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

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed appellants' convictions and sentences for narcotics trafficking and firearms possession. The court held that the district court did not plainly err in allowing appellants to be shackled during trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion in addressing the jury note and declining to conduct a Remmer hearing; although the indictment omitted the mens rea element for appellants' 18 U.S.C. 922(g) charges, this error did not deprive the district court of jurisdiction, requiring vacatur under Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019); and the government's failure to prove the now-requisite mens element did not constitute a plain error. Finally, the court held that appellants' remaining claims were without merit and did not warrant discussion. View "United States v. Moore" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court held that the state habeas court's decision as to petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of federal law nor based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The court rejected petitioner's claim that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective under Strickland v. Washington when counsel failed to investigate mitigating evidence at sentencing. Petitioner also alleged that he was denied due process and a fair trial when his request for a one day continuance was denied, that the jury's verdict was unconstitutional, and that he was denied a right to self-representation under Faretta v. California. The court concluded that it was barred from considering petitioner's claims because he failed to raise them on direct appeal, and cannot show cause and prejudice to overcome the default. View "Sealey v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

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Petitioner petitioned the Eleventh Circuit a second time to review the BIA's final order of removal. The court had granted in part petitioner's first petition challenging the classification of his prior conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm as an aggravated felony under the residual clause definition of a crime of violence. The court held that the residual clause was void for vagueness under Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1210 (2018), and granted the petition. On remand, the BIA classified petitioner's prior conviction as an aggravated felony under the elements clause of the definition of a crime of violence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 16(a). The court denied in part and dismissed in part the second petition, holding that petitioner's arguments -- that the Florida statute defining aggravated battery is indivisible and that the offense does not constitute a crime of violence -- are foreclosed by precedent. The court also held that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner's argument that the BIA should review his application for deferral of removal, because petitioner failed to challenge the denial of his application in his appeal to the BIA. View "Lukaj v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a class action against Travelport and the Galileo & Worldspan U.S. Legacy Pension Plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, alleging claims for improperly withheld pension benefits, document-disclosure penalties, and breach of fiduciary duties. The district court dismissed all claims. With respect to plaintiff's claim for benefits, the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded for the district court to review her claim anew after Travelport has certified and submitted the complete and accurate administrative record. The court reversed the district court's award of attorney's fees, but otherwise affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Williamson v. Travelport, LP" on Justia Law

Posted in: ERISA
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Plaintiff petitioned the district court for the grand jury transcripts related to the Ford Lynching—a horrific event involving the murders of two African American couples for which no one has ever been charged—to be used in his book about the lynching. The district court granted the petition, finding that the historical significance of the grand jury's investigation, and the critical role the records of that investigation would play in enhancing the historical record on this tragic event, amounted to "exceptional circumstances" that justified the use of the court's inherent power to order disclosure. A panel of the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. After rehearing en banc, the en banc court held that Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure is exhaustive, and that district courts do not possess inherent, supervisory power to authorize the disclosure of grand jury records outside of Rule 6(e)(3)'s enumerated exceptions. Therefore, the en banc court overruled In re Petition to Inspect & Copy Grand Jury Materials (Hastings), 735 F.2d 1261 (11th Cir. 1984), which held to the contrary. The en banc court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Pitch v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eleventh Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's ruling that petitioner's conviction for sexual misconduct, N.Y. Penal Law 130.20, qualifies, under the modified categorical approach, as the aggravated felony of rape, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(A), and a crime involving moral turpitude. Because the record of conviction does not make clear whether petitioner pleaded guilty to forcible or statutory rape, the court need not decide whether the New York statute is divisible as between those two different kinds of rape or whether the criminal complaint is a valid Shepard document. The court explained that, even if it were to resolve both issues in the department's favor, the criminal complaint would still fail to establish that petitioner pleaded guilty to forcible rape. Furthermore, the board failed to address whether statutory rape is a crime involving moral turpitude, so the court does not address that issue. Nor does the court need to address petitioner's alternative argument that he is eligible for a discretionary waiver of deportation even if he is removable. The court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "George v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Officer Swarbrick falsely arrested him and used excessive force; Officer Trammel failed to intervene; and the Sheriff had a custom or policy of excessive force or failed to adequately train, supervise, and discipline Swarbrick and Trammel. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Swarbrick on plaintiff's false arrest claim and plaintiff's excessive force claim regarding an alleged three-to-five minute period of pepper spraying. In this case, plaintiff has presented a genuine dispute of material fact regarding Swarbrick's use of force as to that period of pepper spraying. Accordingly, the court remanded those claims for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Swarbrick as to any other allegations of excessive force. Likewise, the court affirmed the claims against the Sheriff and Trammel. View "Alston v. Swarbrick" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, as the personal representative of her son, filed suit against a deputy, alleging that he violated her son's substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by stopping several bystanders from performing CPR on her son after he attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and held that the district court analyzed this case under the erroneous assumption that a deliberate indifference level of culpability was sufficient. Rather, the court held that the deputy's actions cannot be deemed to violate clearly established substantive due process rights, unless the jury finds that he acted with a level of culpability more than reckless interference with bystanders' attempted rescue efforts. In this case, the court could not conclude that the deputy's reckless or deliberately indifferent interference with bystanders' rescue attempts is sufficient to constitute a violation of plaintiff's clearly established substantive due process rights. The court held that the deputy's actions would rise to that necessary level should the jury find that the deputy acted for the purpose of causing harm to plaintiff's son. The court explained that, if the jury finds that the deputy intended to cause harm to plaintiff's son in the form of death or serious brain injury, and finds the other circumstances it assumed in this summary judgment posture, then plaintiff would have proved a violation of clearly established substantive due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Waldron v. Spicher" on Justia Law

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Where, as here, the loss is a unique artifact for which market value cannot fully compensate, courts must use replacement costs in determining restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA). The Eleventh Circuit wrote that, while absolute precision is not required under the MVRA, the district court must base its restitution order on evidence. Furthermore, that evidence must show that the restitution will make the victim whole—nothing more and nothing less. The court affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and theft of major artwork. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his role in stealing Gold Bar 27, a gold ingot recovered from an undersea wreckage site. The court remanded for the district court to ascertain the amount of restitution. In this case, the district court did not ascertain replacement value when it determined market value was insufficient and then imposed restitution. View "United States v. Goldman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Tobacco Companies challenged the amount of damages a jury awarded to plaintiff for his intentional tort claims, and the sufficiency of the evidence to prove his fraudulent concealment and conspiracy to fraudulently conceal claims. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the Tobacco Companies' motion for a new trial or remittitur, because the compensatory damages award was not excessive under Florida law. The court also held that the district court correctly denied the Tobacco Companies' motion for judgment as a matter of law on the constitutionality of the punitive damages award, because the award was not constitutional excessive. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by allowing plaintiff's fraud-based claims to go to the jury. View "Kerrivan v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury