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

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Based on confusing statements overheard by a 911 operator, officers pulled over Brown, ordered her out of her car at gunpoint, threw her to the ground, handcuffed her, and detained her in handcuffs for approximately 10 minutes. Brown sued three officers who seized her, and others, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Fourth Amendment for unreasonable seizure and excessive force and under Michigan state law for assault and battery. The district court denied qualified and governmental immunity to the officers, concluding that, while the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Brown, the stop ripened into an unlawful arrest. The court held that the officers used excessive force. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Brown’s testimony reflects a degree of force against a compliant subject that was clearly established as excessive well before the officers seized her. Taking Brown’s version of events as true, the officers threw her onto the ground, despite the fact that she was clearly afraid and cooperating with their orders. A jury could find that this behavior “shows such indifference to whether harm w[ould] result as to be equal to a willingness that harm w[ould] result.” View "Brown v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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The False Claims Act (FCA) imposes civil liability for fraudulent claims for payment to the United States, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1), and authorizes qui tam suits, in which private parties bring civil actions in the government’s name. A relator must first disclose his claims to the government, which then decides whether to take over the action. Whipple alleged that Erlanger knowingly submitted fraudulent claims to federally funded healthcare programs and that he discovered the fraud while working at Erlanger in 2006, by analyzing past billings, reviewing patient records, and observing operations. He claimed to have direct knowledge of fraudulent practices from supervising patient admissions, planning discharges, and reviewing submission of claims. Unbeknownst to Whipple, the government conducted an audit and investigation; the matter was resolved without a hearing by Erlanger’s 2009 payment of a $477,140.42 refund to the government. Whipple disclosed his qui tam claims to the government in 2010 and filed suit in 2011, and the government declined to intervene. The district court dismissed, finding the claims jurisdictionally barred under the FCA’s public-disclosure bar. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Holding that the government audit was not a “public disclosure” sufficient to trigger the jurisdictional bar, the court did not decide whether the original-source exception to that bar would apply. View "United States v. Chattanooga-Hamilton Cnty. Hosp." on Justia Law

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In 1997, Louisville police discovered the bodies of two people in their apartment. The male victim had nine stab wounds. The pregnant female victim died as a result of manual strangulation and was stabbed after she was dead. Wheeler, ultimately convicted of the murders, changed his story several times. He eventually admitted being in the apartment on that night, after the male victim was stabbed, but claimed that the assailant was inside the apartment and that he and that person fought, resulting in his wounds. 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. As a matter of procedural fairness in administering the death penalty, the Supreme Court has observed, the for-cause exclusion of an otherwise-eligible juror unnecessarily narrows the cross-section of venire members required under the Sixth Amendment. View "Wheeler v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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In 1988 Sutherland received breast implants in North Carolina. She filed suit in North Carolina five years later, after learning that the silicone in her implants could be causing a variety of serious medical problems. The Silicone’s manufacturer, Dow Corning, filed for bankruptcy in Michigan, and Sutherland’s suit was transferred there. In 2012, 24 years after Sutherland received the implants, the district court concluded that Sutherland’s claim was barred by Michigan’s statute of limitations and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that the district court should have applied North Carolina’s law instead of Michigan’s, and should have concluded that there was a genuine factual issue as to whether Sutherland’s claim was timely-filed under North Carolina law. View "Sutherland v. DCC Litig. Facility, Inc." on Justia Law

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Berera worked at Mesa, a health care organization, as a nurse practitioner, 2011-2013. After Berera’s employment ended, she allegedly discovered that the wages on her W-2 did not reflect the wages that Mesa owed her. Berera sued in state court, asserting a class of current and former employees whom Mesa “forced to pay [Mesa’s] share of payroll taxes and other taxes and withholdings,” that this “forced payment resulted in the employees receiving less money than they earned,” and that Mesa paid employees “less than the wages and overtime compensation to which the employees were entitled.” The complaint contained no additional substantive allegations, but recited an unpaid wages claim under section 337.385 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes and claims of conversion and negligence under Kentucky law. The district court dismissed, reasoning that the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA), 26 U.S.C. 3101–3128, which imposes a 7.65% tax on wages to fund Social Security and Medicare, requires parties seeking a refund to file a claim with the IRS before bringing a federal tax refund suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that the purported state-law claims are truly FICA claims. View "Berera v. Mesa Med. Grp., PLLC" on Justia Law

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Pola, a Canadian citizen born in Iraq, was living in Louisville with his wife and children, all U.S. citizens, as a lawful permanent resident, when he was charged with intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute oxycodone, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). Pola entered an Alford plea and was sentenced to 46 months’ incarceration. About two months after judgment was entered, Pola filed a notice of appeal pro se. The Sixth Circuit dismissed it as untimely, noting that he could move to vacate or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, based upon his allegation that counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to file a notice of appeal upon his request. Pola did so. A magistrate ordered a ordered U.S. Marshals to transport Pola for an October 17, 2012 hearing, but Pola had been released on September 4, and transferred to ICE custody. On September 11, Pola, without counsel, declined a hearing and conceded removability. On September 19, ICE removed Pola. He could not attend the hearing. Pola and the government filed affidavits. The court denied Pola’s request for an evidentiary hearing and his motion, finding the attorney’s performance not deficient. The Sixth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction, that the court should have granted an evidentiary hearing to develop the ineffective-assistance claim, and vacated. View "Pola v. United States" on Justia Law

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When police officers executed a search warrant at a Dayton residence, they found Burney, several handguns, and several ounces of crack cocaine inside. Convicted of possessing crack cocaine with intent to distribute it, Burney challenged the warrant underlying the search as not supported by probable cause. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The affidavit supporting the warrant provided several strong indications that the residence was used as a stash house by a drug trafficking operation, and that the house had been unoccupied for more than eight months when Burney, a repeat drug convict, moved in a few weeks before officers obtained the warrant. Because the warrant affidavit presented sufficient evidence tying the property, if not Burney himself, to an ongoing drug trafficking and money laundering operation, and because that evidence, taken as a whole, was sufficiently reliable, the district court properly denied Burney’s motion to suppress. View "United States v. Burney" on Justia Law

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Kruse, a Norfok train conductor, was injured on the job in March, reported his injury, and took leave until August. Shortly after he returned to work, Kruse was suspended for 30 days without pay for exceeding speed limits. Kruse’s union appealed under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 153. Both the on-property investigation and the arbitration board concluded that Norfolk “was justified,” but reduced the suspension. While his grievance-related appeal was pending before the arbitration board, Kruse filed a Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) complaint with the Department of Labor, claiming that his suspension was in retaliation for reporting his prior work-related injury. The ALJ ruled in favor of Kruse, denying Norfolk’s motion to dismiss based on FRSA, which prohibits a railroad carrier from retaliating against employees who report work-related injuries and potential safety violations, and provides that “[a]n employee may not seek protection under both this section and another provision of law for the same allegedly unlawful act of the railroad carrier,” 49 U.S.C. 20109(f). The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board affirmed and the Sixth Circuit denied review, reasoning that prior arbitration of a grievance under the RLA did not trigger the FRSA’s election-of-remedies provision. View "Norfolk Southern Ry. Co. v. Perez" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(5)(B), without a plea agreement. He did not dispute an adjusted offense level of 28, yielding a guidelines range of 78 to 97 months. Enhancements were applied for material depicting prepubescent juveniles and sadomasochistic or violent content, use of the computer, and possession of more than 600 images. A reduction was applied for acceptance of responsibility. The government noted the serious nature of the crime and that defendant’s purchase of child pornography contributed to expansion of that market. Defense counsel cited the conclusion of its psychologist that defendant was neither dangerous nor a pedophile, his cooperation with investigators, and his attendance at counseling. The district court sentenced defendant to one day of incarceration plus five years of supervised release. The Sixth Circuit vacated that sentence as substantively unreasonable. After the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, the court re-imposed the sentence of one day, lengthened supervised release to 10 years, and added conditions of release. The Sixth Circuit again vacated, stating that it was “dismayed” and reassigning the case because the court had expressed that a sentence of confinement would constitute “pandering.” The sentence failed to adequately address factors previously given insufficient weight: seriousness of the particular crime, need for deterrence, and need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities. Although the court had new evidence regarding mental health and alleged post-sentence rehabilitation, that evidence could not overcome fundamental deficiencies in reasoning. View "United States v. Robinson" on Justia Law
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Posted in: Criminal Law
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The State of Tennessee operated the Arlington Developmental Center, an institutional home for people with mental disabilities. In 1992, the United States sued Tennessee under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act alleging that, among other things, Tennessee had failed to provide Arlington’s residents with adequate food, medical care, supervision, and shelter. After a trial on the merits, the district court found that Arlington’s conditions violated the due-process rights of its residents. The court ordered the State to submit a plan to improve conditions there. Since then, People First of Tennessee has presented 19 applications for attorneys’ fees to the district court. Tennessee consented to pay every dollar of fees requested in the first 18 applications filed by intervenors-appellees People First of Tennessee (a total of about $3.6 million, including over $400,000 for the period at issue here). But the State objected to People First’s 19th application, which for the most part sought fees for a contempt motion that the district court had stricken from the docket and that People First never renewed. The 19th application also sought fees for hours that People First’s attorneys had chosen to spend monitoring the State’s compliance with the consent decree, even though the State had already paid $10.6 million in fees to a monitor whom the court had appointed for that same purpose. Despite those circumstances, the district court awarded People First $557,711.37 pursuant to the application, holding that People First had been a “prevailing party” with respect to its contempt motion. The State appealed the district court's award. After review, the Sixth Circuit disagreed with the district court's judgment, reversed and remanded. View "United States v. Tennessee" on Justia Law