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

May 2010 Archives

In Official Comm. of Unsecured Creditors of Allegheny Health, Educ. & Research Found. v. Price WaterhouseCoopers, LLP, No. 07-1397, the Third Circuit dealt with a now bankrupt nonprofit company's committee's action against a financial auditing company for breach of contract, professional negligence, and aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty.  In remanding the district court's grant of the defendant's motion for summary judgment, the court held that Pennsylvania law requires an inquiry into whether the third party dealt with the principal in good faith. 

Greene v. Palakovich, No. 07-2163, concerned a challenge to the district court's denial of defendant's petition for habeas relief for his convictions for second degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy.  In affirming the denial, the court held that, "clearly established federal law" should be determined as of the date of the relevant state court decision, and here, the Supreme Court decision that defendant wishes to rely on, Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185 (1998), had not yet been decided at the time of the relevant state court decision.   

Sheinberg v. Sorensen, No. 08-4148, concerned plaintiffs' action against companies affiliated with their, now bankrupt, former employer, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and other claims.  In vacating the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion to recertify, the court held that the district court not only failed to follow Rule 23(g) but also failed to apply the alternative standard it identified for determining the adequacy of counsel to the facts before it.   

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Airport Baggage Handler's Drug Conviction Affirmed

In US v. Rawlins, No. 08-2948, the Third Circuit faced a challenge to a conviction of a baggage handler for various drug crimes, claiming that the superseding indictment was invalid because count one failed to allege proper timeframe for the alleged conspiracy.

As stated in the decision: "Although an indictment cannot be completely open-ended, an indictment that specifies an end date is sufficient to apprise defendants of the charges and enable them to prepare a defense." The court went on to explain: "..Because the timeframe of the charged conspiracy was open-ended only as to the beginning date.  Count one explicitly identified September 2004 as the end of the conspiracy.  This was sufficient to inform Rawlins of the charges he would face at trial, allowing him to adequately prepare for trial."

In affirming the conviction, the court held that the indictment was sufficient to apprise defendant of the charges against him, enable him to prepare a defense, and to avoid double jeopardy on the same charge.  The court rejected defendant's sufficiency of the evidence challenge to his conviction and held that the district court's decision to admit the packages of cocaine into evidence was not an abuse of discretion.   

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In Jones v. ABN Ambro Mortgage Group, Inc., No. 08-2353, the Third Circuit dealt with a plaintiffs' suit against mortgage loan companies asserting claims for a declaratory judgment, negligence, and violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), arising from a mortgage loan-servicing Ponzi scheme.  First, the court held that the plaintiffs' negligence claim was properly dismissed as the duty imposed on the defendants in this case was by contract rather than by "law as a matter of social policy."  Second, the court ruled that the district court correctly held that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim under RESPA because the perpetrator of the Ponzi scheme was not a loan "servicer" under RESPA.  Lastly, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs' request for leave to amend. 

Unalachtigo Band of the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Nation v. Corzine, No. 08-2775, concerned a challenge to the district court's dismissal sua sponte for lack of standing, of an Indian Tribe's suit under the Nonintercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. section 187, seeking possession of land in New Jersey, and denial of an intervenor's Rule 19 motion to dismiss.  The court held that because the district court issued an opinion on the intervenor's Rule 19 motion when it lacked jurisdiction because there was no longer a live case or controversy once the district court dismissed plaintiff's cause of action for lack of standing, the judgment dismissing the intervenor's Rule 19 motion is vacated.    

Lastly, in C.H. v. Cape Henlopen Sch. Dist., No. 08-3630, the court faced a challenge to the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a school district and denial of plaintiff-parents' claim for reimbursement of private school tuition and other related costs for their disabled son under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

First, the court held that the school district's failure to have and Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in place on the first day of classes did not deprive the child of a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE), and thus, reimbursement on this basis was properly denied.  Second, the court held that the district court properly rejected the argument that any notice deficiencies rise to the level of substantive harm.  Third, the court also affirmed the district court's denial of parents' request for tuition reimbursement on equitable grounds as unreasonable parent conduct warrants equitable reduction of an award under the IDEA.  Finally, the court rejected the parents' claim that the district court erred in failing to separately address their claim that the conduct of the Hearing Panel violated their rights to procedural due process.

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In Mayer v. Belichick, No. 09-2237, the Third Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's amended complaint in a suit brought by a New York Jets season ticket-holder against New England Patriots, its head coach, and the NFL, claiming various causes of action related to Patriot's secret videotaping of their opponent's signals, known as the "Spygate" scandal.

As stated in the decision: "Mayer possessed either a license or, at best, a contractual right to enter Giants Stadium and to have a seat from which to watch a professional football game.  In the clear language of the ticket stub,'this ticket only grants entry into the stadium and a spectator seat for the specified NFL game.'"

Thus, in affirming the district court's dismissal, the court held that the plaintiff suffered no cognizable injury to a legally protected right or interest.   

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In Drippe v. Tobelinski, No. 08-4616, the Third Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the officer in an inmate's 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit claiming denial of prompt medical treatment.  The court first declined to hold as a matter of law, that the Prison Litigation Reform Act imposes a strict timing requirement on institutional defendant.  Next, in holding that the district court violated Rule 6(b) by granting the officer's third and final motion for summary judgment on the even of trial, the court remanded the case  to permit defendant to file a motion for an extension of time under Rule 6(b)(1)(B) of Fed. Rules of Civ. Proc.   

State of New Jersey v. Fuld, No. 09-2891, concerned the New Jersey's Department of Treasury Division of Investment's suit against officers and directors of Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc., arising from the defendant-company's filing for bankruptcy protection three months after New Jersey purchased over $180 million of investment securities from the defendant in June 2008.  In granting the defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' appeal, the court held that it lacks collateral order jurisdiction to review the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion to remand.   

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Preemption re Aviation Act of State Tort Law In Certain Cases

In Elassaad v. Independence Air, Inc., No. 08-3878, the Third Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the ground of preemption in plaintiff's lawsuit against an airline company for injuries he sustained when he fell while disembarking from an airplane. 

The court reversed the district court's decision in concluding that the standard of care in plaintiff's negligence claim is not preempted by federal law in holding that, although Abdullah v. American Airlines, Inc. 181 F.3d 363 (3d Cir. 1999) stated that the Aviation Act preempts "the entire field of aviation safety" from state regulation, the "field of aviation safety" does not include a flight crew's oversight of the disembarkation of passengers once a plane has come to a complete stop at its destination.  The court also held that the Aviation Act and the regulations promulgated thereunder to not preempt state tort law with respect to such negligence claims, and that the federally enacted Air Carrier Access Act and its implementing regulations do not control the standard of care from the standpoint of airline safety.  

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In US v. Rigas, No.09-1344, the Third Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's denial of defendants' motion to dismiss a Pennsylvania indictment for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and other charges, who were already convicted of conspiracy under the same statute in New York, stemming from the collapse of defendants' company Adelphia Communications Corporations, a cable television provider. 

As stated in the decision: "[section] 371 contains three key components.  First, 'two or more persons conspire.'  Second, the object of the conspiracy must be 'either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.'  Third, 'one or more of such persons must to any act to effect the object of the conspiracy." 

Thus, in concluding that section 371 creates one offense and not two distinct offenses, the court vacated and remanded to the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing as under a plain and natural reading of section 371, the statute creates a single offense, and the successive prosecution of defendants in this case may constitute a double jeopardy violation.   

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In Puleo v. Chase Bank U.S.A., NA, No. 08-3837, the Third Circuit dealt with a plaintiffs' suit challenging retroactive interest-rate increased on the account balances of their Chase Bank credit cards. On appeal, the plaintiffs' main argument was that the district court never should have addressed the unconscionability of the class action waiver, but rather, that it should have left the issue to be decided by an arbitrator.

As stated in the decision: "The Court of Appeals are unanimous in recognizing that an unconscionability challenge to the provisions of an arbitration agreement is a question of arbitrability that is presumptively for the court, not the arbitrator, to decide."

Thus, district court's judgment compelling the parties to arbitrate their claims on an individual basis is affirmed as plaintiffs' claims of unconscionability regarding a class action waiver was a question of arbitrability for the court to decide, and as such, the district court properly exercised its responsibility to decide issues of arbitrability. 

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In Dique v. New Jersey State Police, No. 05-1159, the Third Circuit dealt with a plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim for selective-enforcement, arising from his 1990 traffic stop that led to his conviction for drug related offenses which was vacated in 2002 on the ground that colorable issues of racial profiling existed at the time of the arrest.

As stated in the decision: "The Court held that "the statute of limitations upon a section 1983 claim seeking damages for a false arrest in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, where the arrest is followed by criminal proceedings, begins to run at the time the claimant becomes detained pursuant to legal process."

Thus, in affirming the district court's dismissal of the claim as time barred, the court held that under Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007), in a case of selective-enforcement, it will no longer be required that the complainant have been convicted and have had that conviction reversed, expunged or invalidated, and the statute of limitations begins to run at the time the claimant becomes detained pursuant to legal process.  In this case, the plaintiff asserted his selective-enforcement claim over two years after July 2001, when his attorney became aware of the extensive documents describing the State's pervasive selective enforcement practices, that plaintiff discovered, or by exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered that he might have a basis for an actionable claim.    

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In Estate of Oliva v. Dep't of Law & Pub. Safety, No. 09-2082, the Third Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants and denial of plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint in an action by the estate of a now deceased state trooper who committed suicide, claiming harassment by numerous individuals connected with the State Police for his objections to what he believed was a State Police practice to profile motorists when making traffic stops. 

The court ultimately affirmed the grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's section 1981 claims, section 1985(3) claims, and state law claims, in concluding that he has failed to establish that his various causes of action can be sustained according to their requirements or demonstrate that the district court abused its discretion in denying his request for leave to amend. 

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