U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

April 2010 Archives

Private Prison Corporation Not Subject To ADA, and Arbitration Matter

Edison v. Douberly, No. 08-15819, concerned an action by a prisoner alleging violations of the American With Disabilities Act (ADA).  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant on the ground that the term "instrumentality of a State" referred to governmental units or units created by them, and defendant private corporation was not a public entity merely because it contracted with a public entity to provide some service.

Frazier v. CitiFinancial Corp., No. 08-15188, involved plaintiff's appeal from the district court's order confirming an arbitration award in favor of defendant bank and its subsequent order denying her motion to vacate the award.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, on the grounds that 1) the arbitrator did not exceed his authority or award upon a matter not submitted to him in granting defendant an equitable lien against the subject property; 2) the arbitrator's grant of an equitable lien, even assuming it was error, did not render the award imperfect in matter of form not affecting the merits of the controversy; and 3) judicially-created bases for vacatur of an arbitral award were no longer valid.

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Antitrust Matter Involving Competition Between Hospitals

Palmyra Park Hosp. Inc. v. Phoebe Putney Mem. Hosp., No. 09-11818, involved an action by a hospital claiming that defendant-hospital leveraged a state-granted monopoly in certain medical services to tie favorable insurance reimbursement rates for those services to a refusal to include plaintiff, which competed with defendant for the other medical services, in insurance companies' provider networks.  The court of appeals reversed summary judgment for defendant, on the ground that plaintiff had antitrust standing because it alleged that defendant's exclusivity arrangements forced insurers who would otherwise prefer to deal with both defendant and plaintiff to instead deal with only defendant.

As the court wrote:  "This is an antitrust case between two competing Georgia hospitals. Palmyra Park Hospital, Inc. ("Palmyra") claims that Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital ("Phoebe Putney") leveraged a state-granted monopoly in certain medical services to tie favorable insurance reimbursement rates for those services to a refusal to include Palmyra, who competes with Phoebe Putney for the other medical services, in insurance companies' provider networks. The district court dismissed Palmyra's claims due to lack of antitrust standing. Specifically, the district court held that Palmyra was not an efficient enforcer of the antitrust laws. We disagree; Palmyra has antitrust standing to pursue its claims. We accordingly reverse the district court's judgment and remand the case for further proceedings."

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In US v. Dean, No. 09-13115, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's conviction for having traveled in interstate commerce and knowingly failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, on the ground that the public safety argument advanced by the Attorney General was good cause for bypassing the notice and comment period under the Administrative Procedure Act.

As the court wrote:  "Christopher Dean appeals his guilty plea to the charge of having traveled in interstate commerce and knowingly failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a) (2006). Dean asserts that the Attorney General did not have good cause to promulgate a rule making SORNA retroactive without notice and comment as required by the Administrative Procedure Act. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (2006) and 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a)(1) (2006). We affirm."

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Child Pornography and Educational Sexual Harassment Matters

In US v. Paige, No. 09-13067, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for permitting his minor child to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing child pornography, holding that 1) there was nothing irrational about Congress's conclusion that failure to regulate the intrastate production of child pornography, by punishing parents who permitted their minor children to participate in the production of child pornography, would undermine its regulation of the interstate child pornography market; 2) the cameras used to produce, and the memory card used to store, the images of child pornography had traveled in interstate commerce; and 3) defendant's separation of powers argument was foreclosed by binding precedent.

Doe v. Sch. Bd. of Broward Cty., Fla., No. 09-10394, concerned an action under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and Title IX by a child alleging that she was the victim of sexual harassment by her math teacher.  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant in part, holding that the school officials named as defendants were not "officials fairly deemed to represent government policy" under the Eleventh Circuit's standard for section 1983 municipal liability.  However, the Eleventh Circuit as to the Title IX claim is reversed in part on the ground that a reasonable jury could conclude that the School Board responded with deliberate indifference to actual notice of sexual harassment.

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Zurich Am. Ins. Co. v. O'Hara, No. 08-16875, concerned an ERISA action seeking reimbursement for medical expenses a benefit plan had paid on defendant's behalf after defendant was injured in an automobile collision.  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for plaintiff, on the grounds that 1) the plan's reimbursement and subrogation provision, which stated that "the Plan may collect from [a] covered person[] the proceeds of any full or partial recovery" he obtained from a third-party tortfeasor, "regardless of whether [the] covered person has been fully compensated or made whole," was clearly sufficient to disclaim any "make-whole" limitation on plaintiff's right to reimbursement; and 2) the reimbursement plaintiff sought was not a premium or contribution on the basis of any health status-related factor to be paid out of defendant's general assets, and instead plaintiff sought to recover specific and identifiable funds, advanced to cover defendant's accident-related medical expenses, that were being held in trust by defendant's attorneys.

Bank of Am. N.A. v. Colonial Bank, No. 09-14739, involved an action by Bank of America, N.A. ("Bank of America") against Colonial Bank, alleging that defendant wrongfully refused to return thousands of mortgage loans and their proceeds, valued in excess of $1 billion, to which Bank of America had legal title.  The court of appeals reversed a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiff, holding that, because the FDIC's proposed actions with respect to the loans and loan proceeds at issue fell squarely within its statutory receivership powers and functions, 12 U.S.C. section 1821(j) stripped the district court of its jurisdiction to enter the preliminary injunction.

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Birmingham Fire Fighters Ass'n. v. Birmingham, No. 08-16604

Birmingham Fire Fighters Ass'n. v. Birmingham, No. 08-16604, involved the City of Birmingham's appeal from the district court's order declaring an Alabama state law void and affirming that the court appointed members of the Personnel Board of Jefferson County, Alabama would serve the remainder of their terms.  The court of appeals dismissed the appeal, holding that the Eleventh Circuit did not have jurisdiction to consider the matter because the appealed order, an interlocutory injunction, had since merged with a subsequent final order that neither party challenged.

As the court wrote:  "Following decades of civil-rights litigation regarding discriminatory employment practices, the district court for the Northern District of Alabama assumed a direct supervisory role over the Personnel Board of Jefferson County in 2002. Incident to its supervisory function, the district court appointed two individuals to the three-member Board when vacancies arose in 2007. Shortly thereafter, the Alabama legislature passed Act 408, which entirely reconstituted the composition of the Board. In September 2008, the district court declared Act 408 void ab initio and affirmed that the court-appointed members would serve the remainder of their terms. The City of Birmingham now appeals this decision. This Court holds that it does not have jurisdiction to consider this matter because the appealed order, an interlocutory injunction, has since merged with a subsequent final order that neither party challenges. The City's appeal is therefore dismissed."

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US v. Crape, No. 09-12470, concerned defendant's appeal from the revocation of his conditional release following his writing of letters threatening to kill several teenagers.  The court of appeals reversed, holding that requiring defendant to refrain from writing threatening letters and revoking his discharge from a psychiatric hospital for the failure to comply with that condition exceeded the district court's authority under 18 U.S.C. section 4243(g).

As the court wrote:  "Michael Crape was committed to a mental-health facility after being found not guilty by reason of insanity on charges of mailing threatening letters to the President and Vice-President of the United States. Five months later, the district court ordered Crape's release pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4243(f), which provides for the conditional discharge of insanity acquittees under a prescribed regimen of medical treatment. As a condition of that release, the court forbade Crape from sending any more threatening letters. When Crape later mailed a letter threatening to kill several teenagers, the court revoked his conditional discharge pursuant to § 4243(g)."

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Child Pornography Conviction Affirmed

In US v. Lee, No. 08-17077, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's convictions for attempted enticement of a minor, attempted production of child pornography, and knowing receipt of child pornography, on the grounds that 1) it was possible for defendant to violate either 18 U.S.C. section 2422(b) or sections 2251(a) and (e) where he communicated with an adult intermediary and attempted to exploit two fictitious minor girls; and 2) a reasonable jury could have found that defendant committed the offenses charged in the indictment.

As the court wrote:  "The question presented by this appeal is whether sufficient evidence supports the convictions of Van Buren Lee for attempted enticement of a minor, 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), attempted production of child pornography, id. § 2251(a), (e), and knowing receipt of child pornography, id. § 2252A(a)(2)(A). For several months, Lee communicated online with a postal inspector who was posing as "Candi Kane," the "open-minded mother of two beautiful [minor] girls." Lee and Candi repeatedly discussed whether, how, and when Candi would grant Lee sexual access to her daughters, and Lee produced and sent Candi and her daughters sexually explicit images of him. Eventually Lee and Candi spoke by telephone. Lee also requested that Candi produce and send to him sexually explicit photographs of her daughters in specific poses, which, so far as Lee knew, she did. Lee argues that he communicated only with an adult intermediary, he attempted to exploit only fictitious minors, he lacked the intent necessary to support his convictions, and his alleged speech without conduct did not establish the attempt crimes. We affirm."

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American Maritime Officers Union Litigants in Hearn v. McKay

Hearn v. McKay, No. 08-16697, involved an action by several members of the American Maritime Officers Union ("AMO") against current and former officers of the AMO, alleging violations of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA).  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendants, on the grounds that 1) when a union official is acting in his role as an ERISA benefit plan trustee, he does so exclusively for the benefit (or to the detriment) of the plan participants and beneficiaries, not the union or its members as a group; 2) undisclosed witnesses may still be used at trial if the disclosure failure was substantially justified or if it was harmless; and 3) plaintiffs failed to show that the district court's account of the evidence was entirely implausible, and thus there was no clear error.

As the court wrote:  "This appeal is by several members of the American Maritime Officers Union ("AMO") in their unsuccessful civil action against current and former officers of the AMO. Appellant-Plaintiffs contend that the district court erred in this way: (1) granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants on the issue of whether a union officer violates the fiduciary duties established by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 501(a), if that officer aids, abets, or fails to remedy the misuse of assets belonging to a jointly administered benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq; and (2) making an erroneous factual finding and abusing its discretion in two evidentiary rulings during the bench trial."

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Murder Conviction Upheld in US v. Fowler

In US v. Fowler, No. 08-15463, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's conviction for murder with the intent to prevent a person from communicating information about a federal offense to a federal law enforcement officer or judge of the U.S., holding that 1) nothing in 18 U.S.C. section 1512(a)(1)(C) required proof that a federal investigation was ongoing, imminent, or likely; and 2) several defendants involved in the conspiracy had committed federal crimes that could have led to a federal investigation and prosecution.

"Charles Andrew Fowler appeals his conviction for murder with the intent to prevent a person from communicating information about a federal offense to a federal law enforcement officer or judge of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C). Fowler argues that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to support his conviction. We affirm."

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US v. Luna-Encinas, No. 08-12574

In US v. Luna-Encinas, No. 08-12574, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's conviction for being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm, because the district court correctly denied defendant's motion to suppress pre-Miranda statements he made to a police officer that led to the discovery of the firearm, because defendant was not in "custody" when he made the relevant inculpatory statements to the police.

As the court wrote:  "After holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress. The district court concluded that while the defendant had been "seized," he was not in "custody" for Fifth Amendment purposes. The district court explained that a reasonable person in Luna-Encinas' position -- i.e., one placed under the control of several law enforcement officers for a matter of fifteen minutes while a drug suspect was sought -- would not have understood his detention to be anything other than "temporary and brief," particularly given the officers' express assurances that he was not the person they were seeking, and the fact that they never pointed a weapon at him. These circumstances, the district court concluded, did not sufficiently resemble an arrest to constitute "custody." On January 24, 2008, Luna-Encinas pled guilty, reserving the right to appeal the district court's suppression order pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2). On April 24, 2008, the district court sentenced Luna-Encinas to eighteen months' imprisonment and three years' supervised release, noting that he would be deported at the end of his prison term. This timely appeal followed."

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Crimson Yachts v. Betty Lyn II Motor Yacht, No. 09-11288

Crimson Yachts v. Betty Lyn II Motor Yacht, No. 09-11288, concerned an action seeking to enforce a maritime lien for major repairs plaintiff performed on a motor yacht.  The court of appeals reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's in rem claims against the yacht, on the ground that the yacht constituted a vessel and, therefore, was subject to maritime liens and the court's admiralty jurisdiction.

As the court wrote:  "Appellant, shipyard Crimson Yachts, seeks to enforce a maritime lien for major repairs it performed on a motor yacht, Appellee the Betty Lyn II. Crimson Yachts claims the yacht's owner, Appellee Blyn II Holding, LLC (Blyn), failed to make full payment for the repairs. Crimson Yachts sued the Betty Lyn II in rem, and sued BLyn in personam, to recover the remainder of the debt. Pursuant to Appellees' joint motion, the district court dismissed the in rem claims against the Betty Lyn II and vacated its arrest. The district court found the Betty Lyn II was not a "vessel" subject to maritime liens. Because the maritime lien was a prerequisite to the court's admiralty jurisdiction, the court concluded it lacked jurisdiction over the in rem proceeding against the Betty Lyn II. The issue we resolve on appeal is whether the Betty Lyn II is a vessel and, therefore, subject to maritime liens and the court's admiralty jurisdiction. We conclude that she is and reverse and remand for further proceedings."

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Criminal And Employment Matters

Edwards v. Prime Inc., No. 09-11699, involved an action under RICO and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claiming that defendant restaurant franchise knowingly provided illegal aliens with names and social security numbers of American citizens to use for illegal employment, unlawfully took employees' tips, discriminated on the basis of race, and retaliated against employees who challenged those and other practices.  The court of appeals affirmed in part the dismissal of certain counts of the complaint where 1) plaintiffs failed to plead that defendants had actual knowledge that the unauthorized aliens who they allegedly hired had been "brought into the United States" in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 1324; 2) plaintiffs' mere use of the words "conspiracy" and "aiding and abetting" without any more explanation of the grounds of plaintiffs' entitlement to relief was insufficient; 3) the complaint did not plausibly allege that plaintiff was harassed because he was Caucasian; and 4) defendants were not strangers to the business relationships with which they allegedly interfered, and thus plaintiffs failed to state a tortious interference claim.  However, the court reversed in part, holding that the amended complaint adequately pleaded that defendants encouraged or induced an alien to reside in the United States, and either knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the alien's residence here was illegal, in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv).

In Powell v. Allen, No. 08-16784, a capital habeas matter, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of the petition, holding that 1) the method by which petitioner's judge selected his grand jury foreperson did not make out a prima facie violation of the Equal Protection Clause; 2) petitioner failed to show that the jury selection process resulted in a non-representative venire; 3) the record did not support petitioner's Batson claim; 4) the trial judge retained discretion as to the form and number of questions on the subject of race, including the decision whether to question the venire individually or collectively; 5) petitioner pointed to no record evidence, nor did the court's review of the record revealed any, from which the allegedly true DNA test results could be found; and 6) petitioner failed to allege what mitigating factors would have been established but for his counsel's deficient performance.

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Civil Rights, Injury and Tort Law, and Employment Law Issues

Guinn v. AstraZeneca Pharms. LLP, No. 09-11104, concerned an action claiming that plaintiff's use of defendant's prescription drug Seroquel caused her to develop diabetes.  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendants, on the grounds that 1) the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that plaintiff's expert's differential diagnosis was unreliable under Daubert because she failed to adequately consider possible alternative causes of plaintiff's weight gain and diabetes; and 2) plaintiff identified no evidence of specific causation other than the expert's testimony.

Starling v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs., No. 09-11168, involved an action claiming that defendants violated plaintiff-firefighter's First Amendment right to intimate association when they demoted him for an extramarital affair with one of his subordinates.  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant, holding that the county's interest in discouraging extramarital associations between supervisors and subordinates was so critical to the effective functioning of the Fire Department that it outweighed plaintiff's interest in extramarital association with a subordinate, even assuming arguendo that the First Amendment protected extramarital association as fundamental right.

Schaaf v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., No. 09-10806, concerned an action alleging that plaintiff's maternity leave impermissibly contributed to her demotion by defendant.  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant, on the grounds that 1) defendant offered evidence showing that plaintiff was demoted as a result of her ineffective management style, and plaintiff did not offer any evidence to the contrary; and 2) although evidence that defendant deviated from its ordinary disciplinary procedures may have caused a jury to entertain the possibility of an alternate explanation for plaintiff's demotion, plaintiff offered no evidence that would have allowed a jury to find that there was such an alternate explanation.

Cremeens v. City of Montgomery, No. 09-15633, involved an action by fire investigators for the City of Montgomery's fire department seeking overtime pay from the city.  The court of appeals reversed summary judgment for defendant, on the ground that 29 U.S.C. section 203(y) did not render obsolete a Department of Labor regulation, the "dual assignment" provision of 29 C.F.R. section 553.213, which controlled public agency payments of overtime to employees who performed both fire protection and law enforcement activities.

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Attorney's Fees, Criminal and ERISA Cases

Jackson v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec., No. 09-12529, concerned a social security benefits proceeding.  The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's order requiring plaintiff's counsel to refund an Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) fee award to plaintiff, on the ground that an attorney who requested fees under 42 U.S.C. section 406(b) was not required to refund an earlier payment made under the EAJA, and could instead offset the EAJA award by deducting it from his 42 U.S.C. section 406(b) fee request.

In US v. Jones, No. 08-16999, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's drug and firearm possession convictions and sentences in part, on the grounds that 1) when a defendant possesses different weapons at different times or places, the government may treat them as separate units of prosecution; 2) Counts One and Two of the indictment charged separate offenses from Counts Three and Four, and thus the indictment did not violate double jeopardy principles; 3) defendant failed to demonstrate actual prosecutorial vindictiveness; and 4) the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a witness lacked sufficient memory to testify to the subject matter of a video.  However, the judgment is reversed in part where defendant was brought to trial seventy-five nonexcludable days after the district court received the court of appeals' mandate -- a violation of the Speedy Trial Act -- and vacated in part where the district court took into account untimely charges in calculating defendant's sentence.

Krutzig v. Pulte Home Corp., No. 09-12512, involved an action claiming that plaintiff's termination was an act of retaliation and interference with her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and ERISA.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for defendant, holding that 1) no evidence in the record rebutted the affirmative evidence offered by defendant that plaintiff's supervisors were unaware of her FMLA request at the time the decision was made to terminate plaintiff's employment; and 2) there was no evidence in the record to support a finding that plaintiff's supervisors knew of any application for short-term benefits by plaintiff at the time the decision was made to terminate plaintiff's employment.

In US v. Coast, No. 08-17116, the court of appeals affirmed defendant's firearm possession sentence, holding that 1) revocation of probation was part of a defendant's original sentence because revocation of probation constitutes a modification of the terms of the original sentence and implicates solely the punishment initially imposed for the offense conduct underlying that sentence; and 2) U.S.S.G. section 4A1.2(k) directly instructs a district court, when calculating criminal history points, to add the original term of imprisonment to any term of imprisonment imposed upon revocation, and the district court did just that.

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Copyright and Criminal Matters

Latimer v. Roaring Toyz, Inc., No. 08-16665, concerned a copyright infringement action by a professional photographer against multiple defendants regarding the distribution and publication of photographs of a customized motorcycle.  The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendants in part, holding that plaintiff granted defendant an implied license to use his work.  However, the court reversed in part on the ground that, even if plaintiff agreed that defendant could distribute his photographs to the media in a printed flyer, the distribution of the photographs in digital format on compact discs could be found to have exceeded the scope of the license.

In US v. Santiago, No. 09-10466, the court of appeals vacated defendant's firearm possession sentence, which the government appealed.  The court held that a guilty plea followed by a sentence of probation and a withholding of adjudication qualified under Florida law as a predicate conviction for the purpose of enhancing defendant's sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

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