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

June 2010 Archives

In Younis v. Pinnacle Airlines, Inc., No. 08-6112, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's judgment in favor of the defendant in plaintiff's suit for employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, claiming that he was terminated from his position as a pilot with the defendant airline company because he was an Arab-American and Muslim.

In affirming the judgment, the court held that plaintiff has not satisfied the requirement that an employee exhaust administrative remedies with regard to a claim of hostile work environment under Title VII before bringing suit on that claim in federal court. The court also held that the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies on the retaliation claim.  And lastly, the court held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's disparate treatment claim as he did not establish a Title VII violation circumstantially because he could not show that he was treated in all relevant respects less favorably than a similarly situated pilot with the defendant company at the rank of captain.

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Conviction of a Former Army Member, Plus Excessive Force Suit

US v. Springer, No. 08-6381, concerned a challenge to a conviction of a former Army member for possessing an unregisterd firearm in violation of 26 U.S.C. sections 5861(d) and 5871, for taking a live rocket home from an Army base and keeping it in his garage.  In affirming the conviction, the court held that section 5861(d) does not prohibit possession of an unregistered firearm that is in the possession or under the control of the U.S.  However, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the conclusion that defendant did not qualify for the exception to section 5861(d) as a reasonable juror could easily have found that defendant's possession of the rocket was unauthorized.

Aldini v. Johnson, No. 09-3183, concerned a plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 excessive force suit against four corrections officers, claiming that he was beaten and repeatedly tased while being held in the booking room pending a completion of the booking process.  First, the court held that the district court erred in applying the Fourteenth Amendment standard to an arrestee detained following a warantless arrest prior to a probable cause hearing.  However, the court affirmed in part, as the district court's conclusion that the actions of the one officer violated the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than applying the Fourth Amendment,  was harmless because actions that violate the Fourteenth Amendment necessarily violate the Fourth Amendment.  However, the district court's grant of qualified immunity to the remaining officers is vacated as a review of the record leads the court to believe that a different result could be possible under the Fourth Amendment for the remaining officers.

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Kyle v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 09-3628, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's affirmance of ALJ's determination that claimant was not disabled for Social Security purposes.  In affirming, the court held that the ALJ's factual determination that claimant possessed supervisory skills transferable to other jobs was supported by substantial evidence.  The court further held that the jobs to which the vocational expert testified claimant could transfer were consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

Wedgewood Ltd. P'ship I. v. Township of Liberty, No. 08-4446, concerned a property owner's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against a town and its Board of Trustees, arising from an adoption of a zoning ordinance that prevented the construction of a Wal-Mart on plaintiff's property.  In affirming the district court's order granting plaintiff's motion for a permanent injunction, the court held that the town violated plaintiff's procedural due process rights when it adopted zoning instructions that amended the planned development without providing plaintiff without notice and an opportunity to be heard.

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In US v. Robinson, No. 08-6023, the Seventh Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of pro se defendant's motion to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2) for crack cocaine and firearm related offenses, claiming that the district court had authority to further reduce his sentence.  However, because pursuant to section 3582(c)(2), a district court is not authorized to reduce a defendant's sentence below the amended Guidelines range, the court affirmed defendant's sentence.  Furthermore, the court denied defendant's motion for appointment of counsel, 

Claiborne-Hughes Health Ctr. v. Sebelius, No. 09-3239, concerned a challenge to the Appellate Division of the Departmental Appeals Board's (DAB) affirmance of the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' imposition of a civil money penalty upon, as well as a denial of payment for new admissions for, a skilled nursing facility, due to noncompliance with a number of standards of care required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In affirming the judgment, the court held that it was clear that the facility failed to achieve substantial compliance with 42 C.F.R. section 483.10(b)(11) as the DAB correctly noted that a sharp decline in food intake persisting for over three weeks should have brought a resident's significant change in status to the facility's attention.  The court also held that the DAB's immediate jeopardy determination was not in clear error, and that substantial evidence existed in the record as a whole to demonstrate that the facility had failed to substantially comply with the requirement that it provide each resident with sufficient fluid intake to maintain proper hydration and health under section 483.25(j).  Lastly, the court held that the ALJ was free not to continue making additional rulings once he determined that the deficiencies concerning the two residents sufficed to support imposition of sanctions.     

Davis v. Lafler, No. 08-1291, concerned a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's petition for habeas relief from convictions for carjacking and receiving and concealing stolen property.  In reversing the conviction, the court held that there was insufficient evidence on which to base defendant's conviction for aiding and abetting the carjacking. 

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In US v. Stone, No. 10-1618, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's decision to release five defendants, belonging to a paramilitary organization known as the Michigan Hutaree, on bail pending their trial for conspiracy to levy war against or to oppose by force the authority of the United States government related offenses.  In reversing the district court's decision, the court held that each defendant poses a danger to the community and no conditions of release will reasonably assure the safety of the community.  

US v. Christman, No. 08-4474, concerned a challenge to the district court's re-sentencing of defendant, convicted of possessing child pornography, to five days in prison and fifteen years of supervised release, from his original sentence of 57 months in prison.  In vacating the sentence, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in weighing several factors so heavily in favor of mitigation.  The court also held that the sentence was substantively unreasonable for failing to provide enough reasoning of the section 3553(a) factors to provide for meaningful appellate reviewm as is the complete lack of explanation for the drastic change in the sentence.  On remand, the case is to be assigned to a different judge for re-sentencing.     

Winnett v. Caterpillar, Inc., No. 08-6236, concerned an interlocutory appeal brought by Caterpillar from the district court's decision preliminarily enjoining the company to provide a subclass of 275 plaintiffs who retired from a Caterpillar subsidiary between 1992 and 1998 with "lifetime cost-free retiree health care." In reversing the preliminary injunction, the court held that the statute of limitations bars the claims of this subclass because the the claim accrued at least by 1998 when the union and the company reached a new labor agreement that altered the healthcare benefits available to retirees.     

Miller v. Stovall, No. 08-2267, concerned a district court's conditional grant of a writ of habeas corpus to a defendant serving a life sentence for second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of her husband.  In affirming, the court held that the defendant's lover's suicide note, implicating defendant in the crime, was testimonial under Crawford and its admission violated the Confrontation Clause, and the State has waived the harmless-error argument.     

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Cruz-Samayoa v. Holder, No. 09-3824, concerned Guatemalan natives' petition for review of a decision denying their applications for asylum and related relief. 

As stated in the decision: "[T]he Guatemalan government has filed charges against Cruz for his participatopn and leadership in the events that took place at Nueva Linda, and it is for this reason that Cruz entered the United States most recently," and "Based on the INTERPOL report, the laws that Guatemala seeks to enforce against Cruz are laws of general applicability and their underlying substance is not questionable.  In fact, many, if not all, of the charges would constitute crimes under the laws of the United States."

Thus, in denying the petitions, the court held that the father is ineligible for asylum and withholding of removal as the BIA's conclusion that he is not a "refugee" within the meaning of the INA is supported by substantial evidence.  Furthermore, petitioner's two adult children have failed to show that they cannot reasonably and safely relocate within Guatemala to avoid potential harm.     

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High School Teacher's First Amendment Retaliation Suit

In Vereecke v. Huron Valley Sch. Dist., No. 08-2051, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in a high school English teacher's suit against a school district and individuals for First Amendment retaliation, claiming that certain disciplinary actions were taken against him for initiating a lawsuit against another teacher on behalf of his daughter for harassment.

As stated in the decision: "The third element of a First Amendment retaliation claim requires the plaintiff to prove 'a causal connection between the protected conduct and the adverse action."  Here, the court determined that plaintiff has failed to show that the speech at issue represented a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse employment action. 

Thus, in affirming the judgment, the court held that the plaintiff has not presented evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact in support of causation element of his section 1983 claim against the individual defendants, and because the individual defendants did not violate plaintiff's constitutional rights under the First Amendment, he cannot rely on their conduct to establish a claim of municipal liability. 

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Afghanistan Vet's Suit Against IBM, Plus Immigration Matter

Kwak v. Holder, 09-3681, concerned a petition for review a decision of the BIA affirming an IJ's denial of a Korean citizen's application for a continuance of proceedings and entering an order of removal.  In denying the petition, the court held that the BIA's conclusion that the IJ did not abuse its discretion in denying the continuance was consistent with prior jurisprudence.  The court also held that the BIA did not abuse its discretion in denying the request for continuance despite the pendency of petitioner's I-601.  Lastly, the court held that the BIA did not abuse its discretion by considering the number and length of the continuances granted throughout petitioner's exclusion proceedings, nor in relying, in part, on the DHS's opposition to a continuance.     

Wysocki v. Int'l Bus. Mach. Corp., No.09-5161, concerned a plaintiff's action against his former employer, IBM, for violation of the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), alleging IBM refused to properly reintegrate him as a data administrator after returning from military service in Afghanistan.  In affirming the district court's decision to convert IBM's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment and granting it, the court held that it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to determine that plaintiff had notice that the motion to dismiss might be converted into a motion for summary judgment and that he had a reasonable opportunity to present materials outside the pleadings.  Moreover, a release is valid because, although 38 U.S.C. section 4302 applies to a waiver of all procedural rights, section 4302 does not prevent plaintiff from releasing his USERRA rights.  

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In US v. Quesada, No. 08-2183, the court of appeals handled an appeal from a defendant's conviction and sentence on criminal charges revolving around a drug-distribution conspiracy.

The circuit court affirmed the judgment over a claim that the government breached a plea agreement by using defendant's proffer statement to prove the applicability of certain sentencing enhancements where: 1) the plea agreement rendered the terms of an earlier proffer letter no longer binding on the parties; and 2) consequently, because the government made no promises concerning the use of defendant's proffer in the plea agreement, the claim of breach was without merit.

In Bonilla-Morales v. Holder, No. 09-3676, a native of Honduras petitioned for review of a decision denying her application for asylum and related relief. However, the court of appeals denied the petition finding that: 1) her asylum claim failed as she did not show that the mistreatment that she and her family suffered was "on account of" her membership in a purported social group, nor did she show was entitled to a presumption of a well-founded fear of future persecution by the "MS-13 gang"; 2) since petitioner did not meet the burden of showing future persecution for asylum purposes, she cannot meet the higher burden needed to qualify for the withholding of removal; and 3) she failed to establish that it is more likely than not that she will be tortured upon returning to Honduras given the significant time span over which past incidents of torture occurred.   

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Denial of a Sentence Reduction Upheld

In US v. Williams, No. 09-5331, a defendant challenged an order denying his motion to reduce his sentence for possession of with intent to distribute and for being a felon in possession of a firearm

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the ruling as the career offender guidelines, and not crack cocaine guidelines, controlled his original sentence, and thus the district court lacked jurisdiction to resentence defendant under section 3582(c)(2).  

Specifically, the court stated: "Because the district court originally sentenced him using the career offender guideline, rather than the crack cocaine guideline, Williams would have been subject to the same sentencing range even if Amendment 706 existed at the time of his original sentence....Accordingly, Williams's sentence is not "based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission," as § 3582(c)(2) requires....And since the question is jurisdictional, [citation omitted], we conclude that the district court lacked authority to reach the discretionary resentencing question."

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In US v. Pembrook, No. 08-6452, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a sentence reduction for his crack cocaine possession and intent to distribute conviction.  In affirming the decision, the court held that defendant's applicable guideline range was his career offender range, not the crack cocaine range to which the district court departed under U.S.S.G. sections 4A1.3 and 5K2.0, and as such, Amendment 706 to the sentencing guidelines did not have the effect of lowering defendant's applicable guideline range and he is not eligible for a sentence reduction.     

US v. Humphrey, No. 08-5850, concerned a challenge to a conviction of defendant for child pornography and related crime.  In affirming the conviction, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the government's motion in limine to exclude from trial evidence related to defendant's knowledge of the victim's age, and in denying defendant's motion for a continuance, as his contention that he was compelled to stand trial before a jury while dressed in jail garb, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment is without merit.     

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In US v. Hinojosa, No. 08-1393, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to a conviction of defendant for child pornography related crimes.  In affirming the conviction, the court held that, considering the totality of the circumstances, the district court did not clearly err in finding that defendant's then-wife consented to officers' continued entry into the residence.  Furthermore, the court concluded that defendant's pre-Miranda statements were properly included in an affidavit as the initial interrogation did not present a custodial environment such that Miranda warnings were required prior to questioning.  Also, the court held that defendant's post-arrest statements were properly included in the affidavit as the officers immediately advised defendant of his Miranda rights and defendant does not argue that his waiver was involuntary or coerced.  Lastly, the court held that the officers' plain-view observations were properly included in the affidavit and the affidavit was supported by probable cause.     

In US v. Bridgewater, No. 09-5303, the court faced a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a sentence modification pursuant to 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2).  In affirming the judgment, the court held that defendant is not eligible for a reduction based on Amendment 706 because the district court selected a sentence based on the career-offender Guideline, and Amendment 706 has no effect on the ultimate sentencing range imposed.  

Am. Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky v. McCreary County, No. 08-6069, concerned a highly publicized case involving the display of framed copies of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky county courthouses.  In affirming the judgment of the district court, inter alia, declaring the displays unconstitutional and enjoining defendants, the court held that the district court erred in declining to enter a permanent injunction against defendants in its September 28, 2007 order after finding that defendants had violated the Establishment Clause, but the court rectified that error by properly enjoining defendants from posting the displays in an August 4, 2008 order, as the fact that defendants seek to minimize the residue of religious purpose does not mean that plaintiffs do not suffer continuing irreparable injury so long as the display remains on the walls of the county courthouses. 

The court went onto hold that, regardless of whether plaintiffs' motion should have been classified under Rule 59(e) or Rule 54(b), the district court did not err in reconsidering its earlier decision and determining that plaintiffs were entitled to a permanent injunction.  Lastly,  because the district court entered judgment in the same decision that it construed defendants' renewed motion for summary judgment as one for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b), the court held that it was reasonable for the district court to  construe the entry of judgment as coming before the conversion of defendants' motion. 

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In Wynne v. Renico, No. 03-2319, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of defendant's petition for habeas relief from his murder conviction and a life sentence.  In reversing the district court's judgment granting relief, the court held that Fed. Rule 404(b) applies to all propensity evidence, whether used to show that the defendant or another individual acted in conformity with their prior misconduct, and the Sixth Amendment right to present a complete defense does not imply a right to offer evidence that is otherwise inadmissible under the standard rules of evidence.  

Miller v. Sanilac County, No. 09-1340, concerned a plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit claiming various constitutional violations against him during a traffic stop and arrest for several traffic code violations, civil infractions, including drunk driving, all of which were dismissed when plaintiff's blood alcohol level was determined to be 0.00%.

The court affirmed the portion of the district court's judgment in holding that, the grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment on malicious prosecution claims with respect to four of the seven tickets was properly granted because they constituted civil infractions, not criminal prosecutions.  Also, the court held that the grant of summary judgment with respect to a claim for unlawful search and seizure for a second blood test, and a state claim of gross negligence and municipal liability against a county were properly granted.

However, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment with respect to federal claims of malicious prosecution for criminal charges, unlawful arrest, and excessive force are reversed, as well as the grant of summary judgment with respect to state law claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, assault and battery. 

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Berhane v. Holder, No. 09-3153, concerned a challenge to the BIA's affirmance of IJ's denial of an application for asylum and related relief by a citizen and a native of Ethiopia, on the ground that throwing rocks at the Ethiopian police constituted a serious nonpolitical crime.  In vacating the denial, the court held that a decision committed to the Attorney General's discretion by regulation does not satisfy the prerequisite that Congress specify by statute the Attorney General's discretion over an issue.  Furthermore, the court held that the Board's determination that the criminal nature of petitioner's actions "outweighed their political components is without sufficient reasons. 

Swanson v. DeSantis, No. 09-1501, concerned habeas proceedings arising from a conviction for killing a pedestrian while driving under the influence.  In dismissing an appeal of the district court's grant of the petition in part in determining that defendant had failed to exhaust her jury instruction claim but had exhausted her Blakely claim,  the court held that it lacks jurisdiction as the district court's decision to grant or deny a stay of its own proceedings is not ordinarily a final decision for the purposes of section 1291. 

Gor v. Holder, No. 08-3859, concerned a petition for review of a removal order of an Indian citizen, entered on the ground that he is an alien convicted of child abandonment.  The court dismissed the matter as it lacked  jurisdiction to review the original BIA decision as well as the denial of the motion to reopen sua sponte. 

Bennett v. MIS Corp., No.08-2567, concerned a challenge to the district court's order dismissing the complaint for failure to state a claim in air traffic controllers' suit alleging personal injuries based on their exposure to toxic mold at the airport.  First, the court affirmed in part the judgment of the district court in concluding that the first mold remediation firm's section 1442(a)(1) removal was proper and the district court therefore possessed subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims.  Next, the court held that the Fultz rule of law forecloses plaintiffs' claims against the consulting defendants as they did not assume the FAA's duty to provide a reasonably safe working environment when the FAA hired them to provide consulting services. 

However, the court reversed the part the judgment of the district court dismissing the second mold remediation firm in concluding that the firm's use of an allegedly unapproved biocide gave rise to a duty under Michigan law to foreseeable persons that was "separate and distinct" from its contract with the FAA.  Finally, the court held that the district court did not err when it denied plaintiffs' motion for leave to file an amended complaint with respect to their proposed common law fraud claim as futile. 

In re: Metro. Gov of Nashville, No. 09-5511, concerned a defendants' petition for a writ of mandamus, arising from plaintiffs' racial discrimination suit against their employer. First, the court dismissed defendant's appeal of the district court's grant of plaintiffs' motion for a new trial as such an order is generally not appealable as the order does not qualify as a "final decision" under 28 U.S.C section 1291.  In addition, the court rejected the defendant's contention that jurisdiction exists to consider its appeal by means of reviewing the district court's purported finding of alleged attorney misconduct.  Next, the court granted the petition in part to the extent of directing the district court to rule on the outstanding disparate-impact claims within 90 days from the filing of this opinion and denied remainder of the petition.

Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. VP Bldg., Inc., No. 08-4537, concerned a challenge to the district court's affirmance of the bankruptcy court's decision disallowing an insurer's petition for administrative expenses, on the ground that the claim was not "actual" and did not benefit the estate.  In affirming the decision, the court held that, pursuant to In re HNRC Dissolution Co., 371 B.R. 210, (E.D. Ky. 2007), the insurer's request for reimbursement is not an "actual" expense within the meaning of the bankruptcy code. 

White Oak Prop. Dev., LLC v. Washington Township, No. 09-3527, concerned a housing developer's suit against a town and its trustees, alleging various claims of constitutional violations. In affirming the district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court held that the plaintiff's attempt to void the Zoning Regulation for vagueness fails.  The court also held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to defendants on the FHA claim, and on the Equal Protection claim as plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the Zoning Regulation's prohibition against multiple-family dwellings, on its face, discriminates on the basis of race.  Lastly, the court held that plaintiff's substantive due process claim was properly dismissed as it did not have a protected property interest in developing its property in accordance with its development plan. 

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In Wood v. Detroit Diesel Corp., No. 09-1252, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of plaintiff-retirees' motion for summary judgment in their suit under the Labor-Management Relations Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), claiming that they were entitled to fully funded, lifetime health care benefits.

As satated in the decision: "In the 1993 Cap Agreement, the parties agreed 'to limit [Detroit Diesel]'s contribution toward retiree health benefit premiums' without providing for an expiration date for the limitation.  This indicates the broad shift made by the Cap Agreements, which was from an entitlement of a defined benefit - fully funded, lifetime health care benefits - to a defined contribution - the capped dollar amount."

Thus, in reversing the district court's judgment, the court remanded the matter as defendant is entitled to summary judgment because the only coherent reading of the Cap Agreements establishes that the retirees, who retired between 1993-2004, are entitled to lifetime, capped health care benefits.     

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In US v. Harmon, No. 09-5006, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's decision ordering that defendant's 46-month sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 922(g)(1) be served consecutively to an undischarged state sentence on an unrelated conviction for voluntary manslaughter.

As the court wrote: "The court selected a 46-month sentence on the basis of Harmon's criminal history and unlawful use of a firearm despite being convicted of voluntary manslaughter in state court, the need to provide adequate deterrence, the need to protect the public, and the likelihood that a term of imprisonment would provide Harmon with drug abuse and medical treatment."

Thus, in affirming the sentence, the court held that, although the district court did not mention U.S.S.G. section 5G1.3(c) by name, the totality of the record shows that the court considered each of the factors contained in application note 3(A) and thus committed no error, much less one that was obvious and clear.  Furthermore, defendant failed to rebut the presumption of reasonableness given to his sentence at the bottom of the applicable Guidelines range. 

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Denial of Habeas Relief in Capital Case Affirmed

In Phillips v. Bradshaw, No. 06-4418, the Sixth Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's petition for habeas relief arising from a conviction for rape and aggravated murder and a death sentence, alleging, inter alia, claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and sufficiency of the evience to support his convictions.

In affirming the conviction and the sentence, the court first held that the defendant did not meet his burden of demonstrating a reasonable probability that, but for the alleged error of omitting certain mitigating evidence, he would not have been sentenced to death, and he also failed to show that the state court's decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of Strickland under the modified-AEDPA standard.  Next, the court held that sufficient evidence supported defendant's convictions, and that defendant did not demonstrate any juror bias.  Finally, the court held that the re-reading of identical jury instructions did not qualify as critical stages of trial, and defendant identified no prejudice stemming from his counsel's absence during this event. 

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