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

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Kelly was convicted, in Ohio state court, of felony murder, felonious assault, and assault for his involvement in a 2009 fight near Kent State University and was sentenced to 15 years to life imprisonment. On direct appeal, he raised a claim that his trial counsel was ineffective. Kelly’s counsel on direct appeal included the wife and business partner of his trial counsel. Kelly’s direct appeal and state post-conviction claims were unsuccessful. With new counsel, Kelly brought a federal claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel in a 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas petition, advancing a theory of his trial counsel’s ineffectiveness that had not been fully presented before the Ohio state courts. Kelly also argued that his appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective, a claim that had been properly presented before the Ohio state courts, and that his appellate counsel’s ineffectiveness should excuse his procedurally defaulted ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim under Supreme Court precedent. The district court rejected both arguments, concluding that the actions of Kelly's appellate counsel, even if allegedly ineffective, could not excuse Kelly’s procedurally defaulted ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, and that his ineffective-assistance-of-appellate-counsel claim could not overcome AEDPA deference. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing the deference due strategic decisions made by counsel. View "Kelly v. Lazaroff" on Justia Law
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Lovano, a citizen of Canada, was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1973. In 1993 Lovano was convicted in Ohio for attempting to pass bad checks and theft. Although deportation proceedings were instituted, Lovano was granted a waiver under (now repealed) 8 U.S.C. 1182(c). Lovano was subsequently convicted in 2012 in Cleveland of aggravated assault. Removal proceedings were again instituted under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii), which authorizes the deportation of “[a]ny alien . . . convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude, not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct.” The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed a removal order. The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting an argument that the 2012 conviction for aggravated assault in Ohio was not a crime involving moral turpitude. View "Lovano v. Lynch" on Justia Law
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Before 2013, the surviving spouse of a member of Chattanooga’s Fire and Police Pension Fund could receive benefits after the member died without incurring a proportional reduction in the member’s lifetime benefits. In 2012, the city removed this “default death benefit” for members who were not eligible to retire as of January 1, 2013. Dodd was not eligible to retire on that date and opted for a five-percent reduction in current, lifetime benefits so that his wife could receive an additional benefit upon his death. Dodd sued, asserting claims under the federal Contract Clause, Due Process Clause, and Takings Clause, and Tennessee’s Law of the Land Clause. Dodd also argued that the 2012 amendment was not validly enacted under local law. The district court granted the city summary judgment on all claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Because Dodd does not have a contract or property right to the default death benefit, his constitutional claims fail. Although Dodd’s interest in some future benefits vested after 10 years of service, but Dodd did not become entitled to the default death benefit when he hit 10 years. Dodd’s challenge to the validity of the amendment’s enactment is also without merit. View "Dodd v. City of Chattanooga" on Justia Law

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Qi obtained a $2,500,000 state court judgment against the Zengas and filed involuntary chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions against them. They moved to dismiss, asserting that because they had 12 or more creditors, the involuntary petitions required at least three petitioning creditors (11 U.S.C. 303(b)(1)), and that the cases were not in the best interest of creditors. Qi argued that the Zengas were estopped from presenting evidence that they had more than 11 creditors due to their responses to post-judgment sworn interrogatories in the state court proceedings. The bankruptcy court denied the motions to dismiss and entered orders for relief against the Zengas. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel vacated, holding that the threshold number of petitioning creditors is not jurisdictional. The Supreme Court’s 2014 holding in Law v. Siegel cannot be extended to prevent use of equitable doctrines when the statutory provision is not jurisdictional. Given the bankruptcy court’s failure to find actual and substantial detriment to Qi and Qi’s inability to point to any detriment other than loss of time, the court held that the bankruptcy court erred in applying equitable estoppel to bar the Zengas from introducing evidence of the existence of more than 11 creditors. View "In re: Zenga" on Justia Law
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The accreditation of White’s travel agency, CTC, was revoked in 2003 after audits conducted by United Airlines uncovered fraudulent ticketing schemes that cost the airline $100,000 in airfares. White continued working as a subcontractor for other travel agencies and continued to obtain fraudulent ticket fares by providing false information about her clients’ ages, possession of discount certificates, and military status. White charged service fees and airfare directly to her clients’ credit cards, sometimes for persons other than those clients, and sometimes without their permission. When travel agencies violate an airline’s fare policy and cause financial loss, the airline issues Agency Debit Memoranda (ADM), requiring payment. A travel agent testified that within two years, his agency received more than $100,000 in ADMs based on airfare that White booked. When White was asked for proof that her customers qualified for military discounts, she created false Armed Forces Identification cards using customers’ real names and dates of birth. The airlines determined that the cards were fraudulent and notified the Secret Service. White was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The district court permitted White to examine witnesses about actual repayments that were made to victims; White was not permitted to disclose loss-recoupment negotiations that took place long after White was confronted by her victims. White was sentenced to a total of 94 months in prison. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments the district court read an improper definition of the term “use” into the aggravated identity theft statute; erred in refusing to admit evidence of White’s intention to repay some of the losses; and erred in calculating victims’ losses. View "United States v. White" on Justia Law

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Pouncy, age 18, was charged with carjacking, armed robbery, felony firearm possession, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The Michigan state court appointed attorney Breczinski to represent Pouncy. Before trial, Pouncy complained that he had not been able to talk to Breczinski and that Breczinski had not investigated his defenses. Based on an erroneous calculation, the court told Pouncy that he was subject to a guidelines range of 135-337 months in prison; in reality his guidelines range was 225-562 months. Breczinski did not correct the court’s mistake. Pouncy, insisting on his innocence, rejected a plea offer. Breczinski lost pre-trial evidentiary motions. Pouncy requested to give his own opening statement, reiterating that he still had not had any conversations with Breczinski, and that Breczinski had not followed up on his defenses. The court replied: if you make the opening statement, you’ll have to represent yourself through this trial. The court declined to appoint new counsel or to allow Pouncy to attempt to retain private counsel. Breczinski gave an opening statement, after which Pouncy again asked to represent himself. The court agreed. The trial lasted six days. Convicted, Pouncy was sentenced to 586-824 months of imprisonment. A month later, Pouncy represented himself in a bench trial on charges arising out of a third carjacking. He was, again, convicted. His state appeals and petitions for post-conviction relief were unsuccessful. A federal district court granted habeas relief, concluding that Pouncy faced a “Hobson’s choice,” so that his waiver of counsel was involuntary. The Sixth Circuit reversed, citing the highly deferential standards applicable to federal collateral review of state-court convictions. View "Pouncy v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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Hopkins died in a nursing home. Her estate sued the nursing home, Preferred Care, which asked a federal court to enforce the arbitration provision in Hopkins’ admissions agreement. The district court compelled arbitration, enjoined Hopkins from proceeding in the Kentucky state court action, and stayed the federal case until arbitration concluded. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal as prohibited by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 16(a). The Act permits review of orders that interfere with arbitration, such as those “refusing” stays of federal proceedings in favor of arbitration and those “denying” petitions to enforce arbitration agreements, as well as interlocutory orders “granting, continuing, or modifying an injunction against an arbitration,” but prohibits appeals from other interlocutory orders that favor arbitration, such as those “granting” stays in favor of arbitration, “directing” or “compelling” arbitration, or “refusing” to enjoin an arbitration. View "Preferred Care of Delaware, Inc. v. Estate of Hopkins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Henry married in 1987 and divorced in 1993. The Divorce Judgment granted Plaintiff one-half of the pension benefits Henry had accrued during the marriage, with full rights of survivorship. Henry was forbidden from choosing a payment option that would deprive Plaintiff of these benefits. Henry worked for Chrysler from 1965 to 1992, and began receiving retirement benefits in 1994, under a “Lifetime Annuity Without Surviving Spouse” option, in violation of the Judgment. Plaintiff’s attorney submitted the Judgment to the Plan administrator, who stated that the Judgment lacked information required by 29 U.S.C. 1056(d)(3)(C) to qualify as a “qualified domestic relations order,” so it could not override ERISA’s anti-alienation provision. Plaintiff did not contact the Plan again until after Henry had died in 2007. The Plan denied her benefits request, noting “the participant does not have a remaining benefit to be assigned.” For six years, Plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to have the Plan qualify the Judgment. The Plan noted that changing the type of benefit was impermissible under plan the rules. In 2014, plaintiff obtained a nunc pro tunc order, correcting the Judgment. The Plan again denied benefits. Plaintiff filed suit under ERISA. The district court granted Plaintiff summary judgment, reasoning that, to the extent Plaintiff’s claim was based on the 2014, denial of benefits based on the Nunc Pro Tunc Order, it was timely and that the Order relates back to 1993. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding the claim untimely. View "Patterson v. Chrysler Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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DTE's Monroe plaint is the largest coal-fired power plant in Michigan; in 2010, DTE undertook a $65 million overhaul. The day before construction began, DTE submitted notice to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stating that DTE predicted an increase in post-construction emissions 100 times greater than the minimum necessary to constitute a “major modification” and require a preconstruction permit. DTE characterized the projects as routine maintenance,exempt from New Source Review (NSR) under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7475, 7503, and stated that it had excluded the entire predicted emissions increase from its projections of post-construction emissions based on “demand growth.” DTE began construction without an NSR permit. The EPA filed suit. In 2013, the Sixth Circuit held that a utility seeking to modify a source of air pollutants must “make a preconstruction projection of whether and to what extent emissions from the source will increase following construction,” which “determines whether the project constitutes a ‘major modification’ and thus requires a permit.” On remand, the district court again entered summary judgment for DTE, concluding that the EPA had to accept DTE’s projections at face value. The Sixth Circuit reversed. DTE was not required to secure the EPA’s approval of the projections, or the project, before construction, but in proceeding without a permit, DTE acted at its own risk. The EPA can challenge DTE’s preconstruction projections and there are genuine disputes of material fact that preclude summary judgment regarding compliance with NSR’s preconstruction requirements. The court noted that construction is complete and that actual post-construction emissions are irrelevant o whether DTE’s preconstruction projections complied with the regulations. View "United States v. DTE Energy Co." on Justia Law

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Hilliard (age 19) was a prostitute staying at a Madison Heights, Michigan Motel 6 while Officer Wolowiec was conducting a narcotics investigation. Wolowiece saw a bag of marijuana through Hilliard’s open window. Wolowiece and Officer Koehler initiated a “knock and talk.” Hilliard consented to the officers entering her room. Hilliard asked whether she could “work off” the possession charge. Hilliard called her drug dealer, Raqib, and ordered drugs. Wolowiec planned to have officers intercept Raqib before he arrived. Hilliard signed a confidential informant form, which provided that the “Department will use all reasonable means to protect your identity; however, this cannot be guaranteed.” Wolowiec asked Hilliard whether she was afraid that Raqib would hurt her. She responded “No.” Wolowiec nonetheless removed her from the hotel. Koehler made a traffic stop and conducted a canine search of Raqib’s car. Wolowiec later told Raqib’s passenger, Clark, that he had ordered the drugs. Wolowiec testified that he did not think this would reveal Hilliard as the informant. After the arrests, Wolowiec told Hilliard that Raqib and Clark believed she had set them up. Clark later testified that Wolowiec told her that Hilliard set up Raqib and that she relayed the information to Raqib. Raqib stated that Clark told him that Hilliard informed on him. Days later, Raqib and an accomplice murdered Hilliard. Hilliard’s mother filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed denial of summary judgment of qualified immunity. A reasonable jury could find that Wolowiec acted with deliberate indifference when he told Clark that Hilliard set up Raqib. View "Nelson v. City of Madison Heights" on Justia Law