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

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Geist, seriously injured in an automobile accident, settled a claim against the driver and his insurer, which did not fully compensate her. Geist sought to recover underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits from State Farm under a policy issued to her parents. When State Farm issued the policy in 2010, it provided liability coverage of $100,000 per person / $300,000 per accident for bodily injuries. Geist’s parents elected UIM benefits of up to $50,000 per person / $100,000 per accident. When they added a third vehicle to the policy, her parents did not execute an acknowledgment for UIM-coverage limits below the bodily injury limits. Geist believed that she could recover up to $200,000 in UIM benefits, the stacked total of the $100,000 UIM coverage for each insured vehicle. State Farm paid her $100,000.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Geist’s purported class action. Under Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law an insurer must seek an election of UIM-coverage limits that are less than the bodily injury coverage limits only when it issues a new policy; the UIM-coverage limits remain in effect as long as the policy does. Geist’s parents executed a written election for lower limits when State Farm issued the policy, and never sought a new policy. View "Geist v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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NJBA, a non-profit trade association representing 88 New Jersey banks, sought to make independent expenditures and contributions to political parties and campaigns for state and local offices. NJBA has not made these payments because of N.J. Stats. 19:34-45, which provides that, “[n]o corporation carrying on the business of a bank . . . shall pay or contribute money or thing of value in order to aid or promote the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party.” NJBA brought a facial challenge on its own behalf and on behalf of third-party banks.The district court held that section 19:34-45’s prohibition on independent expenditures violates the First Amendment but that the ban on political contributions by certain corporations does not violate the First Amendment and passes intermediate scrutiny. The Third Circuit reversed, declining to address the First Amendment issues. The statute does not apply to trade associations of banks. NJBA is not “carrying on the business of a bank.” With respect to the facial challenge, NJBA does not satisfy the narrow exception to the general rule against third-party standing. View "New Jersey Bankers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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De Castro, a citizen of the Dominican Republic came to the U.S. around 2002-2003. In 2012, he married a U.S. citizen. In 2014, his spouse’s Petition for Alien Relative was approved. The State Department notified De Castro that his immigrant visa petition was eligible for further processing. Months later, he was arrested as an alien in possession of a weapon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(A). De Castro eventually pleaded guilty and was allowed to depart voluntarily in 2017. Thirteen months after the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Rehaif” decision, De Castro sought a writ of error coram nobis challenging his conviction. In Rehaif, the Supreme Court held that section 922(g)'s “knowingly” provision applies to both the possession and immigration status elements. De Castro argued that the government never proved he knew he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States; the court never informed him at his plea colloquy that the government was required to prove that element.The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the petition, finding that De Castro did not have a sound reason for his delay in seeking relief; his knowledge-of-immigration-status argument was not futile in 2017 when he entered his plea agreement; and De Castro cannot establish actual innocence under the Rehaif standard because he cannot demonstrate it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would conclude that he knew of his status as an illegal alien at the time he possessed a firearm. View "United States v. De Castro" on Justia Law

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In New Jersey for a family party, Saint-Jean was driving home to Massachusetts with his uncle. Palisades Interstate Park Police stopped the vehicle for driving too slowly and for having tinted windows. In response to questions, Saint-Jean stated that he was originally from Haiti but was a U.S. citizen. Officers ordered the men out of the car, frisked them, and requested to search the vehicle. Saint-Jean signed a consent-to-search form. In a compartment between the front seats, they found small plastic bags containing heart-shaped objects that looked like Valentine’s Day candies. The officers suspected that the items were actually MDMA or ecstasy. Saint-Jean stated that they were Valentine’s Day candies from his coworker and offered her contact information. The officers declined, arrested Saint-Jean, and took him to a police station. The objects were not tested. The officers issued a traffic summons and a criminal summons for possessing a controlled substance, later downgraded to a disorderly persons offense. Many weeks later, the objects were determined to be candy. The prosecution continued for four more months.In Saint-Jean’s subsequent civil rights suit, the district court rejected the officers’ request for qualified immunity for Fourth Amendment claims but dismissed one constitutional claim against the officers and all of the claims against the prosecutor and the governmental entities. Before the officers appealed, Saint-Jean amended his complaint. The Third Circuit dismissed the appeal. Due to the prior amendment, the district court’s order was not final and there was no basis for appellate jurisdiction. View "Saint-Jean v. Palisades Interstate Park Commission" on Justia Law

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A fire at the Barclay assisted living facility caused four residents’ deaths. Their estates sued Barclay and Johnson Controls, which maintained and monitored Barclay’s fire-suppression system. After Barclay and its liability insurers settled with the estates, the insurers sued Johnson in federal court, asserting diversity jurisdiction. The insurers alleged that they stood in the shoes of Barclay as its subrogees and were entitled to damages for the settlement payments they made on Barclay’s behalf. The insurers are structured as reciprocal insurance exchanges--distinct legal entities that can sue or be sued but without corporate existence. Each is an unincorporated association whose subscribers exchange contracts and pay premiums for the purpose of insuring themselves and each other. The subscribers are simultaneously both the insureds of and insurers to one another, with the exchanges of insurance between them effected by a common representative.The district court, reasoning that there was no clear Pennsylvania subrogation law prohibition on insurers “asserting tort-based claims against third-party tortfeasors,” denied Johnson’s motion to dismiss. The Third Circuit vacated without reaching the issue of the availability of the tort claims under Pennsylvania law. Before any federal court can decide the merits of such a question, it must have jurisdiction, which may be lacking in this case. For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, the citizenship of reciprocal insurance exchanges turns on the citizenship of their subscribers, who may not be completely diverse from Johnson. Additional fact-finding is needed. View "Peace Church Risk Retention Group v. Johnson Controls Fire Protection LP" on Justia Law

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Lutz received a Capital One credit card, made purchases, and obtained cash advances with the card. Under the credit card agreement, Lutz could make minimum installment payments with interest at an annual rate of up to 22.90% on any unpaid monthly balance. His account balance rose to $2,343.76, including at least $341.67 in interest that had accrued at an annual rate of 22.90%. When Lutz failed to pay, Capital One sold the charged-off account to PRA, which is not a bank and cannot issue credit cards. PRA holds a license from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities to make motor vehicle loans and to charge interest at 18-21% on those loans but PRA’s sole business involves purchasing defaulted consumer debt at a discount and then attempting to collect the debt. PRA obtained a default judgment against Lutz.Lutz filed a putative class action against PRA under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692e, 1692f, alleging that PRA made false statements about debt and attempted to collect a debt not permitted by law, citing alleged violations of Pennsylvania’s Consumer Discount Company Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Lutz did not plausibly allege that Pennsylvania law prohibited PRA from collecting interest that had previously accrued at greater than 6% annually. PRA is not in the business of negotiating loans or advances and is not subject to the CDCA and its limitations on collecting interest. View "Lutz v. Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law
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The Delaware River Basin Commission banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the Delaware River Basin, reflecting its determination that fracking “poses significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the [Basin’s] water resources.” The ban codified a “de facto moratorium” on natural gas extraction in the Basin since 2010. Two Pennsylvania state senators, the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Caucus, and several Pennsylvania municipalities challenged the ban, alleging that the Commission exceeded its authority under the Delaware River Basin Compact, violated the Takings Clause, illegally exercised the power of eminent domain, and violated the Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of standing. No plaintiff alleged the kinds of injuries that Article III demands. Legislative injuries claimed by the state senators and the Republican Caucus affect the state legislature as a whole; under Supreme Court precedent, “individual members lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature.” The municipalities alleged economic injuries that are “conjectural” and “hypothetical” rather than “actual and imminent.” None of the plaintiffs have standing as trustees of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources under the Pennsylvania Constitution's Environmental Rights Amendment because the fracking ban has not cognizably harmed the trust. View "Yaw v. Delaware River Basin Commission" on Justia Law

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Canada, a Black man, worked for Grossi for 10 years. Canada suffered from back problems and claims that Grossi prevented him from accessing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms and harassed him when he tried to use FMLA leave. Osorio, Grossi’s director of human resources, testified that she “let [Canada] take his FMLA” leave. Canada sued, alleging race discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 1981, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the FMLA.Canada was terminated a month later. Grossi based the termination on text messages found on Canada’s cell phone. Grossi claims that Canada was using a locker on the shop floor which was designated as a company tool locker. While Canada was on vacation, Grossi cut the padlock off of his locker because the lockers needed to be moved. Osorio testified that she believed that the phone might have been a company phone and guessed the phone’s password. Osorio found text messages from a year earlier in which Canada appeared to have solicited prostitutes “while at work and clocked in.”The district court granted Grossi summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed, in part. An employer’s motivation for investigating an employee can be relevant to pretext. There is a “‘convincing mosaic’ of circumstantial evidence,” which, taken as a whole and viewed in a light favorable to Canada’s case, could convince a reasonable jury that Canada was the victim of unlawful retaliation. There is also evidence that Grossi treated other employees more favorably. View "Canada v. Samuel Grossi & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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Freza, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, became a lawful permanent U.S. resident in 2004. In 2012, he was convicted of robbery, aggravated assault with a firearm, burglary, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. While Freza was serving his ten-year sentence, removal proceedings were initiated against him under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Freza told the IJ that he had attempted to contact pro bono legal organizations, but none could take his case; he had no resources. At Freza’s second master calendar hearing in February 2020, the IJ proceeded with Freza pro se. On March 18, Freza applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture. Due to staffing shortages during the pandemic, Freza’s third hearing occurred in October 2020, with Freza appearing pro se via video. The merits hearing was set for December and later rescheduled for January 2021. A pro bono attorney first spoke to Freza the day before the hearing.The IJ denied her motion to continue the hearing for 30 days, stating that Freza had been aware of his merits hearing “for quite some time.” The merits hearing continued with Freza proceeding pro se and testifying about his experiences of and fears of future violence. The BIA affirmed the removal order. The Third Circuit vacated. The IJ’s denial of a continuance for Freza’s counsel to prepare to adequately represent him violated Freza’s right to counsel. View "Freza v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Sovereign extended a $15 million line of credit to REMI to fund residential mortgage loans. Kaiser guaranteed REMI’s obligations. Sovereign and Kaiser agreed that any judgment entered against Kaiser would bear interest at the Prime Rate plus six percent per annum, not at the statutory rate of interest after judgment. REMI defaulted. Sovereign sued REMI and Kaiser. The parties resolved the case by agreement, which the district court entered as a $1,560,430.24 consent judgment in 2010. The Judgment was silent about any applicable interest rate.In 2017, Kaiser moved to declare that judgment had been satisfied. The district court denied the motion, ordering that the applicable interest rate is the federal statutory post-judgment interest rate, fixed by the Federal Reserve Bank, at 0.26%; and that REMI may serve discovery to determine the status of payments made toward the Consent Judgment. The court reasoned that no clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal language in the Consent Judgment demonstrated an intent to depart from the rate of interest provided by 28 U.S.C. 1961. The Third Circuit affirmed. It is incumbent on the parties to detail, with precision and with clarity, the bargain they have struck. The failure to do so in a consent judgment precludes a district court from enforcing an otherwise-silent provision one party asks it to enforce. View "Sovereign Bank v. Remi Capital Inc." on Justia Law