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

by
Richardson participated in a series of Detroit-area armed robberies in 2010. In 2013, Richardson was convicted of five counts of aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951, five counts of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c), and of being a felon in possession of a firearm, section 922(g). The district court sentenced Richardson to 1,494 months in prison. Richardson twice successfully persuaded the Supreme Court to vacate Sixth Circuit judgments affirming his conviction and sentence. The Court remanded for consideration of whether an intervening the Court’s 2015 “Johnson” holding that the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) residual clause was invalid or the First Step Act of 2018 affected his section 924(c) conviction. The Sixth Circuit again affirmed Richardson’s conviction. Johnson had no effect on Richardson’s conviction for aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery; that conviction satisfies ACCA’s elements clause, so the residual clause is irrelevant. The court also affirmed his sentence. Richardson cannot benefit from the First Step Act because the district court resentenced him more than one year before the Act became law. View "United States v. Richardson" on Justia Law

by
The plaintiffs sued, alleging that, in future elections, the defendants (various officials) will burden their right to vote, dilute their votes, and disenfranchise them in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. The plaintiffs cited election administration problems: election workers are poorly trained, sometimes distributing the wrong ballots, sometimes recording the wrong address when registering a voter; failure to recertify the voting machines; failure to follow fair protocols for uploading votes; the use of digital voting machines, vulnerable to hacking and cyberattacks, that do not produce a paper record of each voter’s choices. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The complaint’s allegations with respect to injury all reference prior system vulnerabilities, previous equipment malfunctions, and past election mistakes; nearly all of the allegations of past harm stem from human error rather than errors caused by the voting machines or hacking. Fear that individual mistakes will recur, generally speaking, does not create a cognizable imminent risk of harm. The plaintiffs do not allege that Shelby County election officials always make these mistakes or that the government entities ordered the election workers to make such mistakes. The plaintiffs have not plausibly shown that there is a substantial risk of vote flipping. Without imminent harm, the individual plaintiffs have no standing to sue. The plaintiffs allege only policies that add risk to the ever-present possibility that an election worker will make a mistake. View "Shelby Advocates for Valid Elections v. Hargett" on Justia Law

by
Sands pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Sands claimed to have found the gun and denied defacing the serial number. The district court applied a four-level sentence enhancement for possessing a firearm with an “altered or obliterated serial number” pursuant to USSG 2K2.1(b)(4)(B) because the firearm’s serial number was, although readable, defaced with scratches in three separate locations. The Sixth Circuit vacated the sentence, agreeing with several other circuits “that a firearm’s serial number is ‘altered or obliterated’ when it is materially changed in a way that makes accurate information less accessible.” A serial number that has been defaced but is still visible to the naked eye is not “altered or obliterated” under section 2K2.1(b)(4)(B). View "United States v. Sands" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
FBI agents seized a computer server that hosted a child-pornography website and observed that one user, accessed 107 “threads” in five days. The FBI traced the IP address to Demma’s residence, executed a search warrant and seized electronic devices, finding more than 3,600 images and 230 videos; many depicted adult men raping prepubescent girls. Demma pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B); (b)(2). The probation officer computed a Guidelines range of 78-97 months. Demma's sentencing memorandum described Demma’s lack of criminal history and that Demma served honorably in the Army for over five years and was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. One forensic psychologist asserted that Demma’s use of child pornography “is directly resultant from experiencing the ravages of war as this impacts children.” The court sentenced Demma to one day, with 10 years of supervised release and payment of $45,000 in restitution. The court’s cited Demma’s PTSD diagnosis, his decision to voluntarily seek treatment after his arrest, his low risk of reoffending, the potentially detrimental effect of imprisonment on Demma’s treatment, and Demma’s low risk for committing a “contact offense.” The Sixth Circuit vacated the sentence. Any policy disagreement with the Guidelines based on the similarity of the enhancements does not justify the extent of this downward variance. In focusing on the role of Demma’s military service, the district court cast Demma as the victim. The court also unreasonably concluded that Demma’s sophisticated and extensive access to child pornography somehow made him less culpable than “someone who simply allowed his curiosity to get the better of him.” View "United States v. Demma" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Plaintiffs purchased liability insurance for packages shipped through UPS before December 30, 2013. The price of that insurance was set by a contract that stated that there is no additional charge for the first $100 of coverage whether or not a shipper purchases additional declared value coverage. When Plaintiffs shipped their packages, they were charged $0.85 for each hundred-dollar increment, including the first. Plaintiffs sued UPS on behalf of a proposed class. UPS argued that the controlling phrase was “total value declared” and that “total” value necessarily includes the first $100. In moving for dismissal, UPS stated that it “reserves its right to move to compel arbitration and does not by this motion in any way waive this contractual right.” UPS referenced an arbitration clause found in an amended contract that became effective December 30, 2013, after the shipments at issue were mailed. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, relying on the complaint’s allegations that UPS routinely credits customers who complain about the overcharge and “acknowledges the validity of Solo’s reading of the contractual provision.” On remand, UPS raised the obligation to arbitrate as its first affirmative defense. After discovery, UPS moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied the motion on the basis of waiver. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Amended UPS Agreement did not retroactively apply to the transactions at issue and, in any event, UPS waived its right to arbitrate. View "Solo v. United Parcel Service Co." on Justia Law

by
The FBI became aware of the “Playpen” child pornography website on the dark web, gained control of the website and ran it for 13 days, tracking the registered users. The “Revenger” account accessed 205 postings, labeled: “11 YO boys fucking,” “girls changing on beach,” and “preteen videos girls hardcore.” With a warrant, the FBI traced the Revenger account to Libbey-Tipton’s IP address and computers’ MAC addresses at his Cleveland residence. A warranted search was executed. All of the seized devices showed indicia of child pornography in “previews” and were from Libbey-Tipton’s bedroom, the basement, and the garage. The previews did not find any evidence of child pornography on devices that belonged to the other residents--his mother, his brother, his girlfriend, and his brother’s girlfriend. The MAC addresses of the seized devices corresponded to images viewed by the Revenger account. Libbey-Tipton was indicted for accessing and possessing child pornography. The government was allowed to introduce evidence of Libbey-Tipton’s prior conviction of child molestation as evidence of his propensity to access and possess child pornography. Convicted, Libbey-Tipton was sentenced to 235 months in prison, 27 months below the advisory Guidelines range. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Libbey-Tipton’s challenges to the admissibility of his prior conviction, the reasonableness of his sentence, and the effectiveness of trial counsel. The court also upheld the denial of his motion to suppress the search warrant that led to his identification as a Playpen user. View "United States v. Libbey-Tipton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Lo and Dieng are citizens of Senegal. Lo entered the U.S. in 1997 on a student visa but did not attend the university. Dieng used a false passport to join him in 2003. Their daughter was born in 2006. In 2007, Dieng applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture, asserting that her relatives had attempted to subject her to female genital mutilation (FGM) and that, if removed, she and her daughter would be subjected to FGM. Dieng later conceded that, at her age, she was no longer at risk, and that their daughter could stay in the U.S. with relatives. The IJ denied relief. The BIA affirmed, noting that the couple could relocate within Senegal to an area where FGM is not practiced. After their second daughter was born, DHS took action to enforce the removal order. The couple sought to reopen their case, alleging changed conditions. They submitted documents indicating that their relatives intended to perform FGM on Dieng and the girls. The BIA dismissed the petition as untimely, finding the proferred evidence speculative and self-serving and noting that the girls, U.S. citizens, were not subject to removal. The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review. Even if the evidence were credible, the couple did not establish a well-founded fear of prosecution. The BIA did not abuse its discretion in finding that the family could reasonably relocate to avoid FGM. View "Dieng v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
by
A man left a voicemail at former attorney general Holder's law firm, (Covington): Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, I’m going to kill you. ... to murder you. My name is Atrel Howard. We had spoken in February of 2010. I was a United States unconstitutional convicted ... prisoner by the Common Pleas Court of Cuyahoga County ... through the second part of the clause of the double jeopardy law ... we had spoken. My name is Atrel Howard of Cleveland, Ohio. If you get this message you need to realize that I’m under unconstitutional law. ... I was sentenced to 50 months ... intentional assault of a federal agent or employee on the FBI agency premises. Howard was charged with the knowing and willful transmission in interstate commerce of a communication containing a threat to injure another, 18 U.S.C. 875(c). Covington’s server identified the caller as Atrel Howard, from a Cleveland, Ohio area code. An FBI agent and a probation officer were familiar with Howard’s voice. The telephone number belonged to Howard’s father. The jury instructions were jointly proposed by the parties. Convicted, Howard was sentenced to 30 months for his section 875(c) offense and his supervised release violation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments of insufficient evidence; that omitting the essential mens rea element violated Howard’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights and deprived the court of jurisdiction; and that the court erred in instructing the jury as to what type of communication would constitute a “true threat.” View "United States v. Howard" on Justia Law

by
The Blasingames filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. CJV purchased their debts to two banks, each arising from personal guarantees made to secure loans to businesses that failed. The Blasingames claimed that they owned no real property, owned personal property worth $5,700, and had a total monthly income of $888. The bankruptcy trustee and CJV successfully argued against the discharge of their debts. The bankruptcy court noted that the debtors had repeatedly concealed assets, including through the use of closely-held, interconnected corporations and trusts. CJV sued the Blasingames, their children, and those entities and trusts. CJV prevailed on two fraudulent transfer claims for transfers of money and of real property to trusts. CJV appealed the dismissal of claims based on reverse alter ego or reverse veil piercing; the denial CJV’s motion to certify to the Tennessee Supreme Court the question of whether Tennessee would recognize such theories; and the denial of CJV’s motion for leave to amend its complaint to add to its legal theories that the trusts were “self-settled.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding “no persuasive data” to conclude that Tennessee’s high court would embrace the reverse piercing claims; reverse piercing is not a novel or unsettled area of law and certification was unnecessary. The failure of CJV to realize it could have made claims under a self-settled theory is not an adequate reason for a nearly five-year delay; the prejudice to defendants was apparent and substantial. View "Church Joint Venture, L.P. v. Earl Blasingame" on Justia Law

by
Young, diagnosed with emphysema in 2002, had worked in coal mines for 19 years, retiring from Island Creek Coal in 1999. During and after work, Young would often cough up coal dust. For 35 years, Young smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day. Young sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 902(b). Because Young had worked for at least 15 years as a coal miner and was totally disabled by his lung impairment, he enjoyed a statutory presumption that his disability was due to pneumoconiosis. If Young was entitled to benefits, Island Creek, Young’s last coal-mine employer, would be liable. After reviewing medical reports, the ALJ awarded benefits. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, noting that if there was any error in the ALJ’s recitation of the standard, that error was harmless. The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, first rejecting an Appointments Clause challenge as waived. The ALJ did not err by applying an “in part” standard in determining whether Island Creek rebutted the presumption that Young has legal pneumoconiosis. To rebut the “in part” standard, an employer must show that coal-mine exposure had no more than a de minimis impact on a miner’s lung impairment. The ALJ reasonably weighed the medical opinions and provided thorough explanations for his credibility determinations. View "Island Creek Coal Co. v. Young" on Justia Law