U.S. Third Circuit - FindLaw

U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


Prosecutor? No need. How about defense counsel? Nah, they can represent themselves.

Meet Judge Louis DiLeo. Back in 2010, in the Linden, New Jersey, municipal court, DiLeo held a "trial" consisting of himself as the judge and prosecutor, the two defendants representing themselves (after denying their request for a public defender), and the police witness, who cross-examined them.

Unsurprisingly, the two convictions were later reversed, Judge DiLeo was reprimanded, and last week, the Third Circuit upheld the district court's holding that he had lost his judicial immunity by going all Judge Dredd on the parties.

Sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), also known as conversion therapy or ex-gay therapy, is still illegal in New Jersey, the second U.S. state to ban the controversial treatment. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, borrowing heavily from the Ninth Circuit's consideration of California's similar ban, upheld Assembly Bill A3371 yesterday.

The Third Circuit held that while the therapy was speech (as opposed to conduct), it was professional speech, a form of speech offered fewer protections under the First Amendment. New Jersey's interest in "protecting its citizens from harmful or ineffective professional practices" trumps those protections.

The only remedy left for proponents of the therapy is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, a path these groups declined to take when challenging California's ban.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is simple: If you're injured, you can take leave and your job is held for you while you recover. Except, the finer points can get a bit tricky. What if an employee can only come back with restrictions? Who makes the judgment call on whether an employee can fulfill her essential duties?

That was the key to Vanessa Budhun's case. She broke a finger, was told by HR that she had to take FMLA leave, and while she was gone, was replaced. The doctor cleared her with "no restrictions in splint," which is kinda-sorta like no restrictions, but with only seven functioning digits. (Bundhun's job requires typing.)

The district court granted summary judgment to the hospital, but the Third Circuit reversed. Why?

A prisoner ejaculation lawsuit? What's this all about?

Prisons can be funny places. Not funny "ha-ha," but funny "what planet are you living on?" For example, sex occurs in prisons -- that's a fact -- but prisons have been routinely against providing condoms in order to limit the transmission of STDs between prisoners. Why? The outmoded logic that, because sex between prisoners isn't permitted, providing condoms would be an incentive to have sex. Recall the previous sentence, however: It's already happening. The philosophy of harm reduction, rather than making public policy based on what people should or shouldn't be doing, is predicated on making policy based on what people actually do.

Against this backdrop, we come to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, where an Article III judge rejected a magistrate's recommendation that a prisoner's Eighth Amendment claim be dismissed.

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? And if a person puts child pornography in a shared folder, but no one downloads it, has that person "distributed" child pornography? By a 2-1 margin, the Third Circuit said "no."

David George Husmann was already on supervised release for a child pornography conviction when the probation department was alerted that his computer had accessed pornographic websites. A probation officer visited his house, ultimately seizing four USB flash drives. Husmann also had file-sharing applications installed on his computer. Several of the pornographic files were in a "shared" folder that could be made available to others on the file sharing network.

The so-called automobile exception to the warrant requirement is like Prince: constantly changing, keeping you guessing, but retaining a certain timeless sex appeal with its intricacies and exceptions. (Is it Gant or is it Belton? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.)

Joseph Donahue was staring down the short end of the automobile exception. Donahue was convicted of fraud in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. The court ordered him to surrender at a particular time, but he never appeared. U.S. marshals found him in New Mexico in a Ford Mustang. Marshals took the Mustang, searched it, photographed it, and even X-rayed it -- all without a warrant.

There was a guy, a guy we'll keep anonymous (this case does involve Alcoholics Anonymous, after all) who was an insider at the Philadelphia Consolidated Holding Corporation ("PHLY"). In mid-2008, he had a few relapses, and when he returned to AA, his long-time AA confidant, Timothy McGee, asked about the absences. The insider blurted out that he was stressed about work because PHLY was about to sell at three times its book value: $61.50.

McGee, as you have probably already guessed, went out and bought as much of PHLY's stock as possible, flipping the stock after the acquisition announcement for about $290,000 in profit. The SEC noticed the suspicious transactions, asked him about it, and eventually, McGee was convicted of insider trading and perjury under a misappropriation theory.

McGee challenged his conviction, arguing that AA mentorship falls outside of the "recognized dut[ies]" and relationships that can support such a conviction.

This is one of those cases that seems obvious, until you consult the history books.

You might think to yourself, of course a city can't ban its police officers from contributing to political campaigns -- that's ridiculous. Except, in 1917, the "Bloody Fifth" Ward incident happened: Cops beat up an opposition candidate, killed a detective who tried to intervene, and terrorized the candidate's supporters. Because, ya know, machine politics.

A series of reforms followed, culminating in a 1951 ban on political contributions by cops as a prophylactic against corruption. The ban stood for more than 60 years, until the Third Circuit cut it down this week, citing a few obvious free speech problems.

In addition to paying for their crimes figuratively by going to prison, defendants also have to pay literally in the form of restitution, fines, and fees. In Pennsylvania, prisoners have inmate accounts that they use for purchasing such things as soap, toothpaste, and over-the-counter medications. A Pennsylvania law allows the state to deduct a prisoner's fines and fees from this inmate account -- although sometimes inmates aren't told this can happen.

Domingo Montanez and Timothy Hale are two such prisoners. They sued the Department of Corrections, alleging due process violations when the state automatically deducted funds from their inmate accounts to pay their fines and fees. The Third Circuit reversed summary judgment against Hale, and affirmed summary judgment against Montanez.

Remember the mailbox rule? Just the thought of it brings us back to our first year of law school. And believe it or not, it still comes up in cases today.

Last week, the Third Circuit had a chance to review the common law presumption of delivery, and noted that it in this day and age, that time-honored presumption may not be enough for employers attempting to give their employees legal notice.