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

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The debtor filed a voluntary chapter 7 petition, listing pre-petition judgment liens incorrectly on Schedule E. His residence was a listed asset. He did not claim an exemption in the property, nor did he seek to avoid the judicial liens; he intended to sell the home. The creditors received notice of the bankruptcy filing and of the discharge. The case was closed in March 2012. In December 2015, the debtor moved to reopen his case in order to avoid the judgment liens so that he could refinance rather than sell. Notice was provided to all interested parties; none objected. Debtor’s counsel admitted that “it was an oversight ... that I didn’t go through with the actual terminations of the liens.” The bankruptcy court denied the motion, noting that the liens were known when the case was open. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed. Neither 11 U.S.C. 350(b) nor FRBP 5010 impose a time limit on motions to reopen. The “[p]assage of time alone . . . does not necessarily constitute prejudice to a creditor sufficient to bar the reopening.” The bankruptcy court did not find that any prejudice would result or the existence of other factors which would bar reopening. The debtor established that avoidance of the liens would provide him relief. View "In re: McCoy" on Justia Law
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Jackson died in a car accident on U.S. Highway 70 after he lost control of his 2012 Ford Focus. Mrs. Jackson, who was a passenger in the car, was seriously injured. She sued, alleging that Ford was responsible for the accident because it equipped the car with a defective “Electronic Power Assisted Steering” (EPAS) system that caused the loss of control. The district court dismissed, finding that Jackson did not adequately plead proximate cause. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that “the district court demanded too much of Jackson under the familiar Iqbal and Twombly pleading requirements.” Jackson plausibly alleged that a defect in the 2012 Ford Focus’s EPAS system was a substantial factor in bringing about the accident, as is apparent from the litany of other accidents identified by Jackson where the EPAS system allegedly failed, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Ford’s “hypertechnical arguments regarding the allegations” in Jackson’s complaint rest on an inaccurate understanding of notice pleading. View "Jackson v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Pryor was charged with conspiring to distribute heroin. Interested persons would call to speak to “Daffy Duck” and negotiate a purchase. “Daffy” would then give a location for the transaction and inform members of the conspiracy. Deputy Shattuck listened in on four telephone calls between “Daffy” and an informant. Following the informant's drug purchase, police watched the residence where the sale occurred. While a search warrant was being drafted, Pryor entered the house. Police observed Pryor through the window as he picked up money, then returned to his car and left. They followed the car until it was stopped for traffic violations. Pryor had a pistol inside his waistband, which was properly licensed; wads of money in his pockets; and, in his car, had a cell phone that rang when the “Daffy” number was dialed. Pryor made 33 phone calls while in jail, which were recorded. Officer Shattuck concluded that Pryor’s voice matched the “Daffy” voice. After additional controlled buys, Pryor was re-arrested and, at a hearing, was uncooperative and asserted “sovereign citizen” status. Citing Pryor’s “bizarre” behavior, the magistrate ordered a competency evaluation. Pryor objected to appointed counsel (Upshaw), was found competent, refused to answer questions, and objected to Upshaw acting on his behalf. At later appearances, Pryor continued to assert his desire to appear in propria persona and contest the court’s jurisdiction but refused to cooperate. Pryor was convicted and sentenced to 235 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding a finding that Pryor had waived his right of self-representation by his behavior, the admission of voice-identification testimony, and sentencing enhancements imposed for Pryor’s possession of a gun. View "United States v. Pryor" on Justia Law

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In 1949, the federal government deeded a large parcel to the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), the entity responsible for controlling flooding in eastern Ohio. The deed provided that the land would revert to the United States if MWCD alienated or attempted to alienate it, or if MWCD stopped using the land for recreation, conservation, or reservoir-development purposes. MWCD sold rights to conduct hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations on the land. Fracking opponents discovered the deed restrictions and, arguing that MWCD’s sale of fracking rights triggered the reversion, filed a “qui tam” suit under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729. alleging that MWCD was knowingly withholding United States property from the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court noted recent legislative amendments that replace a fraudulent-intent requirement in two FCA provisions with a requirement that the defendant acted “knowingly,” but concluded that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim even under the more lenient scienter requirement; they did not specify whether or how MWCD knew or should have known that it was in violation of the deed restrictions, such that it knew or should have known that title to the property reverted to the United States. View "Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the legislative body for Hardin County, Kentucky passed an ordinance, providing that no employee could be required to join or pay dues to a union. Labor organizations claimed that the National Labor Relations Act preempts right-to-work laws not specifically authorized in section 14(b) of the Act; regulation of “hiring-hall” agreements, which require prospective employees to be recommended, approved, referred, or cleared by or through a labor organization; and regulation of “dues-checkoff” provisions, which require employers to automatically deduct union dues, fees, or other charges from employees’ paychecks and transfer them to the union. The county argued that the ordinance constitutes state law within the meaning of section 14(b) and is not preempted by 29 U.S.C. 164(b). The district court rejected the “state law argument and found the ordinance preempted and unenforceable. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The ordinance’s right-to-work protection, prohibiting employers from requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment, is expressly excepted from preemption in section 14(b), but the other challenged sections are unenforceable. The court reasoned that sections 14(b)’s explicit exception of state right-to-work laws from preemption trumps operation of implicit field preemption. View "United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Hardin County" on Justia Law

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In the 1990s, Stryker purchased a Pfizer subsidiary that made orthopedic products, including the “Uni-knee” artificial joint. It was later discovered that those devices were sterilized using gamma rays, which caused polyethylene to degrade. If implanted past their five-year shelf-life, the knees could fail. Expired Uni-Knees were implanted in patients. Stryker, facing individual product-liability claims and potentially liable to Pfizer, sought defense and indemnification under a $15 million XL “commercial umbrella” policy, and a TIG “excess liability” policy that kicked in after the umbrella policy was fully “exhausted.” XL denied coverage, arguing that the Uni-Knee claims were “known or suspected” before the inception of the policy. Stryker filed lawsuits against the insurers, then unilaterally settled its individual product-liability claims for $7.6 million. Stryker was adjudicated liable to Pfizer for $17.7 million. About 10 years later, the Sixth Circuit held that XL was obliged to provide coverage. XL paid out the Pfizer judgment first, exhausting coverage limits. TIG declined to pay the remaining $7.6 million, arguing that Stryker failed to obtain “written consent” at the time the settlements were made. Stryker claimed that the policy was latently ambiguous because XL satisfied the Pfizer judgment first, Stryker was forced to present its settlements to TIG years after they were made. The district court granted Stryker summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the contract unambiguous in requiring consent. View "Stryker Corp. v. National Union Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 2012, plaintiffs sued the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, by implementing a right-of-way vegetation-maintenance policy without conducting the required environmental review. The policy required TVA to cut down all trees within its right of ways that were 15-feet tall or had the potential to grow to 15 feet. TVA right-of-way specialists previously had discretion over which trees to remove. Plaintiffs claim that this policy change is a “major Federal action[] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” The district court found that the new “policy” was merely a clarification of longstanding practices and that 2012 Categorical Exclusion (CE) documentation adequately considered the environmental impact. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. On remand, instead of compiling an administrative record, TVA moved to dismiss the case because TVA had reverted to the practices that were utilized before the introduction of the 15-foot rule. TVA submitted two affidavits stating that the responsible TVA official had suspended use of the policy; plaintiffs introduced evidence indicating that TVA had not abandoned the policy. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The record evidence suggests that TVA’s challenged policy has a continuing effect, TVA failed to prove that the NEPA claim is moot. View "Sherwood v. Tennessee Valley Authority" on Justia Law
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In 2013, Flint, Michigan, decided to switch its primary drinking water provider from the Detroit Water Department to the new Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). KWA was not yet operational, so Flint needed an interim water source and chose the Flint River, which it had previously used for back-up service. According to several reports, the river was highly sensitive and required anti-corrosive treatment to prevent heavy metals from leaching into the water. The city contracted with Lockwood, a Texas-based corporation, for design engineering services in rehabilitating Flint’s Water Treatment Plant. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved Lockwood’s plans, which did not include necessary upgrades for anti-corrosive treatment. Flint began supplying residents with Flint River drinking water. Within days, residents complained of foul smelling and tasting water. Within weeks, some residents’ hair began to fall out; their skin developed rashes. Within a year, there were positive tests for E. coli, a spike in deaths from Legionnaires’ disease, and reports of dangerously high blood lead levels in children. Residents sued, alleging professional negligence. Lockwood removed the action to federal court, citing diversity jurisdiction (28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2)). Plaintiffs argued that the mandatory “local controversy” exception to jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(4)(A) applied. The district court remanded, noting that more than two-thirds of the putative class members were likely Michigan citizens. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that injuries were limited to the area of the water system and the significant involvement of Lockwood’s Michigan-based affiliate. View "Mason v. Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, P.C." on Justia Law

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During 2012-2013, three undercover DEA agents posed as patients during an investigation into Dr. Zaidi’s controlled substances prescription practices. As a result, the DEA Deputy Administrator suspended Zaidi’s controlled substances prescription privileges, finding that his continued registration posed an imminent danger to the public health and safety, 21 U.S.C. 824(d). DEA agents also seized controlled substances from Zaidi’s offices. Following a hearing, an ALJ recommended that the suspension and seizure be affirmed and that Zaidi's registration be revoked. The Administrator affirmed the suspension and seizure, but found the registration issue was moot due to the expiration of Zaidi’s registration and his decision not to seek renewal. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the ALJ arbitrarily and capriciously denied Zaidi the opportunity to present testimony from an expert, employees, and former patients; there was insufficient evidence to support the suspension; the government failed to make a prima facie showing that Zaidi’s continued registration was inconsistent with the public interest; Zaidi’ prescriptions to the three undercover officers were not outside the usual course of professional practice and did not lack a legitimate medical purpose; Zaidi did not falsify medical records; and the sanction imposed was disproportionately harsh. View "Akhtar-Zaidi v. Drug Enforcement Administration" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the City of Detroit filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, facing problems “run[ning] wide and deep”—including the affordable provision of basic utilities. In 2014, plaintiffs, customers, and the purported representatives of customers, of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), filed an adversary proceeding, based on DWSD’s termination of water service to thousands of residential customers. Citing 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Supreme Court holding in Monell v. Department of Social Services, plaintiffs sought injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal. Section 904 of the Bankruptcy Code explicitly prohibits this relief. Whether grounded in state law or federal constitutional law, a bankruptcy court order requiring DWSD to provide water service at a specific price, or refrain from terminating service would interfere with the City’s “political [and] governmental powers,” its “property [and] revenues,” and its “use [and] enjoyment of . . . income-producing property,” 11 U.S.C. 904. Plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection claims were inadequately pled. View "Lyda v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law