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

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Former law partner and Nebraska state chief deputy attorney general, Leonard Grasz, recently had his nomination to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed by the Senate.

Despite the ABA's rarely given "unqualified" rating of soon-to-be Judge Grasz, the 50 to 48 vote cut along partisan lines, much like the Senate Judiciary Committee's 11 to 9 vote. Judge Grasz is expected to be a conservative judge, and if the ABA is correct, potentially one that is a little too passionate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination to the federal appellate bench of federal district court judge Ralph Erickson by a vote of 20-0. Now Erickson will need to win the approval of the full Senate before becoming eligible to accept the position as the Eighth Circuit's newest jurist.

Though nominated in a nearly bi-polar political climate, Erickson's nomination has received bipartisan support, which should mean he will be a lock for the full Senate vote.

Court Affirms Defunding Planned Parenthood

Women have the right to get an abortion anywhere in America, but they may have a hard time paying for one in Arkansas.

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said in Does v. Gillespie that Arkansas can kick Planned Parenthood out of its network of Medicaid-approved health providers. Setting up a possible showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit has changed the abortion litigation landscape.

"The plaintiffs are asserting a right -- the absolute right to a particular provider of their choosing -- that (the law) does not grant them," Judge Steven Colloton wrote for the Eighth Circuit, which includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota.

Eighth Circuit: No Right to Proceed Pro Se

A federal appeals court rejected a man's demand to represent himself, ruling that a criminal defendant has no right to proceed pro se post-conviction or on appeal.

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Sixth Amendment includes the right to proceed without counsel at trial, but does not include any right to appeal. Moreover, the court said in United States v. Tollefson, the limitation includes post-conviction proceedings.

Bruce Charles Tollefson argued that his court-appointed attorney provided ineffective assistance. However, the court said, he had no right to counsel anyway.

"Because Tollefson had no right to counsel during his post-conviction sentence reduction proceedings, he cannot assert a 'valid claim for ineffective assistance,'" Judge Diana E. Murphy wrote for the court.

Arkansas Stumbles on the Way to Executions

Try as it may, Arkansas is having a hard time executing death row inmates.

Pressured by expiring prescriptions for legal injections, the state had scheduled eight inmates for execution in ten days. The plan was to start with two-a-day, but that fell through on the first day.

Had Arkansas succeeded, it would have been America's biggest cluster-kill in 40 years. Judge Jane Kelly, a lone dissenter in a U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in McGehee v. Hutchinson to carry out the death sentences, said the rush to execution was a "descent into brutality." 

Court Says Harmless Error for Police to Question Tired and Drugged Suspect

Finding only harmless error, a federal appeals court affirmed a second-degree murder conviction of a man who said police questioned him while he was "sick and exhausted."

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Terrance C. Jackson three years to the day after he stabbed a man to death during an argument. Although Jackson asked for a lawyer after his arrest, officers continued to question him in United States of America v. Jackson.

"Given the very limited nature of the questions asked by the officers regarding Jackson's health, we conclude that they were not 'reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect,'" Judge Jane Kelly wrote for the appeals court. "Moreover, because Jackson voluntarily disclosed that he had been awake for several days and using drugs, the agents' follow-up questions regarding his health do not constitute an interrogation."

Court Rejects Suit Alleging School Unlawfully Restrained Autistic Child

A federal appeals court said a mother failed to exhaust administrative remedies before she sued a school district for isolating and restraining her autistic child.

Kristine McCauley sued Francis Howell School District, alleging that teachers put physical restraints on her boy at school for two years before she found out about it. She then removed her child from the district and sued under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other laws.

A trial judge dismissed her case and the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that she first should have sought a due process hearing under the Act.

"McCauley's voluntary decision to remove J.M. from school, and thus seek only compensatory and punitive damages rather than compensatory education services, does not exempt her from the exhaustion requirement," the court said in J.M. v. Francis Howell School District.

Court Upholds Banning Political Insignia on Clothing at Polling Places

If at first you don't succeed, act like it never happened in the first place.

That's my personal takeaway from a case about whether Tea Party representatives could sue election officials for making them remove political insignia from their clothing at polling places. But you have to dig through the opinion to find that nugget to take away.

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Tea Party could not state a claim because polling places are not public forums and the "no political insignia" rule was a reasonable content-neutral regulation. That's the legal gist of the decision.

My personal takeaway is about how the Tea Party members tried to get around the law as applied to their case. It makes the drudgery of case law amusing, if not memorable.

Target's Data Breach Settlement Blocked by Appeals Court

A federal appeals court has delayed a $10 million settlement for customers whose records were hacked at Target, sending the case back to a judge to consider a separate group of customers who were not affected by the breach.

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the trial judge did not adequately consider whether the settlement fairly represents customers who may have problems from the breach in the future. They want out of the class action settlement, and want to proceed as a sub-class.

"We hold that the district court abused its discretion by failing to rigorously analyze the propriety of certification, especially once new arguments challenging the adequacy of representation were raised after preliminary certification," the panel said.

Court Affirms Conditions for Sex Offender

A federal appeals court affirmed probation conditions for a sex offender, including a requirement of supervised visitation with his one-year-old child, based upon his conviction of having sex with a teenager.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal said the conditions were reasonable, given the offender's history of inappropriate contact with minors. Jason Brandon Schultz had been convicted of sex assault for his consensual relationship with a 14-year-old girl when he was 23 years old. He later repeatedly violated conditions of probation.

"In light of this history and the district court's recognition of the need for Schultz to maintain a relationship with his children, the district court made individualized findings and the restriction is narrowly tailored to address the circumstances of Schultz's criminal history as well as his family situation," the judges said.