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

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This appeal arises from a legislative invocation given by an invited, guest speaker before the opening of a Jacksonville City Council meeting. A City Council member  Anna Brosche, and a then-mayoral candidate, invited Plaintiff to give the invocation at the March 12, 2019, City Council meeting. When Plaintiff transitioned to levying criticisms against the City’s executive and legislative branches, the president of the City Council at the time, A.B., interrupted Plaintiff and later cut off his microphone.  Plaintiff brought suit against both the City and A.B. in his personal capacity. In his first two counts, actionable under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, Plaintiff alleged that both the City and Mr. Bowman violated his First Amendment rights under the Free Exercise Clause (Count I) and the Free Speech Clause (Count II) of the United States Constitution. The district court granted the Defendants’ motion to dismiss in part and denied it in part.   The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in deeming Plaintiff’s invocation to be private speech in a nonpublic forum, the court affirmed the district court’s orders on the alternative ground that the invocation constitutes government speech, not subject to attack on free speech or free exercise grounds. The court explained that he did not bring a claim under the Establishment Clause. And since his invocation constitutes government speech, his speech is not susceptible to an attack on free speech or free-exercise grounds. View "Reginald L. Gundy v. City of Jacksonville, Florida, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendant argued that the district court improperly considered as an Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) predicate offense his prior conviction for drug trafficking under Florida Statutes Section 893.135(1)(b)1. Defendant contended that the particular Florida statute did not constitute a serious drug offense under the ACCA because the elements of that statute did not satisfy the requirements of the ACCA.The Eleventh Circuit certified the question raised by Defendant’s challenge to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court answered the court’s certified question, holding that, for purposes of Florida’s drug trafficking statute, “a completed purchase requires proof that the defendant both (1) gave consideration for and (2) obtained control of a trafficking quantity of illegal drugs,” and further that “the requisite control [consists] of the same range of conduct that qualifies as constructive possession under federal law.” In light of this response, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction and sentence. View "USA v. Michael Anthony Conage" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case-at-hand returned to the Eleventh Circuit for disposition from the Florida Supreme Court, to which the court certified three questions of Florida law. In considering the court’s certified questions, the Florida Supreme Court found dispositive a threshold issue that the court did not expressly address: “Is the filing office’s use of a ‘standard search logic’ necessary to trigger the safe harbor protection of section 679.5061(3)?”   The Florida Supreme Court answered that question in the affirmative. And the court further determined that Florida does not employ a “standard search logic.” The Florida Supreme Court thus concluded that the statutory safe harbor for financing statements that fail to correctly name the debtor cannot apply, “which means that a financing statement that fails to correctly name the debtor as required by Florida law is ‘seriously misleading’ under Florida Statute Section 679.5061(2) and therefore ineffective.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s order affirming the bankruptcy court’s grant of Live Oak Banking Company’s cross-motion for summary judgment and remand for further proceedings. The court held that Live Oak did not perfect its security interest in 1944 Beach Boulevard, LLC’s, assets because the two UCC-1 Financing Statements filed with the Florida Secured Transaction Registry (the “Registry”) were “seriously misleading” under Florida Statute Section 679.5061(2), as the Registry does not implement a “standard search logic” necessary to trigger the safe harbor exception set forth in Florida Statute Section 679.5061(3). View "1944 Beach Boulevard, LLC v. Live Oak Banking Company" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerns the district court’s sua sponte dismissal of Plaintiff’s amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under 28 U.S.C. Section 1915A—the early screening provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). Plaintiff contends that the district court erred in designating him a “prisoner” under the PLRA at the time he filed his pro se complaint and that the district court further erred in ordering him to pay a filing fee before the district court.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. The court held that the district court erred in applying the PLRA to Plaintiff’s action because Plaintiff, as a civil detainee in ICE custody, was not a “prisoner” under the PLRA when he filed his action. Thus, Plaintiff’s complaint must be viewed by the district court in the first instance and outside of the context of the PLRA on remand. Moreover, as Plaintiff was not a “prisoner” for purposes of the PLRA at the time that he filed this action, on remand, the court directed the district court to return the filing fees paid by Plaintiff pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(b)(1). Further, regarding Plaintiff’s motion before this Court seeking a return of the appellate filing fees paid pursuant to the PLRA, that motion is granted and the Clerk is directed to refund to Plaintiff the appellate filing fees paid by him to pursue this appeal. View "Lyncoln Danglar v. State of Georgia, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff a female employee of Wakulla County (“the County”), worked for the County’s building department. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in federal district court for, among other claims, the County’s violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the present case, Plaintiff filed a five-count complaint against the defense attorneys for the County. The defense attorneys and their law firms filed several motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court dismissed the complaint, explaining that Plaintiff’s alleged facts did not demonstrate that the defense attorneys for the County had engaged in a conspiracy that met the elements of 42 U.S.C. Section 1985(2).   Plaintiff’s complaint suggested that the defense attorneys filed the complaint for the “sole benefit of their client rather than for their own personal benefit.” Alternatively, Plaintiff points to the fact that the County defense attorneys had been aware of Plaintiff’s recordings for many months and only reported her recordings to law enforcement when they learned that Plaintiff “insist[ed] on her right to testify in federal court about the recordings and present them as evidence” in the sexual harassment case.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that per Farese, it is Plaintiff’s burden to allege facts that establish that the County defense attorneys were acting outside the scope of their representation when they told law enforcement about Plaintiff’s recordings. Here, Plaintiff but in no way suggests that the defense attorneys were acting outside the scope of their representation, thus her Section 1985(2) claims were properly dismissed. View "Tracey M. Chance v. Ariel Cook, et al" on Justia Law

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The government filed a complaint against Defendant, alleging that he promoted a tax evasion scheme in which he advised his clients to claim unwarranted federal income tax deductions for bogus charitable donations. The government sought to enjoin him from operating his business, as well as disgorgement of all of the proceeds from his scheme.   The question before the Eleventh Circuit was whether the Act bars a defendant from moving—in an action initiated by the government—for a protective order to restrain the government from using his responses to requests for admission when assessing a tax penalty in a separate administrative proceeding.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal of Defendant’s motion under the Anti-Injunction Act and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that because moving for a protective order in an action filed by the government does not amount to the maintenance of a “suit,” the Act does not apply. View "USA v. Michael L. Meyer" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was sentenced to death by a Florida court for the murder of a five-month-old baby. After an unsuccessful direct appeal and two rounds of state collateral proceedings, he sought habeas corpus relief in federal court. In this appeal from the denial of his federal petition, the Eleventh Circuit considered Petitioner’s claims that the state trial court violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment when it admitted his confessions and other statements he made to the police into evidence at his trial, and that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance at the penalty phase in violation of the Sixth Amendment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial. The court explained that the state court’s admission of his statements at trial did not violate Petitioner’s constitutional rights because he made those statements either spontaneously or after reinitiating discussions with police and knowingly and voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights. Further, a strategic decision not to call a witness whose testimony is not entirely problem-free and to focus instead on other available mitigating evidence does not amount to a deprivation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and the state court’s decision to that effect was not objectively unreasonable. View "Andrew Richard Lukehart v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions and the ensuing sentences on multiple counts arising out of their conspiracy to commit access device fraud. On appeal they argued that: (1) law enforcement agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering their house after arresting them; (2) the district court impermissibly lowered the government’s burden of proof during voir dire; (3) the district court erred in applying two-level enhancements to their base offense levels for possessing device-making equipment; (4) the district court erred in applying two-level aggravating-role enhancements; (5) their total sentences were procedurally unreasonable; and, finally, (6) their sentences, overall, were substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court the record demonstrates Defendants’ deep involvement in the planning and organization of the fraudulent scheme and their vital role in the commission of the offenses, as well as their involvement in decision-making and recruitment, all of which was far more extensive than the role played by the co-conspirator. To the extent Defendants argue that they could not both receive aggravating-role enhancements since they were equally involved, a defendant eligible for an aggravating-role enhancement “does not have to be the sole leader of the conspiracy for the enhancement to apply.” The district court did not clearly err in applying the aggravating-role enhancements to the brothers’ offense levels. Further, the court wrote that the district court imposed an otherwise substantively reasonable total sentence for each defendant. View "USA v. Igor Grushko, et al." on Justia Law

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The Defendant, Evanston Insurance Company (“Evanston”), appeals the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff Westchester General Hospital, Inc. (“Westchester”), challenging the district court’s holding that Evanston must defend Westchester in its ongoing litigation against Jane and John Doe (the “Does”). After the Does sued Westchester for negligence based on a violent incident that occurred at Westchester’s facility, Westchester sought coverage from Evanston, its insurer, under Westchester’s “Specified Medical Professions Insurance Policy” (“the Policy”). Evanston refused to provide complete coverage. So, Westchester sued Evanston, seeking a declaratory judgment that Evanston must defend it in its ongoing litigation against the Does. After the case was removed to federal court, a district court judge in the Southern District of Florida granted partial summary judgment in favor of Westchester, and Evanston appealed.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed finding that the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Westchester was proper because none of the relevant exclusions invoked by Evanston bars coverage for the Does’ claims against Westchester. The court explained that neither the Bodily Injury Exclusion nor the Professional Services Exclusion bars coverage for Westchester’s lawsuit against the Does. Evanston owes Westchester a duty to defend the hospital in its litigation against the Does under the GL Coverage Part. And because the court concluded that Evanston owes Westchester a duty to defend under the GL Coverage Part, the court held that the Umbrella Policy also applies. View "Westchester General Hospital, Inc. v. Evanston Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a mixed group of domestic and foreign corporations, (collectively, “the defendants”), in a product liability action stemming from a motorcycle accident and allegedly defective helmet. Plaintiff contended that the district court erroneously excluded the testimony of her expert witness, after finding his testimony based on novel and untested theories unreliable.   In the district court proceedings, defendant HJC Corporation (“HJC”), a foreign corporation organized under the laws of, and principally operating within, South Korea, moved separately for summary judgment based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court denied this motion as moot, after granting summary judgment to all the defendants on the merits.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of Defendants’ motion to exclude Plaintiff’s expert’s testimony. Because the district court properly excluded Plaintiff’s expert’s testimony, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The court reversed its denial of HJC’s motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that the district court erred by failing to conduct a veil piercing or alter-ego analysis with respect to HJC and HJCA for personal jurisdiction purposes. The court agreed with HJC that the district court erred by failing to address HJC’s jurisdictional motion before reaching the merits of Defendants’ summary judgment motion. View "Sheila A. Knepfle v. J & P Cycles, LLC, et al" on Justia Law