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

January 2013 Archives

Lawsuit Dismissed Because 56 Percent Is Less Than 60 Percent

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals interprets settlement agreements like contracts: absent ambiguity, the four corners control.

This week, the appellate court ruled that, even in the face of changing technologies, a court can't redefine the terms of a clearly-written settlement.

School Can Pay Teachers With Out of State Experience Less

The Steel Valley School District in Pennsylvania pays its teachers pursuant to a salary scale based on their education and years of experience. When the District hired Patrick Connelly, he had had nine years of teaching experience — in Maryland. But working in Maryland is practically the same as not working at all, according to Steel Valley policies: The District credited him with only one year when calculating his starting salary. Other new teachers with similar experience acquired within Pennsylvania — but outside Steel Valley — received at least partial credit for each year they had taught.

This week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the District’s pay policy did not violate the right to interstate travel under the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

Does it Matter if Exculpatory Evidence is Inadmissible?

The rules regarding exculpatory evidence are pretty clear. In Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that "the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment." In United States v. Bagley, the Court clarified, "Impeachment evidence, ... as well as exculpatory evidence, falls within the Brady rule." The prosecution has an affirmative "duty to disclose such evidence" even if the defense doesn't request it.

And when a defendant actually requests evidence? You guessed it. The prosecution has to comply.

You Can't Copyright the 'Cliches of Hip Hop Gangsterism'

Drug-dealing, guns, money, and vengeance have become part of the urban narrative. So have phrases like "yo, where's my money at," "let's keep it popping," and "the strong take from the weak but the smart take from everybody."

According to a recent unpublished opinion from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, such themes are "either common in general or common with respect to hip hop culture, and do not enjoy copyright protection." That's good news for 50 Cent, who was the defendant in this copyright dispute.

No Collateral Consequences: Released Prisoner's Case is Moot

Kelly Huff was sentenced to 12 months in prison and three years' supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Because Huff already had spent more than a year in prison while awaiting trial, her period of supervised release began on July 22, 2008.

In 2010 and 2011, the United States Probation Office filed two Petitions on Supervised Release, alleging that Huff had violated the terms of her release. Huff conceded the violations, and the district court ordered her back to jail for 10 months with no subsequent period of supervised release.

Huff appealed, claiming that the sentence was substantively unreasonable. But, as she was released from custody almost two months early, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decided that her appeal was moot.

So what exactly is a "serious drug offense"? The Third Circuit Court of Appeals tackled the question when it heard the case of Dante Tucker, a Pennsylvania man who was sentenced to 15 years under the Armed Career Criminal Act's three-strike policy.

On appeal, Tucker argued that his sentence should be reduced since two of his drug convictions don't qualify as "serious drug offenses" for purposes of sentencing enhancement under the Act. The Third Circuit agreed, in part.