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

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In 2007, a jury convicted Etherton of possession with intent to deliver cocaine. After exhausting both direct and collateral appellate review procedures in Michigan, Etherton timely filed a federal petition for habeas corpus. The district court denied Etherton’s petition. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part and ordered issuance of a writ. Certain claims had been procedurally defaulted: that the anonymous tip presented at trial denied Etherton’s right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment; that the prosecutor improperly vouched for the credibility of a witness during closing argument; and that Etherton’s counsel’s failure to object to the anonymous tip, as well as other alleged shortcomings, amounted to prejudicially ineffective assistance of counsel. Etherton is entitled to review based on ineffective appellate counsel. Appellate counsel failed to argue that failing to object to the anonymous tip constituted ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Because there was a Confrontation Clause violation that resulted in substantial prejudice, there is a reasonable probability that Michigan appellate courts would have found trial counsel constitutionally ineffective. The failure to include that argument was, therefore, prejudicial, and amounted to deficient performance of appellate counsel. It was an unreasonable application of federal law to hold otherwise. View "Etherton v. Rivard" on Justia Law

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The Iron Workers negotiated a contract that required JD Steel to make contributions, on behalf of its employees, to the pension funds for local unions in which the employees performed work, amounting $10.00 for every hour that a JD employee worked in the local union's territory. Later, the Iron Workers negotiated a similar contract with Davis Rebar, except that, rather than require contributions to the local unions’ pension funds, the contract required Davis to make identical contributions to the local unions’ defined-contribution plans, such as a 401(k) plan. In 2013, JD worked on a parking garage at Cleveland’s Fairview Hospital while Davis worked on a garage at University Hospital. Both jobs were within the territory of the Local 17 Iron Workers Union. Davis apparently used equipment bearing JD’s name and logo. The companies shared a foreman and supervisors. The pension plan sued under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3), alleging that JD and Davis are actually the same company, so that Davis is bound by JD’s contract and must make additional payments. Each company has made all payments required by its individual contract. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal. Reasoning that the same association of unions negotiated and signed both agreements, the court declined to set aside the association’s judgment regarding its members’ best interests. View "Bd. Trs. Local 17 Iron Workers Pension Fund v. Harris Davis Rebar LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Shelton pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm. His conviction became final in 2009, and four years later he moved to vacate his sentence, 28 U.S.C. 2255, alleging that the 2013 Supreme Court holding, Descamps v. United States, made his sentence invalid. The government did not file a response. Without notifying Shelton or asking him to show cause, the district court on its own initiative dismissed the motion as untimely. The Sixth Circuit vacated. Before acting on its own initiative, a district court “must accord the parties fair notice and an opportunity to present their positions.” The district court dismissed Shelton’s motion at the Rule 4(b) “screening” stage of the section 2255 proceedings, before the government had filed any response, but the notice requirement applies to section 2254 petitions and section 2255 motions and to sua sponte dismissals that occur during the Rule 4 screening process. View "Shelton v. United States" on Justia Law

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Federal law generally bars both state-convicted and federally-convicted felons from possessing firearms, unless their civil rights have been “restored” under the law of the convicting jurisdiction. Congress has rendered inoperative the federal statutory provision directly addressing the lifting of the firearms disability based on a felony conviction. Walker, a federal felon residing in Tennessee, asserted that his Tennessee restoration of rights, in conjunction with federal statutory and constitutional provisions, leads to the conclusion that federal law has restored his rights sufficient to lift the disability. Walker argued that the relevant civil rights for firearm-disability-lifting purposes were the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to hold government office. When these rights are restored at the state level, he argued, federal law in various ways permits the exercise of the same three civil rights at the federal level, thus meeting the federal statutory standard. The district court and Sixth Circuit rejected the argument, stating that neither Walker’s right to vote nor his right to seek and hold public office have been restored under federal law; those rights were subject to state law. View "Walker v. United States" on Justia Law
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Most Medicare recipients must pay monthly premiums in addition to various co-payments and deductibles, 42 U.S.C. 1395. States that receive federal Medicaid funds must assist certain low-income Medicare beneficiaries with payment of their out-of-pocket expenses related to the Medicare program. To be eligible for such assistance, a Medicare beneficiary must have income less than or equal to certain percentages of the federal poverty line “for a family of the size involved[.]” In calculating 74-year-old Turner’s family size to determine eligibility for assistance, the Ohio Department of Medicaid did not include Turner’s wife, who lives with him, and denied benefits. Ohio generally does not count a Medicare beneficiary’s spouse as a member of his “family.” The Sixth Circuit held that the Department’s use of an individual-need standard to deny applications and the state’s exclusion spouses in determining the size of a family, was contrary to federal law View "Wheaton v. McCarthy" on Justia Law
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An FBI agent downloaded multiple files depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct from Cover’s computer. Cover led guilty to distributing child pornography over the Internet, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2). The court calculated a sentencing guidelines range of 262 to 327 months, which included: a two-level increase for distributing material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor; a two-level increase for distributing material involving a minor under the age of 12; a four-level increase for distributing material that portrays violent or sadistic conduct; and a five-level increase for engaging in a pattern of activity involving the sexual exploitation of a minor. After considering Cover’s situation and the circumstances of the offense, the court sentenced him to 240 months in prison and ordered, as a special condition of supervised release, that Cover could not “own or possess any type of camera, photographic device, and/or . . . video recording equipment without the written approval of [his] probation officer.” The Sixth Circuit remanded with respect to the sadistic-portrayal enhancement, but rejected other challenges to the sentence. View "United States v. Cover" on Justia Law
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The 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act prohibits states from imposing taxes that “discriminat[e] against a rail carrier,” 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4)A, including: Assessing rail transportation property at a value with a higher ratio to the true market value of the property than the ratio applied to other commercial and industrial property; levying or collecting an ad valorem property tax on rail transportation property at a tax rate that exceeds the rate applicable to commercial and industrial property in the same jurisdiction; or imposing “another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier providing transportation.” Railroads sued, claiming that Tennessee sales and use tax assessments were discriminatory. The district court agreed, holding that imposition of those taxes on railroad purchases and use of diesel fuel was discriminatory. In response, in 2014, Tennessee enacted a Transportation Fuel Equity Act that repeals the sales and use tax on railroad diesel fuel, but subjects railroads to the same per-gallon tax imposed on motor carriers under the Highway User Fuel Tax. Previously railroads, like other carriers using diesel fuel for off-highway purposes, were exempt from a “diesel tax.” The Railroads contend the Act is discriminatory because it now subjects only railroads to taxation of diesel fuel used off-highway. The Sixth Circuit affirmed denial of the Railroads’ motion for a preliminary injunction on its targeted or singling-out approach and the functional approach, but remanded for consideration of the Railroads’ argument under the competitive approach. View "CSX Transp., Inc. v. Tenn. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In 2000 and 2002 the FDA issued warnings to Caraco, a Michigan pharmaceutical manufacturer, stating that failure to correct violations promptly could result in enforcement action without further notice. After follow-ups in 2005, the FDA sought a definitive timeline for corrective actions. The FDA issued notices of objectionable conditions in 2006, 2007, and 2008. A consultant audited Caraco’s facilities and stated that it was “likely that FDA will initiate some form of seizure action.” Caraco executives thought the consultant “alarmist.” Later, the FDA issued a formal warning, determining that Caraco products were adulterated and that its manufacturing, processing, and holding policies did not conform to regulations and noting its poor compliance history. The letter stated that failure to promptly correct the violations could result in legal action without further notice, including seizure. A new consultant warned of likely enforcement action. Caraco followed some of its suggestions. In 2009, Caraco issued a nationwide drug recall, constituting “a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.” The FDA filed a complaint, served Caraco, and seized products. Days later, Caraco began a mass layoff, indicating that it did not “reasonably foresee" the FDA action. A certified class of former Caraco employees alleged that Caraco violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, 29 U.S.C. 2101, by failing to provide 60 days notice. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the FDA action was not an unforeseeable business circumstance that would excuse WARN Act compliance. View "Calloway v. Caraco Pharma. Lab., Ltd." on Justia Law

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Ohio state inmate Jackson continually violated the terms of his parole. Facing up to 26 years behind bars, he filed an unsuccessful federal habeas petition in 2013. Jackson filed two more habeas petitions in 2015, but the district court classified them as second or successive and transferred them to the Sixth Circuit. Jackson filed unsuccessful “motion[s] for relief from” the judgments asking the district court to reconsider the transfer orders. The Sixth Circuit vacated with instructions to dismiss, noting that Jackson appealed the denial of his motion for relief from the transfer order, not the transfer order itself. .When a district court transfers a second-or-successive habeas petition, the case travels from one court to another, so that the transferring court loses jurisdiction and the other court gains The district court lost jurisdiction over Jackson’s habeas petitions when each petition was physically transferred to the Sixth Circuit, so it lacked jurisdiction to consider Jackson’s motions. View "Jackson v. Sloan" on Justia Law

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While Holland was in custody for a parole violation, detectives interviewed Holland about criminal sexual assaults that had occurred in the area. Holland asserted his right to an attorney and the interview ceased. Six days after Holland had requested an attorney—and before one had been provided—police again met with Holland, to discuss the 1991 murder of Lisa Shaw. Holland was to serve as the key prosecution witness at that murder trial, which was scheduled to begin in February 2006. After Holland changed his story regarding Shaw’s murder—a shift that effectively placed him at the scene of the crime—police asked a polygraph examiner to interview Holland. The examiner was instructed to ask only about Shaw’s murder, and nothing else, and to focus on obtaining a witness statement. During the interview, however, Holland confessed that he had killed Shaw and committed several additional crimes. Holland’s statements led to six separate state convictions, all of which employed Holland’s confessions as critical state’s evidence. On federal habeas review, the district court ruled that the confessions were admissible because Holland was not in “Miranda custody” during the January 2006 interviews, and that Holland’s statements were made voluntarily. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, also agreeing that any violation of Holland’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses was harmless. View "Holland v. Rivard" on Justia Law