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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The case involves Dr. Robert H. Wainberg, a tenured biology professor at Piedmont University, who filed a lawsuit against several officers and trustees of the university. He alleged that they conspired to retaliate against him for filing a prior lawsuit and to deter witnesses from participating in that lawsuit, and negligently refused to prevent that conspiracy. The district court dismissed Wainberg’s claims as time-barred, concluding that the statute of limitations ran from the first overt act Wainberg alleged as part of the conspiracy.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that under its precedent, each overt act triggers its own statute of limitations. Therefore, Wainberg’s claims arising out of some overt acts were timely. The court vacated the district court’s dismissal and remanded for further proceedings. The court also held that the continuing-violation doctrine, which allows a plaintiff to sue on an otherwise time-barred claim when additional violations of the law occur within the statutory period, did not apply in this case because the alleged violations were not ongoing but were discrete acts, each triggering its own statute of limitations. View "Wainberg v. Mellichamp" on Justia Law

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In this case, three individuals and the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), an advocacy group, challenged a Georgia law that prohibits individuals under the age of 21 from obtaining licenses to carry firearms. They sued three county probate judges, who issue carry licenses, and Georgia’s Commissioner of Public Safety, who designs the carry license application form. The district court dismissed the case, concluding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue any of the defendants and that the case was both moot and unripe. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the plaintiffs have standing to sue the probate judges, but not the Commissioner of Public Safety. The court found that the plaintiffs' alleged injury - the inability to carry firearms due to their age - is traceable to the actions of the probate judges who issue the licenses, and could be redressed by a court order directed at them. However, the court held that the plaintiffs' injuries are not fairly traceable to, nor redressable by a court order against, the Commissioner of Public Safety, who merely designs the application form and lacks enforcement authority. The court also held that the case was neither moot nor unripe with respect to the probate judges, reversing the district court's dismissal of the case in part and remanding the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Baughcum v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In a personal injury lawsuit, Carelyn Fylling sued Royal Caribbean Cruises for negligence after she tripped, fell, and hit her head while entering a deck on one of their cruise ships. The case was tried before a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. During the trial, the court became aware that one of the jurors had a niece who worked for Royal Caribbean. Despite this potential conflict of interest, the court did not remove or question this juror about any potential bias, and allowed her to participate in deliberations. The jury found Royal Caribbean negligent, but also found Fylling comparative-negligent, reducing her recovery by ninety percent. Fylling appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the lower court abused its discretion by not investigating the potential bias of the juror related to an employee of the defendant.The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Fylling. The court held that the district court abused its discretion by not investigating whether the juror could impartially discharge her responsibilities once it became aware of her potential bias. The court explained that when a district court becomes aware of potential juror bias, it is required to develop the factual circumstances sufficiently to make an informed judgment as to whether bias exists. A district court's obligation to protect the right to an impartial jury does not end when the jury is impaneled and sworn. The Eleventh Circuit therefore reversed the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. View "Fylling v. Royal Carribean Cruises, Ltd." on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the appellant, Kai Hansjurgens, contested the revival of a bankruptcy judgment against him in favor of Donald Bailey. More than a decade earlier, Bailey had obtained a bankruptcy judgment against Hansjurgens for tortious interference with a contract, which Hansjurgens had not paid. To prevent the judgment from expiring under Georgia law, Bailey filed a motion to revive the judgment, which was granted by the bankruptcy court. Hansjurgens argued that the revival proceedings violated his due process rights and did not strictly comply with Georgia's scire facias procedures, which are used to revive dormant judgments.The court found that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, specifically Rule 69(a), only require the revival proceedings to "accord with" or substantially comply with state procedures, rather than strictly comply. The court further noted that the purpose of scire facias, providing notice to the party and an opportunity to present objections, had been served through mailed notices to Hansjurgens at several addresses. The court also observed that Georgia's scire facias procedures did not fit squarely within the federal court system, and requiring strict compliance would be impractical.Therefore, the court held that the bankruptcy court had properly revived the judgment and that the proceedings did not violate due process. It affirmed the district court's revival order. View "Hansjurgens v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered two petitions for review brought by Hunt Refining Company against decisions made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA had denied Hunt's petitions for hardship exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, part of the Clean Air Act that mandates most oil refineries in the U.S. to blend a certain quantity of renewable fuels into their transportation fuels each year. Small refineries can petition for exemption from these requirements if compliance would cause them "disproportionate economic hardship." The EPA's denial of Hunt's petitions was based on a new interpretation of the statutory provision and a new economic theory applicable to all small refineries, regardless of their location or market.The Eleventh Circuit held that Hunt's petitions for review should have been filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia because the EPA actions challenged were "nationally applicable." In other words, they applied a consistent statutory interpretation and economic analysis to small refineries across the country. The court dismissed Hunt's petitions, given that Hunt had already filed protective petitions for review of the same EPA decisions in the D.C. Circuit, which were currently being briefed on the merits. View "Hunt Refining Company v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a decision by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which had ruled against Andrew Warren, a Florida State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit. Warren had filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis, claiming that DeSantis had suspended him in retaliation for his First Amendment activity. The circuit court agreed with the district court that Warren had satisfied his initial burden of showing that he had engaged in protected activity, suffered an adverse action, and that DeSantis's actions were motivated by Warren's protected activity. However, the circuit court disagreed with the district court's conclusion that the First Amendment did not protect certain activities that motivated DeSantis's decision, and found that the district court erred in concluding that DeSantis would have suspended Warren based solely on unprotected activities. The case was remanded for the district court to reconsider whether DeSantis would have made the same decision based solely on the unprotected activities. View "Warren v. DeSantis" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around Kenneth Bailey's lawsuit against Deputy Shawn Swindell, claiming that Swindell violated his civil rights when he tackled Bailey through the door of Bailey's parents' home and arrested him without a warrant or exigent circumstances. Bailey's suit was filed under Section 1983. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida initially granted summary judgment in favor of Swindell based on qualified immunity. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed this decision, concluding that Swindell violated clearly established law when he entered Bailey's parents' home to arrest him without a warrant or exigent circumstances, and was therefore not entitled to qualified immunity.On remand, the case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict for Bailey, awarding him $625,000 for his injuries. However, the district court later granted Swindell's motion for judgment as a matter of law, setting aside the jury's verdict. Bailey appealed this decision.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law. The appellate court found that the jury's factual findings, including that the arrest was initiated outside the home but no exigent circumstances existed allowing for a warrantless entry into the home, should have been used by the district court in making its legal conclusions about qualified immunity. The court emphasized that it was clearly established that an officer violates the Constitution by initiating an arrest outside of a home and then entering the home without a warrant to complete the arrest in the absence of exigent circumstances. Therefore, Swindell was not entitled to qualified immunity, and the jury's verdict in favor of Bailey should be reinstated. View "Bailey v. Swindell" on Justia Law

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In this case, Eliezer and Valeria Taveras (the appellants) appealed the decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida when it abstained from exercising federal jurisdiction over their case, pending the conclusion of a related state case under the Colorado River abstention doctrine. The Taveras' case centered around a dispute concerning the validity of a mortgage and an allegedly fraudulent promissory note secured by a parcel of real property they had purchased in 2006. The appellants contended that the district court improperly abstained from exercising jurisdiction and erroneously denied their motion to amend the complaint. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in abstaining under the Colorado River doctrine as the federal and state proceedings involved substantially similar issues and parties. It also found that the district court properly denied the Taveras' motion to amend the complaint because the proposed amendments would not have changed the outcome of the abstention analysis. View "Taveras v. Bank of America" on Justia Law

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Doris Lapham, a former employee of Walgreen Co., filed a lawsuit against the company claiming violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Florida’s Private Sector Whistleblower Act (FWA). Lapham asserted that Walgreens interfered with her attempts to obtain leave under the FMLA to care for her disabled son, and retaliated against her for those attempts. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Walgreens on all claims.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The Appeals Court held that the proper causation standard for both FMLA and FWA retaliation claims is but-for causation, meaning that the plaintiff must prove that the adverse action would not have occurred but for the purported cause. Here, Lapham failed to show that Walgreens’ stated reasons for her termination (insubordination and dishonesty) were merely pretext for retaliation and that, but for her attempts to exercise her FMLA rights, she would not have been fired. Furthermore, Lapham failed to produce evidence showing she suffered any remediable prejudice due to Walgreens' alleged interference with her FMLA rights. View "Lapham v. Walgreen Co." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia regarding a dispute over the enforceability of a restrictive covenant in Georgia. The plaintiff, Charles Baldwin, had worked for various franchisees of Express Oil Change, LLC, and was asked to sign a restrictive covenant as a condition of receiving a payment after the franchisees' stores were sold to Express. The covenant restricted Baldwin from engaging in certain competitive business activities for a specified duration and within a specified geographic area. After leaving Express, Baldwin sued, seeking a declaration that the covenant was unenforceable under the Georgia Restrictive Covenants Act (GRCA). The district court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the covenant, finding it unreasonable in terms of its geographic scope and duration. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court correctly concluded that the covenant's geographic scope was unreasonable under the GRCA, but that it applied the wrong presumption in concluding that the covenant's duration was unreasonable. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, dismissed the appeal in part, and remanded the case to the district court for reconsideration of its preliminary injunction under the proper presumptions. View "Baldwin v. Express Oil Change, LLC" on Justia Law