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

by
In 1965, in Memphis, Tennessee, Plaintiffs wrote the song Ain’t That a Lot of Love and registered it with the U.S.Copyright Office. The following year, in London, England, brothers Mervyn and Steve Winwood, members of the Spencer Davis Group, wrote the song Gimme Some Lovin’, which was also registered with the Copyright Office. "Ain’t" fell flat. "Gimme" reached the second spot in the U.K. and the seventh spot in the U.S. Fifty-one years later, Plaintiffs sued the Winwoods for copyright infringement, 17 U.S.C. 504, claiming the Winwoods lifted the bass line from Ain’t That a Lot of Love. The defendants claimed no one in the Group had heard the song before writing Gimme Some Lovin’. Plaintiffs argued that the Group could have copied the bass line during a 21-day window between "Ain’t That’s" debut and the commercial release of Gimme. The court ruled that documents Plaintiffs sought to rely on to show direct evidence of copying were inadmissible under the rule against hearsay and that Mervyn did not have enough of a connection with Tennessee to exercise jurisdiction over him. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs presented no admissible evidence that created a genuine issue of material fact over whether Winwood copied "Ain’t That." Exercising jurisdiction over Mervyn would conflict with due process because he has not purposely availed himself of the privilege of acting in Tennessee. View "Parker v. Winwood" on Justia Law

by
In 2011, a Cincinnati officer ran the license plate number of an SUV and found that it had been reported stolen. The SUV stopped after the officer activated his emergency lights. When the officer stepped out of his cruiser, the SUV sped away. At over 75 miles-per-hour, the SUV raced through a downtown red light, swiping a vehicle, then slamming into a taxicab. The SUV hit a parking meter and caught fire; its driver ran, leaving his passenger, with leg fractures, inside the burning vehicle. Rescue workers freed the SUV passenger; he survived. The cab’s driver and passenger died immediately. Officers quickly apprehended the SUV’s driver, later identified as Gerth. Although Gerth suffered only minor injuries, police took him to a hospital, where a toxicology test revealed that he had alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine in his system. Gerth was charged with felony murder, aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, vehicular assault, leaving the scene of the accident, failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer, and receiving stolen property. A half-dozen attorneys have represented Gerth throughout his trial, appeals, and collateral attacks. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of his federal habeas petition. Gerth procedurally defaulted a claim that his second appellate counsel failed to argue that the trial court improperly denied his request to proceed pro se. Gerth had no constitutional right to counsel in his reopened appeal and cannot excuse his procedural default. View "Gerth v. Warden, Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution" on Justia Law

by
Rebecca, employed by SNS, enrolled herself and her husband in SNS’s health-benefits coverage. In 2013, Rebecca fell at work and injured her knee. Her injury was too severe to permit her to continue working. She signed a form requesting to open a workers’ compensation claim and to receive a leave of absence. The form did not mention the “Family and Medical Leave Act.” SNS sent a letter instructing her to complete paperwork for processing her absence under the FMLA. She did so. SNS approved her leave of absence as FMLA leave (rather than paid leave) for the first 12 weeks, but did not give her any other written notice of that designation. SNS deducted her insurance contributions from her workers’ compensation checks. SNS notified Rebecca when her FMLA leave expired, stating that, if her employment was terminated, she could continue health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). Having received no premium payment weeks later, SNS notified Rebecca that the benefits had been discontinued. SNS terminated her employment. Rebecca sued, alleging that SNS failed to notify her of the right to temporarily continue health-benefit coverage under COBRA and breached its fiduciary duty under ERISA by failing to so notify her. The district court determined that a qualifying event occurred with the reduction in Rebecca’s work hours on the day after her injury, requiring notice. The Sixth Circuit reversed because the terms of Rebecca’s insurance coverage did not change upon her taking a leave of absence. No “qualifying event” occurred to trigger a COBRA notification obligation. View "Morehouse v. Steak N Shake" on Justia Law

by
Police found Bowens and Hope in a vehicle with a marijuana blunt between them and two firearms. Both were charged under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), as unlawful users of controlled substances possessing firearms. To prove that the defendants were regular and repeated marijuana users, the government presented evidence from Facebook: a video uploaded the day of the arrest showed the defendants brandishing the firearms they were arrested with and smoking what appeared to be a marijuana blunt. There were, pictures, comments and posts on both defendants’ accounts, apparently describing marijuana use: “Getting high and drunk da whole day,” “Too high last night. Just woke up,” posted during seven months before their arrests. The court applied a two-level sentencing enhancement for an offense involving 3-7 firearms, counting a firearm that had been recovered months earlier in Bowens’ room during an unrelated investigation into a shooting. Bowens was never charged with unlawful possession of that firearm. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. There was sufficient evidence to establish the defendants’ regular and repeated use of marijuana, notwithstanding arguments regarding the credibility of the Facebook evidence, and ample evidence showing that the defendants knew they used marijuana. It was not plain error that the jury was never asked if the defendants were “knowingly” unlawful users of a controlled substance. There was not, however, enough of a connection between Bowens’ possession of a firearm months earlier to justify the enhancement to Bowens’ sentence. View "United States v. Hope" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Winston completed a prison sentence in 2009. He lived with his sister for 29 months, working at a call center and opening a hauling business. He purchased a car in 2010. With a VA loan, he purchased the Cummington Road home in 2011. He paid taxes, remodeled, and spent money on living expenses. In 2012, he contracted to purchase the Marcy Road Property for $36,500 and made four cash payments totaling $26,500. The seller considered the Property paid-for and was willing to provide a quitclaim deed, The Property was never deeded to Winston. In 2010, while operating his legitimate business, Winston became involved in a large-scale marijuana trafficking conspiracy. He spent at least $62,091 on warehouse rent and equipment and paid an associate $25,000, He purchased a van with $6,875 of drug proceeds. In 2013, after surveillance of his warehouses and a search of Cummington Road, Winston was charged with drug crimes under 21 U.S.C. 846, and money laundering, 18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 135 months’ imprisonment. He did not disclose his interest in Marcy Road. The government became aware of that interest and filed a civil forfeiture action under 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(6), alleging that Winston purchased the Property with proceeds traceable to drug sales. The government presented testimony about Winston’s expenses and drug trafficking activities and his legitimate income from 2009–2012: $169,132. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the Marcy Property is subject to civil forfeiture. The Government demonstrated, by a preponderance of the evidence, a substantial connection between the money used to purchase the Property and Winston's illegal drug sales proceeds. View "United States v. Real Property 10338 Marcy Road Northwest Canal Winchester" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) imposes a mandatory 15-year minimum sentence for a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) if the defendant has three or more previous convictions for “violent felon[ies]” or “serious drug offense[s],” 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1). Greer pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), plus 13 counts of armed bank robbery, section 2113, and using a firearm during a crime of violence, section 924(c)). The parties agreed that Greer was punishable under ACCA, given his five prior Ohio convictions for aggravated burglary. The court imposed a 272-month sentence. After the Supreme Court invalidated ACCA’s “residual clause,” and made that decision retroactive to cases on collateral review, Greer moved to vacate his sentence, 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court denied Greer’s motion holding that his aggravated burglary convictions qualified under ACCA’s enumerated-offense clause. While Greer’s appeal was pending, the Sixth Circuit held that Tennessee’s aggravated burglary statute was not an ACCA “violent felony” because its definition of “habitation” was broader than the enumerated offense of generic burglary under 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). The government conceded that Greer was not properly classified, given the similarity in language between the Tennessee statute and the Ohio statute, reserving the right to withdraw its concession after the Supreme Court decided the issue. The Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s decision concerning the Tennessee statute. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Greer’s petition for relief. View "Greer v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The UAW negotiates collective-bargaining agreements (CBAs) with automotive manufacturers including Fiat Chrysler (FCA). Plaintiffs claim that FCA officials bribed UAW officials to get a more company-friendly CBA. The scandal resulted in federal convictions and indictments. Plaintiffs filed a purported class action, alleging violations of Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA) section 301, 29 U.S.C. 185. The Second Amended Complaint named individuals formerly employed by both FCA and UAW, alleges that “FCA executives and FCA employees agree[d] ... and willfully paid and delivered, money and things of value to officers and employees of the UAW,” and that plaintiffs have been unable to discover the complete extent of defendants’ collusive conduct because of the secrecy of the ongoing federal criminal investigations. The complaint refers to a “hybrid 301 claim” and raises two counts: violation of the LMRA and breach of the LMRA duty of fair representation, both of which must be properly alleged in a hybrid claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. A section 301 “hybrid claim” requires evidence of the violation of a contract or CBA and the complaint explicitly does not allege that defendants violated any CBA provision. Plaintiffs failed to allege that they exhausted internal union remedies and CBA grievance procedures and did not establish proximate cause between defendants’ alleged malfeasance and plaintiffs’ injuries. View "Swanigan v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S., LLC" on Justia Law

by
Ligon, age 19, used her friend’s identification to purchase a gun. The gun was subsequently used in an attempted robbery involving acquaintances of Ligon’s boyfriend. Ligon pleaded guilty to making a false statement in the acquisition of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(a)(6). During plea negotiations, the government agreed to argue for a sentence in the Guidelines range as contemplated by the plea agreement, which was 21-27 months. At the sentencing hearing, however, the government argued for a sentence within the Guidelines range as contemplated by the probation office, which was 30-37 months because of an enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(b)(6)(B), which applies if a defendant transferred a firearm with knowledge, intent, or reason to believe that it would be used or possessed in connection with another felony offense. The district court sentenced Ligon to 35 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded for resentencing before a different district judge. The government breached the agreement and tried to correct its mistake only after the district court imposed a sentence. View "United States v. Ligon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Henness was convicted of offenses including aggravated murder from conduct occurring in 1992 and was sentenced to death. Henness challenged Ohio’s method of execution under 42 U.S.C. 1983. As his execution date approached, Henness moved to stay his execution, arguing that Ohio's drug protocol (500 milligrams of midazolam, a paralytic agent, and potassium chloride) was likely to cause him to suffer a painful death, and that, given the availability of significantly less painful alternative methods of execution, the use of that protocol would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Though Henness presented expert testimony, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Neither pulmonary edema nor associated symptoms qualify as serious pain prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Midazolam may cause suffocation but the Eighth Amendment only prohibits forms of punishment that seek to intensify an inmate’s death by “superadd[ing]” feelings of “terror, pain, or disgrace.” Henness did not establish that midazolam is incapable of suppressing his consciousness enough to prevent him from experiencing constitutionally problematic pain. Even if Ohio’s protocol were very likely to cause severe pain, Henness’s proposed alternative method, secobarbital, is not a viable alternative. Secobarbital can, in some instances, take days to cause death. A state may decline to use even a feasible alternative if it has a legitimate reason for doing so. Choosing not to be the first state to experiment with a new method of execution is a legitimate reason. View "In re: Ohio Execution Protocol Litigation" on Justia Law

by
The Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901–44, provides federal funds to individuals totally disabled by a respiratory disease commonly caused by coal mine employment. The Secretary of Labor has broad implementation authority. When a miner applies for benefits, a Labor Department “district director” investigates and issues a proposed order, from which a party may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. The ALJ holds a hearing and issues a decision. A party may appeal a “substantial question of law or fact” to the Benefits Review Board. After exhausting these steps, a party may obtain judicial review of the Board's final order. Labor Department staff (not the Secretary) had been appointing the ALJs. The Constitution’s Appointments Clause dictates that Congress may place the appointment power for “inferior Officers” only in the President, the courts, or the “Heads of Departments.” In 2017, anticipating that the Supreme Court might address the issue, the Secretary ratified the appointments of existing ALJs. Months later, the Court held (Lucia) that an SEC ALJ was an inferior officer who had been unconstitutionally appointed. A former miner and an operator unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration of adverse decisions, arguing for the first time that the Secretary had not appointed their ALJs. The Board found the arguments “waived.” The Sixth Circuit agreed. The Act requires exhaustion. Parties are normally prohibited from raising new issues at the rehearing stage. The Board had the authority to address this constitutional issue and provide effective relief; there were many cases in which it did so for parties who preserved their claims. No exception applies; the parties did not demonstrate exceptional circumstances. View "Island Creek Coal Co. v. Bryan" on Justia Law