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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Ragbir, a green card holder from Trinidad and Tobago, was convicted of mortgage fraud in 2000. On his attorney’s advice, Ragbir agreed that the actual loss was $350,000-$500,000, believing that his convictions alone made him deportable. The Third Circuit affirmed Ragbir’s convictions and sentence. Ragbir never sought post-conviction relief. DHS commenced removal proceedings. Ragbir then learned that his stipulation to a loss of more than $10,000 made him deportable. Ragbir’s immigration counsel represented that an attorney would be hired to attempt to vacate the underlying convictions. Ragbir still did not pursue a collateral attack. The IJ ordered him removed; the BIA and Second Circuit upheld the decision. In the meantime, Ragbir married an American citizen and obtained an immigrant visa. The BIA denied a motion to reopen. DHS eventually elected not to renew its discretionary stay of removal. Ragbir then challenged his detention, asserting that his conviction should be overturned because jury instructions given at his trial were erroneous in light of later Supreme Court rulings and asserting ineffective assistance of counsel. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the petition. Ragbir had the ability to bring all his claims at least six years before his 2012 petition for coram nobis. He provides no sound reason for his delay. View "Ragbir v. United States" on Justia Law

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Johnson and Wright were charged with murder. Before trial, Wright confessed to his involvement in the crime and identified Johnson as the shooter. The prosecution introduced Wright’s confession at trial, substituting Johnson’s name with “the other guy” in an attempt to avoid a Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause violation. Johnson’s identity as the “other guy” was explicitly revealed at the trial's beginning and end. The court instructed the jury to ignore Wright’s confession when considering Johnson’s culpability, but a question from the jury indicated that they were having great difficulty doing so. Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that there was no violation of the Supreme Court’s “Bruton” holding; the substitution of “other guy,” plus the jury instructions were adequate to protect Johnson’s rights under Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent. A federal district court concluded that a Bruton violation had occurred but was harmless. The Third Circuit reversed. In these circumstances. courts cannot rely on a juror’s ability to put such inculpatory statements out of their minds; the statement’s admission violates the non-confessing co-defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause and requires a new trial if he has been prejudiced by such damaging evidence. The court noted that the jury, faced with a lack of overwhelming inculpatory evidence against Johnson, and significant credibility issues with the prosecution’s key witnesses, struggled for six days to reach a verdict. View "Johnson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI" on Justia Law

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Philadelphia enacted an ordinance to address the disparity in the pay of women and minorities: the “Inquiry Provision” prohibits an employer from asking about a prospective employee’s wage history and the “Reliance Provision” prohibits an employer from relying on wage history in setting or negotiating a prospective employee’s wage. The Chamber of Commerce filed suit, alleging that both provisions infringed on the freedom of speech of the Chamber and its members. The Chamber concedes that the pay gap exists and that the city has a substantial governmental interest in addressing it but argues that the city passed the Ordinance “with only the barest of legislative records” and did not present sufficient evidence to establish that the Ordinance would satisfy the city’s objective.. The district court agreed that the Inquiry Provision violated the First Amendment speech rights of employers and invalidated it but concluded that the Reliance Provision did not impact speech. The Third Circuit reversed in part. The district court’s analysis applied a much higher standard than required. The Supreme Court has not demanded legislative certainty or empirical proof that legislation would achieve the stated interest even when applying strict scrutiny. Courts need only determine whether the legislature “has drawn reasonable inferences based on substantial evidence.” The Supreme Court has even “permitted litigants to justify [analogous] speech restrictions by reference to studies and anecdotes pertaining to different locales altogether, or even, in a case applying strict scrutiny, to justify restrictions based solely on history, consensus, and ‘simple common sense.’” View "Greater Philadelphia Chamber Commerce v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Holloway was convicted of a DUI at the highest blood alcohol content (BAC). The charge was dismissed upon his completion of an accelerated rehabilitation program. In 2005, Holloway was again arrested for DUI and registered a BAC of 0.192%. Holloway pled guilty to violating 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. 3802(c) for driving under the influence at the highest BAC (greater than 0.16%). He received a sentence of 60 months’ “Intermediate Punishment,” including 90-days’ imprisonment that allowed him work-release. In 2016, Holloway sought to purchase a firearm but was unable to do so because of his disqualifying DUI conviction, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Holloway sought a declaration that section 922(g)(1) is unconstitutional as applied to him. The district court granted Holloway summary judgment and entered a permanent injunction barring the government from enforcing section 922(g)(1) against him. The Third Circuit reversed. Pennsylvania’s DUI law, which makes a DUI at the highest BAC a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, constitutes a serious crime that requires disarmament. The prohibition does not violate Holloway’s Second Amendment rights. View "Holloway v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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In October 2013, Jones was on a Pennsylvania prison bus, traveling to his post-conviction hearing. Jones talked with a fellow inmate. The driver “threaten[ed]” both men, then switched Jones’s property box with that of the other inmate. The box held Jones’s legal papers for the hearing. Weeks later, Jones was waiting for another prison bus. The same driver yanked him out of line, put him in the segregation cage, and berated him. Jones told other inmates to get the names of the transportation crew; they took off their name tags. The stress of this incident exacerbated his mental ailments. He had a nervous breakdown and stayed two days in the medical annex. Days later, Jones filed a grievance. For 10 months, he refiled, appealed, and sent follow-up letters. In September 2014, he was released, but the prison had not decided his grievance. Just under two years after his release, Jones filed a pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint. On remand, a magistrate recommended dismissing his claim as time-barred. She acknowledged that the limitations period is tolled for a prisoner who exhausts his administrative remedies before suing but reasoned that the rule does not apply to former prisoners who sue after their release. The Third Circuit vacated. A prisoner must exhaust the prison’s internal administrative remedies, whether he sues from prison or sues after his release. Jones’s claim for injunctive relief against the driver were moot but Jones may seek monetary relief against the remaining defendants. View "Jones v. Capozza" on Justia Law

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A contractor and the prime contractor, involved in repainting the Queensboro Bridge, became embroiled in a dispute. The subcontractor stopped work. The parties sued each other for breach of contract. The subcontractor filed for bankruptcy. At the final pre-trial conference on an adversary proceeding, the parties entered into a stipulation that if the Bankruptcy Court determined that the subcontractor was the breaching party, then “all of the [p]arties’ pending claims will be withdrawn and disposed of in their entirety with prejudice” and the adversary proceeding “shall be deemed to be finally concluded in all respects.” Following a bench trial, the Bankruptcy Court concluded that the subcontractor was the breaching party and ordered compliance with the stipulation. Instead, the subcontractor appealed. The district court concluded that the subcontractor had released its claims and waived its right to appeal and modified the Bankruptcy Court’s order to make it a dismissal of the adversary proceeding with prejudice. The Third Circuit affirmed. The stipulation’s language confirms an intent to end all pending claims based on the Bankruptcy Court ruling: a party that seeks to appeal must make its intent to do so clear at the time of the stipulation setting the manner for resolution. View "L&L Painting Co., Inc. v. Odyssey Contracting Corp." on Justia Law

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Ludwikowski went to the police station to report extortionate threats. He was there for about seven hours and was questioned extensively about why he was vulnerable to extortion. He was given water and offered pizza. He went to the restroom, unaccompanied, at least three times. He was interviewed for about four hours, in three phases, punctuated by breaks. He had his phone and used it to make a call. It came to light that Ludwikowski, a pharmacist, had been filling fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions. He was later tried for distribution of a controlled substance. He moved to suppress the statements he made at the police station, arguing that they were inadmissible because no one read him his Miranda rights. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Ludwikowski was not in custody, so no Miranda warnings were needed. Much of the interview was devoted to trying to identify the extorter and the motivation; the interview would have been shorter if Ludwikowski had been more responsive. His statements at the police station were not involuntary. A reasonable person would have understood he could leave; Ludwikowski’s calm demeanor and calculated answers belie his argument that he subjectively felt his freedom was constrained. There was no plain error in the admission of expert testimony on the practice of pharmacy. . View "United States v. Ludwikowski" on Justia Law

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Sepling, represented by SC, pled guilty to importing GBL, a controlled substance analogue, 21 U.S.C. 952; Sepling’s sentence would be calculated without consideration of the Guidelines career offender section. Sepling was released on bond pending sentencing and became involved in a conspiracy to import methylone, another Schedule I controlled substance. He was charged under 21 U.S.C. 963. A search uncovered three kilograms of methylone. Subsequent investigation revealed that the conspiracy involved approximately 10 kilograms. A Public Defender (APD) represented Sepling on the new charges. The prosecution agreed to withdraw the new charge; in exchange, Sepling’s involvement in the conspiracy would be factored into his GBL sentence as relevant conduct. The APD ceased representing Sepling. Sepling’s unmodified Guideline range for the GBL was 27-33 months. The methylone relevant conduct dramatically increased his base offense level. The PSR analogized methylone to MDMA, commonly called “ecstasy,” and held him responsible for 10 kilograms, resulting in responsibility equivalent to that for conspiring to distribute five and a half tons of marijuana, for a sentencing range of 188-235 months. SC did not object to that calculation, nor did he file a sentencing memorandum. Rather than researching the pharmacological effect of methylone, SC relied upon Sepling to explain the effects of methylone. SC, the government, and the court all confessed that they did not possess any substantive knowledge of methylone The Third Circuit vacated the 102-month sentence. Sepling was prejudiced by his counsel’s ineffectiveness. View "United States v. Sepling" on Justia Law

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In the visiting room, a friend handed Pennsylvania inmate Thomas a bag of M&Ms. He ate one and then quickly drank soda. A guard, believing that Thomas had ingested contraband, removed him to a dry cell for observation until natural processes allowed the ingested contraband to be retrieved. The sink and toilet were capped. Dry cells lack all linens and moveable items other than a mattress. Inmates’ clothes are exchanged for a smock; their movements are carefully controlled to prevent them from concealing or disposing of contraband. To expedite his release from the dry cell, Thomas was offered and accepted laxatives. Over the next four days, Thomas had 12 bowel movements and was x-rayed. No evidence of contraband was found. He was confined to the dry cell for five more days. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Thomas filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Whether there was a penological justification to continue Thomas’s confinement in the dry cell after four days constitutes a disputed issue of material fact. When confinement in a dry cell is not foul or inhuman and serves a legitimate penological interest, it will not violate the Eighth Amendment. View "Thomas v. Tice" on Justia Law

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Janine, a secretary in the judicial chambers of her sister Joan, was charged with conspiring with another sister, a State Senator, to divert the services of legislative staff for the benefit of Joan’s campaign for a seat on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The 2010 charges ended in a mistrial. In 2011, before Janine was retried, prosecutors filed new charges relating to activities in Joan’s judicial chambers. Janine was found guilty on all charges. She sought habeas corpus relief, arguing that her retrial on the 2010 charges should have been barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause. A Magistrate Judge wrote a Report & Recommendation that Janine was not “in custody” for purposes of habeas jurisdiction because she challenged only her convictions on the 2010 charges but had received no penalty for them. The R&R advised the parties that they had 14 days to file objections. No objections were filed. The district court adopted the R&R. About two weeks later, Janine filed a motion under Rule 60(b)(1) claiming that her lawyer had given the R&R to his assistant, assuming that the assistant would send the R&R to Janine and that Janine would inform him if she wanted to file objections. The assistant did not forward the R&R; the lawyer never followed up. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Janine’s failure to timely respond to the R&R is the kind of claim foreclosed by 28 U.S.C. 2254: “ineffectiveness or incompetence of counsel during ... collateral post-conviction proceedings.” The court also agreed that Janine was not in custody. View "Orie v. District Attorney Allegheny County" on Justia Law