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

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Hensley, born in 1949, was employed as a coal miner for 13 years, before leaving in 1988 after seriously injuring his hand and arm in an accident. He has not worked since. Hensley also smoked cigarettes for 10-12 years, averaging half a pack a day before quitting 29 years ago. Hensley first noticed issues with his breathing in 1987. In 1990, he filed an unsuccessful claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901. He filed a second claim in 2003. The claim was denied, despite a finding of pneumoconiosis, because Hensley did not prove that he was totally disabled by the disease. Hensley filed another claim 2006. The Department of Labor recommended awarding benefits.The evidence, which consisted of chest x-rays, biopsy results, CT scans, pulmonary function studies, arterial blood-gas studies, treatment records and several medical opinions, was forwarded to the ALJ, who awarded benefits in 2010, initially holding that Hensley’s x-ray evidence alone was sufficient to establish the existence of pneumoconiosis.. On remand, the ALJ again concluded that Hensley was entitled to benefits. The Sixth Circuit upheld the award as supported by substantial evidence. View "Dixie Fuel Co. v. Office Workers' Comp. Progams" on Justia Law

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Debtor filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in July 2014, listing a debt for delinquent property taxes, “oversecured” by a lien, so that 11 U.S.C. 506(b), authorizes payment of interest. Debtor’s plan proposed 12% interest under Tenn. Code 67-5-2010(a)(1) which provides: To the amount of tax due and payable, a penalty of one-half of one percent (0.5%) and interest of one percent (1%) shall be added on March 1, following the tax due date and on the first day of each succeeding month, except as otherwise provided in regard to municipal taxes.” Metro argued that the proper interest rate was 18% under Subsection 67-5-2010(d): For purposes of any claim in a bankruptcy proceeding pertaining to delinquent property taxes, the assessment of penalties determined pursuant to this section constitutes the assessment of interest (effective July 1, 2014) Subsection (d) was a response to an earlier decision that a 6% annual penalty under Subsection (a)(1) was not allowed under 11 U.S.C. 506(b). The bankruptcy court agreed with Debtor’s assertion that the rate should be 12%, holding that Subsection (d) directly conflicted with the bankruptcy statutes and “a well-defined federal policy that post-petition penalties that might otherwise be owed to secured creditors are simply not paid in bankruptcy cases.” The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, holding that Subsection (d) is not applicable to determine the interest rate under 11 U.S.C. 511, and did not address whether Subsection (d) is constitutional. View "In re: Mildred Bratt" on Justia Law
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When the main Youngstown-area crushed-stone supplier discontinued production, RGI, a Sandusky quarry, approached Hardrives, Sabatine's asphalt paving company, to discuss jointly establishing a large RGI distribution center and Hardrives production plant. In 1998, RGI’s representatives and Sabatine produced a draft agreement, with contingencies, such as the minimum amount of stone Hardrives was to buy, low-cost railroad transportation, and government incentives; it stated that it was subject to RGI senior management approval. Sabatine was unable to convince Norfolk Railroad to establish access and enlisted Congressman Traficant’s help.Unbeknownst to RGI, Sabatine paid Traficant a $2,400 bribe and was later indicted. Ultimately, the parties arrived at an acceptable rail rate and selected a Youngstown site. Hardrives began bidding on larger projects and purchasing new equipment. All the agreed contingencies were fulfilled, except RGI had arguably not given explicit senior management approval. Sabatine called RGI about ordering a $1.5 million asphalt plant for the site. According to Sabatine, RGI gave him the go ahead. Sabatine purchased the plant. Two months later RGI told Hardrives that it would no longer participate in the joint venture. Hardrives began losing money, and by 2001, became Cranmark and sold to McCourt. In 2004, Cranpark sued, alleging breach of contract and promissory estoppel. In 2010, the court granted RGI summary judgment, based on the limitations period, and holding RGI’s representations were not unambiguous promises. On remand, RGI argued that Cranpark was not the “proper party” because it had sold everything, including the right to bring the cause of action, to McCourt. The court denied the motion. A jury awarded $15.6 million, but the court then held that Cranmark lacked standing. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the court failed to timely call the proof-of-standing issue to counsel’s attention, once RGI finally squarely presented the issue. View "Cranpark, Inc. v. Rogers Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Baker, an Ohio concrete construction business, subcontracts its work to smaller firms. In 2000, Baker signed a multi-employer collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Reinforced Concrete Contractors Association and the Union, covering current employees and employees not yet hired. A prehire CBA is allowed only in the construction industry, 29 U.S.C. 158(f). The CBA renewed automatically. On January 25, 2013, Baker sent the Union a letter, asserting: “Baker’s notice of its intent to terminate the Agreement, including any subsequent successor agreements.” The Union responded: "notice of withdrawal should be made not more than 60 days prior to the termination of the Agreement. The Agreement is in effect … until May 31, 2015, therefore your request was untimely." Baker reiterated that none of its employees perform work covered by the Agreement and that none had performed bargaining unit work covered by the Agreement for at least seven years. The Union filed a grievance. Baker stated that it did not recognize the arbitrator’s authority, but would appear to preserve its position. The arbitrator found Baker in violation of the CBA. The district court vacated the award. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, adopting the single-employee-unit rule; an employer may repudiate statutory and contractual obligations when the employer does not employ anyone within the relevant bargaining unit. View "Baker Concrete Constr., Inc. v. Reinforced Concrete Contractors Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Fakhouri, a resident of Michigan who uses a wheelchair, traveled to Tennessee for a vacation in summer, 2012. She visited Ober Gatlinburg, a ski resort that also has a year-round amusement park, restaurant, lounge, and shopping center alongside the ski paths and mountain trails. To bring visitors to and from the ski area and associated attractions, Ober Gatlinburg operates a tramway, which Fakhouri rode without incident up the mountain when she arrived at the site. When she tried to enter the tram for her return trip, her wheelchair caught on the tram, breaking one of the wheels and causing her leg to buckle underneath the chair. She sought medical treatment for injuries to her leg and neck, and she continues to experience swelling, weakness, poor blood flow, and discoloration in the affected leg. The district court rejected her negligence suit on summary judgment, relying on a Tennessee statute that precludes liability for ski resort operators under certain conditions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Fakhouri’s lawsuit was precluded because she was a “skier or passenger,” Ober Gatlinburg is a “ski area operator,” and her injuries “aris[e] out of” her “use of any passenger tramways associated with Alpine or downhill skiing.” View "Fakhouri v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc." on Justia Law

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OSU hired Szeinbach in 1999 as a tenured professor in the College of Pharmacy, which then included doctors Vazquez (of Spanish origin) and Balkrishnan (of Indian origin). In 2005-2006, Szeinbach allegedly observed Balkrishnan and others discriminate against Seoane and that Balkrishnan favored Indian students. Szeinbach emailed the dean, stating that an evaluation of Seoane was “intentionally very biased.” Seoane filed an EEOC charge. Szeinbach later alleged that she had supported Seoane’s efforts by providing a copy of her email to the dean. She filed an internal complaint, alleging retaliation for her support of Seoane. In 2007 Balkrishnan wrote to the Primary Care Respiratory Journal, claiming that an article that Szeinbach had published was nearly identical to an article that Szeinbach had published in 2005. Balkrishnan sent similar correspondence to the dean and others and filed an internal complaint. A Committee concluded that Szeinbach’s use of and failure to cite her 2005 article demonstrated the “poorest of scholarly practices,” but closed its investigation. Balkrishnan continued to pursue the matter and, in a faculty meeting, called Szeinbach a “bitch.” In her suit for discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, the jury awarded her $300,000 in damages for emotional suffering and harm to her professional reputation and $213,368 to account for income that Szeinbach allegedly would have earned absent OSU’s illegal conduct. The court reduced Szeinbach’s damages by $213,368. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding her evidence “wholly speculative.” View "Szeinbach v. Ohio State Univ." on Justia Law

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HCEA was recognized under the Tennessee Education Professional Negotiations Act (EPNA) as the exclusive representative of Hamilton County Board of Education professional employees. In 2011, HCEA and the Board entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), to expire in June 2014. While this agreement was in effect, Tennessee enacted the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act, replacing EPNA. PECCA would not govern the parties’ relationship until the expiration of their existing agreement. HCEA and the Board entered into the latest version of their CBA under EPNA in September 2013. PECCA created a new category: “management team” members, including principals and assistant principals, no longer considered “professional employees” entitled to participate in concerted activities as part of professional employee organizations. PECCA also made it unlawful for a professional employee organization to “[c]oerce or attempt to intimidate professional employees who choose not to join a professional employee organization.” Communications following HCEA’s September 2013 monthly meeting resulted in a Board letter, requesting that HCEA “refrain from … negative or coercive statements.” HCEA filed suit, alleging violation of EPNA and the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment favoring the Board. EPNA claims were not rendered moot by PECCA’s intervening effective date, but the letter did not violate EPNA. It contained no threat of reprisal and did not significantly burden HCEA’s expressive activity. View "Hamilton Cnty. Ed. Ass'n. v. Hamilton Cnty. Bd. of Educ." on Justia Law

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Taskila, age 37, has several health issues. She was involved in serious car accidents in 1996, 2006, and 2010; underwent successful treatment in 2011 for a mass in her breast; and sought treatment for knee pain. She claims, the injuries have led to unremitting pain in her neck and back, to anxiety and depression, to memory problems, to incontinence, to carpal tunnel syndrome, to an inability to work. Taskila sought Social Security disability insurance and supplemental security income. An initial disability examiner denied her applications. After a hearing, an ALJ did the same. The appeals council denied review. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding the denial supported by substantial evidence that Taskila could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. View "Taskila v. Comm'r of Social Sec." on Justia Law

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Taskila, age 37, has several health issues. She was involved in serious car accidents in 1996, 2006, and 2010; underwent successful treatment in 2011 for a mass in her breast; and sought treatment for knee pain. She claims, the injuries have led to unremitting pain in her neck and back, to anxiety and depression, to memory problems, to incontinence, to carpal tunnel syndrome, to an inability to work. Taskila sought Social Security disability insurance and supplemental security income. An initial disability examiner denied her applications. After a hearing, an ALJ did the same. The appeals council denied review. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding the denial supported by substantial evidence that Taskila could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. View "Taskila v. Comm'r of Social Sec." on Justia Law

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Horvath died after being beaten and stabbed by his cellmate, Gillespie, inside the mental-health ward of Michigan’s Wayne County Jail. Richko, as representative of Horvath’s estate, filed suit under 42 U.S.C.1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988, claiming that Wayne County and jail personnel were deliberately indifferent to Horvath’s safety. Richko alleged that the defendants knew or should have known about Gillespie’s dangerous and violent propensities and disregarded the risk by allowing Gillespie to be placed in Horvath’s cell and failing to adequately respond to the ensuing assault. The district court denied summary judgment to all of the defendants. The individual defendants filed an interlocutory appeal on the basis of qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Faced with competing circumstantial evidence, a jury could reasonably infer that jail personnel were aware of the risk and did in fact hear Gillespie’s assault on Horvath and elected not to respond. View "Richko v. Wayne County" on Justia Law