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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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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

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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

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In 2016, Torres sued his former employer, Precision, alleging that the company had fired him for seeking benefits under Tennessee’s Workers’ Compensation Law. Precision argued that it had not retaliated against Torres and that, even if it had, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 preempted any remedy because Torres had not been authorized to work in the United States, 100 Stat. 3359. The district court granted Precision judgment on the preemption ground without making any factual findings as to the state law claim. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The court skipped past the question of whether state law had been violated in the first place. Under “well-established principles of constitutional avoidance,” the Sixth Circuit declined to address the hypothetical presented by the appeal. Judicial restraint principles apply as much to a question of preemption as to any other question of constitutional law. View "Torres v. Precision Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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Brintley is blind. To navigate the internet, she uses a screen reader that scans webpages and narrates their contents. The technology struggles with some material, especially pictures and video. With some effort, companies can make their websites fully screen-reader compatible. The credit unions, established under Michigan law, maintain a limited brick-and-mortar presence; both operate websites. Brintley tried to browse these websites but found her screen reader unable to process some of their content. A “tester” of website compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Brintley sued the credit unions, seeking compensatory and injunctive relief, arguing that the websites were a “service” offered through a “place of public accommodation,” entitling her to the “full and equal enjoyment” of the websites. 42 U.S.C. 12182(a). The district court rejected an argument that Brintley failed to satisfy Article III standing. The Sixth Circuit reversed. To establish standing, Brintley must show that she sustained an injury in fact, that she can trace the injury to the credit unions’ conduct, and that a decision in her favor would redress the injury. Brintley must show an invasion of a “legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent” and that affects her in some “personal and individual way.” Brintley lacks eligibility under state law to join either credit union and her complaint does not convey any interest in becoming eligible to do so. View "Brintley v. Belle River Community Credit Union" on Justia Law

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Spurr is the stepmother of Nathaniel, a Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) tribal member in Fulton, Michigan. Nathaniel obtained an ex parte personal protection order (PPO) from the NHBP tribal court, alleging that Spurr engaged in a campaign of harassment against him that included unwanted visits to Nathaniel’s residence on the NHBP reservation and several hundred letters, emails, and phone calls. The tribal court, that same month, held a hearing and made the PPO “permanent” (lasting one year), broadly, prohibiting Spurr from contacting Nathaniel or “appearing within [his] sight.” The NHBP Supreme Court affirmed. Six months later, Nathaniel claimed that Spurr violated the PPO. After holding two hearings, the tribal court found Spurr in civil contempt and mandated that Spurr pay attorney’s fees incurred by Nathaniel for a hearing where Spurr failed to appear and $250 to NHBP for hearing costs. In lieu of the $250 payment, Spurr could choose to perform 25 hours of community service. Spurr sought a federal declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Spurr’s claims against the Band and the NHBP Supreme Court were barred by sovereign immunity; 18 U.S.C. 2265 established the tribal court’s jurisdiction. View "Spurr v. Pope" on Justia Law

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Doe sued the University for violating his due-process rights during a disciplinary hearing. The Sixth Circuit remanded Doe’s case in light of a related ruling requiring live hearings and cross-examination in such proceedings. Upon remand, the district judge, frustrated with the University’s apparent foot-dragging, scheduled a settlement conference and required the University’s president to attend. The University requested that the president be allowed to attend by telephone but the district judge refused. The University then requested permission to send someone with both more knowledge about the sexual assault policy at issue and full settlement authority. The judge again refused, stating he wanted the president to be there even if someone else with full settlement authority attended, and “even if the parties [we]re able to resolve" the issue. The University planned for the president to attend. Two days before the settlement conference, the district judge decided that the conference (which he had assured the University would be private) should be a public event, stating that “the University’s public filing of a Motion to Dismiss . . . . The filing incited confusion amongst the media.” The Sixth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus, finding that the district judge acted beyond his power and abused his discretion. Neither Congress nor the Constitution granted the judge the power to order a specific state official to attend a public settlement conference. View "In re: University of Michigan" on Justia Law

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A1 learned that government auditors thought that the company had overcharged a federal agency by several million dollars for services provided to Medicare beneficiaries. A1 challenged the auditors’ decisions at two levels of the Medicare appeals process but changed the auditors’ minds only in a few minor ways. The government tried to start collecting the money, as the regulatory regime allows, 42 U.S.C. 1395ff(a)(5), (c)(3)(E). Fearing bankruptcy from the government’s recoupment efforts, A1 obtained a preliminary injunction, barring the government from recouping the money until A1 received a hearing before an administrative law judge. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction, first holding that although A1 did not proceed to the third and fourth levels of the administrative appeal, the district court had jurisdiction over A1’s constitutional claims. On the merits, the court identified unanswered questions regarding the statistics concerning the relief likely to be obtained at the third level of administrative review; details about A1’s choice not to take advantage of an option to escalate its claim to the fourth and final level of administrative review; and the parties’ awareness of a recoupment option that might have allowed A1 to obtain an ALJ hearing before making most or even all of its recoupment payments. View "A1 Diabetes & Medical Supply v. Alex Azar II" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee General Assembly alleged that the federal government violated the Spending Clause and the Tenth Amendment by enacting and implementing statutes that require states to provide Medicaid coverage to eligible refugees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the General Assembly’s complaint. The General Assembly did not allege an injury that gives it standing and did not establish that it has the authority to bring suit on behalf of Tennessee. Merely alleging an institutional injury is not enough. In this case, one of the claimed injuries is an alleged injury to the state, not the General Assembly. The General Assembly argued that the State Department was “infringing on the State’s sovereignty and nullifying its powers” and that its votes to appropriate state funds have been “completely nullif[ied].” The allegation amounts to claiming an abstract “loss of political power.” The General Assembly has not identified an injury that it has suffered, such as disruption of the legislative process, a usurpation of its authority, or nullification of anything it has done. Tennessee has selected the Attorney General, not the General Assembly, as the exclusive representative of its interests in federal court View "Tennessee v. United States Department of State" on Justia Law

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The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) creates a cause of action for “borrower[s],” 12 U.S.C. 2605(f). Tara and Nathan Keen got a loan and took out a mortgage when they bought their house. Both of them signed the mortgage; only Nathan signed the loan. The pair later divorced. Nathan gave Keen full title to the house. He died shortly afterward. Although Tara was not legally obligated to make payments on the loan after Nathan died, she made payments anyway so she could keep the house. She later ran into financial trouble, fell behind on those payments, and contacted the loan servicer, Ocwen. After unsuccessful negotiations, Ocwen proceeded with foreclosure. The house was sold to a third-party buyer, Helson. Soon after foreclosure, Tara sued both Ocwen and Helson, alleging that Ocwen violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. 2601, which requires that loan servicers take certain steps when a borrower asks for options to avoid foreclosure. Tara alleged that Ocwen failed to properly review her requests before it foreclosed on her house. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Keen’s RESPA claims. RESPA’s cause of action extends only to “borrower[s].” Keen was not a “borrower” because she was never personally obligated under the loan agreement. View "Keen v. Helson" on Justia Law

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Knox-Bender suffered injuries from a car accident. She sought medical treatment at Methodist Healthcare. Methodist billed her $8,000 for the treatment. Payments to Methodist were made on Knox-Bender’s behalf by her employer-sponsored healthcare plan, her automobile insurance plan, and her husband’s healthcare plan. Knox-Bender says that the insurance plans had already agreed with Methodist on the price of her care. She claims that, despite this agreement, Methodist overcharged her and that this was common practice for Methodist. She and a putative class of other patients, sued in Tennessee state court. During discovery, Methodist learned that Knox-Bender’s husband’s healthcare plan was an ERISA plan, 29 U.S.C.1001(b) that covered $100 of her $8,000 bill. Methodist removed the case to federal court claiming complete preemption under ERISA. The district court denied Knox-Bender’s motion to remand and entered judgment in favor of Methodist. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The complete preemption of state law claims under ERISA is “a narrow exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule.” Methodist has not met its burden to show that Knox-Bender’s complaint fits within that narrow exception. Since Knox-Bender has not alleged a denial of benefits under her husband’s ERISA plan, ERISA does not completely preempt her claim. Even if Methodist had shown that Knox-Bender alleged a denial of benefits, it would also have show that Knox-Bender complained only of duties breached under ERISA, not any independent legal duty. View "K.B. v. Methodist Healthcare - Memphis Hospitals" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure, ERISA