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

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The National Labor Relations Board sought enforcement of its Order finding that AEI violated the National Labor Relations Act by barring employees from pursuing class-action litigation or collective arbitration of work-related claims and by forbidding an AEI technician from discussing a proposed compensation change with his coworkers and by firing that technician for discussing the proposed change and complaining to management about it. AEI employees sign an agreement that “Disputes … relating to your employment” must, at the election of the employee or the company, be resolved “exclusively through binding arbitration” and that “you and AEI also agree that a claim may not be arbitrated as a class action, also called ‘representative’ or ‘collective’ actions, and that a claim may not otherwise be consolidated or joined with the claims of others.” AEI’s employee handbook prohibits “[u]nauthorized disclosure of business secrets or confidential business or customer information, including any compensation or employee salary information.” The Sixth Circuit enforced the order. An arbitration provision requiring employees covered by the Act individually to arbitrate all employment-related claims is not enforceable. The evidence was adequate to support the ALJ’s factual findings and conclusion that DeCommer was fired for engaging in protected, concerted activity View "National Labor Relations Board v. Alternative Entertainment, Inc." on Justia Law

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Anita drove her son, Omar, to Lowe’s, to pick up his last paycheck. When the assistant manager approached, Omar “started talking a lot of gibberish” and eventually began throwing paint cans. Officers, responding to a 911 call, stopped Anita’s car. Omar was evasive but compliant. During the pat-down, officers discovered pills in a container, which they returned to Omar’s pocket after handcuffing him. Omar stated that he had not taken his medication, for a psychiatric condition, for weeks. Anita stated that Omar, who began ranting incoherently, was bipolar, that the pills were Seroquel, and that he had not taken his medication. At the jail, Omar would calm down periodically, then return to rambling, talking to himself, and engaging in strange behavior. Released without handcuffs to make a phone call, Omar threw an officer to the floor and began choking him. Officers rushed into the jail and pulled Omar into the restraint chair and noticed something wrong. Omar’s pulse was weak. They tried to resuscitate him and called the rescue squad. At the hospital, Omar was pronounced dead “as a result of a sudden cardiac event during a physical altercation in association with bipolar disease.” In Anita’s suit, alleging deliberate indifference, the court denied the officers qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. There was no violation of a clearly established constitutional right. The officers did not act with recklessness that would permit them to be liable under Ohio law. View "Arrington-Bey v. City of Bedford Heights" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Defendant was arrested on an outstanding warrant. Pursuant to a search incident to arrest, police found on Defendant’s person 17 rounds of ammunition. Defendant pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of ammunition, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), without a plea agreement. The probation office classified Defendant as an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. 924(e), due to Defendant’s two prior robbery convictions and one prior attempted-aggravated-robbery conviction. The designation enhanced Defendant’s sentencing range to 15 years to life imprisonment. At sentencing, Defendant’s only objection was that his convictions for robbery and attempted aggravated robbery on May 24, 2000, should be considered a single event under ACCA.. Each indictment listed a distinct business as the victim; the corresponding judgment cross-referenced the relevant indictment. The district court found that, despite possibly being connected by one conspiratorial agreement, the two robberies were “legally and factually distinct,” and therefore were “properly considered separate offenses,” but granted the government’s motion to reduce Defendant’s sentence (U.S.S.G. 5K1.1 and 18 U.S.C. 3553(e), and sentenced Defendant to 110 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Defendant admitted under oath that he and his partner “planned to hit two stores.” View "United States v. Southers" on Justia Law
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Ridgeway was employed as a Stryker sales representative from 2001-2013. Stryker’s faxed employment offer stated Ridgeway’s employment was contingent on his signing and returning an offer letter, a form non-compete agreement, and a code of conduct. From 2000-2005, Stryker used the same form non-compete agreement with all employees, which included a one-year non-compete clause, a customer non-solicit clause, an employee non-solicit clause, and a Michigan choice-of-law clause and a Michigan forum-selection clause. Ridgeway signed and returned the documents. Despite becoming one of Stryker’s top performers, in 2013, Ridgeway considered working for Stryker’s competitor, Biomet. Ridgeway claims that Stryker indicated that he was not covered under a non-compete agreement. Stryker terminated his employment and Ridgeway began working for Biomet within his former Stryker Louisiana-based sales territories. Stryker filed suit. The district court denied Ridgeway’s motion to dismiss based on the forum-selection clause in the non-compete agreement. Biomet terminated Ridgeway for fear of liability. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Stryker on its breach-of-contract, breach-of-fiduciary-duty, and misappropriation-of-trade-secrets claims and awarded damages in the amount of $745,195. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Ridgeway’s challenges to the authenticity of the agreement and to the choice of law provision. View "Stone Surgical LLC v. Stryker Corp." on Justia Law

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Andrews was charged with conspiring to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A) and 846; conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and threats of physical violence, 18 U.S.C. 1951; aiding and abetting the possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A); and being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g). Andrews moved to dismiss, claiming outrageous government conduct. He argued that he was recruited to participate in an “all-too-easy stash-house robbery” by undercover ATF agents, who engineered and directed the scheme. The court denied the motion, crediting an agent’s testimony that a defendant first approached a confidential informant to find “drug dealers he could take down” and that ATF had provided multiple opportunities to withdraw. The court made clear that it was not deciding the strength of an entrapment defense. The court “preliminarily” accepted his conditional guilty plea, pending preparation of a presentencing report. Andrews later moved to withdraw his plea as a matter of absolute right under Rule 11(d)(1). The court denied the motion, reiterated that Andrews had made an informed, voluntary, and valid guilty plea, and sentenced Andrews to 180 months, pursuant to the agreement. The Guidelines range was 200-235 months. The Sixth Circuit reversed, noting that the district court had expressly not accepted the plea. View "United States v. Andrews" on Justia Law
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Sixth Circuit upholds BIA interpretation of "previously filed" application for adjustment of status. In 2001, Sofokli, a citizen of Albania, entered the U.S. under a visitor visa. Four months after it expired, his employer sought labor certification, which was granted 11 months later. His employer then sought a work visa; Sofoklis applied to adjust his status to permanent resident. USCIS granted advance parole, which permits an alien who is otherwise inadmissible to leave the U.S. and reenter. USCIS approved the work-visa petition but denied the adjustment application, citing 8 U.S.C. 1255(k)(2), which bars aliens from adjusting their status if they have accrued more than 180 days in the U.S. without “lawful status.” Sofokli departed again and was paroled into the U.S. His second adjustment application was denied. An IJ ordered removal, rejecting Sofokli’s argument that he remained in lawful status because of his employer’s pending petitions. The BIA and Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding 8 C.F.R. 1245.2(a)(1)(ii), which provides that, for an application to be subject to the jurisdiction of the immigration courts, the arriving alien must have filed the application while in the U.S. and must have “’departed from and returned … pursuant to ... advance parole to pursue the previously filed application for adjustment of status.” The court upheld the BIA’s conclusion that Sofokli’s second application was not “previously filed,” having been filed after returning from advance parole. View "Gazeli v. Sessions" on Justia Law
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Statute is not unconstitutionally vague for providing a stiffer penalty for receipt than for possession of child pornography A Kentucky Detective used Nordic Mule, a law enforcement software package, to search for IP addresses that had recently shared child pornography on the peer-to-peer file-sharing network eDonkey, then obtained a search warrant for Dunning’s residence, where police seized electronic devices, containing over 22,000 images and videos depicting the sexual exploitation of minors. Dunning moved for discovery, seeking the source code for the software that the detective relied on for the warrant. The government responded: The program … is part of the Child Rescue Coalition, which is a private non-profit organization. The source code and program are proprietary and are not in the possession of the United States. The court denied Dunning’s discovery motion and his motion to suppress evidence, which argued that the warrant application was not supported by probable cause because the detective used software of uncertain reliability and that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his computer files. Dunning then pled guilty under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2) and was sentenced to 165 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and that his sentence was unreasonable, and upholding denial of his motions. View "United States v. Dunning" on Justia Law

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Sixth Circuit upholds allowing jury questions in online extortion case. Using the pseudonym “Dr. Evil,” an extortionist demanded $1 million in Bitcoin in exchange for an encryption key to Mitt Romney’s unreleased tax returns, which he claimed to have stolen from an accounting firm. He posted an image of Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil, from an Austin Powers movie, in the accounting firm’s Franklin, Tennessee office lobby. Agents traced the scheme to Brown, who had not actually stolen Romney’s returns. With 12 convictions for wire fraud and extortion, Brown was given a four-year prison sentence, and ordered to pay restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction, rejecting arguments that the search warrant lacked probable cause and that Brown was prejudiced by the judge allowing questions from the jury. The affidavit offered “a fair probability” that Brown’s home would contain evidence of the crime. Understanding the evidence required the jury to grasp the Secret Service’s forensic analysis of thumb drives, online posts, and Brown’s computers, Bitcoin, fingerprint matching, and digital photo manipulation-- enough complexity for a court to believe that permitting questions might aid jurors. The court vacated the sentence. Brown’s statements to prosecutors did not significantly impede the investigation, to justify the obstruction of justice enhancement. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Owners, having relied on an external audit, did not “willfully” fail to pay trust fund taxes. Four investors bought Eagle Trim, which produced automobile interior-trim parts. Byrne (president) and Kus (CEO) were responsible for Eagle’s income tax returns, but Fuller, as controller, had wide discretion over financial activities. Eventually, Byrne signed Eagle's bankruptcy petition. Eagle liquidated. The IRS assessed against Byrne and Kus $855,668.35 in penalties under 26 U.S.C. 6672 for Eagle’s outstanding trust-fund tax (taxes withheld from employees’ wages) liability. Byrne paid $1,000 and then unsuccessfully sought a refund and an abatement of the penalty and of the entire assessment. Byrne filed suit. On remand, the district court found that Byrne and Kus willfully failed to pay and were liable under section 6672. The Sixth Circuit vacated. Byrne and Kus did not have actual knowledge that the taxes were not being paid until after a Forbearance Agreement was executed with a creditor. The issue of recklessness was a “close call,” but the men directed their independent accounting firm to instruct Fuller on how to timely deposit trust-fund taxes, added an assistant controller to help Fuller in his duties, created a new management spot to review Fuller’s financial management, and relied on a professional clean audit report. View "Byrne v. United States" on Justia Law
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Reporting regulatory violations “up the chain” to supervisory governmental employees can constitute speech on a matter of public concern, for purposes of First Amendment retaliation claim. Mayhew, a long-time employee of Smyrna’s wastewater-treatment plant, reported violations of state and federal requirements and voiced concerns about the hiring of a manager’s nephew without advertising the position. His reports went up the chain of command to government employees. Mayhew was terminated, allegedly because the plant manager no longer felt that he could work with him. The district court rejected his claim of First Amendment retaliation on summary judgment, reasoning that Mayhew’s speech did not involve matters of public concern. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, stating that “constitutional protection for speech on matters of public concern is not premised on the communication of that speech to the public.” Nor must courts limit reports of wrongdoing to illegal acts; a public concern includes “any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community.” View "Mayhew v. Town of Smyrna" on Justia Law