Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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GE manufactures Omniscan, an FDA-approved gadolinium-based contrast agent that has been associated in some patients with development of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF), a rare and deadly condition that leads to the hardening (fibrosis) of the kidneys. Omniscan was administered to Wahl for two MRIs she received in Nashville in 2006. About one year later, she displayed the first symptoms of NSF. She was officially diagnosed with NSF in 2010. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all pre-trial litigation of Omniscan-related cases in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. In 2011, Wahl filed a complaint in that court. With the agreement of Wahl and GE, the MDL judge transferred the case, in 2013, to the Middle District of Tennessee, the “proper venue.” GE then moved for summary judgment, arguing that all Omniscan doses produced from 2004 to 2006 were marked with expiration dates two years after manufacture, so the Omniscan administered to Wahl must have expired no later than 2008; the Tennessee Products Liability Act’s statute of repose requires suits to be instituted within one year of the expiration date appearing on a product’s packaging. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment, favoring GE, applying Tennessee choice-of-law rules. View "Wahl v. Gen. Elec. Co." on Justia Law

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In 1948, the United States and Ohio entered into a cost-sharing agreement to construct and maintain the Tom Jenkins Dam and Burr Oak Reservoir to control flooding in southeast Ohio’s Hocking River Basin. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the Project required acquisition of property interests under and surrounding the dam, including subsurface mineral rights. Those interests were acquired and the dam was built. In 2010, Ohio entered into leases that granted Buckingham, a coal company, rights to construct a corridor beneath Project lands to connect non-Project parcels that Buckingham already owned and to sell coal extracted in the process. The United States unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order. The district court determined that the Project would not be placed at risk by the leases. The United States then unsuccessfully sought a declaratory judgment that the cost-sharing agreement preclude Ohio (or any third party authorized by Ohio) from conducting mining activity in Project lands without the Corps’ prior approval. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Ohio was required to acquire land “necessary” for the Project, including “coal in the lands lying below elevation 750,” so that the United States would not have to litigate to protect the Project or to alter operations to avoid litigation. The Agreement did not grant Ohio a unilateral right to sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of those same rights. View "United States v. State of Ohio" on Justia Law

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Federal agents executed a search warrant on Pirosko’s hotel room and seized a laptop computer and a USB drive. Analysis revealed numerous images and video files depicting child pornography on both. Charged with knowingly receiving and distributing computer files containing visual depictions of real minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), and knowingly possessing a computer and a USB storage device containing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(5)(B), Pirosko moved to compel the government to disclose the tools and records used to search the computer equipment. The court denied the motion, citing the sensitive nature of the computer programs and Pirosko’s lack of a demonstrated need for discovery. Pirosko then unsuccessfully moved to suppress, arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated because the search warrant was obtained using unreliable and unsupported information. Pirosko entered a conditional guilty plea and received a sentence of 240 months of imprisonment, the statutory maximum. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to compel discovery; that the government used unconstitutional warrantless tracking in order to obtain its search warrant; and that his sentence is greater than necessary to servethe purposes of 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). View "United States v. Pirosko" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Criminal Law
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Zada sold fake investments in Saudi Arabian oil, raising about $60 million from investors in Michigan and Florida. Zada gave investors promissory notes that, on their face, say nothing about oil-investment. They say that Zada will pay a principal amount plus interest (at rates far lower than Zada had promised). Zada stated that the notes were necessary only to ensure that investors would be repaid by Zada’s family if something happened to him. Little of what Zada said was true. Zada paid actors to pose as a Saudi royalty. Zada never bought any oil; he used investors’ money to pay his personal expenses. When Zada paid investors anything, he used money raised from other victims. The SEC discovered Zada’s scheme and filed a civil enforcement action, alleging violation of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 77. The district court granted the SEC summary judgment, ordering Zada to pay $56 million in damages and a civil penalty of $56 million more. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the investments were not securities and that the civil penalty improperly punishes him for invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. View "Secs. & Exch. Comm'n v. Zada" on Justia Law

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Lichtenberger lived with Holmes, his girlfriend, at her mother’s home. Friends told Holmes that Lichtenberger had been convicted of child pornography offenses. Holmes requested that the police escort Lichtenberger off the property. Officer Huston determined that Lichtenberger had an active arrest warrant for failing to register as a sex offender and arrested him. Later, Holmes went into their shared bedroom and retrieved his laptop. She later testified that he “would never let me use it or be near him when he was using it and I wanted to know why.” Holmes hacked the laptop, changed the password, and found images of adults engaging in sexual acts with minors. Huston returned. Holmes showed Huston those images and gave him Lichtenberger’s cell phone, flash drive, and marijuana. Lichtenberger was indicted for receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), (a)(4)(B), and (b). The district court granted a motion to suppress, finding that when Huston directed Holmes to show him what she had found, Holmes was acting as a government agent. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that there are extensive privacy interests at stake in laptop searches and Huston had far less than “virtual certainty” regarding what he was going to see when Holmes showed him what she had found. View "United States v. Lichtenberger" on Justia Law

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Napier was convicted of 12 counts of production, transportation, distribution, and receipt of child pornography, stemming from his sexual molestation of an 11-month-old baby and a 9- year-old girl, which he filmed and then traded on the Internet with others who share child pornography. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Napier’s arguments that the district court erred in: denying his motion to dismiss the indictment, which was based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the form of participation by an assistant U.S. attorney in Napier’s improper transfer out federal custody and into state custody; denying his motion for judgment of acquittal, because the government failed to prove an interstate commerce connection for all 12 counts of conviction; admitting at trial, over Napier’s objections, various electronic devices as exhibits that included markings indicating the devices were manufactured outside of the United States and a document obtained from Time Warner Cable Company; and denying his motion to vacate his conviction on the distribution-of-child-pornography charge, which was allegedly afflicted by a “fatal” variance and violated Napier’s due process rights. View "United States v. Napier" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Criminal Law
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Barton’s wife, Vicki, was killed in a 1995 burglary. Detectives determined that Barton was elsewhere at the time of her death. In 1998 Henson was arrested in an unrelated burglary, and stated that his half-brother, Phelps had been involved romantically with Vicki, went to her house to steal, panicked, and shot her. Henson believed that Phelps’ subsequent suicide was related. Phelps’ body was exhumed . There was no DNA match. In a 2003 re-examination of the file, it was discovered that in Barton’s 911 call, he referenced needing to call “Phelp man.” Detectives re-interviewed Henson, who later testified that Barton paid Phelps to go to Vicki’s residence to scare her; that Phelps took unidentified accomplice; and that the accomplice shot and sexually assaulted Vicki. Under cross examination, Henson denied originally telling detectives that Phelps shot Vicki. Barton’s federal habeas petition was rejected. The Sixth Circuit reversed, based on the withholding of evidence that would have impeached the sole prosecution witness. Henson testified that he had committed staged burglaries for hire. Before trial, the state provided Barton with a police report documenting the 1993 Kelly burglary, which was suspected to have been staged. The state did not inform him that it had re-opened the Kelly investigation after Henson implicated Barton. Questioned before Barton’s trial, Kelly vehemently denied hiring Henson to stage a burglary. Barton did not learn of Kelly’s statements until after his trial, by means of his own investigation View "Barton v. Warden, S. Ohio Corr. Facility" on Justia Law

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Givens pled guilty to bank fraud and received a sentence of 18 months of imprisonment and four years of supervised release. On July 14, 2011, Givens was released and his supervised release began. In November 2013, Givens’s probation officer petitioned to revoke his supervised release. The officer claimed that Givens attempted to drive his car into Queen. During the revocation hearing, Givens sought to impeach Queen by using hearsay evidence. The district court refused to admit that evidence and revoked Givens’s supervised release. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, employing the “abuse of discretion” standard and stating that the case does not turn on whether Queen testified accurately that Givens assaulted him. Rather, it turns on whether the court was within its discretion to exclude evidence that might have called Queen’s testimony into question. The court characterized Givens’ proffered “police report, and the follow-up Secret Service [report] of Mr. Queen” as a report that a church pastor had called the police to tell them that one of his members said that Queen had harassed her and “just a bunch of hearsay.” View "United States v. Givens" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Criminal Law
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U.S. Congresswoman Miller received a letter threatening to kill her family if she did not send money. The letter was in distinctive handwriting, bearing a Pontiac, Michigan return address. FBI Agent Herrera interviewed a woman (Hiller) at the address. She denied writing the letter, which, she believed was sent by her neighbor, Harris. Hiller provided Herrera with letters that Harris had written and hand-delivered to her a year earlier. After Hiller to Harris to stop writing to her, Orsette, the area’s postal carrier, gave Hiller a threatening letter that was addressed to Senator Stabenow and bore Hiller’s return address. Hiller received several letters that she did not write but that listed her return address. The letters had similar distinctive and nearly illegible writing. She also received unsolicited magazine subscriptions. Orsette was familiar with Harris, who often handed Orsette magazine subscription cards bearing another person’s name. Harris denied writing the letters. Herrera obtained a warrant and recovered envelopes, stamps, and a notepad matching those used in the Miller letter. No fingerprints or DNA were found on the Miller letter, but other letters bore salivaand were written in the same handwriting as the Miller letter. A third such letter contained Harris’ fingerprint. Harris was convicted of mailing threatening communications, 18 U.S.C. 876(c). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to testimony from witnesses that identified Harris as the author of the letter based on familiarity with his handwriting. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Shawn and Denise were walking with their daughter, grandson, and dog. Shawn carried a cell phone, holstered on his hip, next to a semiautomatic handgun. A motorcyclist, Rose, stopped to complain about Shawn’s visible firearm. After a heated exchange, Rose called 911. The dispatcher stated that the weapon was legal with a concealed-carry weapon permit. Rose stated: “I’m not going to call a crew out if it’s legal.” The department nonetheless dispatched Officer Bright, who claims that Shawn pulled out his cell phone, then “moved his hands back toward his weapon.” Bright told Shawn to put his hands over his head. Rather than comply, Shawn asked why Bright was there. Bright took possession of Shawn’s firearm. Shawn claims that Bright walked up, “his hand on his firearm,” announced that if Shawn “go[es] for the weapon, he’s going to shoot,” and refused to answer questions. Bright demanded Shawn’s driver’s license and concealed-carry permit. Shawn gave Bright his license, but Denise told Bright to look up the permit. Bright threatened to arrest Shawn for inducing panic and placed Shawn in handcuffs. Bright discovered that Shawn had a permit and released Shawn with a citation for “failure to disclose personal information,” a charge later dropped. In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted Bright partial summary judgment, rejecting First and Second Amendment claims, but permitted Fourth Amendment and state-law claims to go to trial. The Sixth Circuit affirmed; Bright could not reasonably suspect that Northrup needed to be disarmed. View "Northrup v. City of Toledo Police Dep't" on Justia Law