U.S. Eighth Circuit

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


In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the U.S. Supreme Court told us that the Federal Arbitration Act overrides state contract law if a contract contains an arbitration clause. In American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, the Court upheld an arbitration agreement's class action waiver even when the cost of arbitrating a federal antitrust claim would exceed the recovery amount.

This approach has it critics. Notably, Judge Richard Posner said that class action waivers effectively eliminate litigation: "The realistic alternative to a class action is not 17 million individual suits, but zero individual suits, as only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30."

Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee Alltel Communication v. Rosenow to be the Supreme Court's next class action/arbitration case.

"When I took my oath of office as a federal district judge in 1992, I knew that someday I might condemn an innocent man to die. I willingly accepted that risk when I took that oath, and I willingly accept that risk now. I will have to live with my knowing choice if such a horror comes to pass. I will have no one to blame but myself."

Early this month, a death row inmate was exonerated, thanks to a little DNA that was recently uncovered and tested. This was not particularly remarkable -- there have been many DNA-based exonerations over the last couple of decades. But the case drew attention because of a passing reference to the crime by Justice Antonin Scalia, who mocked the inmate's appeal while discussing Justice Blackmun's famous "tinker with the machinery of death" dissent.

At the time, we noted that both Justice Scalia and Justice Blackmun were assuming that the defendant was guilty -- Blackmun later argued for leniency because of the inmate's IQ, not factual innocence. But because Justice Scalia has a way with words, he himself was mocked by the press, including a particularly harsh take by "Digby," a blogger writing for Salon. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf, a trial judge for the District of Nebraska who imposes the death penalty, penned an equally harsh (and hilarious) response in his usual, frank style.

And then, in a follow-up, he wrote something even greater: insight into what it is like to be a judge who imposes the death penalty, sometimes, maybe, on innocent defendants.

Here's one way to solve the problems with Hobby Lobby: All the health insurance companies in the country can agree that they won't sell any insurance policy that doesn't contain contraceptive coverage. That's sort of what happened in Annex Medical v. Burwell.

Annex is a small corporation with 16 full-time employees. Its controlling shareholder, Stuart Lind, has a religious objection to providing contraception to female employees as part of a health insurance plan. He was shocked -- shocked! -- to find out that the Blue Cross plan he selected for his employees contained contraceptive coverage. He called Blue Cross to see if they could exclude that coverage, but Blue Cross refused. In fact, no insurer Lind contacted would exclude contraceptive coverage.

"Has the Eighth Circuit gone nuts?" It's a fair question, one posed by the venerable U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf after the Eighth Circuit affirmed a downward departure of between 135 and 168 months Abby Rae Cole.

The trial court, which sentenced Cole to three years of probation, noted that she was part of "one of the largest corporate frauds in Minnesota history" (a $33 million rip-off of Best Buy) and "was also a significant tax fraud" (she dodged $3 million in taxes).

Nonetheless, both the district court and the appeals court felt that she deserved leniency. Why?

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.