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

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After completing a minimum sentence, Pennsylvania inmates are eligible to serve the rest of their sentence on parole. The decision to grant parole is discretionary. Most parolees first rely on halfway houses. Public houses have only 700 spaces, and private contract facilities have 2,100 spaces statewide but each year, about 9,000 Pennsylvania inmates are released on parole. The State Police must notify each resident, school district, day-care center, and college about nearby registered violent sex offenders, making it difficult to place sex offenders into community halfway houses because of community backlash. Sex offenders also tend to linger in halfway houses longer than other parolees because of the difficulties in finding alternate housing. The Department of Corrections considers 13 factors before placing a parolee in a halfway house, including community sensitivity to a criminal offense or specific criminal incident.In a class action challenge, the district court held that paroled sex offenders are similarly situated to other paroled offenders and that there could be no rational basis to delay their placement into halfway houses because of “community sensitivity.” The Third Circuit reversed. A discretionary grant of parole cannot erase the differences between sex crimes and other crimes. DOC’s halfway house policy considering “community sensitivity,” among many other factors, is rationally related to legitimate government interests. View "Stradford v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Adorers, an order of nuns whose religious beliefs require them “to protect and preserve Earth,” own property in Pennsylvania. When Transco notified them that it was designing a 42-inch diameter interstate gas pipeline to cross their property, the Adorers explained that they would not sell a right-of-way through their property. Transco sought a certificate of public convenience and necessity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) published notices and hosted open meetings to discuss the pipeline. The Adorers neither provided comments nor attended meetings. When FERC contacted the Adorers directly, they remained silent. Transco altered the pipeline’s route 132 times in response to public comment. FERC issued the requested certificate, which authorized Transco to use eminent domain to take rights-of-way 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A). Transco sought an order of condemnation to take rights-of-way in the Adorers’ property. The Adorers failed to respond to the complaint.Days after the district court granted Transco default judgment, the Adorers sought an injunction under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1(c). The Third Circuit rejected the Adorers’ contention that RFRA permitted them to assert their claim in federal court rather than before FERC. After the pipeline was put into service, the Adorers sought damages under RFRA. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. To permit a party to reserve a claim, the success of which would imperil a FERC decision to certify an interstate pipeline, by remaining silent during the FERC proceedings and raising the claim in separate litigation would contravene the Natural Gas Act’s exclusive review framework. View "Adorers of the Blood of Christ United States Province v. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Langley was arrested in connection with a Newark drug trafficking operation. Langley agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack-cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 846, which carries a mandatory five-year minimum sentence, agreeing that he would not argue for a sentence below five years’ imprisonment and that he would enter into an appellate waiver, applicable to any challenges to a sentence of five years or below. During his plea hearing, the district court engaged in a thorough colloquy and ensured that Langley had discussed his plea agreement with his counsel and that he understood the appellate waiver. The court considered his arguments concerning the pandemic, the effect of the crack/powder cocaine disparity on the Guidelines calculation, and the age of his criminal convictions. The court determined that the applicable guideline range was 110-137 months and sentenced Langley to 60 months’ imprisonment.In lieu of filing an appellate brief, Langley’s counsel moved to withdraw, asserting in his Anders brief that he identified “no issue of even arguable merit.” Langley submitted a pro se brief, arguing for a further sentencing reduction. The Third Circuit dismissed. Langley’s court-appointed counsel filed an Anders brief that, on its face, met the standard for a “conscientious investigation" of possible grounds for appeal. Counsel is not required to anticipate or address all possible arguments. There are no non-frivolous issues for Langley to raise on appeal. View "United States v. Langley" on Justia Law

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Angle served as the exclusive U.S. distribution agent for Jiangsu, a Chinese manufacturer..Jiangsu claims that, as of June 2018, Angle owed it $1.3 million. Under a June 2018 memorandum of understanding, Angle agreed to pay Jiangsu $528,227.59 within six months. The MOU did not contain an arbitration clause. In July, Jiangsu sent Angle a revised agreement, under which the parties agreed to submit any dispute to the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) with a revised payment schedule. Angle never signed the July MOU. The parties agreed to a payment schedule, without reference to either MOU. Jiangsu repeatedly asked Angle to forward the “signed agreement.” Angle did not make all of the agreed payments. Jiangsu initiated arbitration. Angle objected to CIETAC’s jurisdiction. The Chinese Court found that the July MOU and its arbitration clause were enforceable. The CIETAC arbitration panel independently determined that the July MOU was enforceable under the U.N. Convention on the International Sale of Goods and Chinese law and ordered Angle to pay $624,227.59.Jiangsu sought to enforce its award in the United States under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of Jiangsu’s confirmation petition. While the district court was not bound by the decisions of Chinese tribunals and Angle did not waive its right to contest enforcement, the district court should make an independent determination as to arbitrability. View "Jiangsu Beier Decoration Materials Co., Ltd. v. Angle World LLC" on Justia Law

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From 1986-1991, Weiss did not pay federal income taxes. In 1994, Weiss late-filed returns for those years, self-reporting a $299,202 liability. The IRS made tax assessments against him, triggering a 10-year limitations period for collecting unpaid taxes through a court proceeding or a levy. Weiss’s subsequent bankruptcies tolled that limitations period three times: In July 2009, the IRS began the process of a levy. It mailed a Final Notice to Weiss in February 2009, informing Weiss that it intended to levy his unpaid taxes and that he could request a Collection Due Process hearing. The notice was not sufficient to make a levy, so the limitations period continued to run. Weiss timely requested a Collection Due Process hearing, which suspended the statute of limitations for the period during which the hearing “and appeals therein” were “pending,” 26 U.S.C. 6330(e)(1); no less than 129 days remained in the limitations period. Weiss did not prevail at the hearing or in any of his review-as-of-right federal court challenges. As a last resort, Weiss filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court in October 2018. On December 3, 2018, the Court denied that petition. Instead of proceeding to levy Weiss’s property, the government initiated an action in the district court on February 5, 2019.The Third Circuit found the action timely. Petitions for writs of certiorari are “appeals therein.” An appeal remains “pending” until the time to file such a petition expires. View "United States v. Weiss" on Justia Law

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Liquid Labs manufactures and sells e-liquids that generally contain nicotine and flavoring for use in e-cigarettes. The e-liquids qualify as “new tobacco product[s]” under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, 21 U.S.C. 387-387u, and may not be introduced into interstate commerce without the FDA’s authorization. The FDA must deny a premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) if the applicant fails to “show[] that permitting such tobacco product to be marketed would be appropriate for the protection of public health,” as determined with respect to the risks and benefits to the population as a whole, including users and non-users of the tobacco product.” FDA Guidelines have highlighted that flavored e-liquids’ had a “disproportionate appeal to children.”Liquid Labs submitted PMTAs covering 20 e-liquid products and submitted a marketing plan setting forth plans to discourage youths from using its products. The FDA denied the PMTAs, concluding that Liquid Labs had not shown that the benefits of the products sufficiently outweighed the risks they posed to youths. The documents indicated that evidence could have been provided through “randomized controlled trial[s] and/or longitudinal cohort stud[ies],” or other evidence that reliably and robustly evaluated the impact of the new flavored vs. tobacco-flavored products on adult smokers’ switching or cigarette reduction over time.” The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. The FDA’s order was within its statutory authorities and the Administrative Procedure Act. View "Liquid Labs LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law

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Gussie was charged with fraud. Virgin Islands prosecutors later learned one of the grand jurors might have been a victim of Gussie’s scheme. The government obtained a superseding indictment from a new grand jury about a year later. A jury convicted Gussie, who was sentenced to 45 months in prison.The Third Circuit affirmed. The superseding indictment cured any potential defect, making any error harmless. Gussie suffered no prejudice facing charges under the validly returned superseding indictment. The court rejected Gussie’s arguments that allowing an alleged victim to sit on the grand jury considering an indictment against her was “so prejudicial” that it caused the grand jury “no longer to be a grand jury,” requiring dismissal with prejudice and that the superseding indictment exceeded the statute of limitations because the original indictment was not validly pending when the superseding indictment returned. While Gussie claimed the government knew the juror was a possible victim and permitted the juror’s participation, the district court found no supporting facts for that assertion. View "United States v. Gussie" on Justia Law

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In August 2009, Kennedy and his father were arrested by Philadelphia police during an armed home invasion. In October 2013, after numerous delays, they went on trial. Both were convicted. Kennedy was sentenced to 10-15 years of imprisonment. After failing to obtain redress under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act, Kennedy’s appeal was rejected by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. In July 2019, Kennedy filed a pro se federal habeas petition, arguing that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The district court denied Kennedy’s petition on grounds of procedural default and adopted the state-court finding that only 16 days of the 50-month delay in bringing Kennedy to trial were attributable to the Commonwealth. The court additionally held his petition to be “without merit."The Third Circuit reversed, concluding that Kennedy’s procedural default was excused and that his Sixth Amendment Speedy Trial Right was violated. The Commonwealth had, in the interim, conceded that Kennedy’s Sixth Amendment claim was exhausted. The court noted that a 50-month delay is exceptional and that the Commonwealth did not overcome the presumptive prejudice of a four-year delay, despite the strength of its case at trial. Kennedy has also identified prejudice stemming from loss of employment, anxiety, and incarceration. View "Kennedy v. Superintendent Dallas SCI" on Justia Law

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Baghdad, a Moroccan citizen, has lived in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for two decades. In 2018, he and two accomplices ran out of a Pennsylvania store with three drills (worth about $1000) and sold them at a pawn shop. He pleaded guilty to retail theft and faced nearly two years’ incarceration. The government argued that his conviction was for an aggravated felony, making him removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). The term “aggravated felony” includes theft convictions that result in prison sentences of at least one year. An immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed that the retail theft conviction constituted an aggravated felonyThe Third Circuit denied Baghdad’s petition for review, applying the categorical approach. Baghdad was convicted of a crime that shares all three elements with generic theft and his sentence was for more than one year. While Pennsylvania juries may infer that a defendant who concealed merchandise intended to steal it, that inference is permissive, not mandatory. It depends on facts from which the jury could infer intent to steal beyond a reasonable doubt and it does not shift the burden of proof. Baghdad’s conviction makes him removable. View "Baghdad v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Warren tenders gasoline products to Colonial (a common carrier) for shipment on Colonial’s pipeline from Texas to New Jersey, where Warren has a gasoline-blending operation. The rates and conditions for the transportation services are specified in tariffs approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). The tariff recognizes that the gasoline batches Colonial transports for Warren are fungible and allows Colonial to comingle gasoline from many shippers during transport. Colonial must deliver gasoline of the same volume and grade as the gasoline that was entrusted to it, with the same characteristics that influence the gasoline’s combustion performance (octane rating and distillation value), and its environmental impact, such as volatility. The tariff does not state whether “on specification” gasoline includes any “blend margin.” In 2016, FERC determined that the regulation of in-pipeline blending was outside its jurisdiction. Colonial continued giving Warren gasoline that complies with the relevant tariff but Warren claims that Colonial’s in-line blending of the gasoline with butane diminishes Warren’s ability to blend cheaper blendstocks into the gasoline. Warren regularly blends cheaper gasoline with more expensive gasoline to increase the amount of on-specification gasoline that it can sell,Warren sued for loss of profits (Carmack Amendment 49 U.S.C. 1590), conversion, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the claims. Warren’s request seeks an enlargement of its rights under the FERC-approved tariff and violates the filed-rate doctrine’s nondiscrimination principle. View "George E. Warren LLC v. Colonial Pipeline Co" on Justia Law