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

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In 1998, Breeden was found dead in the Kentucky River. King was a suspect because of her sporadic relationship with Breeden, because she had bullet holes inside her home, and because, after Breeden’s disappearance, King had shared premonitions of “Breeden being found in water.” Officers unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a search warrant for King’s residence. In 2006 Detective Harwood obtained a warrant. His affidavit omitted that Breen’s bullet wounds were non-exiting and could not have caused bullet holes in King’s floor and that King had one leg and weighed 100 pounds, while Breeden weighed 187 pounds. There was no evidence that King had destroyed evidence; gunshot evidence at her home did not match bullets recovered from Breeden. King entered an “Alford plea,” maintaining her innocence. In 2012, a serial murderer (Jarrell) confessed that he had killed Breeden and recounted the crime with specific details that had not been released. Harwood visited Jarrell in jail. King alleges that Harwood intimidated Jarrell into recanting. In 2014, charges against King were dismissed. The district court dismissed King’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 as time-barred and citing qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed as to King’s malicious-prosecution claim against Harwood. King raised genuine issues of material fact: whether Harwood set King’s prosecution in motion by applying for warrants and an indictment despite the lack of probable cause; whether Harwood's false statements, together with his material omissions were material to King’s prosecution; and whether any false statements, evidence, and omissions were “laying the groundwork for an indictment," not “preparatory activity” for a grand-jury hearing that would provide absolute immunity. View "King v. Harwood" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Norwood-Charlier invited Lively and Bryon to his Kalamazoo, Michigan home. The men met in online chatrooms: Lively lived in California, and Quackenbush in Nevada. Norwood-Charlier lived with his father’s former wife, and her children, including Lively’s victim, then nine years old. As the men had planned, Norwood-Charlier photographed Lively performing oral sex on the boy. FBI agents, executing a warrant at Norwood-Charlier’s home, recovered Norwood-Charlier’s digital camera, containing a memory card, and a computer. Norwood-Charlier pleaded guilty to producing child-pornography videos and proffered information about Lively. In 2013, Lively and Quackenbush were arrested. The indictment alleged (18 U.S.C. 2251(a), 2251(e), and 2256(2)(A)) that Lively had produced images of himself performing oral sex on a minor using materials that had been manufactured outside Michigan, including but not limited to a Seagate hard drive manufactured in Thailand. The court held that the four-year delay did not prejudice Lively because his insanity claim was “speculative at best.” The government introduced Norwood-Charlier’s SanDisk memory card and camera as one exhibit. The court did not give a jury instruction limiting the reasons for which they could consider the camera or the memory card. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Lively’s conviction. While the government did not introduce evidence that Lively knew Norwood-Charlier owned the hard drive or intended Norwood-Charlier to copy images of Lively and the boy onto it, section 2251(a)’s interstate-commerce requirement was satisfied: the memory card bore a “Made in China” inscription. View "United States v. Lively" on Justia Law
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This case arose from an FBI investigation into plaintiff and his involvement in attacks made by an ethnic Albanian group against facilities in Montenegro. Plaintiff filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5), seeking information regarding the investigation. The FBI subsequently claimed that it had fully discharged its disclosure obligations and argued that the common interest doctrine shielded the requests for assistance (RFAs) from disclosure. The FBI's invocation of the common-interest doctrine convinced the district court that the requests to Austria and to an unnamed government were exempt under section 552(b)(5). Therefore, the district court granted the FBI's motion for summary judgment. At issue was the exemption of disclosure of inter-agency and intra-agency memorandums or letters (Exemption 5) under FOIA. The FBI and the DOJ argued that "inter-agency" and "intra-agency" included agencies of other countries. The court held that the plain language of section 552(b)(5) was limited to memorandums or letters between authorities of the Government of the United States. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Lucaj v. FBI" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, municipal corporations operate the local “emergency communications” or “911” programs in their respective counties, alleged that the telephone company, to reduce costs, offer lower prices, and obtain more customers, engaged in a covert practice of omitting fees mandated by Tennessee’s Emergency Communications District Law (Code 7-86-101), and sought compensation under that statute. They also alleged that, while concealing this practice, the telephone company violated the Tennessee False Claims Act. The district court dismissed the first claim, finding that the statute contained no implied private right of action, and rejecting the second claim on summary judgment on the second claim, finding that the statements at issue were not knowingly false. In consolidated appeals, the Sixth Circuit reversed. Plaintiffs provided evidence of a “massive quantity of unexplained unbilled lines,” establishing a disputed question of material fact. The Law does not require the plaintiffs to prove that the defendant acted in some form of bad faith, given that the statute imposes liability for “deliberate ignorance” View "Knox County Emergency Communications District v. BellSouth Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law

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Linkletter signed an online petition supporting a Cincinnati women’s shelter after she had accepted a position with W&S. W&S rescinded the employment agreement because she signed the petition while the company was engaged in a lengthy real estate dispute with the shelter over its location in the neighborhood. Shelter residents had previously sued W&S under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3617. W&S reached a settlement with the shelter and purchased the property. After Linkletter’s employment contract was rescinded she sued W&S under the Act and Ohio law. Section 3617 states: It shall be unlawful to . . . interfere with any person . . . on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by … this title. Linkletter claimed her petition-signing encouraged the residents of the shelter in their rights granted by the Act, involving discrimination in the rental or sale of housing. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s rejection of the claim, finding that Linkletter had a plausible claim for relief. Linkletter’s petition-signing supporting the shelter fits within the meaning of the phrase “aided or encouraged” and the defendants’ rescission of their employment agreement constitutes an “interference” with that encouragement. View "Linkletter v. Western & Southern Financial Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 1997, Louisville police discovered the bodies of a male victim with nine stab wounds and a pregnant female victim, dead as a result of manual strangulation and stabbed after her death. Wheeler, ultimately convicted of the murders and sentenced to death, changed his story several times. The Sixth Circuit held that a writ of habeas corpus must issue as to the death sentence because the trial court erroneously struck from the jury Kovatch, an eligible juror who may have been in favor of sparing Wheeler’s life. The court, after examination of Kovatch, found him not to be “problematic” as a juror but one who “could consider the entire range” of penalties. The next day the court excused him because the judge mistakenly remembered him saying he would not consider the death penalty. After the Supreme Court reversed, the Sixth Circuit reinstated the death penalty, rejecting claims: that admission of evidence as to the availability of prison furloughs in the future; concerning penalty-phase jury instructions that, allegedly, improperly instructed jurors that they were required to be unanimous regarding the presence of mitigating factors; concerning prosecutorial misstatements: and that Kentucky’s proportionality review violates the Eighth Amendment View "Wheeler v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Mosley's Wickliffe, Ohio Motel needed a tenant for its lounge. Miller's nightclub in neighboring Willoughby had drawn the ire of law enforcement. The two executed a lease; Miller applied for permits. Miller claims that the city was initially receptive, but, after informing it of his plan to host a “Hip Hop night, [catering] to African American[s],” the city allegedly changed its position. Miller’s occupancy permit application was denied pending revised parking plans. Miller needed a liquor license from the state. The city did not oppose Miller’s application, but religious organizations did. The city passed a resolution, supporting that opposition. The state denied Miller’s application, citing the objections of the religious organizations and “the peace and good order of the neighborhood.” Miller did not appeal. The city passed Ordinance 2009-49, requiring “nightclubs” to obtain a permit and delineating the health ad safety responsibilities; it restricted nightclub locations to buffer schools, churches, libraries, parks, taverns, bars, other nightclubs, and residential districts. Miller and Mosley never applied for nightclub permits. Miller became involved with Cirino in a proposed billiards hall, the temporary-occupancy permit for which was then revoked. The three sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 42 U.S.C. 2000A (racial discrimination) with state law and takings claims. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that Wickliffe had reached a final decision under the ordinance, or that they faced a credible threat of prosecution, and cannot show a particularized and concrete injury sufficient to confer jurisdiction. View "Mosley v. City of Wickliffe" on Justia Law

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In 2001, returning from visiting his ailing father, Lopez, a citizen of Guatemala, crossed the Rio Grande into Texas. The border patrol arrested Lopez. Lopez lied about his name and nationality. Thinking that Lopez was a citizen of Mexico, the border patrol let him voluntarily return to Mexico. Lopez later crossed back into the U.S. evading apprehension. DHS tried to deport Lopez in 2008. Lopez applied for special rule cancellation of removal under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(e)(3). The IJ ruled that Lopez failed “to prove that he has not been apprehended at the time of entry after” 1990 or to establish that his removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his qualifying relatives, including Lopez’s American daughter. The BIA affirmed, without making any finding concerning whether Lopez was under surveillance when he entered. The Sixth Circuit vacated, in part, noting that the Act's “special rule cancellation” of removal provisions favor an individual if he sneaks across the border without detection or restraint. The burden is on the applicant to make this showing. The court reasoned that an applicant cannot be expected to show that government agents were not tracking his movement as he entered. Once the applicant has established that no one physically stopped him at the border, the government may use surveillance evidence as an affirmative defense. View "Lopez v. Sessions" on Justia Law
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In 2014, Brown filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, disclosing her ownership of a residence in Ypsilanti, Michigan, valued at $170,000 and subject to $219,000 in secured mortgage claims held by two separate creditors. Brown’s initial petition stated her intent to surrender her residence to the estate and did not claim any exemptions for the value of her redemption rights under Michigan law. The Trustee sought the court’s permission to sell the house for $160,000 and to distribute the proceeds among Brown’s creditors and professionals involved in selling the home. Brown objected and sought to amend her initial disclosures to claim exemptions for the value of her redemption rights (about $23,000) under Mich. Comp. Laws 600.3240, citing 11 U.S.C. 522(d). The bankruptcy court granted the Trustee permission to sell the property and denied Brown’s requested exemptions. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that Brown lacked any equity in the property after it sold for substantially less than the value of the secured claims. View "Brown v. Ellmann" on Justia Law

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ECM BioFilms manufactures an additive that it claims accelerates the rate at which plastic biodegrades. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission filed an administrative complaint, claiming that several of ECM’s biodegradability claims were deceptive. The full Commission ultimately found that three of ECM’s claims were false and misleading under 15 U.S.C. 45. The Commission’s order prohibits ECM from representing that ECM plastic is biodegradable “unless such representation is true, not misleading, and, at the time it is made, respondent possesses and relies upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the representation,” The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting claims that part of the Commission’s decision was unsupported by substantial evidence and that the Commission violated ECM’s rights under the First Amendment, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Due Process Clause. ECM had adequate notice and the order is not a prohibition on claims of biodegradability. View "ECM BioFilms, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law