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

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The debtors owned a house in Michigan; in 2007, it was foreclosed and sold at a sheriff’s sale. In 2008, they filed for chapter 13 bankruptcy, but did not disclose any interest in the house or any related cause of action. The redemption period for the house expired after the bankruptcy petition date. The case was converted to a chapter 7 proceeding. The debtors received a discharge. The bankruptcy case closed in February 2009. In March, the debtors filed suit in state court, alleging that the foreclosure was defective, but never sought to reopen their bankruptcy case to amend their schedules. Learning about the case, the trustee claimed that the cause of action was bankruptcy estate property. The bankruptcy court reopened in 2013. The debtors filed an amended schedule that disclosed the claim, stating a value of $3 million. Each debtor claimed a “wildcard” exemption of $5,300.00, 11 U.S.C. 522(d)(5). The bankruptcy court approved settlement of the case and denied the trustee’s objection to the exemptions. The district court affirmed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision that a bankruptcy court may not use equitable powers to deny an exemption as a sanction for debtor misconduct, and noting that the trustee’s objection to timeliness was waived. View "Ellmann v. Baker" on Justia Law
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Tennessee previously recognized only statewide political parties as automatically entitled to have their candidates identified on the ballot by their party affiliation. In 2011, the state created a new designation, “recognized minor party,” for any group that successfully filed a petition conforming to requirements established by the coordinator of elections, bearing, at minimum the signatures of registered voters equal to at least 2.5% of the total number of votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent election of governor, Tenn. Code 2-1-104(a)(24). In 2012, Tennessee again amended its statutes, requiring recognized minor parties to satisfy specific requirements to maintain their status as a recognized minor party beyond the current election year. Two minor parties filed suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for plaintiffs’ on an equal-protection challenge to the ballot-retention statute, and on a First Amendment challenge to a loyalty oath requirement. The court concluded that the entirety of the statute is not invalid and vacated summary judgment on plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenges to a section that simply requires a party’s rules of operation to be filed with the Tennessee Secretary of State and is unrelated to the loyalty oath requirement. View "Green Party of Tenn. v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Deputy Gillispie, on patrol in Wellston, Michigan, saw Carpenter’s truck. Gillispie knew Carpenter from prior encounters involving Carpenter driving with a suspended license. Gillispie knew Carpenter’s history of drunk driving and resisting arrest. Gillispie pulled Carpenter over, calling for backup. Two dash-cam videos recorded as Gillispie approached and informed Carpenter that he was under arrest for driving with a suspended license. Carpenter appeared “highly agitated,” but voluntarily exited the truck. Gillispie instructed Carpenter to put his hands on the truck. Carpenter did not comply. Gillispie grabbed Carpenter’s right arm. Carpenter swung his arm back—admittedly trying to prevent handcuffing. Gillispie attempted to grab Carpenter’s left arm to place it in handcuffs. Carpenter again swung his arm in Gillispie’s direction. Gillispie did not let go. Carpenter did not comply. Gillispie performed a knee strike. Carpenter still did not comply. Bielski yelled “relax, or else you’re gonna get tasered.” Deputy Bielski tased Carpenter. The officers handcuffed him and escorted him to the cruiser. They did not use any force after they subdued Carpenter, who later pled guilty to driving with a suspended license. Carpenter sued, claiming excessive force. The officers unsuccessfully sought summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. When an arrestee actively resists arrest the police can constitutionally use a taser or a knee strike to subdue him. View "Rudlaff v. Gillispie" on Justia Law

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The federally recognized Indian Tribe is a successor to an 1864 Treaty between the United States and the Chippewa Indians, including an agreement by the United States to set aside property in Isabella County, Michigan as a reservation. The Treaty did not mention application of federal regulations to members of the Tribe or to the Tribe itself. The property reserved for the “exclusive use, ownership, and occupancy” of the Tribe became the Isabella Reservation. The Tribe has over 3,000 members, and is governed by an elected council. In 1993, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Tribe and the state entered a compact, approved by the United States, allowing the Tribe to conduct gaming on the Isabella reservation. The Tribe opened the Casino; enacted a gaming code with licensing criteria for employees; and created a regulatory body. The council hires all Casino management-level employees, approves contracts, and decides how to distribute revenue. Of the Casino’s 3,000 employees, 7% are Tribe members, as are 30% of management-level employees. The Casino generates $250 million in gross annual revenues and attracts 20,000 customers per year, many of whom are not Tribe members. The Tribe discharged Lewis for violating an employee handbook policy that prohibited solicitation by employees, including solicitation related to union activities, on Casino property. The NLRB found that the policy violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and enforced the order, finding that the NLRB has jurisdiction over the Casino’s employment practices. View "Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd." on Justia Law

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Woolbright was convicted of wanton murder, receiving stolen property with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, and first degree possession of and trafficking a controlled substance. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed. In 2006, Woolbright filed a pro se motion to vacate. Appointed counsel did not file a supplemental memorandum but requested leave for Woolbright to file one himself. The trial court found that no evidentiary hearing was required and denied the petition. New counsel was appointed on appeal. The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed. Woolbright filed a pro se federal habeas corpus petition, alleging seven instances of ineffective assistance that were not adjudicated on the merits in state court, including claims not raised in the 2006 petition or appeal: trial counsel’s failure to: interview exculpatory witnesses; object to prosecutorial misconduct during sentencing; investigate the ownership of a second gun found at the scene; and make a double jeopardy objection to charges of both possession and trafficking. Additional claims concerning counsel’s failure to: prepare a defense to receiving stolen property or object to an improper jury instruction on that charge; move for a directed verdict on grounds that the jury verdict was not unanimous; and object to the jury instruction on wanton murder were raised in the 2006 petition but not raised on appeal. The district court denied the petition. The Sixth Circuit denied a motion to vacate the certificate of appealability; affirmed denial with respect to claims raised in the 2006 petition; but reversed with respect to the claims not raised. View "Woolbright v. Crews" on Justia Law

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In 1986, 23-year-old West and 17-year-old Martin drove to the home of 15-year-old Sheila, who had rebuffed Martin’s advances. They murdered Sheila and her mother. Sheila was raped and suffered 17 stab wounds, including 14 torture-type cuts, inflicted while she was alive. Police arrested the two. West’s parents hired McConnell for $10,000; the court appointed co-counsel. West admitted that he was present during the crime but denied harming either victim. He testified that Martin threatened his life and forced him to rape Sheila. A jury convicted West of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, and larceny, and sentenced him to death. The Tennessee Supreme Court rejected his appeal. The state court rejected his petition for post-conviction relief, interpreting his ineffective assistance claims, relating to McConnell’s handling of information that West’s parents abused him, as conflict-of-interest claims. West filed his federal section 2254 petition. The district court dismissed; the Sixth Circuit affirmed. In 2010, West sought relief from judgment under Rule 60(b). The Sixth Circuit dismissed because West had not set forth grounds warranting a successive habeas petition. In 2013, West filed a Rule 60(b)(6) motion, arguing that, under the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision, Martinez, the ineffectiveness of his state post-conviction counsel excused the procedural default of that claim. The district court denied relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that Martinez, (expanded by Trevino (2013)), applies to Tennessee cases, but did not apply to West’s conflict-of-interest claim, which was defaulted at the state post-conviction appellate proceeding, rather than initial-review proceeding. View "West v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Leonor, a Michigan dentist, suffered an injury that prevented him from performing dental procedures. At the time of his injury, he spent about two-thirds of his time performing dental procedures and approximately one third managing his dental practices and other businesses that he owned. After initially granting coverage, his insurers denied total disability benefits after they discovered the extent of his managerial duties. Leonor sued, alleging contract and fraud claims. The district court granted summary judgment to Leonor on his contract claim, holding that “the important duties” could plausibly be read to mean “most of the important duties” and resolving the ambiguity in favor of Leonor under Michigan law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the context of the policy language in this case permits a reading of “the important duties” that is not necessarily “all the important duties.” View "Leonor v. Provident Life & Accident Co." on Justia Law

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Howes, the owner of a pickling cucumber farm, was found to be in violation of provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s determinations that: Howes’ cucumber harvesters were employees, and not independent contractors, such that the FLSA protections apply; Howes controlled the facilities used to house the migrant farm workers in 2011, and was liable for violations of the MSPA in regard to the provision of substandard housing; and Howes unlawfully interfered with the Department of Labor investigation. View "Perez v. D. Howes, LLC" on Justia Law

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Lee was transferred to the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) following his conviction for criminal sexual conduct involving adult male victims. Lee claims that while at MDOC’s Reception Center for intake, correctional officers harassed him about being homosexual and made comments in front of other inmates encouraging sexual advances. Lee alleged that COs failed to act when Lee requested protection from inmates who were pursuing him. Lee claimed that he complained about staff harassment and being pursued for sex to mental health professionals, but was, nonetheless raped in his cell by unidentified inmates. Lee alleged that he went to the officer’s desk after being assaulted, asked to speak with a mental health professional, and that an unknown CO refused to give him a grievance form. Lee alleged that he submitted a “substitute grievance” on prisoner stationery. Defendants had no record of receiving this substitute grievance. Lee’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 action was filed about three years later. After the Sixth Circuit held that, as a private employee under contract, the MDOC psychiatrist was not entitled to qualified immunity, the district court found that Lee had not submitted the substitute grievance in 2007, and rejected his claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Lee v. Willey" on Justia Law

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The Richland County Sheriff’s Office launched Operation Turnaround after a 2004 drug-related death and recruited Bray as a confidential informant to make undercover buys from suspected drug traffickers. DEA Agents joined the investigation and registered Bray as a DEA informant. On the basis of Bray’s controlled buys, they arrested and charged more than 20 individuals, including Webb and Price, with violating federal criminal drug laws. Later, Bray, in jail for an unrelated drug-related killing, disclosed that Lucas conspired with him to frame innocent individuals, including Webb and Price. The Department of Justice discovered that several targets, including Webb and Price, did not participate in the charged drug deals. Bray had used stand-ins to participate in the drug deals and then falsely identified each. Bray later testified that he acted on his own, but the government concluded that law-enforcement supported Bray’s false identifications by knowingly making false reports and testimony and by covering up. The district court dismissed civil rights claims by Webb and Price. The Sixth Circuit reversed a decision that Price lacked standing because he had pleaded guilty to other drug crimes and dismissal of specific malicious-prosecution, false-arrest, fabrication-of-evidence, and federal conspiracy claims. False-arrest and trespass claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act are time barred, but the court remanded state-law and remaining FTCA claims. View "Price v. Lucas" on Justia Law