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

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Petitioner failed to report millions of dollars in income. After an audit, an IRS examiner sent him a letter that said Petitioner owed penalties on top of his back taxes. Petitioner tried to negotiate without success; the examiner’s direct supervisor signed a second letter, which proposed the same penalties, as well as a form approving those penalties. The Tax Court disallowed the penalties, holding that the supervisor’s approval came too late because she had not approved the penalties at the time of the first letter. The IRS appealed, arguing that the Tax Court misinterpreted Section 6751(b)’s requirements.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the Tax Court. The court explained that the statute prohibits assessing a penalty unless a condition has been met—supervisory approval of the initial determination of an assessment. But the statute regulates assessments; it does not regulate communications to the taxpayer. Because the IRS did not assess Petitioner’s penalties without a supervisor approving an “initial determination of such assessment,” the court held that the IRS has not violated Section 6751(b). View "Burt Kroner v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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Plaintiff alleged that Preferred Collection had disclosed information about his debt to a third party—the mail vendor—in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Following the revised opinion, the full Eleventh Circuit voted to take the case en banc. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s order and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case without prejudice. The court held that Plaintiff did not have standing, thus the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider his claim.   The court explained that Plaintiff is simply no worse off because Preferred Collection delegated the task of populating data into a form letter to a mail vendor; the public is not aware of his debt (at least, not because of Preferred Collection’s disclosure to its vendor). Nor is it clear, or even likely, that even a single person at the mail vendor knew about the debt or had any reason—good, bad, or otherwise— to disclose it to the public if they did. Given the obvious differences between these facts and the traditional tort of public disclosure, the court found that no concrete harm was suffered here. View "Richard Hunstein v. Preferred Collection and Management Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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For almost a decade, Chiquita Brands International, Inc. (“Chiquita”) funded a violent, paramilitary terrorist group operating in Colombia. After class certification in Cardona was denied in 2019, the Plaintiffs here filed this Complaint in federal district court in New Jersey, raising state and Colombian law claims. The case was eventually transferred by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) to the Southern District of Florida. That court dismissed the Colombian law claims as time-barred, despite the Plaintiffs’ contention that they should have a right to equitable tolling under the rule announced by the Supreme Court in American Pipe.   The Plaintiffs challenge that determination, and they also say that the district court abused its discretion in denying their request to amend the Complaint to (1) support their claim for minority tolling, and (2) add claims under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that although there is a square conflict between Colombian law and federal law in this diversity action, under Erie, Colombia’s law prevails over the rule announced in American Pipe. However, the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Complaint with prejudice without having allowed the Plaintiffs the opportunity to amend to support their minority tolling argument, although the district court correctly denied the Plaintiffs’ application to amend their Complaint to include Alien Tort Statute claims. View "Jane Doe 8 v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Following a government investigation into an afterschool program run by Plaintiff Chabad Chayil, Inc., Defendant Miami-Dade County Public Schools (“MDCPS”) barred Chabad from continuing to use its facilities. Chabad sued both MDCPS and the investigating authority—Miami-Dade County’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”)—for alleged violations of its federal constitutional rights. The district court dismissed those claims with prejudice and without leave to amend, and Chabad appealed.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed concluding that the district court properly dismissed all of Chabad’s Section 1983 claims against the MDCPS and OIG, and the court affirmed the dismissal of those claims without leave to amend.   The court explained that the unspecified acts of unidentified OIG investigators in this single case do not plausibly allege an official policy of the OIG, or even a custom that rises to the force of law. Thus, the district court properly dismissed the Free Exercise claim against the OIG. Further, Chabad did not demonstrate that its comparators were similarly situated in all relevant respects. Accordingly, the district court correctly dismissed the Equal Protection claim against the OIG. Moreover, the court explained that to impose liability under Section 1983, the government entity’s actions must be the “moving force” behind the deprivation of a constitutional right. The OIG does not have the authority to refuse any group permission to use school board property–that power lies with MDCPS. Thus, even if the OIG did act in accordance with some official policy or custom, that policy or custom did not cause Chabad’s harm. View "Chabad Chayil, Inc. v. The School Board of Miami-Dade County Florida, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff wrote and recorded the song “Everything Be Lit,” which he later copyrighted. Then Plaintiff filed suit against several parties and Think It’s a Game Records (TIG) for copyright infringement based on one of Defendant’s recordings and release of a similar song “Everyday We Lit.” Two co-defendants failed to respond to the initial complaint and the district court entered a default against them. Plaintiff later filed an amended complaint, requesting among other forms of relief, actual profits, jointly and severally, from Defendants.   One Defendant raised several issues on appeal, including that the district court erred in using Plaintiff’s amended complaint as the basis for the default judgment because the amended complaint stated a new claim for relief, and Plaintiff failed to serve the amended complaint on Defendant as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.   The Eleventh Circuit agreed that the amended complaint stated a new claim for relief, and therefore, the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiff did not have to serve the amended complaint on Defendant. Accordingly, the court vacated the default judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that the Copyright Act did not put Defendant on notice that he could be subject to joint and several liability for actual damages and profits. Thus, Plaintiff’s claim for actual damages plus profits, jointly and severally, constituted a new claim for relief. View "Anthony Campbell v. June James" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted by a jury of transporting his three adopted daughters across state lines so that he could sexually abuse them. Defendant’s wife knew what he was doing and was convicted of aiding and abetting. Defendants made an across-the-board effort to challenge their convictions, claiming that their indictment was flawed and that several evidentiary errors infected the trial.   Other than the restitution order, which the Eleventh Circuit partially vacated, the court affirmed Defendants’ convictions and sentences. The court explained that it is best practice to include the statutes criminalizing the sexual activity that Defendants planned to inflict on the transported child. That best practice was not followed here. Even so, the indictment was detailed enough to notify Defendants of the charges against them.   Further, the court explained that a reasonable jury could easily conclude that Defendant kept the girls close by so that he could abuse them on demand. And it follows that Defendant brought the girls with him on the various trips to have them accessible when he wanted to grope or rape them. The jury had sufficient evidence to convict Defendant of traveling and bringing the girls with him to sexually abuse them.  Further, a reasonable jury could easily conclude that Defendant’s wife helped him keep his abuse a secret. She began abusing the girls herself—not sexually, it’s true, but physically and verbally. In regards to Defendant's argument that the district court mishandled several evidentiary issues, the court held that none of those evidentiary decisions, in isolation or together, amount to reversible error. View "USA v. Mack Doak, et al." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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This appeal arises from a massive and complex multi-district litigation proceeding based on claims—brought in part under the Torture Victim Protection Act, 28 U.S.C. Section 1350, and Colombian law—that Chiquita Brands International and some of its executives provided financial support to the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, which murdered thousands of persons in Colombia. In a dozen bellwether cases, the district court issued a comprehensive order granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants. After excluding some of Plaintiffs’ evidence, the court ultimately concluded that the Plaintiffs “fail[ed] to identify any admissible evidence” in support of their allegations that the AUC had killed their respective decedents.   On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the district court abused its discretion in excluding much of their evidence and that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment on their claims. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, reversed in part, and dismissed in part. With respect to the evidentiary rulings, the court concluded that the district court got some right and some wrong. As to the merits, the court held that most of the bellwether Plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to withstand summary judgment with respect to whether the AUC was responsible for the deaths of their decedents. On the cross-appeals, the court did not reach the arguments presented by the individual Defendants. View "Does 1 Through 976, et al. v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioners, a group comprised of municipalities, individuals, and a nonprofit organization all based in South Florida, filed this petition for review, claiming that the FAA violated the National Environmental Protection Act (“NEPA”), the Clean Air Act, the Department of Transportation Act, and the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process Clause. Among other things, Petitioners say the FAA’s Purpose and Need Statement was seriously deficient in violation of NEPA; its Cumulative Impact Assessment was improper and violated NEPA.   The Eleventh Circuit denied the petitions for review concluding that none of the Petitioners’ claims have merit. The court held that the FAA scrupulously adhered to the requirements of the relevant statutes and afforded the public numerous opportunities to comment on the proposed changes. The court explained that the FAA engaged in an exhaustive study of the South-Central Florida Metroplex Project’s impact on the environment and noise levels in the affected area, and it found no significant impact. It also provided ample opportunity for the various stakeholders to learn about and comment on the project and complied with all procedural requirements. View "City of North Miami v. FAA, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs here—proposed class representatives of former employees of various Burger King franchisees—plausibly alleged that Burger King and its franchisees engaged in “concerted action” in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The district court, though, dismissed the Plaintiffs’ complaint on the basis that Burger King and its franchisees constituted. A single economic enterprise and were not capable of the concerted action that a Section 1 violation requires.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that the complaint plausibly alleged concerted action. The court explained that the No-Hire Agreement removes that ability and also prohibits the hiring of any Burger King employee for six months after they have left another Burger King restaurant. In this way, the No-Hire Agreement “deprive[s] the marketplace of independent centers of decisionmaking [about hiring], and therefore of actual or potential competition.” For this reason, the court wrote, that the Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the No-Hire Agreement qualifies under Section 1 of the Sherman Act as “concerted activity,” and the Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that aspect of a Sherman Act Section 1 violation. View "Jarvis Arrington, et al v. Burger King Worldwide, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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Appellant Spring Valley Produce, Inc. (SVP) is a creditor of Chapter 7 debtors Nathan and Marsha Forrest (the Forrests). The Forrests owe a pre-petition debt for produce which they are seeking to discharge. SVP initiated this adversary proceeding, seeking a declaration that the debt was nondischargeable under Section 523(a)(4). The bankruptcy court granted the Forrests’ motion to dismiss and held that Section 523(a)(4) does not apply to Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) related debts. At issue on appeal is whether the Bankruptcy Code’s exception to discharge in 11 U.S.C. Sections 523(a)(4) applies to debts incurred by a produce buyer who is acting as a trustee under PACA.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s order dismissing SVP’s claims because Section 523(a)(4) does not accept debts incurred by a PACA trustee from discharge. The court explained debts incurred by a produce buyer acting as a PACA trustee are not excepted from discharge under Section 523(a)(4). While a PACA trust does identify a trustee, beneficiary, and trust res, thus satisfying the first step of our analysis, it does not impose sufficient trust-like duties to fit the narrow definition of a technical trust under Section 523(a)(4). PACA does not impose the duties to segregate trust assets and refrain from using trust assets for a non-trust purpose, which are strong indicia of a technical trust. Instead, a PACA trust more closely resembles a constructive or resulting trust, which do not fall within Section 523(a)(4)’s exception to discharge. View "Spring Valley Produce, Inc., et al v. Nathan Aaron Forrest, et al" on Justia Law