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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Thanquarius R. Calhoun was appealing the denial of his federal habeas petition following his conviction for felony murder and other crimes in the state of Georgia. Calhoun had led police on a high-speed chase that resulted in a passenger's death after law enforcement used a Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) maneuver to stop his vehicle.Calhoun's appeal argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his defense counsel did not present a defense or request a jury instruction on the theory that the PIT maneuver, and not his own actions, was the proximate or intervening cause of the passenger's death.Under Georgia law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Georgia, a defendant's act is not the "legal cause" of an injury or damage if some other act "intervenes." However, if the intervening act "could reasonably have been anticipated, apprehended, or foreseen by the original wrong-doer, the causal connection is not broken, and the original wrong-doer is responsible for all of the consequences resulting from the intervening act." In other words, proximate cause is not affected by a reasonably foreseeable intervening cause.The Eleventh Circuit, giving deference to the Supreme Court of Georgia's interpretation of Georgia law, found that the PIT maneuver was reasonably foreseeable given Calhoun's reckless behavior during the police chase. As a result, the use of the maneuver did not break the causal chain linking Calhoun's actions to the passenger's death. Thus, Calhoun had not carried his burden to show a reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would have been different if his counsel had argued that the PIT maneuver was an intervening cause. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of Calhoun's habeas petition. View "Calhoun v. Warden, Baldwin State Prison" 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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This case stems from a car accident that claimed the lives of four young women. The women’s estates sued the driver who rear-ended their car, for negligence. And the estates sued the driver’s employer, Discount Rock & Sand, Inc., for negligently entrusting the company’s truck to the driver and for vicarious liability for Blanco’s negligent driving. The district court ordered the dismissal of the claim against the driver. The remaining claims against Discount Rock went to trial, and the jury found the company liable and awarded nearly $12 million in damages to the estates. Discount Rock appealed the judgment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that although the stipulation did not comply with rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), the district court’s order dismissing the claim against the driver satisfied rule 41(a)(2)—which allows a district court to dismiss an action by court order at a plaintiff’s request. And on the merits, the court concluded that: (1) Discount Rock was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the negligent entrustment claim; (2) any error in instructing the jury on the rear-end-collision presumption was harmless; and (3) there was no reversible error in publishing the demonstrative aid. The court explained that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Discount Rock negligently entrusted the driver with the modified truck. And even though the district court erred in instructing the jury on Florida’s rebuttable presumption that a rear-ending driver was negligent, that error wasn’t “to the prejudice of” Discount Rock because Discount Rock failed to produce evidence rebutting the presumption. View "Ricardo Sanchez, et al. v. Discount Rock & Sand, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Plaintiff sustained serious injuries from a hot-soup spill at Noodle College Park, an Atlanta-area restaurant, she and her spouse sued Shou & Shou, Inc., which owned and operated the restaurant. Shou & Shou tendered the defense to and sought coverage from AmGuard Insurance Company. But AmGuard denied coverage on the ground that the policy named “Noodle, Inc.”—an entity that did not exist—as insured. Shou & Shou settled the suit and assigned the Lowerys its rights under the policy. Plaintiffs, as assignees, then sued AmGuard for equitable reformation of the policy. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and later entered a final judgment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that reformation of the policy was proper under Georgia law. The court explained that the district court correctly equitably reformed the 2016–17 policy to insure the true owner of the restaurant. The court explained that AmGuard insists that it could not have shared Shou & Shou’s mistake because it did not know the “identity” of the intended insured and could not have intended to “name” Shou & Shou as an insured. But Georgia law does not demand that degree of specificity in defining a mutual mistake. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs claim of breach of contract merges with reformation of the policy. View "Hee Lowery, et al v. AmGuard Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The bankruptcy proceeding underlying this case was initiated by Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. (“Wilkes”), for relief against Fundamental Long Term Care, Inc. (“FLTCI”) on behalf of the Estate of Juanita Jackson. The Jackson Estate had obtained judgments of $55 million against Trans Health, Inc. (“THI”) and Trans Health Management, Inc. (“THMI”). The trustee of the Debtor’s estate (the “Trustee”) employed Steven M. Berman and Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP (“Shumaker”) as special litigation counsel. According to Wilkes, when the Trustee employed Shumaker it was not disinterested as required by Section 327(a). On remand, the Bankruptcy Court held that Berman’s omissions did not warrant sanctions under Rule 2014. The Probate Estates appealed the District Court’s decision.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that Wilkes, in representing the Probate Estates, sought huge sums in the form of damages in state court against the companies affiliated with the decedents’ nursing homes. After having received one multimillion-dollar judgment in Jackson, Wilkes realized that the powers that be in the THI corporate structure had executed a bust-out scheme to separate THMI’s liabilities from its assets and to hide those assets to avoid paying the Jackson judgment. Once the Bankruptcy Court appointed a trustee for FLTCI, Wilkes could then use the Trustee and the Trustee’s strongarm power to enhance its own discovery and pursue causes of action that it would not be able to pursue alone, attempting to get at THMI’s assets through FLTCI. The court wrote that it is clear that the idea that Shumaker had a bias against Wilkes and the Probate Estates is baseless. View "Estate of Arlene Townsend, et al v. Steven Berman, et al" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling entering judgment in favor of the US in a negligence suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).  The Seneca was piloted by Nisha Sejwal, with Ralph Knight accompanying her. The Cessna was piloted by Jorge Sanchez, with Carlo Scarpati, a student pilot, also on board. Both planes were “VFR” aircraft operating under standard visual flight rules. The Seneca was departing from, and the Cessna was arriving at, the Tamiami Airport (now known as the Miami Executive Airport) when the collision occurred. The representatives of the pilots’ estates filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), alleging negligence on the part of Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) air traffic controllers at the Tamiami Airport. Following a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the United States, and the Plaintiffs appealed.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs contend that language in the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law “suggests” that it improperly considered evidence of comparative negligence—an affirmative defense under Florida law—in making its ultimate finding that the controllers were not negligent. In particular, they point to the district court’s statements that there was (1) conflicting evidence about how the planes approached each other prior to the collision and (2) evidence that both planes were equipped with TIS devices and that the Seneca’s TIS device was functioning earlier in the day prior to the collision. The court concluded that the district court did not improperly consider evidence of comparative negligence but rather based its decision on Plaintiffs’ failure to prove the elements of their negligence claim. View "Perry Hodges, et al. v. USA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a three-count maritime negligence action against Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (“Royal Caribbean”) after she fell aboard one of its cruise ships. She alleged that during the ship’s muster drill, a Royal Caribbean employee rushed her down a set of stairs—causing her to fall and severely injure her neck. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Royal Caribbean. First, on Count I (general negligence) and Count II (negligent failure to warn), the district court found that Plaintiff failed to show that Royal Caribbean had notice of the dangerous conditions that allegedly caused her fall. Second, on Count III (general negligence against Royal Caribbean for its employee’s conduct under a theory of vicarious liability), the district court determined that Plaintiff put forth insufficient evidence of medical causation.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that looking to Florida negligence law: non-readily observable injuries require expert medical evidence to prove causation. The court concluded that Plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient medical evidence to satisfy proximate cause. And because proximate cause must be satisfied for each of Plaintiff’s three negligence-based claims to prevail, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Royal Caribbean. View "Judith Willis v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD." on Justia Law

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In January 2021, many customers of the online financial services company Robinhood were aggressively buying specific stocks known as “meme stocks” in a frenzy that generated widespread attention. Robinhood suddenly restricted its customers’ ability to buy these meme stocks (but not their ability to sell them). Some Robinhood customers who could not buy the restricted stocks brought this putative class action, seeking to represent both Robinhood customers and all other holders of the restricted meme stocks nationwide who sold the stocks during a certain period. As Robinhood customers, they allege that they lost money because Robinhood stopped them from acquiring an asset that would have continued to increase in value.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claims. The court explained that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim. The court explained that its contract with Robinhood gives the company the specific right to restrict its customers’ ability to trade securities and to refuse to accept any of their transactions. Thus, the court wrote that because Robinhood had the right to do exactly what it did, Plaintiffs’ claims in agency and contract cannot stand. And under basic principles of tort law, Robinhood had no tort duty to avoid causing purely economic loss. View "Andrea Juncadella, et al v. Robinhood Financial LLC, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, seeking to recover damages he allegedly suffered in an accident with a U.S. Postal Service truck. To meet his burden to show that the crash caused his injuries, Plaintiff planned to rely on expert testimony from several doctors who treated him after the crash. the district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment. Both the “Court’s orders and Florida law are clear,” it said, that “to prove causation, prognosis, and/or future implications of the injury, the Plaintiff must satisfy Rule 26(a)(2)(B)’s requirements.” The district court held that none of Plaintiff’s filings satisfied those requirements and conducted no analysis on whether they satisfied Rule 26(a)(2)(C).   The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the government. The court remanded this case to the district court for further proceedings. On remand, the court wrote that the district court should address whether Plaintiff’s disclosures complied with Rule 26(a)(2)(C), or it should issue a new scheduling order invoking its discretionary authority to adjust the default requirements of Rule 26(a)(2). The court affirmed the denial of Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The court explained that no rule requires any non-retained expert witness to file a written report under Rule 26(a)(2)(B). And whether a doctor is retained (or not) depends on whether she was hired to testify or to treat. But district courts retain the discretionary power to tailor disclosure requirements. The court wrote that here, the district court misunderstood that its power to require detailed submissions from Plaintiff’s witnesses was discretionary. View "Cajule Cedant v. USA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff The Highland Consulting Group, Inc. (“Highland”), a consulting firm, sued Defendant for misappropriating its trade secrets under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”). At trial, the jury returned a verdict of $1.2 million in favor of plaintiff Highland. The district court carefully used a special verdict form on which the jury answered questions and made specific findings on each element of plaintiff Highland’s claims. On appeal, Defendant does not challenge the jury’s findings that the documents he took contained trade secrets and that he misappropriated those trade secrets. Instead, Defendant contends that (1) Plaintiff failed to prove it was an “owner” of those trade secrets, as required by the DTSA, and (2) the district court erred in denying his motions for judgment as a matter of law, or alternatively for a new trial on this ground.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff Highland, the court concluded that the record contains sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that Plaintiff owned “any”—in other words, at least one—of the trade secrets involved here. The court wrote that the evidence, in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Highland, demonstrated the plaintiff owned multiple trade secrets misappropriated by Defendant. View "The Highland Consulting Group, Inc. v. Jesus Felix Minjares Soule" on Justia Law