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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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 The Committee later rescinded the default permit but the Board of Land Use Appeals issued the permit.VICS filed a petition with the Superior Court, which affirmed the Board’s decision.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

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Plaintiffs brought a putative class action against the School District, claiming that shortcomings in the District’s translation and interpretation services violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the District, based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. A “systemic exception” to IDEA’s administrative exhaustion requirement applies where plaintiffs “allege systemic legal deficiencies and, correspondingly, request system-wide relief" that cannot be addressed through the administrative process. The fact that a complaint is structured as a class action seeking injunctive relief, without more, does not excuse exhaustion; the systemic exception applies when plaintiffs challenge policies that threaten basic IDEA goals, not mere components of special education programs. Both named plaintiffs could bring the same IDEA claim from their complaint before a hearing officer who could then order that the District provide each parent with translated individualized education plans, more qualified or consistent interpretation services, or whatever process would ensure meaningful participation for that parent. Both the claim and the relief would be individualized, even if the relief could create spillover benefits for other parents. View "T.R. v. School District of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The hospital, located in Philadelphia, received a reclassification into the New York City area, which would sizably increase the hospital’s Medicare reimbursements due to that area’s higher wage index, 42 U.S.C. 1395ww(d). Although a statute makes such reclassifications effective for three fiscal years, the agency updated the geographical boundaries for the New York City area before the close of that period and reassigned the hospital to an area in New Jersey with an appreciably lower wage index. The hospital successfully sued three agency officials in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal. The Medicare Act, 42 U.S.C. 1395oo(f)(1), channels reimbursement disputes through administrative adjudication as a near-absolute prerequisite to judicial review. The hospital did not pursue its claim through administrative adjudication before suing in federal court. By not following the statutory channeling requirement, the hospital has no valid basis for subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Temple University Hospital, Inc. v. Secretary United States Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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Valeant develops and manufactures generic pharmaceuticals. Appellants purchased stock in Valeant after Valeant changed its business model to focus more on acquiring new drugs from other companies rather than developing its own. Valeant made promising representations about its financial performance based on its new business model. The price of Valeant stock skyrocketed nearly 350% in 2015. Before the district court addressed class certification in a putative class action on behalf of investors who purchased Valeant stock in 2015, alleging that the price was artificially inflated as a result of deceptive practices, the Appellants filed an “opt-out” complaint bringing the same claims in their individual capacities. The district court dismissed that complaint as untimely under the two-year limitations period.The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal. Putative class members may recover as part of the class or seek individual recourse. Members may initially proceed as part of a class, but certification may be denied later or members may discover that their individual claims are more valuable than the class claims and decide to pursue an opt-out complaint even if certification is likely. In either case, members are generally allowed to initiate an individual action. When a class complaint is filed, the limitations period governing the individual claims of putative members is tolled to protect the rights of putative members while avoiding needless identical lawsuits. Nothing further, such as a certification denial, is required to benefit from tolling. View "Aly v. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, Inc." on Justia Law