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

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Darby notified her Childvine supervisor that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was scheduled for a double mastectomy. Mayhugh expressed doubt about whether Childvine would allow Darby to remain employed when her surgery date fell within her 90-day probationary period. Darby moved the procedure to the day after her probationary period expired. Darby’s request to use her vacation and sick time to recover from the procedure was approved. When Darby returned to work, with a medical release, she learned that Childvine had sent a letter of termination effective on the last day of her probationary period because of an “unpleasant” attitude, dress code violations, and “being unable to work.” Darby filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), noting that she was never disciplined for behavior issues. In reviewing Darby’s medical records, Childvine learned that Darby was never diagnosed with cancer; she had a family history of cancer and the BRCA1 “pre-cancerous genetic mutation.” The district court stated that the definition of physical impairment does not include a condition that might lead to cancer, and dismissed the case. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Darby plausibly alleged that her impairment substantially limits her normal cell growth as compared to the general population due to both the BRCA1 gene and a medical diagnosis of abnormal epithelial cell growth serious enough to warrant a double mastectomy. View "Darby v. Childvine, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a “very public complaint” by a female student, Oberlin instructed its faculty that they should “[b]elieve” students who report sexual assault. Professor Raimondo became Oberlin’s Title IX Coordinator, stating she was “committed to survivor-centered processes.” The Department of Education’s Office notified Oberlin of an investigation into its sexual harassment and sexual assault complaint process. While that investigation was pending, undergraduate “Jane” told Raimondo that “John” had sexually assaulted her. Raimondo appointed Nolan to investigate. Oberlin’s policy states that investigation should usually take no more than 20 days and resolution should take no more than 60. Nolan took 120 days to issue a report. John emailed Raimondo about the impact the investigation was having on his life. Raimondo did not respond with any information. Assistant Dean Bautista was appointed as John’s advisor. The testimony at the hearing was mixed. Bautista “left the hearing early” and, two weeks later, retweeted: “To survivors everywhere, we believe you.” About 240 days after the complaint, the panel found John responsible for sexual misconduct because “the preponderance of the evidence established that effective consent was not maintained for the entire sexual encounter” because Jane was incapacitated from the moment she stated that she was “not sober.” The panel cited no other behavior supporting that finding and did not mention the contradiction between what Jane told Nolan (and others) and what she told the hearing panel. John was expelled. The Sixth Circuit held that John adequately stated a claim that Oberlin violated Title IX. The court noted “clear” procedural irregularities. The record did not support a finding that Jane met the Policy’s definition of “incapacitation.” View "Doe v. Oberlin College" on Justia Law

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Technica makes high-end audio equipment and claimed tax credits for increasing research activities under 26 U.S.C. 41 for several tax years. The R&D tax credit is available when taxpayers increase certain research expenses over time, with the increase measured in part against research costs from the five-year period from 1984-1988, taken as a percentage of the company’s gross receipts during those years (the fixed-base percentage). For the 2002–2005 and 2011 tax years, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency. Rather than litigate, Technica and the government reached settlement agreements, which were approved by the Tax Court. The settlements did not address the details but simply listed the dollar amounts of the agreed-upon deficiencies. According to Technica, these amounts were determined by a “specific agreement” as to the fixed-base percentage. With respect to the 2006–2010 tax years, Technica paid the amount requested by the IRS then sued for a refund, arguing that the government was judicially estopped from claiming that the .92% fixed-base percentage did not apply. The district court agreed, finding that because the government had entered into settlements for the other tax years using that same fixed-base percentage, it was judicially estopped from now arguing that the percentage was incorrect. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A court order memorializing a settlement agreement generally does not constitute judicial acceptance of the facts underpinning that agreement, and the orders approved by the Tax Court did not actually include the .92% rate. View "Audio Technica U.S., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Small, a Michigan prisoner, pro se, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, alleging that, without provocation, Officer Brock several times brandished a knife, threatened to kill Small, and motioned in a manner suggesting how Brock would use the knife to kill Small. On initial screening, the district court dismissed the complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2), 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. 1997e(c). The Sixth Circuit vacated the dismissal. Small plausibly alleged an Eighth Amendment violation. While verbal abuse and nonphysical harassment of prisoners do not alone give rise to a constitutional claim, the combination of multiple, unprovoked verbal threats to immediately end a prisoner’s life and the aggressive brandishing of a deadly weapon can violate the Eighth Amendment. Based on the allegations in Small’s complaint, Brock had no legitimate penological reason for repeatedly placing Small in fear of his life; it is reasonable to infer that Brock knew that his conduct would cause Small psychological harm. Unprovoked and repeated threats to a prisoner’s life, combined with a demonstrated means to immediately carry out such threats, constitutes conduct so objectively serious as to be “antithetical to human dignity.” Neither the force threatened by Brock (death) nor the resulting injury to Small (fearing for his life to the point of paranoia and psychological distress necessitating mental health treatment) was de minimis. View "Small v. Officer Brock" on Justia Law

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Byers received notice from Chase Bank that IRS Agent Conroy had requested information in connection with the IRS’s investigation into her then-husband. The notice stated that “[t]he requested information includes information that relates to you.” Conroy sent Byers a letter, informing her that she was under investigation for violating 26 U.S.C. 6700 and/or 6701, issued a document request, and requested an interview. Byers refused. Byers received copies of IRS summonses that Conroy had issued, directing her banks to provide, for 2007-2018, “any and all documents … related to . . . Andrea Byers and any other corporation or name Andrea Byers used . . . including but not limited to multiple entities. Bank of America responded to the summons but Conroy has not opened the envelope containing the response due to Byers’s pending petition to quash. The government successfully moved for dismissal of Byers’s petitions and for enforcement of the summonses. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the IRS’s broad authority to collect information related to taxpayers’ potential liabilities. The IRS was not required to establish a “reasonable basis” for its investigation before its summonses could be enforced. The IRS made a prima-facie showing in support of enforcing its summonses. She did not establish that the IRS abused the district court’s process in seeking enforcement of the summonses. View "Byers v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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In 2003, 15-year-old Valadez Bonilla entered the U.S. illegally to be with his father. Months later, police charged him with drunk and disorderly conduct. Immigration authorities took custody of Valadez, then released Valadez into the care of his aunt at her home in Lorain, Ohio. Valadez identified that address as the place at which he would be staying. The same day, immigration authorities personally served Valadez with a notice to appear “on a date to be set at a time to be set.” After Valadez’s release, immigration authorities mailed multiple notices about his upcoming removal hearing to his aunt’s address. When Valadez did not appear at his removal hearing, an IJ ordered him removed in his absence. In 2008, Valadez was removed to Mexico after he was stopped for speeding while driving without a license. Valadez illegally reentered this country many times. In 2019, after the government charged him with illegal reentry, Valadez sought to rescind his earlier removal order, claiming that he had not received notice of his hearing. The BIA found that Valadez failed to prove the lack of notice, relying on his long delay in seeking to rescind the removal order after he learned of it. The Sixth Circuit denied Valadez’s petition for review. The BIA could reasonably conclude that Valadez did receive notice in conformity with all requirements in 8 U.S.C. 1229(a)(1) and (2). View "Valadez-Lara v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Three employees and a customer were in the Coldwater, Michigan store when two men, their faces obscured, entered. One pointed a semi-automatic weapon while the other locked the front door. The men led the victims from the sales floor to a back breakroom at gunpoint. They forced the victims to lie face-down and bound their wrists and ankles with zip ties, then looted the store and took the customer’s purse. They went out to a waiting getaway car driven by a third robber with cellphones and cash worth $42,129.44. Hill pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery and aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951 and 2. Hill’s presentence report suggested applying a four-level enhancement that applies when victims were “abducted to facilitate commission of the offense or to facilitate escape” U.S.S.G. 2B3.1(b)(4)(A). Hill argued that he should receive only a two-level enhancement that applies when victims were “physically restrained to facilitate commission of the offense or to facilitate escape,” 2B3.1(b)(4)(B). The court applied the four-level enhancement and imposed a sentence of 130 months’ imprisonment, based on Hill’s guidelines range of 130-162 months. With the two-level enhancement, Hill’s guidelines range would have been 110-137 months. The Sixth Circuit reversed. In the context of this “abduction” enhancement, the phrase “different location” refers to a place different from the store being robbed. A store’s backroom does not qualify as a “different location” from the store. View "United States v. xHill" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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General’s clinicians perform services in long-term care facilities. General bills Medicare under 42 U.S.C. 1395. A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) contractor, AdvanceMed, initiated audits in 2002 after the CMS fraud unit received complaints about General’s billing practices. In 2004 AdvanceMed initiated an audit of General’s physicians without providing any notice to General. AdvanceMed sent records requests to physicians at 12 General facilities, covering 382 claims involving 278 patients in 2002-2004. General was not notified of these requests. AdvanceMed did not request any records from General. AdvanceMed determined that 35 of the 382 claims were allowed as billed; 33 claims were allowed at different levels than billed. The remaining 314 claims were denied: 3 did not meet policy guidelines, 73 had no documentation to support the services, and 238 were medically unnecessary. General learned of this audit when it received a letter in 2007, indicating that General had been overpaid by $16,778.80; the overpayment was extrapolated to a universe of 41,818 claims. The total amount of overpayment demanded was $1,836,646.56. The Appeals Council determined and the Sixth Circuit affirmed that no remedy should be granted because the lack of notice was inconsequential and did not prevent General from ably and thoroughly arguing the principal issues resulting from the audit, the validity of the sampling methodology, and the coverage of the reviewed claims. The addition of more medical records would not have materially impacted its findings. View "General Medicine, P.C. v. Azar" on Justia Law

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In an infamous 2009 incident, the state of Ohio tried to execute death-row inmate Broom by way of lethal injection but was forced to abandon the effort when the execution team concluded—two hours into the process—that it could not maintain a viable IV connection to Broom’s veins. The state then returned Broom to his cell, to await a second execution attempt. That second execution attempt has not yet happened. The parties have spent 11 years litigating whether the U.S. Constitution bars Ohio from ever trying to execute Broom again. Broom relies on both the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual” punishment and the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on “double jeopardy.” The state courts, including the Ohio Supreme Court, have rejected Broom’s contentions on the merits, as did the district court below on habeas review. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While calling Ohio’s treatment of Broom “disturbing, to say the least,” the court reasoned that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 permits reversal of a state court merits decisions in only a narrow set of circumstances and the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision rejecting Broom’s constitutional claims on the merits does not fall within that set of circumstances. View "Broom v. Shoop" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Flowers was charged with possessing with intent to distribute over 50 grams of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A); because Flowers had two prior felony drug convictions, his minimum sentence was life in prison. Flowers pled guilty; the government agreed to allege only one prior drug offense, meaning his mandatory minimum would be 20 years. As a career offender, his Guidelines sentencing range was 262-327 months. The court found no basis supporting a departure and imposed a 262-month sentence. The Supreme Court subsequently held that the Guidelines are advisory. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the mandatory minimum for Flowers’ conviction to 10 years; the First Step Act of 2018 made those reductions retroactive if the 2010 law modified the statutory penalties. Flowers sought resentencing, arguing that the Act modified his statutory minimum and that if he were sentenced today, he would not qualify as a career offender. HIs Ohio conviction no longer qualifies as a felony drug offense. Flowers noted his educational accomplishments and limited disciplinary record in prison. The government argued that Flowers’ Guidelines range was unchanged. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Although it is unclear whether the district court indicated that Flowers was ineligible for a reduction because his Guidelines range did not change and the First Step Act only concerns statutory sentencing ranges, any error was harmless. The court considered all of his arguments and rejected them on the merits. View "United States v. Flowers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law