U.S. Eighth Circuit

U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


This one's a doozy.

Jane Doe met Sammy Hagar in 1983 when she was working as a Playboy bunny at the Playboy Club in Lansing, Michigan. In 1988, Doe told Hagar she was pregnant and he was the father, which he denied, but signed an agreement with Doe, anyway. The child was born, but died shortly afterward. In a 2011 autobiography, Hagar said that the paternity claim was just an attempt to extort money out of him and he doubts there ever was a baby at all. Doe sued for defamation. The district court granted summary judgment for Hagar. In a ruling today, the Eighth Circuit reversed some of that summary judgment.

I think that about sums it up.

Raphael L. Donnell was convicted of conspiring to distribute ecstasy. His career offender sentence enhancement was upheld on appeal to the Eighth Circuit, but while the appeal was pending, King v. United States was decided by the same circuit court. King would have nixed the sentence enhancement, but his attorney didn't notice the opinion because it was handed down after briefing in Donnell's case, but before his sentence was affirmed.

King holds that when two concurrent and equal sentences are handed down, and one of them doesn't qualify for criminal history points, there's no way to determine whether either can qualify as a predicate for career offender status. In these rare instances, the benefit of the doubt lands in the defendant's favor thanks to the Rule of Lenity. King is now on shaky ground, rejected by the neighboring Sixth Circuit, and treated to a multi-page dicta rant here.

Is King dead? And was Donnell's counsel ineffective for not reading our blog and studying every opinion that came out of the Eighth Circuit while his client's case was pending?

When is a bank liable for a customer's Ponzi scheme? Tom Petters started a company called Petters Capital, which he claimed purchased excess merchandise and sold it to companies like Sam's Club. Sounds great -- except he never did that. He faked purchase orders and paid old investors with the money he received from new investors. You know, like you do in a Ponzi scheme.

Petters defrauded a lot of big banks and investors in his $3.65 billion scheme. Palm Beach Funds, a private equity firm, lost $700 million, and it sure wasn't going to get it from Petters. Instead, it sued the bank where the money was kept in escrow before Petters transferred it to Palm Beach, on the theory that US Bank breached its fiduciary duties and committed all the kinds of negligence. The Eighth Circuit disagreed.

El Dorado Chemical Company (EDCC) makes chemicals. Flat Creek, Haynes Creek, and two unnamed tributaries (UTA and UTB) don't make anything, but they're waterways in Arkansas with little fishies in them. The EPA protects the fishies. As part of its operations, EDCC discharges minerals into the water.

This is OK -- a little bit. Arkansas enforces water standards through a program called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). A company can't discharge things into the water without a permit from NPDES, which includes limitations on amount and type of discharge; the EPA must approve these permits.

My home state is burning and it is a disturbing sight to behold. Protestors, mad about the death of an unarmed teenager, are tearing down their own neighborhood. Police officers, defending one of their own, are hiding the officer's identify and responding in a militaristic fashion against unarmed citizens and reporters.

Let's be very clear here, we're not taking a side, but with so many videos and accounts of seemingly unconstitutional acts by local law enforcement, lawyers may be wondering along with us: how would one defend some of these violations?

Once in a while you come across a case that brings you back to your first year of law school contracts class. Earlier this month, the Eighth Circuit took us down memory lane when it decided a contracts case, which dealt with the fundamental issue of whether a contract was even formed.

Offer and acceptance, condition precedents and the parol evidence rule are just some of the fundamental contract principles that this case touches upon. As a contracts law nerd, this case was an exciting read, but if you don't share my enthusiasm (thank you Professor Brickman), then perhaps the summary below will suffice.

Missouri doesn't use the two-drug protocol that left a man in Ohio gasping and convulsing during his execution, and stretched an Arizona man's execution to nearly two hours. And it doesn't use propofol, the drug that killed Michael Jackson, though it tried. (The drug manufacturer threatened to stop selling it stateside before Missouri backed down.)

Since October, the Show-Me State uses only one drug, pentobarbital, which it obtains from a compound pharmacy at $11,000 a hit. And so far, it works: seven executions this year so far, which according to Time, is a record-setting pace for the state.

For 28 years, Michael Thompson smoked cigarettes. He stopped when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997. Following the diagnosis, he sued the manufacturers and distributors of the cigarettes in a personal injury action. A state court granted summary judgment for the distributors, but not for the manufacturers. The case against manufacturers R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson went to trial, and Thompson obtained a verdict of more than $1 million in his favor.

After Thompson died in 2009, his wife and children brought a wrongful death suit against all the previous defendants. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Thompson v. R.J. Reynolds based on Missouri's "one recovery" rule.

In 2012, M.A., an 11 -year-old girl in Nebraska, began to receive unsolicited sexually explicit messages on Facebook from a fictional individual named Bob Shepard. Local law enforcement investigated and soon discovered that Bob Shepard was actually Jeffrey Anderson.

Anderson is M.A.'s half-brother.

An officer took control over M.A.'s Facebook account and, sure enough, Anderson continued with his dark, incestuous fantasizing by sending a sexually explicit image to M.A.'s account. The image, which originally depicted two adults engaged in consensual fornication, had Anderson's half-sister's face superimposed on the adult female's body. The image was captioned: "This is what we will do."

Needless to say, he was arrested, convicted, and given a very long sentence of 120 months. He now argues that his conduct was protected speech under the First Amendment.

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Qualified immunity is the boon of government entities facing civil rights lawsuits under 42 USC § 1983. The hallmark of qualified immunity is that it "provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." It's designed to shield the government -- which usually ends up meaning "police officers" -- when government agents make honest mistakes about unsettled legal issues.

Now you can add this to the canon of acceptable police practice: Dropping off a questionably drunk man in the middle of the night in freezing weather and hoping everything goes swell.

Spoiler alert: The man died of hypothermia.

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