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

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A California court awarded Elie a $14,814,107.48 judgment against his former partner, Cutuli. Separately, Cutuli pleaded guilty to conspiracy to fraudulently transfer or conceal property in contemplation of bankruptcy. Cutuli filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida. His agreement with counsel did not include “defense of adversary proceedings.” Elie filed an adversary proceeding, seeking a declaration that the California Judgment debt was non-dischargeable. Cutuli was personally served with the summons and complaint in prison within FRCP 4(m)’s 90-day limit and the 28-day local limit.Cutuli failed to respond. Elie moved for default. Cutuli’s attorney appeared and objected. Elie then served the summons and complaint on Cutuli’s attorney on December 14. The summons Elie mailed had been issued in September; Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 7004(e) requires service within seven days after the summons issues. The bankruptcy court denied a motion to dismiss, citing the fee disclosure indication that counsel would not represent Cutuli in adversary proceedings and noting that Cutuli’s counsel had received a copy of the complaint. Cutuli declined to answer the complaint and stated he did not intend to object to the entry of default. The bankruptcy court granted Elie default judgment.The district court reversed. On remand, the bankruptcy court granted Elie’s motion to extend the time for service of process, finding that good cause existed and citing its discretion under Rule 4(m). Elie obtained a fresh summons and properly served Cutuli and his attorney. Again, Cutuli did not answer or defend. The district court and Eleventh Circuit affirmed the extension. Cutuli’s failure to defend the action suggests that the initial failure to serve a fresh summons upon Cutuli’s attorney did not cause Cutuli any prejudice. View "Cutuli v. Elie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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Smith, a Muslim serving a life sentence, sued the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, claiming that GDOC’s grooming policy, which prohibits inmates from growing facial hair over a half-inch in length, placed a substantial burden on his religious exercise. The district court rejected Smith’s RLUIPA claim, finding that “GDOC ha[d] offered logical and persuasive reasons to show that allowing untrimmed beards would be unmanageable for GDOC” and that “it is plausible that allowing a close security inmate like Smith an untrimmed beard could be dangerous for prison security.” Rather than rule in favor of GDOC, the district court fashioned a remedy that neither party had requested: it held that RLUIPA entitled Smith to grow a three-inch beard.The Eleventh Circuit vacated. The district court’s determination that it was reasonable for GDOC to conclude that allowing Smith to grow an untrimmed beard would be both unmanageable and dangerous was not clearly erroneous but its ruling requiring GDOC to allow Smith to grow a three-inch beard was improper and contrary to the Supreme Court’s 2015 holding, Holt v. Hobbs, that courts should consider only the plaintiff’s proposed alternatives in deciding whether there is an available less restrictive means for the government to further its compelling interests under RLUIPA. View "Smith v. Dozier" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appeals the district court's order affirming the ALJ's denial of his application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1383(c). Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by ruling that he could perform a job with level 3 reasoning after finding that his residual functional capacity limited him to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and by basing the number of available jobs on unreliable vocational expert testimony.The Eleventh Circuit joined the Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits and held that there is an apparent conflict between a limitation to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks and the demands of level 3 reasoning. Because the ALJ did not address that apparent conflict—as required by precedent—and because the court cannot say that the error was harmless, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Viverette v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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Beach Blitz sued the City and individuals, asserting that the City’s enactment and enforcement of ordinances regulating the sale of liquor and requiring businesses selling liquor to obtain licenses violated its substantive and procedural due process rights and that the City’s closure of its store one day after it met with a City attorney constituted retaliation for Beach Blitz’s protected First Amendment conduct. The district court dismissed the due process claims on the merits, without prejudice, and without leave to amend, and the First Amendment retaliatory claim on the merits, without prejudice but with leave to amend. Beach Blitz did not amend its that claim by the stated deadline. The district court found the City to be the prevailing party on all five claims, determined that each of them was “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation,” and awarded attorney fees for each.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the prevailing party determination because the City rebuffed Beach Blitz’s efforts to effect a material alteration in the legal relationship between the parties and affirmed frivolity determination concerning the procedural and substantive due process claims. The court vacated in part. There was sufficient support in precedent for Beach Blitz’s position that its retaliation claim was not so groundless on causation as to be frivolous. View "Beach Blitz Co. v. City of Miami Beach" on Justia Law

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DeJesus claims that in 2016, he was sexually assaulted by a prison official, Lewis. DeJesus had an attorney to represent him in court, but shortly before trial, the district court allowed counsel to withdraw. DeJesus was ill-prepared for trial because he had not been provided discovery materials. He was not given transcripts of the depositions taken in discovery until the morning of his trial and tried to read through them—for the first time—during the morning break. Ultimately DeJesus presented only his own testimony. The jury ruled in favor of the defendants.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. When a prisoner proves that a prison official, acting under color of law and without legitimate penological justification, engages in a sexual act with the prisoner, and that act was for the official’s own sexual gratification, or for the purpose of humiliating, degrading, or demeaning the prisoner, the prison official’s conduct amounts to a sexual assault in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Here, the jurors should have been instructed that the only fact they had to find was whether the sexual assault occurred. On the record, however, DeJesus has not established that any errors made during the trial were likely to have resulted in an incorrect verdict. View "DeJesus v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the sheriff's department and deputies involved in plaintiff's second arrest based on mistaken identity. Plaintiff alleged that defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by falsely arresting him, overdetaining him, and failing to institute policies and train deputies to prevent these things from happening.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's rulings on the false arrest and Monell claims. The court concluded that the mistaken arrest of plaintiff on the wanted warrant of someone by the same name was reasonable within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment, and the deputies are entitled to qualified immunity on the false arrest claim. However, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of the overdetention claim because plaintiff sufficiently alleged facts establishing that defendants failed to take any action for three days and nights after they learned of information that raised significant doubts about defendant's identity. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Sosa v. Martin County" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of GEICO and its rejection of claimant's attempt to obtain a $14,900,000 bad faith judgment from the insurer. The court concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, no reasonable jury could conclude that GEICO acted in bad faith before, during, or after sending the proposed release to claimant. The court noted that it was not allowing GEICO to escape liability merely because claimant and his attorney's actions could have contributed to the failure to settle. Rather, the court discussed claimant and his attorney's actions because they show how, in the totality of these circumstances, GEICO did fulfill its good faith duty to the driver and his mother. The court explained that they show how the failure to settle the lawsuit against the insureds did not result from bad faith of the insurer. View "Pelaez v. Government Employees Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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After an arbitrator awarded money damages in favor of plaintiffs and against Terminix, plaintiffs filed a motion to confirm with the district court. The district court ordered Terminix to respond, but Terminix opted to forego any substantive opposition to the motion and instead asserted what it believed was its procedural right to file a separate motion to vacate any time within three months. Terminix filed its motion to vacate after the district court's deadline to oppose confirmation and the district court granted the motion to confirm as substantively unopposed and struck the motion to vacate as untimely.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting the motion to confirm and concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it struck Terminix's later-filed motion and thereby declined to rule on its merits. The court recommended that, when faced with a motion to confirm filed within three months of an arbitration award, district courts enter a briefing schedule that sets simultaneous deadlines for the losing party to file an opposition to the motion to confirm, if any, and to file a motion to vacate, modify, or correct, if any. The court explained that this practice will prevent similar disputes from arising in the future. Finally, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for sanctions. View "McLaurin v. The Terminix International Co., LP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against prison officials, alleging that the delay in treatment of the cut on his hand amounted to deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. Captain Lewis asserted a qualified immunity defense, which the district court denied.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to Lewis, concluding that Aldridge v. Montgomery, 753 F.2d 970 (11th Cir. 1985) (per curiam), did not place an objectively reasonable officer in Lewis's position on notice that his conduct was unconstitutional. In this case, although plaintiff's cut was bleeding while he was in Lewis's custody, nothing in the record supports the inference that, during Lewis's brief interaction with plaintiff, plaintiff's cut bled so continuously or profusely that it rose to the level of the circumstances in Aldridge. View "Wade v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit issued this decision on remand from the en banc court.In this case, law enforcement agents had placed a GPS tracking device in two packages after finding cocaine hidden in them. The agents put both packages into the mail stream and attempted to track the packages. The court concluded that, at the time the district court entered the suppression order, the law of this circuit was that the prospects of ultimate discovery were to be gauged under the reasonable probability standard. The controlling standard has changed, and is now the preponderance of the evidence, more likely than not, standard. The court reversed and remanded for the district court to give it an opportunity to decide in its discretion whether to conduct a do-over evidentiary hearing or to accept the fact findings the magistrate judge made after conducting the hearing that he did. If the district court decides not to hold another evidentiary hearing, it should enter an order denying the motion to suppress. If the court does decide to conduct another evidentiary hearing, it should make credibility decisions, enter fact findings of its own, and rule on the motion to suppress based on those findings. View "United States v. Watkins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law