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

Mercado-Berrios v. Cancel-Alegria, No. 08-1098, concerned a challenge to the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiff and an award of $213,000 in compensatory damages and $1,000,000 in punitive damages, in plaintiff's political discrimination and speech retaliation suit, claiming that she was wrongly denied a permanent position with the Puerto Rican Tourism Company. 

In reversing the judgment as to the plaintiff's political discrimination claim, the court held that  it was not reasonable for the jury to conclude that plaintiff's political beliefs were a substantial or motivating factor in defendant's decision not to hire her.  With respect to plaintiff's retaliation claim, the court affirmed the judgment as to this claim, because defendant has not contested the sufficiency of the evidence, or made any other argument attacking the speech retaliation claim.  The court affirmed the award of compensatory damages, but vacated and remanded the jury's award of punitive damages, unless the plaintiff agrees to a reduction of the award to $500,000, as an award of $1,000,000 against an individual-capacity defendant based on the conduct proved at trial is grossly excessive and shocking to the conscience of the court.

Sheehan v. N. Am. Marketing Corp., No. 08-1519, concerned a product liability suit against a seller and a manufacturer of swimming pools, for sustaining serious injuries while attempting to dive into a shallow, above-ground pool, rendering her a quadriplegic.  In affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the court held that a summary judgment is warranted on the facts of the case as plaintiff stood on the coping (six and one-half inch-wide aluminum covering the top perimeter of the pool), in order to dive, and the injury that occurred was the same one contemplated by the multiple warnings - including on the coping itself.  Therefore, plaintiff assumed the risk of diving, including the risk that she might fall from the coping into the pool while attempting to dive.

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Harrington v. City of Nashua, No. 09-2275, concerned a plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit alleging Fourth Amendment violations for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, arising from her complaint to the police of an alleged rape by a co-worker.  In affirming the judgment of the district court, the court held that the false imprisonment claim is barred by the statute of limitations.  The court further held that the plaintiff failed to make out the Fourth Amendment violation needed to sustain her section 1983 malicious prosecution claim.  Lastly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to alter or amend the judgment.

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Malone v. Lockheed Martin Corp., No. 09-2060, concerned a challenge to the district court's grant of defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law, following jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiff and an award of $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages, in plaintiff's suit for employment discrimination based on race and retaliation.  Based on substantially the same reasons as the district court's, the court affirmed the grant of JMOL as the record reveals no significant evidentiary basis for the verdict.   

Diaz-Garcia v. Holder, No. 09-1681, concerned a Colombian citizen's petition for review of a decision denying his applications for asylum and related relief.  In denying the petition, the court held that the IJ's negative credibility assessment regarding petitioner's allegations that he was threatened by the FARC Guerrillas was amply supported by a specific and cogent explanation based on substantial evidence.   

As stated in 8 U.S.C. section 1101(a)(42): "The alien's credible testimony alone may suffice to carry this burden.  But the agency is not required to take such testimony at face value; it may discount or disregard the testimony if the trier reasonably deems it to be speculative or unworthy of credence.  In the absence of other compelling evidence, an adverse credibility determination can prove fatal to a claim for either asylum or withholding of removal."

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Rectrix Aerodrome Ctrs., Inc. v. Barnstable Mun. Airport Comm'n, No. 09-2173, concerned a plaintiff's suit against an airport commission and individual defendants, claiming that it was prevented from competing with defendant in the sale of jet fuel.  In affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the court held that plaintiff's fraud claim fails as plaintiff was a commercial tenant of the airport and, given the self-service standards and lease terms, had no right and no reasonable expectation of being able to sell jet fuel at the airport.  Furthermore, plaintiff's antitrust claim is barred by the state action doctrine given the Massachusetts statute, and plaintiff's equal protection claim under section 1983 fails as well as no private entity at the airport has the privilege sought by plaintiff.     

US v. Gonzalez, No. 08-2578,  concerned a challenge to the district court's denial of a motion to suppress in a prosecution of defendant for conspiring to distribute and possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana.  In affirming the conviction and the sentence, the court held that the test is not whether the individual actually lived in the apartment but whether she apparently had sufficient authority to consent to its search.  Also, the court held that there was probable cause to arrest defendant, that there was sufficient evidence to support the search warrant of his vehicle, and that the district court clearly did not err by crediting a witness' testimony over defendant's.  Lastly, the court held that the district court did not err in imposing a two-level sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice after finding defendant committed perjury at the suppression hearing. 

US v. Manon, No. 08-1826, concerned a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a new trial in a prosecution for drug related crimes.  In affirming the denial, the court held that this is not a case in which defense counsel's performance was "tantamount to non-representation" entitling defendant to Cronic's presumed prejudice standard, and rejected defendant's ineffective assistance claim in holding that defendant cannot show a probability that, but for counsel's chosen strategy, the result of the proceeding would have been different.     

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Real Estate Bar Ass'n for Massachusetts, Inc. v. Nat'l Real Estate Info. Serv., No. 09-1809, concerned the Real Estate Bar Association's suit against defendant for unauthorized practice of law.  First, the court vacated in part the judgment of the district court against plaintiff on its unauthorized practice of law claim, as in Massachusetts, the state judicial branch and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (SJC) in particular, is solely responsible for defining what is the practice of law, and here, there is no controlling precedent which addresses whether the activities at issue constitute unauthorized practice of law.  Lastly, the court reversed and remanded as to the district court's judgment on defendant's dormant Commerce Clause counterclaim, as plaintiff is not a state actor, defendant has not stated a dormant Commerce Clause claim against plaintiff, and plaintiff's bringing of its suit against defendant under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 221, section 46B is protected by the First Amendment.   

Rodriguez-Garcia v. Miranda-Marin, No. 08-2319, concerned a municipal employee's suit, claiming that she was transferred to another position in retaliation for testimony she gave before the Puerto Rico Government Ethics Office, in violation of her rights under the First Amendment and Puerto Rico law.  In affirming the judgment of the district court, the court held that the evidence presented at trial is sufficient to support the jury finding that plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action sufficient to support her section 1983 claim.  The court also ruled that the defendants would not have taken the same adverse employment action in the absence of her protected conduct, and as such, the mayor is personally liable for retaliation under section 1983, as is the municipality.  Also held that the court did not abuse its discretion in affirming the damages award in the amount of $350,000, and that the court's determination that plaintiff waived her law 115 claim, was not an abuse of discretion.   

Larios v. Holder, No. 09-1869, concerned a Guatemalan native's petition for review of a decision denying his application for asylum and related relief.  In denying the petition, the court held that the IJ's decision to deny petitioner's asylum claim was well-reasoned and supported by substantial evidence and controlling precedent.  

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In Elliot v. Carcieri, No. 09-1759, concerned a class action lawsuit on behalf of foster care children who are under the legal custody of Rhode Island's Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), claiming that systematic deficiencies in the state's child welfare and foster care systems deprived the plaintiffs of their rights under the U.S. Constitution and several federal statutes.  In reversing the district court's judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that the Next Friends lacked capacity to sue on behalf of plaintiffs, the court held that the district court erred in finding that the state appointed guardians ad litem or CASA advocates precluded plaintiffs from filing suit by a Next Friend.  Further, under the circumstances of the case, Rule 17(c) allows federal courts discretion to appoint a Next Friend to represent the children in federal court. Finally, the court held that the proposed Next Friends are suited to represent the children in this case.   

US v. Jackson, No. 09-1202, Denial of a motion to suppress in a conviction of defendant for being a felon in possession of a firearm is affirmed as, the district court's judgment was neither unreasonable nor clear error as under Justice Kennedy's test, the lack of any pre-planned evasion of Miranda defeats defendants claim, and under the plurality decision's fact sensitive approach, the most egregious elements of Seibert are absent.   

US v. Crooker, No. 07-1964, concerned a challenge to a conviction of defendant for transporting a firearm in interstate commerce as a convicted felon and sentenced to 262 months' imprisonment.  In reversing the conviction, the court remanded the case for the entry of judgment of acquittal as, on the facts of this case, a silencer cannot qualify as a "firearm" within the meaning of the statutory definition.   

Lastly, in Aponte v. Holder, No. 09-2408, the First Circuit dealt with a citizen of the Dominican Republic's petition for review of a decision denying her motion to reopen removal proceedings.  In granting the petition, the court held that the BIA abused its discretion by issuing an inadequately reasoned decision denying petitioner's motion to reopen. 

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Estate of Charania v. Shulman, No. 09-2430, concerned a decedent's estate's challenge to the judgment of the tax court in a deficiency case. The court affirmed in part the judgment of the tax court that all of the Citigroup shares were the separate property of the decedent for federal estate tax purposes and, thus, were includable in his gross taxable estate, as the rule of De Nicols is that a change is marital domicile does not, in itself, effect a change in the marital property regime governing the spouses' rights in personal property acquired throughout the course of the marriage.  However, the court reversed in part as the tax court's approbation of the late-filing penalty was in error. 

US v. Laurent, No. 09-1543, concerned a challenge to a defendant's conviction and sentence for drug related crimes.  In affirming, the court rejected defendant's claim that the destruction of the surveillance videotape of defendant selling drugs to an undercover agent and failure by the prosecutor to disclose before trial the prior existence of the tape and the destruction violated his constitutional rights, as the tape was not exculpatory, but rather, it is more likely than not that the tape would have inculpated defendant.   

Martinez v. Cui, No. 09-1471, concerned a plaintiff's suit against a first-year medical resident, claiming that she was sexually assaulted during an examination.  In affirming the jury verdict in favor of the defendant, the court held that the district court's evidentiary rulings were not error; and that the jury was correctly instructed on the shocks-the-conscious element as this standard applies to claims that an executive official's sexual assault violated the substantive due process clause.   

Cortes-Reyes v. Salas-Quintana, No. 08-2210, concerned a political discrimination suit brought by thirty-six former Ranger cadets of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, claiming they were terminated due to their political affiliation with the New Progressive Party.  The court vacated in part the judgment of the district court as to the jury's finding of a due process violation and the related award of compensatory damages as the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the due process claim.  However, the court affirmed the jury's finding of a First Amendment violation and the award of nominal and punitive damages for that violation.     

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In Gonzalez-Fuentes v. Molina, No. 08-1818, the First Circuit faced a challenge, by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, of a district court's judgment in a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit brought by former inmates and a petition for habeas relief by inmates, re-imprisoned after being admitted into an electronic supervision program (ESP).

In reversing the judgment and vacating the permanent injunction, the court held that the district court erred in finding an ex post facto violation against either group.  The court also held that plaintiffs' substantive due process claim must fail as the decision to re-imprison plaintiffs following their time participating in the ESP does not in itself shock the conscience. With respect to the proceudral due process claim, the court held that plaintiffs' arrangement was sufficiently similar to traditional parole - far more like parole than the work release program in Dominique - to merit protection under the Due Process Clause.  Lastly, the court held that, because Public Law 49 provides a valid, independent basis for the deprivation of liberty, any procedural due process violations do not justify the respective remedies that the two sets of plaintiffs have requested.  

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In Grossmith v. Noonan, No. 09-1900, the First Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's judgment in favor of the defendants in plaintiff's civil rights suit against two police officers arising out of his arrest for shooting his neighbor's dog.  In affirming the judgment, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that both parties had made the dog's appearance relevant to the case and admitting the photograph as the photograph of the dog, properly authenticated, was useful to the jury in evaluating the credibility of defendant's testimony and that of others.  Furthermore, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting testimony about the dog's characteristic behavior and its physical appearance for the same reasons.   

US v. Franquiz-Ortiz, No. 09-1815, concerned a challenge to the district court's imposition of a statutory maximum permissible sentence upon revocation of defendant's supervised release for his drug conviction.  In vacating the revocation sentence, the court held that the record provides an insufficient basis for review of the procedural and substantive reasonableness of the sentence.   

US v. Rivera-Martinez, No. 09-1766, concerned a district court's denial of defendant's motion for a sentence reduction of his 240 month sentence for drug related conviction.  In affirming the denial, the court held that, in the absence of explicit countervailing language in the plea agreement, 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2) does not apply and, as such, the defendant, who was sentenced pursuant to a binding C-type plea agreement for conspiring to distribute crack cocaine is not eligible for sentence reduction.   

Anaya-Burgos v. Lasalvia-Prisco, No. 09-1079, concerned a plaintiff's suit against an oncologist and others, claiming that the death of his wife was the result of defendants' negligent acts and omissions that induced her to purchase their "cancer vaccine" treatment rather than conventional cancer treatments.  In vacating the district court's grant of defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court held that the plaintiff put forth sufficient evidence including expert testimony, from which a reasonable jury could have concluded - and did conclude - that defendants' breach of the standard of care towards the wife caused her untimely death by inducing her to choose their treatment with promises that it would cure her.   

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In Chaparro v. Ruiz-Hernandez, No. 08-1989, the First Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment in their 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit brought by a group of twenty-two contract employees against a Puerto Rican municipality and its officers, arising from early termination of their employment some five months prior to expiration of their one-year contract.

In affirming part of the judgment, the court held that plaintiffs had a reasonable expectation of continued employment, and that a one-year term of employment with Puerto Rican government bodies is generally considered a protected property interest for procedural due process purposes.  The court rejected defendants' claim that plaintiffs were not deprived of protected property interests without due process of law because the process Puerto Rico provided was adequate.  However, the judgments against the individual defendants is vacated, as well as an award of punitive damages against them. 

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Rule v. Fort Dodge Animal Health, Inc., No. 09-1364, concerned a plaintiff's putative class action suit against Weyth Corporation and its subsidiary, alleging that defendants had sold a heartworm medication to her dog without disclosing safety concerns revealed in initial testing and in subsequent use.  In affirming district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to sate a claim, the court held that recovery generally is not available under the warranty of merchantability where the defect that made the product unfit caused no injury to the claimant and the threat is now gone and nothing now possessed by the claimant has been lessened in value.  The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claim as she has suffered no economic injuries under 93A section 4.     

US v. Roa-Medina, No. 08-2490, concerned a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's motion to modify his sentence of 72-months for crack and other drug related offenses.  In affirming the sentence, the court held that the defendant was sentenced to a term  of imprisonment that was "based on a sentencing range" of 120 months to 135 months, and his reduced sentence represented a 40% deviation from the bottom of that range, and defendant's sentencing range has not been "lowered" within the meaning of section 3582(c)(2).   

Rosario v. Dep't of the Army, No. 08-2168, concerned a plaintiff's suit against the Department of the Army and others, claiming that sexual harassment by her co-worker at an Army medical clinic subjected her to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.  In vacating and remanding the district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court held that a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff met her burden to show conduct that created a hostile work environment within the meaning of Title VII. 

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