U.S. Eighth Circuit

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


While we were away for the holidays, news surfaced that Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor who failed to secure an indictment against Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, may have withheld a teensy bit of information from the grand jury.

McCulloch said on December 19 that he put anyone who claimed to have seen the event in front of the grand jury, even if they were knowingly lying, and even if McCulloch knew they were lying.

Where does that get you?

We're wrapping up our 2014 "year in review" series, continuing with a circuit close to my heart -- the Eighth Circuit, home of my native land of Missouri.

What happened in the Eighth Circuit this year? A whole lot of everything, actually. Unlike most other circuits, there were no gay marriage appeals to take over the headlines. Instead, this circuit dealt with everything ordinary: prisoners' rights litigation, allegedly dangerous drugs, and lawyers acting stupid.

Here are your Top 10 Eighth Circuit blog posts for 2014:

Arrivederci, Judge Kermit Bye!

On Wednesday, the Eighth Circuit judge's office confirmed that Bye will assume senior status this spring -- April 22, to be exact -- in order to reduce his caseload and spend more time with his family, The Associated Press reports. The move will be on the 15th anniversary of his appointment to the Eighth Circuit bench (April 22, 2000).

Though Judge Bye surely has had a number of significant opinions over the years, his lambasting of the State of Missouri in two recent death penalty cases -- both of which ended in executions before the federal courts could review the inmates' final challenges -- were especially passionate and memorable.

Arbitration clauses are everywhere, and we write about them a lot. Whether it's Sirius XM, Indian tribe payday lenders, or cell phone companies, we've seen everything in arbitration cases.

Or so we thought.

Last month, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld going to arbitration even after a customer was beaten and robbed in his own home by an employee. That's right: Even an incidental tort claim might be governed by the arbitration agreement. This is way worse than American Express charging extra fees.

Last week, the University of Iowa asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block a second trial in the case of Teresa Wagner, a part-time writing instructor at the University of Iowa College of Law who claimed she was denied a full-time position because of her conservative politics.

In July, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said that Wagner was entitled to a second trial after the trial judge made a procedural misstep. So what's going on?

Ferguson is burning. The first night's casualties are in: dozens of burned and looted businesses in Ferguson, two police cruisers burned, bottles and rocks tossed at police officers and reporters alike, riots, sixty-one arrests, and more National Guard troops on the way, reports CNN and The New York Times.

And the riots weren't confined to Ferguson: reports of riots and looting popped up in even the most far away places, like Oakland, California, where protestors shut down the I-580 freeway, looted, and set fires as well, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Why? The disputed tale of the death of Michael Brown, alternatively portrayed as an aggressor who attacked a police officer or as the victim of an execution-style murder. After an unusual grand jury featuring "all the evidence" and testimony from Office Darren Wilson, there is no indictment -- only pain, protests, riots, and unanswered questions.

Hopefully, all of us know that jailhouse phone calls are recorded. This presents a problem for attorney/client communications, which are privileged. Iowa has a statute requiring police to inform an arrested suspect in jail of his right to a confidential, in-person conference with his attorney once the suspect requests privacy for the communication.

That didn't happen in the case of David Hellstern. After he was arrested for DUI, an officer denied his request for privacy during a phone call and didn't fulfill his statutory obligation to tell Hellstern he had a right to a private, in-person conference.

Last week, a federal district court in Missouri joined a chorus of state courts in striking down the state's ban on gay marriage. In doing so, that court set aside precedent from 2006 that many regarded as a controlling opinion on same-sex marriage bans: Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, an Eighth Circuit opinion upholding Nebraska's ban.

Judge Ortrie D. Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri distinguished Bruning by classifying it as a political right-of-access case, rather than a case about a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.

Was he right? And what impact does Bruning have today, post-Windsor?

And the Feds weigh in!

Two days ago, a state court judge held that Missouri's ban on gay marriages performed in the state was unconstitutional. A month before that, a second state judge held that the state's refusal to recognize out-of-state marriages was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, we were wondering what was happening with the federal case.

The opinion was being proofread, apparently. Today, Judge Ortrie D. Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri invalidated that state's law banning same-sex marriage, saying, quite interestingly, that it amounted to gender-based discrimination.

Like dominos.

Last month, a state court in Kansas City held that the state of Missouri had to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. Earlier this week, a state court in St. Louis held that the state couldn't ban in-state gay marriages. The state declined to appeal the former case, but will appeal the latter case to the Missouri Supreme Court in order to get a statewide ruling.

Meantime, a federal case is pending in Jefferson City and the Eighth Circuit is one of the few that haven't addressed same-sex marriage since Windsor. Same-sex marriage definitely seems like a "when" rather than an "if" in this great state, but the legal path in Missouri certainly is interesting.