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

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The Center for a Sustainable Coast and its member, Karen Grainey, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleging that the Corps had issued a dock permit without a full environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Center claimed that several of its members regularly visit Cumberland Island, where the dock is located, and suffer an ongoing aesthetic injury due to the dock's presence. The Center argued that the environmental review the Corps skipped could have protected that interest.The district court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that the Center did not have standing because its harm was not redressable. The court reasoned that since the dock had already been built, the court’s ability to provide relief had ended along with construction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the Center had standing to bring at least one of its procedural rights claims. The court reasoned that the Center had identified a concrete aesthetic interest and pleaded that the NEPA process would protect that interest. Directing full NEPA review would thus redress the Center’s procedural injury. Furthermore, the permit issued by the Corps authorized not just the construction of the dock, but also its continued existence. Therefore, the case was not moot because the challenged project was already completed. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the Seashore Act claim, as the Center abandoned that argument on appeal. View "Center for a Sustainable Coast v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc. and Oxford Mall, LLC. Oxford Mall purchased a shopping center in a 2017 foreclosure sale and began a significant redevelopment plan. J.C. Penney, a tenant at the mall since 1968, had a lease that included the right to approve certain changes to the mall’s site plan. When J.C. Penney sought to exercise one of its remaining contractual options, Oxford denied the request, claiming that J.C. Penney was out of extension options. This led to a lawsuit filed by J.C. Penney in 2019, invoking the district court’s diversity jurisdiction.The case proceeded for two years under the assumption that diversity jurisdiction existed. However, in 2020, Oxford discovered that it was a citizen of Delaware, the same as J.C. Penney, which destroyed the court’s diversity jurisdiction. Despite this, Oxford continued to litigate in federal court and did not inform the court of the lack of jurisdiction until April 2021, after several unfavorable rulings.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to impose sanctions on Oxford Mall, LLC for its bad faith conduct. The court found that Oxford had actual knowledge that it was a citizen of Delaware, which destroyed the court’s diversity jurisdiction, and that Oxford's delay in disclosing the lack of diversity jurisdiction was strategic. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the amount of fees owed to J.C. Penney and in refusing to consider an irrelevant and untimely affidavit from Oxford's attorney. View "J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc. v. Oxford Mall, LLC" on Justia Law

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Angela Poer, a white woman, was employed as an Administrative Services Manager by the Jefferson County Commission. She alleged that her supervisor, a black woman, discriminated against her based on her race. Poer claimed that her request for a lateral transfer or reassignment was denied and that she was ultimately terminated due to her race. She sought damages including reinstatement and back pay.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Commission, finding that Poer failed to present any evidence showing that she was terminated or discriminated against because of her race. The court also declined to consider Poer’s argument that the Commission’s employment decisions were forms of retaliation in response to her grievances, as this argument was raised for the first time at summary judgment.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court found that Poer had not presented a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would support even an inference at summary judgment, let alone a jury finding at trial, that the Commission terminated her because of her race. The court also agreed with the district court that Poer could not raise a retaliation claim for the first time at summary judgment. View "Poer v. Jefferson County Commission" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between two tribally owned businesses, AQuate II, LLC and Kituwah Services, LLC, both of which compete for federal contracts under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program. AQuate alleges that Kituwah and its employee, Jessica Myers, stole trade secrets related to a government contract that AQuate had won in the past. AQuate claims that Myers, a former employee, breached her employment agreements and violated both the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 and the Alabama Trade Secrets Act. Kituwah, however, argues that it is shielded by tribal sovereign immunity, while Myers contends that her employment contract mandates that any claims against her can only be brought in a designated tribal court.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissed the case, finding that Kituwah had not waived sovereign immunity for the trade secrets claims and that the claims against Myers should be resolved in the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town court, as stipulated in her employment contract. AQuate appealed the decision, arguing that the tribal court did not exist.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. The appellate court found that Kituwah had waived sovereign immunity for claims related to the federal contracting program and could be sued. Regarding Myers, the court determined that the district court failed to consider whether the clause naming the allegedly nonexistent tribal court as the appropriate forum was valid and enforceable. The case was remanded for further consideration. View "Aquate II, LLC v. Myers" on Justia Law

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The case involves a Venezuelan couple, Carlos Cuenca Figueredo and Yauri Rojas, who had a son, C.R. After their separation and divorce, they shared custody of C.R. in Venezuela. However, Rojas took C.R. to the United States without Figueredo's knowledge or permission. Twenty months after Rojas left Venezuela with C.R., Figueredo filed a petition in the Middle District of Florida seeking his son’s return under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.The Middle District of Florida found that C.R. was settled in his new environment in the United States. The court considered factors such as C.R.'s stable residence, school attendance, community participation, and Rojas's employment and financial stability. The court also took into account C.R. and his mother's immigration status, noting that Rojas had been granted authorization to remain and work in the United States while her asylum application was pending. Consequently, the court denied Figueredo's petition for C.R.'s return.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court held that a child's immigration status is one relevant factor in determining whether a child is settled in a new environment. The court found that the district court did not err in finding that C.R. was settled in his new environment and did not abuse its discretion in refusing to order his return to Venezuela. View "Alberto Cuenca Figueredo v. Del Carmen Rojas" on Justia Law

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Derrick Morley was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five hundred grams or more of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute five hundred grams or more of cocaine. Morley was sentenced to 60 months’ imprisonment for each count, to be served concurrently. He appealed his convictions and sentence, arguing that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence, the trial evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, the district court erred in providing a deliberate ignorance jury instruction, and the district court erred in denying him a safety valve sentence reduction.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied Morley's motion to suppress the cocaine that was taken from his vehicle without a warrant. The court found that there was probable cause to believe Morley’s car contained contraband or evidence of a crime and that apparent authority existed under the circumstances. Morley proceeded to a four-day jury trial and was found guilty as charged in the indictment. The district court denied Morley's motion for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Morley’s convictions and sentence. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the automobile exception applied, allowing for a warrantless search of Morley's car. The court also found that the trial evidence was sufficient to support Morley's convictions and that the district court did not err in providing a deliberate ignorance jury instruction. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Morley's request for a reduced sentence, finding that Morley was ineligible for the safety valve reduction in light of a recent Supreme Court decision. View "USA v. Morley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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B'Quan Ferguson was convicted for possession of a firearm by a felon, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The conviction followed an incident where local police officers in Savannah, Georgia, recognized Ferguson as the subject of an ongoing investigation. The officers found a pistol in Ferguson's vehicle, and a DNA test confirmed that Ferguson's DNA was present on the pistol. Ferguson was subsequently charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.Previously, Ferguson had been convicted under Georgia law for threatening physical harm to a witness, which was considered a "violent felony" under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). This prior conviction led to Ferguson being classified as an armed career criminal, which mandated a minimum sentence of 15 years. Ferguson objected to this classification, arguing that his Georgia conviction for threatening a witness did not qualify as a violent felony for ACCA enhancement purposes. The district court overruled Ferguson's objection and sentenced him to 180 months' imprisonment.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Ferguson argued that his prior Georgia conviction did not qualify as a "violent felony" under ACCA. The court disagreed, concluding that the Georgia statute under which Ferguson was convicted was divisible and that a conviction for threatening physical harm under the statute qualifies as a violent felony under ACCA. The court affirmed the district court's judgment, upholding Ferguson's sentence. View "USA v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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Sanchez Hicks, a convicted felon, was indicted on two counts of firearm possession. He pleaded guilty to both counts. At sentencing, it was undisputed that Hicks had two prior Georgia convictions for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The presentence investigation report recommended a base offense level of 24, citing U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(2), which applies when the defendant committed his firearm offense after two felony convictions for a “crime of violence” as defined in § 4B1.2(a), which includes “aggravated assault.” Hicks objected, arguing that his Georgia convictions were not “crimes of violence.” The district court overruled Hicks’s objection, citing a previous Eleventh Circuit ruling that a Georgia conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon qualifies as a crime of violence.The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court relied on its previous ruling in United States v. Morales-Alonso, which held that a Georgia conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon qualifies as a “crime of violence” under U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2. The court rejected Hicks's argument that the Georgia offense requires a mens rea of only recklessness, whereas generic aggravated assault requires a mens rea of “extreme indifference to human life.” The court held that Morales-Alonso foreclosed Hicks’s claim, as it had already concluded that Georgia aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is not categorically broader than generic aggravated assault. Therefore, the court affirmed Hicks's 96-month total sentence. View "USA v. Hicks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves Victor Hill, the former Sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia, who was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 242 for using his position to deprive detainees in his custody of their constitutional rights. Hill ordered individual detainees, who were neither violent nor uncontrollable, into a restraint chair for at least four hours, with their hands cuffed behind their backs and without bathroom breaks. Each detainee suffered injuries, such as “open and bleeding” wounds, lasting scars, or nerve damage.Hill was convicted by a jury in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. He appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that he lacked fair warning that his conduct was unconstitutional, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, and that the district court improperly handled allegations of juror misconduct.The Eleventh Circuit rejected Hill's arguments and affirmed his conviction. The court found that case law provided Hill with fair warning that his actions violated constitutional rights. The court also found that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's conclusion that Hill's conduct had no legitimate nonpunitive purpose, was willful, and caused the detainees’ injuries. Lastly, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in investigating and responding to alleged juror misconduct. View "United States v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Two consumers, Tanethia Holden and Mark Mayer, entered into separate purchase agreements for timeshares with Holiday Inn Club Vacations Inc. Both stopped making monthly payments and considered their agreements to be canceled. However, Holiday disagreed and reported their debts to Experian, a consumer reporting agency. After unsuccessful attempts to resolve their disputes with Holiday, both Holden and Mayer filed individual actions under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), alleging that Holiday inaccurately reported that they owed debts and failed to reasonably investigate their disputes.The District Courts granted summary judgment for Holiday in both cases, finding the alleged inaccuracies were legal disputes and therefore not actionable under the FCRA. The courts reasoned that a plaintiff asserting a claim against a furnisher for failure to conduct a reasonable investigation cannot prevail on the claim without demonstrating that had the furnisher conducted a reasonable investigation, the result would have been different; i.e., that the furnisher would have discovered that the information it reported was inaccurate or incomplete.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower courts' decisions, but for a different reason. The court held that whether the alleged inaccuracy is factual or legal is beside the point. Instead, what matters is whether the alleged inaccuracy was objectively and readily verifiable. In this case, it was not. Thus, Mayer and Holden had no actionable FCRA claims. The court declined to impose a bright-line rule that only purely factual or transcription errors are actionable under the FCRA. Instead, it held that in determining whether a claimed inaccuracy is potentially actionable under the FCRA, a court must determine whether the information in dispute is 'objectively and readily verifiable.' View "Tanethia Holden v. Holiday Inn Club Vacations Incorporated" on Justia Law