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

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated its August 11, 2020 opinion and substituted the following opinion.Defendants appealed their convictions, sentences, and various decisions made by the district court throughout the pre-trial and trial process. Defendants operated a drug-trafficking organization in Bradenton, Florida. Defendants were convicted of participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and a drug trafficking conspiracy, as well as gun crimes and other crimes.The court held that RICO conspiracy does not qualify as a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) and thus vacated defendants' section 924(c) convictions and sentences, remanding for resentencing. The court also held that Defendant Corey's 120-year sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court failed to clarify the applicable guideline range and relied on a clearly erroneous fact. Accordingly, the court vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court affirmed as to the remaining issues. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Miami Auto Max violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, seeking over $12,000 in unpaid wages and liquidated damages. After defendant refused an offer of judgment for $3,500, he went to trial and prevailed, winning a verdict for $97 plus an equal amount in liquidated damages. The district court awarded him 37 percent of his requested attorney's fees and taxed against him the costs incurred by the parties after the offer of judgment. Plaintiff appeals both the final judgment and the order awarding fees and taxing costs.The Eleventh Circuit dismissed in part and affirmed in part, holding that plaintiff's appeal of the final judgment is untimely and that his appeal of the order awarding attorney's fees and taxing costs has no merit. In this case, the district court acted within its discretion to award a reasonable fee in light of plaintiff's limited success at trial, where he recovered only $194.40 after demanding $12,795.30. Furthermore, the district court correctly applied Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 to tax the parties' post-offer costs against plaintiff. View "Vasconcelo v. Miami Auto Max, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity, enticing a minor to produce a sexually explicit video, and possessing and distributing child pornography.The court held that the government did not need a warrant to obtain a criminal suspect's email address and internet protocol addresses from a third party's business records, because Carpenter v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2206, 2217 & n.3 (2018), did not create a reasonable expectation of privacy in e-mail addresses or internet protocol addresses. The court also held that probable cause supported a warrant to search defendant's house where the warrant contained more than enough evidence to establish a fair probability that the house contained evidence that a crime had been committed. Finally, defendant's sentence of life imprisonment was reasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(1), (a)(2)(C) factors and did not abuse its discretion by considering the advisory guidelines in determining defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Trader" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit held that, in the unusual circumstances of this case, Liberty still existed in 2012 sufficiently to act as the employee pension plan's sponsor under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). In this case, Liberty was an Illinois corporation that went bankrupt and dissolved under state law in the 1990s.The court followed the Supreme Court's instruction to fill in ERISA's gaps with common-law rules, and held that where the sponsor of an ERISA plan dissolves under state law but continues to authorize payments to beneficiaries and is not supplanted as the plan's sponsor by another entity, it remains the constructive sponsor such that other members of its controlled group may be held liable for the plan's termination liabilities. Under this narrow rule, the court held that the Companies are liable to PBGC for the Plan's termination liabilities for the simple reason that Liberty persisted as the Plan's sponsor even as it dissolved as an Illinois corporation. View "Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. 50509 Marine LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: ERISA
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for receiving healthcare kickback payments. At the request of the government, the district court instructed the jury that defendant violated the statute prohibiting kickbacks if one reason he accepted the payment was because it was in return for writing prescriptions. Both parties subsequently agreed at oral argument that the jury instruction was erroneous and that the statute requires no proof of the defendant's motivation for accepting the illegal payment, so long as he accepts the kickback knowingly and willfully. However, the parties disagreed about whether the error was harmful.The court concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the error caused defendant no harm because it required the government to prove even more than the statute required. Furthermore, the district court correctly instructed the jury about the burden the government bore in proving willfulness, and correctly instructed the jury that defendant committed no crime if he accepted the payments in good faith. The court saw no reason why adding an unnecessary "one purpose" instruction could have prejudiced defendant by detracting from the otherwise correct willfulness and good-faith instructions. View "United States v. Shah" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for knowingly importing approximately 2.62 grams of U47700, a Schedule I controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 952, and possessing five firearm silencers, which had not been registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, in violation of 26 U.S.C. 5861(d).The court held that the warrant for the search of defendant's home was supported by probable cause; the good faith exception provides an additional and alternative basis for the court to affirm the district court's ruling on the motion to suppress; the Government presented sufficient evidence to permit the district court, in sentencing defendant, to consider as relevant conduct his importation of the first intercepted package where the Government demonstrated, by a preponderance of evidence, that defendant knew that the substance being shipped in the first package was not a legal substance; and the district court properly applied a sentencing enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1). View "United States v. Delgado" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this "Engle progeny" case, where Florida-resident smokers sought recovery from tobacco companies for cigarette-related injuries, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion for judgment in accordance with the verdict. Plaintiff brought an individual Phase III suit on behalf of her deceased husband, seeking the benefit of the Phase I jury's findings, arguing that her husband was a member of the original class based on two medical conditions.The court concluded that plaintiff's husband had no medical condition that both was caused by cigarette addiction and manifested on or before the class cut-off date. Therefore, plaintiff's husband was not an Engle class member, and nothing in the Florida Supreme Court's treatment of Angie Della Vecchia, one of the three representative plaintiffs, requires the court to conclude otherwise. Furthermore, because plaintiff's husband was not a class member, Florida courts would not give preclusive effect to the Engle Phase I findings in this case. Neither did the court under the Full Faith and Credit Act. Without the preclusive effect of the Phase I findings, plaintiff failed to prove essential elements of her claims. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the tobacco-company defendants acted tortiously, relying only on the Phase I findings. View "Harris v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law

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Boca Raton and Palm Beach County's ordinances prohibiting therapists from engaging in counseling or any therapy with a goal of changing a minor's sexual orientation, reducing a minor's sexual or romantic attractions (at least to others of the same gender or sex), or changing a minor's gender identity or expression violates the First Amendment.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's order denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded for entry of a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the ordinances. The court held that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the challenged sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based and viewpoint-based restrictions on speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny. The court stated that the First Amendment has no carveout for controversial speech. The court also held that plaintiffs will likely suffer irreparable injury, and that neither the government nor the public has any legitimate interest in enforcing an unconstitutional ordinance. Finally, the court rejected plaintiffs' claim that the ordinances are ultra vires. View "Otto v. City of Boca Raton" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, seeking to vacate his alien-smuggling conviction on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when deciding to plead guilty.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the petition, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the petition as untimely. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by rejecting the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. The court also held that the district court did not err in ruling that petitioner failed to provide sound reasons for his delay from the time he learned of possible deportation consequences to file his petition—for a total of 20 months—because his petition was not ripe until October 2016 when removal proceedings officially commenced against him. View "Gonzalez v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's 151-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in finding defendant responsible for more than 400 kilograms of marijuana; the district court did not clearly err in applying a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under USSG 3C1.1; the district court did not clearly err in applying a two-level enhancement for criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood under USSG 2D1.1(b)(15)(E); the district court did not plainly err in denying defendant an additional one-level reduction for timely acceptance of responsibility under USSG 3E1.1(b); and the district court did not impose a substantively unreasonable sentence. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law