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

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Elizabeth Peters Young was convicted of conspiring to pay and receive kickbacks from federal reimbursements for medical creams and lotions dispensed by pharmacies she worked with. The district court sentenced her to 57 months in prison and ordered her to pay $1.5 million in restitution and forfeiture, representing the gross proceeds she controlled during the conspiracy.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida initially reviewed the case. Young challenged her conviction, restitution order, and forfeiture judgment, arguing insufficient evidence for her conspiracy conviction, improper calculation of restitution, and errors in the forfeiture amount. The district court denied her motion to set aside the verdict and sentenced her, including the contested financial penalties.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed Young’s conspiracy conviction, finding sufficient evidence that she conspired with others, including a pharmacy, to receive kickbacks. The court also upheld the forfeiture judgment, ruling that Young was liable for the gross proceeds she controlled, even if she distributed some to co-conspirators. However, the court vacated the restitution order, agreeing with Young that the government did not prove the amount of loss it experienced due to her conduct. The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the correct restitution amount. View "USA v. Young" on Justia Law

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Bryan Jennings was convicted of the murder and sexual battery of six-year-old Rebecca Kunash in 1979. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and other charges, and sentenced to death. Jennings's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, and his initial state postconviction relief efforts were unsuccessful. He filed his first federal habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in 2002, which was denied, and the denial was affirmed on appeal.Jennings later filed additional postconviction motions in state court, including claims under Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States, alleging prosecutorial misconduct based on new evidence, such as an affidavit from a cellmate who testified against him. The state trial court held an evidentiary hearing but did not find the new evidence credible and denied relief. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed this decision.In 2018, Jennings filed a second federal habeas corpus petition, including the Brady and Giglio claims. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida dismissed the petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, ruling it was a second or successive petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b), and denied Jennings's motion for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court's dismissal. The Eleventh Circuit held that Jennings's second-in-time § 2254 petition was indeed a second or successive petition subject to § 2244(b)’s restrictions, as established in Tompkins v. Secretary, Department of Corrections. The court concluded that Jennings's Brady and Giglio claims were ripe at the time of his first petition and thus did not fall under the exception outlined in Panetti v. Quarterman. Consequently, the district court correctly dismissed the petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Jennings v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Police officers responded to a 911 call about a suspicious individual in a residential neighborhood. Officer Sanchez encountered Victor Grandia Gonzalez, who matched the description given by the complainant. Gonzalez was walking in the street, wearing dark clothing, and carrying a backpack. He appeared nervous and sweaty. Officer Exantus, after speaking with the complainant, learned that Gonzalez had been seen looking into mailboxes and concealing himself between cars. Upon arrival, Exantus patted down Gonzalez and found scissors. Gonzalez admitted to living out of his car and showed a photo of his ID listing a home county 30 minutes away. Based on these observations and the complainant’s report, Gonzalez was arrested for loitering and prowling. A search of his backpack revealed stolen mail.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied Gonzalez’s motion to suppress the mail evidence and statements, finding that the officers had probable cause for the arrest. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one count of possessing stolen mail but reserved the right to appeal the suppression ruling. He was sentenced to time served and two years of supervised release.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court held that the Fourth Amendment does not require a misdemeanor to occur in an officer’s presence for a warrantless arrest. The court found that the officers had probable cause to arrest Gonzalez for loitering and prowling under the totality of the circumstances, including the complainant’s report and the officers’ observations. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "USA v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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Yorktown Systems Group Inc. and Threat Tec LLC, both defense contractors, entered into a mentor-protégé relationship under the Small Business Administration’s program to jointly pursue government contracts. They formed a joint venture (JV) and were awarded a $165 million contract with the U.S. Army. The JV agreement allocated specific work shares to each company. However, the relationship soured, and Threat Tec attempted to terminate Yorktown’s subcontract, effectively cutting Yorktown out of its share of the contract.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama granted Yorktown a preliminary injunction, preventing Threat Tec from terminating the subcontract and depriving Yorktown of its rights under the JV agreement. The court found that Yorktown had shown a substantial likelihood of success on its breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims and faced irreparable harm. The court noted that Threat Tec’s CEO had made false statements and lacked candor, leading to the belief that Threat Tec’s motives were unethical.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court found no clear error in the district court’s factfindings and concluded that the district court acted within its discretion. The court held that Threat Tec, as the managing member of the JV, owed fiduciary duties of loyalty and care to Yorktown and likely breached those duties by attempting to cut Yorktown out of its contractually specified workshare. The court also agreed that Yorktown faced irreparable harm, including potential damage to its business reputation and the loss of highly skilled employees, which could not be remedied by monetary damages alone. View "Yorktown Systems Group Inc. v. Threat TEC LLC" on Justia Law

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Ashraf Abdulkarim-Ali Alkotof, a Yemeni citizen, entered the U.S. on a B1/B2 visa in 2006 and overstayed. In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a notice to appear, alleging he was subject to removal. Alkotof admitted the allegations but sought adjustment of status based on an I-130 petition filed by his U.S. citizen spouse, Tiffany Alfano. After Alfano's petition was denied, Alkotof divorced her and married Hajer Ali Yehia, who filed another I-130 petition, which was initially approved but later revoked due to alleged marriage fraud. Alkotof appealed the revocation and also applied for a U-Visa as a crime victim.The Immigration Judge (IJ) continued Alkotof’s removal proceedings multiple times but ultimately ordered his removal in 2018, citing the lack of an approved I-130 petition and the speculative nature of his U-Visa application. Alkotof appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which dismissed his appeal and denied his motion to remand for cancellation of removal, citing insufficient evidence to rebut the marriage fraud finding.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court concluded it lacked jurisdiction over the BIA’s denial of Alkotof’s motion to remand for cancellation of removal, as it involved discretionary judgment. The court also found that the BIA did not abuse its discretion in denying Alkotof’s request for administrative closure or a continuance. The court noted that Alkotof was ineligible for adjustment of status due to the revoked I-130 petition and that he could continue to pursue his U-Visa application even after removal. Consequently, the court affirmed in part and dismissed in part Alkotof’s petition for review. View "Ashraf Abdulkarim-Ali Alkotof v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Charles Johnson, Jr. was arrested by Officer Garrett Rolfe for driving while intoxicated. Johnson alleged that Rolfe used excessive force during the arrest, resulting in a broken collarbone. Johnson sued Rolfe and the City of Atlanta under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Georgia state law, claiming excessive force and battery. Johnson's complaint stated that he was respectful and did not resist arrest, but Rolfe threw him to the ground, causing his injury.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia reviewed the case. The City moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing it failed to state a claim for Monell liability. Rolfe moved for judgment on the pleadings, submitting body camera and dashcam footage showing Johnson resisting arrest. The district court considered the video evidence, determining it was central to Johnson's claims and its authenticity was not disputed. The court found that Rolfe did not use excessive force and was entitled to qualified immunity on the federal claims and official immunity on the state law claims. Consequently, the court dismissed the Monell claim against the City, as there was no underlying constitutional violation.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the video evidence was properly considered under the incorporation-by-reference doctrine. The court found that Rolfe's use of force was objectively reasonable given the circumstances, including Johnson's resistance and the dangerous location of the arrest. Therefore, Rolfe was entitled to qualified immunity on the federal claims and official immunity on the state law claims. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the Monell claim against the City, as no constitutional violation occurred. View "Johnson v. City of Atlanta" on Justia Law

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The case involves Gretchen Buselli, who was convicted of a murder-for-hire plot targeting her estranged husband, Bradley Buselli, and for making false statements to a federal agent. The evidence presented at trial included recorded phone calls where Buselli discussed hiring someone to kill Bradley, and surveillance footage showing her leaving $5,000 in a lunch box as payment. Buselli had reported Bradley for abusing their daughter, but investigations found no evidence supporting her claims. She was arrested after an undercover FBI agent, posing as a hitman, confirmed the murder-for-hire plot.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida handled the initial trial. Buselli was indicted on two counts: use of interstate commerce with intent to commit murder-for-hire and making materially false statements. She contested the jury instructions related to the murder-for-hire charge, arguing that the jury should be instructed on Florida’s defenses to murder, such as justifiable and excusable homicide. The district court declined to include these instructions, finding no evidence to support them.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that the statutory language in 18 U.S.C. § 1958(a) does not require incorporating state law defenses into federal murder-for-hire prosecutions. The court also found that any error in the jury instructions was harmless, as no reasonable jury would have found Buselli’s actions justified under Florida law. Additionally, the court rejected Buselli’s constitutional challenge to her false-statements conviction and found no error in the jury instructions related to this charge. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed both of Buselli’s convictions. View "United States v. Buselli" on Justia Law

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The case involves two Georgia non-profit organizations, New Georgia Project and New Georgia Project Action Fund (collectively referred to as "New Georgia"), and the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. New Georgia was accused of violating the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act by failing to register with the Commission and disclose their campaign expenditures and sources. The Commission initiated an investigation and found "reasonable grounds" to conclude that New Georgia had violated the Act.New Georgia then filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the Act violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the Act against New Georgia. The state appealed, arguing that the district court should have abstained from exercising its jurisdiction under the doctrine established in Younger v. Harris.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court should have abstained under the Younger doctrine. The court found that the state's enforcement action against New Georgia was ongoing and implicated important state interests, and that New Georgia had an adequate opportunity in the state proceeding to raise constitutional challenges. The court vacated the district court's decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss New Georgia's action. View "New Georgia Project, Inc. v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The case involves two brothers, Levi and Benjamin Goldfarb, who sought payment of a $500,000 claim under an Accidental Death & Dismemberment insurance policy after their father, Dr. Alexander Goldfarb, died while mountain climbing in Pakistan. The insurer, Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company, denied the claim because the cause of Dr. Goldfarb’s death was unknown, and therefore, his beneficiaries could not show that he died by accident. The Goldfarb brothers challenged the denial in district court under the Employee Retirement Security Act.The district court ruled in favor of the Goldfarbs, stating that Dr. Goldfarb’s death was accidental and that Reliance Standard’s failure to pay the Accidental Death & Dismemberment claim was arbitrary and capricious. The court granted summary judgment to the Goldfarbs and denied Reliance Standard’s cross motion for summary judgment. Reliance Standard appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the district court's decision. The appellate court found that Reliance Standard’s decision that Dr. Goldfarb’s death was not accidental under the insurance policy was supported by reasonable grounds, and the denial of the Goldfarbs’ claim for benefits was not arbitrary and capricious. Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Goldfarbs and directed the court to enter judgment in Reliance Standard’s favor. View "Goldfarb v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In March 2020, seven crewmembers of the M/V Greg Mortimer cruise ship filed a lawsuit against several companies, including CMI Leisure Management, Inc., Cruise Management International, Inc., and Vikand Medical Solutions, LLC. The crewmembers alleged that the decision to sail during the COVID-19 pandemic exposed them to foreseeable harms, resulting in six of them contracting the virus. The crewmembers had signed employment agreements with other companies that contained forum-selection and choice-of-law clauses requiring disputes to be brought in the Bahamas under Bahamian law.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed the action based on the forum-selection clause. The court ruled that the defendants, who were not parties to the employment agreements, could invoke the forum-selection clause under the doctrine of equitable estoppel.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded the decision. The appellate court held that the defendants could not invoke the forum-selection clause in the employment agreements under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. The court reasoned that the crewmembers' claims did not rely on the terms of their employment agreements, and thus, equitable estoppel did not apply. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Usme v. CMI Leisure Management, Inc." on Justia Law