U.S. First Circuit: March 2010 Archives
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March 2010 Archives

Decisions in Criminal, Contract, and Copyright Infringement Actions

The First Circuit decided a copyright infringement action barred under the claim preclusion doctrine, a contract case, and a criminal matter involving a protracted delay in a defendant's revocation hearing following a drug offense. 

Airframe Sys. Inc. v. Raytheon Co., No. 09-1624, involved a district court's dismissal of plaintiff's copyright infringement action of a software source code under the doctrine of claim preclusion.  In affirming the dismissal, the court held that the plaintiff was or should have been well aware of the fact that the defendant named in the later suit filed in Massachusetts owned the business unit at issue when it filed the earlier suit in New York and should have amended it there. 

Adams v. Adams, No. 09-1443, involved a plaintiff-father's suit seeking enforcement of the terms of a promissory note executed by his son in connection with funds given by the father to help his son purchase a home in Texas.  In reversing the district court's denial of the son's motion to dismiss, the court held that the father has not demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that the son's action related to the note constitute sufficient purposeful availment to allow for the exercise of personal jurisdiction in Massachusetts.

In US v. Pagan-Rodriguez, No. 08-1516, the court faced a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss the revocation hearing claiming that the indefinite postponment of his final revocation hearing infringed his right to have the hearing held within a reasonable period of time.  In affirming the denial of the motion, the court held that although the district court unreasonably delayed the holding of a supervised release revocation hearing, the error was harmless because it caused no prejudice to the defendant. 

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In Ungar v. Palestine Liberation Org., No. 09-1778, the First Circuit decided a case involving an action brought by the estate of plaintiffs against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority for damages under the Anti-Terrorism Act for the killing of the plaintiffs in Israel by Hamas.  In addressing the question of whether there was a categorical rule that a party whose strategic choices lead to the entry of a default judgment is precluded from later obtaining relief from that judgment under Rule 60(b).  In reversing the district court's judgment that precedent required it to apply a categorical bar in denying defendant's motion to vacate the default judgment, the court held that no such categorical bar applies.

Cossaboon v. Maine Med. Ctr., No. 09-1550, involved a plaintiff's medical malpractice action alleging that defendant's employee's breach of standard of care caused injuries to one of her newborn twins.  In affirming district court's dismissal of the actio nfor lack of personal jurisdiction, the court held that viewing defendant's contacts in the aggregate, defendant has not deliberately established continuous and systematic contacts with New Hampshire such that it should reasonably anticipate being subject to suit in New Hampshire courts.

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The First Circuit decided a case brought by a pro se prisoner against an attorney and a flight attendant's action for negligence against Delta Air Lines for her injuries despite having received a lump sum payment under Delta's workers' compensation policy.

In Hall v. Curran, No. 09-1354, the court dealt with a diversity issue in a pro se prisoner's action against an attorney for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections claiming fraud, breach of contract and tortious interference with beneficial contractual relations.  In affirming the district court's dismissal of the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court held that the plaintff failed to rebut the presumption that he is a citizen of New Hampshire, which was his domicile prior to his incarceration in New York.

In Roberts v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 09-1045, the court faced a challenge to the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant-Delta Air Lines in plaintiff's suit for negligence for her injuries while working as a flight attendant, even though she already receiveda lump sum workers' compensation payment from Delta and the company it owned.  In affirming the decision, the court held that plaintiff was Delta's employee at all pertinent times, plaintiff was under Delta's direction and control and she had obligations to Delta in the performance of her duties.  Therefore, plaintiff's suit against Delta is barred under the Massachusetts workers' compensation law.

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In Borkowski v. F/V Madison Kate, Sea Ventures, LLC, No. 09-1311, the First Circuit addressed commercial fishermen's claims of federal maritime law and state wage laws.

As stated in the decision: "Where the fishermen have already received a lay share portion of the proceeds from the fishing voyages they participated in, there does not appear to be any other real remedy for the vessel owners' failure to comply with section 10601, absent section 11107."

Thus, in upholding the district court's judgment, the court held that to the extent plaintiffs' seek compensatory relief under section 10601 is premised on the claim that defendants improperly deducted expenses, there is no evidence where a factfinder could conclude that the deductions were improper.  Furthermore, there is also no evidence to support an award of punitive damages and plaintiffs' challenge to the district court's judgment with respect to the merits of the wage claim is rejected. 

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Decision in Revocation of Defendant's Supervised Release

In US v. Hernandez-Ferrer, No. 09-1100, the First Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's revocation of defendant's supervised release and an imposition of a twenty-one month sentence based on a Grade A violation.

As stated in the decision: "By its plain language, section 3583(i) extends the district court's jurisdiction beyond the stated expiration of a term of supervised release...But that extension operates only in a particular set of circumstances: for the adjudication of matters arising before its expiration if, before its expiration, a warrant or summons has been issued.  Here, however, the local drug crime took place after the appellant's supervised release term had expired.  Thus, it does not come within the plain language of the statute."

Thus, in reversing the decision, the court held that the district court lacked the authority to revoke a term of supervised release based on conduct occurring after the scheduled expiration of the term.

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In Bath Iron Works Corp. v. Fields, No. 08-2235, the court addressed an employer's burden of rebutting a presumption under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) section 20(a), which provides that certain disabilities are presumed to be work-related in absence of substantial evidence to the contrary. The employer, a ship manufacturing facility, argued that the Benefits Review Board erred in awarding disability benefits to the employee-plaintiff as claiming that it produced substantial evidence to rebut the statutory presumption. 

As stated in the decision: "In the context of section 20(a), the substantial evidence standard requires the employer to introduce such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a finding that workplace conditions did not cause the accident or injury."

Thus, because the Board found that the employer did not address the cause of the relevant injury within the meaning of the LHWCA, it was correct to conclude that defendant's evidence was legally insufficient to overcome the statutory presumption of causation between the plaintiff's working conditions and his pain. 

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Decisions in Criminal Matters and Police Officers' FLSA Claim

The First Circuit decided mostly criminal cases and a case brought by police officers against the town for violating the FLSA. 

In US v. DePierre, No. 08-2101, the court faced a challenge to a conviction for selling drugs to a government informant.  The court rejected defendant's wrongful inducement argument that he was "induced" into selling crack cocaine the second time after he initially sold cocaine powder the first time.  The court also rejected defendant's wrongful manipulation sentencing factor argument and held that the jury instructions and the verdict accorded the precedent, and as such, the mandatory minimum sentence was properly imposed.

In US v. Perez-Melendez, No. 08-2225, the court faced a challenge to defendants' convictions for drug related offenses.  In reversing the conviction, the court concluded that the government failed to meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants knew or were willfully blind to the fact that the pallets of reams of paper they transported contained a controlled substance. 

In US v. St. Pierre, No. 09-1237, the court addressed a challenge to a conviction for tax evasion and obstruction.  The court affirmed the conviction and held that the district court properly invoked Rule 403 to exclude defendant's attempt to introduce expert testimony as to the standard of care owed to her by her accountants as this would have been more confusing to the jury than probative.  The court also held that the defendant was not unduly limited in cross-examining the government's witnesses against her.

In Restucci v. Bender, No. 09-2271, the court addressed the isse of whether a claim based on wrongful denial of parole is considered a "second or successive" petition for purposes of 28 U.S.C. section 2244(b).  The court held that such claims are not "second or successive" and therefore is not subject to the section 2244(b) gatekeeping requirements. 

Lastly, in Calvao v. Town of Framingham, No. 009-1648, the court addressed a police officers' challenge to the district court's dismissal of their suit against the town, claiming that the town failed to pay enough overtime in violation of the FLSA.  The court upheld that district court's grant of partial summary judgment in holding tha the town met the eligibility requirements for the public safety exception and concluded that the town was not required to notify affected employees before establishing a valid work period under section 207(k). 

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Decisions in FELA, Immigration, and Criminal Cases

In Villa-Londono v. Holder, No. 09-1832, the First Circuit addressed a challenge to the BIA's denial of a Colombian National's application for withholding of removal and related relief.  In denying her request for review of BIA's denial, the court concluded that the IJ's adverse credibility finding is supported by specific and persuasive findings.  And as a consequence, with her testimony discredited, there is very little evidence in the record to support her asylum claim as well.

In Granfield v. CSX Transp., Inc., 09-1302, the court faced a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law in the employee's suit for injuries suffered as a locomotive engineer, as a result of defective controls in the cabin of his locomotive.  In affirming the district court's judgment based on the finding that the defendant violated both the Federal Employer's Liability Act and the Locomotive Inspection Act, the court rejected defendant's various claims including, not dismissing the case under the FELA statute of limitaitons and allowing plaintiff's medical expert to testify on causation.

Finally, in US v. Mejia, No. 08-2505, the court faced a challenge to a conviction and sentence for conspiring to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime.  In rejecting defendant's claim of Miranda violation that the officers did not accurately interpret his rights into Spanish, the court held that the district court correctly denied his motion to suppress based on finding of implied waiver.  Also, the court rejected defendant's various evidentiary arguments and that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a new trial.

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Today, the First Circuit decided two employment discrimination cases, liability of a bankruptcy court appointed receiver, and a matter involving SEC's action against registered broker-dealer for Rule 10b-5(b) violations.

In Lockridge v. Univ. of Maine Sys., No. 09-1895, the court faced a challenge to the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a professor's gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims against a university.  In affirming the decision, the court held that plaintiff's claims must fail as a matter of law as there was lack of any evidence suggesting that the university's proffered reason was pretextual, and the employer's denial of plaintiff's particular request for office space did not amount to a materially adverse employment action.

In Foley v. Town of Randolph, No. 09-1558, the court addressed the issue of whether the Fire Chief's spoke in his official capacity when he made public statements at the scene of a fatal fire regarding fire department's budgetary and staffing shortfalls.  In affirming the decision that his suspension was not a violation of his First Amendment rights, the court held that in limited circumstances such a press conference, there could be no doubt that plaintiff was speaking in his official capacity and not as a citizen.

In a bankruptcy trustee's action for misfeasance against the court appointed receiver in In Re: Am. Bridge Prod. Inc., No. 09-1165, the court faced the challenge of the district court's judgment that the action was barred by the statute of limitations.  In reversing the dismissal, the court held that the statute of limitations did not bar the action as the receiver had not rendered a final accounting or been discharged in a state or federal court.

In SEC. & Exch. Comm'n v. Tambone, No. 07-1384, the court dealt with the SEC's interpretation of the word, "make" as used in Rule 10b-5(b) in its action against the defendant for allegedly allowing certain preferred customers to engage in market timing.  In affirming the district court's dismissal of the SEC's case, the court held that the SEC's expansive interpretation of the word is inconsistent with the text of the rule and with the ordinary meanings of the phrase "to make a statement," inconsistent with the structure of the rule and in considerable tension with Supreme Court precedent.

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In Uphoff-Figueroa v. Alejandro, No. 08-1921, the First Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's judgment against an environmental attorney in his action against his employer, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and PREPA officials claiming various causes of action, including employment discrimination and retaliation.

Plaintiff's suit arose from his main contention that the new Popular Democratic Party discriminated against him by denying him a permanent appointment as the administrator of PREPA's environmental law office and created hostile workplace environment because of his membership with the New Progressive Party.

In affirming the district court's judgment in favor of the defendants, the court held that under Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980), the position of administrator is not within First Amendment protection because it is a policy-making position.  The court upheld district court's dismissal of plaintiff's various claims under Rule 12(b)(6), dismissal of the retaliation claim, and conspiracy claims. 

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Decisions in Subrogation and Child Sex Trafficking Cases

The First Circuit decided an insurance subrogation matter and a criminal case. 

In Fed. Ins. Co. v. Commerce Ins. Co., No. 09-1156, the court faced a challenge to the district court's judgment against the insurer of a retirement home in its subrogation claim against the insurer of the resident who accidentally caused a fire, and against her estate.  In affirming the district court's decision, the court held that the implied co-insured doctrine controlled the outcome of the case and precluded the plaintiff from pursuing its subrogation claim because it has failed to meet the burden of showing that a provision in the "Residence and Care Agreement" overcomes the presumption that the landlord's insurance is held for the mutual benefit of both parties.

In US v. Diaz, No. 08-1766, the court decided a criminal case involving a criminal defendant's various contentions for his conviction for child sex trafficking.  In affirming the conviction, the court rejected defendant's claim that the trial court's failure to investigate an incident of premature jury deliberations compromised his right to a fair trial.  The court also rejected defendant's claim of hearsay statements in concluding that all of the statements were either properly admitted or harmless.

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Ruling in Motion for an Order of Restitution on Direct Appeal

In US v. Aguirre-Gonzalez, No. 08-1276, the First Circuit faced a challenge to the denial of petitioners' motion for an order of restitution at defendant's sentencing, arising from a fraudulent investment scheme.

The court first addressed the question of whether petitioners, as crime victims denied their right to restitution under federal statutes, may appeal the restitution component of a defendant's criminal sentence.  The court answered in the negative holding that a petition for a writ of mandamus under the CVRA is the exclusive mechanism for appellate review of sentencing order affecting crime victims' rights.  The court further clarified that the 72-hour time limit for mandamus review under the CVRA is precatory, and not mandatory, so that courts may retain authority under certain circumstances after the deadline.

However, the court declined to exercise discretion as the CVRA was in force when petitioners elected to pursue direct appeal rather than petition for a writ under the statute and more than two years have passed since defendant was sentenced. 

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Ruling on Arbitration and Standard of Review Issues

In Powershare, Inc. v. Syntel, Inc. No. 09-1625, the First Circuit decided an issue of whether a parties' agreement contained a mandatory arbitration provision.

In reversing the decision of the district court, the First Circuit first clarified the standard of review to be used by a district judge when reviewing a magistrate judge's order on a motion to stay litigation pending the resolution of a parallel arbitration proceeding.  The court held that, from a procedural standpoint, the district judge properly applied the "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" standard under Rule 72(a) where, as in this case, review of a non-dispositive motion by a district judge turns on a pure question of law.

On the merits of the case, the court held that the parties' agreement contained a mandatory arbitration provision based on the only sensible reading of the agreement.

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Ruling Involving the Colorado River Abstention Doctrine

In Jimenez v. Rodriguez-Pagan, No. 09-1135, the First Circuit dealt with the issue of whether the Colorado Abstention doctrine applied to two identical actions in federal district court and in a Puerto Rico Commonwealth court, involving plaintiff's action seeking her late husband's share of certain stocks and to exercise his option on a penthouse apartment, as had allegedly been previously agreed to with defendants.

Applying the Colorado River factors to the case, the court concluded that, although some of the factors are neutral, considering all the factors, this is one of the rare cases that merit abstention because of the possibility for inconsistent dispositions of a res, the heightened potential for piecemeal litigation, and other issues. 

Thus, having decided that conditions for Colorado River abstention are met, the court ordered the action in federal court to stay pending outcome of the Commonwealth court case. 

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Ruling in Action against DEA Agents by Police Officer

In Martinez-Rodriguez v. Guevara, No. 08-1086, the First Circuit faced a Fourth Amendment violation claim against several DEA agents by an acquitted police officer, arising from his grand jury indictment and arrest for drug trafficking.

As stated in the decision: "The undisputed facts establish that: (1) Martinez-Rodriguez attended the May 14th meeting Lopez-Lopez, an individual who was under investigation for drug trafficking; (2) the purpose of the meeting was to discuss future drug transaction;...(5) at least during some part of the two and a half hours in which Hernandez, Lopez-Lopez, and Gonzalez discussed future drug transaction, Martinez-Rodriguez was seated at a table in close proximity to where the three men were seated."

In affirming the decision of the district court, the court held that, absent evidence to support a claim that no reasonable officer in defendants' position would have believed that Martinez-Rodriguez acted as a bodyguard and was involved in the drug conspiracy, the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

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Rulings In Criminal Cases

The First Circuit decided two criminal cases yesterday; one involving defendant's conviction and life sentence for possession and distribution of crack cocaine, and the other involving a defendant's conviction and sentence for selling oxycodone.

In US v. Rodriguez-Velez, No. 07-2813, the court faced a challenge to a conviction for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine and sentence of life imprisonment.  In affirming the conviction and the sentence, the court rejected defendant's various claims including;  prosecutorial misconduct, that the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal, claims of erroneous evidentiary rulings, and improper enhancing of his sentence.  With respect to the last claim, the court upheld defendant's life sentence in concluding that the district court acted within its discretion to enhance the sentence based on defendant's two prior felony drug convictions.

In US v. Ekasala, No. 09-1075, the court faced a challenge to a below-guidelines sentence for possession and distribution of oxycodone.  On appeal, defendant's main contention was the constitutionality of charging marijuana equivalent for oxycodone irrationally high, resulting in higher base offense level.  In affirming the conviction, the court held that defendant's argument must fail as long as the Sentencing Commission had a rational basis, which existed in this case. 

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