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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In 1969, Beasley founded a band, “The Ebonys,” one of many bands that created the “Philadelphia Sound.” The Ebonys achieved some commercial success in the 1970s but never reached the notoriety of similar artists such as The O’Jays. Beasley alleges that The Ebonys have performed continuously. Howard joined the band in the mid-1990s. Beasley obtained a New Jersey state service mark for THE EBONYS in 1997. Beasley and his bandmates performed with Howard for several years before parting ways. Each artist claimed the Ebonys name. In 2012, Howard registered THE EBONYS with the Patent & Trademark Office (PTO). Beasley alleges that Howard’s registration has interfered with his business; he has not been able to register a band website that uses “the Ebonys” in its domain name, Howard has kept concert venues from booking Beasley’s performances, Howard has tried to collect royalties from Beasley’s recordings, and Howard has claimed to be the Ebonys’s true founder. Beasley filed unsuccessful petitions with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel the mark, contending that Howard defrauded the PTO. The district court relied on claim preclusion to dismiss Beasley’s subsequent complaint. The Third Circuit remanded for a determination of the scope of Beasley’s claims. Trademark cancellation proceedings before TTAB do not have claim preclusive effect against federal trademark infringement lawsuits. TTAB’s limited jurisdiction does not allow trademark owners to pursue infringement actions or the full scope of infringement remedies. The court affirmed the dismissal of any claim that Howard defrauded the PTO. View "Beasley v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Harper runs deliveries under the “Amazon Flex” program, which supplements Amazon’s traditional delivery services. Interested drivers use an app to sign up to drive packages from Amazon warehouses, affiliated grocers, and participating restaurants to home shoppers. Harper signed up, clicking on a brightly colored button stating, “I AGREE AND ACCEPT” following the Terms of Service. The Terms included an arbitration provision with an “opt-out” process and specified that Washington law applies. Harper filed a putative class action on behalf of similarly situated New Jersey Amazon Flex drivers, alleging that Amazon misclassified them as independent contractors when they really are employees. Amazon moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act. Harper cited the exemption for a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” 9 U.S.C. 1, noting that the drivers make some deliveries across state lines. Amazon argued that the claim is also arbitrable under state law. The district court ordered discovery to determine whether Harper falls within the FAA exception, declining to reach Amazon’s alternative state law argument.The Third Circuit vacated. Federal courts sitting in diversity must decide state law claims, including state arbitrability, even where the FAA may apply. That is a threshold inquiry, ensuring prompt review of state law claims, particularly before turning to discovery to sort through a comparatively complex federal question. View "Harper v. Amazon.com Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In March 2010, Orrstown made a stock offering at $27 per share. SEPTA invested some of its pension funds in Orrstown stock during this offering and later purchased Orrstown stock on the open market. In 2011-2012 Orrstown made disclosures concerning its financial health. Orrstown’s stock price dropped following each disclosure falling to $8.20 by April 2012.SEPTA filed a purported class action in May 2012, on behalf of a “Securities Act Class" of investors who purchased Orrstown stock “in connection with, or traceable to,” Orrstown’s 2010 Registration Statement, and the “Exchange Act Class” of investors who later purchased Orrstown stock on the open market. A first amended complaint added the Underwriters and the Auditor. The district court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice for failure to meet pleading requirements. SEPTA filed its Second Amended Complaint in February 2016. The court dismissed all Securities Act claims against Orrstown but did not dismiss the Exchange Act claims except for some individual Orrstown officers. The court dismissed all claims against the Underwriters and the Auditor. The parties began discovery, which triggered a lengthy process in which the parties sought to have federal and state regulators review the relevant documents. In April 2019, SEPTA moved for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint, arguing it had identified evidence to support previously-dismissed claims through discovery.The court granted SEPTA’s motion despite the expiration of the three-year (Securities Act) and five-year (Exchange Act) repose periods. The Third Circuit affirmed. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), which provides an exception more commonly applied to statutes of limitations, also allows amendment of a pleading after the expiration of a repose period here because the Rule’s “relation-back” doctrine leaves the legislatively-mandated deadline intact and does not disturb any of the defendants’ vested rights. View "Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority v. Orrstown Financial Services Inc." on Justia Law

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Ellison, an orthopedic surgeon who practices in California, wants to move to New Jersey and practice in the RWJBarnabas Health system. In order to obtain staff privileges, Ellis sought certification by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) around 2012. ABOS only certifies surgeons who successfully complete its multistep certification examination. Ellison passed the first step of ABOS’s exam, but ABOS prohibited him from taking the second step until he first obtained medical staff privileges at a hospital. Ellison has yet to apply for staff privileges. He believes the New Jersey hospitals where he desires to practice will reject his application, as their bylaws provide that they generally grant privileges only to physicians who are already board certified. Ellison sued ABOS in 2016. ABOS removed the matter to federal court. Ellison amended his complaint to allege that ABOS violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. The District Court dismissed Ellison’s complaint for failure to state a claim for relief.The Third Circuit vacated with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of standing. Ellison has not attempted to apply for medical staff privileges or taken any concrete steps to practice in New Jersey. His assertions that ABOS has injured him are speculative. View "Ellison v. American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Golden sought to construct a hotel and casino. Golden’s proposed development, located within St. Croix’s coastal zone, required a major Coastal Zone Management (CZM) permit. The CZM Committee held the statutorily required public hearing on January 8, 2004. VICS, an environmental group, appeared and submitted comments. On January 20, Golden wrote a formal request for an extension to respond to comments. The Committee construed the letter as “waiv[ing] [Golden’s] right to a decision" within 30 days. By the time Golden replied, disputing that position, that statutory period had elapsed. The Committee had difficulty meeting its quorum requirements and held the decisional meeting in May, concluding that its failure to act before the deadline meant that it had granted Golden a default permit. The Committee later rescinded the default permit but the Board of Land Use Appeals issued the permit.VICS filed a petition with the Superior Court, which affirmed the Board’s decision. In 2020, the Appellate Division affirmed the Superior Court’s 2006 decision that affirmed the Board’s grant of a default permit, without reaching the merits of VICS’s petition.The Third Circuit remanded an appeal. A party appealing from the decision of a territorial court must establish Article III standing when invoking federal circuit court jurisdiction, even though Article III standing is not required before the territorial courts. The record was insufficient to determine whether VICS has Article III standing; the Superior Court must supplement the record. View "Virgin Islands Conservation Society, Inc. v. Virgin Islands Board of Land Use Appeals" on Justia Law

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The three restaurants in these consolidated appeals each brought its own action in state court seeking a declaration that its respective Insurer was obligated to provide coverage for COVID-19-related losses under an insurance policy. Each Insurer removed its case to federal court invoking diversity jurisdiction; each district court exercised its discretion under the Declaratory Judgment Act (DJA), 28 U.S.C. 2201–02, to abstain from hearing the case and ordered the matter be remanded to state court. The Third Circuit vacated the orders, concluding that the District Courts erred in weighing factors relevant to the exercise of discretion under the DJA: the likelihood that a federal court declaration will resolve the uncertainty of obligation which gave rise to the controversy, the general policy of restraint when the same issues are pending in a state court, and the public interest in settlement of the uncertainty of obligation. In this case, a declaratory judgment would be sufficient to afford relief and settle their respective controversies. View "Dianoias Eatery LLC v. Motorists Mutual Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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Trinh sued Fineman, who had been appointed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County as a receiver in a case involving the dissolution of Trinh’s beauty school. She alleged that Fineman did not give her a proper accounting of the escrow account related to that case and accused him of theft. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, explaining that Trinh had not raised “any claims arising under federal law or [alleged] that the parties are citizens of different states.” The Third Circuit remanded to allow Trinh to amend her complaint. Her amended complaint asserted that Fineman, as the receiver, was “abusing his state power.”The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Although Trinh’s complaint arguably raised a section 1983 claim, Fineman, as a court-appointed receiver, is entitled to absolute, quasi-judicial immunity from suit when acting with the authority of the court. Erroneous, controversial, and even unfair decisions do not divest a judge of immunity. Fineman was duly appointed by the state court and the transcript of that court's hearing reflects that the judge was aware of, and approved of, all of his expenditures. View "Trinh v. Fineman" on Justia Law

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In 1992, Grant was convicted of homicide and other crimes that he had committed while he was a juvenile. He was sentenced to life imprisonment under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. Parole is unavailable to those convicted of federal crimes, so the sentence effectively condemned Grant to die in prison. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held (Miller v. Alabama) that the Eighth Amendment permits a life-without-parole (LWOP) sentence for a juvenile homicide offender only if the sentencer could have imposed a lesser punishment based on the offender’s youth at the time of the offense.At Miller’s resentencing, the judge recognized that youth can impair judgment and thereby mitigate culpability, stated that a life sentence for Grant would be too harsh, given his juvenile offender status and individual circumstances, and sentenced Grant to a term of 60 years on his homicide-related convictions with an undisturbed five-year consecutive sentence, Grant argued that his 65-year sentence violates Miller because it incarcerates him to his life expectancy, thereby amounting to a de facto LWOP sentence. Grant contends that Miller forbids such a sentence for a juvenile homicide offender unless he or she is incorrigible, which Grant is not. The Third Circuit affirmed. Miller only entitled Grant to a sentencing hearing at which the district court had the discretion to impose a sentence less than LWOP in view of Grant’s youth at the time of his offenses; that is what he received. View "United States v. Grant" on Justia Law

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On various dates between March and July 2020, the Governor and Secretary of Health of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania entered orders to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs, Pennsylvania citizens, elected officials, and businesses, challenged three pairs of directives: stay-at-home orders, business closure orders, and orders setting congregation limits in secular settings. The district court concluded that the orders violated the U.S. Constitution. While the appeal was pending, circumstances changed: more than 60% of Pennsylvanians have received a COVID vaccine. An amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution and a concurrent resolution of the Commonwealth’s General Assembly now restricts the Governor’s authority to enter the same orders. In addition, the challenged orders have expired by their own terms. The Third Circuit vacated the judgment and dismissed an appeal as moot. No exception to the mootness doctrine applies View "County of Butler v. Governor of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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The Borough brought misdemeanor criminal charges against the owner for abandoning inoperable vehicles, appliances, and other trash on his property, in violation of ordinances and statutes. During a status conference, the judge stated that, after the expiration of 20 days, the Borough could enter and start the clean-up; 21 days after the hearing, the Borough began cleaning the property without the owners’ permission or a warrant. Believing some of the removed items to be valuable, the owners sent a cease-and-desist letter and eventually filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 with state law claims for conversion and trespass.The district court that it lacked jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which precludes federal district courts from exercising jurisdiction over appeals from state court judgments. Meanwhile, the owner was convicted of the public nuisance charge. The Third Circuit reversed. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is narrow and defeats federal subject-matter jurisdiction only under limited circumstances. There is a precise four-pronged inquiry. When even one of the four prongs is not satisfied, it is not proper to dismiss on Rooker-Feldman grounds. This case does not satisfy all four prongs. Any injury the owners suffered was not “caused by” a state court judgment; even if the Borough lacked independent authority to seize the property, the state court “acquiesced in” or “ratified” the Borough’s seizure of the property rather than having “produced” it. The owners did not challenge the state court judgment but brought independent constitutional claims. View "Vuyanich v. Borough of Smithton" on Justia Law