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

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Mother filed suit under the Hague Convention, seeking the return of her daughter from Florida back to Chile. The district court found that mother made a prima facie case that father hand wrongfully retained daughter, but that mother had consented to the retention and thus was not entitled to the daughter's return. The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the district court made critical errors of fact and law in its order. The court held that none of the testimony that father did give could be interpreted as constituting a denial that he threatened mother. The court also held that the district court improperly, but expressly, shifted the burden back to mother on the consent issue. Therefore, the district court erroneously treated her allegation that she signed the consent letter as a result of father's threat as a formal allegation of "duress" that she had to prove by a preponderance of the evidence. View "Berenguela-Alvarado v. Castanos" on Justia Law

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Florida's 2018 U.S. Senate election triggered a statewide recount. The Democratic Executive Committee challenged the signature-match requirements of Florida’s vote-by-mail statute, which gave voters who learned that their votes had been blocked for signature mismatch until “5 p.m. one day before the election” to verify their identities by submitting an affidavit and an accepted form of identification. They also challenged Florida’s law allowing prospective voters who could not prove their eligibility to cast provisional ballots; provisional ballots rejected because of signature mismatch could not be cured after the fact. The district court entered a modified preliminary injunction allowing the “ballots of those voters who were belatedly notified of signature mismatch” to be counted, provided that “those voters timely verified their identities.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) sought an emergency stay, which was denied by the Eleventh Circuit. The preliminary injunction expired two days later. About three months later, the motions panel issued an opinion explaining its denial of the emergency stay. In 2019, S.B. 7066, significantly amended the signature-match provisions. The plaintiffs dismissed their lawsuit. Defendants moved to dismiss their appeal of the preliminary injunction. The NRSC agreed that the case was moot but moved to vacate the order granting a preliminary injunction and the stay-panel opinion. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that it retained jurisdiction to consider the proposed motions but declined to vacate the prior opinions because they will not have negative collateral effects on any party. View "Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. National Republican Senatorial Committee" on Justia Law

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Relying on an earlier decision (Rabun County), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a decision ordering the removal of a 34-foot Latin cross from the City of Pensacola’s Bayview Park, finding that the maintenance of the cross violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. While the city's petition for certiorari was pending, the Supreme Court held, in "American Legion," that a 32-foot Latin cross on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court vacated the earlier decision and remanded for further consideration in light of American Legion. On remand, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that it remains bound by Rabun to conclude that plaintiffs have Article III standing to challenge Pensacola’s maintenance of the cross but that American Legion abrogates Rabun to the extent that the latter disregarded evidence of “historical acceptance.” When "American Legion" is applied, the cross’s presence on city property does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Bayview cross (in one iteration or another) stood in the same location for more than 75 years; there is no evidence of the city's original purpose in its placement. The message and purposes of the cross have changed over time. A strong presumption of constitutionality” attaches to “established” monuments, View "Kondrat'yev v. City of Pensacola," on Justia Law

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In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a state constitutional amendment that automatically restored voting rights to ex-felons who had completed all of the terms of their sentences. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the "legal financial obligation" (LFO) requirement in Senate Bill 7066, which implemented the Amendment and interpreted its language to require payment of all fines, fees and restitution imposed as part of the sentence. The district court ultimately issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to allow the named plaintiffs to register and vote if they are able to show that they are genuinely unable to pay their LFOs and would otherwise be eligible to vote under Amendment 4. The state appealed. The Eleventh Circuit held that the LFO requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to these plaintiffs. The court stated that it was undeniable that the LFO requirement punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can, and denying access to the franchise to those genuinely unable to pay solely on account of wealth does not survive heightened scrutiny. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its considerable discretion in balancing the equitable factors for a preliminary injunction. Furthermore, under Florida law the unconstitutional application of the LFO requirement was easily severable from the remainder of Amendment 4. Accordingly, the court affirmed the preliminary injunction entered by the district court. View "Jones v. Governor of Florida" on Justia Law

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Royal Palm Properties filed suit against Pink Palm Properties for infringing its registered service mark on the phrase "Royal Palm Properties." Pink Palm Properties counterclaimed, challenging the validity of the mark. The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred by flipping the jury's verdict and by granting judgment as a matter of law on Pink Palm Properties' trademark-invalidation counterclaim. The court held that Pink Palm Properties failed to show that no reasonable jury could have found that it failed to prove grounds for cancelling Royal Palm Properties' mark. In this case, Pink Palm Properties' argument that the service mark lacked distinctiveness, and that the mark was confusingly similar to the "Royale Palms" marks, did not entitle it to judgment as a matter of law on its claim that the "Royal Palm Properties" mark was invalid. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Royal Palm Properties, LLC v. Pink Palm Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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Hamid Sow, a citizen of Guinea, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) denial of his motion to remand based upon ineffective assistance of counsel, and motion to reopen based upon new evidence. In December 2016, Sow entered the United States and immediately applied for asylum because he was a homosexual, and the stigma of being a homosexual in a devout Muslim community in his homeland meant danger for himself and his family. Sow only spoke French, and relied on other detainees to relate information to his attorney. Without a translator, Sow's counsel did not fully understand Sow’s concerns: Sow tried to communicate to his counsel that the content of affidavits counsel “did not match up with what happened.” When asked about discrepancies in facts from the affidavits presented, Sow responded he could not explain them because he did not have an opportunity to read them. In his oral decision, the IJ said that he “unfortunately” had to deny Sow’s application based solely on an adverse credibility finding. In coming to this conclusion, the IJ specifically highlighted the inconsistencies in statements made in affidavits. He noted that, if it were true that Sow were a homosexual, then he “clearly should get” asylum. Sow, represented by new counsel, appealed to the BIA. He argued that the IJ erred in failing to assess Sow’s well-founded fear of future persecution. The BIA denied Sow’s motion to remand. It held that the IJ did not clearly err in making an adverse credibility determination and the record did not establish that Sow was entitled to relief “independent of his discredited claim of past harm.” It also denied Sow’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, reasoning that counsel “reasonably relied on, and submitted the evidence provided by, the respondent and his friends.” The Eleventh Circuit concluded the BIA abused its discretion in denying Sow’s motion to remand based on ineffective assistance of counsel. It therefore granted Sow’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s decisions, and remanded to the BIA with instructions to remand to the IJ for reconsideration of Sow’s asylum application. View "Sow v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Of two people injured in a car wreck in April 2012, one was a Medicare beneficiary who received her benefits from an MAO-Florida Healthcare Plus, which later assigned its claims to appellant MSPA Claims 1, LLC. The other party involved in the accident was insured by appellee Kingsway Amigo Insurance. The Medicare beneficiary obtained medical treatment for her accident-related injuries between April 29, 2012 and July 26, 2012, and Florida Healthcare made $21,965 in payments on her behalf. On March 28, 2013, the beneficiary settled a personal-injury claim with Kingsway and received a $6,667 settlement payment. The issue this case presented for the Eleventh Circuit’s review centered on the timeliness requirement with which the government had to comply as a prerequisite to filing suit to seek reimbursements that it made on behalf of the Medicare beneficiary, and whether filing suit beyond a statutory three-year period beginning on the date on which medical services were rendered was fatal to the government’s claim. The district court held that MSPA’s claim was stale because it didn’t comply with what the court (somewhat confusingly) called “the three-year limitation requirement.” The Eleventh Circuit disagreed and reversed. “The Medicare Secondary Payer Act’s private cause of action, and our cases interpreting it lead us to conclude that the Act’s claims-filing provision, doesn’t erect a separate bar that private plaintiffs must overcome in order to sue. A closer look at the claims-filing provision’s text and the Act’s structure confirms that conclusion. Accordingly, the district court erred in granting Kingsway’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.” View "MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Kingsway Amigo Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the city, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of her Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and a state-law claim under Georgia law for false imprisonment. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from her misdemeanor proceedings in municipal court for failure to maintain automobile liability insurance as required by Georgia law. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's section 1983 claims, holding that the municipal court was exercising its judicial power under Georgia law to adjudicate a state-law offense, not a violation of a city or county ordinance, and thus was not acting on behalf of the city. However, the court held that the district court failed to address plaintiff's state-law claim for false imprisonment and therefore remanded for further proceedings on that claim. The court stated that, because there are some Georgia cases suggesting that the invalidity of a warrant may permit a false imprisonment claim, it was best for the district court to consider that claim in the first instance. View "Teagan v. City of McDonough" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a student loan borrower, filed suit against PHEAA under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act after it tried to collect a debt she never incurred. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that PHEAA, which guarantees federal student loans for the Secretary of Education, is not a "debt collector" under the Act. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed and agreed with the district court that PHEAA fell within an exception for persons who collect debts "incidental to a bona fide fiduciary obligation." The court stated that the text of the Act makes clear that a person may attempt to collect a debt "incidential to a bona fide fiduciary obligation" whether the debt sought to be collected is "owed or due" another or only "asserted to be owed or due another." Therefore, plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that PHEAA qualified as a debt collector. View "Darrisaw v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief. Petitioner argued that he would not have pleaded guilty to access device fraud and aggravated identity theft but for his counsel's erroneous advice concerning the deportation consequences of his plea. The district court assumed, without deciding, that petitioner's attorney's performance was deficient. The court declined to assume that counsel's performance was deficient and held, instead, that counsel's performance was not deficient and petitioner failed to satisfy his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel. In this case, counsel could not have predicted the district court's fraud loss findings. Furthermore, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying an evidentiary hearing under 28 U.S.C. 2255. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law