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Decisions Address Criminal Matters and Causation Standard in FELA Case

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By FindLaw Staff on March 16, 2010 4:30 PM

The Seventh Circuit decided two criminal cases and one civil case involving a claim under the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA).

In McBride v. CSX Transp. Inc., No. 08-3557, the court faced a challenge to a judgment in favor of plaintiff in his FELA suit against his employer for injuries he sustained while performing certain work duties.  At issue was the proper standard for causation under the FELA and whether section 1 of the FELA abrogates the common-law rule of proximate cause.  In affirming the decision, the court held that the common law proximate causation is not required to establish liability under the FELA, as this is in line with the Congress' intent as well as among circuits that there is a "relaxed" standard of probable cause under the FELA.

In Smith v. McKee, No. 09-1744, the court faced a challenge to a conviction for first degree murder and attempted robbery convictions.  In denying defendant's petition for habeas relief and in affirming the conviction, the court rejected all of defendant's contentions as procedurally defaulted and because he failed to show adequate cause and prejudice.  The court also rejected defendant's actual innocence claim as affidavits of two purported witnesses do not warrant the application of the miscarriage of justice exception. 

Lastly, in US v. Bell, No. 09-2555, the court faced a challenge to the district court's conviction and sentencing of defendant to 24 months' imprisonment, and an order to pay a restitution of $83,890.37 for willful failure to pay child support. 

In affirming the conviction, the court held that section 3282(a) is a continuing offense, and as such, district court properly rejected defendant's statute of limitations argument and denied his motion to dismiss the indictment.  The court also concluded that the district court did not err in instructing the jury on standard of willfulness.  However, the sentence is vacated and remanded for resentencing as the district court double counted by applying a cross reference for section 228 and then enhancing it for conduct that constitutes an element of the offense, which is court order violation.

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