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

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In 2020, Abreu pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). His PSR calculated his Guidelines range applying the enhancement for a defendant who “committed any part of the instant offense” after a felony conviction for either a “crime of violence” or a “controlled substance offense” U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(a)(4). The enhancement was predicated on his prior conviction for conspiracy to commit second-degree aggravated assault under New Jersey law, The district court applied the enhancement and sentenced Abreu to 56 months’ imprisonment.Following a 2019 Supreme Court case, Kisor v. Wilkie, the Third Circuit reexamined 4B1.2 and concluded that the text of the “controlled substance offense” prong unambiguously excluded inchoate crimes and overruled its “Hightower” precedent. The Third Circuit then vacated Abreu’s sentence, citing the Guidelines’ text and recent Supreme Court precedent and declining to defer to the commentary to 2K2.1, which purports to define the term “crime of violence” to encompass conspiracy crimes. View "United States v. Abreu" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Dawson was caught driving a car containing bags of fentanyl, stamped with the label “Peace of Mind”. Earlier that day, Police had responded to the overdose death of “L.B.”, who was found with bags of fentanyl bearing the same “Peace of Mind” label. L.B.’s cell phone revealed that Dawson had been supplying L.B. with fentanyl. Police used that phone to set up a drug deal with Dawson, apprehending him upon his arrival. Dawson pled guilty to possessing fentanyl with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). Dawson was caught with only four grams of fentanyl, but he had been convicted four times of heroin trafficking under Pennsylvania law. The PSR classified him as a career offender and calculated a guidelines range of 188-235 months’ imprisonment. Dawson also objected to the PSR’s mention of L.B.’s death.The court sentenced Dawson to 142 months’ imprisonment; it neither held that Dawson caused L.B.'s death nor deemed the issue irrelevant to crafting a sentence under the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. The Third Circuit affirmed. Dawson’s state drug trafficking convictions are career offender predicates, as the state offense, 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. §780-113(a)(30), does not criminalize a broader range of conduct than the Guidelines. Dawson did not show that his substantial rights were affected by the district court's failure to rule on whether Dawson caused L.B. to die from a drug overdose. View "United States v. Dawson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Host operates airport concessions. MarketPlace is the landlord at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). After competitive bidding, Host won PHL concession spots, planning to open a coffee shop and a restaurant. MarketPlace insisted on a lease term allowing it to grant “third-parties exclusive or semi-exclusive rights to be sole providers" of certain foods and beverages, including a “pouring-rights agreement” (PRA), “granting a beverage manufacturer, bottler, distributor or other company (e.g., Pepsi or Coca-Cola) the exclusive control over beverage products advertised, sold and served at [PHL].”Host abandoned the deal and sued, alleging that MarketPlace would receive payoffs from a “big soda company” courtesy of an exclusive PRA. The complaint alleged an unlawful tying arrangement and an illegal conspiracy and agreement in restraint of trade, in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The district court dismissed the case with prejudice, finding Host failed to adequately plead a relevant geographic market. The Third Circuit affirmed. Host lacks antitrust standing and has not adequately pled a violation of the Sherman Act. Host alleged harm only to itself; failure to secure preferred contractual terms is not an antitrust injury. Host was not being forced to purchase any product. MarketPlace’s control over the non-alcoholic beverage suppliers at PHL does not stem from market power but from its role as a landlord. View "Host International Inc v. MarketPlace PHL LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs purchased notary services at New Jersey UPS stores and, in class action complaints, alleged they were charged an amount that exceeded the $2.50 fee permitted by New Jersey law. Neither complaint alleged that the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million. During discovery, while an appeal from the denial of a motion to dismiss was pending, UPS produced a spreadsheet showing that the New Jersey UPS stores had more than one million notary transactions during the six-year class period, which established an amount in controversy that satisfied federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). UPS removed both complaints to federal court. The district court remanded, reasoning that UPS could have performed the required calculation when the spreadsheet was produced in December 2020, so the removal petitions filed months later were untimely. The court did not consider whether CAFA’s local controversy exception required remand.The Third Circuit vacated. The removal statute requires removal within 30 days of service of a pleading that demonstrates the existence of federal jurisdiction or within 30 days of the date on which a defendant receives an amended pleading, motion, order, or other paper that discloses federal jurisdiction. Here, the initial pleadings did not demonstrate the existence of federal jurisdiction. UPS never received any paper that disclosed jurisdiction, so removal was timely. The court remanded for consideration of the local controversy exception. View "McLaren v. The UPS Store Inc" on Justia Law

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Price was found dead in her bedroom from an overdose of fentanyl. A jury convicted Zayas of distributing and conspiring to distribute the fentanyl that killed Price; of distributing fentanyl to someone who was pregnant; and distributing it within 1,000 feet of a playground. The district court sentenced Zayas to life imprisonment.The Third Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting Zayas’s argument that he was prejudiced by the government’s failure to timely disclose potentially exculpatory evidence–his statements that he believed the drugs that he delivered to Price were in white bags. The evidence is clearly sufficient to establish Zayas’s guilt for distributing and conspiring to distribute the fentanyl that killed Price beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury could reasonably conclude that Price did not have any drugs before she purchased the drugs from Zayas just before her death; that those drugs contained fentanyl because both Price and Zayas had discussed the drugs’ unusual potency. Although the court gave erroneous jury instructions, a rational juror viewing the evidence could only have concluded that he knew she was pregnant. The court vacated in part, finding the evidence insufficient to support his conviction for distributing fentanyl within 1,000 feet of a playground as defined by the statute. View "United States v. Zayas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Around 2:00 a.m., Philadelphia Police Officers Cannon and Gonzalez, patrolling a “very violent” North Philadelphia area, saw a pickup truck roll through a stop sign and fail to signal a turn. They stopped the truck. While collecting the driver's license and registration, the officers smelled alcohol. The front seat passenger was heavily intoxicated; Hurtt, from behind, attempted to calm him. Hurtt volunteered his identification. When the driver stepped out for a sobriety test, leaving the door open. Cannon got into the truck and pointed his flashlight around the vehicle. Cannon instructed the two passengers to keep their hands visible three times. They did not comply and kept putting their hands in their pockets or the front of their pants. Although he had not yet run the driver’s license or vehicle identification nor finished the sobriety test, Gonzalez put the driver in the patrol car to help clear the passengers. After Hurrt twice appeared to be reaching into a tool bucket, Cannon searched him and found a loaded handgun in his waistband. After being arrested Hurtt made several statements without any Miranda warnings. Hurtt was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1).The Third Circuit reversed the denial of Hurtt’s motion to suppress. Cannon created a safety concern while off-mission from the purpose of the original traffic stop and thereby wrongfully prolonged Hurtt’s detention. The disputed evidence was only uncovered after the officers went off-mission. View "United States v. Hurtt" on Justia Law

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Supor, a construction contractor, got a job on New Jersey’s American Dream Project, a large retail development, and agreed to use truck drivers exclusively from one union and to contribute to the union drivers’ multiemployer pension fund. The project stalled. Supor stopped working with the union drivers and pulled out of the fund. The fund demanded $766,878, more than twice what Supor had earned on the project, as a withdrawal penalty for ending its pension payments without covering its share, citing the 1980 Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA), amending ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1381. Under the MPPAA, employers who pull out early must pay a “withdrawal liability” based on unfunded vested benefits. Supor claimed the union had promised that it would not have to pay any penalty. The Fund argued that the statute requires “employer[s]” to arbitrate such disputes. Supor argued that it was not an employer under the Act.The district court sent the parties to arbitration, finding that an “employer” includes any entity obligated to contribute to a pension plan either as a direct employer or in the interest of an employer of the plan’s participants. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding the definition plausible, protective of the statutory scheme, and supported by three decades of consensus. View "J Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging Co., Inc. v. Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund" on Justia Law

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Under "loyalty contracts," Physician Buying Groups (PBGs) members are entitled to discounts if they buy a large enough percentage of their vaccines from Merck. The loyalty contracts include an arbitration provision. Membership contracts between PBGs and medical practices give medical practices discounts on Merck vaccines for enrolling in PBGs. PBGs contract with both Merck and medical practices and are middlemen but PBGs never possess the vaccines. Medical practices buy their vaccines directly from Merck, receiving discounts for belonging to a PBG. The Pediatricians, members of PBGs that contracted with Merck, never signed contracts containing an arbitration clause.The Pediatricians filed federal suits alleging Merck’s vaccine bundling program was anticompetitive. Merck moved to compel arbitration. On remand, following discovery, the district court again denied Merck’s motion and granted the Pediatricians summary judgment, reasoning that the Pediatricians were not bound under an agency theory. The Third Circuit reversed. The PBG membership contract made the PBG a “non-exclusive agent to arrange for the purchase of goods and services,” and the PBG acted on this authority by executing the loyalty contract with Merck that included the arbitration clause. The Pediatricians simultaneously demonstrated intent to create an agency relationship and exercised control over the scope of the PBG’s agency by contract. View "In re: Rotavirus Vaccines Antitrust Litigation v." on Justia Law

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John and Jane attended Princeton University where they began a volatile relationship, including physical altercations. When they broke up Jane spread rumors about John on campus and threatened John: “take a year off and nothing will happen to you.” John complained that he did not “feel safe.” The Director of Student Life recommended mental health services and did not recommend a Title IX complaint. Jane told Princeton’s Director of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration, that she was a victim of “Intimate Relationship Violence” but that she was not interested in pursuing further action. She was advised to press charges. Despite a no-contact order, Jane approached John on campus. Princeton told Jane not to let it happen again. Princeton barred John—but not Jane—from campus during its investigation. John accidentally “liked” one of Jane’s social media posts and self-reported the mistake. Princeton launched another disciplinary process. Princeton expressed no interest in pursuing John's counterclaims and ultimately found evidence to support Jane's allegations of physical abuse but nothing to confirm John’s claims, resulting in John’s expulsion. Jane tweeted about “boy problems that were never real problems just things I created.”The Third Circuit vacated the dismissal of John’s Title IX discrimination complaint. On a motion to dismiss, a court must “accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” View "Doe v. Princeton University" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
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The Unions represent PG employees. Each union's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with PG required PG to provide health insurance to union employees. A separate provision governed dispute resolution with a grievance procedure that culminated in binding arbitration. The CBAs had durational clauses and expired in March 2017; the arbitration provisions had no separate durational clauses. Two months before their expiration, PG sent letters to the unions, stating that upon expiration, "all contractual obligations of the current agreement shall expire. [PG] will continue to observe all established wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment as required by law, except those recognized by law as strictly contractual, after the Agreement expires. With respect to arbitration, the Company will decide its obligation to arbitrate grievances on a case-by-case basis." While negotiating new CBAs, the parties operated under certain terms of the expired agreements. The unions claim that in 2019, PG violated the expired CBAs by failing to provide certain health-insurance benefits. The unions filed grievances under the dispute-resolution provisions. PG refused to arbitrate, stating that the grievance involved occurrences that arose after the contract expired. The Unions argued implied-in-fact contracts had been formed.The district court granted PG summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed, overruling its own precedent. As a matter of contract law, the arbitration provisions here, because they do not have their own durational clauses, expired with the CBAs. View "Pittsburgh Mailers Union Local Union 22 v. PG Publishing Co., Inc." on Justia Law