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

by
Plaintiff filed suit alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution against a county sheriff's deputy. Plaintiff alleged that the deputy, or one of her law enforcement colleagues, planted the marijuana they found on his property. The district court denied the deputy's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The deputy then sought an interlocutory appeal of the district court's qualified immunity ruling.The Eleventh Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the deputy's appeal challenging the factual sufficiency of the district court's determination that there is a genuine dispute as to whether the marijuana evidence was planted. In this case, the deputy does not present a legal question but simply asks the court to review the factual sufficiency of the district court's determination. View "Hall v. Flournoy" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court, in approving the class action settlement underlying this appeal, repeated several errors that have become commonplace in everyday class action practice. First, the district court violated the plain terms of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(h) by setting a schedule that required class members to file any objection to the settlement—including any objection pertaining to attorneys' fees—more than two weeks before class counsel had filed their fee petition. However, on the record, the district court's error was harmless. Second, the district court ignored on-point Supreme Court precedent by awarding the class representative a $6,000 incentive payment as acknowledgement of his role in prosecuting the case on behalf of the class members.Finally, in approving class counsel's fee request, overruling objections, and approving the parties' settlement, the district court made no findings or conclusions that might facilitate appellate review. Rather, the district court offered only rote, boilerplate pronouncements ("approved," "overturned," etc.). Therefore, the district court violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court's precedents requiring courts to explain their class-related decisions. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for the district court to adequately explain its fee award to class counsel, its denial of the interested party's objections, and its approval of the settlement. View "Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff won a substantial arbitration award against his former employer, the employer sought vacatur in federal court. The district court agreed with the employer, Citi, that plaintiff had been an at-will employee and thus the arbitrators exceeded their powers by finding that he had been wrongfully terminated.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's vacatur of the arbitration award, holding that plaintiff and Citi agreed to arbitrate all disputes about plaintiff's employment. The court stated that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, the merits of plaintiff's dispute were committed to the arbitrators and Citi does not get to start over in federal court because it identifies a possible legal error in arbitration. Therefore, the district court erred by substituting its own legal judgment for that of the arbitrators. View "Gherardi v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254 to petitioner, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping, forcible rape, and malice murder of two little girls. At issue was whether the lawyers who represented petitioner at the 1999 retrial deprived him of his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel in failing to attain and present mitigation evidence.The court held that, on this record, it would be hard put to say that the district court erred in rejecting petitioner's Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder claim. Furthermore, petitioner failed to demonstrate that defense counsel's conduct in connection with the retrial of the penalty phase fell below Strickland v. Washington's performance standard. As for its prejudice standard, the court held that a retrial of the penalty phase would result in the same verdict, a death sentence. View "Presnell v. Warden" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner was sentenced to death for three murders and two attempted murders of two young children. Petitioner alleged that trial counsel were constitutionally ineffective at sentencing because they relied on residual doubt and because they failed to investigate and present additional mitigating evidence concerning petitioner's childhood, substance abuse, and cognitive deficits.The court held that counsels' performance was not constitutionally deficient. Furthermore, the state court's determination that petitioner suffered no prejudice on account of any alleged deficiencies in the performance of his counsel was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of clearly established law, nor was it based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented. View "Franks v. GDCP Warden" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's motion to postpone his execution by several months on the ground that two of his three appointed lawyers are currently unable to meet with him due to circumstances caused by COVID-19. The court held that neither it nor the district court has the authority to postpone petitioner's execution—at least absent a demonstration that a stay is warranted, a showing that petitioner has not attempted to make.Moreover, and in any event, the court held that petitioner is not entitled to relief on the merits where 18 U.S.C. 3596(a), which states that execution shall be implemented in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed, does not extend to ensuring a lawyer's presence at execution. View "LeCroy v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Eleventh Circuit granted the government's motion to dismiss defendant's appeal based on his sentence-appeal waiver. The court held that the sentence-appeal waiver is unambiguous and was made knowingly and voluntarily. In this case, when defendant decided to plead guilty and enter into a plea agreement, he waived any right to an appeal or other collateral review of his sentence unless the district court imposes a sentence that exceeds the advisory guideline range, which it did not. Furthermore, the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 colloquy established that defendant's appeal waiver was knowing and voluntary. View "United States v. Boyd" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of federal habeas corpus relief. Petitioner was sentenced to death for malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated sodomy, kidnapping with bodily injury, and aggravated assault.The court held that petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief based on the prosecution's use of peremptory strikes where the Georgia Supreme Court correctly applied the well-established burden-shifting framework, noting that the statistical disparities to which petitioner pointed were insufficient to establish a prima facie case absent "additional facts which may give rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose." The court rejected petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase of trial and declined to disturb the state habeas court's conclusion that trial counsel's performance was not deficient. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying petitioner's claim of juror misconduct where he failed to exhaust, and thus has procedurally defaulted, his only argument for overcoming the original procedural default. Finally, for similar reasons, the court affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing. View "Ledford v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's complaint of malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment against defendant, a police officer. In order to succeed on plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim, plaintiff must prove (1) that defendant violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from seizures pursuant to legal process and (2) that the criminal proceedings against plaintiff terminated in his favor.The court agreed with defendant that the district court correctly incorporated the dismissal order into plaintiff's complaint, but the court disagreed with defendant's argument that plaintiff did not receive a favorable termination. Even though the court considered the dismissal order, the court must construe the order in the light most favorable to plaintiff and resolve all reasonable inferences in his favor. When placed in that light, the court concluded that the order does not eliminate every reasonable inference that plaintiff received a favorable termination. In this case, the court can reasonably infer that plaintiff did not admit to felony murder during the hearing. View "Luke v. Gulley" on Justia Law

by
After Charles Sowers died of lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes, plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturer of the cigarettes, R.J. Reynolds, under Florida's wrongful death statute. A jury found the company liable for his death and awarded compensatory damages.The Eleventh Circuit found no merit in R.J. Reynolds' contentions that it was entitled to a new trial based on an evidentiary ruling and based on statements plaintiff's attorney made in closing. The court also held that plaintiff is entitled to a trial on the issue of whether she should receive punitive damages on the negligence and strict liability claims and, if so, how much. Furthermore, the new trial on punitive damages that plaintiff is entitled to will not open up the liability and compensatory damages judgment that she has already obtained in the first trial. In this case, the findings underlying the first jury's comparative fault verdict are concerned solely with determining the amount of compensatory damages that will be awarded, and those findings do not overlap with the punitive damages findings that the remand jury will be called on to make in the course of deciding whether to punish R.J. Reynolds and attempt to deter others from similar conduct.Finally, unless it is successful in getting the court's judgment vacated or reversed, R.J. Reynolds will have to pay plaintiff the compensatory damages award, plus any applicable interest, promptly after the court's mandate issues instead of delaying payment until after the trial on punitive damages and any resulting appeal from the judgment in that trial is completed. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Sowers v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law