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


Aaron Hernandez died in prison on Wednesday, having taken his own life. The former New England Patriots tight end's suicide came as he was serving a life sentence for murdering Odin Lloyd, the boyfriend of his fiancee's sister, and just days after he had been acquitted in another double murder case.

Hernandez's may be one of the most famous prison suicides, but it's not the only one. Every year, hundreds of inmates kill themselves, making it the leading cause of death in local jails, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Now, the Third Circuit has clarified just when such suicides may be considered violations of the Eighth Amendment.

Qualified Immunity Trumps First Amendment Lawsuit Over Wetlands

Identifying a right to be free from retaliatory restriction on speech, a federal appeals court ruled that a township official was nonetheless immune from liability when he told local residents not to contact him or other town leaders about a property dispute.

The Third Circuit ruled last week that the official had violated a Pennsylvania couple's rights with his "no contact" email, but that the right was not clearly established in the law at the time. Under the circumstances, the appeals court said, the official was entitled to a qualified immunity.

Fair Housing Claims Survive Death of a Party

Continuing a neighborhood dispute beyond the grave, a federal appeals court said that Fair Housing Act claims survive the death of a party.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeal said in Revock v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association that the Act is silent about survival claims. However, in a case of first impression, the judges said that federal courts have already provided a uniform rule for survival in many cases.

"Whether a Fair Housing Act claim survives the death of a party is an issue where a uniform federal common law rule is appropriate to fulfill the 'overall purposes' of the statute," the appeals panel said.

The court then reversed a judgment and remanded the case in favor of a woman who died during the litigation and another plaintiff in the case.

Man Held in Contempt for Refusing to Unlock Devices in Child Porn Case

A federal appeals court affirmed a contempt ruling against a man who refused to give authorities passwords to his electronic devices known to have child pornography.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant was in contempt of a trial court order to provide the passwords. The defendant claimed a right against self-incrimination, but the appellate court said the government already knew the devices contained child pornography and that it was "a foregone conclusion" the defendant knew the passwords.

"Based upon the testimony presented at the contempt proceeding, that fact is a foregone conclusion," Judge Thomas Vanaskie wrote for the court in United States of America v. Apple MacPro Computer.

For the first time, a federal appeals court has ruled that a resident doctor may sue a teaching hospital for gender discrimination under education laws.

Reversing and remanding a trial judge's dismissal, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said the former resident at Mercy Catholic Medical Center could proceed with her case under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments Act. The case was a matter of first impression in the circuit, which includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Charlton Heston, the late Hollywood actor and conservative activist, played an unusual role in overturning Paul McKernan's 1998 conviction for the murder of his roommate. McKernan's bench trial was held before Judge Lisa Richette. The trial went a bit awry after Judge Richette discovered a blog post criticizing her as a "bleeding heart judge" and quoting Charlton Heston's characterization of her as "Let 'em Loose Lisa."

That blog post caused Judge Richette to lose her impartiality, McKernan argued, and his counsel should have demanded her recusal. The Third Circuit agreed, finding that McKernan had received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Court Lifts Solitary Confinement for Some Death Row Inmates in Pennsylvania

Charles Dickens wrote that the law is an ass.

In Oliver Twist, the author suggested that sometimes the law makes no sense. In the case of Mr. Bumble, he said "the law is a ass" for making a man legally responsible for his wife's thievery.

With apologies to Dickens, as well as Craig Williams and Shawn Walker, it appears no one was legally responsible for their 14 years in unlawful solitary confinement. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said Williams and Walker had been denied due process, but that prison officials were not to blame because the law was not clear.

Age Bias Is Actionable in Sub-Groups, 3rd Cir. Rules

Splitting the federal circuits, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia has ruled that age discrimination may be actionable by sub-groups of older workers.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals said the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers aged 40 and older against age discrimination, and groups of fifty-year-olds or older groups may sue relative to younger groups in the protected class.

"A rule that disallowed subgroups would ignore genuine statistical disparities that could otherwise be actionable through application of the plain text of the statute," the appellate court said.

In reversing a trial court decision in the case, the appeals court set up the issue for resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court. The third Circuit acknowledged that its ruling was at odds with the Second, Sixth and Eighth circuits, but said it was compelled to craft its own rule.

Refugee Students Can Go to International School Under EEOA

As a political storm swirls around refugees in America, a federal appeals court gave comfort to refugee students at a Pennsylvania high school.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said that the students -- some who had fled war and violence in Burma, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan and Tanzania -- have a right to attend a high school that provides a better education for them. Citing the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, the court said the students do not have to go to an alternative school that did not help them overcome language barriers to their education.

Judge D. Michael Fisher, writing for the majority, said the refugee students were "flourishing" at McCaskey High School's International School. It would do them more harm to go to the Phoenix Academy, an alternative school that the local school district had mandated.

"Jockeying them back to Phoenix now would thus cause them greater harm, as the school district conceded during oral argument," Judge Fisher wrote.

Remember Usher, the R&B singer who was inescapable on pop radio in the late 90s and throughout the early 2000s? Who starred in "Moesha" and "She's All That" and whose "Confessions" album was described as "the 'Thriller' of our generation"? Well, he's back -- in the Third Circuit, that is.

Usher won a long-standing copyright infringement lawsuit over his 2004 hit song "Bad Girl" last Friday, when the Third Circuit tossed the infringement suit against him.