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Rotondo was the sole owner of Apex, which wholly owned four limited liability companies (Directional Entities). Apex and the Directional Entities provided services, such as human resources, to different clients. Rotondo sold the Directional Entities’ key asset, customer lists, to AES, which agreed to pay Rotondo a share of its gross profits in the form of “Consulting Fees.” Two entities sought to collect Rotondo’s Consulting Fees: Akouri loaned money to one of Rotondo’s other companies and had a security interest in Apex’s assets and a judgment against Rotondo and Apex for $1.4 million. Rotondo also owes the IRS $3.4 million. The IRS filed several notices of tax liens against Rotondo, Apex, and the Directional Entities. AES filed an interpleader action. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the IRS. The timing of a federal tax lien is measured by when the IRS gave notice of its lien, 26 U.S.C. 6323(a), (f); the timing of state security interests, like Akouri’s, is measured by when they become “choate”—i.e., complete or perfected. Akouri’s interest would be choate as of 2019, but the IRS’s tax liens date to before 2019. The court rejected Akouri’s attempt to recategorize the customer list assets as originally belonging to Apex rather than the Directional Entities. View "AES-Apex Employer Services, Inc. v. Rotondo" on Justia Law

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Mager alleged that he was seriously and permanently injured when he slipped on oil while he was working as a trackman at WCL’s Marquette, Michigan railway yard. Mager filed suit under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51. He was deposed and was sent notice of an independent medical examination (IME). Plaintiff’s counsel, Foley, objected because the examiner’s Appleton Wisconsin office was a substantial drive from Mager’s home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Defense counsel sought an order compelling the IME (FRCP 35(a)) and to delay third-party mediation. The parties agreed that Mager would submit to the IME, that WCL would pay his mileage, and that a settlement conference would be scheduled with the court in lieu of mediation. After Mager objected to completing a medical questionnaire, a Rule 35 Order was entered directing Mager to “appear at the IME ….The interview and exam shall not exceed three (3) hours.” Mager and Foley appeared for the IME. Foley recorded the proceedings without prior notice to defense counsel. Mager repeatedly declined to answer relevant questions about his condition, medications, and how the injury occurred, referring the doctor to his deposition. Mager did not allow Mager’s driver’s license to be copied. Mager submitted to a physical examination. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Mager’s complaint with prejudice, FRCP 37(b)(2)(A)(v), as a sanction primarily for his and Foley’s conduct at the IME, which was willful, in bad faith, and prejudicial to the defense. No other sanctions would reflect the misconduct's seriousness. View "Mager v. Wisconsin Central Ltd." on Justia Law

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The surface and mineral estates of “Tract 46” in Pike County, Kentucky have been severed for a century. Pike and Johnson own the surface estate as tenants in common. Pike also owns the entirety of the coal below and wants to mine. In 2013, Pike granted its affiliate a right to enter the land and commence surface mining. Despite Johnson’s protestations, Kentucky granted a surface mining permit. Mining commenced in April 2014. In 2014, as the result of a federal lawsuit, the Secretary of the Interior determined that the permit violated the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), 30 U.S.C. 1250. The deficiencies in the original permit were remedied; Kentucky issued an amended permit the same year. The Secretary then confirmed that the permit complied with federal law. Johnson sued again. An ALJ, the district court, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, first finding that Johnson exhausted its administrative remedies to the extent required by SMCRA. The ALJ’s application of Kentucky co-tenancy law, instead of the state’s rules of construction for vague severance deeds, to uphold the issuance of Elkhorn’s permit and the Secretary’s termination of the cessation order was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. View "M.L. Johnson Family Properties, LLC v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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After Hawk died, his wife, Nancy, decided to sell the family business, Holiday Bowl and made a deal with MidCoast, which claimed an interest in acquiring companies with corporate tax liabilities that it could set off against its net-operating losses. Holiday first sold its bowling alleys to Bowl New England, receiving $4.2 million in cash and generating about $1 million in federal taxes. Nancy and Billy’s estate then sold Holiday Bowl to MidCoast for about $3.4 million,"in essence exchanging one pile of cash for another minus the tax debt MidCoast agreed to pay." MidCoast never paid the taxes. The United States filed a transferee-liability action against Nancy and Hawk’s estate. The Tax Court ruled for the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the Hawks were transferees of a delinquent taxpayer under 26 U.S.C. 6901, and that Tennessee has adopted the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, which provides remedies to creditors (like the United States) when insolvent debtors fraudulently transfer assets to third parties. Holiday Bowl owed taxes. “Congress, with assistance from the courts, has constructed a formidable defense against taxpayer efforts to traffic in net operating losses and other corporate tax benefits.” View "Billy F. Hawk, Jr., GST Non-Exempt Marital Trust v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Morales-Montanez and Acosta of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. The Sixth Circuit held that there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions, but vacated, finding that remarks made by the prosecutor rose to the level of flagrant misconduct and deprived Morales-Montanez and Acosta of a fair trial, The prosecutor’s misconduct included “vouching,” by referring to a detective’s “fine work,” voicing his opinion that two key defense witnesses lacked credibility, and commenting on the defendant’s religious practices and beliefs. The remarks were not incidental and were apparently intentional. The evidence against the two was not overwhelming, and any one or several of the prosecutor’s improper comments may have tipped the balance toward conviction. View "United States v. Acosta" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In 1966, Sebree Kentucky enacted an ordinance requiring CSX Transportation’s predecessor to obtain approval from the city before commencing any maintenance or construction project that would result in any change in grade at any of the six railroad crossings in Sebree. After a 1979 dispute concerning the ordinance, the predecessor railroad and the city entered into a settlement agreement. The company agreed not to raise the height of one crossing by more than 0.4 feet and not to raise the height of another crossing at all. In 2017, CSX notified Sebring of its intent to perform maintenance that would raise four crossings. CSX obtained a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance or settlement agreement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding both the ordinance and settlement agreement preempted by the 1995 Termination Act, which established the Surface Transportation Board and gave it exclusive jurisdiction over certain aspects of railroad transportation, 49 U.S.C. 1301, 10501(b). The ordinance, as applied, is not settled and definite enough to avoid open-ended delays, and could easily be used as a pretext for interfering with rail service; it “amount[s] to impermissible [local] regulation of [CSX’s] operations by interfering with the railroad’s ability to uniformly design, construct, maintain, and repair its railroad line.” View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Sebree" on Justia Law

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Muchow was employed as a machine operator, living in Bucyrus, Ohio. His only criminal history was a decades-old misdemeanor for driving under the influence. In 2017, FBI agents executed a search warrant at his home and discovered 3,616 electronic images and 61 videos of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The prior November and December, an undercover FBI agent had used peer-to-peer file sharing programs to download remotely child pornography from Muchow’s computer. Muchow would later admit to searching and downloading child pornography for at least “the past ten years.” At least one image involved a child younger than 12. After admitting to his behavior, Muchow attended counseling sessions; engaged in church, family, and work activities; and refrained from viewing illegal pornographic images. He was charged under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), and 2252A(a)(5)(B), and pled guilty to Count 1. Neither party objected to the Presentence Report. The Guidelines range for Muchow’s offense was calculated as 135-168 months in prison. Muchow argued for a 60-month sentence, citing his lack of criminal history, his educational and work history, and his cooperation with law enforcement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his 135-month sentence, rejecting an argument that it was substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Muchow" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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A chapter 7 trustee sought a declaration that a refinanced mortgage only encumbered the interest of the person specifically defined within the body of the mortgage as a “Borrower/Mortgagor.” The mortgage instrument listed the co-debtor's wife as a “Borrower” in the signature block but the mortgage did not specifically name her as a “Borrower” within the text of document other than in the signature block. The bankruptcy court regarded the mortgage as ambiguous under these circumstances, considered extrinsic evidence, and concluded that the property was fully encumbered by the mortgage. Pending appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court answered certified questions, stating that the failure to identify a signatory by name within the body of the mortgage instrument did not render the agreement unenforceable against the signatory’s in rem rights as a matter of law and that when a mortgage is properly signed, initialed and acknowledged by a signatory who is not named within the document itself, the mortgage is not invalid as a matter of law. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, concluding that the mortgage encumbered the rights of both husband and wife. View "In re Perry" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged Michigan’s practice of suspending drivers' licenses for unpaid court fees, as applied to indigent drivers, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiffs argued that practice is irrational because license suspension made their commuting to work much harder, reducing the chances that they will pay the debt, and made it difficult to attend medical appointments. The district court enjoined the enforcement of the law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The mere fact that a driver has a Fourteenth Amendment property interest in his license does not answer the more particular question of whether Michigan law creates the specific property entitlement Plaintiffs claimed. Michigan’s statutory scheme for license suspension makes no reference to the indigency status of those whose licenses are subject to suspension. If Plaintiffs’ indigency is not relevant to the state’s underlying decision to suspend their licenses, then providing a hearing where they could raise their indigency would be pointless and do nothing to prevent the “the risk of erroneous deprivation.” The state has a general interest in compliance with traffic laws. By imposing greater consequences for violating traffic laws, the state increases deterrence for would-be violators. The state also has legitimate interests in promoting compliance with court orders and in collecting traffic debt. View "Fowler v. Benson" on Justia Law

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During an investigation of Powell, a drug dealer, a cooperating defendant identified one of Powell's sources as Coleman. Officers observed Coleman’s automobiles, a Trailblazer and an Enclave, in connection with suspected drug sales to Powell. On April 7, 2017, officers observed an individual matching Coleman’s description arrive at Powell’s house, exit Coleman’s Enclave, enter the house, and leave three minutes later. Four days later, Coleman arrived at Powell’s house in the Trailblazer and sold cocaine to the cooperating defendant. Officers determined Coleman had two felony convictions for delivery or manufacture of a controlled substance and that both vehicles were registered to Coleman’s father. A magistrate issued tracking warrants for Coleman’s vehicles. An ATF agent attached the tracking devices to Coleman’s vehicles on the shared driveway adjoining Coleman’s condominium. There is no gate or fence at the complex entrance; anyone can drive into the complex unimpeded. On May 10, agents observed Coleman leave his condo, enter the Enclave, and exit the Enclave at Powell’s home and watched the GPS tracking data showing that Coleman traveled directly from his condo to Powell’s house. Agents obtained a warrant to search Coleman’s condo and seized 500 grams of cocaine, a firearm, and documents and property indicating money laundering. Coleman admitted ownership of the cocaine and a firearm. Coleman unsuccessfully moved to suppress the fruits of the search warrants. The Sixth Circuit upheld Coleman’s conviction and 120-month sentence. The warrant was supported by probable cause; Coleman’s driveway was not within the curtilage of his home; the residential search warrant was supported by probable cause; and even if the warrants were not supported by probable cause, ATF agents executed them in good faith. View "United States v. Coleman" on Justia Law