Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for bank fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. The court held that the district court did not err by allowing defendant to proceed pro se after he invoked his right to self-representation. In this case, the waiver of defendant's right to counsel was clear, uncontested on appeal, and repeatedly reaffirmed after signs of uncertainty. The court also held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(b) and, in any event, any error was harmless.The court further held that, to trigger the USSG 2B1.1(b)(16)(A) enhancement, at least in a case involving property held by a financial institution for a depositor, the financial institution (1) must be the source of the property, which the court interprets as having property rights in the property, and (2) must have been victimized by the offense conduct. The court held that the two-level enhancement was not erroneously applied to defendant's sentence where HSBC-Monaco, not defendant, was a source of the derived property; control over the property transferred directly from HSBC-Monaco to defendant; and the bank was not just a conduit for a transfer of property that resulted from criminal conduct directed elsewhere. The court explained that the bank was a victim of defendant's fraud. Finally, the court held that defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "United States v. Muho" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After Pine Mountain granted North American Land Trust conservation easements, Pine Mountain claimed tax deductions for the easements under I.R.C. 170. The IRS denied the deductions and the tax court held that the 2005 and 2006 easements were not "granted in perpetuity" within the meaning of section 170(h)(2)(C) because, although Pine Mountain had agreed to extensive restrictions on its use of the land, it had reserved to itself limited development rights within the conservation areas; that the 2007 easement complied with section 170(h)(5)(A)'s requirement that the easement's conservation purposes be "protected in perpetuity," notwithstanding its inclusion of a clause permitting the contracting parties to bilaterally amend the grant; and that the value of the 2007 easement is $4,779,500—which, it turns out, is almost exactly midway between the parties' wildly divergent appraisals.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the 2005 and 2006 easements satisfy section 170(h)(2)(C)'s granted-in-perpetuity requirement; that the existence of an amendment clause in an easement does not violate section 170(h)(5)(A)'s protected-in-perpetuity requirement; and that the tax court applied the wrong method for valuing the 2007 easement. View "Pine Mountain Preserve, LLLP v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against FEG for negligent product design after his arm was amputated when it came into contact with the unguarded blade of one of FEG's commercial meat saws, the Hobart Model 6614. Plaintiff was working as the meat-market manager at a supermarket at the time he sustained his injuries. A jury awarded plaintiff and his wife $4,050,000.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's evidentiary determinations, holding that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion in rejecting FEG's Daubert challenge to the testimony of plaintiff's expert regarding inadequate testing. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that allowing the jury to consider the expert's supplemental affidavit was harmless. The court further held that there was sufficient evidence introduced at trial to satisfy Florida's risk utility test and the evidence was sufficient to uphold a verdict of negligent design. Furthermore, the evidence introduced at trial was sufficient to support a finding that FEG's saw failed the consumer expectations test. Although it may have been error for the district court not to issue FEG's requested Florida state-of-the-art instruction, the court held that it was not reversible error. Finally, the district court did not abuse its broad discretion by admitting summaries of OSHA reports of fatalities and catastrophes. View "Crawford v. ITW Food Equipment Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiring to commit healthcare and wire fraud, committing healthcare fraud, conspiring to receive and pay kickbacks, receiving kickbacks, and money laundering. The court held that there was sufficient evidence of fraud where recruits were prescribed, and Tricare was billed for, pain creams, scar creams, and vitamins that were not medically necessary; there was sufficient evidence of defendant's knowledge of the fraud and his intent to defraud; there was sufficient evidence that a witness's prescription was fraudulent; there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that defendant intended to aid in the commission of the healthcare fraud; and the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that defendant knew it was illegal to pay and receive illegal kickbacks and for laundering the proceeds of the kickback scheme. The court also held that the district court's scheduling instruction was not coercive. The court did not reach the merits of defendant's argument regarding jury instruction error on the elements of wire fraud because defendant invited the error.However, the court vacated defendant's sentence for conspiring to commit healthcare fraud because it exceeded the statutory maximum allowed by the jury's general verdict. On remand, the district court must permit the government to either consent to resentencing based on a maximum sentence of ten years on count one or elect to retry defendant on count one with a special verdict. View "United States v. Grow" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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J-B Weld filed suit against Gorilla Glue, alleging claims for trade dress infringement under the Lanham Act, Georgia law, and the common law of unfair competition; trade dress dilution under Georgia law; and false advertising under the Lanham Act and Georgia law.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Gorilla Glue as to the false advertising claims, agreeing with the district court that J-B Weld has not shown that the inclusion of "steel bond epoxy" on GorillaWeld's packaging is material to consumers. However, the court reversed and remanded with respect to the trade dress infringement and trade dress dilution claims. In regard to the trade dress infringement claims, the court held that, although the posture of the case required the district court to view the evidence in the light most favorable to J-B Weld, the district court failed to do so in analyzing the "likelihood of confusion" between J.B. Weld Original's trade dress and GorillaWeld's trade dress. In regard to the trade dress dilution claims, the court held that the district court's abbreviated treatment of this claim leaves it with serious doubt that it applied the correct standard in concluding that J-B Weld was unable to show trade dress dilution. In this case, the district court's remarks about the indistinguishability of the applicable standards indicates that it applied the elements of the trade dress infringement claims to the trade dress dilution claim, thus conflating the two different sets of requirements. View "J-B Weld Co., LLC v. The Gorilla Glue Co." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a dispute between two sets of lawyers who provided legal work for a mutual client. Thomas Tufts and the Tufts Law Firm, PLLC appealed the district court's order granting a motion to dismiss on grounds of subject matter jurisdiction. Edward Hay and Pitts, Hay & Hugenschmidt, P.A. also filed a second motion to dismiss Tufts's action against them on the additional ground that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. After the district court found personal jurisdiction, Hay and his firm cross appealed.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Barton Doctrine. In this case, Tufts counsel initiated their action against Hay—court-approved counsel—and Tufts did not obtain leave of the bankruptcy court before doing so. The court held that the Barton doctrine has no application when jurisdiction over a matter no longer exists in the bankruptcy court. Thus, the bankruptcy court was properly vested with jurisdiction to consider this action if it could conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate. Here, the action could not conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate and thus the Barton doctrine does not apply. The court also held that the district court properly exercised personal jurisdiction over Hay. The court reversed the district court's ruling on subject matter jurisdiction and remanded. View "Tufts v. Hay" on Justia Law

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After a bus owned by First Transit struck a vehicle occupied by plaintiffs, they filed a claim for damages against First Transit, alleging that the driver of First Transit's vehicle was negligent and that First Transit was responsible for the their injuries. First Transit admitted liability and the jury awarded damages to both plaintiffs.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order denying First Transit's motion for a new trial, holding that when a party moving for a new trial based on a juror's nondisclosure during voir dire makes a prima facie showing that the juror may not have been impartial and thus was plausibly challengeable for cause, the district court must hold an evidentiary hearing prior to ruling on the motion for a new trial in order to adequately investigate the alleged juror misconduct. In this case, First Transit presented the district court with "clear, strong, substantial, and incontrovertible evidence that a specific, nonspeculative impropriety" occurred—namely, court documents that, on their face, showed that two jurors gave dishonest and misleading responses on their juror questionnaires and on voir dire. The court concluded that the district court's failure to conduct an evidentiary hearing constituted an abuse of discretion and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the question of juror impartiality. View "Torres v. First Transit, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that defendant, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), violated his constitutional rights by continuing to publish his personally identifiable information on FDLE's sex offender registry website even after plaintiff had completed probation and was no longer subject to Florida registration laws. The court held that, although plaintiff has not waived his continuing violation argument, his claims are time-barred because there was no continuing violation. Furthermore, Nichols v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1113 (2016), does not affect the accrual of plaintiff's claims under Florida's statute of limitations. View "McGroarty v. Swearingen" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity to defendants in an 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by plaintiff, alleging that police officers used excessive force, among other things, when they tased, beat, and broke plaintiff's jaw after a routine accident investigation. The court held that the district court did not view the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff before ruling against him. The court stated that, at the summary judgment stage, the Graham factors favor an excessive force finding for both the tasing and the later force applied when plaintiff was taken out of the truck. Furthermore, striking a compliant suspect who has surrendered his hands and stopped all resistance amounts to a clearly established constitutional violation. View "Stryker v. City of Homewood" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against a Miami-Dade police officer under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the officer shot him without provocation while his truck was stopped at a red light. Plaintiff is presently incarcerated, after a Florida state jury convicted him of aggravated assault and fleeing to elude among other crimes.The Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiff has not waived this appeal by failing to object to the report and recommendation, because it did not inform plaintiff of all of the consequences on appeal for failing to object. On the merits, the court held that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), does not bar plaintiff's lawsuit and the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the officer. In this case, the officer focuses on just two of plaintiff's state court convictions -- for aggravated assault and fleeing to elude, conceding as he must that plaintiff's remaining convictions could not be negated if his section 1983 action were to succeed. Therefore, the entry of a judgment in plaintiff's favor on his section 1983 excessive force suit would not necessarily imply the invalidity of his state court convictions. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Harrigan v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law