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Susinno alleged that on July 28, 2015, she received an unsolicited call on her cell phone from a fitness company called Work Out World (WOW). Susinno did not answer the call, so WOW left a prerecorded promotional offer that lasted one minute on her voicemail. Susinno filed a complaint, claiming WOW’s phone call and message violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibition of prerecorded calls to cellular telephones, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). The district court dismissed, reasoning that a single solicitation was not “the type of case that Congress was trying to protect people against,” and Susinno’s receipt of the call and voicemail caused her no concrete injury. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the TCPA provides a cause of action and that the injury was concrete. The TCPA addresses itself directly to single prerecorded calls from cell phones, and states that its prohibition acts “in the interest of [ ] privacy rights.” View "Susinno v. Work Out World Inc" on Justia Law

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Geraci, part of a police watchdog group, attended an anti-fracking protest at the Philadelphia Convention Center, carrying her camera and a pink bandana that identified her as a legal observer. When the police acted to arrest a protestor, Geraci moved to record the arrest without interfering. An officer pinned Geraci against a pillar for a few minutes, preventing her from observing or recording the arrest. Fields, a Temple University sophomore, was on a public sidewalk where he observed officers across the street breaking up a party. He took a photograph. An officer ordered him to leave. Fields refused; the officer arrested him, confiscated and searched Fields’ phone, and opened several photos. The officer released Fields with a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” The charge was later withdrawn. Fields and Geraci brought 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, alleging First Amendment retaliation. Although the Police Department’s official policies recognized their First Amendment right, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment on those claims, finding no evidence that plaintiffs’ “conduct may be construed as expression of a belief or criticism of police activity.” The Third Circuit reversed, noting that every circuit that has addressed the issue has found that the First Amendment protects the act of photographing or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public. View "Fields v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, a woman cannot obtain a religious divorce until her husband gives her a “get” contract. A woman who leaves her husband without obtaining a get becomes an “agunah,” subject to severe social ostracism. She may seek relief in a “beth din” rabbinical court, which may authorize the use of force to secure a get. To assist an agunah to obtain a get is a religious commandment of the Orthodox Jewish faith. Stimler, Epstein, and Goldstein participated in the beth din process, working with “muscle men” to kidnap and torture husbands. An FBI agent posed as an agunah and approached Epstein, who stated that “what we’re doing is basically gonna be kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beatin’ him up and torturing him.” On the day of the kidnapping, the rabbis and “tough guys” assembled. Goldstein and Stimler arrived in disguise. The three defendants were charged with substantive kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. The government obtained a court order, under the Stored Communications Act, compelling AT&T to turn over historic cell site location information to obtain 57 days of Goldstein’s location history. The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions of the three men, rejecting a due process claim, challenges to evidentiary rulings, and challenges to jury instructions. Respect for religious beliefs cannot trump legitimate government objectives, such as public safety. View "United States v. Stimler" on Justia Law

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After their three-year-old adopted son died, U.S. Army Major John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, were convicted of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. The New Jersey law offenses were “assimilated” into federal law under the Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 13(a), which “borrows” state laws to fill gaps in federal law for crimes committed on federal enclaves. The Jacksons’ crimes occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (Picatinny Arsenal Installation). Using the offense guidelines for assault, U.S.S.G. 2A2.3, and aggravated assault, U.S.S.G. 2A2.2, the Probation Office calculated both defendants’ Guidelines range as 210-262 months. The government calculated a range of 292-365 months. The court declined to calculate the applicable sentencing ranges under the U.S.S.G., reasoning that there was no “sufficiently analogous” offense guideline, sentenced Carolyn to 24 months of imprisonment plus supervised release, and sentenced John to three years of probation plus community service and a fine. The Third Circuit vacated the sentences, adopting an “elements-based” approach, but concluding that the assault guideline is “sufficiently analogous” to the Jacksons’ offenses. The district court failed to make the requisite findings with respect to the Guidelines calculation and the statutory sentencing factors. While the court could consider what would happen if the Jacksons had been prosecuted in state court, it focused on state sentencing practices to the exclusion of federal sentencing principles. The sentences were substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Defendants created a publicly searchable “Inmate Lookup Tool” into which they uploaded information about thousands of people who had been held or incarcerated at the Bucks County Correctional Facility since 1938. Taha filed suit, alleging that the County and Correctional Facility had publicly disseminated information on the internet in violation of the Pennsylvania Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. 9102, about his expunged 1998 arrest and incarceration. The district court granted Taha partial summary judgment on liability before certifying a punitive damages class of individuals about whom incarceration information had been disseminated online. The court then found that the only remaining question of fact was whether defendants had acted willfully in disseminating the information. After the court certified the class, the defendants filed an interlocutory appeal. The Third Circuit affirmed the class certification order, rejecting an argument that the district court erred in granting Taha partial summary judgment on liability before ruling on class certification. The court upheld conclusions that punitive damages can be imposed in a case in which the plaintiff does not recover compensatory damages, that punitive damages can be imposed on government agencies, and that the predominance requirement under FRCP 23(b)(3) was met so that a class could be certified. View "Taha v. County of Bucks" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Scott Township in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania enacted an ordinance that authorizes officials to enter upon any property within the Township to determine the existence and location of any cemetery. The ordinance compels property owners to hold their private cemeteries open to the public during daylight hours. Knick challenged the ordinance as authorizing unrestrained searches of private property in violation of the Fourth Amendment and as taking private property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. While the “ordinance is extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,” important justiciability considerations preclude reaching the merits. Because Knick conceded that her Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and failed to demonstrate that they imminently will be, Knick lacks standing to advance her Fourth Amendment challenge. Knick’s Fifth Amendment claims are not ripe until she has sought and been denied just compensation using Pennsylvania’s inverse condemnation procedures, as required by Supreme Court precedent. View "Knick v. Township of Scott" on Justia Law

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Wilkes-Barre Hospital’s radiology department x-rayed Daubert. His bill was $46. Radiology Associates forwarded his medical report and cell phone number to its billing company, MBMS. Daubert’s health-insurer contributed $21. Daubert did not pay the remaining $25. MBMS transferred his account to a debt collector, NRA, sharing Daubert’s cell number. NRA sent a collection letter. Daubert alleged that, visible through the envelope's window, were the sequence of letters and numbers NRA used to track Daubert’s collection account and a barcode that, when scanned by the appropriate reader, revealed that account number. NRA also called Daubert 69 times in 10 months, using a Predictive Dialer. Daubert sued, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, asserting that the information visible through the envelope could have revealed his private information and of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Daubert on his TCPA claim and awarded $34,500 ($500 × 69 calls); no reasonable jury could find that Daubert expressly consented to receive calls from NRA. The court reversed the rejection of his FDCPA claim; the use of the barcode was not a bona fide good faith error. View "Daubert v. NRA Group LLC" on Justia Law

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Genova manufactures vinyl pipes and rain gutters. It operated a plant in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Former employees of that plant filed a putative class action, seeking medical monitoring for their alleged exposure to toxic substances. Genova ceased operations at its Hazleton facility in 2012, more than two years before the suit was filed. Plaintiffs claimed to have discovered previously unavailable Material Safety and Data Sheets (MSDSs), revealing that, while working for Genova, they were exposed to carcinogens and other toxic chemicals linked to various diseases or conditions and that Genova violated the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. 1910.1200, by failing to inform them about the chemicals to which they were exposed and by failing to provide the requisite protective equipment. No members of the putative class have suffered an injury or illness linked to the substances used at Genova’s plant. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as barred by the two-year limitations period. Reasonable minds would not differ in finding that the plaintiffs did not exercise the reasonable diligence required for the discovery rule to toll the statute of limitations. Information concerning the dangers of the chemicals to which they were exposed was widely available for decades before they filed their complaint. View "Blanyar v. Genova Products Inc" on Justia Law

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Johnson was convicted in Florida, for lying on a passport application, then convicted in the Virgin Islands, for wire fraud. In both instances, Johnson received a custodial sentence followed by supervised release, the conditions of which would be violated if he committed another crime. Johnson was already imprisoned on the first charge when he was indicted, convicted, and sentenced on the second; he effectively served one aggregate prison term for both convictions. After Johnson was released in 2014, the Florida Probation Office took charge of his supervision. Aside from a June 2014 phone call that he initiated, Johnson had no contact with the Virgin Islands Probation Office. In January 2015, Johnson was again indicted in Florida for lying on a passport application; he pled guilty. In April 2016, a Florida district court entered a judgment of revocation, sentencing him to time served. The Virgin Islands Probation Office took no action until March 2016, when it learned of Johnson’s new indictment. The Virgin Islands District Court began the process of revoking Johnson’s Virgin Islands supervised release. Johnson argued that the Florida judgment of revocation eliminated the Virgin Islands term of supervised release, leaving nothing to supervise or revoke and that the Virgin Islands Probation Office’s abdication of its supervisory responsibility deprived that court of jurisdiction. The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of those arguments and imposition of an 18-month sentence. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Duquesne entities filed tax returns as a consolidated taxpayer, which requires a mixed approach: calculating some aspects of the group’s taxes as though the entities were a single taxpayer and calculating others as if each were a separate taxpayer, 26 U.S.C. 1502. There is, nonetheless, the potential for the group to deflect its tax liability by using stock sales to claim a “double deduction” for a single loss at a subsidiary. In 2001, the Federal Circuit invalidated Treas. Reg. 1.1502-20, which prevented double deductions when the parent’s loss on its sale of stock occurred before the subsidiary recognized its loss, leaving intact the regulatory prohibition on double deductions where the transactions are structured so that the losses occur in reverse order. Duquesne group then arranged a series of transactions, so that on its 2001 tax return, it carried back $161 million of loss and claimed a tentative refund of $35 million. In 2002 the IRS issued temporary regulations that applied to stock losses occurring on or after March 7, 2002. Duquesne group incurred further stock losses in transactions after March 2002. The IRS determined that it had claimed a double deduction and disallowed $199 million of these losses under the Ilfeld doctrine, that the Code should not be interpreted to allow the taxpayer the practical equivalent of a double deduction absent a clear declaration of intent by Congress. The Tax Court granted the IRS summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Ilfeld doctrine remains good law. View "Duquesne Light Holdings Inc v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law