Monday. On Friday, his request for continuing access to the library throughout his trial was approved. The library, however, did not contain any physical books, only two computers. Both were inoperable. Rivera had no way to access the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Evidence, and the court rules. Rivera’s request to borrow paper copies from the main law library was summarily denied. The judge refused to admit his evidence on hearsay grounds. The jury entered a defense verdict. According to Rivera, access to the Rules would likely have changed the outcome of his trial.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Rivera’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit on qualified immunity grounds. At the time of the alleged violation, Supreme Court and Third Circuit precedents had not clearly established a prisoner’s right to access the material after he filed a complaint. “Going forward, however, there should be no doubt that such a right exists. The ability of a prisoner to access basic legal materials in a law library … does not stop once a prisoner has taken the first step towards the courthouse’s door.” View "Rivera v. Monko" on Justia Law

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Navient serviced the student loans of Matthew Panzarella. Matthew listed his mother (Elizabeth) and brother (Joshua) as references on student loan applications and promissory notes and provided their cell phone numbers. He became delinquent on his loans and failed to respond to Navient’s attempts to communicate with him. Call logs show that over five months, Navient called Elizabeth's phone number four times (three calls were unanswered) and Joshua's number 15 times (all unanswered), using “interaction dialer” telephone dialing software developed by ININ.The Panzarellas filed a putative class action, alleging violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, by calling their cellphones without their prior express consent using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS). Navient argued that its ININ System did not qualify as an ATDS because the system lacked the capacity to generate and call random or sequential telephone numbers. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Navient, without deciding whether Navient’s dialing equipment qualified as an ATDS. Despite the text’s lack of clarity, Section 227(b)(1)(A)’s context and legislative history establish it was intended to prohibit making calls that use an ATDS’s auto-dialing functionalities; the record establishes that Navient did not rely on random- or sequential number generation when it called the Panzarellas. View "Panzarella v. Navient Solutions Inc" on Justia Law

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Georgetown Law invited Yung to interview an alumnus. Yung thought his interviewer was rude. Georgetown rejected Yung's application. Yung launched a cyber-campaign, creating fake obituaries for the interviewer’s wife and son, social-media profiles and blogs in the interviewer's name, containing KKK content and bragging about child rape. A Google search of the interviewer’s name revealed thousands of similar posts. In reports to the Better Business Bureau, Yung accused the interviewer of sexually assaulting a female associate and berating prospective employees. Impersonating the interviewer’s wife, he published an online ad seeking a sex slave. The interviewer’s family got hundreds of phone calls from men seeking sex. Strange men went to the interviewer’s home. The interviewer hired cyber-investigators, who, working with the FBI, traced the harassment to Yung.Yung, charged with cyberstalking, 18 U.S.C. 2261A(2)(B) & 2261(b) unsuccessfully challenged the law as overbroad under the First Amendment. Yung was sentenced to prison, probation, and to pay restitution for the interviewer’s investigative costs ($70,000) and Georgetown’s security measures ($130,000). The Third Circuit affirmed the conviction. A narrow reading of the statute’s intent element is possible so it is not overbroad--limiting intent to harass to “criminal harassment, which is unprotected because it constitutes true threats or speech that is integral to proscribable criminal conduct.” The court vacated in part. Yung could not waive his claim that the restitution order exceeds the statute and Georgetown suffered no damage to any property right. View "United States v. Yung" on Justia Law

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At the end of 2018, the longest government shutdown in history began because Congress had not passed a budget. For more than a month, FBI employees, like other federal workers, were not paid. Nor did they get payments into their Thrift Savings Plan retirement accounts. Once the government reopened, the FBI sent them their missed paychecks and contributed to their Thrift accounts. But, while the government was shut down, the market had risen. If the government had made its Thrift contributions on time, that money would have bought more shares than the late payments did.The employees filed a class-action suit under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act (FERSA), 5 U.S.C. 8401–80, which allows “any participant or beneficiary” of a Thrift plan to sue “to recover benefits.” The government agreed that section 8477(e)(3)(C)(i) waives sovereign immunity but moved to dismiss, arguing that this suit falls outside the waiver and was an effort to recover consequential damages from the government’s late payment, which are not a “benefit” within the waiver. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit reversed the denial of that motion. Congress does not waive federal sovereign immunity unless it speaks clearly. FERSA does not clearly waive the federal government’s immunity for the employees’ claims. View "John Doe 1 v. United States" on Justia Law

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Federal prosecutors indicted Cannon and moved for his detention, 18 U.S.C. 3142. Because of the drug and firearms charges against Cannon, section 3142(e)’s presumption of detention pending trial applied. Because Cannon had complied with the conditions of his state court bond during his release, a magistrate granted Cannon’s request for pretrial release with conditions. Condition 1, required under the Bail Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3142(b), was that Cannon “must not violate federal, state, or local law while on release.”Cannon is a paraplegic and suffers from serious and painful medical conditions. Cannon's doctor had issued him a certification under Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act to obtain medical marijuana from an approved dispensary. The magistrate rejected Cannon's request for medical marijuana use, stating: "It’s still federally illegal, card or not.” Cannon replied that he “[did]n’t need it” before agreeing to abide by the conditions. A month later, Cannon unsuccessfully asked the court to modify the conditions and again requested an exemption. The Probation Office informed the court that on several occasions, Cannon had either tested positive for marijuana or admitted using marijuana.The court entered an order revoking Cannon’s bond. The Third Circuit affirmed; the use and possession of marijuana—even where sanctioned by a state— remains a violation of federal law. View "United States v. Cannon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Bank Secrecy Act requires U.S. citizens to report interests in foreign accounts with a value exceeding $10,000, 31 U.S.C. 5314. Collins, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, has lived in the U.S. since 1994 and has bank accounts in the U.S., Canada, France, and Switzerland. In 2007, the balance of his Swiss account exceeded $800,000. Collins did not report any of those accounts until he voluntarily amended his tax returns in 2010. The IRS accepted Collins into its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). His amended returns for 2002-2009 yielded modest refunds stemming from large capital losses in 2002. Collins then withdrew from the OVDP, prompting an audit. Because Collins invested in foreign mutual funds, his Swiss holdings were subject to an additional tax on passive foreign investment companies, 26 U.S.C. 1291, which he failed to compute in his amended returns. The IRS audit determined that Collins owed an additional $71,324 plus penalties. In 2015 the IRS determined that since he withdrew from the OVDP, Collins was liable for civil penalties for “willful failure” to report foreign accounts. The IRS assessed a civil penalty of $308,064.The district court and Third Circuit affirmed, citing a “decades‐long course of conduct, omission, and scienter” by Collins in failing to disclose his foreign accounts. The disparity between Collins’s putative income tax liability and his penalty is stark but is consistent with the statute. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

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The Universal Health Services Retirement Savings Plan is a defined contribution retirement plan. Qualified employees can participate and invest a portion of their paycheck in selected investment options, chosen and ratified by the UHS Retirement Plans Investment Committee, which is appointed and overseen by Universal. Named plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all other Plan participants, sued Universal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(2)3 and 1109, alleging that Universal breached its fiduciary duty by including the Fidelity Freedom Fund suite in the plan, charging excessive record-keeping and administrative fees, and employing a flawed process for selecting and monitoring the Plan’s investment options, resulting in the selection of expensive investment options instead of readily-available lower-cost alternatives. They also alleged certain Universal defendants breached their fiduciary duty by failing to monitor the Committee.The Third Circuit affirmed class certification, rejecting an argument that the class did not satisfy the typicality requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a), given that the class representatives did not invest in each of the Plan’s available investment options. Because the class representatives allege actions or a course of conduct by ERISA fiduciaries that affected multiple funds in the same way, their claims are typical of those of the class. View "Boley v. Universal Health Services Inc" on Justia Law

Posted in: Class Action, ERISA
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The Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. 10101(a)(2)(B), prohibits any “person acting under color of law [from] deny[ing] the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission … if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such voter is qualified … to vote in such election.” In Pennsylvania, an error or omission is material to a voter’s qualifications to vote if it is pertinent to either the voter’s age, citizenship, residency, or felony status or the timeliness of the ballot. The Lehigh County Board of Elections (LCBE) held an election on November 2, 2021, to fill local vacancies. LCBE set aside 257 out of approximately 22,000 mail-in or absentee ballots that lacked a handwritten date next to the voter declaration signature and ballots with the date in the wrong location on the outer envelope. LCBE convened a public hearing and voted to count the undated and misdated ballots.The Third Circuit held that private plaintiffs have a private right of action to enforce section 10101 under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and that the dating provisions contained in 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. 3146.6(a) and 3150.16 are immaterial to a voter’s qualifications and eligibility under section 10101(a)(2)(B). The court directed that the undated ballots be counted. View "Migliori v. Lehigh County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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Adams was not tried until 2017, nearly two years after his arraignment on firearms charges. Rejecting his motions to dismiss on Speedy Trial Act grounds, the district court described “numerous continuances [and] unnecessary motions,” caused by Adams’s “obstreperous behavior.” At one point, because of Adams’s demands, the judge canceled a scheduled trial date and did not set a particular date for that future hearing or for trial, without citing 18 U.S.C. 3161(h)(7)(A), which allows district courts to pause the speedy trial clock by entering a continuance, or state that this continuance would serve the “ends of justice.” Adams also argued that motions in limine filed by the government did not qualify for the Act’s exclusion of “delay resulting from any pretrial motion” under 3161(h)(1)(D), and that his motion for discovery did not toll the clock from its filing through its official disposition.The Third Circuit affirmed his convictions, concluding those periods of delay were excluded, The district court did not plainly err in failing to instruct the jury on the “knowledge-of-status” element under “Rehaif.” The record makes clear that Adams devised his straw-purchaser scheme precisely because he knew he was a felon who could not lawfully possess firearms. View "United States v. Adams" on Justia Law