U.S. Sixth Circuit - FindLaw

U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


Alternative Title: Expectation of Privacy Doesn't Apply to Pocket-Dials

An expectation of privacy doesn't apply to your accidental pocket-dials, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Tuesday. Someone who pocket-dials, butt-dials, purse-dials, or otherwise unintentionally calls another party doesn't have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the court ruled, and whoever is on the receiving end of the call is free to eavesdrop -- even to record your conversations.

The case came after an executive accidentally pocket-dialed a colleague's secretary. That secretary listened in, for over an hour and a half as plans for firing her boss were discussed. When she revealed them, the executive sued, claiming that her eavesdropping was an unlawful interception of private communications. Not so, the Sixth Circuit ruled.

It was the largest civil class action lawsuit ever, until the Supreme Court cut it down. Now, the gender bias suit against Walmart has returned, short a million and a half class members or so.

The Sixth Circuit revived a gender bias class action against the world's largest private employer. The class action was filed on behalf of all female employees in Walmart's Region 43, centered in Tennessee but reaching to Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi. It alleges systematic gender discrimination in pay and promotions.

The Sixth Circuit was always the outlier when it came to same-sex marriage. Over the past two years, the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have all found a constructional right to same-sex marriage. Meanwhile the Sixth went it alone, rejecting the plaintiffs' claim that refusing to allow them to marry violated their equal protection and due process rights.

That ruling was overturned today, as the Supreme Court announced this morning that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage.

A federal judge who undermined and insulted defense counsel in front of the jury and provided off-the-cuff, erroneous jury instructions has won the attorney's client a new trial. The Sixth Circuit ruled last week that a judge for the Eastern District of Michigan demonstrated such "outright bias and belittling of counsel" that the defendant was denied an impartial trial.

When counsel for Reginald Daniels, accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm, attempted to show that Daniels had not been in possession of a gun and that police had searched his home without a warrant, he was continuously and repeatedly interrupted by the judge, who accused him of distracting jurors, lying, and needing to "shut up." According to the Sixth Circuit, the judge's behavior was so unfair that Daniels' conviction had to be overturned.

In a case where the Tennessee Department of Children's Services sought to remove two children from their father, the father sought to remove the case to federal court. The removal of the children, and termination of parental rights, may well go ahead, but removal to federal court cannot, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Monday.

When the Department filed a petition to terminate Shaun Winesburgh's parental rights over his two children due to neglect and severe abuse, he claimed they were discriminating against him based on his mental disability and sought to remove the case to federal court. According to the Sixth, however, his federal counterclaims and invocation of civil rights removal provisions were insufficient to take his case out of state court.

Constitutional violations are injuries in and of themselves and prisoners asserting them do not have to allege a concomitant physical injury, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Monday. That means that such suits are not prohibited by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which prohibits prisoners from asserting 1983 claims alleging only mental or emotional injuries. A violation of one's First Amendment rights is a separate injury, not limited by the PLRA's preclusion.

The Sixth's ruling puts it in the more permissive side of a long standing circuit split over whether prisoners can sue for constitutional violations that did not result in physical injury. Following yesterday's ruling, not only will prisoners' constitutional claims survive the PLRA, prisoners may also be entitled to compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

6th Cir. Creates Split in Private Searches on Computers

What are the limits of the "private search doctrine" when it comes to a computer? The Sixth Circuit answered that question last week in a case that is sure to make it to the Supreme Court.

Aaron Lichtenberger was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender. His girlfriend, wondering why she was never allowed to use his computer, hacked into it and found images of child pornography. She notified the authorities, police obtained a warrant to search the computer, which led to more pornography. The Sixth Circuit, however, suppressed all this evidence as the product of an unconstitutional search.

Prosecutors impermissibly withheld potentially exculpatory evidence in their prosecution of an Ohio police lieutenant for the death of his wife. Thomas Barton was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after he allegedly hired a man to "scare" his wife by staging a robbery, only for the plan to go wrong and Barton's wife to end up dead.

Barton appealed, arguing that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence -- mainly that the sole witness against Barton may not have had the "burglar for hire" history that the state claimed. The Second Circuit agreed, finding that the evidence could have helped Barton's defense.

Police Can't Arrest Gun Owner Just for Open Carry Gun: 6th Cir

What good is a law allowing the open carrying of handguns when the police are just going to arrest you for it? Shawn and Denise Northrup of Toledo, Ohio were just walking their dog one evening when a motorcyclist saw them and yelled, "You can't walk around with a gun like that!"

For, you see, Shawn was walking the dog while armed with a semiautomatic handgun. The motorcyclist, Alan Rose, called the police, who confirmed that it was legal to carry openly in Ohio, but nevertheless sent an officer out to investigate.

Lawyers Collecting State Debts Not 'Officers'; Subject to FDCPA

Allowing debt collectors to use state prosecutors' letterhead is a controversial practice. It nets counties money (debt collectors essentially rent out the letterhead), but the ABA and other legal organizations say it's deceptive because a county prosecutor isn't actually charging the debtor with a crime.

To that end, the Sixth Circuit addressed two kinks in the issue: Whether the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to law firms tasked with collecting state debts, and whether their use of the Ohio Attorney General's letterhead violated the FDCPA.