New telecommunications opinion

AT&T v. Core Communications — civil / telecommunications — vacate & remand — Roth

You know who AT&T is. Core Communications is a specialized phone company whose customers are all internet service providers (ISPs). AT&T’s customers called Core’s customers. Core billed AT&T for the calls, AT&T refused to pay, Core filed a complaint with the state utility commission, and the utility commission ruled in Core’s favor. Finally AT&T sued in federal court, seeking an injunction to enjoin enforcement, arguing that the state utility commission violated federal law, and the district court granted summary judgment to AT&T. Today, the Third Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to grant summary judgment in Core’s favor.

Joining Roth were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Shaun Sparks for the utility commission, Christopher Van de Verge for Core, and Mayer Brown associate Christopher Comstock for AT&T.

New employment-law opinion

Babcock v. Butler County — employment / FLSA — affirmance — Sloviter

A divided Third Circuit panel today affirmed a district court ruling a dismissing without discovery a suit brought by prison guards alleging that their full meal time was work that should have counted towards overtime. The panel majority joined a circuit majority in adopting a predominant-benefit test to decide whether meals were work time under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and held that they were not even though the guards pled that they were required to be prepared to serve at a moment’s notice during meals.

Joining Sloviter was Fuentes; Greenaway dissented. Arguing counsel were Justin Swidler for the guards and Marie Jones for the county.

Orin Kerr weighs in on the Google Cookie opinion

Orin Kerr has posted this lengthy explanation and analysis at Volokh Conspiracy of the Third Circuit’s opinion in In re Google Inc. Cookie Placement Consumer Privacy Litig. (my prior post on the case is here). The Third Circuit opinion discussed at length Professor Kerr’s scholarship, and his take on the opinion is likely to be taken seriously, too.

Professor Kerr’s bottom-line assessment:

I think the opinion is correct. It’s somewhat easy for me to say that, as the court agreed with and quoted my earlier writing on this issue * * *. Seriously, though, this was the first thorough and careful treatment of a really hard and important issue. Good for the Third Circuit for delving into the details of it; I suspect the opinion will be very influential.



Pittsburgh’s federal courthouse to be renamed tomorrow for Judge Weis, “the nicest judge”

Tomorrow morning the Third Circuit will hold a special session to rename Pittsburgh’s federal courthouse for former Third Circuit Judge Joseph F. Weis Jr., this charming story by Brian Bowling reports. Judge Weis died last year at 91, the year after he retired — his obituary, which quotes Judge Hardiman, is here.

From the story:

He’s not the first federal judge to have his name on a courthouse, but Joseph F. Weis Jr. could be the nicest judge to receive the honor.

“He never lost his humility,” said Roslyn Litman, a charter member of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County.

* * *

Litman, a Downtown attorney, cited Weis’ work in helping found the academy and spending countless hours on its mission of improving relations between lawyers and judges in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

“He uniquely represents the spirit of cooperation between the bench and the bar … by the work he did with the academy and the bar association,” she said.

New opinion — Third Circuit expands temp-employee rights

Faush v. Tuesday Morning — employment discrimination — partial reversal — Fuentes

An African American employee of a temporary-employment agency was assigned to work at a store, and it went badly. Ultimately, the temp sued the store under Title VII and other statutes, alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination. The district court (some guy named Restrepo) granted summary judgment against the temp because he was not the store’s employee. Today, the Third Circuit vacated in part, holding that jurors could find that the temp was the store’s employee under Title VII. The opinion acknowledged that its ruling “will pertain to a large number of temporary employment arrangements.”

Joining Fuentes were Fisher and Krause. Arguing counsel were Wayne Ely for the temp and Robert Luxen for the store.

Quality commentary on the panel-voting-paradox case

David Post wrote this very informative piece for Volokh Conspiracy about last week’s Hanover 321 ruling, entitled “Wild voting paradox case in the 3rd Circuit.”

Post writes:

It must happen a lot.  And it is, one would think, quite fundamental to how appellate courts go about their business.

* * *

You would think that the hundreds of appellate courts in this country would — long ago — have addressed this matter, and come up with a procedure or protocol that they would follow when performing this most basic of their functions.  Indeed, one might even say that a multi-member court can’t really go about its business of deciding cases until it first decides how it is going to decide — by outcome-voting or by issue-voting.

But in fact, there are only a handful of examples where courts publicly address their choice of voting procedure or their views on the proper means to resolve the Paradox.

* * *

So the issue is — finally! — joined; I’m not aware of another case that engages the issue as forthrightly, nor one that lays out the opposing positions as clearly.

Well worth reading in full.

Also of possible interest is this reddit thread on the case.


New prisoner-civil-rights opinion

Chavarriaga v. State of N.J. Dep’t of Corr. — civil rights — reversal in part — Greenberg

In this prisoner-civil-rights appeal, the Third Circuit partially reversed a district court ruling for the defendants. The plaintiff alleged that, in retaliation for an excessive-force suit she had filed, prison staff forced her to be naked in view of male guards, subjected her to a painful body cavity search, denied sanitary napkins and medication, and locked her for days in a cell with nothing to drink but the water in the toilet. The Third Circuit rejected the district court’s ruling that these acts were not serious enough to violate the Eighth Amendment. The court also reversed dismissal of related equal-protection and state-law claims. The court affirmed dismissal of her claims against prison supervisors, but remanded to give the plaintiff a chance to identify the prison staff responsible.

Joining Greenberg were Ambro and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Noel Crowley for the prisoner and Daniel Vannella for the defendants.


Happy Birthday, Restrepo nomination!

Today’s New York Times features this editorial slamming Senate Republicans, and PA Senator Toomey in particular, for the delay in confirming Judge L. Felipe Restrepo. Judge Restrepo was originally nominated to the Third Circuit a year ago yesterday.

It’s a powerful editorial. It urges Senate Democrats to “make these inexcusable delays a national issue,” and it concludes:

With each day that passes without a vote on Judge Restrepo and other nominees, Republicans undermine the justice system, and the biggest victims are ordinary Americans who cannot count on fully functioning courts.

Also today, P.J. DAnnunzio has this story in the Legal Intelligencer, headlined, “One Year After Nomination, Restrepo Still Not Confirmed.” It quotes a law professor blaming Toomey for the delay: “Either he’s not pushing or he doesn’t know how to push.”

New opinion — a glorious panel-voting mess, plus a correction

Hanover 3201 Realty v. Village Supermarkets — antitrust — vacate in part — Fuentes

This is an antitrust case that arose out of a real-estate dispute between two supermarkets. The outcome of the appeal turns on two issues: standing and the merits. The three judges on the panel all disagreed on the issues and the outcome, and the result is simply appeals-nerdtastic.

Judge Ambro’s concurrence cogently explains:

This case presents what academic literature terms a “voting paradox.” On the one hand, two judges (Judge Greenberg and I) believe that the outcome should be that Hanover’s suit not proceed, though we do so for different reasons. However, one majority of this Court (Judges Fuentes and Greenberg) believes that Hanover has antitrust standing (I do not because I do not discern antitrust injury), while another majority (Judge Fuentes and I) believes that Hanover should survive Village’s motion to dismiss (assuming it has antitrust standing). The paradox is that, if I vote on the judgment of this case (affirm or reverse) based on my individual views, a majority of the Court will have ruled against the prevailing party on each relevant issue, meaning that our Court’s reasoning would not support its judgment. However, if I follow, despite my dissent, Judge Fuentes and Greenberg on the antitrust standing issue, my individual vote would be inconsistent with my view of who should win were I alone ruling.

He explains the choice is between “issue voting” and “outcome voting”:

Broadly speaking, the former occurs when a judge surveys the holding on each question of law presented; a majority vote on any given issue counts as a holding of the court, and the remaining judge is bound by it as if it occurred in a prior precedential case.5 The latter, and more common, scenario occurs when a judge votes on the result of a case (affirm, vacate, reverse, etc.) according to his or her view of the proper outcome and without regard to the views of the other judges on a panel. Even if a careful reading of the judges’ opinions in a case shows that a majority would rule for the losing party on each relevant issue, an outcome-vote, as that term is usually used in the relevant literature, results in a win for the party the majority of judges think should win regardless of reasoning.

Here, the panel chooses issue voting — here again the panel is divided, naturally. (On a first read, I tend to agree with Greenberg on the voting issue.) It is a glorious confusing mess, dear readers, and I guarantee you’ll love it.

The panel was Fuentes, Ambro, and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were double Tarheel Lindsey Taylor of Carella Byrne for the appellant and Anthony Argiropoulos of Epstein Becker for the appellees.


Also today, the court corrected the error in Tuesday’s Google Cookie case that I spotted, and also corrected a typo in September’s Tonnage Clause case.

Free Speech Coalition panel rehearing: keep fighting to the final bell

Back in September, the Third Circuit granted panel rehearing in Free Speech Coalition v. AG. The original panel ruling had upheld federal record-keeping and inspection requirements imposed on pornography producers. The panel had the option under FRAP 40(a)(4) to decide the case without reargument, but it granted reargument and scheduled it for December 9.

This panel rehearing grant offers an object lesson in the importance of battling to the end. Here, the appeal was originally argued in December 2014, and it was decided by the panel on May 14, 2015. Lesser lawyers would have surveyed the landscape on May 14, decided that rehearing was a lost cause, and moved on.

But over a month after the panel decision (still within the 45-day FRAP 40(a)(1)(C) window to seek rehearing), the Supreme Court issued a new decision that arguably cast doubt on the CA3 ruling. Counsel for the Coalition caught it and pounced. A week later, they filed a rehearing petition focused on the new Supreme Court ruling. The government opposed rehearing, but the panel (Rendell, Smith, Scirica) granted the motion and vacated its prior ruling.

Whatever the final result, counsel’s diligence has given them another shot to win their case. Impressive work.

As a postscript, I noticed a couple other interesting things while reviewing the docket to write this post. First, the court granted the parties’ motion to file a deferred appendix due to the large size of the record. That’s an option many lawyers would not consider and the Third Circuit’s LAR 30.4 discourages, but the court allowed it here so it’s worth keeping in mind.  Second, the court granted the parties’ motion to dispense with filing paper copies of the large joint appendix. Who knew?

New opinion — a major consumer privacy ruling (with an error) [Updated]

In re Google Inc. Cookie Placement Consumer Privacy Litig. — consumer class action — vacate in part — Fuentes

Google apparently found a clever way to defeat the Safari browser’s cookie-blocking feature, but sometimes clever is illegal. When a grad student discovered what Google had done, Google had to pay out almost $40 million to settle two government suits. Then consumer plaintiffs filed class-action suits alleging various federal- and state-law violations, which were consolidated by the Multi-District Litigation panel. The district court dismissed the suits under FRCP 12(b)(6), and the consumers appealed. Today, the Third Circuit largely affirmed the dismissals, but vacated the dismissal of certain state-law privacy claims.

Unfortunately, the opinion contains a big error. On page 16 of the slip opinion, in a road map preview, the opinion states, “we will vacate the dismissal of plaintiffs’ Wiretap Act claim.” But in fact the opinion “affirm[s] the District Court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ Wiretap Act claim” at p. 41. Oops.

(Aside: not the first time that’s ever happened.)

Joining Fuentes were Fisher and Krause. Arguing counsel were Jason Barnes for the consumers and Michael Rubin for Google.


UPDATE: the court has issued a correction.

Third Circuit cases included in new contraception-mandate cert grant

The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in 7 cases involving challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception-mandate. Two of the cases are out of the Third Circuit; both were decided in the same opinion upholding the mandate.

Lyle Denniston has this early coverage of the new grant at Scotusblog. The Court indicated (Scotusblog link here) that it expects to hold the argument in March.

Watch out, Buzzfeed! A little Friday blog navel-gazing.

Hey neat. My blog software tracks the number of visitors to CA3Blog, and last month was a new record:


It’s been fun watching the number of people reading my blog lately taking off. (And, yes, I’m still cackling about Judge Ambro quoting the blog in an opinion.)

For the stat-heads, I’ll explain that the growth in readers is more obvious when you realize that, before September, the blog’s 3 biggest months were all caused by specific posts getting picked up by How Appealing (Erwin last October, en banc analysis plus Restrepo in March, and publication stats in April). Bashman has way-way-way more readers than I do, so when he links to a post of mine, my visits spike. But the last two months have been different — no How Appealing links, just a steady daily readership that’s more than double what it used to be.

So, welcome to the blog and thanks, fellow CA3 junkies.

New immigration opinion

Singh v. AG — immigration — denial — Jordan

A lawful permanent resident was convicted of counterfeiting and fraud and left the country. Then he returned (apparently he was allowed back in by mistake) and proceeded to live here without incident for 7 years. before being detained for removal by ICE. He challenged his removal, arguing he was eligible for cancellation of removal by statute. The BIA rejected his challenge, and today the Third Circuit denied his appeal.

The court held that the petitioner’s seven-year clock never started due to his prior moral-turpitude conviction plus the inclusion of that crime in his removal notice. The court deemed itself bound by prior circuit precedent which in turn gave Chevron deference to a BIA ruling that today’s court described as “not without flaws,” “formalistic,” and “odd,” noting, “It would behoove the BIA to provide some clarity in this area.” Slip op. at 13 n.7.

Not a very satisfying result, but sometimes that’s what faithful judging looks like.

Joining Jordan were Fisher and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Nicholas Mundy for the petitioner and Lindsay Murphy for the Government.

The mysterious Third Circuit panel of Benton, Sentelle, and Gilman

On November 23, an unusual Third Circuit panel will sit for oral argument: Judge William Benton from the Eighth Circuit, Senior Judge David Sentelle from the D.C. Circuit,* and Senior Judge Ronald Gilman from the Sixth Circuit.

Now, this sort of thing isn’t unheard-of. Sometimes all the judges on a court have to recuse, and, when that happens, outside judges pinch hit. For example, just a couple months ago three Third Circuit judges decided this published Fourth Circuit case.

But the mystery in this case is why?

Presumably all the Third Circuit judges recused, but the basis for those recusals eludes me. The cases before the panel (one argued, one submitted on the briefs) are bankruptcy appeals. Both debtors are members of the same Pittsburgh business-litigation law firm; the legal issues are similar, and the attorneys on appeal are the same. But, after scanning the dockets and scouring the internet and asking a few smart folks who know these things, I can’t find any hint of why either case would require any (let alone every) Third Circuit judge to recuse.

This isn’t an important mystery, I admit, but mysteries needn’t be important to be maddening. So if anyone thinks they have the solution, please comment here or email me.

* Judge Sentelle is (like me in this respect, and quite possibly in only this respect) a ‘double Heel,’ having earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina. When I was in law school I was encouraged to apply to clerk for him because he was a feeder judge who often hired top UNC law students. He reportedly named his daughter Reagan and was a protege of Jesse Helms: I didn’t apply.


Third Circuit’s judicial emergency, on and on

The Third Circuit’s judicial emergency is the second-oldest circuit emergency in the country. Only the Fifth Circuit has had an emergency for longer. Judge Scirica went senior in July of 2013, and his seat remains empty, well over two years later.

And no one has even been nominated yet for the Third Circuit’s second empty seat, fully four months after Judge Rendell went senior, and nine months after she announced that she would.

The upshot? Third Circuit IOP 3.1 provides:

Unless there is a judicial emergency, each panel includes either two active judges of this court or one active judge and one senior judge of this court.

But because of the judicial emergency, the Third Circuit’s active judges are now playing a radically smaller than normal role in shaping its precedent: four out of the last five CA3 published opinions were issued by panels with a single active judge and two senior judges.

The last Republican administration forcefully condemned delays in confirming its judges. It blasted the idea that it was okay “to leave these critical seats empty.” It said, “the American people deserve better” It said, “we need our government to be at full strength.”

We still do.

Arbitration, “de facto corporate immunity,” and the Third Circuit

The New York Times today ran the second part of a special report on arbitration, entitled “Arbitration, a ‘Privatization of the Justice System.'” (Part I, with a cameo by avid hunter and EDPA Judge Schiller, is here.)

The story ends on this depressing note:

After the ruling, Ms. Pierce’s lawyers wrote to Mr. Kalogredis’s arbitration firm questioning his qualifications. The firm, American Health Lawyers Association, responded that it was not its responsibility to verify the “abilities or competence” of its arbitrators.

This brings to mind the recent Third Circuit case of Goldman Sachs v. Athena Venture (here), where the court refused to vacate an arbitration even though one of arbitrators allegedly committed gross misconduct. The opinion criticized the arbitration authority for its “remarkable” failure to investigate the arbitrator once the first evidence of misconduct came to light, but the court confirmed the arbitration award anyway.

And the broader concerns about arbitration’s growth brings to mind the Third Circuit’s unfortunate 2014 ruling in Khazin v. TD Ameritrade (here). That decision has been described by one commentator as extending to whistleblower suits the “trend of courts conferring de facto corporate immunity.”

The Third Circuit is sure to continue to face challenges to the expanding use of arbitration, and it will be interesting to see whether the growing concern about its fairness is reflected in case outcomes.

Leahy urges Toomey to ask for Restrepo vote

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is keeping the heat on Senator Pat Toomey over the mind-boggling delay of the nomination of Judge L. Felipe Restrepo to the Third Circuit. In this statement earlier this week on federal judicial nominations, Leahy singled out the Restrepo delay — 348 days and counting, and compared it with the 183 days it took Democrats to confirm Bush nominee Judge Thomas Hardiman:

One of those vacancies is an emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania.  Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo is nominated to fill the vacancy and he has strong bipartisan support from his home state Senators, Senator Toomey and Senator Casey.  At Judge Restrepo’s hearing, Senator Toomey stated that “there is no question [Judge Restrepo] is a very well qualified candidate to serve on the Third Circuit” and underscored the fact that he recommended that the President nominate Judge Restrepo.  Once confirmed, Judge Restrepo will be the first Hispanic judge from Pennsylvania to ever serve on this court and only the second Hispanic judge to serve on the Third Circuit.

There is absolutely no reason to delay a vote on Judge Restrepo’s confirmation, and yet his nomination has been pending on the floor for over three months.  Since he was first nominated, Judge Restrepo’s nomination has been pending for a staggering 348 days.  The National President for the Hispanic National Bar Association, which strongly supports Judge Restrepo’s nomination, wrote last week in the HuffingtonPost about the inexcusable delay in his confirmation.  I ask unanimous consent to include a copy of this article in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

Contrast Senate Republican’s treatment of Judge Restrepo with President Bush’s nominee to the Third Circuit, Judge Thomas Hardiman, who was nominated in the last two years of the Bush presidency.  Judge Hardiman was confirmed in nearly half the time Judge Restrepo has been waiting, taking only 183 days from nomination to his confirmation.  Furthermore, it took only 7 days for Judge Hardiman to receive a confirmation vote once he was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Judge Restrepo has been pending on the floor for 109 days – 15 times longer than Judge Hardiman.  I hope the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania will implore his leadership to bring this highly qualified nominee up for a vote without further delay.

And two earlier pieces of note:

Huffpost post by the president of the Hispanic National Bar Association op-ed by a writer from Center for American Progress



Judge Krause discussing ethics Nov. 13

Third Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause is leading an ethics discussion over lunch at a White Collar Practice Conference being put on by the Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers. The conference will be at the Union League in Philadelphia. The luncheon with Judge Krause will be on Friday, November 13 at 12:40.  Attendees get 1/2 hour of CLE credit, too.

Some notable Third Circuit practitioners also are presenting at the conference, including Ellen Brotman, Lawrence Lustberg, and Robert Zauzmer.

Details and registration here.

Free online legal research in the pipeline, and now

Erik Eckholm had this story in yesterday’s New York Times, headlined “Harvard Law Readies Trove of Decisions for Digital Age.” He wrote:

Now, in a digital-age sacrifice intended to serve grand intentions, the Harvard librarians are slicing off the spines of all but the rarest volumes and feeding some 40 million pages through a high-speed scanner. They are taking this once unthinkable step to create a complete, searchable database of American case law that will be offered free on the Internet, allowing instant retrieval of vital records that usually must be paid for.

Everything is expected to be available by 2017. Intriguing.

Reading this story got me thinking about the online legal research options available already. I have a decent LexisNexis subscription — it’s actually my practice’s single biggest annual cost. But I often use free options instead, mostly for uncompensated research like for this blog.

The main free-legal-research source I use is Google Scholar. If you’ve never used it, it’s worth a look. Overall, I find it good for finding specific cases but not much use for sophisticated legal research. When I created a big Excel spreadsheet of recent en banc cases while researching my en banc analysis post, it was quite handy to be able to include hyperlinks to the cases. The good: broad coverage of published and unpublished cases, easy to limit searches by date and court, and usually includes reporter pagination. The bad: the shephardizing functionality is weak, there’s no way to filter out non-precedential cases, and research is difficult beyond looking for specific words or phrases.

I also sometimes use Villanova Law’s official digital archive of Third Circuit opinions. The search engine is circa 2004 and all you get are the slip ops, but sometimes that’s all you need. (For published cases since I started this blog in April 2014, I just use the blog’s search box, top right, instead.)

I’m also aware of free-for-members options like Casemaker for Pa. Bar members and Fastcase for NJ Bar members, but I don’t use them myself.

Other views? Comments always welcome.

“Why Everyone Is Upset About the Third Circuit’s Recent TCPA Decisions …”

The title of this post is part of the headline of this provocative new post by Michael Daly of Drinker Biddle at the National Law Review. (The rest of the headline: ” — And a Few Reasons Why They Shouldn’t Be).  The TCPA is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, background here.

Daly begins:

Defendants’ discussions of the Third Circuit’s recent decisions in Leyse v. Bank of America [link] and Dominguez v. Yahoo [non-precedential] have been all doom and gloom. Some of that disappointment is understandable, as the Third Circuit vacated notable defense rulings and expanded the scope of consumers who have statutory standing to file suit under the TCPA. On closer examination, however, both of the decisions offer not only a sword to plaintiffs but a shield to defendants.
And concludes:
But the most important implication of the ruling may be the one that the court does not discuss, namely its effect on class certification. Because class certification is the point at which claims can go from annoying to annihilating, any additional arrow in defendants’ quiver is a good thing. And the Leyse decision appears to be just that. For example, if the proper plaintiff in a TCPA case is the consumer who “answered the telephone when the robocall was received,” id. at 23, and answering parties only have constitutional and statutory standing if they not only have an “injury in fact” but also are a “regular user of the phone line who occupies the residence,” it follows that plaintiffs in a putative class action must prove that they can establish those things on a classwide basis. It is difficult to fathom how references to a calling log alone would ever be able to ascertain such people, let alone prove their claims on a classwide basis. So while the Leyse decision may make it easier for certain consumers to assert individual claims, it also appears to make it harder for consumers to certify a class action.
It’s an informative post. Daly says he’ll have a follow-up post further discussing what the Third Circuit cases mean for TCPA defendants.

New opinion

In re: Avandia Marketing — civil — affirmance — Roth

In an interlocutory appeal arising out of class action litigation over the diabetes drug Avandia, the Third Circuit today affirmed a district court ruling that the plaintiffs adequately alleged standing and proximate causation for their RICO claims against GlaxoSmithKline.

Joining Roth were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were  John Beisner of Skadden Arps for GSK and Samuel Issacharoff for the plaintiffs. The case was argued over 11 months ago.


New opinion — insurer wins coverage dispute

Hanover Insurance v. Urban Outfitters — insurance — affirmance — Roth

Starting in 2009, Urban Outfitters marketed clothes branded as Navajo (yeesh), and the Navajo Nation sued them for trademark infringement. Urban Outfitter’s insurer then sought a declaratory judgment that it was not on the hook, which the district court granted. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed, holding that a “prior publication” exclusion in the insurance contract applied.

Joining Roth were Ambro and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Ilan Rosenberg of Gordon & Rees for the outfitters and Andrew Gallogly of Margolis Epstein for the insurer.

Two potential Third Circuit cert grants — Georgiou and Erwin

I posted yesterday about the two Third Circuit cases (Merrill Lynch and Heffernan) the Supreme Court has already agreed to review this term.

Two other Third Circuit cases are listed on Scotusblog’s “petitions we’re watching” page, and both are highly interesting:

  • Georgiou v. US — Scotusblog case page link here — distributed for conference Oct. 30. I posted about the cert petition here.
  • Erwin v. US — Scotusblog case page link here — distributed for conference Oct. 30. I posted about Erwin many times (“my runaway winner for Worst Decision of 2014,” etc.), most recently here.  Erwin’s counsel of record for the cert petition is Supreme Court vet Kevin Russell of Goldstein & Russell. The government got three extensions before answering. Erwin replied that the government’s response “is as radical and unfounded as the decision itself.”

A defense practice tip:  unless and until cert is granted and Erwin vacated, plea counsel would be wise to note this passage from the government’s answer (cites omitted):

Defendants can reduce the likelihood
that they will face a remand for resentencing, if they
choose to appeal despite an appeal waiver, by negotiating
provisions in plea or cooperation agreements
limiting the circumstances in which the government
may seek such a remedy. For instance, since the
decision below, defendants in the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania have pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea
agreement providing that “the filing and pursuit of an
appeal constitutes a breach only if a court determines
that the appeal does not present an issue that a reasonable
judge may conclude is permitted by an exception
to the waiver stated in the preceding paragraph
or constitutes a ‘miscarriage of justice’ as that term is
defined in applicable law.”

Such provisions protect a defendant’s ability to assert
reasonable arguments that his claims on appeal
are not barred by the waiver or that the waiver should
not be enforced.

Also of note, the government argues that mere dismissal remains the Third Circuit’s “ordinary” remedy and that no subsequent Third Circuit opinion has imposed Erwin‘s resentencing penalty.

I’ll be on the edge of my seat for the Oct. 30 conference results.


Two Third Circuit cases headed to Supreme Court

So far this term the Supreme Court has granted certiorari to review two Third Circuit cases.

The first is Merrill Lynch v. Manning. The question presented, per Scotusblog:

Whether Section 27 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 provides federal jurisdiction over state-law claims seeking to establish liability based on violations of the Act or its regulations or seeking to enforce duties created by the Act or its regulations.

My summary of the Third Circuit opinion noted an explicit circuit split and that the loser had  high-powered counsel (headlined by former acting SG Walter Dellinger), so the cert grant is no big surprise. The case has been set for argument December 1.

The other one is Heffernan v. City of Paterson. Eugene Volokh was among the lawyers who signed the successful cert petition. The QP:

Whether the First Amendment bars the government from demoting a public employee based on a supervisor’s perception that the employee supports a political candidate.

I called the Third Circuit opinion a head-scratcher and described its holding as “[w]acky.” Time will tell whether the Court agrees.

New opinion — bad faith a basis for dismissal of involuntary bankruptcy petition

In re: Forever Green — bankruptcy — affirmance — Fuentes

Creditors can initiate involuntary proceedings against a debtor. Today, the Third Circuit held that a creditor’s bad faith provides independent grounds for dismissing an involuntary petition. The court adopted a totality-of-the-circumstances for assessing bad faith and held that the district court’s bad-faith finding was not an abuse of discretion.

Joining Fuentes were Nygaard and Roth. Arguing counsel were Aris Karalis for the debtor and Steven Eisenberg for the creditors.

“Some people want our next president to be a woman. Some people want our next president to be a Trump. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the next president of the United States: Judge Maryanne Trump Barry!”

Third Circuit Judge Barry spoke earlier this week at a D.N.J. US Attorney’s event. David Lat — managing editor at Above the Law, author of Supreme Ambitions, and confessed creator of the spunkiest legal blog ever — was there and posted this report.

The title of this post is from US Attorney Paul Fishman’s introduction of Barry; here is Lat’s account:

Judge Barry, the older sister of real estate magnate turned presidential candidate Donald Trump, is one of my favorite judicial divas. Last night, however, she was not as diva-licious or controversial as I was expecting. For example, she made no allusions to her little brother’s polarizing presidential bid. (But Paul Fishman did in introducing her: “Some people want our next president to be a woman. Some people want our next president to be a Trump. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the next president of the United States: Judge Maryanne Trump Barry!”)

In her remarks, Judge Barry emphasized themes of public service and humility. She spoke about how nervous she was when she first started work as an assistant U.S. attorney, confessing that when asked to write her first appellate brief, “I didn’t know what an appellate brief was!” At her first oral argument, during the defense counsel’s eloquent presentation, she panicked and wrote a note to her supervisor sitting next to her: “What do I say?” He advised her to get up, introduce herself, and argue that the evidence was overwhelming. When she did that, Judge John Gibbons responded by saying, “Frankly, counselor, I am underwhelmed.” It was not her finest hour.

But with hard work, and the help of a great mentor — chief of appeals John Barry, whom she later married — she got better over time. She served as chief of appeals herself, and then as first assistant U.S. attorney, before her appointment to the federal bench.

Oh, and some guy named Alito spoke, too.

En banc procedure in the Third Circuit, redux [updated]

[UPDATE: After reading my post, Legal Sports Report has pulled their article while they review.]

The influential sports-law blog Legal Sports Report is following NCAA and has a lengthy and interesting post today about the en banc process, but the post is wrong on a few points. My original post yesterday on Third Circuit en banc procedures is here.

The Legal Sports Report post claims, “We do not know yet which judges will be on the en banc panel,” explaining:

Generally, recusal decisions are not known until the matter is set for argument, and sometimes not until the day of the argument.

Some have speculated that, because the court’s order granting rehearing en banc named only nine of the active judges as having voted on the en banc petition (judges listed as “Present”), the other three judges who were not named are recused. This speculation is unwarranted.

There were no recusals noted in the court’s order (typically reflected as “Judge Smith took no part in this decision.”). The absence of the three judges (Chief Judge McDonald [oops: he means McKee] and Judges Chagares and Schwartz [Shwartz, actually]) is most likely a reflection of a quirk in the court’s rules.

Petitions for rehearing en banc are circulated to all active judges. The judges wishing to grant rehearing must affirmatively notify the clerk. Judges wishing to deny rehearing, however, may either affirmatively notify the clerk or simply make no response at all; either way, their vote counts as a “no” because rehearing en banc requires a majority of active judges, not a majority of active judges who vote.

So, although one or more of the three active judges not named in the order may have recused themselves, the more likely explanation is that they simply did not vote on the petition for rehearing but will still sit on the en banc panel.

This is wrong. The fact that McKee, Chagares, and Shwartz did not sign the order granting rehearing en banc in NCAA means they will not participate in the rehearing because they have recused themselves, not that they “simply did not vote.” The docket for each en banc case is explicit about this, listing the judges who signed the order granting rehearing en banc with the label “Coram.”

Don’t believe me? Look at Langbord, the gold-coins en banc argued earlier this week. Greenaway is not listed on the on order granting rehearing, and he did not participate in the argument. The last en banc with a recusal before that was Al-Sharif. Chagares is not on the order granting rehearing, and he did not participate in the argument.

(Also, the “sometimes not until the day of the argument” statement is wrong too, as Third Circuit practitioners well know.)

Given that error, all of this is wrong, too:

Bottom line, assuming no recusals, we can expect the en banc panel to have 14 or 15 judges—the 12 active judges plus Senior Judges Rendell and Barry, and possibly Judge Restrepo if he is confirmed prior to argument. Thus, New Jersey will need to find eight votes in order to prevail (a tie vote would leave the district court decision in force as the final decision, but  a tie is highly unlikely—in case of a tie, one judge would likely switch sides and join a narrow decision in order to provide finality to the issue).

These missteps aside, it’s an intelligent post with some plausible head-counting, and I recommend it.

UPDATE: One other thing. I said Legal Sports Report’s head-counting was plausible, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s right. The post reasonably predicts that in NCAA the more liberal judges will side with Congress and more conservative judges with the state. But, in predicting which judges will fall into which camp, the post hypothesizes that the liberals are the judges nominated by Dem presidents and the conservatives are the ones nominated by Republicans. In a lot of circuits that would be give you a reasonably accurate guesstimate, but not here. As I’ve shown in detail here,, nominating party does not match up very well with vote ideology in the court’s recent en banc cases.




Good analysis of this week’s epic NYPD civil-rights reversal

I’ve long been a fan of Bruce Greenberg‘s New Jersey Appellate Law blog, and this week Bruce posted an insightful piece on the Third Circuit’s landmark civil-rights reversal in Hassan v. City of New York.

The entire post is worth reading, but what stood out to me was his description of Judge Ambro’s opinion as ” one of the most important decisions that the Third Circuit has made in some time,” and his prediction that it “will be long remembered.”

For some perspective on the case from the inside, here’s a sharp case timeline posted by the Center for Constitutional Rights, plaintiffs’ arguing counsel. And here’s a post by the Brennan Center for Justice, an amicus in the appeal, quoting one of the lawyers to say that Hassan “is on the right side of history.”

New opinion — deciding what “renewal” means

Indian Harbor v. F&M Equipment — contract — vacate & remand — Roth

The Third Circuit today vacated a summary-judgment grant in an insurance contract dispute, holding that, for a contract to be considered a renewal, it must contain the same or nearly the same terms as the original.

Joining Roth were Ambro and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were appellate lawyer Thomas Peterson of Morgan Lewis for the appellant and Joel Hopkins of Saul Ewing for the appellee.

Third Circuit en banc procedure — the basics and beyond

There was lots of national news coverage of yesterday’s en banc rehearing grant in the New Jersey sports-betting case, and just about every story had an error or two. The Washington Post story originally said 10 to 12 judges would participate, then changed it to “at least 12,” and now it says “possibly 12 or more.” But it’s hard to blame reporters for being confused about en banc procedures — even experienced circuit practitioners can get stumped.

So, let’s first hit the basics:

What is en banc rehearing? Federal appeals courts almost always decide cases using three-judge panels. But in very rare instances, the court decides cases en banc. As I’ve noted, in recent years the Third Circuit has done so in roughly 1 out of every 1000 cases it decides. En banc means the entire court decides the case, but figuring out exactly what ‘the entire court’ means can get tricky. So …

Which judges participate in an en banc rehearing? (“Participate” means to vote on which side wins the case (affirm or reverse), not on whether to grant rehearing in the first place.) It’s math:

  • All of the active Third Circuit judges (right now there are 12; senior judges are not active judges)
  • Minus active judges who recuse (in NCAA 3 active judges are not participating)
  • Plus any senior Third Circuit judges who (a) sat on the original panel and (b) elected to participate in the en banc (in NCAA 2 senior judges are participating)

Senior Third Circuit judges who did not sit on the panel are not eligible to participate in the en banc, period. (Several other circuits allow this.) Visiting judges (judges who are not Third Circuit judges) are not eligible to participate in en banc rehearing, period, even if they did sit on the panel, IOP 9.5.3.

If rehearing en banc has been granted, how can you tell which judges are participating? How can you tell if active judges recused, or if senior judges on the panel opted in? The order granting rehearing en banc. It gives a list of judges, and that identifies the judges who are participating in the en banc rehearing of that case as of that date. (After this, subtractions would occur only if a judge leaves the court or belatedly recuses; additions would occur only if a judge joins the court before en banc oral argument).

Which judges get a vote on whether to grant en banc rehearing in the first place? It’s the same as who gets to participate except that no senior judges get to vote, even if they sat on the panel.


Okay, so much for the basics. Now, let’s look at some other potential sources of confusion. First, some issues about the vote on whether to grant rehearing:

What if there is a tie about whether to grant rehearing en banc? It takes a majority to grant rehearing, so a tie means rehearing en banc is denied. That in turn means a three-judge panel decides the appeal, so, if there already is a panel opinion, it remains in force.

Is en banc rehearing ever granted before there is a panel ruling? Yes. The court can grant rehearing en banc any time it wants, and it doesn’t have to wait for a party to ask. In cases where en banc rehearing is granted, it is not unusual in recent years for the Third Circuit to do so before the panel issues any opinion.

Which majority is required to grant rehearing en banc — all active judges, or only participating active judges? If judges recuse, does that reduce the number of votes needed to grant rehearing? Yes. 3d Cir. LAR 35.3 says, “For purposes of determining the majority number necessary to grant a petition for rehearing [see 28 USC 46(d)], all circuit judges currently in regular active service who are not disqualified will be counted.” (IOP 9.5.3 is to the same effect.) That means you only need a majority of non-disqualified judges. (But be aware that a very authoritative secondary source cites R. 35.3 to mean that the Third Circuit will not grant rehearing en banc unless a majority of active judges are not disqualified).

And here are some issues for cases where rehearing en banc has been granted:

If en banc rehearing is granted, what happens to the panel decision? It is vacated when rehearing is granted, so it’s like it never existed. En banc opinions often do not discuss prior panel opinions.

What if there is a tie by the en banc court about whether to affirm or reverse?  An en banc tie leaves the district court’s ruling in place. It does not reinstate the panel opinion. It’s like the appeal never happened.

If a judge takes senior status while the en banc case is pending, does s/he still get a vote? Yes. If a judge voted on whether to grant rehearing en banc, that judge gets to participate in the entire rehearing even if s/he goes senior.

If a new judge joins the court while en banc rehearing is pending, does the judge get a vote? If this situation is addressed by the rules, I can’t find it, which is odd. This is a timely question, since it is very likely that Judge Restrepo will join the Court before either Chavez or NCAA are submitted, and possible he’ll be confirmed before Dennis or Langbord are decided (they were argued yesterday). I’ll update this answer if I’m able to find out more. Any commenter insight?

UPDATE: At least since 2010, new CA3 judges always participate in en banc cases if they are commissioned before the en banc oral argument (like Shwartz in Rojas and Caraballo-Rodriguez), but never if they are commissioned after oral argument (like Krause in Katzin and Flores-Mejia, like Shwartz in Quinn and Morrow, and like Vanaskie and Greenaway in Rigas and Puleo). So it’s a good bet that Restrepo will participate in Chavez (set for argument in February) and NCAA.

If all this makes your head spin, just be glad we’re not wading back into the recent thorny questions about how to tell the difference between an en banc plurality vs. a majority and whether it matters.


New opinion — a consumer procedural win, plus a new en banc grant

Leyse v. Bank of America — civil consumer — reversal — Fuentes

A consumer sued Bank of America, alleging that robo-calls used to market credit cards violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. (Who knew? A law bars any person from initiating any telephone call to residential phone using a prerecorded voice without prior consent or an exemption.) The district court dismissed, holding that the plaintiff lacked statutory standing because the call was meant for his roommate. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that residents who receive the calls fall within the statute’s zone of interests.

Joining Fuentes were Sloviter and Roth. Arguing counsel were Todd Bank (whose website bills him as “The ‘Annoyance’ Lawyer”) for the consumer and former Asst. to the Solicitor General Joseph Palmore of Morrison & Foerster for the bank.


Also today, the Court granted en banc rehearing in NCAA v. Governor of NJ (vacated panel opinion here, my summary here). Senior-judge panel-members Rendell and Barry both will participate. [EDIT: Also of note, McKee, Chagares, and Shwartz are not participating]

Good coverage of the rehearing petition (quoting me — lucky for me he left out the part where I predicted rehearing would be denied!) by Zachary Zagger on is here.

An en banc argument pitting Paul Clement against Ted Olson? Gonna be a big day at the Jim Byrne.

New opinion — Court revives major post-9/11 civil rights suit

Hassan v. City of New York — civil rights — reversal — Ambro

Here’s how today’s opinion begins (cites and parentheticals omitted):

Plaintiffs appeal the dismissal of their civil-rights suit
against the City of New York. They claim to be
targets of a wide-ranging surveillance program that the New
York City Police Department began in the
wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Plaintiffs allege that the Program is based on the
false and stigmatizing premise that Muslim religious identity
“is a permissible proxy for criminality, and that Muslim
individuals, businesses, and institutions can therefore be
subject to pervasive surveillance not visited upon individuals,
businesses, and institutions of any other religious faith or the
public at large.” They bring this lawsuit “to affirm the principle
that individuals may not be singled out for intrusive
investigation and pervasive surveillance that cause them
continuing harm simply because they profess a certain

In its narrowest form, this appeal raises two questions:
Do Plaintiffs—themselves allegedly subject to a discriminatory surveillance program—have standing to sue in
federal court to vindicate their religious-liberty and equalprotection
rights? If so, taking Plaintiffs’ non-conclusory
allegations as true, have they stated valid claims under the
First and Fourteenth Amendments to our Constitution? Both
of these questions, which we answer yes, seem
straightforward enough. Lurking beneath the surface,
however, are questions about equality, religious liberty, the
role of courts in safeguarding our Constitution, and the
protection of our civil liberties and rights equally during
wartime and in peace.

And the conclusion:

The allegations in Plaintiffs’ Complaint tell a story in
which there is standing to complain and which present
constitutional concerns that must be addressed and, if true,
redressed. Our job is judicial. We “can apply only law, and must abide by the Constitution, or [we] cease to be civil
courts and become instruments of [police] policy.”
Korematsu, 323 U.S. at 247 (Jackson, J., dissenting).
We believe that statement of Justice Jackson to be on
the right side of history, and for a majority of us in quiet
times it remains so . . . until the next time there is the fear of a
few who cannot be sorted out easily from the many. Even
when we narrow the many to a class or group, that
narrowing—here to those affiliated with a major worldwide
religion—is not near enough under our Constitution. “[T]o
infer that examples of individual disloyalty prove group
disloyalty and justify discriminatory action against the entire
group is to deny that under our system of law individual guilt
is the sole basis for deprivation of rights.” Id. at 240
(Murphy, J., dissenting).
What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have
been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during
the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights
Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are
examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder
why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with
hindsight—that “[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,]
not race, creed, or color.” Ex parte Mitsuye Endo, 323 U.S.
283, 302 (1944).
We reverse and remand for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.

Obviously a sweeping and important opinion. I’m looking forward to reading it with care, but I’ve got a Third Circuit opening brief due today so I’ll have to wait.

Joining Ambro were Fuentes and Roth; Roth issued a short concurrence. Arguing counsel were Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights for the plaintiffs and Peter Farrell for the city,

New opinion — Remand in a “Kafkaesque” commitment case

US v. Foy — civil commitment / jurisdiction — remand — Greenberg

The Third Circuit usually posts new published opinions on its website around 12:25 p.m., but occasionally it posts them late in the day, and it did so today. It’s an odd, complicated, and disturbing case and I’m not sure I can do it justice now, but here’s the gist.

Way back in 2003, Joaquin Foy was charged with a crime, but prior to trial he was found incompetent and the charges were dropped but he was federally committed. By 2009 doctors concluded it was safe to release him but he has continued to be detained because he won’t  promise to take his meds if released! Foy contends that continuing to hold him violates federal law, resulting in a tangle of litigation in 3 different federal courts. Relevant to today’s appeal, Foy filed a pro se motion to vacate judgment under Rule 60 in EDPA, the district court denied it, and in 2011 the Third Circuit appointed counsel and ordered briefing. Today, 4 years later but without oral argument, a divided panel vacated the district court’s denial and remanded for the district court to decide whether to transfer or dismiss it.

Joining Greenberg was Greenaway. Krause dissented in part, describing the case as “nothing short of Kafkaesque and cries out to be heard by some court.” The case was decided without argument.

More criticism of the Restrepo-confirmation delay

The Los Angeles Times has this story today (headline: “Republican Senate accused of ‘slow walking’ Obama’s judicial nominees”) that features the delay in confirming Judge Restrepo to the Third Circuit.

Yesterday, Paul Gordon of People for the American Way posted this informative analysis of the current delays in federal judicial confirmations, also featuring Restrepo. One telling passage (emphasis in original):

Failing to confirm judges is not at all the norm even when the Senate and the White House are held by different parties.  A useful basis of comparison is George W. Bush’s final two years in office, when Democrats took over the Senate after the 2006 midterms.  A week after those elections, Senator Patrick Leahy – who was about to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee – criticized Republicans for blocking votes on more than a dozen of Bush’s qualified nominees.  Partisanship took a back seat to responsible governing.

So in 2007, Leahy and new Majority Leader Harry Reid worked together to make sure the Judiciary Committee and full Senate fulfilled its constitutional responsibilities.  During those two years, the Senate vetted and confirmed 68 of Bush’s circuit and district court nominees.  In fact, the Democratic Senate had already confirmed 29 of Bush’s judges by this same point in the year (October 1 of 2007), a number that will increase to 33 over the weekend.  In stark contrast, the McConnell Senate has so far confirmed only six Obama judges. No matter how you look at it, 33 ≠ 6.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, when Senator Toomey’s office said way back in May that he was confident Restrepo would be confirmed “by year’s end,” Toomey knew already the Third Circuit would suffer from this inexplicable delay.

New opinions — Rule 58 in the ECF age, and a Tonnage Clause case

Witasick v. Minnesota Mutual — civil — affirmed — Nygaard

Published Third Circuit opinions involving pro se litigants are fairly rare. Pro se civil litigants? Quite rare. Pro se civil litigants with felony records who are allowed to give oral argument?* New to me.

Now, if the pro se party won the case,that would be rarest of all, but it wasn’t to be. He did pick up some style points on a procedural issue, though.

Attorney Kevin Witasick had insurance coverage. After a coverage dispute, the parties settled and Witasick signed a covenant not to sue. At the same time, Witasick was prosecuted and convicted of fraud and related charges, and an insurer’s employee testified against him. Witasick then initiated the current case by suing the insurance companies. The district court dismissed the suit based on the settlement agreement, and today the Third Circuit affirmed.

Although the merits were a slam-dunk, there is an interesting procedural wrinkle that federal practitioners should note.

The court held that Witasick’s notice of appeal was timely, even though it was filed far more than 30 days after the district-court opinion dismissing his claims, because the district court did not set out the dismissal in a separate document, per FRCivP 58. While there was an ECF docket entry stating that the case terminated, and the court today agreed that ECF docket entries could satisfy Rule 58, the docket entry here did not because it did not give the basis for termination (and maybe because it was a mere clerical notation, although the opinion is less clear here). The court said that text orders usually would satisfy Rule 58, while utility events and minute entries cannot because they are not orders and are not signed by a judge. While that part looks like dicta, this is the first case I’ve seen grappling with how Rule 58 applies in the age of ECF.

Joining Nygaard are Fuentes and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Kevin Witasick for himself and Jacqueline Herring for the insurers.

* He was allowed to do oral argument, but then he didn’t show. I should know — I argued the case that was supposed to be up second that morning, but the panel had us go first in case he arrived late.


Maher Terminals v. Port Authority of NY & NJ — Tonnage Clause — affirmed — Fisher

Maybe I overslept the day we covered the Tonnage Clause in con law. If you’re as sadly uninformed as I, the Tonnage Clause of the US Constitution (article I, section 10, clause 3) bars states from “lay[ing] any Duty of Tonnage” without Congress’s say-so.

Today, a divided Third Circuit panel held that a marine terminal operator challenging its rent cannot state a claim under the Tonnage Clause because said clause’s zone of interests is limited to injuries to a vessel as a vehicle of commerce. To its great credit, the majority opinion smoothly uses both “unmoor” and “[a]nchoring,” without going overboard with nautical whimsy.

Joining Fisher were Shwartz in full and Jordan in part. Dissenting in part, Jordan disagreed that the plaintiff failed to state a Tonnage Act claim. Might be a plausible case for cert. Arguing counsel were former Coast Guard captain Lawrence Kiern of Winston & Strawn for the appellant and Peter Isakoff of Weil Gotshal for the appellees.

New opinions — a criminal-sentencing reversal and a close look at stays pending appeal

US v. Nagle — criminal — reversal — Fisher

Two co-owners of a construction business were convicted of fraud and other charges. Apparently they were non-minority contractors who collaborated with a minority contractor; the minority business would bid on contracts and then give the defendants all the work. Both defendants challenged the sentencing court’s loss calculation, and today the Third Circuit vacated their sentences and reversed. The court held that the proper loss amount was not the face value of the work contracts: the fair market value of the services provided by the defendants had to be subtracted when calculating the loss. The court also rejected the government’s argument that the 10-level departures the defendants received rendered the loss-calculation error harmless.

Joining Fisher were Roth and Hardiman in part. Hardiman briefly concurred in the judgment in part. Arguing counsel were Ellen Brotman of Griesing Law for one defendant, William Kent for the other, and Bruce Bandler and Jenny Ellickson for the government.


In re: Revel AC — procedure, bankruptcy — reversal — Ambro

The Third Circuit today explained its prior-issued ruling reversing a district court’s denial of a request for a stay pending appeal. The case arises out of the Revel AC casino bankruptcy. In his majority opinion, Judge Ambro began, “We seldom focus on how to balance the four factors that determine whether to grant a stay pending appeal despite the practical and legal importance of those procedural standstills. So we take this opportunity to do just that.” (Entertaining mid-stringcite footnote: “Yes, we realize this is the same Circuit Court in the same year. Read on and realize that we are not immune from internal tensions in our opinions.”)

Joining Ambro was Krause; Shwartz dissented. Both opinions are strong. Arguing counsel were Jeffrey Cooper for the appellant and Jason Zakia for the debtor.

New opinions — a successful challenge to PA’s emissions plan, plus an arbitration-issue waiver

National Parks Conservation Ass’n v. U.S. E.P.A. — agency — vacate in part — Vanaskie

Three national environmental groups petitioned the Third Circuit to review the EPA’s approval under the Clean Air Act of Pennsylvania’s decision not to do more to limit emissions that cause atmospheric haze in national parks and wilderness areas. Today, the environmental groups won a partial victory when the court vacated the part of the EPA’s ruling that approved Pennsylvania’s analysis of “best available retrofit technology.” The court ruled that Pennsylvania’s analysis suffered from multiple flaws and that the EPA failed to give a sufficient explanation for overlooking those flaws.

Joining Vanaskie were Ambro and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Charles McPhedran of Earthjustice for the environmental groups, Kate Bowers for the EPA, Robert Reiley for an intervenor state agency, and Chet Thompson for an intervenor power company.  Coverage of the oral argument here.

Goldman Sachs v. Athena Venture Partners — arbitration — reversal — Fuentes

Goldman Sachs pitched an investment to Athena using terms like terrific, low risk, and very safe. Athena invested $5 million and lost about $1.4 million. Athena initiated arbitration against Goldman, and, after a nine-day hearing, an arbitration panel ruled for Goldman.

During the arbitration, it was disclosed to the parties that one of the arbitration panel members had been charged with unauthorized practice of law. At the time, the panelist said it was a one-time oversight. Neither side investigated or objected at the time, but after the panel’s ruling Athena investigated and concluded that the panel member’s alleged misconduct was far more serious than disclosed. Athena moved to vacate the award, and the district court granted the motion. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that Athena waived its objection because it should have known the full story before it lost the arbitration. The opinion criticized FINRA, the arbitration organization, for failing to catch the issues with the panel member.

Joining Fuentes were Ambro and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Edward Posner of Drinker Biddle for Goldman and David Moffitt (his name is misspelled in the slip op.) of Saul Ewing for Athena.

Filing CA3 emergency motions during the court closure

Starting today, the Third Circuit is closed through September 29 due to the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia. The court posted instructions on its website for filing emergency motions during the closure:

The Clerk’s Office Will Close Thursday, September 24 And Will Reopen On Tuesday, September 29, 2015. For Emergency Motions, I.E. Motions Requiring Action Before Thursday, October 1, During This Time Call 267-299-4903 Or 267-299-4904 And Leave A Message Detailing The Nature Of The Emergency And Leaving A Contact Number So That The Attorney On Duty Can Respond. No Administrative Stays Will Be Issued In Immigration Cases From September 24 Until September 29. If An Emergency Stay Is Needed In An Immigration Matter, Please Call The Emergency Number. (See Below Closure Notice Under News & Announcements For Additional Information.)

An aside for my fellow typography nerds: my theory is that this was written by a clerk who is bitter about having to read lawyers’ briefs filled with hard-to-read Title Caps Headings and seized this opportunity for a little revenge.

Court grants en banc rehearing on applying first-filed rule to dismiss with prejudice

The Third Circuit just granted rehearing en banc in Chavez v. Dole Food.

The now-vacated panel opinion, upholding dismissal with prejudice of a civil suit based on the first-filed rule, is here, my summary is here. The panel was split, with Nygaard joined by Greenaway while Fuentes dissented.

Here’s the introduction from the panel dissent (I’ve omitted two footnotes):

More than two hundred plantation workers brought
this suit alleging their employers and certain chemical
companies knowingly exposed them to toxic pesticides over a
period of many years. As a result, they say, they have injured
kidneys, are infertile, and are at heightened risk of cancer.
Twenty years after first bringing suit, no court has heard the
merits of their claims. Because the Louisiana court dismissed
on procedural grounds, the Delaware District Court’s
dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims—with prejudice—
effectively ends the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. The majority’s
affirmance of that decision, i.e., the dismissal with prejudice
of a duplicate claim filed in a second court, is not supported
by our caselaw and is contrary to the decisions of the only
other Courts of Appeals to have addressed the issue.

I agree with the majority opinion that the first-filed
rule applied to the plaintiffs’ successive filing in Delaware,
and, as such, that the District Court should have given the
Louisiana suit priority. But I do not agree that the first-filed
rule is a basis to terminate a claim that otherwise may be
prosecuted. That is not something we have ever held before; it
is contrary to our positions on successive litigation and
concurrent litigation in other contexts; and it is inappropriate
in light of the Supreme Court’s command that we must
adjudicate properly presented cases not heard elsewhere on
the merits. As our sister circuits have done in like cases, I
would vacate and remand for further proceedings.

Today’s order notes that Nygaard exercised his IOP 9.6.4 option as a senior judge who sat on the panel to sit on the en banc court.

My thanks to an alert reader from New York for emailing to alert me just minutes after the order posted to the court’s website.

Update: today’s grant makes 3 pending en banc cases, with Chavez joining Dennis (a capital-habeas appeal) and Langbord (the double-eagle-coins appeal).

New opinions — IDEA statute of limitations and 1983 favorable termination

G.L. v. Ligonier Valley School Dist. — education & disability law — affirmance — Krause

Judge Cheryl Krause, confirmed to the Third Circuit just last summer, already looks like a rising star. Her first opinions —  this prisoner civil-rights opinion in Young, this bar reciprocity opinion in NAAMJP, and especially this bankruptcy-mootness concurrence in In re: ONE2ONE Communications  — have been powerhouse efforts. Clear, thorough, and strong: Supreme-Court-shortlist caliber work, I’m starting to believe.

Today, the Court issued the latest Krause opinion, and it’s another tour de force. The case arose under the Individuals With Disabilities Act, and the appeal centered on how the IDEA’s confusingly drafted statute-of-limitations discovery rule works. The plaintiffs here, the school district, and the federal Department of Education as amicus each took a different position. After a careful analysis (the slip opinion runs 52 pages) of this issue of first circuit impression, the court sided with the government, holding that due process complaints under the IDEA must be filed within two years after the reasonable discovery of an injury.

Joining Krause were McKee and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Charles Jelley for the students and parent, Christina Lane for the district, and Jennifer Rosen Valverde (her name is misspelled in the slip op.) of the Rutgers law school Special Education Clinic for amici. The opinion thanked the organizations led by the Rutgers clinic for “their helpful perspective and excellent briefing and argument.”


Bronowicz v. Allegheny County — prisoner civil rights — partial reversal — Greenaway

In order to recover for wrongful imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a former prisoner must show that his challenge  to his underlying was favorably terminated. Today, the Third Circuit held that a 1983 plaintiff satisfied the favorable termination requirement even though the prior order vacating his sentence did not expressly state that the sentence was illegal.

Joining Greenaway were Fisher and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Robert Owsiany for the former inmate, Virginia Scott for the County, and Caroline Liebenguth for three defendant probation officers.

Leahy: I hope Toomey will get a firm commitment to schedule a confirmation vote this week for Restrepo

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released this statement yesterday:

Last week, I spoke about Senate Republicans’ virtual shutdown of the judicial nominations process since they took over the majority.  Their refusal to respond to the urgent needs of our independent Third Branch is threatening to harm our justice system and rob the judiciary of outstanding public servants.

One glaring example of this harm is the unnecessary delay of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, who was nominated last year to fill an emergency vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania.  Judge Restrepo was unanimously confirmed two years ago by the Senate to serve as a district court judge.  During his tenure as both a Federal district court judge and as a Federal magistrate judge, he has presided over 56 trials that have gone to verdict or judgment.  He is superbly qualified, and I have heard no objection to his nomination.  Despite his outstanding credentials and experience, it took the Republican majority seven months just to schedule a hearing in the Judiciary Committee for this qualified nominee.

Judge Restrepo has bipartisan support from both Pennsylvania Senators, and was voted out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously by voice vote.  Once confirmed, Judge Restrepo will be the first Hispanic judge from Pennsylvania to ever serve on this court and only the second Hispanic judge to serve on the Third Circuit.  He has the strong endorsement of the non-partisan Hispanic National Bar Association.  At his confirmation hearing in June, Senator Toomey stated that “there is no question [Judge Restrepo] is a very well qualified candidate to serve on the Third Circuit.”  Senator Toomey described Judge Restrepo’s life story as “an American Dream” and recounted how Judge Restrepo came to the United States from Columbia and rose to the top of his profession by “virtue of his hard work, his intellect, his integrity.”  I could not agree more.

Given his remarkable credentials, wealth of experience, and strong bipartisan support, you would think the Senate would have confirmed Judge Restrepo months ago.  Instead, he was nominated for a judicial emergency vacancy back in November 2014, and for 10 months since his nomination, he has been denied a vote on his confirmation.  No Senate Democrat opposes a vote on his nomination.  The only ones who are holding up his nomination are the Senate Republicans.  I have heard Senator Toomey indicate his strong support and that he would like to see Judge Restrepo receive a vote.  I know Senator Toomey can be a fierce advocate for issues he cares passionately about, and I hope he will get a firm commitment from the Majority Leader to schedule a confirmation vote this week.

In addition to Judge Restrepo’s nomination, there are 12 other non-controversial judicial nominees pending on the Executive Calendar waiting for a vote.  All of them were approved by voice vote by the Judiciary Committee.  There is no reason for Republicans to block these nominees.  More than eight months into this new year, Republican leadership has allowed votes on just six judicial nominees.  By this time in 2007, when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had confirmed 29 judges nominated by President Bush.  That is nearly five times more nominees than what this Republican Majority has accomplished so far this year.  Because of the Republicans’ virtual shutdown of the confirmation process, judicial vacancies have increased by more than 50 percent – from 43 to 67.  This is demonstrates an astounding neglect of the needs of our independent Third Branch.

Instead of confirming Judge Restrepo and the 12 other non-controversial judicial nominees on the Executive Calendar, Republicans are talking about another doomed vote on harmful legislation to block women’s health care choices.  Republicans had already forced a failed “show vote” to defund critical health services for women, spending two days on that unnecessary political exercise.  Although Senate Republicans campaigned last year on the promise that they would govern responsibly if they won the majority, they continue to prioritize divisive issues that play only to their political base and yield no results for the American people.

I am urging Republican leadership to reverse course.  Confirm Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo without further delay.  And then confirm the other 12 non-controversial judicial nominees pending on our Executive Calendar.


A juvenile strip-search postscript

Yesterday, as I posted here, the Third Circuit sided with a juvenile detention center that was sued for its practice of strip searching children.

Today in the news is this disturbing story from Texas about a 14 year-old boy named Ahmed. Ahmed made a homemade clock and brought it to school, but found himself arrested when the principal suspected his clock was a bomb, “despite the fact that the ninth grader repeatedly told both teachers and the police that his project was not, in fact, a weapon.” In a photo of him in handcuffs, you can see him wearing a NASA t-shirt, bless his nerdy little heart. As he later described, “I was taken to a juvenile detention center, where they searched me, they took fingerprints and mug shots of me, and they searched me until my parents came and I got to leave the building.”

I have no idea whether that Texas detention center has the same strip-search policy as the Lancaster County center. But imagining that boy, and all the other boys and girls like him, being strip searched, bend-over-and-cough, makes me sad.

New opinions — an en banc puzzler and an ERISA case

US v. Lewis (en banc) – criminal – reversal – Rendell

Today, an en banc majority – or is it a plurality? – held that an Alleyne error at Jermel Lewis’s sentencing was not harmless. Previously, a divided panel had come out the other way (Fisher and Chagares majority, Rendell dissent) — link to my post on the panel opinion is here, link to my recent analysis of the court’s en banc cases here. A concurring opinion would have held that the error was structural so that proof of harm should not be required, while a dissent argued that the error was harmless because the defense at trial and sentencing did not contest the underlying factual issue.

A strange feature of the case is that the judges disagree about whether the lead opinion speaks for a majority or a plurality, but no one clears it up. There are three opinions:

  • the lead opinion by Rendell,
  • an opinion by Smith “concurring,” which is joined by McKee, Ambro, and (perhaps surprisingly) Jordan, and
  • a dissent by Fisher, joined by Chagares and Hardiman.

Fisher’s dissent refers to the lead opinion, prominently and repeatedly, as “the plurality.” But Smith refers to the lead opinion throughout as “the majority.” If the 4 judges who joined Smith opinion also joined the lead opinion, then the lead opinion was a majority (10 of 13). The fact that Smith’s opinion was identified as “concurring,” not “concurring in the judgment,” suggests that’s the case, as does the fact that the Smith opinion calls the lead opinion a majority opinion.

But the dissenters have a point: in substance, it looks to me like the Smith 4 agree with Rendell on the outcome but reject her rationale, and also Smith never expressly says that he is joining the lead opinion. Without the Smith 4, the lead opinion would indeed be only a plurality (6 of 13).

Majority or plurality? I’m not sure. Does it matter? Do en banc pluralities bind future panels? Or does the Third Circuit follow Supreme Court practice, where the outcome-joining opinion resting on the narrowest ground is the one that is precedential? If so, is that Rendell’s or Smith’s? I’m not sure of the answers to these questions offhand, either. It’s unfortunate the court left this sort of confusion by failing to set straight who joined what.

Another interesting feature of the case is that, according to the dissent’s footnote 1, the rationale adopted by the lead opinion was one advanced not by the defendant, but by an en banc amicus. (The amicus is Amachi, Inc., a religious child-mentoring program started by former Philadelphia Mayor Goode, represented by a big-firm associate.) Fisher expresses concern that this “allows defendants to take the tack most expedient at any point in their appeal.” I doubt it: what sane appellate counsel would make strategy choices based on such far-fetched contingencies? CA3 grants rehearing in about 1 out of 1000 decided cases, and the odds of amicus jumping in for you in an en banc are lower still. However, I do suspect that Amachi’s visible victory here may well embolden future interested parties to get involved as en banc amici, which strikes me as a good thing.

Arguing counsel were Paul Hetznecker for Lewis, Robert Zauzmer for the government, and Michael Addis of Cravath for amicus.


Board of Trustees v. C&S Wholesale -– ERISA — affirmance — McKee

 The court decided an ERISA case today.

McKee was joined by Hardiman and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Thomas Hart for the appellant and Susan Hoffman for the appellee.

New opinions — a 2255 blockbuster, strip searches for 12 year-olds, and an antitrust case

US v. Ross – criminal 2255 – vacate denial and instruct to dismiss — Jordan

In a major ruling, the Third Circuit today issued an opinion that appears to mean that 28 U.S.C. § 2255 does not permit prisoners to challenge an illegal conviction and sentence if the defendant also was convicted on other counts resulting in equal or greater concurrent sentences. I suspect the opinion is incorrect.

The defendant here, Edward Ross, was convicted on numerous counts, one of them being possession of a machine gun in violation of 18 USC § 922(o). On that count, Ross was sentenced to 10 years in prison plus a $100 special assessment. Ross also received 10-year sentences on other 6 counts, with all 7 sentences to run concurrently.

As to the machine-gun-possession charge, the jury was not required to find that Ross knew the gun was a machine gun. (It seems at least possible he didn’t know: the gun in question was made to be semi-automatic, and had been converted to automatic by changing the firing pin, and it was found in Ross’s residence, not in use.) Six other circuits have held that knowledge that the gun was a machine gun is an element of the crime. Today’s opinion said, “Given the opportunity, we might join our sister circuits,” and Ross “may be right that the 922(o) conviction is unlawful.”

Ross’s trial lawyer did not object to the instruction, and his direct-appeal lawyer did not raise the issue either. In a 2255 motion, he argued that prior counsel were ineffective for failing to raise the machine-gun-knowledge issue. “Sounds like a winner,” I would have said.

After the district court denied relief on prejudice grounds, the government argued on appeal  (it is not clear from the opinion whether they made the argument below) that Ross’s challenge to the 922(o) conviction was not even cognizable under 2255. Today, the Third Circuit agreed, ruling that, even if Ross’s trial and appellate counsel performed deficiently and even if Ross were prejudiced, he still would not be entitled to relief because his claim fails a threshold “custody” requirement.

Here was the panel’s reasoning. First, “[t]he plain text of 2255 provides relief only to those prisoners who claim the right to be released from ‘custody.’” Second, the special assessment that Ross received as a result of the 922(o) conviction did not satisfy this “custody” requirement because it was not severe. Third, any collateral consequences resulting from the 922(o) conviction did not satisfy “custody” because Ross failed to show any consequences uniquely attributable to that conviction. Thus, the court held that the relief Ross sought was not cognizable under 2255, and it vacated the district court’s order denying relief and directed the court to dismiss instead.

I have real doubts about this reasoning. Here is what 2255 says:

A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence.

Here, the court reasoned as if 2255 said that a prisoner’s claims must each challenge his custody. But what 2255 says is that a prisoner in custody may move to vacate or correct his sentence. Ross is unquestionably a prisoner in custody on his federal sentence. So, at least as I read it, the text of 2255 does not support the reasoning in the opinion. And the opinion does not cite any previous case for the proposition that a prisoner who’s in custody can have his 2255 dismissed because his claims do not also meet a custody requirement.

So the Ross opinion strikes me as wrong — badly wrong, even — and warranting rehearing. But I haven’t read the briefs or pulled the cases cited, and today’s ruling was sought by top-flight AUSAs and embraced by 3 smart federal appellate judges, so maybe I’m missing something big.

Joining Jordan were Fisher and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Penn Law student John McClam (with 3 Dechert lawyers on the brief, two of whom recently clerked for Third Circuit judges) for Ross and Robert Zauzmer for the government.


J.B. v. Fassnacht – juvenile civil rights – reversal – Fuentes

A 12 year-old was accused of doing something illegal and was ordered to be detained, analogous to an adult who is arrested and taken to jail before trial. The juvenile detention center where he was taken had a practice of strip-searching every child during intake. So the 12-year old was put behind a shower curtain, and then, observed by an officer, he was “asked to turn around, drop his pants and underwear, bend over, spread his buttocks, and cough.”

No contraband was found. The accusation against the 12 year-old was later resolved when he agreed to write a letter saying he was sorry.

In 2011, the Supreme Court in Florence held that it was permissible to strip-search all arrestees before admitting them to a jail’s general population. But Florence was a case about strip-searching adults. Today, the Third Circuit held that Florence applies to juvenile, too.

Has a 12 year-old entered juvenile custody smuggling contraband in his or her rectum, ever? The opinion–oddly, in my view–does not say. Isn’t that relevant to whether these automatic, uniquely intrusive searches of children are warranted?

Instead, the opinion relies upon “the realities of detention, irrespective of age,” a study indicating that elementary-aged children are being recruited into gangs, the observation that “less invasive searches may leave undetected markings on the body indicating self mutilation or potential abuse in the home,” and the like, none of which strike me as compelling rationales for forcing 12 year-olds to strip naked for an officer and expose their rectums.

Joining Fuentes were Nygaard and Roth. Arguing counsel were David MacMain for the 12 year-old and Kevin Allen for the defendants.


In re: Chocolate Confectionary Antitrust Litigation — antitrust — affirmance — Fisher

The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Hershey, Nestle, and Mars in this antitrust appeal, holding that the evidence was insufficient to create a reasonable inference of a price-fixing conspiracy.

Joining Fisher were Hardiman and Roth. Arguing counsel were Steve Shadowen and Laddie Montague Jr. for the appellants and William Cavanaugh Jr, David Marx, and Peter Moll for the chocolate makers.

New opinions — a capital habeas reversal and a bankruptcy affirmance

Saranchak v. Secretary — capital habeas — reversal in part — Smith

The Third Circuit today ruled that a PA death-row inmate was entitled to a new sentencing hearing due to ineffective assistance of counsel. The court concluded that the PA Supreme Court’s denial of penalty-phase relief was unreasonable and based on a factual premise that was clearly false. The court expressly relied on the ABA Guidelines to assess counsel’s performance. It found that the state court’s prejudice ruling also was unreasonable because it misstated the standard and failed to discuss most of the relevant evidence. The court also affirmed the denial of guilt-phase relief.

Joining Smith were Vanaskie and Roth. Arguing counsel were Stu Lev of the Federal Community Defender for the petitioner and Jennifer Peterson of PA AG for the state.


In re: ICL Holding Co. — bankruptcy — affirmance — Ambro

When a debtor files for bankruptcy and undergoes reorganization, there often aren’t enough assets to pay off all the debts, and the bankruptcy rules provide a clear hierarchy for which creditors get payed first. But 11 U.S.C. 363 also lets a debtor sell its assets outside of the bankruptcy reorganization. When it does, must any funds produced by the sale be distributed using the same hierarchy?

In a lucid opinion issued today, the Third Circuit upheld a 363 sale, rejecting arguments by the government that the sale upset bankruptcy’s priority rules.

Joining Ambro were Fuentes and Roth. Arguing counsel were Thomas Clark for the government and Anthony Clark of Skadden Arps for the debtor and purchasers,

New opinion — an ERISA case

N.J. Brain & Spine v. Aetna — ERISA — reversal — Chagares

The Third Circuit decided an ERISA case today. The opinion was only 9 pages long, making this one of my favorite ERISA opinions ever. (Oh, okay. The court held that a patient’s assignment of benefits to her healthcare provider conferred standing on the provider to sue for those benefits under ERISA.)

Joining Chagares were Hardiman and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Eric Katz of Mazie Slater for the appellant, Edward Wardell of Connell Foley for the appellee, and Brian Hufford of Zuckerman Spaeder for amicus.

New opinions — David beats Goliath, plus a divided disability-rights ruling

Brand Marketing v. Intertek Testing — civil — affirmance — Hardiman

This appeal is a David vs. Goliath story. David wins.

Our David is David Brand, who founded a company — a “small” company, the opinion tells us up front — that makes heaters. Our Goliath is Intertek, a company — “an international product-testing company with more than 35,000 employees” — that Brand hired to test whether his heaters met U.S. safety standards. Intertek said the heaters passed, but in fact should not have, and, when the problems with the heaters came to light, the company that had been selling the heaters sued Brand. Brand lost and owed over $600,00.

So David (Brand) sued Goliath (Intertek). Goliath did what Goliaths do: after it bought the judgment that Brand owed to his former seller, Intertek then “aggressively tried to collect its judgment in the weeks leading up to trial, attempting, among other tactics, to transfer the judgment from the company to David Brand personally.” (Those facts don’t seem relevant to the issues on appeal, but perhaps were included for anyone who missed small company/big company intro.)

After a trial, the jury ruled for Brand for over $6 million, including $5 million in punitives. Intertek appealed. On appeal, Intertek was represented by Bill Hangley of Hangley Aronchick, who is widely regarded as one of the top lawyers in the state. Brand was represented by a trial lawyer for the far smaller Pittsburgh firm of Meyers Evans.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed. Among the court’s holdings are that Pennsylvania’s economic-loss doctrine did not bar Brand’s claim for negligent misrepresentation and that such misrepresentation occurred when Intertek prepared a test data sheet that it knew a third party would receive and rely on. The court also upheld the jury’s $5 million punitive-damages award.

Joining Hardiman was Roth, as well as Fisher in part. Fisher dissented on the issue of whether the evidence was sufficient to support the punitive-damages instruction. Arguing counsel were Brendan Lupetin for Brand and William Hangley for Intertek.

So David won this round too, but, given the panel split, the caliber of the losing party’s counsel, and the Supreme Court’s interest in policing punitives, I suspect the fight may not be done yet.


D.M. v. N.J. Dep’t of Educ. — disability & education — remand — Fisher

This appeal arises from a suit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, brought on behalf of a student who wanted to continued attending certain classes despite a state ruling that the school was not authorized to provide those classes. The IDEA has a provision, the so-called “stay put” rule, that says (roughly) that IDEA litigants get to stay in their current education placement until the suit is decided. The key issue in this appeal is whether the stay-put rule applies, and the panel majority ruled that it did.

Joining Fisher was Jordan; Shwartz dissented. The legal argument is pretty evenly matched, but Fisher wins the typography battle hands down: his cites are italicized, Shwartz’s are underlined, to the horror of Butterick devotees everywhere. Arguing counsel were Jennifer McGruther for the state and Vito Gagliardi, Jr. for the student.

A Third Circuit bar member allegedly sent “sickening” messages from his government-email account; is that grounds for circuit discipline?

At 4:23 p.m. this past Friday afternoon, as the Labor Day holiday weekend began and few were paying attention to the news, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams released a statement announcing that he would not fire the three lawyers in his office implicated in the Porngate scandal. Instead, the statement said, the 3 lawyers would undergo “sensitivity training.”

The most prominent of the three — and a member of the Third Circuit bar — is Frank Fina. Fina came to the DA’s office from the state Attorney General’s office, and it was while working in that office that he sent and received the emails. Here is how Fina was described in a well-reported Philadelphia Magazine article (link):

Fina was the star prosecutor under Tom Corbett — the guy who made the governor’s career, in fact, by taking on political corruption in Harrisburg and then sending Sandusky away for the rest of his life. Fina hates politicians in general and corrupt ones in particular; he put House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, among others, in prison. Fina takes a special pride in how loathed he remains in the state capital, and his approach to skimming the top off Harrisburg’s political elite is infamous: Secretaries and other minions were often brought to tears by Fina or his investigators, who threatened them with jail if they didn’t rat on their bosses. Balls to the wall — that’s Fina’s style. And an atmosphere Fina and his fellow gunslingers called “fuck fuck” reigned in the office. It meant there were no holds barred on anybody who worked there — they could get busted or teased or ridiculed about anything.

Back to those emails. In the media coverage I’ve seen, some of the descriptions of been pretty bland, others more vivid, but nothing I’d read prepared me for what I saw when I actually looked at them online. Even in grainy black and white, it was disturbing. The Philadelphia Daily News called reviewing the Porngate emails “sickening.” (I strongly recommend against it, they are filled with graphic pornographic and offensive content, but, if you need to see them for yourself, the link is here.)

On a Thursday afternoon from his state account, Fina allegedly sent an email with the subject line  “FW: New Office Motivation Policy Posters,”:


One of the attached images — I’m not re-posting them here — graphically shows a young woman performing oral sex on a man next to a desk. The caption reads: “PERFORMANCE: Monthly performance evaluations are mandatory for all secretarial staff.” Another is a woman, nude from the waist down, kneeling on the floor and performing oral sex on a man seated at a desk. The caption reads: “DEVOTION: Making your boss happy is your only job.”

Fina allegedly sent this email to two subordinates, agents in the AG’s office. Governor Wolf recently fired one of them for receiving this message and others.

And it’s not just pornography. Here’s one of many photos attached to an email (subject line “RE: Need Motivation for the Weekend?”) that Fina allegedly sent to an outside attorney from his official email account during business hours:


If a high-level, high-profile city law-enforcement official did all that in his last government job, is the problem fixed by sending him to sensitivity training? The president of Philadelphia NOW doesn’t think so: “They get to keep their jobs and their salaries,” she said. “And we get to be demeaned.”

But this is a Third Circuit blog, so what’s it all got to do with the Third Circuit? Well, since 11/26/2001, Fina has been a member of the Third Circuit bar. He appeared for the AG’s office in several Third Circuit cases opened between 2000 and 2003: Fahlfeder v. Varner, 00-2227: Saranchak v. Horn, 00-9009; Gibbs v. Frank, 02-3924, Wenger v. Frank, 03-3014; and Eak v. Johnson, 03-4708. According to PACER, he has not appeared since.

So here’s the question: if Fina did what he’s accused of, did he violate the circuit’s disciplinary rules? Is he at risk of professional discipline by the Third Circuit? Let’s look at the rules.

First, Rule 2.1(b) authorizes circuit discipline  for “discipline, including disbarment or suspension, by another court.” Pennsylvania’s Rule of Ethical Conduct 8.4(e), in turn, provide that it is professional misconduct to “engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Could what Fina did here qualify? Maybe. The fact that he was and is a high-profile senior law-enforcement official could weigh against him here.

Another potential basis for discipline is circuit disciplinary Rule 2.1(e), which says that a member may be disciplined for “any other conduct unbecoming a member of the bar of this Court.” Is what Fina allegedly did conduct unbecoming a member of the Third Circuit bar? Again, I don’t know.

But I wonder if the District Attorney’s refusal to more seriously punish Fina will lead the Third Circuit to take a closer look at that question.


UPDATE: The Legal Intelligencer just posted an article headlined, “Williams Could Face Fallout From Porngate Prosecutors,” which asserts that the D.A.’s decision not to fire the prosecutors “will likely come back to haunt Williams if he decides to run for statewide office.”

New opinion — reversing summary judgment in a prisoner civil-rights case

Young v. Martin — prisoner civil rights — reversal — Krause

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court ruling granting summary judgment against a prisoner alleging that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated. The opinion’s introduction gives this cogent summary:

Leonard G. Young, Jr., a Pennsylvania prisoner with a long history of mental illness, filed suit alleging that Appellees-Defendants1 violated his Eighth Amendment rights by securing him in a four-point restraint chair, naked, for fourteen hours, although he did not pose a threat to himself or others. Because we agree with Young that the District Court erred as a matter of law in granting summary judgment against him, we will vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

The opinion also contains a significant discussion of a recent DOJ report on Pennsylvania’s misuse of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness or intellectual disability.

Joining Krause were McKee and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Robert Ridge for the prisoner and Kemal Mericli for the AG.

New opinion — divided panel affirms summary judgment against teacher fired for anti-student blog posts

Munroe v. Central Bucks School Dist. — First Amendment — affirmance — Cowen

If you don’t remember the name, you might remember the facts: Nathalie Munroe was a school teacher who became national news when she was fired for referring to her students in blog posts as “the jerk,” “an obnoxious kid,” “utterly loathsome,” and the like. After she was fired, she sued the district, claiming that her speech was protected by the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment against her, and today a divided Third Circuit panel affirmed, holding that her speech was not constitutionally protected.

Joining Cowen was Restani by designation, with Ambro dissenting. That division — a senior judge and a judge sitting by designation against an active judge — suggests the odds of rehearing en banc are higher than normal. Arguing counsel were Stanley Cheiken for the fired teacher and appellate lawyer Kimberly Boyer-Cohen of Marshall Dennehey for the district.

ECF problems for Windows 10 users, and solutions

Howard Bashman posted this at How Appealing last night:

Is the current method of federal appellate electronic filing becoming technologically obsolete? Whenever I try to discuss technology at the level required by this post, I quickly reveal my own ignorance. With that disclosure out of the way, let me sound a warning for those who may someday soon attempt their first federal appellate electronic filing after having upgraded to Windows 10.

The federal appellate CM/ECF electronic filing system requires a web browser with Java installed to operate. Microsoft’s new Windows 10 browser, known as Edge, does not support Java. And Google Chrome also recently stopped supporting Java. That does still leave the option of using the Firefox browser, which is what I used to e-file the Reply Brief that I filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. But that was after more than a few anxious moments wondering why none of the previous ways that I had accomplished federal appellate e-filings in the past was working.

Before the Windows 10 upgrade, I had used Internet Explorer to accomplish my CM/ECF federal appellate filings, which was one of the rare times that I would use that web browser. Microsoft Edge purports to allow the user to open a web page in Internet Explorer, but that option did not allow me to launch the CM/ECF application earlier today on my desktop computer running Windows 10.

If readers have encountered these or other recent difficulties with federal appellate e-filing, or have discovered solutions that haven’t yet occurred to me, please feel free to send along your experiences via email and I will gladly share points of general interest with this blog’s readers.

I confirm that Howard’s solution — using the Firefox browser — still works for CA3 ECF filing. If you don’t have Firefox, you can download it free from this link. Problem solved.

Also, there is a simple work-around that lets you still use Java on Chrome, link here. I used that successfully last week to file a motion when I was away from the office and using a computer that did not have Firefox.

Happy filing!

Update: if you already have Firefox but installing Windows 10 changed your default browser to Edge, directions for changing it back are here.



Pope grants deadline extensions, sort of

The Pope’s upcoming visit to Philadelphia is bringing the city to a virtual halt, and the Third Circuit is not immune.

The Court has announced that, in light of the papal visit, various filing deadlines that had been set for Sept. 24-28 will be extended automatically. The details are in the court’s announcement.

Also, the Clerk’s office and the help desk will be closed from the 24th through the 28th.

H/T: I missed the announcement on the court website, but happily Bruce Greenberg and his New Jersey Appellate Law blog did not. Edit: also the Third Circuit Bar Association sent an email blast to members immediately after the court’s announcement.

A tsunami of new opinions

Six new opinions today! Plus 3 others from yesterday. I’m swamped so I’m keeping it short.

In re: Search of Electronic Communications — 4th Amendment — dismissal — Fuentes

The court dismissed this appeal by Congressman Chaka Fattah challenging a search warrant, holding that challenges to unexecuted warrants do not qualify for interlocutory appeal.

Schmigel v. Uchal — civil procedure — reversal — Krause

The court held that the notice requirement of Pennsylvania’s certificate-of-merit requirement for state professional malpractice suits is substantive and thus applies in a federal-court diversity suit. Rendell dissented.

Lincoln Benefit v. AEI Life — civil procedure — vacate — Fuentes

The court held that, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, a diversity-suit plaintiff need not allege the citizenship of each member of an unincorporated association, so long as it alleges complete diversity in good faith after a reasonable attempt to identify the members. Ambro concurred, joined by both members of the panel, to urge the Supreme Court to return to its earlier LLC-diversity approach.

Zahner v. Secretary — civil — reversal in part — McKee

The court held that federal law pre-empted a PA law that purports to make all annuities assignable and reversed a district-court ruling that annuities count as resources for purposes of Medicaid eligibility. Rendell dissented.

Reyes v. Netdeposit — class action — vacate — McKee

The court vacated a district court order denying certification of a consumer class on commonality and predominance grounds. Charles Becker argued on behalf of amici.

U.S. v. Doe — 2255 — remand — Ambro

The court remanded in this significant 2255 appeal, vacating the district court’s denial of Doe’s successor motion. The opinion is a glorious 50-page monument to the absurd complexity of habeas law.


Yesterday’s opinions:

Spady v. Bethlehem School Dist. — civil rights — reversal — Vanaskie

The court held that a defendant in a suit under 1983 was entitled to summary judgment because his conduct did not violate a clearly established constitutional right.

Washington v. Secretary — habeas — affirmance — Fisher

The court again affirmed a grant of habeas relief for allowing redacted introduction of a co-defendant’s confession, following a Supreme Court GVR.


In addition, the panel granted the appellant’s motion for panel rehearing in May’s Free Speech Coalition v. A.G., summarized here. Presumably a revised opinion is forthcoming.

New opinion — hearing required in 2255

United States v. Tolliver — 2255 — reversal — Greenaway

Today the Third Circuit vacated a district court ruling that had adjudicated a motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255 (the analog to habeas corpus for prisoners who were prosecuted in federal court) without holding an evidentiary hearing. The court remanded for a hearing and the opinion contains strong language supporting the need for 2255 hearings:

A district court considering a § 2255 motion “‘must accept the truth of the movant’s factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous on the basis of the existing record.’”  Id. at 545 (quoting Gov’t of V.I. v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d Cir. 1989)). In the IAC context, a movant need only “raise[] sufficient allegations” that his counsel was ineffective in order to warrant a hearing. Id. at 549.

Also the court did not apply plain-error review, even though the lack of a hearing was not raised in district court: ““It is irrelevant whether the Government or [movant] requested the hearing.'” And the only disputed facts went to prejudice, not deficient performance.

All that is likely to be helpful for many prisoners seeking hearings to challenge their federal convictions, but it was bad news for the prisoner here because the district court had granted her 2255 relief without a hearing.  Full disclosure: I am the prisoner’s CJA-appointed counsel.

Joining Greenaway were Fuentes and Nygaard. I argued for the prisoner, Robert Zauzmer argued for the government.

New opinions — bar-admission reciprocity and ERISA

NAAMJP v. Castille — constitutional law — affirmance — Krause

When I moved back to PA from NC back in 2008, I was admitted to practice in PA without taking the PA bar exam because I’d passed the NC bar and PA and NC have reciprocity. (Would I have moved here if I had to take the bar exam? Tough one.) Reciprocity makes sense because the effort required to re-learn areas of the law utterly irrelevant to your practice is a laborious, expensive waste for established lawyers.

Now, apparently there are some lawyers who feel especially strongly about that, and they belong to a group called the National Association for the Advancement of Multijurisdictional Practice (motto: “One bar exam is more than enough”). Said group, and two of its members from MD and NJ, sued the justices of the PA Supreme Court, alleging that PA’s lack of reciprocity with their states violates various constitutional provisions.

Alas, today NAAMJP lost on appeal, just as it had lost in district court. The opinion, appropriately, is a great little con-law refresher for those whose recollection of Conviser has dimmed.

Joining Krause are Chagares and Barry. The case was decided without argument.

For those interested, a sympathetic ABA Journal article on reciprocity challenges is here.


Mirza v. Insurance Administrator — ERISA — reversal — Fuentes

Today’s other decision is an ERISA case, and today that’s all I’ve got.


New opinions — NJ sports betting and civil rights

NCAA v. Governor of NJ — civil — affirmance — Rendell

Ted Olson vs. Paul Clement is the appeals-nerd equivalent of Ali-Frazier, so any case where they square off is sure to draw attention. So it was here. Today, the Third Circuit held that New Jersey’s sports-betting law violated federal law. Early news coverage by AP here and Legal Intelligencer here. Clement wins this round.

For a free oral-argument DIY CLE, the audio of the argument is here.

Joining Rendell was Barry; Fuentes dissented. Arguing counsel were Theodore Olson for the governor, Ronald Riccio for a trade association, Michael Griffinger for two state legislators, Paul Clement for the NCAA, and Peter Phipps for the US.

Update: coverage of the decision in New York Times here and Washington Post here.

Sprauve v. West Indian Co. — civil rights — reversal in part — Chagares

Today, the Third Circuit held that a company — once private, but now 100% government-owned — was a government entity for purposes of a civil-rights suit under 1983. The case was argued back in December.

Joining Chagares were Jordan and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Karin Bentz for the plaintiffs and Micol Morgan for and Mark Hodge for the government defendants.

New opinions — a cyber-security win for the government, plus an ERISA appeal

FTC v. Wyndham Worldwide — agency — affirmance — Ambro

Wyndham Hotels was hacked 3 times, and over 600,000 consumers’ data was stolen. Among the Wyndham brands are Ramada, Super 8, Howard Johnsons, and Days Inn. The Washington Post lays out the facts here. The Federal Trade Commission sued Wyndham, alleging that its inadequate cyber-security was unfair to consumers. Wyndham moved to dismiss, and when that was denied it brought this interlocutory appeal, arguing that the FTC lacked authority to regulate cyber-security and that it lacked notice that its cyber-security practices were unlawful. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed in an opinion peppered with criticisms sharper than one normally sees directed at a Biglaw-represented party, such as this:

Wyndham posits a reductio ad absurdum, arguing that if the FTC’s unfairness authority extends to Wyndham’s conduct, then the FTC also has the authority to “regulate the locks on hotel room doors, . . . to require every store in the land to post an armed guard at the door,” Wyndham Br. at 23, and to sue supermarkets that are “sloppy about sweeping up banana peels,” Wyndham Reply Br. at 6. The argument is alarmist to say the least. And it invites the tart retort that, were Wyndham a supermarket, leaving so many banana peels all over the place that 619,000 customers fall hardly suggests it should be immune from liability under § 45(a).

Joining Ambro were Scirica and Roth. Arguing counsel were Eugene Assaf of Kirkland & Ellis (a former Weis clerk) for Wyndham and David Shonka for the FTC. The appeal had heavy amicus involvement as well.


Stevens v. Santander Holdings — ERISA — affirmance — Greenberg

The Third Circuit held today that, when a district court held that a denial of benefits was arbitrary and remanded to the plan administrator to reinstate short-term benefits and assess the employee’s eligibility for long-term benefits, and when it retained jurisdiction over the case, the district court’s decision was not yet final. CA3 thus dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Joining Greenberg were Greenaway and Krause. Arguing counsel were Patricia Smith of Ballard Spahr for the employer and Mark DeBofsky for the former employee.

New opinions — a riposte on equitable mootness, plus 3 cases

In re: Tribune Media Co. — bankruptcy — reversal — Ambro

Two appellants challenged the Tribune Company’s bankruptcy reorganization plan, and the district court held that both challenges were equitably moot. Yesterday, the Third Circuit held that one challenge was equitably moot but that the other was not because their challenge would not disrupt the reorganization or harm third parties who have relied on it.

The holding is important for bankruptcy lawyers, but this is a fascinating case for other CA3 lawyers, too. Here’s why: just a month ago, Judge Krause — the court’s newest judge — issued a provocative and forceful opinion in In re: ONE2ONE urging her colleagues to abolish (or, failing that, modify) its equitable mootness doctrine.

In Tribune Media, Ambro responds directly to Krause, with a separate concurrence to his own majority opinion. (Vanaskie joins, Shwartz doesn’t.) Ambro acknowledges that Krause’s concurrence is well-crafted, but responds over 11 remarkable pages with a point-by-point rebuttal to her arguments against equitable mootness. If Krause’s opinion read like a petition for en banc review, and Ambro’s reads like a response in opposition. It’s a rare dialogue.

As noted, Vanaskie and Shwartz joined Ambro’s main opinion and Vanaskie joined his concurrence. Arguing counsel were appellate superstar Roy Englert for the challengers (one of the lawyers on the brief was Mark Stancil, an appellate star in his own right who clerked for the same Tenth Circuit judge I did) and James Johnston for the debtor.


Hansler v. Lehigh Valley Hosp. Network (panel rehearing) — FMLA — reversal — Fuentes

The Third Circuit granted panel rehearing and issued a new opinion in this FMLA case, originally decided in June. Before the panel was split, with Roth dissenting; now the panel was unanimous. While the outcome remained the same, the court changed language in the opinion. For example, where the old opinion said, “Lehigh Valley violated the Medical Leave Act,” the new one says, “Hansler has stated a claim that Lehigh Valley violated the Medical Leave Act.”


Jones v. SEPTA — employment — affirmance — Hardiman

The Third Circuit held that, under Title VII’s substantive discrimination provision, suspension with pay is not an adverse employment action.

Joining Hardiman were Greenaway and Krause. The case was decided without argument.


Chavez v. Dole Food Co. — jurisdiction — affirmance — Nygaard

A divided Third Circuit panel upheld a district-court order dismissing a suit with prejudice based on the first-filed rule, relying in part on its view that the “party’s forum shopping [wa]s so clearly on display.”

Nygaard was joined by Greenaway; Fuentes dissented, arguing that the majority created a circuit split. Arguing counsel were Jonathan Massey for the appellants, Caitlin Halligan for one appellee, and Steven Caponi (the only non-Scotus clerk who argued) for a second appellee.


New opinion — a rare habeas-petitioner win

Programming note: I was in Charlotte last week for the National Federal Habeas Corpus Seminar, and I’m out of town this week visiting family, so I’m behind on my opinion summaries. Apologies, dear readers.

Lee v. Superintendent — habeas corpus — affirmance — Ambro

I’ve observed here and here before that the Third Circuit’s once-robust reversal rate in habeas cases cratered after 2011. That post used statistics through 2013; in 2014, the habeas- and 2255-reversal rate remained vanishingly low. I’m pretty sure that reversal-rate freefall is awful news for habeas petitioners overall — CA3 didn’t suddenly get more deferential to district-court habeas rulings. Instead, a lot of prisoners who would have won reversals on appeal a few years ago get affirmed now.

But the Court’s recent decision in Han Tak Lee’s case proves that not all habeas affirmances are prisoner losses. Lee was convicted in Pa. court of murdering his daughter by setting fire to the building where she slept. In his habeas petition, Lee alleged that his due-process rights were violated because the prosecution’s arson-expert testimony was junk science. That’s a legally creative claim, and creative claims almost always lose in habeas these days, but the circuit’s ruling in Lee’s prior appeal was law of the case and it gave him enough to win in district court and again on appeal.

It is often said that cases like this prove how well our legal system works, but that is absurd. Even after the prosecution’s key evidence was discredited, and even after Lee hit the lottery when he got appellate powerhouse Peter Goldberger to represent him, he still won only by the skin of his teeth. And he first alleged in federal court the gross unreliability of the prosecution’s evidence against him back in 2005, but he sat behind bars for almost another decade before his release. Han Tak Lee was in maximum-security prison, wrongfully convicted of killing his own daughter, for 24 years. As he told People earlier this month, “I lost all my dreams.”

Joining Ambro were Fuentes and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Peter Goldberger for Mr. Lee and Matthew Bernal for the state.


Two interesting links

Howard Bashman’s latest Upon Further Review column in the Legal Intelligencer (free link here) contains a fascinating discussion of video recording of Third Circuit arguments. (That’s a point I mentioned in my circuit website roundup here.) Bashman reports that Chief Judge McKee told him “he was hoping to convince his colleagues on the Third Circuit that the court should join the Ninth Circuit in posting video of its oral arguments online.” I share Howard’s strong support for the idea.

And here is the latest newsletter of the Bar Association for the Third Federal Circuit. As usual it is essential reading for CA3 practitioners and super-fans. It includes an article by Judge Smith discussing circuit cost-reduction efforts, which notes:

[I]n the wake of sequestration, Chief Judge
Theodore A. McKee implemented a fiscal austerity program to be applied to
both the use of space within the court units of the Circuit and the expenditure
of funds that could be re-programmed from facility improvements to personnel.
Quite simply, Chief Judge McKee’s concerns were that the job security of
court staff has priority over any short-term improvements in rented space. Our
Circuit was the only one in the country to adopt such a policy. And that policy
set the tone for our implementation of the national space reduction goals that
were subsequently mandated by the Judicial Conference.

The latest issue also includes this article, co-authored by Bashman and me, discussing the Lehman Brothers decision, plus an article by me on CA3 en banc practice, adapted from this blog post. I was proud to have the chance to contribute to 3CBA’s fine work.

New standing order for immigration cases

Today the Third Circuit issued a new standing order “to ensure that petitioners in immigration matters are not deported before the Court has an opportunity to act on a motion for stay of removal and to ensure that the Court has a sufficient record on which to decided such a motion.”

The standing order is here.

Under the new standing order, if a party files a facially valid stay of removal (meeting 4 criteria listed in the order), then the Clerk is directed to stay removal until a motions panel has considered the motion.

In June, Chief Judge McKee entered an order directing the government to find and return a mother and daughter who were about to be, or had just been, deported to Guatemala. According to this news account:

Cambria had asked the court to block Ana’s deportation while her latest appeal was pending. In its opposition to that request, the U.S. attorney’s office told the court that, as of June 9, immigration officials had no plans to remove Ana and her daughter. She was then removed 10 days later at 9:55 a.m. Friday morning.


New opinions — a child-sex suit against the voice of Elmo, and two cases a lot less likely to go viral

Well, it’s August, and that means clerkships are ending so chambers are cranking out a lot of opinions. After whole weeks without a published opinion back in the spring, this week has seen 1 Monday, 3 yesterday, and 3 more today. Happy days for CA3 fans.

Stephens v. Clash — civil — affirmance — Smith

Kevin Clash is “‘an internationally-known puppeteer and voice actor for children’s programming,’ best known for his role as the voice of Sesame Street‘s Elmo.” Sheldon Stephens alleged that Clash started a multi-year sexual relationship with him in 2004 when Clash was 44 and Stephens was 16. Stephens alleged that he did not become aware of the psychological harm he suffered until 2011, and he filed suit in 2013, 9 years after the sex began and 7 years after Stephens turned 18, but the district court dismissed the suit as untimely.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed. The court held that the discovery rule applies,* but held the plaintiff’s claims were untimely anyway because, even if he did not recognize the extent of his injuries until later, he should have discovered that he was injured from the outset of the sexual “relationship.”

* The majority opinion says, “we hold that the discovery rule is applicable,” and refers to “this holding,” but in his concurrence Jordan asserts that this discussion is dicta because it is not necessary to the outcome.

Joining Smith were Jordan and Sloviter, with Jordan concurring separate to express doubt about the discovery holding. Arguing counsel were Stuart Mermelstein for the plaintiff and Michael Berger for the voice of Elmo.

In re: Semcrude — bankruptcy — Fisher — reversal

The Third Circuit’s introductory summary defies improvement by me:

Thomas L. Kivisto, co-founder and former President and CEO of SemCrude L.P., an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, allegedly drove SemCrude into bankruptcy through his self-dealing and speculative trading strategies. SemCrude’s Litigation Trust sued Kivisto, and the parties reached a settlement agreement and granted a mutual release of all claims. One month later, a group of SemCrude’s former limited partners (collectively, “Oklahoma Plaintiffs”) sued Kivisto in state court, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud. Kivisto filed an emergency motion to enjoin the state action on the theory that the Oklahoma Plaintiffs’ claims derived from the Litigation Trust’s claims, which the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware granted. On appeal, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware reversed, concluding that the claims were possibly direct and remanded. The Bankruptcy Court thereafter adopted the District Court’s order in its entirety and denied injunctive relief. Because we conclude that the claims are derivative, we will reverse.

Joining Fisher were Fuentes and Krause. Arguing counsel were Paul Bessette for Kivisto and Adam Schiffer for the Oklahoma plaintiffs. The case was argued back in December.

Devon Robotics v. DeViedma — civil — dismissal of interlocutory appeal — Krause

The Third Circuit dismissed this interlocutory appeal from denial of summary judgment, holding that it lacked jurisdiction. Civ pro nerds, rejoice! Remembering last month’s impressive equitable-mootness opinon, I’d say Judge Krause is already coming into her own as a procedure-law powerhouse.

Joining Krause were McKee and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Gary Samms for the appellees and James Golden for the appellant.

New opinions — a questionable plea-ineffectiveness ruling, plus two civil-rights cases

US v. Fazio — habeas corpus — affirmance — Chagares

Cosmo Fazio is a non-citizen who pled guilty to cocaine distribution after his lawyer told him that, in light of the conviction, there was “a chance” he would be deported but in the lawyer’s opinion “he would not be.” Both the plea agreement and the plea colloquy said that “no one can predict to a certainty” what effect the conviction would have on his immigration status. Ten days after Fazio pled guilty, a new lawyer told him that deportation was not just possible, it was certain. Fazio immediately tried to take back his plea, and ultimately Fazio filed a 2255 motion arguing that his plea counsel was ineffective, which the district court denied.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed, denying Fazio’s appeal. The court did not decide whether plea counsel’s performance was deficient, holding that Fazio was not prejudiced because the colloquy “cured” any error by counsel. (The court also enforced Fazio’s collateral-attack waiver, although the opinion suggests that it would not have enforced the waiver if it had found that the ineffective-assistance claim had merit.)

Chagares was joined by Ambro and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Almon Burke and Mark Goldstein for Fazio and Michael Ivory for the government.

My (biased, no doubt) two cents: I don’t understand this ruling one bit. The plea lawyer told the defendant that deportation was possible but unlikely. How is the harm from that terrible advice cured by the fact that the defendant was told that no one can predict to a certainty whether he’d be deported? The plea and the colloquy did not contradict the bad advice.

And what about the fact that when Fazio found out the truth right after his plea he tried to withdraw it right away? Doesn’t that suggest there’s a mere reasonable probability that he would have done the same thing a few weeks earlier if he’d gotten the same advice then? Isn’t that something the opinion should have at least mentioned?

The court relied on its prior ruling in Shedrick, where a defendant pled guilty and then, after he got a big sentence, argued that plea counsel’s plea advice was ineffective. Shedrick gambled, found out that his gamble had failed, and only then tried to undo his plea. But that’s nothing like what Fazio did. Nothing changed between Fazio’s plea and his motion to withdraw it, except that he got competent advice about the plea consequences. He moved to withdraw his plea over a year before the government initiated deportation proceedings.

Rehearing? Cert for summary reversal? This one may not be over.


  • Here is the district court order denying Fazio’s motion to withdraw his plea, which describes the facts in greater detail than the CA3 opinion does; and
  • Here is the 2011 PA Supreme Court order (tragically, entered less than two months after Fazio’s plea hearing) suspending the law license of the Fazio’s plea attorney, Mark D. Lancaster (who is not named in today’s opinion), for failing to file briefs in several Third Circuit appeals. The Disciplinary Board noted its “grave concern as to his fitness to practice law” and also observed that the Third Circuit removed him from 3 cases for work that was “severely lacking” and removed him from the CJA panel. The Board noted that he also had been disciplined in 2005 for failing to file briefs in 2 cases and failing to adequately communicate with his client in a third. If you ask me, all of this, absent from today’s opinion, is highly relevant to the prejudice question.
  • Here is the CA3 oral argument audio.


Santini v. Fuentes — civil rights — affirmance — Van Antwerpen

The court today revived a civil rights suit brought by a farmer against police who forcefully arrested him. The district court had granted summary judgment against the farmer, but the Third Circuit reversed in part, “emphasizing that . . . we must construe all facts and inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.”

Joining Van Antwerpen were Chagares and Krause. The case was decided without argument.

Disability Rights NJ v. Commissioner — civil rights — affirmance — Hardiman

The court today largely upheld New Jersey’s laws allowing non-emergency forcible medication of mentally ill persons in state custody without judicial process. The only persons with a right to judicial process before being forcibly administered psychotropic drugs are patients who are no longer subject to involuntary confinement but who are still in custody awaiting transfer to another facility. (Why the heck did NJ cross-appeal that?)

Joining Hardiman were Smith and Barry. Arguing counsel were Nathan Mammen of Kirkland & Ellis for the disability-rights group and Stuart Feinblatt for the state.

New opinion — Third Circuit rules against deeds recorders in fee-suit appeal

Montgomery County, Pa. Recorder of Deeds v. Merscorp — civil — reversal — Barry

In an appeal involving a battalion of heavy-hitting amici, the Third Circuit today ruled against a county deed recorder who sought millions in unpaid recording fees from an electronic mortgage-loan registration system. When homeowners transfer a mortgage interest, they have to record the transfer with the county and pay a fee. But banks and mortgage lenders figured out a way to avoid paying those fees when they transferred mortgage interests. A county recorders sued, arguing that the industry end-run around recording fees violated Pennsylvania law, and a district court agreed. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Pa. law does not require all land conveyances to be recorded.

For appellate junkies, the most notable feature of the case was the impressive talent involved on behalf of various amici. Local firms involved on the industry side included Reed Smith, Fox Rothschild, K&L Gates, while amici on the recorder’s side included a long list of legal aid and consumer groups. In all, forty one lawyers in all appeared on the briefs!

Joining Barry were Chagares and Krause. Arguing counsel were Robin Brochin for the electronic registration system and Joseph Kohn for the county recorder.

“It’s a very rare thing when Michael Mukasey, Greg Craig, Walter Dellinger, Larry Thompson, Jamie Gorelick, Seth Waxman and Peter Keisler agree that a [Third Circuit] court decision siding with federal prosecutors is wrong”

The quote that forms the title of this post is by former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal in this article by Adam Liptak today in the New York Times. Katyal has filed a USSC cert petition on behalf of George Georgiou, whose securities-fraud conviction the Third Circuit upheld in January. The legal luminaries Katyal mentions, represented by fellow luminary Seth Waxman, have all joined an amicus brief seeking reversal.

The Third Circuit opinion is here and the amicus brief is here.

A key cert issue is whether Brady v. Maryland allows prosecutors not to turn over material exculpatory evidence if the defense could have found it themselves. Here, the Third Circuit (Greenaway with Chagares and Vanaskie) quoted its own 1991 precedent to say that Brady does not oblige the government to provide defendants with evidence they could obtain from other sources by exercising reasonable diligence. But the Third Circuit’s opinion did not mention the Supreme Court’s 2004 pronouncement in Banks v. Dretke that “Our decisions lend no support to the notion that defendants must scavenge for hints of undisclosed Brady material . . . . A rule thus declaring ‘prosecutor may hide, defendant must seek,’ is not tenable in a system constitutionally bound to accord defendants due process.”

The SG’s cert response is due later this month.

New opinion — court upholds mortgage-loans litigation-class certification

In re: Community Bank of Northern Va. Mortgage Lending Practices Litig. — class action — affirmance — Jordan

Today the Third Circuit upheld a district court ruling certifying a nationwide litigation class in a mortgage-loan practices suit brought against a bank now owned by PNC Bank. The court rejected a laundry list of challenges by PNC to class certification, notably its argument that intra-class conflicts defeat adequacy of representation because the same counsel represent different sub-classes; that would have been a problem if it were a limited-fund settlement class, but it was no longer a problem as a litigation class with no limited fund. (Imagine my excitement to see the court cite Ortiz v. Fibreboard, the somewhat obscure mass-tort case that I wrote my law review note on [what! Lexis is charging 22 bucks to access my note?] way back when.)

Joining Jordan were Fisher and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Martin Bryce of Ballard Spahr for the bank and Bruce Carlson and Roy Walters for the appellees.

En banc rehearing granted in double-eagle-coins case

Today the Third Circuit granted rehearing en banc in Langbord v. U.S. Treasury, the double-eagle-coins case. The April panel opinion was authored by Rendell and joined by McKee, with Sloviter dissenting. According to the order granting rehearing, Sloviter and Rendell both will participate in the en banc review.

The now-vacated panel opinion is here, my summary is here.


New opinion — a habeas procedural affirmance

Norris v. Brooks — habeas corpus — affirmance — Hardiman

One of the most important habeas corpus cases of the past decade or so was the Supreme Court’s ruling in Martinez v. Ryan, which held that ineffective assistance of counsel at the initial state post-conviction stage can excuse procedural default of a habeas claim of trial IAC. (In Pennsylvania, “initial” means PCRA proceedings in the Court of Common Pleas, as opposed to any appeals from denial of the PCRA.) One of the key questions after Martinez was how the case would apply retroactively to prisoners whose habeas petitions had already been denied. Last year, the Third Circuit in Cox v. Horn held that such prisoners could raise Martinez claims in a motion under FRCivP 60(b) for relief from judgment.

Today, the Third Circuit ruled that a district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a prisoner’s Martinez motion under Rule 60(b) because the district court had ruled that the procedural default arose not from an error made in initial state postconviction proceedings, but instead from an error made during the postconviction appeal.

Joining Hardiman were Rendell and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Arianna Freeman of the EDPA FCD for the prisoner and Susan Affronti of the Philadelphia DA for the Commonwealth.

New opinions — one on bankruptcy dischargeability, one on Medicare hospital-reimbursement

In re Bocchino — bankruptcy — affirmance — Van Anterwerpen

A stockbroker made two abysmal investment choices for his clients for which he pocketed big commissions. Here’s one of them, from today’s opinion:

The first investment involved an entity known as Traderz Associates Holding, Inc. (“Traderz”). Bocchino learned from a superior that Traderz “might go public” and that the endeavor was supported by “some commitment” from a
popular fashion model. Based solely on these facts, and without any other independent investigation into the quality of the entity, Bocchino immediately sought investment from clients. Bocchino received over $40,000 in commissions from Traderz sales.

Traderz “turned out to be a fraudulent venture” and “the anticipated value of the investments vanished.” So the SEC sued him and he ended up with $178,000 judgments against him. He then declared bankruptcy under Chapter 13, but the SEC argued that much of the judgment amounts were non-dischargeable. The bankruptcy court sided with the SEC, as did the district court, and today the Third Circuit affirmed, holding that the debts were nondischargeable because the broker’s gross recklessness established scienter and he proximately caused his clients’ losses.

Joining Van Antwerpen were Chagares and Krause. The case was decided without argument.

Geisinger Community Medical Ctr. v. Secretary HHS — agency — reversal — Fisher

To the health-law diehards out there, my apologies. The key law in this case is 42 U.S.C. 1395ww(d)(8)(E)(i). That cite alone is a pretty decent hint that interest in this case is apt to be narrow. A sophisticated grasp ruling eludes me, I must confess, but it has something to do with how Health & Human Services classifies hospitals when it decides how much to reimburse them for Medicare-treatment costs. The hospital won, and an HHS regulation failed Chevron, that much I know.

Joining Fisher was Chagares; Cowen dissented. Arguing counsel were Joseph Glazer for the hospital challenging its classification and Tara Morrissey for the government.




New opinion — court vacates class certification in sunroof suit against Volvo

Neal v. Volvo Cars — civil class action — reversal — Smith

Today the Third Circuit vacated a district-court ruling granting class certification in a consumer class action brought against Volvo alleging defective sunroof drainage. The court directed the district court to “define the class membership, claims, and defenses, and so that it may rigorously analyze predominance in the first instance.”

Joining Smith were Chagares and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Peter Herzog III for Volvo and Eric Katz of Mazie Slater for the class plaintiffs.

New opinion — an equitable-mootness reversal and a call to abolish it

In re: ONE2ONE Communications — bankruptcy — reversal — Greenaway

A company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Over one creditor’s objections, the bankruptcy court confirmed the reorganization plan. The creditor appealed to the district court, which ruled that its appeal was equitably moot. The creditor then appealed to the Third Circuit, urging the court to overrule its prior adoption of the equitable mootness doctrine.

Today, the Third Circuit reversed. The panel could not overrule prior circuit precedent, but the court held that the district court’s application of the doctrine was an abuse of discretion.

Joining Greenaway were McKee and Krause. Krause filed a long and thoughtful concurrence urging the en banc court to abolish or at least reform the “legally ungrounded and practically unadministerable” equitable mootness doctrine. Arguing counsel were Courtney Schael for the creditor and Michael Sirota for the debtor.

New opinion — court denies an interesting technical challenge to deportation

Paek v. A.G. — immigration — denial — Rendell

Ka Paek was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident — conditionally at first, then permanently — because his father was a citizen in the military. Fourteen years later, after he also had married a U.S. citizen, he was convicted of robbery and related charges and the government decided to deport him. Paek challenged removal, arguing he was eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility. The waiver may not be granted to an “alien who has previously been admitted to the United States as an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence,” but Paek argued that it could be granted because he was “admitted to the United States” as a conditional resident, and only became a permanent resident after his admission. Today, the Third Circuit rejected Paek’s argument and dismissed his appeal because even a conditional resident is “admitted for permanent residence” under the INA.

Joining Rendell were Hardiman and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Ben Winograd for the deportee and Bernard Joseph for the government.

New opinion — a CA3 opinion applying the required-records exception to the 5th Amendment

US v. Chabot — tax / criminal — affirmance — Restani

During an investigation of overseas bank accounts, the IRS issued a summons requiring Eli Chabot to turn over certain bank records that a federal regulation required him to keep. Chabot opposed the summons, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The district court ruled for the IRS, and today the Third Circuit affirmed. Joining six other circuits, the court held that the records fell within the required-records exception to the Fifth Amendment, even though Chabot argued that the information in the records was almost exactly what the government needed to charge them with felonious failure to report.

Joining Restani, who sat by designation, were Ambro and Cowen. (That’s one active, one senior, and one visiting, illustrating the circuit’s judicial emergency.) Arguing counsel were Richard Levine for the taxpayer and Robert Branman for the government.

New opinions — court upholds state election-disclosure law, plus a trademark case

Delaware Strong Families v. Attorney General — First Amendment / elections — reversal — Greenaway

A group that calls itself Delaware Strong Families (mission: “to rebuild a culture of marriage, family and freedom”) wanted to distribute a voter guide without having to reveal whose money was funding them. A state law required such disclosure. DSF sued, alleging that the disclosure law was unconstitutionally overbroad, and the district court granted them a preliminary injunction. Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that, because the disclosure law is constitutional as applied, DSF was not entitled to an injunction.

Joining Greenaway were McKee and Krause. Arguing counsel were Jonathan Cedarbaum of Wilmer Hale for the state and Allen Dickerson for the group. The issue, the counsel and amici involved, and the fact that the group filed similar suits in two other jurisdictions suggests to me that a cert. petition is on the way.

Arrowpoint Capital v. Arrowpoint Asset Management — trademark– reversal — Jordan

A financial-services corporation with Arrowpoint in its name sued several other investment-related companies with Arrowpoint in their names, alleging trademark infringement. The district court denied an injunction, but today the Third Circuit vacated, concluding that the ruling below rested on “an overly narrow interpretation of the kind of confusion that is actionable.”

Joining Jordan were Smith and Sloviter. Arguing counsel were Corby Anderson for Arrowpoint and Lewis Prutzman for the other Arrowpoints.

New opinions — the post-vacation marathon catch-up edition

I was on vacation last week. I had planned to keep posting on new opinions, diehard CA3 enthusiast that I am, but I ended up assisting a colleague on an urgent habeas case instead. So now I’ve got serious some catching up to do. Here goes, starting with today’s opinion and working back …

United States v. Centeno — criminal — reversal — Shwartz

The Third Circuit today vacated two criminal convictions: one because the prosecutor’s closing argument sought conviction on a basis not charged in the indictment and thus resulted in an improper constructive amendment, the other because one count of conviction violated double jeopardy because that count was a lesser-included offense of another count of conviction (the defendant failed to object at trial; the government confessed error on appeal). The panel rejected sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenges.

Joining Shwartz were Fisher and Jordan. Arguing counsel for one co-defendant was Brett Sweitzer of the EDPA FD, for the other Elizabeth Plasser Kelly; arguing for the government was Denise Wolf.

Perelman v. Perelman — ERISA — affirmance — Vanaskie

The Third Circuit affirmed district-court rulings that an ERISA plaintiff lacked standing to raise certain claims and was not entitled to attorney’s fees. Vanaskie was joined by Ambro and Shwartz. The case was decided without argument.

Evankavitch v. Green Tree Servicing — consumer — affirmance — Krause

A consumer win in a debt-collection appeal, cogently summarized in the Third Circuit opinion’s opening paragraph:

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., a debt collector is liable to a consumer for contacting third parties in pursuit of that consumer’s debt unless the communication falls under a statutory exception. One of those exceptions covers communication with a third party “for the purpose of acquiring location information about the consumer” but, even then, prohibits more than one such contact “unless the debt collector reasonably believes that the earlier response of such person is erroneous or incomplete and that such person now has correct or complete location information.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692b. In this appeal following a jury verdict and judgment entered against a debt collector for repeated contact with third parties, we consider a matter of first impression among the Courts of Appeals: whether the burden in such a case is on the debt collector to prove or the consumer to disprove that the challenged third-party communications fit within § 1692b’s exception for acquisition of location information. We conclude that the debt collector bears that burden and will therefore affirm.

Joining Krause were Fuentes and Fisher. Arguing counsel were Deepak Gupta of D.C. appellate boutique Gupta Wessler for the debtor and David Bird of Reed Smith for the debt collector.

US v. Small — criminal — affirmance — Chagares

Sometimes, the line between clever and stupid is murky. Kevin Small was serving a state prison sentence, and when that sentence was over he was to be handed over to serve a federal sentence for tax fraud. So he arranged for a fake federal court order purporting to vacate his federal sentence to be sent to the state prison. I never would have believed that that would work, but it did. Clever? Stupid? Both?

Anyway, the issue on appeal was whether Small’s gambit amounted to the federal crime of escape, which normally applies to an escapee from federal custody. The court held that it did. Poor Small now has 5 years for escape tacked onto his 11+ years for tax fraud.

Joining Chagares were Ambro and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Eleni Kousoulis for Small and Christy Fawcett for the government.

US v. Fountain — criminal — affirmance — Krause

In a consolidated tax-fraud appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. The court rejected a host of challenges to the convictions and sentences. The main significance of the case appears to be that it clarifies the standard for criminal liability under the Hobbs Act for defendants prosecuted for acting under color of official right.

Joining Krause were Fuentes and Fisher. Arguing counsel for the defendants were Julie McGrain, Lawrence Bozzelli, and Daniel Siegel, while Joseph Khan argued for the government.

Trinity Wall Street v. Wal-Mart — corporate governance — reversal — Ambro

In a high-profile shareholder-suit appeal, the Third Circuit ruled that Wal-Mart was allowed to block one of its shareholders from submitting a proposal for shareholder vote that would have required Wal-Mart to re-evaluate its sale of high-capacity guns.

Vanaskie joined Ambro’s 60-page majority opinion. Krause concurred in the judgment, joined by Vanaskie in part. Arguing counsel were Theodore Boutrous, Jr. of Gibson Dunn for Wal-Mart and Joel Friedlander for the shareholders.

US v. Edwards — criminal — reversal — Smith

The Third Circuit vacated a criminal conviction because the prosecution violated the 5th Amendment by repeatedly referring to the defendant’s post-arrest, post-Miranda silence during the trial and closing arguments. The government conceded the error on appeal but argued unsuccessfully that it was harmless because the court gave a curative instruction. The court held that the instruction did not make the error harmless because it only came after the court had overruled the defendant’s contemporaneous objection and because it was contradicted by other instructions.

Joining Smith were McKee and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Alvin Entin for the defendant and Nelson Jones for the government.

American Farm Bureau v. US EPA — environmental — affirmance — Ambro

The Third Circuit upheld a 2010 EPA regulation limiting discharge of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. The long opinion concludes thus:

Water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is a complex problem currently affecting at least 17,000,000 people (with more to come). Any solution to it will result in winners and losers. To judge from the arguments and the amici briefs filed in this case, the winners are environmental groups, the states that border the Bay, tourists, fishermen, municipal waste water treatment works, and urban centers. The losers are rural counties with farming operations, nonpoint source polluters, the agricultural industry, and those states that would prefer a lighter touch from the EPA. Congress made a judgment in the Clean Water Act that the states and the EPA could, working together, best allocate the benefits and burdens of lowering pollution. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL will require sacrifice by many, but that is a consequence of the tremendous effort it will take to restore health to the Bay—to make it once again a part of our “land of living,” Robert Frost, The Gift Outright line 10—a goal our elected representatives have repeatedly endorsed.

Joining Ambro were Scirica and Roth. Arguing counsel were Richard Schwartz for the polluters, J. David Gunter II for the EPA, John Mueller for environmental intervenors, and Christopher Pomeroy and Steven Hann for municipal interventors.

US v. Lowe — criminal — reversal — McKee

The Third Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, holding that (1) the defendant was seized when the officers approached him and ordered him to take his hands out of pockets and (2) the officers lacked reasonable suspicion when they seized the defendant.

Joining McKee were Greenaway and Krause. Arguing counsel were Robert Epstein for the defendant and Robert Zauzmer for the government.

 Jensen v. Hessler — consumer — affirmance — McKee

The Third Circuit held that a false statement in a debt-collector communication is actionable under the FDCPA only if it is material. The court held that listing the wrong name for a court clerk on a subpoena was not material and affirmed.

Joining McKee were Rendell and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Sergei Lemberg for the debtor and Mitchell Williamson and Lauren Burnette for the debt-collectors.


Supreme Court denies stay of Third Circuit contraception-coverage ruling

Lyle Denniston had this post at Scotusblog yesterday which begins:

Continuing to make sure that female employees and students have access to birth control, but that religious non-profit organizations where those women work or study do not have to provide it, the Supreme Court took action Monday on a case that is developing for next Term.

In a two-page order, the Court turned aside requests by Roman Catholic colleges, charities, and other non-profits in Pennsylvania to keep on hold a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, rejecting those groups’ challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.   Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., had temporarily put that ruling on hold last April until further legal papers were filed, but had taken no further action since.

The order further describes how the Third Circuit ruling applies while the cert petition remains pending.

The Third Circuit case is Geneva College v. Secretary, decided in February; my coverage of the circuit decision is here.

Court reverses dismissal of challenge to drug-patent settlement

King Drug Co. v. Smithkline Beecham — patent — reversal — Scirica

In 2013, the Supreme Court held in FTC v. Actavis that, when the holder of a drug patent sues a competitor for patent infringement but then settles that suit by making a payment to the alleged infringer — a “reverse payment” — such a payment can violate antitrust laws.

Today, the Third Circuit held that the holding of Actavis applies not only to reverse payments in the form of cash, but also reverse payments in a non-cash form, where the patent holder relinquishes its future right to compete with the alleged infringer by making an authorized generic drug.

Joining Scirica were Ambro and Roth. Arguing counsel were Bruce Gerstein for the appellants, Mark Hegedus for the FTC as amicus, Barbara Mather of Pepper Hamilton for the patent-holder, and Jay Lefkowitz of Kirkland & Ellis for the alleged infringer.

Early coverage in New Jersey Law Journal here and the WSJ Pharmalot blog here.

“How many federal prisoners have ‘strong Johnson claims’ (and how many lawyers will help figure this out)?”

In the other big Supreme Court case today, the Court held in Johnson v. U.S. that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act statute is unconstitutionally vague.

That’s big news for the Third Circuit (and every other federal court) because it’s going to mean another big round of criminal sentencing upheaval as courts wrestle with how the decision applies to past sentences.

The title of this post comes from Berman’s important post today on Sentencing Law &  Policy today, which raises critical practical post-Johnson questions: who is going to put in the work to find the inmates with Johnson claims, and then who is going to represent them? He writes:

…. I suspect that there are likely many hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of current federal prisoners who do have strong Johnson claim.  And the potential legal consequences of a strong Johnson claim claim could be profound because it may mean that a prisoner who previously had to be sentences to at least a mandatory 15 years in federal prison now may only legally be sentenced to at most 10 years in feder[a]l prison.

I have a feeling that this new Johnson ruling may ruin the weekend (and perhaps many weeks) for some federal prosecutors and officials at the Justice Department because they are perhaps duty bound to try to start figuring out how many federal prisoners may have strong (or even viable) Johnson claims and what to now do about these prisoners.  In addition, I am hopeful that some federal defenders and even private (pro bono Clemency project 2104) lawyers will also start working hard to identify and obtain relief for persons now in federal prison serving lengthy ACCA sentences that the Supreme Court today concluded were constitutionally invalid.

And in another post today, Berman makes this provocative point:

The modern US Supreme Court is, at least on sentencing issues, the most pro-defendant appellate court in the nation.

It will be interesting to see whether Johnson helps nudge courts like the Third Circuit to catch up.

Restrepo committee vote delayed

As feared, this morning the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a vote on the Third Circuit nomination of L. Felipe Restrepo, without explanation. Apparently this means no vote until after after July 4 at the earliest.

Alliance for Justice yesterday posted here criticizing the judicial-nominations delays. And informative coverage yesterday on Latin Post here.

Not so fast: will Restrepo committee vote happen tomorrow after all?

I posted yesterday that the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on L. Felipe Restrepo’s Third Circuit nomination for tomorrow. The committee’s website still shows the Restrepo vote scheduled, but several sources now are reporting that it may be delayed.

Yesterday, P.J. D’Annunzio reported in the Legal Intelligencer (emphasis added):

A U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee vote to confirm Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is likely to be pushed back, once again delaying the already-drawn-out confirmation process.

While no official word has been given that a request for a delay has been made by committee members, Beth Levine, spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee chairman, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in an email that it was safe to assume the confirmation vote for Restrepo will be held over.

In the article, courts activist Glenn Sugameli calls on Senator Toomey to ask the committee chair to hold the vote as scheduled (Keystone Progress has done so as well, as reported here), and this People for the American Way blog post argues that non-committee members have done so in the past.

New opinion — an employee FMLA win in “a sad case”

Hansler v. Lehigh Valley Hospital Network — employment — reversal — Fuentes

The Third Circuit today ruled that the district court erred when it dismissed a former employee’s complaint under the Family Medical Leave Act based on an invalid request for leave, holding that the FMLA required the employer to give the employee a chance to cure any deficiencies.

Ambro joined the panel majority; Roth dissented, beginning, “The majority fashions a new rule to fit a sad case.” Arguing counsel were Samuel Dion for the employee and former Greenberg clerk Andrea Kirshenbaum of Post & Schell (mistakenly listed as Post & Schnell in the opinion) for the employer.

Supreme Court grants cert. to resolve PLRA circuit split that Third Circuit recently joined

The Supreme Court this morning granted certiorari to decide the PLRA inmate-filing-fee-stacking issue that the Third Circuit ruled on in April in Siluk v. Merwin. My post on the panel ruling, which noted the circuit split is  here. The grant came in Bruce v. Samuels, 14-844, from a D.C. Circuit case that came out on the other side of the split, ruling against the prisoner.

The question presented:

Whether, when a prisoner files more than one case or appeal in the federal courts in forma pauperis, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2), caps the monthly exaction of filing fees at 20% of the prisoner’s monthly income regardless of the number of cases or appeals for which he owes filing fees.

It does not appear that the county petitioned for cert in Siluk.

New opinions — CA3 hands Philly CHU a huge win; plus an insurer punitive-damages win

In re: Commonwealth’s Motion to Appoint Counsel Against or Directed to Defender Association of Philadelphia — civil procedure — consolidated cases: affirming some, reversing some — Fuentes

The Third Circuit today rejected the Philadelphia D.A.’s effort to block the Capital Habeas Unit  of the Federal Community Defender in Philadelphia (“the CHU”) from representing the CHU’s capital clients in state court. It is a significant win for the CHU and for Pennsylvania’s death-row inmates.

[Full disclosure: I was an attorney in the Philadelphia CHU before opening my current practice, and I continue to represent capital inmates in PA.]

The CHU’s basic mission is to represent capital clients in federal habeas corpus litigation in federal court. In theory, habeas litigation starts after state-court litigation is all over, but in practice it is common for federal habeas litigants to return to state court to exhaust issues that were missed earlier. When federal habeas petitioners return to state court to exhaust their federal claims, the CHU continues to represent them.

And the CHU’s representation has been uniquely effective — PA has a big death row, but not a single capital inmate has been executed against his will since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. (Three inmates have been executed who dropped their appeals and volunteered for execution.)  And that drives some prosecutors bananas.

Those prosecutors (along with recently retired PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Castille) have gone to war to try to block the Philly CHU from appearing in state court. The latest battle in that war is this case. The Commonwealth and various counties asked state judges to block the CHU from representing their clients in state court. The CHU — represented by Wilmer and Pepper Hamilton — fought back, removing the 7 cases to federal court and then asking the federal courts to dismiss. The district courts split.

Today, a unanimous panel held that the CHU’s removal to federal court was proper, that the prosecutors’ efforts to disqualify the CHU were pre-empted by federal law, and that the CHU was entitled to dismissal. If the Commonwealth doesn’t seek cert I’ll eat my keyboard.

Joining Fuentes were McKee and Greenaway. McKee also concurred separately. Arguing counsel were Hugh Burns of the Philadelphia D.A. for the Commonwealth and Paul Wolfson of Wilmer for the CHU.

McKee’s concurrence begins:

Although it does not alter our legal analysis of the issues before us, it is difficult not to wonder why the Commonwealth is attempting to bar concededly qualified defense attorneys from representing condemned indigent petitioners in state court. A victory by the Commonwealth in this suit would not resolve the legal claims of these capital habeas petitioners. Rather, it would merely mean that various cash-strapped communities would have to shoulder the cost of paying private defense counsel to represent these same petitioners, or that local pro bono attorneys would have to take on an additional burden. And it would surely further delay the ultimate resolution of the petitioners’ underlying claims.

And concludes:

Though this dispute has been cloaked in claims of state authority and appeals to principles of federalism, I am unfortunately forced to conclude that this suit actually arises out of simple animosity or a difference in opinion regarding how capital cases should be litigated. Given the costs of capital litigation and the very real stakes for the petitioners in these cases, it is extremely regrettable that this debate has now played out in our judicial forum.

An extraordinary case.

Wolfe v. Allstate Property — insurance — partial reversal — Rendell

The Third Circuit today decided an interesting appeal involving insurance coverage of punitive damages. Under Pennsylvania law, a person cannot insure herself against punitive damages. Here, a person insured by Allstate got drunk rear-ended Wolfe. Wolfe sued, and Allstate made a low settlement offer. At trial, the jury awarded compensatory damages (which Allstate paid) and $50,000 punitive damages (which only the insured owed because the policy did not cover punitive damages). Wolfe agreed not to collect the punitive damages from the insured, and in exchange the insured assigned his rights against Allstate to Wolfe.

Wolfe then sued Allstate for breach of contract and bad faith. The gist of the suit was that Allstate’s lowball settlement offer prevented settlement and therefore wrongly exposed the insured to a punitive-damages judgment. After a trial, the jury awarded Wolfe $50,000 in punitive damages.

Today, the Third Circuit vacated the punitive damages award, predictively applying Pennsylvania law to hold that punitive damages awarded in an earlier personal-injury suit may not later be recovered in a breach-of-contract or bad-faith suit against the insurer.

Joining Rendell were Jordan and Lipez CA1 by designation. Arguing counsel were William Carlucci for Wolfe and Marshall Walthew (a former Sloviter clerk) of Pepper Hamilton for Allstate.

Restrepo scheduled for committee hearing, finally

At long last, the Senate Judiciary Committee has set a hearing for the Third Circuit nomination of L. Felipe Restrepo. The hearing is set for Wednesday, June 10 at 1:30.

Judge Rendell announced earlier this year that she is taking senior status in July, so it’s possible that Judge Scirica’s seat (empty almost two years now) will be filled before Rendell’s opens. Dare to dream.

The unsealed part of yesterday’s sealed Fourth Circuit opinion is all about the Third Circuit

How Appealing readers will have noted this post late last night:

Fourth Circuit issues all but footnote 10 of panel’s opinion under seal, which at least allows the judges to argue over footnote 10’s propriety: It’s thankfully quite rare for a federal appellate court to issue an opinion under seal. It is even more rare for an opinion to be issued under seal except for one footnote. And the reason that footnote wasn’t kept under seal is because it was the subject of a concurrence in part (devoted to explaining why the author didn’t join in the footnote) and a concurrence by the third judge on the panel in strong defense of the footnote.

The opinion does not clearly explain why it is sealed; the appeal appears to arise from a federal criminal prosecution of a Dead Man Incorporated (a Maryland prison gang) member (indictment news release here).

CA3blog readers may be interested to see that much of the unsealed part of the opinion is a discussion of a Third Circuit ruling, United States v. Bonner, 363 F.3d 213 (3d Cir. 2004). The unsealed part of the CA4 panel opinion expresses surprise that the government failed to confess plain error. The dissenting CA4 judge cites Judge Smith’s concurrence in Bonner noting that judges should rarely criticize a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The concurring CA4 judge, the irrepressible Senior Judge Davis, counters that actually Judge Smith approved dissenting Judge McKee’s “full-throated”  criticism of the prosecution in Bonner, and says:

Unlike judges, such as our concurring friend, who apparently believe it is never appropriate for those of us in the Judicial Branch to express reservations or disapproval of manifestly irregular, if not illegal, “strategic choices” by prosecutors, I believe judges need to say more, not less, to the political branches about the serious deficits in our criminal justice system. Judges McKee and Smith plainly agree . . . .

Don’t see that every day.

Third Circuit reversed in Facebook-threats case

The Supreme Court today reversed the Third Circuit in Elonis v. United States, holding that it was error to convict Elonis without proving that the defendant had a culpable mental state with respect to whether the statement was a threat.

The Supreme Court opinion is here, the now-reversed CA3 opinion is here, and my prior coverage is here and here.

Tough day for the Third Circuit.

Supreme Court summarily reverses Third Circuit on qualified immunity

The Supreme Court today summarily reversed a 2014 Third Circuit ruling in a prisoner-rights suit. A divided CA3 panel had held that prison officials were not entitled to qualified immunity in an Eighth Amendment suit brought by the estate of a prisoner who had committed suicide. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous per curiam opinion, reversed and held that there was no clearly established right to proper implementation of adequate suicide prevention protocols. USSC assumed that CA3 was correct that circuit precedent can clearly establish a right when that precedent conflicts with other circuits, but ruled that CA3 was wrong about what its own precedent held.

The case was Barkes v. First Correctional Medical in the Third Circuit (circuit opinion here, my summary here), and Taylor v. Barkes in the Supreme Court (opinion here).

New opinion — the “F*** Medicare” case

US v. Kolodesh — criminal — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit today affirmed the conviction and sentence of a defendant convicted of Medicare fraud. The defendant raised a blizzard of different challenges on appeal, but the one the opinion seemed to relish the most was an argument that prosecutor committed misconduct by using a defendant’s recorded statement that “We have to f*** them over this time.” The defendant’s brief termed this the “F*** Medicare Statement,” a phrase the opinion repeated four times in denying the claim.

The opinion repeatedly noted errors and omissions by Kolodesh’s trial and appellate counsel: raising new contentions in the reply brief, repeatedly failing to contemporaneously object, challenging the accuracy of a transcript but “seem[ing] to forget, however, that he stipulated at trial to the truth and accuracy of the transcripts,” twice waiving appellate arguments through cursory briefing, misstating the record, and twice “simply rearguing the weight of the evidence, without pointing to anything that shows the District Court clearly erred.” Coming on the heels of the harsh Lehman Brothers opinion, I wonder if we’re seeing a trend towards a court less reticent about calling out lawyers.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Barry. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinion — a reluctant denial of immigration review

Sesay v. Attorney General — immigration — affirmance — Krause

The Third Circuit today held that petitioners who aided terrorist groups are ineligible for asylum even if they acted only under duress. The panel acknowledged that Musa Sesay was himself a victim of terroristic violence who faced “regular beatings and the barrel of a gun,” and “resisted when possible and escaped when he could.” Although “sympathetic to Sesay’s plight,” and “recogniz[ing] the harsh consequences of our holding,” the court denied the petition for review.

Joining Krause were Rendell and Smith. Arguing counsel were Thomas Massucci for the petitioner and Jeffrey Menkin for the government.

New opinion — deciding what “overnight” means

Bonkowski v. Oberg Indus. — civil — affirmance — Cowen

A patient was admitted to a hospital for treatment after midnight and, after comprehensive testing, was released over 14 hours later. The patient was fired from his job, allegedly for being absent due to his hospital visit. He sued under the FMLA, which protects employees from retaliation for qualifying absences, including “overnight” hospital stays. Today, a divided Third Circuit panel ruled that when a patient is admitted and discharged on the same calendar day, his treatment is not “overnight” and thus does not trigger FMLA protection.

Joining Cowen was Greenberg; Fuentes dissented. Arguing counsel were Tiffany Waskowicz for the patient and Erin McLaughlin for the employer.

New opinion — bankruptcy structured dismissals approved by divided panel

In re: Jevic Holding Corp. — bankruptcy — affirmance — Hardiman

The holding of today’s lone case is crisply summarized in the introduction:

This appeal raises a novel question of bankruptcy law: may a case arising under Chapter 11 ever be resolved in a “structured dismissal” that deviates from the Bankruptcy Code’s priority system? We that, in a rare case, it may.

Hardiman was joined by Barry and by Scirica in part. Scirica dissented in part: he would have rejected the structured dismissal here and reversed. Arguing counsel were Jack Raisner for the appellants, Christopher Landau of Kirkland (a Scalia and double-Thomas clerk) for appellees, and Wendy Cox of the DOJ for the US as amicus.

New opinion —

In re Grand Jury — criminal — affirmance — Cowen

The Third Circuit on Friday affirmed a district court order holding a corporation in contempt for failing to comply with a grand jury subpoena. The sole owner and employee of the corporation had asserted a Fifth Amendment self-incrimination challenge to the subpoena. In a footnote, the court mentioned that nothing in Hobby Lobby suggests that the Fifth Amendment applies to corporate custodians.

Joining Cowen were Fisher and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Damian Conforti of Podvey Meanor for the corporation and John Romano for the government.

Restrepo nomination obstacles removed

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported tonight that Senator Pat Toomey has submitted his blue-slip to allow the Third Circuit nomination of L. Felipe Restrepo to move forward. Toomey’s move followed the Judiciary Committee’s announcement today that it had completed its background investigation, which in turn came on the heels of a week of media Toomey-battering over the delay.

Next step: committee hearing. Nothing scheduled yet.

Court upholds core of federal porn-records law

Free Speech Coalition v. Attorney General — First Amendment — partial affirmance — Smith

The Third Circuit today rejected First Amendment facial and as-applied challenges to federal statutes that require any producer of pornography to maintain records listing the name and birth date of each performer. The Court rejected challenges based on the fact that the law, intended to combat child pornography, applies to (more or less) all sexually-explicit visual materials, including purely private and noncommercial productions (such as “sexting” between consenting adults) and those with “clearly mature” performers. The court left the door open to future as-applied challenges involving private productions or clearly mature performers.

Today’s ruling was not a total defeat for the laws’ challengers, as the court struck down a provision allowing warrantless searches of the records and remanded for reconsideration of another provision that the records be stored in an office open 20 hours per week.

Joining Smith were Rendell and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Michael Murray for the challengers and Anne Murphy for the government.

Early blog coverage of the opinion here, H/T How Appealing.

New opinion — upholding denial of overtime pay

Resch v. Krapf’s Coaches — civil — affirmance — Shwartz

The Third Circuit today affirmed a summary-judgment ruling against the plaintiffs in a case involving unpaid overtime brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act and related state law. The court held that the plaintiffs, drivers for a shuttle-bus service, were not covered by the FLSA’s overtime-pay requirement because some of their routes were interstate.

Joining Shwartz were Ambro and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Andrew Santillo of Winebrake & Santillo (nice website) for the drivers and Randall Schauer of Fox Rothschild for the company.

New opinion — ERISA attorney-fees reversal

Templin v. Independence Blue Cross — ERISA — reversal — Nygaard

The Third Circuit today reversed a district court denial of attorney fees in an ERISA case, holding that the “catalyst theory” applies and that “some” success was enough to meet it. The court remanded to let the district court apply the right standard.

Joining Nygaard were Ambro and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Anthony Pauduano for the appellents and Katherine Katchen of Akin Gump and Mark Oberstaedt of Archer & Greiner for the appellees.

More on yesterday’s claim-forfeiture opinion in light of How Appealing’s post

I posted yesterday about Lehman Bros. v. Gateway Funding, a provocative decision that threw out an appellant’s claim for failure to include the relevant transcript.

Yesterday evening, Howard Bashman posted a lengthy comment critical of the decision on How Appealing. Bashman’s post describes the ruling as “harsh” given that the failure to include the transcript was a minor transgression that did not disadvantage the panel because the appellee filed the transcript. He suggested the panel might have been wiser to grant oral argument so it could “deliver[] in-person a message that likely would not be forgotten for quite some time, if ever,” and:

Instead of deeming the issue forfeited, the panel could have simply ordered the appellant to reimburse the appellee for the costs of obtaining and providing the transcript to the court. And the panel could have imposed far more substantial sanctions if the panel believed that any effort to deceive the panel was intentional.

Bashman noted the concern that the ruling could lead to unfair results in future cases:

In a footnote, the appellate court notes that it probably would have reached the same outcome even if the appellant had provided the necessary transcript, whose existence the appellant claims not to have been aware of (although the Third Circuit questioned the credibility of this assertion). Nevertheless, because the panel’s actual holding is that the appellant’s failure to provide the transcript forfeited the issue, in a subsequent case this holding could operate to the detriment of a party that in fact truly was unaware of the existence of the transcript.

He closed:

In the past, the Third Circuit had been hesitant to impose significant sanctions for relatively minor transgressions. Today’s ruling, from three of that court’s newer judges, may indicate that the Third Circuit’s previous forgiving approach toward errors affecting form but not substance has come to an end.

I basically agree with Bashman’s criticism of the opinion, but my take is a little different.

In my opinion, it is not at all far-fetched that a lawyer would think that no transcript would be available for a telephone call with a district judge. Especially this lawyer: judging from his web page, Gateway’s lead counsel is a construction lawyer. True, he’s an experienced lawyer, admitted in 1988 and listed on Super Lawyers the past several years, but it is not obvious that his practice has him in federal court very often, let alone dealing with appeals and transcripts. His name does not show up in Google Scholar’s case database for a single Third Circuit case. He has no record of professional discipline in PA (although he was hit with a big sanction in a 2011 E.D. Pa. case for having “in bad faith unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings”).

I don’t know the guy, but nothing I’ve seen suggests he was lying when he said he didn’t realize a transcript of the phone call was available, and I think it would have been better had the panel given him a chance to respond beyond his reply brief before throwing haymakers in a published opinion. And I agree with Bashman that, regardless of whether the transcript omission was innocent here, the panel’s opinion could be a dangerous precedent for the future. But I may be less concerned about that because the opinion was careful to describe this as an unusual situation.

I also question whether forfeiture of the claim was the right sanction. The direct victim of a claim-forfeiture ruling is the not the lawyer, it’s the party. Nothing in the opinion suggests the party did anything wrong here. Maybe the panel figured that difference didn’t matter in this case, but the court would have been on stronger ground if it had focused on punishing counsel instead of their client.

Having said all that, I don’t think the panel was wrong to be upset. I just don’t think that the failure to get the transcript is the real issue. The real issue is that, thinking there was no transcript, counsel presented an argument that the panel saw as deceptive. The lower court ruled that counsel had abandoned an issue during the call. Counsel made the choice to challenge that abandonment ruling, and apparently to do so without candor: counsel argued that there was no record to support abandonment, and apparently they did not acknowledge what happened on the call. It turns out that the judge gave counsel many chances to argue that issue, finally asking, “There’s nothing about [the argument at issue] that I should be concerned with, is that right?” And counsel responded, “Not that I can see, Your Honor.”

So if counsel was going to argue on appeal that they had not abandoned the issue below, and if counsel thought the transcript was not available, the brief should have acknowledged counsel’s statements and argued why they did not constitute abandonment. (Well, and if abandonment was a central issue, counsel should have confirmed whether a transcript was available.) Just pretending those statements didn’t exist and arguing “no record” (if that is in fact what appellant did, I haven’t read the briefs), was a very bad strategy.

One of the take-home lessons of this case, in my view, is the importance of appellate counsel. The mistakes counsel apparently made here are mistakes I would never expect from an appellate specialist. Sticking to what you’re good at may cost you some fees, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid a starring role in F.3d.

A fine article on the role of clerks

I don’t often re-post materials posted on How Appealing, on the assumption that anyone into appeals enough to read my modest little blog must also be reading his. (And you should be if you ain’t.)

But here’s an article worth making an exception for, despite its snoozy title: “The Management of Staff by Federal Court of Appeals Judges,” by Duke law professor Mitu Gulati and CA7 judge Richard Posner.

The article is explains how federal appellate judges use clerks, permanent clerks, secretaries, and staff counsel. It describes a standard model and then describes common variations from the model, and its based on about 20 in-person interviews of judges, plus another about 50 phone interviews.

For anyone who practices regularly in federal appeals — especially the many appellate practitioners who did not clerk for federal appellate judges themselves  — this article sheds very useful light on how cases get decided.

Even as a former appellate clerk myself, I have to actively resist the habit of thinking of the judges as the only audience for my briefs. Maybe those judges have seen cases like yours by the dozens, but their clerks haven’t, especially for cases where the briefing is completed in the fall and winter. And, conversely, those clerks often are very adept at spotting your who-cares Bluebook errors.

A brief-writer who ignores the role clerks will play in deciding her case reduces her chances of winning.

New opinion — “This appeal presents us with an opportunity to emphasize the importance of following the rules.”

Lehman Brothers v. Gateway Funding — civil — affirmance — Hardiman

The headline of this post is the first line of today’s opinion, which then continues:

At issue is Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, which imposes certain duties on counsel in preparing the record on appeal. Appellant Gateway Funding Diversified Mortgage Services, L.P. violated Rule 10 when it failed to include in the appellate record a transcript necessary to evaluate its principal claim. We hold that claim forfeited.

Well, that ought to get everyone’s attention, no?

What happened is that, in district court, the judge ruled that an argument had been abandoned by Gateway during a telephonic oral argument. On appeal, Gateway disputed that finding, but it only argued that there was “no record” to support abandonment and it did not order or include a transcript of the argument at issue. But then the appellee included the transcript with its brief, so Gateway argued that its failure to include the transcript was now moot. But “Gateway’s cavalier argument is wrong,” and the omission “at best shows a remarkable lack of diligence and at worst indicates an intent to deceive this Court.” Ow.

Joining Hardiman were Greenaway and Krause. The case was decided without argument, which normally means I don’t list the lawyers, but I’ll save rubber-neckers the click and note that counsel for Gateway was Paul Bucco and Matthew Sack of Davis, Bucco, & Ardizzi.

Court grants en banc rehearing in big capital habeas case

The Third Circuit today granted en banc rehearing in Dennis v. Secretary, an important capital habeas case decided by the panel in February. The panel ruled for the state, reversing a district court grant of habeas relief.

Here was my write-up of the panel opinion:

In an important capital habeas corpus opinion, today the court reversed a district court’s grant of relief in a Pennsylvania case.


The unanimous panel reversed the district court’s grant of relief under Brady v. Maryland for the prosecution’s failure to disclose 3 pieces of exculpatory evidence. The panel held that it was not unreasonable for the state court to limit Brady to evidence that was admissible and evidence not obtainable by the defense through reasonable diligence. The court also ruled that it was reasonable to find immaterial an exculpatory police report that impeached a key prosecution eyewitness because that witness was cross-examined about her identification at trial. All three are important holdings on recurring issues, and I expect Dennis to make an impact.


Judge Fisher wrote the opinion, and he was joined by Smith and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Thomas Dolgenos for the Philadelphia DA and Stu Lev of the Philadelphia CHU for the death-row inmate. Lev was joined on the brief by five lawyers from Arnold & Porter plus a lawyer from the federal defender in Nevada.


Given the conservative panel and its aggressive reasoning, I’d bet the farm that the inmate will seek rehearing en banc.

Guess I get to keep the farm.

Toomey supports Restrepo’s CA3 nomination. Now he’s blocking it.


United States Senator Pat Toomey (Gage Skidmore wikimedia commons cc-by-sa 3.0)

US Senator Pat Toomey is blocking a hearing on the Third Circuit nomination of L. Felipe Restrepo, according to David Hawkings at Roll Call. In a post today, Hawkings reported that PA’s Republican Senator has not returned his blue slip on Restrepo’s nomination. Per Senate procedures, Toomey’s action leaves the nomination in limbo.

This is a shocking. In November,Toomey loudly endorsed Restrepo’s nomination, saying in a press release:

I am pleased that President Obama today has nominated Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to serve our nation on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Sen. Toomey.  “As both a federal magistrate and district judge, Judge Restrepo has served the people of Pennsylvania honorably and with distinction.  He also is dedicated to his community by giving his free time to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  Sen. Casey and I recommended Judge Restrepo to the White House for a seat on the federal district court, and I believe that he will also make a superb addition to the Third Circuit based in Philadelphia.

Now, almost six months later, Toomey’s office told Hawkings the Senator still supports the nomination and “hopes it gets done this year.”  His office “declined to discuss the missing blue slip.”

A follow-up report by Jennifer Bendery that just posted on Huffington Post added this embarrassing exchange:

When asked Tuesday if he’s withholding his blue slip, the Republican senator gave The Huffington Post a confusing answer.

“No, I’m not. Well, let me explain how that works to you. But I’ve got to run for this lunch,” he said, walking away quickly. “But I support his confirmation.”

Toomey said he didn’t have any new concerns about Restrepo and that he would turn in his blue slip. At some point.

“I will be submitting it at the appropriate time,” he said, before disappearing into an elevator.


Hawkins offers an explanation why Restrepo’s nomination is being blocked a senator who supports it:

Progressive advocacy groups and some Senate Democrats suspect Restrepo is being held hostage by the GOP as the latest act of retribution for Obama’s executive action on immigration last fall, which sought to grant an indefinite reprieve from deportation to millions of people in the country illegally.

The initial Republican approach — withholding funding from the Department of Homeland Security unless the president reversed course — ended up as a high-profile collapse this winter, and the Senate GOP’s fallback effort to deny Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as attorney general after she said she would support Obama’s policy has come to naught this spring. Now, some on the right are suggesting the best possible Plan C is preventing new judges on the appeals courts.

Also today, a Philadelphia pastor and activist with People for the American Way had an op-ed on entitled, “Why the holdup on Third Circuit judge nominee?”

H/t Glenn Sugameli of Judging the Environment.

New opinion — revocation of supervised release must proceed before supervision expires

United States v. Merlino — criminal — reversal — Vanaskie

Today, the Third Circuit held that district courts lack jurisdiction to revoke a criminal defendant’s supervised release and impose a revocation sentence when the warrant or summons issues after the term of supervised release has already expired. That’s good news for the defendant here, reputed Philly organized crime boss (and now restaurant maitre d’)  Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino. (The court had announced the outcome a couple weeks ago.)

The facts weren’t great for the defense. Merlino’s supervised-release term ran through September 6, 2014. In June of 2014, he was seen “conversing with several convicted felons” at a cigar bar. On September 2, the district court ordered issuance of a summons, but Merlino’s lawyer got the court to postpone the revocation hearing until October, which in turn delayed issuance of the summons. Then in October, Merlino argued that the court now lacked jurisdiction. It is easy to understand why dissenting Judge Shwartz describes Merlino’s win as “an odd result,” and I suspect many defense lawyers whose valid scheduling issues now get ignored will rue the result here.

Joining Vanaskie was Ambro, who concurred separately; as noted, Shwartz dissented. Arguing counsel were Edwin Jacobs for Merlino and David Troyer for the government.

New opinion — the author of the New Jersey Appellate Blog wins an appeal with an interesting procedural issue

Bohus v. — civil — reversal — Jordan

Bruce Greenberg of Lite, Depalma, Greenberg — the author of one of my favorite CA3-oriented blogs, New Jersey Appellate Blog, and an accomplished federal and state appellate lawyer — won an interesting Third Circuit civil appeal today.

The case arose out of some restaurant gift certificates sold online. Plaintiffs alleged the certificates violated various NJ state laws and filed a class-action lawsuit. In a prior appeal, CA3 certified to the New Jersey Supreme Court a question about whether a state law covered gift certificates, and the state court answered that it covered these gift certificates. But then, on remand, the district court ruled that the plaintiffs still lose because the state-court interpretation should not apply retroactively. Applying NJ retroactivity law, CA3 today reversed, holding that the state court’s certified answer applied to the named plaintiffs.

Readers of Greenberg’s blog will recall that this is the appeal where, after oral argument, the panel invited counsel to sidebar to shake the judges’ hands. (That’s similar to the practice in the Fourth Circuit, where the judges all come down from the bench afterwards and shake your hand at the counsel table.) That post, which was picked up on How Appealing, is here.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Vanaskie. Greenberg argued for the plaintiffs, Michael McDonald of Gibbons argued for the defendants.

Finally a committee hearing for Restrepo nomination?

The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced a nominations hearing for Wednesday, May 6. The committee has not yet announced which judicial nominees will be heard; I’m told by Glenn Sugameli of the Judging the Environment project that that announcement is expected sometime Friday.

Sugameli told me he encourages those concerned to contact Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey to see if they have asked Chairman Grassley to include CA3 nominee L. Felipe Restrepo in the May 6 hearing.

New opinion — partial remand in labor-law appeal

800 River Road Operating Co LLC v. NLRB — labor law — partial remand — Rendell

Today’s lone opinion arises out of an election to unionize employees at a health-care company. The union charged the company with several labor-law violations during the election, and ultimately the NLRB sided with the union. Today, the Third Circuit affirmed on two issues but remanded on a third because, it held, the board failed to apply the right test.

The opinion’s opening sentence is not a model of judicial art:

Petitioner 800 River Road Operating Co. LLC, d/b/a Woodcrest Health Care Center (“Woodcrest”), seeks review of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) decision and order (“Order”), which found that Woodcrest violated § 8(a)(1) and (a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169 (“NLRA” or “Act”), by ommitting [sic] various unfair labor practices. Woodcrest Health Care Ctr., 360 N.L.R.B. No. 58 (Feb. 27, 2014).

Joining Rendell were Smith and Krause. Arguing counsel were appellate star Erin Murphy of Bancroft for the company and Jared Cantor for the NLRB.

Update: today the court corrected the typo in the opening sentence. A blog reader?

FRAP committee proposes shorter briefs and tighter deadlines

I’m pretty sure most of my readers also read Howard Bashman’s How Appealing blog. But just in case anyone missed it, Bashman reports that the FRAP Advisory Committee (CA3 Judge Chagares is a member and Penn Law professor Catherine Struve is the reporter) yesterday approved a proposal to cut primary briefs from 14,000 to 13,000 words and to eliminate the FRAP 26(c) 3-day rule.

He notes that the committee

plans to consider in the very near future whether the 14-day period for filing a reply brief should be extended to 17 or 21 days. In addition, the FRAP Advisory Committee intends to send a letter to the chief judges of all the U.S. Courts of Appeals explaining that expanding the time for reply briefs will remain under consideration, and that courts should consider continuing to afford 17 days in which to file reply briefs in the interim.

And he explains:

Four more things must occur before this rule amendment goes into effect. The Standing Committee must approve the amendment. The Judicial Conference of the United States must approve the amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court must sign-off on the amendment. And the U.S. Congress must refrain from vetoing the amendment.

New opinion — civil affirmance

Pollara Group v. Ocean View — civil — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit today refused to consider a challenge to the denial of summary judgment because the movant failed to preserve its factual issues by renewing its arguments in a motion for judgment as a matter of law. The court also rejected an inconsistent-verdicts challenge to the jury’s verdict awarding compensatory and punitive damages.

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Andrew Simpson for the appellants and Rhea Lawrence for the appellees.

New opinions — a civil-rights dismissal affirmance and a civil-forfeiture reversal

Two published cases today.

Vargas v. City of Philadelphia — civil rights — affirmance — Jordan

The Third Circuit today upheld dismissal of a civil-rights suit brought against Philadelphia arising from a woman’s horrifying death from an asthma attack when police allegedly blocked the woman from being taken to the hospital. Acknowledging the “tragic” facts, the court held that any seizure by the officers was reasonable under the community caretaking doctrine even though it did not involve a seizure of evidence or a vehicle search. The court also upheld dismissal of the substantive due process, failure-to-train, and false imprisonment claims.

Joining Jordan were Fisher and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were James Hockenberry for the plaintiff and Jane Istvan  (whose webpage indicates she co-authored an article intriguingly titled, “Effective Brief Writing Despite High Volume Practice”) for the city.

Langbord v. U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury — civil asset forfeiture — reversal — Rendell

The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act was enacted in 2000 to curb forfeiture abuse by government. (Mission unaccomplished.) CAFRA requires the government to file a forfeiture-complaint within 90 days of seizure, and here the government, acting badly, did not do so. Today the Third Circuit held that government violated the statute. A divided panel ordered the seized property, two ten double eagle gold coins (a double eagle coin sold at auction in 2002 for over $7.5 million), returned to the people it was seized from, even though they allegedly were not the rightful owners because the coins were stolen from the government.

Joining Rendell was McKee. Sloviter dissented, agreeing that the government violated the statute but “definitely” not agreeing the government had to hand over the coins. Arguing counsel were Barry Berke for the Langbords and Robert Zauzmer for the government.

New opinions — a class-action reversal and an immigration win

Byrd v. Aaron’s Inc. — class action — reversal — Smith

In a significant class-action ruling, the Third Circuit today reversed a district court’s denial of class certification on ascertainability grounds. The panel noted (giant footnotes omitted):

there has been apparent confusion in the invocation and application of ascertainability in this Circuit. (Whether that is because, for example, the courts of appeals have discussed ascertainability in varying and distinct ways, or the ascertainability requirement is implicit rather than explicit in Rule 23, we need not say.)

Joining Smith were Rendell and Krause. Rendell concurred separately to argue:

[T]he time has come to do away with this newly created aspect of Rule 23 in the Third Circuit. Our heightened ascertainability requirement defies clarification. Additionally, it narrows the availability of class actions in a way that the drafters of Rule 23 could not have intended.

Arguing counsel were Frederick Longer of Levin Fishbein for the class plaintiffs and Kristine Brown of Alston & Byrd and Anthony Williott of Marshall Dennehey for the defendants. Thirteen firms are listed as counsel on appeal.

Chavez-Alvarez v. Attorney General — immigration — remand — Smith

Jose Chavez-Alvarez, the same fellow who last week won a major habeas victory granting him a pre-removal bond hearing, this week won again on the merits of his challenge to removal.  The court held that Chavez-Alvarez’s military conviction for sodomy was not a crime for which the term of imprisonment was at least one year, because he received a general sentence for multiple offenses.

Joining Smith were Jordan and Van Antwerpen. Arguing counsel were Craig Shagin of the Shagin Law Group for Chavez-Alvarez (that’s the same firm that represented him in last week’s win) and Kathryn DeAngelis for the government.

New opinion — upholding NJ’s gay-conversion-therapy ban, again

I’ve been on the road for the past couple days so I missed Monday’s published opinion:

Doe v. Governor — civil — affirmance — Sloviter

In this case, the court affirmed dismissal of another challenge to a New Jersey law banning so-called gay-conversion therapy. Smith and Vanaskie joined.

Also yesterday the court published this order vacating summary judgment and a injunction against Wal-Mart, promising an opinion later. The order was signed by Ambro with Vanaskie, and Shwartz also on the panel. Good coverage by Saranac Hale Spencer in the Legal Intelligencer here.

New opinion — divided panel rules for prisoner in filing-fee dispute, deepening circuit split

Siluk v. Merwin — prisoner litigation — reversal — McKee

A divided Third Circuit panel today ruled in a prisoner’s favor in a case involving how indigent inmates who file multiple suits must pay the filing fees. The PLRA requires even poor inmates to pay filings fees in full. That’s $350 in district court, $505 on appeal (UPDATE: the court later amended the opinion to say that the appeal fee when the inmate appealed was $455). To pay off these fees over time, poor inmates must make monthly payments of 20% of their prior month’s income.

So what happens when a poor inmate has 2 filing fees to pay? Is the deduction sequential (20% every month until each fee is paid in turn), or concurrent (40% each month)? The majority today held that the deductions apply sequentially, not concurrently. The majority thus deepened a circuit split on the issue, joining CA2 and CA4 against CA5, CA7, CA8, CA10, and CADC.

McKee was joined by Garth; Chagares dissented. Arguing counsel were Reed Smith associate Paige Forster (a former Fisher clerk) for the inmate and Jeffrey Sandberg (click that link!) for the government. Both the majority and the dissent praised prisoner’s counsel for the quality of their pro bono representation.

Next stop, the Scotusblog petitions we’re watching page.

Happy birthday to blog, happy birthday to blog

One year ago today I started CA3blog. It’s been a fun and gratifying year. In its modest little way, the blog has begun to serve a useful role in as a source of circuit news and occasional amusement.

Selfishly, the best thing about the blog for me has been how it brings me in contact with other Third Circuit lawyers and appellate enthusiasts. I hope that continues.

I’m not sure what the future holds for CA3blog. Should I keep posting on every published case? Focus instead on in-depth posts, like my recent published-opinion-stats post? Try to cajole folks I admire into guest-posting? Post about my own CA3 cases? Hunt down recent clerks to get more insider perspective? Close up shop and go back to spending all my time on my real love, appellate lawyering?

My Magic 8-Ball is hazy. I’d be happy to hear what you think, in comments or offline.

Happy birthday, blog, and thanks for reading.

New opinion — a major immigration reversal

Chavez-Alvarez v. Warden — immigration — reversal — Nygaard

If you are a citizen charged with a crime, you have a right to a hearing about whether you have to stay locked up until your case is decided.

But if you are not a citizen and the government decides to deport you, a federal statute says you stay locked up — in prison, with people convicted of crimes — until your case is decided. No bond hearing, no individualized assessment of flight risk.

But, at some point, the statute that says you don’t get a hearing is trumped by the constitutional guarantee of due process. And so, in two prior cases, Diop and Leslie, the Third Circuit applied case-specific balancing to rule that the long pre-deportation detentions without hearings in those cases were unconstitutional.

Which brings us to today’s case. Jose Chavez-Alvarez — Mexican citizen, lawful permanent resident, Army veteran, father of two sons who are US citizens — has been detained for deportation since 2012. His detention has been lengthy because his legal challenges to deportation have taken a long time to decide. The government argued that, since he is the one who keeps unsuccessfully challenging his deportation, it is his fault that his detention has gone on so long and he is not entitled to a hearing, and the district court agreed.

Today, the Third Circuit reversed. It held that, on the facts of this case, Chavez-Alvarez’s hearingless detention had become constitutionally impermissible after between 6 months and a year. It found that Chavez-Alvarez’s legal challenges to deportation were made in good faith and the government should have recognized they would take time to resolve. The court therefore ordered a hearing within 10 days to determine whether, on the facts of this case, continued detention was warranted.

Joining Nygaard’s lucid opinion were Rendell and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Valerie Burch of the Shagin Law Group for Chavez-Alvarez, Leon Fresco for the government, and Michael Tan for the ACLU as amicus.

Says Fresco’s faculty webpage:

Leon Fresco currently serves as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice, where he is in charge of overseeing the Office of Immigration Litigation. In this role, he supervises over 300 attorneys and oversees all civil immigration litigation, both affirmative and defensive, and is responsible for coordinating national immigration matters before the federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals.

Which underscores both the importance of this case and the likelihood that it’s not over yet.

New opinion — a circuit-court GVR, sort of

In re: Blood Reagents Antitrust Litig. — antitrust class action — vacate & remand — Scirica

When the U.S. Supreme Court thinks a lower court ought to reconsider its opinion in light of some later case, it issues a GVR (for Grant certiorari, Vacate, and Remand). It’s a convenient way for the court to enforce its recent cases without the effort of full-blown review.

Usually, that’s not how things work in the circuit courts. If the district court applied the wrong analysis, the appellant still needs to show why it should win under the right analysis.

But usually is not always, and today’s lone CA3 published opinion is one of the exceptions. Here, in an antitrust class action, the district court granted class certification and the defendants appealed. After the district court’s ruling, the Supreme Court issued Comcast Corp v. Behrend, a class-action opinion reversing the Third Circuit. The defendants here argued that the class-certification ruling violated Comcast.

Today, the Third Circuit agreed. Scirica, the circuit’s class-action-law guru, wrote that the district court “had no opportunity to consider the implications of Comcast” and that some of district court’s reasoning violated Comcast. The court also held that rigorous application of Daubert is required at the certification stage. But instead of deciding whether class certification was appropriate, the court vacated and remanded.

That approach may be uncommon, but this case shows why it makes sense. Courts of appeal function best when they have a lower-court opinion that tackles the key issues. When the lower-court opinion was based on precedent since overruled, especially in a complicated case, remand makes sense. Interesting case.

Joining Scirica were Smith and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Paul Saint-Antoine of Drinker Biddle for the defendants and Jeffrey Corrigan of Spector Roseman for the class.

New opinions — foreclosure-suit limits and an invalid immigration regulation

Two published opinions today.

Kaymark v. Bank of America — foreclosure / consumer — reversal — Fisher

After a homeowner defaulted on a mortgage, the bank foreclosed. The foreclosure suit included demands for certain fees that had not been incurred yet. The homeowner then brought suit, alleging that these demands violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The district court dismissed, but today the Third Circuit reversed in part. The court held that the FDCPA applies to mortgage complaints, not just debt-collection letters, and held that the homeowner adequately pled an FDCPA violation when he alleged that the bank sued for fees it had not yet incurred and did not disclose that these fees were estimates. The court affirmed dismissal of other claims.

Joining Fisher were Fuentes and Krause. Arguing counsel were Michael Malakoff—  for the homeowner, Thomas Allen (a UNC law alum!) for the bank, and Jonathan Bart for the law firm that filed the foreclosure suit,

Shalom Pentecostal Church v. Secretary DHS — immigration — affirmance — Krause

The Third Circuit today struck down an immigration regulation. The underlying statute permits certain immigrant religious workers to get a visa if (among other requirements) they have been carrying on religious work for the two years before seeking the visa. The regulation limited the statute by providing that the two years of religious work must have been done while lawfully in the country. The district court struck down the regulation’s limitation as ultra vires, and today the Third Circuit — apparently the first circuit to reach the issue — affirmed. The court also rejected the government’s standing arguments, and it remanded for further proceedings.

Joining Krause were Rendell and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were William Stock for the immigrant and Geoffrey Forney for the government.

More on published opinions

Professor David Cleveland has posted this follow-up on the Appellate Advocacy Blog to my recent post about the Third Circuit’s low published-opinion numbers.

He writes:

Matthew suggests that judicial vacancy is the the likely reason for the Third Circuit’s recent spike in its unpublished opinion rate to 92.3%. That seems accurate, though the Third has been hovering in the high-80s for a while now. Judicial vacancy may have pushed them up to the low-90s where the high-volume circuits are.

The Third Circuit last year issued the fewest published opinions of any circuit, again

The new AOC statistics are out. They’re a trove for appeals-nerds like me, and I’ll probably have a couple posts about them. First up: a look at the stats for published and unpublished decisions.

The big news? In 2014, for the second year in a row, no circuit issued fewer published opinions than the Third Circuit.

CA3 issued 177 published, signed opinions last year. The next lowest was CA2, with 210. So CA3 isn’t just the lowest, it is the lowest by over 15%. By contrast, there were 3 circuits that published over 500 opinions (CA7, CA8, and CA9). (All the 2014 data I’m using here is from report table B-12, which in prior years was S-3.)

Except for CA3, all the circuits fall into one of two categories: the ones like CA9 with lots of cases and a high unpublished-decision rate, and the ones like DC with fewer cases and a lower unpublished-decisions rate. CA3 is an outlier because it doesn’t have lots of cases relative to other circuits but still has a high unpublished rate.

Here are some numbers.

92.3% of CA3 dispositions were unpublished last year, which is slightly lower than CA4 and CA11 and only a little higher than CA6 and CA9. But these other circuits with high rates of unpublished dispositions all decide more cases. So, for example, even with a higher unpublished-cases rate, CA4 still issued 217 published opinions, 40 more than CA3 did.

Meanwhile, CA3 terminated a total of 2493 cases last year. That was more than five other circuits: DC (634), CA1 (942), CA7 (1902), CA8 (2348), and CA10 (1457). But all of those circuits issued unpublished decisions at far lower rates than CA3’s 92.3%: DC (54.1%), CA1 (64%), CA7 (63.4%), CA8 (75.2%), and CA10 (79.1%). And the other circuits joining CA3 above 90% unpublished all have a lot more cases than CA3’s 2493: CA2 (3111), CA4 (3787), CA5 (5203), CA6 (3460), CA9 (7515), CA11 (3999).

Interesting, no? But what’s the explanation? Is the reason for CA3’s low number of published opinions the judicial emergency?

Maybe. Recall, Sloviter and Scirica both went senior in the summer of 2013; Krause filled Sloviter’s seat last summer, while Scirica’s seat remains open with Restrepo’s nomination stiiiiiill pending. Do the numbers show a sudden drop in published opinions fitting that timeframe? Here:

Year — Number of published signed opinions — percentage unpublished

2009 — 245 — 89.3

2010 — 246 — 89.8

2011 — 214 — 90.9

2012 — 234 — 87.3

2013 — 163 — 93.8

2014 — 177 — 92.3

So CA3 has had low publishing numbers for a while, but things did get more extreme in 2013. And that holds true when you compare CA3 to other circuits: from 2009 to 2012, there were 2 or 3 circuits each year with fewer published opinions. In 2013 and 2014: zero.

So you could make a good case that the Third Circuit’s judicial emergency helps explain its recent low publishing numbers.

New opinion — gay man’s fear of persecution not enough to prevent his deportation

Gonzalez-Posadas v. AG — immigration — petition denial — Jordan

A Honduran man challenged his removal by arguing that he would face anti-gay discrimination in his home country. The immigration judge “concluded that the events complained of, namely two unreported rapes, extortion by [a criminal gang], and exposure to homophobic slurs, were insufficient to establish past persecution or a risk of future persecution on account of sexual orientation.” After he lost his appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, he petitioned the Third Circuit.

In an opinion issued late yesterday, the Third Circuit denied the man’s petition, ruling that he had failed to prove that the rapes or the gang harassment were motivated by his sexual orientation and failed to substantiate his fear of future anti-gay persecution, although the court admitted that “other interpretations of the record are certainly possible.”

Joining Jordan were Chagares and Vanaskie. The case was decided without oral argument. The petitioner was represented by attorneys with Immigration Equality.



New opinion — insurance company wins policy-interpretation dispute

Torre v. Liberty Mutual — insurance — affirmance — per curiam

The Torres own land with a house on it. Both the land and the house were damaged in Hurricane Sandy. The insurer paid to remove debris from the house, but refused to pay to remove debris from the land. The insurance contract said, “we wil pay the expense to remove non-owned debris that is on or in insured property.” The Torres sued, the district court ruled for the insurer, and today the Third Circuit affirmed. It ruled that “on or in insured property” unambiguously referred to only the house, not the land.

The panel was Ambro, Vanaskie, and Sloviter, and the case was decided without argument.

New liberal report: “Republicans bringing judicial confirmation process to a standstill”

Yesterday the Alliance for Justice issued this report, summarized here, criticizing Senate Republicans’ failure to fill federal judicial openings, including the Third Circuit judicial-emergency seat for which L. Felipe Restrepo has been nominated.

From the Alliance report:

Rather than working to ensure that our federal courts have enough judges to fairly administer justice, Republicans have adopted a slow-walk approach at each point of the nomination and confirmation process—from working to fill vacancies in their own states, to processing nominees through committee, to holding confirmation votes on the Senate floor. As a result, vacancy numbers are once again rising, and the number of “judicial emergencies”—vacancies on courts that right now lack enough judges to handle their caseloads—has nearly doubled.

The report notes that the Third Circuit seat has now been vacant over 630 days, longer than any circuit seat with a nomination pending before the Judiciary Committee.

The Alliance report also criticizes a Wall Street Journal editorial (available free here) from this past Sunday’s paper that said:

[A] fruitful area for resistance may be on Mr. Obama’s appellate-court nominees * * *. Simply refuse to confirm all of his appellate nominees until he stops abusing his power. * * *

The President and liberals would protest, but the public would barely notice. * * * In 2017 a Republican President would still have more judicial openings to fill.

Perhaps the standstill has only begun.

That crazy pro se appeal by the congressman’s son isn’t looking so crazy after all

When a pro se criminal defendant files an interlocutory appeal asking the Third Circuit to stay his prosecution so that he can file pro se appeal to argue why his indictment should be dismissed, his odds of success are more or less zero.

But not actually zero, we now know, because earlier this month the court stayed the criminal prosecution of Chaka Fattah, Jr., son of the embattled member of Congress, and ordered expedited briefing. Today Fattah filed his pro se opening brief.

Fattah is not a lawyer; reportedly he has a high-school education. I skimmed his brief, and I’ll go on the record right here: in a battle of untrained brief-writers between Fattah and that chief executive whose petition recently drew Supreme Court ire, Fattah would kick Mr. CEO’s butt.

He’s an avid reader of CA3blog, he told me today by telephone, describing with enthusiasm how my post on Bashman’s brief taught him the importance of proper en-dash use. (!) This supports my heretofore-secret belief that my blog is more useful than law school.

The government’s brief is due April 7. The case is calendared for May 21. The chances that the court will allow a pro se defendant to orally argue his appeal are zero …

… more or less.

Transcript lost, defendant lost

Kareem Russell was tried and convicted of a crime in federal court and sentenced to prison for seven years. (Full disclosure: I think Russell was a co-defendant of a  Third Circuit client of mine in an unrelated case.) Then he wanted to appeal — but something went badly wrong with his trial transcript.

First, getting the transcript from the court reporter required “protracted attempts.” Then, when he got the transcript, it was a disaster: “a rough transcription replete with mistakes and omissions.” And court reporter wouldn’t turn over the audio recordings. The government “investigat[ed] the court reporter and r[a]n[] a forensic examination of her laptop.” In the end he got a transcript of the first and third days of the trial, but no transcript for day two, on which three prosecution witnesses testified.

What a disaster. I can’t imagine the frustration I’d feel if this happened to my client, or my father, or my son.

The whole reason transcripts exist is to provide a clear record of what happened at the trial. Without a transcript, it’s harder to tell if there was reversible error or not. So who pays that price?

The Third Circuit answered that question again (alas this is not the first lost-transcripts case) in an unpublished opinion last Friday in United States v. Russell, with the facts as stated above. Russell lost, because “to be successful with an argument that because a portion of the trial transcript is missing the case warrants reversal, a defendant must make a specific showing of prejudice.” (internal quotations and alterations omitted). And, without the transcript, the defendant was unable to make that “specific showing.” Naturally.

That is a correct application of binding circuit precedent, but it is disturbing still.

Disturbing too is the idea that this same court reporter (she is unnamed in the opinion, unhelpfully) may have transcribed other cases. If, in one case, a reporter produces a transcript filled with gaps and mistakes and partial audio can be recovered only after a forensic scan of her laptop, how could you be confident about any transcripts this reporter produced in other cases around that time? Has the court done a review? Have the litigants and counsel in those cases been notified?


New opinion — 29 pages of ERISA

Cottillion v. United Refining — ERISA — affirmance — Ambro

The Third Circuit today held that a company violated ERISA when it failed to give its retirees a benefits-adjustment it had promised. I’m pretty sure one of Ambro’s clerks cried when he told them he’d assigned the opinion to himself.

Joining Ambro were Chagares and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Christopher Rillo for the company and Tybe Brett for the retirees.

A closer look at the Third Circuit’s recent en banc cases

Can a middle-school student be punished for wearing an “I ♥ boobies” bracelet to school? Can a defendant be prosecuted using evidence from a GPS tracker that police hid on his car without a warrant? Can police take DNA samples from everyone they arrest? These are among the questions that have led the Third Circuit in recent years to rehear cases en banc.

Since Chief Judge McKee became chief in 2010, the Third Circuit has issued 18 en banc rulings (they’re all listed at the bottom of this post). Looking at the court as a whole, a couple things jump out at me:

    • 18 cases in about 5 years isn’t many;
    • Of the 18 cases, 6 are criminal, 4 education (3 student speech, 1 due process), 2 immigration, 2 bankruptcy (both asbestos-related), 1 habeas, 1 class action, and 2 other civil cases. I expected more civil cases;
    • 5 of the 18 rulings were unanimous;
    • In at least 5, the court’s decision to go en banc was sua sponte. In at least 6, en banc rehearing was granted before the panel ruled; and
    • Of the 6 criminal cases, the government won 5.

Interesting, right? But I wanted to see how much these 18 cases can tell us about the ideology of the court and its judges. En banc cases are an especially useful lens because (most) every active judge votes in every case, so we can compare votes much more directly than we can in panel cases. Can votes in 18 cases tell us anything meaningful about the court or the judges? I’m not sure. But I’ve crunched some numbers so you can decide for yourself what, if anything, it all means.

Here’s what I did. For each case, I classified one side–majority or dissent–as liberal, one as conservative. In my scoring, liberals side with criminal defendants, students, consumers, etc.; conservatives side with prosecutors, corporations, etc. (I omitted a unanimous bankruptcy case, Grossman’s, that I couldn’t classify). Then I tallied the votes to find each judge’s percentage of liberal votes.

But some of the cases seemed more telling ideologically than others. So also I picked out 6 cases from the 17 that presented the clearest ideological divide–cases where it was clearest to me that liberals and conservatives would favor different outcomes –and ran the numbers for those cases separately.

The results? With apologies to my smartphone readers, here is a table with how the judges voted in the 17 cases:

En banc table graphic

Liberal votes in blue, conservative in red. (Gray means the judge dissented in part, black means the judge wasn’t on the court yet, white means the judge did not sit, presumably due to recusal). The names of the 6 more ideological cases are bolded. Again, links to all these cases are at the bottom of this post.

Overall, the liberal side won 10 times and the conservative side won 7 times.

Now let’s interpret. Here is how I’d characterize the voting records in ideological terms — judges with similar voting records are listed on the same line, from liberal on the left to conservative on the right:

More liberal


Smith / Fuentes

 Greenaway / Ambro

Rendell / Vanaskie / Jordan

Chagares / Fisher / Hardiman

More conservative

So, for example, the McKee-era en banc votes of Smith and Fuentes are more conservative than McKee and more liberal than Greenaway and Ambro, with Smith’s votes slightly more liberal than Fuentes’s.

Note that I’ve omitted Sloviter, Scirica, Barry, and Shwartz from this analysis. All were active for only part of this period, so their sample sizes were smaller. For what it’s worth, Sloviter’s profile was close to McKee, while Shwartz and Scirica were both close to Ambro.)

So–again, looking purely at votes in this body of cases–I’d describe the Third Circuit’s judges as 1 liberal (McKee), 4 moderates (Smith, Fuentes, Greenaway, Ambro, plus Shwartz so far), and 6 conservatives (Rendell, Vanaskie, Jordan, Fisher, Chagares, Hardiman). Krause has not voted in a decided en banc yet.

A few more thoughts on the ideology data:

  • The conservative judges were more predictable than the liberals. Chagares and Hardiman were the only two judges who never disagreed. And in the 6 most ideologically charged cases, 3 judges voted conservative every time, 0 voted liberal every time.
  • Smith’s moderately liberal en banc voting record is probably not what George W. expected; Vanaskie’s conservative record is probably not what Obama expected.
  • Rendell’s en banc votes do not align with her reputation. By my count, she voted with the conservatives more than half the time; and in the more ideologically charged cases, she voted with the conservatives two-thirds of the time.
  • Again, I’m not sure how much stock I put in the ideology analysis here. It’s a fairly small sample size, my choices about which side is liberal or conservative are debatable, and my choices about which cases are more ideological are debatable, too. Circuit judges regularly follow controlling precedent over their own policy preferences. En banc voting patterns may not match panel voting patterns. Bottom line, I think these numbers are interesting and suggestive, but far from definitive.

Anyway, so much for ideology. What does all of this mean for lawyers practicing in this circuit? Here are the conclusions I draw about Third Circuit en banc practice:

  1. Don’t get your hopes up. The court grants rehearing en banc in about 1 decided case in 1000. Federal Appellate Practice‘s observation applies here: “filing a petition for rehearing is a little like buying a lottery ticket. It most often will prove a waste of time and money. But occasionally–and sometimes unpredictably–it will produce an enormous return.”
  2. Your best hope for getting en banc rehearing might be to overrule a prior precedent. Of the last 6 CA3 en banc decisions, 4 overruled prior precedent. In 3 of those 4, the overruled precedent had made CA3 an outlier. Two other factors leading to recent en banc overrulings: subsequent CA3 and Supreme Court cases had eroded the precedent, and the precedent caused confusion and uneven results. The opinions provide a valuable roadmap for lawyers looking for effective arguments for en banc rehearing.
  3. Don’t wait until after the panel has ruled to argue why the precedent should be overruled. Panels lack the power to overrule prior precedent, so you may be tempted to hold your arguments about overruling a case for your rehearing petition. But these cases show that’s a mistake. When the Third Circuit grants rehearing en banc to overrule a prior decision, it usually does so before the panel rules, per 3d Cir. IOP 5.5.4  (requiring internal circulation of all published and split-panel unpublished opinion drafts). Of the 6 cases I see where the court overruled a precedent, rehearing was granted before the panel had ruled in 5; only once since 2010 has the en banc court overruled a precedent after the panel had ruled.
  4. Don’t expect the en banc court to trump an outlier panel. In some other circuits, en banc rehearing is often granted when the court’s majority wants to wipe out a ruling from an ideologically unrepresentative panel (like when you draw a panel with two liberals in a majority-conservative circuit). If that sort of nakedly ideological use of en banc rehearing happens in the Third Circuit these days at all, it is rare. It may have happened in Katzin, where Greenaway and Smith went from panel majority to en banc dissenters in an ideologically charged case. But even Katzin involved an important novel issue, not a garden-variety instance of we-disagree-with-the-panel. So, as far as I can tell, the court is honoring its IOP 9.3.3 claim that it does “not ordinarily grant rehearing en banc when the panel’s statement of the law is correct and the uncontroverted issue is solely the application of the law to the circumstances of the case.”

The 18 CA3 en banc cases since McKee became chief, from most recent to oldest, are:

US v. Katzin

US v. Flores-Mejia

Rojas v. AG

Al-Sharif v. US C&I

US v. Quinn

US v. Caraballo-Rodriguez

BH v. Easton SD

Morrow v. Balaski

Garrus v. Secretary

US v. Mitchell

Singer Mgt v. Milgram

Layshock v. Hermitage SD

US v. Blue Mountain SD

Sullivan v. DB Investments

In re Global Indus. Tech.

In re Grossman’s

US v. Rigas

Puleo v. Chase Bank

New opinion — court allows belated re-trial of a habeas winner

Wilson v. Secretary PA DOC — habeas corpus — affirmance — Hardiman

Today’s lone opinion involves a rare and interesting issue of habeas law.

The petitioner here “holds the remarkable distinction of having received writs of habeas corpus vacating not one, but two murder convictions.” First, in 2004, he got the district court to vacate his conviction for killing Swift. The court granted a conditional writ, vacating the conviction but allowing the Commonwealth to retry him within 180 days.

The prosecution did not retry Wilson for the Swift murder within 180 days, and Wilson remained in prison while Wilson continued to challenge his other murder conviction. That challenge succeeded too:  in 2009, the Third Circuit upheld the grant of relief in the second murder. (The two errors warranting relief were independent: Batson in the first case, Brady in the second. That’s depressing.)

Then, in 2010, the Philly DA moved to retry Wilson for the Swift murder. Wilson sought to block retrial in two ways: by moving to enforce the Swift mandate, and by seeking an unconditional writ under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). The district court denied both requests, but Wilson appealed only the 60(b) issue.

Today, the Third Circuit affirmed, holding that Wilson was not entitled to 60(b) relief because he did not exhaust state remedies. The panel expressly created a circuit split with the Sixth Circuit on this point.

Joining Hardiman were Ambro and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were the formidable Michael Wiseman for Wilson and Thomas Dolgenos for the Philly DA.

A legal-writing resource

I recently came across this page collecting a series of articles from the ABA’s Litigation magazine by George Gopen. Their subject is legal writing.

In the first article in the series, Gopen writes:

The bottom-line question about writing quality is simply this: Did the reader get delivery of what the writer was intending to send? If the answer is “yes,” the writing was good enough; if it is “no,” the writing was not good enough. And it matters little how impressive or dazzling the writing seemed to be along the way.

To get control of writing, litigators must understand as much as they can about how the reader goes about the act of reading. It is insufficient to compose a sentence that is capable of being interpreted in the way that best serves your case. Instead you must compose it so the odds are as high as possible that an intelligent reader will be led to interpret it in the way you intended. We have all been taught writing according to what the writer should and should not do. The perspective should be shifted to consider what readers actually do. That will be the task of this series of articles.

Gopen’s top two points:

  1. readers have an easier time recognizing your sentence’s key points when they appear to come right before periods, colons, and semicolons, and
  2. readers expect your key sentence’s points to come in the main clause, so you should normally avoid writing, “The Court held that ….”

Provocative and useful, even if (like me) you don’t buy into everything he suggests.

H/T Raymond P. Ward at the (new) legal writer.

New opinion — court broadly applies overtime law

McMaster v. Eastern Armored Services — employment — affirmance — Fuentes

The Third Circuit today ruled that the Fair Labor Standard Act requires an armored-truck courier company to pay a driver/guard overtime. The case required untangling a statutory thicket. The FLSA required overtime. An exception to the law exempted certain motor carriers. An exception to the exception un-exempted motor carrier employees whose job “in whole or in part” affects the safe operation of vehicles under 10,000 pounds. Here, the employee spent 49% of her time in vehicles under 10,000 pounds, so the panel held that she gets overtime.

Joining Fuentes were Greenberg and Cowen. The case was decided without oral argument.

Since I have judicial-emergency-on-the-brain, two observations. First, the issue here was more complicated (and novel, with no prior rulings in any circuit) than I’d expect for a published case without oral argument. Second, this is one of what seems like a growing number of CA3 panels with two senior or non-CA3 judges. I wonder whether the Third Circuit’s judicial emergency is part of why cases like this are decided without argument and with a single active judge on the panel.

Committee re-examining inactive-status proposal

The Circuit posted this terse announcement Monday: “In light of comments already received, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Attorney Discipline Committee is reexam[in]ing proposed Rule 17.”

Proposed Rule 17 sought to create a new inactive status. It said attorneys who have not appeared in the past five years must file a form to remain active. I welcome the committee’s re-examination of that proposed rule. I don’t see any benefit to justify the added headache for lawyers and the court.

I wonder what this announcement means for the other proposed amendments to the attorney-discipline rules. It was issued the same day as the deadline for public comments.

My original post on the proposed amendments is here.

Restrepo nomination: the wait for a hearing goes on [updated]


“2010-07-20 Black windup alarm clock face” by Sun Ladder – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Well, the good news is that the Senate Judiciary Committee is finally holding a judicial-nomination hearing tomorrow. But the bad news is it reportedly won’t include L. Felipe Restrepo’s nomination. More delay for the Third Circuit’s judicial emergency.

I’m told Congressional Quarterly (which is paywalled) has posted that the judiciary committee will hold a hearing tomorrow morning on two nominations, Stoll Fed. Cir. (for an opening that is not a judicial emergency) and Ketchmark WDMO (also not a judicial emergency, and nominated after Restrepo).

UPDATE: the Senate Judiciary Committee website has just been updated here confirming that the hearing tomorrow will be for Stoll and Ketchmark only, not Restrepo.

Recall that, as reported last week in Legal Intelligencer, committee chair Chuck Grassley’s spokesperson said she “couldn’t even estimate” when Restrepo will get a hearing.

Last week People for the American Way’s blog observed that the Republican-controlled committee is moving more slowly on Obama’s judicial nominees than the Democratic-controlled committee did on George W. Bush’s:

In Bush’s last two years, the Senate confirmed 68 circuit and district court nominees, slashing the number of vacancies from 56 at the start of 2007 to as low as 34 in the fall of 2008. Today’s Republican Senate has confirmed no nominees so far this year. In the meantime, the number of current vacancies has climbed from 39 at the beginning of the year to 47 today, and the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 21.

PFAW’s blog last week also observed that the committee has held no judicial nomination hearings since January 21, and said, “Hearings for Judge Restrepo and other judicial nominees are long overdue.”

A few other resources of interest:

  • Judging the Environment has this helpful page with information on Restrepo’s nomination.
  • Alliance for Justice has posted this nominee background report on Restrepo, highlighting his key cases as a lawyer and as a judge.
  • The ABA has collected here a wealth of data on judicial vacancies overall.

My prior posts on the Restrepo nomination are here, here, here, and here.

H/T Glenn Sugamelli, who since 2001 has headed Judging the Environment‘s judicial nominations project.

Are Third Circuit judges reading briefs on tablets?


In other circuits, judges have made it known that they read briefs on tablets or iPads. For example, a majority of Fifth Circuit judges reportedly read briefs on iPads. Second Circuit Judge Wesley has explained that he does, too.

It is helpful for judges that lawyers know whether they are reading briefs using tablets, as the Columbia Business Law Review has explained:

The words themselves—that is, the content—may well be the same, but the style should differ. Lawyers who care about communicating forcefully and clearly should seek to perfect style and typography in addition to substance. The rules of typography are simply different for a screen than for print.

* * *

A brief written to be read on an iPad should differ from one written for text in three main ways: it should use fewer footnotes, should use a different font, and should avoid confusing hierarchical organization.

Also see this post, “5 Tips for Writing Briefs for Tablets.”

So, are Third Circuit judges reading briefs on tablets instead of on paper? I’d love to know. I recently tried to find out from the Circuit Executive’s office. I was told that not all judges read briefs on paper, but beyond that they could not say.

I’ll be looking for chances to find out more. In the meantime, if anyone has insight about it, please post in comments or contact me directly.

New opinion — no clearly established First Amendment protection for elected officials’ speech

Werkheiser v. Pocono Twp.  — First Amendment qualifed immunity — reversal — Cowen

Harold Workeiser was an elected township supervisor who also worked for the township as roadmaster. His fellow township supervisors decided not to reappoint him as roadmaster; he sued, alleging that they were retaliating against him for policy positions he took as supervisor. The township moved to dismiss based on qualified immunity, and the district court denied the motion.

Today, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the township was entitled to qualified immunity because it is not clearly established that an elected official’s speech is protected by the First Amendment, nor is a First Amendment right to be free of retaliation clearly established on the facts here.

Joining Cowen were Vanaskie and Greenberg. Arguing counsel were Steven Hoffman for the township and Cletus Lyman for the ex-roadmaster.

Restrepo-nomination news and Fisher in district court

Saranac Spencer Hale has this article in today’s Legal Intelligencer, focusing filling long-open WDPA seats. (Free access via Google here.)

The article touches on two points of interest to Third Circuit followers. First, this update on the Restrepo nomination:

When U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, took over as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the start of this year, he indicated that he planned to maintain the same pace for moving consensus judicial nominees along to the full Senate for confirmation.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who had been chair of the committee before Grassley, had held hearings for nominees roughly every two weeks.

“That’s not true already,” Sugameli said of Grassley’s intent for keeping up with moving nominees along. So far this year the committee has held one hearing for judicial nominees.

Restrepo is not a controversial nominee, Sugameli said. He had the support of both Casey and Toomey when he was nominated to the district court in late 2012, he was confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate, and both home-state senators have, again, given him their support for his nomination to the Third Circuit.

Restrepo had to be renominated at the beginning of January and there is a new chairman with new staff examining his background, plus there was the high-profile hearing for Loretta Lynch, the nominee for attorney general, that took up a lot of time, Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for Grassley, explained of the delay.

The run-up to the Lynch hearing, which concluded last week with a 12-8 vote to move her on to a vote by the full Senate, required “all hands on deck,” Levine said.

Staff had to review 100 speeches from Lynch, Levine said, explaining the weight of the material involved.

They are still reviewing the background material for judicial nominees, like Restrepo, who are in the pipeline, she said. But coming up soon will be the hearing for the deputy attorney general.

Levine “couldn’t even estimate” a timeframe for Restrepo’s hearing, she said.

Second, the article mentions that Judge Fisher has recently took on two district court cases:

Third Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher recently stepped in to take on two cases in the Western District, due partly to the shortage of judges on that bench. Fisher has his chambers in Pittsburgh and had also wanted to get trial experience, since he joined the appellate bench after having been in private practice and then serving as Pennsylvania’s attorney general.

“Two Third Circuit Judges” and sentencing policy

Professor Berman posted this morning at Sentencing Law & Policy about D.Iowa Judge Mark Bennett’s article “A Slow Motion Lynching? The War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration, Doing Kimbrough Justice, and a Response to Two Third Circuit Judges.” The SSRN link to the article is here.

The two CA3 judges referenced in the title are Judges Fisher and Hardiman. From the intro (cites omitted):

[Bennett’s article] responds
to law review articles by two Third Circuit judges that suggest that
federal sentencing judges should be concerned about Congress’s next
move as we sentence defendants. Judge Fisher refers to this as a
“legislative backlash.” Judge Hardiman warns that “Congress
might impose new, detailed statutory penalties that will leave
district [court] judges with even less discretion than they possessed
in the mandatory Guidelines era.” While I have heard these
refrains before, I find them both odd and at odds with fundamental
notions of separation of powers and federal sentencing judges’
overarching command to impose a sentence that is “sufficient, but
not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes” of federal

Looks interesting.


For the punctuation enthusiasts

‘Holy Writ,’ a glorious article by Mary Norris in the current New Yorker, is about commas, not Third Circuit advocacy.

But if you’re the sort who reads an appellate blog, there’s a good chance you’ll really enjoy it.

If an article is not enough to scratch your punctuation itch, Norris has a book due out in April, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. And if April is too long, I recommend Noah Lukeman’s A Dash of Style.

What can the Third Circuit’s website learn from other circuits’ sites?

I love the Third Circuit’s court website, and I use it every day. The Third Circuit isn’t just the subject of my blog, it’s the heart of my practice, and the website is essential for keeping up to date.

Every other federal circuit has a website, too–1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 DC–and their sites offer some intriguing ideas for ways that the CA3 website could get even better. Other circuits–especially the Fourth and Ninth–make it easier to follow the court and to find appellate advocacy models. Here’s a quick look.


CA3 posts all its opinions, and they provide the case name, case number, and the court below. If you already know what case you’re looking for, that’s all you need. But other circuits make it easier for lawyers to find just-issued cases that matter to them without having to download and read each one. Here are the 3 best:

  • CA4’s opinions page doesn’t just give the case name, it also gives a category (criminal, civil private, immigration, civil rights, habeas, 2255, etc), opinion author, and disposition;
  • CA8’s lists the panel and gives a short abstract; and
  • CA9’s lists the category and author and gives a useful search tool.

Also somewhat handy is the search box that both CA10 and CADC provide so you can text-search opinions (meaning you can find all circuit opinions that contain the word “Chemerinsky,” for example, right from the opinion page).

These circuits’ pages make it easier for lawyers to stay current on circuit caselaw, and that benefits everyone.

Argument audio

CA3 gives access to oral-argument audio, which is great and not all circuits do. But all the CA3 site tells you is the case name, number, and argument date. Again, that’s fine if you already know the exact case you want, but if you don’t then you have to go hunting on PACER.

Other circuits make browsing argument audio easier. CA4 and CADC both tell you who was on the panel and who argued. CA5 lists arguing counsel; CA8 lets you search by counsel. CA9 lists the panel. CA7 gives the case type (criminal, civil, prisoner, etc). All useful features.

The Ninth Circuit wins the technology prize: it offers argument video. It is split-screen, so you see both the panel and the lawyer, and video quality is quite good. Imagine how helpful it is for lawyers to be able to see their own arguments looking for areas to improve. And I’d love to be able to watch and learn from top CA3 advocates like Peter Goldberger or a dozen others without ever leaving my office.


The same basic observation I’ve made about opinions and argument audio applies to argument calendars, too. CA3’s calendar gives you the case name and case number. Other circuits make it easier to find cases of interest. Once again, CA4‘s and CA9‘s are the best: besides the case name and number, you get the case type, a direct link to the case on PACER, and a short description of the issues.

Links and resources

CA3 has many helpful links and resources, including forms, good brief & appendix cheat-sheets, CJA do’s and don’t’s, and a link to the circuit bar associate and its practice guide.

Three circuit cites go even further with helpful resources:

  • CA4 – an appellate procedure guide, handy page-specific links to appellate rules;
  • CA7 – typography guides, sample briefs, redaction guides, and a criminal appeal handbook; and
  • CA9 — especially informative guides to practice, appellate jurisdiction, and standards of review, plus substantive circuit-law guides for immigration, social security, and 1983 cases.

The Third Circuit’s website is a tremendous resource for lawyers, and hopefully in the years ahead it will only get better.


Renee Edelman is the Circuit’s new CJA case-budgeting attorney

Renee Hurtig Edelman is the Third Circuit’s new case-budgeting attorney.

Case-budgeting attorney is a new position at the Circuit. According to the hiring notice, the case-budget attorney will:

work with Third Circuit committees, district court judges, magistrate judges, and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorneys to develop budgets and review budgets of criminal mega-cases and death penalty cases. Specifically, in conjunction with counsel and the assigned judge, the Circuit Case Budgeting Attorney will assist in preparation of budgets that address attorney and paralegal time, experts, investigation, and other case costs.

I know Renee, we worked together at the Philly CHU. She’s smart as a whip and has a deep understanding of what it takes to litigate complex cases competently. She’ll be a tremendous asset to the Circuit.

(A valuable tip, fellow CJA lawyers: she is a big Duke basketball fan.)

Welcome to CJA-world, Renee.

New opinion — forum-selection clause enforced

Carlyle Investment Mgmt. v. Moonmouth Co. — contract — affirmance — Roth

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court order applying a forum-selection clause and remanding to state court. The clause appeared in a contract between A & B. A is affiliated with X, B is affiliated with Y. The court held that the A and B’s contract was enforceable against X & Y.

Joining Roth were Hardiman and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Alan Kolod for the appellant and Sarah Teich for the appellees.

I posted earlier today how much I enjoyed today’s Scotus opinions in Yates v. United States. Let me illustrate on reason why. After the intro, here is the first paragraph of the Yates dissent:

While the plurality starts its analysis with §1519’s
heading, see ante, at 10 (“We note first §1519’s caption”), I
would begin with §1519’s text. When Congress has not
supplied a definition, we generally give a statutory term
its ordinary meaning. See, e.g., Schindler Elevator Corp.
v. United States ex rel. Kirk, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip
op., at 5). As the plurality must acknowledge, the ordinary meaning of “tangible object” is “a discrete thing that
possesses physical form.” Ante, at 7 (punctuation and
citation omitted). A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that
possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One
Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960). So the ordinary
meaning of the term “tangible object” in §1519, as no
one here disputes, covers fish (including too-small red

Meanwhile, here is the first paragraph after the intro of Carlyle Investment:

Plaintiffs are Carlyle Investment Management, L.L.C.,
a large publicly traded investment management firm; two
affiliated entities, TC Group, L.L.C. and TCG Holdings,
L.L.C.; three founders and officers of Carlyle, David
Rubinstein, Daniel D’Aniello, and William Conway, Jr.; and
three Carlyle-affiliated former directors of Carlyle Capital
Corporation Ltd. (CCC), James Hance, John Stomber, and
Michael Zupon. Defendants are Louis J.K.J. Reijtenbagh;
three entities he owns and controls, Plaza, Moonmouth
Company S.A., and Parbold Overseas Ltd.; and an affiliated
Dutch company, Stichting Recovery CCC. The record
indicates that Plaza is the only corporate defendant that has
not been dissolved.

Different styles.

Appellate-dork blogger reads new opinion, can’t stop grinning


Look, I admit I’m a law nerd. My Tenth Circuit co-clerks took sinister delight in imposing a no-talking-about-the-law-during-lunch rule on me. And I’m fairly sure I’m in the minority when I say how frustrating it is that my fellow habeas-conference attendees don’t want to hash out the interplay between 2254(d)(2) and (e)(1) during the breaks between sessions.

But, still. I can’t be the only one who finds the jousting between Ginsburg, Alito, and Kagan in Yates v. United States today hugely entertaining. Right?

[Update: right. Professor Berman over at Sentencing Law & Policy gushes “Amazing stuff.”]

Geneva College news and commentary

The Third Circuit’s ruling earlier this month in Geneva College — upholding Obamacare’s contraception-care procedures against a RFRA challenge —  was one of the Circuit’s highest-profile recent cases. Here are links to the most interesting coverage.


National Law Journal here

Nonprofit Law Prof Blog here

Legal Intelligencer here



RH Reality Check here

Bustle here

Thinkprogress here



One News Now here

The Daily Signal here here



Third Circuit opening is named a judicial emergency

Today the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts designated a Third Circuit seat as a judicial emergency. The emergency is for the seat that opened when Judge Scirica took senior status and that Judge Restrepo has been nominated to fill.

CA3 joins CA5 and CA11 as the only circuits with AOC-designated judicial emergencies. The Scirica seat qualifies as a judicial emergency because the vacancy has existed for more than 18 months and CA3’s adjusted filings are between 500 and 700 per panel.

Paul Gordon of People for the America Way here lamented the CA3 emergency and criticized the Judiciary Committee’s failure to act more quickly on Restrepo’s nomination (I’ve added a link and omitted another):

next week’s committee schedule is up [link here], and no hearings have been announced for judicial nominees.

* * *

The good news is that district court judge L. Felipe Restrepo was nominated to fill this seat way back in November, and that he has the enthusiastic support of his home state senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey. The bad news is that Chairman Grassley continues not to schedule a hearing for this highly qualified nominee (or any other). With this vacancy now a judicial emergency and a second vacancy on the circuit opening in July, the decision to slow-walk this nomination is even more harmful.

H/T Glenn Sugameli of Defenders of Wildlife.

New opinion — grappling with the “slippery concept” of which side won

McBride v. Int’l Longshoremen’s Assoc. — civil — affirmance — Nygaard

The Third Circuit today affirmed a district court’s determination that a party was a prevailing party entitled to attorney’s fees and rejected an argument that the district court’s post-remand rulings exceeded its mandate.

Joining Nygaard were Fuentes and Greenaway. The case was decided without argument.

New opinion — prisoners have no right to parole, but court vacates dismissal of retaliation claim

Fantone v. Latini — prisoner civil rights — reversal — Greenberg

In a notable inmate-rights ruling, the Third Circuit today ruled that Pennsylvania inmates have no protected liberty interest in being paroled but reversed the dismissal of an inmate’s retaliation claim.

State inmate Phillip Lee Fantone was granted parole, but that grant was rescinded due to pending prison discipline against him. Fantone filed suit, alleging that his due process rights were violated by the parole rescission. He also alleged that a guard unlawfully retaliated against him by keeping him in restricted housing because he refused to confess to committing a crime in prison and filed a grievance against the guard.

The court today affirmed dismissal of the due process claims because it held that Pa. inmates have no liberty interest in parole. But it reversed dismissal of the retaliation claim because the inmate’s allegation was legally sufficient given the “proper deference [owed] to his pro se pleadings.”

Joining Greenberg were Vanaskie and Cowen. Arguing counsel were Peter Laun of Jones Day for the inmate and Kemal Mericli for the state.

En banc argument in criminal appeal Thursday

The Third Circuit will hold its first en banc argument of the year on Thursday.

The case is United States v. Jermel Lewis, and the issue in the case is whether it was harmless error to fail to charge in the indictment and present to the jury the facts used to increase the mandatory-minimum sentence.

In the now-vacated panel opinion, Fisher joined by Chagares held that the error was harmless; Rendell dissented.  My post on the panel opinion is here.

The argument will be held at 10 a.m. in the Maris courtroom on the 19th floor. I have not double-checked, but I assume arguing counsel remain Paul Hetznecker for the defendant and Robert Zauzmer for the government.

A bit of backstory on a big 2014 habeas reversal

I went to law school at UNC Chapel Hill, so it pains me a bit to say anything good about Duke. But Duke Law’s appellate litigation clinic represented the winning side in one of last year’s most important habeas corpus cases, Branch v. Sweeney. For anyone who wants to learn more about the law-student team that won Branch, here are two law-school news stories I came across recently, here and here.

Go, Duke!

Circuit proposes changes to attorney-discipline rules


The Third Circuit does not appear to impose attorney discipline often. The court website lists two cases, neither within the past two years. (In a 2012 case, the lawyer had filed 30 CA3 appeals, and 20 of them faced procedural termination due to the lawyer’s failure to meet filing deadlines!)

Discipline may be rare, but it happens, so the court has proposed to amend its Rules of Attorney Disciplinary Enforcement. Bruce Greenberg has cogently summarized the changes at his New Jersey Appellate Law Blog.

The main changes would be:

  • creating an inactive status, which the court imposes either (a) by request, or (b) when the lawyer has not appeared in CA3 in 5 years and has not filed a form asking to remain active;
  • exposing lawyers to CA3 discipline if they have been disciplined by another court — under the current rules, only disbarment or suspension in another court triggers reciprocal discipline; and
  • clarifying that lawyers are not subject to CA3 discipline for administrative suspension in another court caused by, for example, failure to pay annual fees or meet CLE requirements.

Comments on the proposed rules can be filed by mail or email by March 9. Details here.

One thing I would change: the proposed rule has several 10-day deadlines. Back in 2009, FRAP wisely changed most of its 10-day deadlines to 14–the end result is usually the same, with less risk of miscalculation. For the same reason, and to harmonize with FRAP, the court should go to 14-day deadlines here.


New opinion — Allstate beats the EEOC

EEOC v. Allstate — employment discrimination — affirmance — Hardiman

In the interest of efficiency, Allstate fired over six thousand of their agents, and then offered them all the chance to be independent contractors–but only if they signed a release that waived any legal claims about the firing. The EEOC sued Allstate, alleging that Allstate’s refusal to keep agents who would not sign away their firing claims was illegal retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment for Allstate, this court reversed, and the new district court granted summary judgment for Allstate again.

Today, CA3 affirmed, holding that the EEOC retaliation claim was foreclosed by prior holdings that employers can required fired employees to waive existing claims in exchange for un-earned benefits. The court rejected EEOC’s argument that the rule ought not apply because the employees were just converted into contractors, not severed.

Joining Hardiman’s opinion were Scirica and Barry. Arguing counsel were Paul Ramshaw for EEOC and former EEOC general counsel Donald Livingston of Akin Gump  for Allstate.

Restrepo nomination update, plus some senior-status news

Here’s an update on the pending Third Circuit nomination of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to fill Judge Scirica’s seat, which I posted about before here and here.

The nomination is still before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In a procedural move, the original nomination was returned in mid-December when the Senate adjourned, so he was renominated in early January.

Here is Restrepo’s committee questionnaire.

He received a favorable but split ABA Rating. A substantial majority rated him well qualified, a minority rated him qualified.

This letter to the editor criticizes the delay in confirming him.

The liberal advocacy group People for the American Way singled out Judge Restrepo’s nomination as a bipartisan success-story:

Good-faith consultations can lead to highly favorable results, as we saw at the end of 2014 with a Pennsylvania vacancy on the Third Circuit. After fruitful conversations between the White House and Senators Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R), this fall’s nomination of Luis Restrepo for that seat was immediately met with the strong endorsement of both senators.

Finally, the most informative update on the Restrepo nomination is this Legal Intelligencer article last week by Saranac Hale Spencer, which reports:

President Obama nominated Restrepo to the appeals court last November, just over a year after the judge had taken the bench in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

That nomination came in the first batch from the White House since the election that flipped the Senate leadership in favor of the Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has since taken over as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has indicated that he plans to maintain the same pace for moving consensus judicial nominees along to the full Senate for confirmation.

When U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was chair of the committee, he held hearings roughly every two weeks, said Glenn Sugameli, who tracks judicial vacancies for the Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C.

So far, the committee has had one hearing for four judicial nominees—three for the Southern District of Texas and one for the District of Utah.

Those were the nominees next in line for a hearing and, if the same practice holds, Restrepo should be in the next batch of nominees to go in front of the committee, Sugameli said.

There would be two district court nominees and another circuit court nominee in that group, so, it’s conceivable that Restrepo could be held back since circuit nominees are typically under greater scrutiny and the committee will sometimes split them up, Sugameli said. However, he said, neither Restrepo nor the nominee to the Federal Circuit are controversial.

Restrepo had the support of both of Pennsylvania’s senators—Robert Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican—when he was nominated to the district court in late 2012 and both senators have, again, given him their support for his nomination to the Third Circuit.

Unless he is confirmed by the full Senate before July, there will be two vacancies on the Third Circuit, which is relatively rare, Sugameli said.

The Seventh Circuit, in Illinois, has a seat that has been open since 2010 and another one that is slated to open when a judge takes senior status in February and the Fifth Circuit, in Texas, has two empty seats with no nominees.

“Texas and Pennsylvania are uniquely in the situation of having justice delayed being justice denied,” Sugameli said, referring to the state of the federal judiciary in those states as a whole, including district court vacancies, and the length of time the seats have been open.

In addition to discussing Restrepo’s nomination, Spencer’s article also has some great senior-status tidbits for CA3 nerds. She reports that Chief Judge McKee is the only active CA3 judge eligible to go senior, and “doesn’t plan to do that any time soon, he said.” She also reports that Judge Rendell plans to keep an 80% caseload, participating in 4 of the 5 or 6 sittings per year.

New opinion — a Social Security case

Zirnsak v. Colvin — Social Security — affirmance — Van Antwerpen

At the requesting of the prevailing party, today the Third Circuit published a previously unpublished Social Security opinion. Joining Van Antwerpen were Vanaskie and Cowen. The case was decided without argument.

I have a confession. My interest in Third Circuit caselaw is broad, much broader than my current criminal-and-habeas practice. But it’s not wide enough for Social Security cases.

Circuit upholds ACA contraception-coverage requirement

Geneva College v. Secretary — civil – RFRA — reversal — Rendell

The Third Circuit denied a major religious-rights challenge to Obamacare today, ruling that the act’s contraception-coverage scheme does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Here is the introduction (some citations omitted):

The appellees in these consolidated appeals challenge the preventive services requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) (2010), under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Particularly, the appellees object to the ACA’s requirement that contraceptive coverage be provided to their plan participants and beneficiaries. However, the nonprofit appellees are eligible for an accommodation to the contraceptive coverage requirement, whereby once they advise that they will not pay for the contraceptive services, coverage for those services will be independently provided by an insurance issuer or third-party administrator. The appellees urge that the accommodation violates RFRA because it forces them to “facilitate” or “trigger” the provision of insurance coverage for contraceptive services, which they oppose on religious grounds. The appellees affiliated with the Catholic Church also object on the basis that the application of the accommodation to Catholic nonprofit organizations has the impermissible effect of dividing the Catholic Church, because the Dioceses themselves are eligible for an actual exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement. The District Courts granted the appellees’ motions for a preliminary injunction, and, in one of the cases, converted the preliminary injunction to a permanent injunction. Because we disagree with the District Courts and conclude that the accommodation places no substantial burden on the appellees, we will reverse.

Judge Rendell is the author, joined by McKee and Sloviter. Arguing counsel were Mark Stern for the government and Gregory Baylor and Paul Pohl (a former Weis clerk and past chair of the CA3 lawyer’s advisory committee) for the parties challenging the law.

A cert petition seems inevitable. Early news coverage of this decision by Saranac Hale Spencer in the Legal Intelligencer is here.

News analysis of recent circuit Fourth Amendment trends

Saranac Hale Spencer has this article today in the Legal Intelligencer discussing recent CA3 search-and-seizure cases, in which I am quoted.

The headline: “In Three Opinions, Third Circuit Joins Shift Away From Suppression of Evidence.” The most recent of the cases she discusses is last week’s affirmance in U.S. v. Wright.

Update: this Google link to the article avoids the paywall.

New opinion — reversing a capital-habeas grant of relief

Dennis v. Secretary — capital habeas — reversal — Fisher

In an important capital habeas corpus opinion, today the court reversed a district court’s grant of relief in a Pennsylvania case.

The unanimous panel reversed the district court’s grant of relief under Brady v. Maryland for the prosecution’s failure to disclose 3 pieces of exculpatory evidence. The panel held that it was not unreasonable for the state court to limit Brady to evidence that was admissible and evidence not obtainable by the defense through reasonable diligence. The court also ruled that it was reasonable to find immaterial an exculpatory police report that impeached a key prosecution eyewitness because that witness was cross-examined about her identification at trial. All three are important holdings on recurring issues, and I expect Dennis to make an impact.

Judge Fisher wrote the opinion, and he was joined by Smith and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Thomas Dolgenos for the Philadelphia DA and Stu Lev of the Philadelphia CHU for the death-row inmate. Lev was joined on the brief by five lawyers from Arnold & Porter plus a lawyer from the federal defender in Nevada.

Given the conservative panel and its aggressive reasoning, I’d bet the farm that the inmate will seek rehearing en banc.


Inquirer features Facebook-threats-case lawyers

Ron Levine and Abe Rein, the Post & Schell lawyers whose Third Circuit Facebook-threats case is pending in the Supreme Court, were featured in this front-page article yesterday by Chris Mondics of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Soft-spoken and precise, Levine is a sought-after defense lawyer whose clients typically include well-heeled executives and moneyed corporations, not indigent criminals accused of threatening to kill their wives in rap lyrics on Facebook.

He did his undergraduate work at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and then spent two years at Oxford, where he did graduate work in sociology. After law school and a clerkship with the federal district court in Philadelphia, Levine spent 17 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the city, rising to become the head of the criminal division before founding the white-collar defense practice at Post & Schell in Center City. One reason clients seek him out is his deep familiarity with the way the Justice Department works and how prosecutors think – qualities that help head off indictments.

Levine is also among a pool of local lawyers who represent indigent clients at reduced rates, and that is how he came to represent Elonis.

Levine, 61, says it didn’t take much convincing when Lawrence Stengel, the federal district judge who presided over the Elonis trial, called and asked if he would represent Elonis.

“The issue isn’t so much my belief in guilt or innocence; the issue is, did the government in a fair way bring charges and prove charges according to the law?” Levine said.

Levine drafted Rein to assist in the case in part because Rein had spent several years running a Web design company before law school, and Levine reasoned that his deep familiarity with the Web would be an asset.

Here’s my favorite quote, Levine reflecting on his first Supreme Court case:

“This isn’t the capstone of my career,” Levine remarked, “but it isn’t a routine matter either.”

My prior posts on the Elonis case are here and here.


New opinion — another search-warrant suppression decision

Here’s how the first paragraph of today’s lone published opinion summarizes the issue:

We recently confronted the question of whether suppression is required when a law enforcement officer obtains a valid search warrant but mistakenly interprets a judge’s sealing order as prohibiting him from showing the list of items to be seized to the person whose property is being searched. See United States v. Franz, 772 F.3d 134 (3d Cir. 2014). This case presents the related question that arises when, as a result of a sealing order, the list of items to be seized is inadvertently omitted from the warrant when it is executed.

From there, things get a bit murkier. The court held that the exclusionary rule did not require suppression of the evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment because the officer’s mistake wasn’t at least gross negligence. This despite prior CA3 precedent that this same mistake usually is at least grossly negligent, and despite the fact that the officer here had extensive experience.

So why was this officer not grossly negligent? Because (1) the prosecution did not really benefit from the mistake, and (2) the mistake was isolated. Neither rationale makes any sense to me.  What does benefit-to-the-prosecution have to do with whether the officer’s error was negligent?  Sounds more like a backdoor deliberateness requirement to me. And why are rare mistakes less negligent? The court says, “Only if mistakes of this nature recur with some frequency will a criminal defendant be in a position to argue that the calculus has changed,” but that seems exactly backwards. A mistake no one else is making is more negligent, not less.

[Update: on reflection, my original post was off-target. The panel’s reasoning is well-grounded in recent Supreme Court 4th Amendment jurisprudence. My quarrel is with that binding precedent, not today’s decision.]

Anyway, interesting case, and a well-written opinion even if I don’t buy the reasoning.

The case is United States v. Wright. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Ambro and Nygaard. The case was decided without argument.

My comment opposing the proposed FRAP word-limit cut

You’ve probably heard that the rules committee has proposed cutting the FRAP word-limit on briefs from 14,000 to 12,500. The proposal is here. Howard Bashman ably summarizes matters in this column in the Legal Intelligencer. Inspired by Bashman’s How Appealing blog posts, I submitted this comment today:

Brevity is a reflection of good advocacy, not its cause. Under the current limit, the courts are burdened with too many aimless, bloated 14,000-word briefs. Under the proposed limit, they will get aimless, bloated 12,500-word briefs instead. The problem is real, but the solution proposed will miss the mark. I favor the current word limit.

I’m winning the shortest-comment contest for now.

You can view all the comments here. (Mine hasn’t posted yet.) Don’t miss Judge Easterbrook’s and Judge Silberman’s. You can submit a comment of your own by February 17th here.

A review of Federal Appellate Procedure Manual, by Alex Kozinski & John K. Rabiej

FAPM cover

Alex Kozinski, the colorful Ninth Circuit judge, has co-authored a new book for appeals weenies, the Federal Appellate Procedure Manual (Juris 2014). His co-author is John K. Rabiej, the longtime head staffer to the federal rules committees.

Inside FAPM you’ll find three sections:

  1. a 50-page mini-primer on jurisdiction, briskly covering topics like standards of review, the final-decision rule, and interlocutory appeals;
  2. 150 pages on the FRAP rules — this is the heart of the book — and
  3. 18 pages of forms and tables.

When I first got it, I thought, “Neat book. But who’s it for?” If you want to know what a FRAP rule says, just read the rule; if you want to know how its been interpreted, read the cases. FAPM sprinkles in some case-cite footnotes, but it is nothing like a treatise. I never bother reading headnotes or syllabi, and I thought FAPM might be the same flavor of useless.

But then it saved my butt.

See, I’ve always been too focused on substance lazy to get clear on how Rule 26‘s deadline-computing works. You get three extra days, but sometimes you don’t … it’s easy to grasp when you focus on it, but I never had. Anyway, in my case, the court gave me an extension until December 1, and I was thinking I had until December 4. Then on November 29, I read FAPM’s blurb on Rule 26, which said, “The Rule does not apply to a date certain fixed by the court in an order to act, e.g., file no later than February 1.”

(1)  “Oh, crap.”

(2) “Maybe this book is more useful than I thought.”

Now, maybe you’re reading this thinking, “huh, I had no idea Stiegler was that ignorant.” Fair enough. But, see, that just happened to be my blindspot — you may have blindspots of your own. A short little book like this can help you spot them. If it saves your tuckus just once, it pays for itself.

fapm inside

Click to enlarge.

In the end, that’s where I come down on FAPM. It’s not the most useful book on my shelf. I wish it had better coverage beyond FRAP on nuts-and-bolts things that matter to appellate practitioners, like how panels are composed or what staff counsel does. (It does discuss a few potential rules changes the committee has discussed and compares circuit practice in a few areas.) You’d be nuts to buy it instead of the Third Circuit Bar Association’s PBI’s indispensable Third Circuit Appellate Practice Manual [see Peter Goldberger’s comment below], or Mayer Brown’s pricier Federal Appellate Practice.

But it saved my butt, and it might save yours.


If you want to buy a copy, you can get it from the publisher with free shipping at this link, and the coupon code FAPM25 gets you 25% off the $95 list price.

Disclosure: I have no ties to the authors or the publisher. I got the book free from the publisher — they asked me to do a review and to include their link.



Judge Rendell announces plans to go senior

Judge Rendell has announced her intent to take senior status, according to this article by Jeremy Roebuck of the Philadelphia Inquirer last night:

In July, Rendell will take “senior status” on the 13-member court, a designation that allows her to hear cases but reduces her workload. The decision clears the way for President Obama to appoint a full-time replacement before the end of his term.

There currently are 10 senior-status CA3 judges, Judge Scirica the most recent of them.

H/t Howard Bashman at How Appealing.

A vigorous Erwin dissent, and I’m in the chorus


A Chorus Line (Dcdjdrew – Wikipedia – Creative Commons 3.0)

One day, when I fancy this blog a bit more of a Big Deal, maybe I will hand out year-end CA3 awards: Best Opinion, Sexiest Judge Alive, that sorta thing.

If I were doing it this year, my runaway winner for Worst Decision of 2014 would be United States v. Erwin. Regular readers know I’ve posted about Erwin a bunch.

Anyway, today Judge Ambro (joined by Rendell, Greenaway, and Vanaskie) issued an opinion for his dissent from denial of rehearing en banc. The en banc denial was announced last month. Today’s dissent is not on the court’s website, which is a shame, because it’s a good one, what Justice Stewart would have called “a snapper.”

Here’s the heart of it, sans cites:

Here is the novelty: the District Court may now resentence Erwin without the Government reprising its downward-departure motion, potentially increasing his time in prison by over four years. The opinion relies on statements from contract law, but, on closer examination, contract principles faithfully applied call for a different remedy from the one our Court orders. * * * To restore the parties to their pre-breach positions, we need only nullify Erwin’s appeal. To do this, we should not consider Erwin’s arguments, no matter how meritorious.

Rejecting this approach, the panel created the new rule that a “defendant must accept the risk that . . . enforcing the waiver may not be the only consequence” of an appeal. Unlike traditional contract remedies, any consequence that goes beyond enforcing the waiver gives the Government more than it bargained for. Specifically, it bargained for Erwin’s cooperation (which it got) and his waiver of the argument that his sentence was calculated incorrectly. * * * Now the Government gets more than the full benefit of its bargain, namely, an opportunity to sentence Erwin again without an obligation to compensate him for his cooperation.

From the conclusion:

In every one of the thousands of criminal appeals this Court has heard since the first appellate waiver in a plea bargain, we have never before held that an attempt to litigate a waived argument opens the door to a harsher sentence. Yet here we do. This cuts counter to how we have acted, and it goes against the majority of cases in other circuits.

And here, dear reader, is the first-ever mention of this illustrious blog in a CA3 opinion:

The panel provides no sound reason for its new remedy, and I join the growing chorus of commentators who have lamented this decision. See Kevin Bennardo, United
States v. Erwin and the Folly of Intertwined Cooperation and Plea Agreements, 71 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. Online 160 (2014); Alain Leibman, “Third Circuit Holds that Breach of Agreement not to Appeal Justifies Government’s Withdrawal of 5K Motion,” White Collar Defense and Compliance (Sept. 18, 2014), available at http://whitecollarcrime. (“Not only did the court get it wrong in terms of appreciating the true nature of the parties’ exchange of commitments, but it did not even apply contracts law correctly.”); Matthew Stiegler, “Divided Court Denies En Banc Rehearing in Erwin Appeal-Waiver Case,” CA3blog (December 31, 2014), available at (“An ignominious ending to 2014.”); Lathrop B. Nelson, III, “Third Circuit Issues Cautionary Tale for Appellate Waivers,” White Collar Alert (Aug. 24, 2014), available at 2014/08/27/third-circuit-issues-cautionary-tale-for-appellate-waivers/ (“What about those defendants who have legitimate appellate issues that decline to appeal for fear of a harsher sentence if the court deems the appeal within the scope of their appellate waiver?”); Hon. Richard George Kopf, “Pigs Get Fed, Hogs Get Slaughtered,” Hercules and the Umpire (Sept. 2, 2014), available at 02/pigs-get-fed-hogs-get-slaughered/ (“Contract principles are not intended to be punitive, and more than four years extra in prison appears to be punitive rather than restorative in nature.”); Scott H. Greenfield, “Such a Deal (or Snitches Get Stiches),” Simple Justice (Sept. 8, 2014), available at (“Nobody would have seen this coming.”).

So on this momentous occasion, I close with three thoughts.

First: I hope the uptick in page-views for my Erwin posts over the past week means that someone in a black robe in the Jim Byrne is hip to how big a disaster Erwin will be.

Second: welcome, new readers.

Third: I’m sad that Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy is left out of the blog-chorus, because I bet his post was the one everyone else found.

New opinions — bankruptcy sanctions and nursing-home liability

Two opinions today.

First, CA3 upheld a bankruptcy-court order imposing over $100,000 in sanctions against debtor’s counsel for accusing creditor’s counsel of bribing a witness. To be more precise, they reversed the district court’s ruling vacating the sanctions.

The case is In re Prosser. Lucid opinion by Shwartz, joined by Chagares and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Samuel Israel of Fox Rothschild for the creditors and Norman Abood (one of the sanctioned lawyers!) for the debtor.


Today’s other case is an appeal from a civil trial in which a nursing home and its officers and directors were sued for mismanaging the home. CA3 upheld the jury’s liability verdict and the damages awarded against the officers, but vacated the punitive damages awarded against the directors because their conduct was insufficiently outrageous.

The case is In re: Lemington Home. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Smith and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Michael Bowe for the trial defendants and Nicholas Krawec of Bernstein-Burkley for the plaintiff.

New opinion — the court affirms denial of 1983 retaliation suit, and I scratch my head

When I read the first sentence of the opinion —

Appellant Jeffrey Heffernan, a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey, was demoted after being observed obtaining a local mayoral candidate’s campaign sign at the request of his mother.

— I was sure the court was going to rule in favor of the demoted officer. Poor guy was just getting a sign for bedridden mom. But I was wrong. The court affirmed summary judgment against him because he failed to show that he actually exercised his First Amendment rights. So, the employer can’t fire you for free speech, except that they can fire you for free speech if you weren’t actually engaged in free speech. Wacky, no?

The case is Heffernan v. City of Paterson. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Greenberg and Cowen. The case was decided without argument.

New opinions: a reversal on sua sponte grounds, plus two affirmances

Three published opinions today.

First up is an unusual case where CA3 reversed on a basis first noticed by the court itself. An employee sued this former federal employer, and the district court dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds. After the employee appealed, CA3 ordered briefing on an issue he hadn’t raised, namely whether that statute-of-limitations applies, and today the court reversed on that basis.

The court declined to deem timeliness waived, even though the appellant hadn’t raised it in district court or his opening brief, because the issue was purely legal and important and the court gave the parties a full opportunity to brief it on appeal. As far as I can tell, the fact that the appellant missed the issue didn’t change his burden at all–since it wasn’t a total waiver, it was scot-free de novo. Surprising.

The case is Kannikal v. Attorney General. Opinion by Rendell, joined by Jordan and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Faye Riva Cohen for the employer and Stephanie Marcus for the government.


Next up is an affirmance of summary judgment in an employee-discrimination appeal. The core issue was whether the employee had shown a causal connection between her protected activities and the employer’s adverse actions, and CA3 held that on the facts here she had not.

The case is Daniels v. School District. Opinion by Greenberg, joined by Vanaskie and Cowen. The case was decided without oral argument.


Today’s last case is a white-collar-criminal affirmance. The central holding is that the defendant’s purchases of US stocks “through U.S. market makers acting as intermediaries for foreign entities” were a valid basis for conviction and not an improper extraterritorial application of US law. The court also denied a raft of other claims.

The case is U.S. v. Georgiou. Opinion by Greenaway, joined by Chagares and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Scott Splittberger for the defendant and Louis Lappen for the government.

Famous, the wrong way [updated]

Lawyers all make mistakes, and most of us have made big ones. When it happens to you, will you fight for your client, or yourself?

Today, a vivid reminder from the Supreme Court that choosing wrong just might make you the wrong kinda famous.

The heart of it (record cites omitted, eviscerating alteration in original):

Horwitz and Butts, as they have subsequently acknowledged, failed to meet with Christeson until more than six weeks after his petition was due. There is no evidence that they communicated with their client at all during this time. They finally filed the petition on August 5, 2005—117 days too late. They have since claimed that their failure to meet with their client and timely file his habeas petition resulted from a simple miscalculation of the AEDPA limitations period (and in defending themselves, they may have disclosed privileged client communications). But a legal ethics expert, reviewing counsel’s handling of Christeson’s habeas petition, stated in a report submitted to the District Court: “[I]f this was not abandonment, I am not sure what would be.”

* * *

[I]n their response to the District Court’s order to address the substitution motion, Horwitz and Butts characterized the potential arguments in favor of equitable tolling as “ludicrous,” and asserted that they had “a legal basis and rationale for the [erroneous] calculation of the filing date.”

Thirteen times the Supreme Court’s opinion identifies Horwitz and Butts by name. The case is Christeson v. Roper.

UPDATE: my original post was remiss in failing also to mention the heroes of the tale, New York attorney Joseph Perkovich and Philadelphia attorney Jennifer Merrigan. The opinion makes plain enough their extraordinary work for Christeson (more backstory in this Linda Greenhouse column in the New York Times), even without mentioning that their work was entirely pro bono. Perkovich and Merrigan: the right kinda of famous.

Alito on Becker

Chris Mondics has this article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer about Justice Alito’s appearance in Philadelphia today to accept an award honoring the late CA3 Chief Judge Edward Becker.

A highlight:

Becker, who authored more than 2,000 opinions during his time on the bench, produced
prodigious amounts of work, Alito recalled, sometimes attending his children’s soccer games
with a law clerk who would brief him on cases as he walked along the sidelines.


New opinions: First-Amendment retaliation and an admin appeal

Albert Flora was the part-time Chief Public Defender for Luzerne County, PA. His office was “plagued with problems as a result of years of insufficient funding.” When the county (his boss) refused to provide adequate funding, he brought a class-action lawsuit against it on behalf of his clients, which he won.

Meanwhile, Flora’s office also represented minors who were victims of the horrifying “Kids for Cash” scandal. The state supreme court had ordered those minors’ records expunged but Flora learned that they still had not been, 4 years later, so he notified the trial judge and others. This made the county manager angry– the notifying, not the failure to expunge.

The county decided to hire a full-time chief defender. They interviewed Flora but hired someone else, and Flora was relieved of his duties ahead of schedule. Flora sued under 1983, asserting the foregoing facts and alleging that he had been terminated in retaliation for pushing for funding and blowing the whistle on the expungement noncompliance, violating his First Amendment rights. The district court ruled that Flora’s actions were not protected by the First Amendment and dismissed.

Today, CA3 reversed, holding that the district court failed to accept Flora’s allegations as true and that Flora sufficiently alleged protected citizen speech.

The case is Flora v. County of Luzerne. Opinion by Jordan, joined by Rendell and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Mary Catherine Roper of ACLU-PA for Flora and Deborah Simon of Elliott Greenleaf for the county.


Today’s other opinion arises from an administrative law case. Here, a port authority fired a worker for excessive absenteeism related to an off-duty injury. An agency ruled that the firing violated a provision against disciplining employees for following a physician’s treatment plan. The port authority appealed, and today CA3 ruled in their favor, holding that the provision at issue only covered treatment for on-duty injuries.

The case is Port Authority v. Secretary. Opinion by Smith, joined by Hardiman and Barry. Arguing counsel were Megan Lee for the port authority and Steven Gardiner for the agency. Also arguing were Ronald Johnson of Jones Day for an amicus and Charles Goetsch for an intervenor.


“‘You’ve got to admit’ …. that a number of people in the United States ‘are very prejudiced against Muslims.'”

Michael Boren of the Philadelphia Inquirer has coverage here of yesterday’s oral argument in a case involving New York City’s surveillance of Muslims after 9/11. Audio of the argument is here.

The case is Hassan v. City of New York, and the panel is Ambro, Fuentes, and Roth. (The quote in the headline was of Judge Roth.)

News coverage of today’s Fattah-subpoena argument

It appears I was correct that “John Smith” is Congressman Chaka Fattah.

The Third Circuit heard argument today In the Matter of Search of Electronic Communications (Both Sent and Received) In the Account of John Smith At Internet Service Provider Google Inc., and Mark Fazlollah and Jonathan Tamari of the Philadelphia Inquirer report here that it was clear from the argument that the email at issue was Congressman Fattah’s.

The court has not yet posted audio of the argument.

Update: audio of the argument is here.

New opinion: Locomotive Inspection Act preemption

Finally, the Locomotive Inspection Act case we’ve all been dying for. Actually, it’s more a preemption case, and tricky enough to divide the panel. The majority ruled that the LIA did not preempt the state law claims, reversing.

The case is Delaware & Hudson Railway v. Knoedler Manufacturers. Opinion by Jordan, joined by Fisher. Dissent by Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Gregory Longworth for appellants and Matthew Planey for appellee.

More CA3 staff attorney hiring

Back in September, I noted, the court advertised for two staff attorney positions to start in September 2015. This week, the court advertised additional openings, for 2 or more attorneys to fill current vacancies. As with the prior listings, these are one-year terms:  “limited number of term extensions may be available.” Salary is listed at $74,884 for attorneys with a year of experience. Closing date is January 19.

The notice is here.

New opinion: interlocutory criminal appeal dismissed on jurisdiction

The Third Circuit dismissed an interlocutory criminal appeal today. Even though the government and the co-defendants agreed that the court had jurisdiction, the court ruled otherwise.

Three co-defendants, including the chief of staff to a Philadelphia city councilman, were convicted of honest services fraud and other charges. In 2012, CA3 vacated the convictions under Skilling. On remand, the co-defendants argued that double jeopardy barred the prosecution from using certain evidence and that the limit on constructive amendment of indictments barred it from making certain arguments. When the district court disagreed, they appealed.

Today, CA3 dismissed the appeal. The defendants’ double-jeopardy arguments did not trigger the collateral-order exception to the final-judgment rule because the exclusion of evidence they sought would not require dismissal of any count in its entirety. The defendant’s constructive-amendment arguments failed under Midland Asphalt. And because the co-defendants had not shown irreparable injury, the court also denied mandamus.

The case is US v. Wright. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Ambro and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Lisa Matthewson for the defendants and Jennifer Williams for the government. The co-defendants were represented by Ellen Brotman of Montgomery McCracken and Peter Goldberger, making this one of the more star-studded recent CA3 criminal appeals.

Monday secret-case oral argument — part of the Congressman Fattah case?

There’s a CA3 case that will be orally argued this Monday. Here’s the caption: In the Matter of Search of Electronic Communications (Both Sent and Received) In the Account of John Smith At Internet Service Provider Google Inc.

Interesting, right?

It gets more interesting upon a check of the PACER docket, which reveals:

  • the docket entries all are sealed;
  • Kerry Kircher, general counsel for the US House, will be arguing as counsel for amicus appellant identified as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House;
  • Google also is arguing as an amicus;
  • Robert Zauzmer, the EDPA USA’s top criminal appellate lawyer, is arguing for the government;
  • The other AUSAs on the docket are Paul Gray and Eric Gibson, and
  • John Smith is identified as an intervenor-appellant, and his retained counsel is listed on the docket as Luther Weaver III.

So, what’s going on here?

Maybe this Philadelphia Inquirer story from last March sheds light:

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who has been contending with a long-running federal investigation, told Congress this week that federal prosecutors in Philadelphia had subpoenaed “certain documents” from his congressional offices.

Following House rules that require such disclosure, the Philadelphia Democrat notified Speaker John A. Boehner of the subpoena in a letter dated Monday, saying that he believed some of the information prosecutors demanded was protected by congressional privilege and that he would fight to stop its release.

I intend to move to quash the subpoena to that extent,” Fattah wrote in the letter, published in Tuesday’s Congressional Record.

* * *

In the fall, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia subpoenaed records of city property taxes and utility bills for Fattah’s East Falls home. His lawyer, Luther E. Weaver 3d, said at the time that the property-tax subpoenas were part of an investigation that had begun about seven years ago.

* * *

Fattah, whose district includes much of Philadelphia and a portion of Montgomery County, said in his letter to Boehner (R., Ohio) that after consulting with House lawyers, he had concluded some of the subpoenaed records were “not material and relevant.”

And this news story gives more details on the Fattah case. It links to a guilty plea memo of Fattah’s reported longtime aide. The two AUSAs who signed the memo? Gray and Gibson.

So it looks to me like the Third Circuit is hearing argument Monday on Congressman Fattah’s interlocutory appeal from a ruling refusing the quash a subpoena of email, and the U.S. House and Google are standing with him.

The panel is Ambro, Fuentes, and Roth.

En banc error-correction

Regular readers know I’ve been critical of the Third Circuit for denying en banc rehearing of some recent panel decisions I thought wrong. The retroactivity ruling in Reyes was one: “Wrong, and okay with it,” I wrote. The appeal-waiver ruling in Erwin was another: “An ignominious ending to 2014,” said I.

So I read with interest this blog post by Professor Richard Re on Re’s Judicata, lucidly discussing whether correcting obvious panel errors is an appropriate use of en banc rehearing. My recent scolding of the court rested on my view that panel error correction (or at least big error correction) is a core en banc purpose. Re’s post shows why that ain’t necessarily so.

Here’s the nub:

The more interesting issue is whether Judge Thompson is correct that en banc is inappropriate when based on “disagree[ment] with the result reached by the original panel.” At first blush, Judge Thompson seems to be on solid ground. If mere disagreement were enough, that would indeed mean that “nearly every case would attract the full court’s attention.”

But what if a panel decision were obviously wrong–something, one hopes, that is fairly rare? That possibility isn’t ruled out by FRAP 35(a), which speaks only of what is ordinarily appropriate for en banc. Moreover, that approach would have pragmatic appeal. When a panel makes a tough call, the mere possibility or suspicion of error might not justify the costs of sorting through the merits via en banc review. Only major stakes or disuniformity could then provide the extra justification for en banc. But if a panel issued a decision that is wrong on its face, then why not just reverse it en banc? Writing the en banc opinion shouldn’t take too much effort, and the legal system would avoid the normal costs associated with bad precedent. So long as judges can reliably and quickly identify obvious errors, en banc review for obvious error would seem sensible.

If it makes sense to go en banc to correct obvious error, why doesn’t FRAP 35(a) say that? Perhaps because such a rule would introduce an unfortunate element of disrespect into the en banc process. It is unpleasant enough to write a panel decision that gets rejected en banc. It would be all the more unpleasant if a majority of your colleagues expressly do so because they think you really badly missed the boat. This kind of thing isn’t good for collegiality and might even deter courts from going en banc.

Although Re’s blog has been around since May, I only recently found it, thanks, invevitably, to How Appealing. Re is ludicrously accomplished–Harvard, Yale Law, Kavanaugh and Kennedy clerkships, DOJ Honors Program, a UCLA law professor who surely still gets carded when he orders a beer–and the quality of his posts is extraordinary. Here’s another gem for fellow CA3 nerds, discussing the recent en banc ruling in Katzin.


New opinions: the PLRA may be crazy, but it’s not *that crazy

The PLRA–the unfair federal law governing prisoner lawsuits–requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies before they can sue for violations of their civil rights, and it sets a statute of limitations. Is the limitations period tolled while prisoners exhaust? If not, then the prison could prevent court scrutiny of its own actions–could deny the prisoner his day in court, no matter how serious the claim–just by dragging its feet.

Sounds insane, but that’s what two WDPA federal judges held. Happily, today CA3 reversed. The court held that the PLRA statute of limitations is statutorily tolled while prisoners exhaust their administrative remedies. The court also reversed the lower court’s dismissal of other claims, holding that the prisoner’s allegations stated a valid claim.

The case is Pearson v. Secretary. Opinion by Sloviter, joined by McKee and Rendell. Arguing counsel were Jessica Collins of Kellogg Huber (an associate) for the prisoner and Kemal Mericili for the DOC. The panel thanked Kellogg Huber for their able pro bono representation.


Today’s second published reversal in favor of a prisoner plaintiff–did that ever happen in the pre-Orange Is The New Black era?–is a class-action case. The lead inmate alleged that the federal prison had a practice of assigning enemy inmates to the same cell, failing to intervene when inmate-on-inmate violence resulted, and punishing inmates who refused to cell with an enemy. The inmate sued and sought class certification and an injunction. The district court granted summary judgment to the prison, ruling that the suit failed to identify the class clearly enough (ascertainability).

Today, CA3 reversed. CA3 held that class ascertainability was not a prerequisite to class certification when the suit seeks only injunctive relief under FRCivP 23(b)(2). It also held that, to seek discovery in order to oppose summary judgment, a formal discovery motion is not required and an affidavit or declaration is sufficient.

I believe I’ve never read a more strongly worded reversal of a ruling made by a 91-year district judge. I mean, when the federal courthouse in Scranton is named for you, and your former law clerk sits on the appeals court, you’re probably hoping no one will say you “imposed extra requirements . . . that [you] then paradoxically ruled were fatal” and “It is difficult to understand why.” And you surely don’t expect them to say your ruling “undermined, rather than served, the purposes of Rule 23,” “was neither necessary nor appropriate,” and lacks “Common sense.” And this: “Here, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants without even”–even!–“considering the declaration that Shelton’s attorney filed . . . . This was an abuse of discretion.” Kapow.

The case is Shelton v. Bledsoe. Opinion by McKee, joined by Smith and Sloviter. Arguing counsel were Christine Levin of Dechert for the inmate and Michael Butler for the government.


In today’s third and final case–a civil case, also a reversal–the panel held that the district court misapplied state law when it dismissed the suit pursuant to an outdated version of New Jersey’s “idiosyncratic” entire-controversy doctrine.

The case is Ricketti v. Barry. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Smith and Barry. Arguing counsel were Bruce Crelin of Kern Augustine for the appellant and Robert Travisano of Epstein Becker for the appellees.

More on the Weev / Auernheimer case

Ho hum, just another news profile of a successful CA3 appellant: an article on Backchannel by Adam Penenberg about hacker activist Andrew Auernheimer, whose criminal conviction Orin Kerr persuaded the Third Circuit to vacate on venue grounds last year. My prior posts on the case here, here, and here.

The whole article is worth the read, but here’s the part discussing the appeal:

Even before sentencing, [trial defense counsel Tor] Ekeland had begun working on the appeal, lining up the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, a leading legal expert on computer crime. Kerr didn’t believe that Auernheimer (and Spitler, who pleaded guilty and received three years probation and the same 73 grand in restitution as weev) had committed unlawful access. He also questioned why the case warranted a felony conviction. They didn’t pilfer passwords or hack into any servers. They found a gaping security flaw in AT&T’s network. He disagreed with the restitution, which by law was supposed to cover AT&T’s losses, yet the company had never claimed any. Also joining Ekeland’s team were Hanni Fakhoury from Electronic Frontier Foundation; Marcia Hofmann, a former EFF staff attorney who had gone into private practice; and penning a brief in support was Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Without them, Ekeland says he could never have marshalled the resources and knowhow he needed to launch the appeal.

But it was Kerr who would argue the case before the court, which was fine by Ekeland. “When you have Mariano Rivera to come in and close your game, you don’t go out and fucking pitch yourself,” he says. They faced an uphill battle: only 8.7% of cases on the Third Circuit are reversed on appeal.

In addition to his objections with the CFAA, Kerr was disturbed by the government’s choice of venue — transporting Auernheimer from his Arkansas home to stand trial more than a thousand miles away from his family, friends and resources, adding tens of thousands of dollars to his trial expenses at a whim. A mere fraction of the email addresses he had scraped from the servers belonged to Jersey residents; the harm to the state was, at most, circumstantial.

* * *

On March 19, 2014, Ekeland was in Philadelphia to appear with Kerr and lawyers from EFF before the Third Circuit, which covers New Jersey and other Eastern states. The courtroom was packed, and a crowd watched on a monitor in the hallway. Security was tight. U.S. marshals brought a box of plastic handcuffs and some explosive-sniffing dogs. Kerr had just begun his remarks when one of the justices cut him off, telling him he wanted to discuss the issue of venue. The three justices wanted to know why the trial was held in New Jersey.

Ekeland couldn’t believe it. They were parroting lines from his own briefs from the trial, as well as Kerr’s. As the proceedings dragged on, it was clear they were hostile to the government’s arguments. One even reminded the government lawyer that venue is mentioned in two places in the United States Constitution.

It sure is, baby! Ekeland thought.

Afterward, as the room cleared of weev’s supporters, one of the judges joked, “We have other interesting cases today, you know.”

I can attest to the tight security at the argument. Besides what the article mentions, there also was a second metal-detector set up outside the courtroom–that’s the only time I’ve ever seen that.

H/T Howard Bashman at How Appealing.

New opinion: court affirms 2255 denial

In the court’s first published opinion of 2015, CA3 affirmed denial of relief in a 28 USC 2255 appeal. The claim at issue is ineffective assistance of counsel, which comes up a lot in post-conviction cases, but the facts are quirky enough that I don’t see this case having much impact.

Davenport pled guilty. A paragraph in his plea agreement listed points that the government and the defendant agreed to both recommend at sentencing. As originally drafted, one of those points was that the defendant possessed a gun, but during plea negotiations the parties struck the gun-possession stipulation. At sentencing, Davenport argued he did not possess a gun, and in response the government argued that he did. In his 2255, Davenport argued that counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the government breached the plea agreement, essentially arguing that striking the stipulation that he did possess a gun was tantamount to stipulating that he did not possess a gun.

The district court denied relief, and today CA3 affirmed, holding that the government did not breach the plea agreement so counsel was not ineffective for arguing otherwise. The court did note that it gives the benefit of any doubt about the terms of a plea agreement to the defendant, and that the government must adhere strictly to its terms. Logic nerds will thrill to see the court cite “the logical fallacy of the inverse–the incorrect assumption that if P implies Q, then not-P implies not-Q.”

The case is US v. Davenport. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Fisher and Jordan. Arguing counsel were AUSA Christian Fisanick for the government and K&L Gates partner Nicholas Ranjan for the petitioner. The court acknowledged Ranjan’s “excellent advocacy” as pro bono counsel.

Divided court denies en banc rehearing in Erwin appeal-waiver case

With four judges dissenting, the Third Circuit today denied en banc rehearing in United States v. Erwin, one of its most controversial decisions of 2014. Rendell, Ambro, Greenaway, and Vanaskie would have granted en banc rehearing. Erwin held that defendants who violate their plea deals can be resentenced without the deal.

I’ve posted about Erwin here, here, and here. The panel opinion is here.

An ignominious ending to 2014.

New opinion: medical director who supervised kickback payments properly received position-of-trust enhancement

A not-so-Happy New Years Eve for Dr. Ashokkumar Babaria, whose 46-month sentence the Third Circuit upheld today. Dr. Babaria was convicted of paying kickbacks to physicians in exchange for Medicare and Medicaid patient referrals. At sentencing, the district court imposed a two-level enhancement for abusing a position of trust. On appeal, the CA3 panel affirmed, holding that Dr. Babaria’s position as medical director and manager of a medical provider qualified as a position of trust under the Guidelines.

The case is United States v. Babaria. Opinion by Barry, joined by Smith and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Joseph Mancano for the defendant and Glenn Moramarco for the government.

Court (and blog) holiday-schedule info

The Court will be closed on December 26, the day after Christmas, in addition to being closed on the December 25 federal holiday. Filings otherwise due on the 26th now are due on the 29th. Also, litigants filing emergency motions requiring action before the 31st are instructed to leave detailed messages notifying the clerk. Court notice with details here.

Meanwhile, I plan to take a break from blogging until January 5. Will I be able to stay away?

Happy holidays to all.

New opinion: NFL concussion-suit opinion issued on class-certification jurisdiction

I’ve blogged about the NFL concussion suit appeal here and here and here and here because its a big case and the appellate counsel involved are celestial.

Back in September, CA3 entered an order denying an interlocutory petition by a group of retired players who objected to preliminary class-certification. Today, the divided panel issued its opinion explaining the basis for that denial.

The majority held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the petition because the district court’s class-certification ruling was labelled conditional. The dissent argued this holding will “result in inefficient (indeed, chaotic) piecemeal litigation,” and included an unusual nod to the majority author as “a well-regarded textualist.”

The case is In re: National Football League Players Concussion Injury Litigation. Majority opinion by Smith, joined by Jordan; folksy dissent by Ambro. Arguing counsel were Steven Molo of MoloLamken for the settlement objectors and Bruce Birenboim of Paul Weiss and Samuel Issacharoff for the settlement-proponents.

Alumni profile of CA3-nominee Restrepo

Tulane Law School last week published this positive profile of pending CA3-nominee Luis Restrepo, a Tulane-Law alum.

A highlight:

“Phil is a widely respected member of the Philadelphia legal community and a distinguished Tulane alumnus,” said Tulane University President Michael Fitts, who spent 14 years as law school dean at Penn. “He has developed an excellent reputation over the years, and he will be a great addition to the federal appellate bench. Phil is also just a warm and engaging guy.”

Media coverage of Restrepo’s nomination has been predictably sparse, so this brief profile was in interesting read.

New opinion: false-advertising injunction upheld

Today’s only published opinion is an affirmance in a Lanham Act false-advertising appeal.

CA3 today upheld a preliminary injunction barring a steam-iron seller from making false claims about its product. The product packaging claimed that the iron had “more powerful steam” than a competitor’s, and in fine print on the package it defined just what it meant by that phrase. But when it was sued, the company argued that, even if its iron wasn’t more powerful per its own fine-print definition, its “more powerful steam” claim still could be true because some consumers understood the phrase differently than the small-print definition on the package. The district court refused to consider this consumer-survey evidence, and the panel affirmed:

[W]e principally consider how courts should interpret an advertising claim when the packaging or label unambiguously defines a claim term. The District Court decided that the packaging’s definition of a claim term applies to the claim’s explicit message. Based on this decision, the District Court disregarded consumer survey evidence offering alternative meanings for the claim term. We agree with the District Court and find its approach firmly based in false advertising law and logic.

The case is Groupe SEB USA v. Euro-Pro Operating. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Roger Colaizzi of Venable for the seller and Gretchen Jankowski of Buchanan Ingersoll for the plaintiff.

New opinion: class-action-removal standards

A policyholder brought a class-action suit against an insurance company in state court, and the insurance company removed the case to federal court under CAFA. The policyholder moved to remand, and the district court granted the motion. Today, CA3 reversed in part in an opinion focused on the burdens of proof for class-action-removal jurisdiction. CA3 held that the district court erred by failing put on the remand-proponent the burden of proof on CAFA numerosity and erred in finding that numerosity was not satisfied. It held that the district court correctly found that that the remand-opponent failed to meet its burden of proof on amount-in-controversy, but left the door open for them to fix that on remand.

The case is Judon v. Travellers Property. Opinion by Smith, joined by Hardiman and Krause. Arguing counsel were Suzanne Tighe of Haggerty Goldberg for the policyholder and Joseph Kernen of DLA Piper for the insurance company.

New (precedential?) order: remanding for suppression findings

In an unusual little order, CA3 today remanded for the district court to state the factual basis for its order denyng suppression of the fruits of a search. Such findings, the panel explained, were required by Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(d).

The case strikes me as unusual because, while it posted on the court’s website on the page for  precedential opinions, it was titled a order rather than an opinion, the order itself was not labelled precedential, and it was signed by one judge and attested by the court clerk. I am uncertain whether future panels will consider it precedential. I’m also not clear how panels decide whether to issue and an order instead of an opinion. Certainly an order is more efficient here, but I’m not sure how this error was different from other lower-court errors the court corrects by opinion.

One other point that may or may not mean something. In a footnote, the panel observed that the defendant sought to appeal on other grounds but ruled that these grounds were waived by his guilty-plea appeal waiver. No mention of voiding the plea deal as the panel had done in Erwin, en banc rehearing granted.

All of which may perfectly routine and mean nothing. If anyone has more insight about any of that, comment away.

The case is United States v. Diaz-Hinirio. Shwartz signed the order, Chagares and Jordan also were on the panel.


New opinion: Dodd-Frank whistleblower suits not exempt from arbitration agreements

First, the galling facts alleged:

Appellant Boris Khazin is a financial services professional and former employee of Appellees TD Ameritrade, Inc. and Amerivest Investment Management Company (collectively with other Appellees, “TD”). When Khazin began working for TD, the parties executed an employment agreement in which they agreed to arbitrate all disputes arising out of Khazin’s employment.

At TD, Khazin was responsible for performing due diligence on financial products offered to TD customers. When he eventually discovered that one of TD’s products was priced in a manner that did not comply with the relevant securities regulations, he reported this violation to his supervisor, Lule Demmissie, and recommended changing the price to remedy the violation.

In response, Demmissie instructed Khazin to conduct an analysis of the “revenue impact” of his proposed change. The analysis revealed that although remedying the violation would save customers $2,000,000, it would cost TD $1,150,000 in revenues and negatively impact the balance sheet of one of Demmissie’s divisions. After reviewing these results, Demmissie allegedly told Khazin not to correct the problem and to stop sending her emails on the subject. When Khazin subsequently approached her to renew his initial recommendation, she again informed him that no change would be made.

Over the next few months, Demmissie and TD’s human resources department confronted Khazin about a purported billing irregularity that, according to him, was unrelated to his duties and turned out to be nonexistent. Nevertheless, Khazin was told that he could no longer be trusted, and his employment was terminated.

So, TD allegedly was breaking the law and costing their customers money, but they decided to keep breaking the law and costing their customers money, because complying with the law and saving their customers money would cost them some money. And then they allegedly trumped up a reason to fire the oversight officer who found the violation. And when the fired oversight officer sued, they fought to dismiss the suit to make him arbitrate instead.

Party like its 2008.

After Wall Street’s recklessness caused the greatest global financial catastrophe since the Great Depression, Congress enacted Dodd-Frank. One of the act’s purposes was to increase financial-industry transparency, and one of the ways it did that was by paring back arbitration clauses that keep whistleblowers out of court. If banks can fire whistleblowers and then prevent those fired whistleblowers from suing in court, the thinking went, then lawbreaking banks win and whistleblowers (and the rest of us) lose.

Specifically, Dodd-Frank contains a provision that voids arbitration agreements requiring arbitration of “a dispute arising under this section.” Today, CA3 held that “this section” refers only to the older Sarbanes-Oxley act, not Dodd-Frank itself, and affirmed dismissal of a fired whistleblower’s Dodd-Frank suit.

The case is Khazin v. TD Ameritrade. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Greenberg and Cowen. Arguing counsel were Keith Biebelberg for the fired whistleblower and Aaron Taishoff (an associate) for the whistleblower-firers.

New opinion: panel strikes down immigration regulations

On Friday, a CA3 panel struck down an immigration regulation as arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the APA, reversing the district court’s determination that the case was not ripe because the agency had not ruled on the issue yet.

The regulation at issue governs temporary work visas for unskilled workers, and the thrust of the challenge was that the regulation allowed companies to bring foreign workers into the country at artificially low wages. CA3 held that the case was ripe, even though the agency was reviewing the challenged rule, because the agency already is enforcing the rule. The court then reached the merits rather than remanding to give the district court the first crack.

The case is Comite De Apoyo A Los Trabajadores Agricolas v. Perez. Opinion by Greenberg, joined by Fuentes and Cowen. Arguing counsel were Edward Tuddenham for the challengers and Geoffrey Forney for the government.

I’m no administrative-law expert, but I suspect this interesting case is a decent candidate for cert even though the panel distinguished rather than disagreed with sister-circuit cases.

CA3 orders response to Erwin rehearing petition

CA3 just ordered the government to file a response to a petition for rehearing in one of the most closely-watched appeals of the year.

Back in August, a CA3 panel decided US v. Erwin, holding that criminal defendants who violate their appeal waivers void their plea deals. Panel opinion here. The widely read Sentencing Law & Policy blog posted about Erwin here and noted a new law review article discussing Erwin here.

I posted about Erwin here (my all-time second-most-viewed post) and here, observing:

[A]lmost a third of criminal defendants in CA3 are getting sentence reductions for cooperation, like Erwin did. The vast majority of these reductions are the product of plea deals, like Erwin’s was. Now, after Erwin, every one of those reductions is at risk . . . .

Last month, Erwin filed a petition for rehearing en banc. That petition was joined by an amicus for NACDL by David Fine and Peter Goldberger, which includes this striking passage (I’ve omitted the cites):

[T]here are certainly cases in which a defendant might reasonably question whether his plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily or whether an express or implied exception to the waiver might allow him an appeal. But the Panel Opinion makes no distinction between plainly baseless appeals and close-but-ultimately-unsuccessful appeals. As a result, the Panel’s precedent may well cause all but the most risk-insensitive defendants to forego appeals even when they may have valid claims.

Some might see that deterrent effect as beneficial, but there is a reason the Court recognizes that waivers must be entered into knowingly and voluntarily and, even in the strictest appellate waivers, that there must be an implicit exception for miscarriages of justice. Unlike most civil contract actions, cases involving plea agreements implicate constitutional rights and, usually, one party’s liberty. Given the interests at stake, the Court should be sure that any remedy for a breach of an appellate waiver does no more than necessary to restore the parties’ expectation interests in the specific case before the Court lest a punitive remedy chill other, later litigants who might have strong – but not ultimately prevailing – claims that their waivers should not be given effect.

Today, Judge Chagares, on behalf of the en banc court, ordered the government to file a response. Stay tuned.

New opinion: former passengers lack standing to challenge vehicle search

It is well-settled that owners of cars, but not mere passengers, have standing to object to police searches of vehicles. But what about former passengers? Here, a defendant was a former passenger — he had ridden in the getaway car before it was abandoned at a dead end — and he asked the court to rule that former passengers have standing to challenge a vehicle search because (for reasons not apparent from the opinion) they have a stronger privacy interest in the contents of a car than current passengers do. CA3 described that as “a somewhat creative argument,” but rejected it and affirmed.

The case is US v. Burnett. Opinion by Greenberg, joined by Fuentes and Cowen. The case was decided without oral argument.

The opinion begins with this offbeat observation:

A well-informed criminal concerned about having standing to challenge a search of his escape vehicle if he is apprehended after a robbery would recognize that even though the owner of the vehicle may claim a privacy interest in the vehicle and its contents, a passenger or former passenger of the vehicle faces an uphill battle if he attempts to establish that he has standing to move to suppress evidence found in the vehicle during the search.


Scotus argument today in CA3’s Facebook-threats case

The Supreme Court held argument today in a case from the Third Circuit. The case is Elonis v. United States, and the central issue is the standard for criminal liability for online threats.

Today’s argument transcript is here. My post on the Elonis cert grant is here. Some early coverage of the argument by Lyle Denniston on Scotusblog is here, Brett Kendall in the Wall Street Journal is here, and Richard Wolff in USA Today is here. Wolff predicted:

it seemed the most likely outcome would be to send the case back for a second trial, with instructions that jurors prove the despondent author either knew his words could cause fear or was reckless in posting them repeatedly.

Having recently been reversed both in Bond and in Carman, CA3’s Scotus cold streak may continue.

En banc rehearing granted on Alleyne harmlessness

The Third Circuit today granted en banc rehearing in US v. Jermel Lewis, a September split-panel decision in which the majority held that failure to submit to a jury facts increasing a mandatory-minimum sentence was harmless error. Fisher wrote the panel majority opinion, joined by Chagares, and Rendell wrote the panel dissent. Rehearing is set for February 19.

Today’s order granting rehearing is here; the now-vacated panel opinion is here; my blog post on the panel opinion is here.

New opinion — whistleblower-suit win

When Arlene Ackerman still was superintendent of Philadelphia’s school district–before she resigned in exchange for a payment from the desperately cash-strapped district of almost $1 million, and before she then filed for unemployment benefits–she allegedly broke the rules by awarding a no-bid contract for school security cameras. A district administrator alerted the local news, the FBI, and state officials–and then he was fired. So he sued the district, Ackerman, and others under 1983 and Pennsylvania’s whistleblower law. The defendants sought dismissal based on qualified immunity, which the district court denied. Today, CA3 affirmed, holding that the defendants were not entitled to dismissal on qualified-immunity grounds. I’m not a First Amendment qualified-immunity expert, but this looks to me like a significant case for its embrace of a robust role for whistleblowers.

The case is Dougherty v. School District of Philadelphia. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Blank Rome associate Will Rosenzweig for the school district and solo star Lisa Mathewson for the whistleblower.

New opinion — a win for White Chocolate

When I’m prosecuted, I really hope the prosecutor lards the case caption with an incriminating-sounding a/k/a for me. (= ‘also known as’).  “USA v. Matthew Stiegler a/k/a Puppy-Squisher” or something. Some prosecutors can’t resist putting them in the caption, I guess they think they show what a bad guy the defendant is. But I suspect what judges really see is a red flag of prosecutorial overreaching.

Which brings us to today’s case, US v. Dwayne Thompson a/k/a White Chocolate a/k/a D. Mr. Chocolate was a cocaine supplier convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and money laundering and sentenced to 292 months. The district court denied suppression of the fruits of a vehicle search and a confession he gave before he was presented to a magistrate judge for arraignment. Today, CA3 affirmed on the fruits but reversed and remanded on the statement. It held that Chocolate’s McNabb-Mallory right to prompt presentment was violated because most of the delay in arraigning him was due to the government’s effort to get him to cooperate.

Opinion by Greenaway, joined by McKee and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Sarah Gannett of the EDPA FD for Mr. Chocolate and WDPA AUSA Michael Ivory for the government.

New opinion — federal-question jurisdiction reversal

This appeal turns on federal-question jurisdiction. The plaintiffs challenged certain short sales of stock in state court, and the defendants removed to federal court. The district court denied the plaintiffs’ request to remand. Today, CA3 held that there was no federal-question jurisdiction and reversed. Along the way, the court split with the 9th Circuit on the question of whether an exclusive-jurisdiction provision itself conferred jurisdiction.

The case is Manning v. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith. Opinion by Smith, joined by Vanaskie and Sloviter. The case was decided without oral argument. This is a notable David-over-Goliath appeal win. The defendants were represented on appeal by a slew of household-name firms, while the plaintiffs were represented by a solo practitioner whose website is just terrible.

CA3 gets a Scotus smackdown on qualified immunity

Back in May, CA3 reversed and remanded in a civil-rights case arising out of a police property entry. The panel held that the “knock and talk” exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because the police officers had gone directly to the defendant’s back door, and, further, that this rule was clearly established such that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity from suit. The case was Carman v. Carroll, CA3 opinion here, my summary here.

Today, the not-a-mere-error-correction-Court-except-when-we-are Supreme Court summarily reversed on qualified-immunity grounds in a unanimous per curiam opinion. The Court “assum[ed] for the sake of argument that controlling circuit precedent could constitute clearly established federal law” for qualified immunity purposes, but held that the case relied upon by CA3 was insufficient to clearly establish. In a line that’s no doubt causing a little squirming today in my favorite circuit, the opinion says “The Third Circuit’s decision is even more perplexing” in light of cases from other circuits and states that came out differently on the 4th Amendment issue.

The Court today expressly did not reach the 4th Amendment issue of whether an officer can start a knock-and-talk at the back door.

Thanks to Peter Goldberger for bringing today’s ruling to my attention.

New opinion: criminal affirmance

One opinion today, an affirmance in a criminal appeal from a child-porn conviction. Issues on appeal included whether a search warrant’s failure to identify the items sought requires exclusion of the fruits of the search.

The case is US v. Franz. Opinion by Jordan, joined by Fisher and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Richard Hark for the defendant and Alicia Freind for the government.


New opinion — immigration affirmance

Not a single published opinion last week, the first time that’s happened since I started my blog. Kinda sad.

But we finally get one today. It’s an immigration appeal, rejecting the petitioner’s argument that so-called stop-time rule poses a new disability on his past conduct.

The case is Guzman v. AG. Opinion by Rendell, joined by Greenaway and Krause (is this her first published join?). Arguing counsel were David Katona for the petitioner and Tim Ramnitz for the government.

New opinion — Jim Thorpe will stay buried in Jim Thorpe

Ellie 834

Tourist train in the station, Jim Thorpe, PA. Photo by me.

Jim Thorpe was an extraordinary athlete. Jim Thorpe is a lovely borough in Carbon County, PA. The athlete is buried in the town. Wikipedia explains how it happened:

Following the 1953 death of renowned athlete and Olympic medal winner Jim Thorpe, Thorpe’s widow and third wife, Patricia, was angry when the government of Oklahoma would not erect a memorial to honor him. When she heard that the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were desperately seeking to attract business, she made a deal with civic officials. According to Jim Thorpe’s son, Jack, Patricia was motivated by money in seeking the deal. The boroughs merged, renamed the new municipality in Jim Thorpe’s honor, obtained the athlete’s remains from his wife and erected a monument to the Oklahoma native, who began his sports career 100 miles (161 kilometres) southwest, as a student at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

If it’s odd to imagine selling your ex’s remains because you need the cash, it’s even odder to imagine renaming your town after a famous guy who never set foot there as a business-recruitment scheme.

Anyway, odd and odder became a federal case when some members of Thorpe’s family sued the borough seeking return of his remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires museums to return Native Americans remains upon request by their descendants or tribe. The district court ruled in the plaintiff family members’ favor, but today CA3 reversed, holding that the Act does not apply because the borough is not a museum.

The case is Jack Thorpe v. Borough of Jim Thorpe. Opinion by McKee, joined by Chagares and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were William Schwab for the appellants, Christopher Fusco for cross-appellees, Stephen Ward for the appellees, and Daniel Wheeler for amicus curiae.

A closer look at Bashman’s winning brief

One of my main reasons for starting this blog was to spotlight high-quality appellate advocacy. My motives are both selfish (I improve my own skills by learning from the best, and I learn by writing about it) and not (bringing attention to top-shelf appellate lawyering helps raise the standard of CA3 practice overall). My posts about appellate advocacy have been among my all-time most-read posts: this look at Orin Kerr’s oral argument in the Weev appeal and this post on the power of clear writing, to name two.

Today I want to take a closer look at Howard Bashman’s opening brief in Schmidt v. Skolas, a CA3 appeal he won last week (link to the brief in PDF here, CA3 opinion here). Schmidt arose as a shareholder suit against a drug company alleging below-market sale of assets. The district court dismissed the suit as untimely, and Bashman entered the case on appeal.

Four things stand out that Bashman nailed:

Focus. The best thing this brief does — and the hardest — is pare the appeal down to its core. Bashman chooses one, limited issue: premature statute-of-limitations dismissal. He refuses to clutter his brief and weaken his position by swatting at all the alternative grounds for affirmance; I’m sure he knew they were coming, but he correctly judged that the panel would decline to reach them. He cites his key case in the argument summary’s first sentence. He comes in at 7,560 words, just over half the limit. This brief isn’t a slap-fight, it’s a knockout punch.

Clean writing. Bashman writes not to impress, but to persuade. The sentences are clear on the first reading. Here’s an example from the argument summary. The first sentence explains that suits may be dismissed under 12(b)(6) on statute-of-limitations grounds only in the rarest of cases. Second sentence:

The district court thought that this was such a case, but the district court was wrong — not only on substance, when rejecting plaintiff’s proper invocation of the discovery rule, but also procedurally in relying on materials outside of plaintiff’s amended complaint to hold all claims time-barred.

The single-syllable words in the opening clause are strong and clear. The parts that are hardest to understand are in the second half of the sentence, where the reader can digest them more easily, and they are prefaced with quick summarizing transitions (“not only on substance,” “but also procedurally”).

Clarity like that is no accident. Here’s how a less careful writer might say the same thing:

Because the district court in this case improperly rejected plaintiff’s invocation of the discovery rule, and because it also relied on materials outside of plaintiff’s amended complaint to hold all claims time-barred, this was not one of the extraordinary cases where dismissal at the 12(b)(6) stage was warranted, and the district court’s ruling to the contrary plainly was substantive and procedural error requiring reversal.

Clarity is power.

Confident citing. Bashman writes with authority because he leans less on authority. Lesser advocates fill their briefs with quotes and end every sentence with a citation or three. Bashman hammers the key cases, but his arguments are his own.

Consider his substantive, discovery-rule argument. The first 7 pages contain only 3 case cites.  Eight of the first 11 paragraphs are cite-free. Block quotes, record quotes, or footnotes? Zero. That’s radically different from most briefs. I’ve written love notes with more F.3d cites.

Good typography. Bashman didn’t just build a strong house, he gave it a nice coat of paint, too. His brief looks professional because he avoids the most common typography errors: over-capitalization, underlining, two spaces between sentences, boring Times New Roman font. He even gets picky stuff right like using en-dashes instead of hyphens for page ranges. Looks to me like he’s read Butterick.

Yesterday I asked which has a bigger impact on winning, good lawyers or good issues. Reversal in Schmidt was no sure thing, and in lesser hands the outcome may well have been different.

Update:  here is a link to the opening brief:  Schmidt opening brief. And here is Bashman’s reply brief: Schmidt reply.

New opinion: Bashman wins another

Another Howard Bashman win last week, this one on statute-of-limitation grounds. I’m going to post on the case more shortly.

The case is Schmidt v. Skolas. Opinion by Sloviter, joined by Greenaway. Dissent by Rendell. Arguing counsel were Bashman for the appellant and , for the appellees: Michael Kichline of Dechert, Michael Blanchard, Jeffrey Weil of Cozen O’Connor, and John Ryan.

A remarkable 2255 reversal, plus a False Claims affirmance

Which is a better predictor of victory on appeal, a good issue or a good lawyer? Here’s my ludicrous proposal for an experiment to test that. Start with 100 lawyers and 100 cases. Have each of the 100 lawyers do all 100 appeals. Then you have data on which lawyers won more often (better lawyers) and on which cases won more often (stronger cases). Which would have better shot to win, the 50th-best lawyer with the 10th-strongest case, or the 10th-best lawyer with the 50th-strongest case? I bet most judges think the strength of the issue has more of an impact on who wins, but my own hunch is that the quality of the lawyer matters more.

Such navel-gazing is inspired by today’s fascinating reversal in US v. Dung Bui. Mr. Bui pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute drugs. Apparently the reason he chose to plead guilty was that his lawyer told him that a guilty plea would let him avoid a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence per the “safety valve.” But, in fact, he never was eligible for the safety valve, so he got the mandatory minimum. Bui filed a motion under 28 USC 2255 (the federal-conviction equivalent of habeas corpus) arguing that his lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel by incompetently advising him to plead guilty. He lost in district court, pro se like almost all 2255 litigants, and then appealed. CA3 granted a certificate of appealability (meaning they ruled that the issue was debatable among jurists of reason and therefore the appeal was allowed to proceed), and they appointed a lawyer to do the appeal. And that’s where it gets interesting.

The appointed lawyer (not an appellate specialist, judging from his website*) reviewed the case and decided that the issue was frivolous. So instead of filing a brief, he filed an Anders brief and asked the court to let him withdraw. The court granted his motion to withdraw, but then it did something remarkable: it appointed new counsel to replace him. Those new counsel were Brett Sweitzer and Maria Pulzetti, Assistant Federal Defenders in the E.D.Pa. Federal Community Defender’s appeals unit. They are two of the ablest appellate lawyers I know.

The upshot: far from agreeing that Bui’s issue was frivolous, today a unanimous panel granted relief on his plea-stage-IAC claim and reversed. The main legal issue was whether the district court was right that the plea colloquy cured counsel’s mistaken advice — it did not here, as it would in “the majority of guilty plea cases,” because the judge never said Bui would be ineligible for the safety valve and some of his statements about sentencing discretion were confusing given the mandatory minimum.

(And, to add another wrinkle to the do-lawyers-matter question, Bui had a co-defendant who lost on “the same issues” in an unpublished opinion by a different — and more conservative — panel 3 weeks ago, here. That panel denied on prejudice grounds, relying on the plea and colloquy.*)

The case is US v. Bui. Opinion by Greenaway, joined by McKee and Fuentes. The case was decided without oral argument.

In today’s other published opinion, the court upheld the dismissal of a qui tam suit under the False Claims Act on the ground that the claimant lacked the direct and independent knowledge required to establish subject-matter jurisdiction.

The case is US ex rel. Schumann v. Astrazeneca Pharm. Opinion by Roth, joined by Greenaway and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Paul Honigsberg for the claimant and Mark Haddad and Catherine Stetson for the appellees.

* To be clear, I’m not familiar with either Bui’s original appeal lawyer or Pham’s lawyer, and apart from reading the Anders brief and skimming Pham’s opening brief, I know nothing about the quality of their work. Nothing here is intended as a comment on either’s ability or performance in this case.

Wrong, and okay with it.


Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895 (Wikimedia Commons)

Four months ago, a CA3 panel issued  a published opinion with a gross legal error. I posted about it when it was issued, here. It was a surprising blunder, but judges are busy and the mistake wasn’t easy to catch just by reading the opinion. Mistakes happen, and they can be fixed. So, even though it had won the appeal, the E.D.Pa. US Attorney’s office promptly moved to amend the opinion to correct the error. On Friday, three and a half months later, the panel finally ruled on the government’s motion to amend.


Denied? Huh. On what grounds? you ask. Well, here is the explanation provided by the panel, see if you can follow the legal reasoning:

The foregoing motion is denied.

It is signed by the author of the original opinion, Judge Nygaard, on behalf of the original panel, Chief Judge McKee and Judge Chagares.

Not a proud day for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.


New opinions — reversal of civil-rights dismissal and an amended opinion

CA3 issued a remarkable reversal today in an appeal from dismissal of a 1983 suit. It all started when Lagano, a mob informant, was murdered. Apparently the mob found out he was informing and killed him. Lagano’s estate sued the local prosecutor’s office and the chief detective, alleging that they leaked Lagano’s informant-status to the mob. The 3-count suit was brought under both 1983 and NJ law. The district judge (a Clinton appointee and a Spottswood Robinson clerk) dismissed the entire suit, on several grounds: 1983 personhood, Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, qualified immunity, and statute of limitations.

Suffice to day CA3 did not see things the way the district court did. It reversed on personhood (on two independent grounds) and sovereign immunity and qualified immunity. But it did affirm on statute of limitations (which applied only to 1 of the 3 counts).

The case is Estate of Lagano v. Bergen Co. Prosecutor’s Office. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Chagares and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were David Ragonese (he’s since become a state judge) for the estate and Brian Flanagan for the prosecutor’s office and investigator.

Today’s other opinion was an amended opinion in a notable prisoner-rights case originally decided in August. The case is Montanez v. Secretary, my post on the original opinion is here. At a glance, the result appears unchanged. I’ll update this post if I figure out what’s different.

New opinions: Bashman wins, plus an arbitration case

Howard Bashman’s appellate blog How Appealing is essential reading for federal appellate junkies everywhere. And he’s a highly respected appellate advocate in his own right. So when he argues a CA3 case, and he’s opposed by another top-shelf appellate specialist, it deserves a little extra attention. Even if the legal issues in the appeal are a trifle dry.

Bashman represents a plaintiff born with a birth defect and her mother. The plaintiffs alleging that GlaxoSmithKline drug Paxil caused the defect and sued them in PA state court. GSK removed to the case to federal court, and the district court remanded to state court because it found that GSK was a citizen of PA. Then CA3 then held in another case that GSK is a citizen of DE, so GSK removed to federal court a second time, and this time the district court denied removal but certified the issue for interlocutory appeal. The issue in the case was whether the second removal was timely under 28 USC 1446. Ruling for Bashman’s clients, CA3 today reversed.

The case is A.S. v. Smithkline Beecham. Opinion by Shwartz, joined by Smith and Roth. Arguing counsel were Howard Bashman for the plaintiffs and Lisa Blatt of Arnold & Porter for GSK. The argument was less than a month ago, audio is here.

In today’s other published case, CA3 reversed a district court opinion that had enforced an arbitration clause against a non-signatory to the agreement based on equitable estoppel.

The case is Flintkote Co. v. Aviva. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Smith and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Fred Alvarez for the appellant and Louis Chiafullo for the appellee.



New opinion–plain error to sentence without offering allocution

CA3 today held that a district court committed plain error when it failed to offer the defendant an opportunity to make an allocution prior to being sentenced for violating a term of supervised release. The court rejected the government’s argument that the error was not prejudicial because the parties had agreed to the sentence.

The case is United States v. Paladino. Opinion by Greenaway, joined by Fuentes and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Sarah Gannett for the defendant and Michael Ivory for the government.

New opinion–en banc ruling in the car GPS search case

In a major 4th Amendment ruling, a sharply divided en banc court today held that evidence gained through warrantless installation of a GPS on a car was admissible under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

The case is US v. Katzin. Opinion by Van Antwerpen, joined by Rendell, Fisher, Chagares, Jordan, Hardiman, Vanaskie, and Shwartz. Main dissent by Greenaway, joined by McKee, Ambro, Fuentes, and Smith; Smith also wrote a brief dissent that the other dissenters all joined. Arguing counsel were Catherine Crump of ACLU for Katzin and amici, and Robert Zauzmer for the government.



New opinions — eminent domain, bankruptcy, and ERISA

After a fairly quiet CA3-opinion week, three today.

First up, a divided panel today reversed in an eminent-domain appeal. Here’s majority’s introduction:

The issue before us is straightforward: does Columbia
Gas Transmission, LLC (“Columbia”), have the right of
eminent domain to obtain easements over the land  of
objecting landowners, outside of the existing right of way, in
order to replace deteriorating pipeline? The answer is equally
straightforward and clear: yes.

And the dissent’s:

The  Majority  interprets  the  pertinent  regulations  to
unambiguously  allow  private gas companies to  replace  a
pipeline anywhere, on anybody’s  property, without any type
of formal administrative review.    In  deciding  that  the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”)  has  extended such
a broad  grant  of the sovereign power of eminent domain  to
private companies, the Majority  relies on  a definition  of
“replacement”  not  provided  in the  text  of the  regulations  but
supplied by  Columbia,  even though  it is at odds with what
Columbia admits is the common understanding  of what
constitutes  a “replacement” and despite the fact that  FERC
had never  adopted  that definition  until,  in the middle of an
unrelated  rulemaking,  the agency  crafted a footnote  in
reaction to  the District Court’s decision in this case.  In my
view, the Majority’s  limitless  reading of the regulations is
deeply problematic and renders them  constitutionally suspect.
To avoid  logical difficulties within  the regulations, as well as
to avoid  constitutional concerns,  some sort of locational
limitation  must  serve as  a constraint on  pipeline replacement
outside of an original right-of-way.

The case is Columbia Gas v. 1.01 Acres. Opinion by Rendell joined by Chagares, dissent by Jordan. Arguing counsel were John Wilburn of McGuire Woods for the gas company and Joshua Autry of Lavery Faherty Patterson for the landowners.

Next up is a bankruptcy reversal. At issue is a dispute (arcane, to my non-expert eyes) involving the adequacy of a trustee’s effort to recover of fraudulently transferred property.

The case is In re Allen. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Scirica and Cowen. Arguing counsel were Jason Baruch for the appellant and Daniel Allen for himself, pro se, which is a real rarity.

Today’s final case is an ERISA appeal in which the court affirmed, holding that an investment company that allegedly charged excessive fees was not a fiduciary to 401(k) participants.

The case is Santomenno v. John Hancock. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Van Antwerpen and Tashima CA9 by designation. Arguing counsel were Stephen Skillman of Szaferman Lakind for the investors, James Fleckner for the company, and Radha Vishnuvajjala for the US Department of Labor as amicus.


CA3 practitioner Berry guest-blogging this week at Volokh Conspiracy

Michael Berry, a media-law expert and partner at LSKS in Philadelphia, is guest-blogging on drone law this week at Volokh Conspiracy. First post here, intro post here. Berry is admitted in CA3 and was prevailing counsel in this CA3 published case.

Mike was my law review editor. To this day, I think of him every time I double-check whether I’ve italicized the period in id. Despite that, I’m happy to see him doing so well.

New opinion — non-resident citizen diversity status

CA3 today affirmed dismissal of a civil suit for lack of diversity jurisdiction. The suit arose from a mishap on an airplane: a man standing in the aisle waiting for the bathroom fell on another passenger and broke her arm. She invoked diversity jurisdiction to sue him in federal court. She lived in Ohio; he was a US citizen born in PA but now living in Germany. The district court dismissed, finding that he was domiciled in Germany and holding that he was stateless for diversity-jurisdiction purposes. CA3 affirmed, holding that a US citizen domiciled in another country cannot sue or be sued in diversity but finding this conclusion “troubling.”

The case is Freidrich v. Davis. Opinion by Sloviter, joined by Rendell and Greenaway. The case was submitted 10 days ago without oral argument.

Sentencing advice from Chief Judge McKee

I’m attending the US Sentencing Commission annual seminar now under way in Philadelphia.​ One of the panels yesterday was A View from the Appellate Bench, featuring CA3 Chief Judge McKee.

Notable among the points made by Chief Judge McKee:

  • He encouraged defense counsel to get the defendant to communicate his humanity. Putting a real human face on the defendant is helpful and necessary for sentencing.
  • He almost never looks at the pre-sentence report when deciding a sentencing appeal. CA11 Judge Pryor said in his experience former district court judges tended to look at PSRs while those without prior district court service tended not to. So don’t write your brief assuming all your judges will also read the PSR.
  • He observed that, even though CA3 is not one of the circuits that formally presumes a within-Guidelines sentence is reasonable, in the end it probably comes out that way. He could not recall a within-Guidelines sentence CA3 ever found substantively unreasonable.
  • He strongly believes in 18 USC 3353’s parsimony principle (“a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary“), although he observed it is very difficult to apply. CA11 Judge Pryor, perhaps less of a strong believer in sentencing parsimony, had a chuckle over his own comment that it should be called the Goldilocks principle instead.
  • He reiterated his view that PA’s sentencing framework is far superior to the federal sentencing guidelines.
  • He feels it would be helpful to the circuit judges if sentencing judges explained what it is they were trying to achieve. He gave an example of a judge who imposed an above-Guidelines sentence and explained that his reason was to incapacitate the defendant as long as possible, and that was helpful to him in assessing that sentence’s reasonableness.
  • He agreed with fellow panelist CA6 Judge Gibbons that judges should not refer to defendants by their first names. He commented that someone who does that shouldn’t be a judge.
  • Also of note, Judge Gibbons reminded defense counsel of the importance of candor, noting that when you tell the court half the story and the court finds out the full story, that won’t be helpful to your client. She also decried the epidemic of plain-error issues on appeal caused by failing to object below.

New opinion — another removal reversal

Today CA3 reversed a removal order because it held that PA’s reckless-endangerment statute is not categorically a crime involving moral turpitude. This follows the court’s similar reversal earlier this month in Hernandez-Cruz, which involved PA’s child-endangerment statute, although today’s opinion does not cite it. The opinion joins other circuits declining to apply Chevron deference to unpublished, single-member BIA decisions.

The case is Mahn v. AG. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by McKee and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Wayne Sachs for the petitioner and Andrew Insenga for the AG.

Housekeeping note

I am attending the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Annual National Seminar the rest of this week, so I’ll be delayed in posting new opinions the next couple days.

Among the presenters will be Chief Judge McKee and 2014-CA3-conference-presenter Judge Gleeson EDNY. I’m hoping to see other CA3 practitioners there too.

New opinion — issue preclusion through prior state-court litigation

Today’s only published opinion arises from a utility-rate dispute. A state utility commission ruled that certain utility costs could not be passed along to customers, and the companies’ challenge to that ruling failed in state court and Scotus denied cert. The companies then sued the commission in federal court, effectively seeking to set aside the state result. The district court dismissed, and today a divided CA3 panel affirmed, holding that the companies claims did not survive issue preclusion.

The case is Metropolitan Edison Co. v. Pa. Public Utility Commission. Opinion by Jordan, joined by Ambro. Dissent by Roth, who argued that state-court application of federal agency rulings should be subject to collateral attack in federal court. Arguing counsel were John Shepherd of Skadden Arps for the companies and Aspassia Staevska for the commission.

New opinions — 2 criminal-sentencing reversals

Two opinions today, both remanding for resentencing.

First up is a defendant win from a divided panel. In the underlying case, a former local police chief pled guilty to corruption was sentenced to over 11 years. The issue that led to reversal was the district court’s application of a two-level enhancement for abuse of a position of trust.

The case is US v. Solomon. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Scirica and and in part by Roth. Roth dissented in part because she would have affirmed. Arguing counsel were Elisa Long of the FD for Solomon and Robert Eberhardt for the government.

Today’s other case is a government sentencing win. The defendant was convicted of selling drugs and sentenced to 220 months. Today, CA3 reversed because, in two technical ways, the district court incorrectly calculated the Guideline sentence.

The case is US v. Boney. Opinion by Smith, joined by Vanaskie and Sloviter. The case was decided without argument.

New opinions — IAC remand and a race-discrimination appeal loss

Two interesting opinions today.

First up is a rarity. Normally, claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) are not considered on direct appeal and must wait until habeas/2255. But today CA3 reached an IAC claim on appeal because the defendant might not be eligible for habeas because he is not in custody. The panel held that the defendant’s counsel was prejudiced by trial counsel’s failure to argue that a VI harassment statute violated the 1st Amendment, and it remanded for factfinding as to whether counsel’s performance was deficient. The remand is important because it reflects the court’s focus on counsel’s actual reasons. Significant case for habeas lawyers like me.

The case is Government v. Vanterpool. Opinion by Greenaway, joined by Rendell and Fuentes. Arguing counsel were Kyle Waldner for the defendant and Kimberley Salisbury for the government.

The day’s other case arises from suits brought by African American students against a wealthy suburban school district. A core allegation was that the district discriminated against African American students in deciding who is assigned to special education classes. The district court ruled for the district, and today a divided CA3 panel affirmed.

The case is Blunt v. Lower Merion School District. Opinion by Greenberg, joined by Ambro (except for one subsection); dissent by McKee (except for two subsections).

McKee’s 53-page dissent begins:

Today we hold that a group of African-American
parents and students have not produced  sufficient evidence to
have a jury decide if race is a factor in how African-American
students are assigned to special education classes in their
school district. My colleagues reach this result even though
the record contains numerous issues of disputed  fact that
would support plaintiffs’ claims if a jury resolved those
disputes in the plaintiffs’ favor.
The allegations here are not pretty. No one likes to
think that a school district, especially one with an outstanding
educational reputation, allows race to be a factor in assigning
African-American students to special education classes.
However, there is sufficient evidence on this record to
establish that a trial is warranted to determine whether this
school district did exactly that. I therefore write separately to
express my strong disagreement with my colleagues’
conclusion that these plaintiffs cannot survive summary


New opinions — “gay-conversion” therapy-ban upheld, plus two others

The year is 2014, yet still there are licensed counselors keen to “convert” kids with same-sex attraction. So last year, New Jersey passed a law banning licensed counselors from engaging in gay-conversion therapy on patients under 18. Plaintiffs sued, arguing that the ban violated their and their patients’ free-speech and free-exercise rights. The district court ruled against them, and today CA3 affirmed.

In a long opinion, CA3 held that the ban does limit speech (seeming to split with CA9) but that it advances NJ’s substantial interest in protecting its citizens from harmful care. The court categorized the limited speech here as professional speech and held that professional speech gets the same protection as commercial speech (again splitting with other circuits). Finally, the court affirmed intervention, joining the circuit-split majority allowing intervention without standing. A cert petition seems certain (UPDATE: sure enough, counsel already has told AP they will seek cert, H/T How Appealing), and I wouldn’t bet the house against a grant.

The case is King v. Governor of NJ. Opinion by Smith, joined by Vanaskie and Sloviter. (Impressive to issue a major 74-page opinion two months after argument.) Arguing counsel were Mathew Staver for the would-be converters, Susan Scott for the state, and David Flugman of Kirkland & Ellis for the intervenor. I posted after the oral argument here (maybe my best-ever accompanying visual).

Today’s second case involves the much more mundane subject of utility rates. NJ enacted legislation to promote construction of new electric power plants. Today, CA3 held that federal law preempts NJ’s law. Former SG Paul Clement was among the many prominent counsel on the appeal.

The case is PPL Energyplus v. Solomon. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Shwartz and Rosenthal SDTX by designation. Arguing counsel were Richard Engel for the state, Clifton Elgarten and Richard Zuckerman for two intervenors, Clement for the appellees, and Clare Kindall and Robert Solomon for amici.

In today’s final case, CA3 upheld denial of class certification and summary judgment against a plaintiff. The case is Grandalski v. Quest Diagnostics. Opinion by Rendell, joined by Chagares and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Lisa Rodgriguez for the appellants and Robert Hochman for the appelles.

New opinion — divided panel finds Alleyne error harmless

Alleyne, a successor to Apprendi, held that facts increasing a mandatory-minimum sentence must be charged in the indictment and found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. That didn’t happen in Jermel Lewis’s case, but today CA3 affirmed his sentence. The panel majority rejected Lewis’s argument that the Alleyne error was structural and held that in this case it was harmless because the jury would have made the same findings the judge did.

The case is US v. Lewis. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Chagares. Dissent by Rendell. Arguing counsel were Paul Hetznecker for the Lewis and Robert Zauzmer for the government.

Rendell’s dissent includes this:

The look back to the trial record that the
majority performs perpetuates the very error deemed to be
reversible in Alleyne: judges substituting their view for the
jury verdict, and thereby imposing a sentence which violates
the Sixth Amendment. In so doing, today’s decision
impermissibly designates both the indictment and petit jury
verdict a “mere preliminary to a judicial inquisition into the
facts of the crime the State actually seeks to punish.” Blakely
v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 307 (2004) (emphasis in
The lesson of Alleyne is that juries, not judges, must
find the elements of  a crime that support the sentence
imposed. The majority’s harmlessness exercise completely
upends this principle, finding that judges can determine
statutory elements from the facts in a trial, and uphold a
sentence in direct conflict with the indictment and verdict.
For that reason, even under a harmless error standard, I would
vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing.

My Magic 8 Ball foretells a petition for en banc rehearing.

Update: Douglas Berman posts at Sentencing Law and Policy blog, here, that Judge Rendell’s dissent “suggests there is a lot more to the matter.”

Two oral arguments of interest tomorrow

Before my clerkship, I imagined that any circuit oral argument would a masterpiece of preparation and skill. I still remember the excitement and awe I felt before the first day of arguments.

I was quickly disabused.

But two CA3 oral arguments tomorrow figure to provide that caliber of advocacy.* In the morning, appellate specialist and How Appealing blogger Howard Bashman will argue against Arnold & Porter appellate luminary Lisa Blatt. The panel is Smith, Shwartz, and Roth. The case is Miller v. SmithKline Beecham, the briefs are here.  (And arguing the other case that morning will be Lisa Freeland, the head FPD of WDPa and a top advocate, although both sides are arguing by video).

In the afternoon will be the NFL concussion-suit argument I’ve blogged about here and here. Appearing will be Steven Molo of MoloLamken, Prof. Samuel Issacharoff of NYU Law, and Bruce Birenboim of Paul Weiss, national-profile advocates all. (Public Citizen’s motion for 5 minutes to argue as amicus was denied.) The panel is Ambro, Smith, and Jordan — Jordan replaced Krause after the argument was calendared.

* I’m sure there are other first-rate arguments this week too–I always appreciate a heads-up about CA3 cases to watch.

Appeals nerds rejoice!

Update: and here, from the other end of the oral-advocacy spectrum, is a post on Above the Law on a recent CA5 eyebrow-raiser. If you thought it might help your client to argue, “I think I know a little bit about federal court. Go ahead and tell me, though,” see how it turned out for this unfortunate fellow first.

New opinion — cross-examining defendant about post-arrest silence violated Fifth Amendment

A defendant charged with dealing cocaine testified in his own defense and offered innocent explanations for various incriminating facts. During cross-examination, the prosecutor asked why he had not come forward earlier with his exculpatory explanations. The district court overruled the defendant’s Fifth Amendment objection, but today CA3 reversed and ordered a new trial. The court deemed the prosecutor’s questions “textbook examples of a Fifth Amendment violation” and “obvious error.” The opinion also colorfully rejected various government arguments on appeal as “actually border[ing] on frivolous,” “badly strained,” and “frankly painful to watch.” Yikes.

The case is US v. Shannon. Opinion by Jordan–a former AUSA himself and one of CA3’s more conservative judges–joined by Rendell and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Paul Boas for the defendant and Donovan Cocas for the government.

New opinion — denial of qualified immunity affirmed

A big CA3 prisoner-rights win came down yesterday.

A Delaware jail inmate committed suicide after many prior attempts. His family sued the prison administrators, alleging that the suicide resulted from serious deficiencies in the medical care provided by the private vendor the prison hired. Among the sad and unsurprising facts that emerged in discovery:

In deposition testimony, Appellants [the prison officials] acknowledged that
they were aware of the deteriorating quality of FCM’s [the vendor’s]
provision of medical services. Williams admitted that FCM’s
performance had degraded significantly and that he was
aware FCM may not have been fulfilling its contractual
obligations. He was aware of significant
backlogs, that FCM may have been intentionally shortstaffing to save money, and that inmate complaints had increased. [Citations omitted]

The administrators asserted qualified immunity, but the district court disagreed. A divided CA3 panel yesterday affirmed and remanded for trial. The majority held that circuit precedent recognizing Eighth Amendment supervisory liability survived a recent Supreme Court case; the dissent disagreed on this point and others, with the two opinions vigorously engaging each other.

The case is Barkes v. First Correctional Medical. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Ambro. Hardiman dissented. Arguing counsel were Jeffrey Martin for the prisoner’s family and Catherine Damavandi of the DE DOJ for the prison officials.

Star commenter John commented here that he’d be shocked if the appellants don’t seek en banc review, and I agree, although without digging deeper I don’t have much insight on how they’ll fare.

Staff attorney hiring

CA3 today announced it plans to hire at least two staff attorneys to start next year. The announcement sheds some light on the key role staff attorneys play at the court:

Staff attorneys serve the court at large and are essential in furthering the disposition of matters before the Court. In the Third Circuit, the office has approximately twenty attorneys, plus a dedicated support staff. Staff attorneys work in a highly collegial work environment with experienced supervisory attorneys, career attorneys, attorneys with prior judicial clerkship or law firm experience, and recent law school graduates. The office has been a launching point for a wide range of careers nationwide, and many former staff attorneys have become leaders in public interest, private sector, and academic settings.
Primary staff attorney duties include:
•  Developing expertise in habeas corpus, immigration, civil rights and constitutional law,
appellate jurisdiction, and federal civil and criminal procedure;
•  Gaining familiarity with state and territorial laws of the Third Circuit;
•  Drafting memoranda, per curiam opinions, and orders for the judges;
•  Responding to questions from judges concerning individual cases, as needed; and
•  Managing assigned cases.

I had thought staff-attorney positions were all career positions, but no:

[CA3] anticpates hiring two or more staff attorneys to serve one-year terms, from September 2015 through September 2016. A limited number of two year term positions and term extensions may be available.

So some staff-attorney spots are structured like clerkships. Advertised pay for entry-level attorneys is $61,857. Would that it were more.


New opinions — trade-dress infringement and immigration

Two opinions today.

First, the court today affirmed dismissal of a Lanham Act trade-dress infringement and unjust enrichment suit but vacated the grant of attorney’s fees to the defendant because the district court requisite findings.

The case is Fair Wind Sailing v. Dempster. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Rendell and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Stefan Herpel for the appellant and Lisa Michelle Komives for the appellees.

Today’s other case involves a Mexican citizen who pled guilty in the U.S. to assault and child endangerment was ordered deported. CA3 today held that PA’s child-endangerment statute does not categorically implicate moral turpitude and remanded.

The case is Hernandez-Cruz v. AG. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Greenaway and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Jamie Jasso for the petitioner and Katherine Clark for the AG.

New opinion — criminal sentencing reversal

One doesn’t see many appellate wins for defendants repeatedly convicted of threatening to kill judges, but here’s one.

Last night CA3 issued a criminal-sentencing reversal involving application of the USSG 4B1.1(a) career-offender enhancement. The facts are a tangle, but the heart of it is that the panel held that the the Supreme Court decision in Descamps overruled prior circuit case law whereby, depending on the crime facts, some Pa. convictions for making terroristic threats could count as crimes of violence to trigger the enhancement.

The case is US v. Brown. Opinion by Ambro, joined by Barry and Restani Ct.Intl.Trade by designation. Arguing counsel were Thomas Patton for the defendant and Rebecca Ross Haywood for the government.

New opinions — 3 criminal appeals, including two government losses and a major 4th Amendment case

I posted separately about today’s 2 civil opinions here. Below are the 3 criminal opinions.

First up is a big Fourth Amendment win for criminal defendants. From the introduction:

In nearly all circumstances, we require police officers
to obtain a warrant  supported by probable cause  before
engaging in a search or seizure of a person, their house, their
papers, or their effects. One of the few exceptions to this rule
allows police to conduct a  warrantless search or seizure when
exigent circumstances require them to act with such alacrity
that  requiring  them to first obtain a warrant would be
unreasonable. The question at the heart of this case requires
us to determine  whether  an exigency has abated such that
officers are no longer excused from the warrant requirement.

And from the conclusion:

We do not mean to underplay the dangers that
police officers may face when pursuing a suspect into an
unfamiliar building. Nonetheless, once the  officers  had
secured the premises and apprehended  Mallory, the
exigencies of the moment abated and the warrant requirement
reattached. We therefore affirm the order of the District
Court granting Mallory’s motion to suppress.

My crystal ball tells me a petition for rehearing is a near-certainty. Stay tuned.

The case is US v. Mallory. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Fuentes and Stark D.Del. by designation. Arguing counsel were Brett Sweitzer for Mallory and Robert Zauzmer for the government.

The second case also is a defendant win, and it also was argued by Zauzmer (AUSA in charge of appeals in EDPA) — first time I’ve seen that. Anyway, the defendant here put computer images of child porn in a shared folder on a file-sharing network. The prosecution was unable to show that anyone ever accessed them, but the defendant was convicted of distributing child porn.  Today CA3 reversed, holding: “A conviction for distributing child pornography cannot be sustained without evidence that another person actually downloaded or obtained the images stored in the shared folder.”

The case was US v. Husmann. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Greenberg and Van Antwerpen EDIT: Van Antwerpen dissented. Arguing counsel were Theodore Forrence for the defendant and Zauzmer for the government.

The last case arises from the Hobbs-Act official-extortion convictions of Newark’s Deputy Mayor and his business associate. The defendants raised a host of issues on appeal, but CA3 affirmed.

The case is US v. Salahuddin. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Cowen and Tashima CA9 by designation. Arguing counsel were Thomas Ashley and Alan Zegas for the defendants and David Feder for the government.


New opinions — two civil reversals

A big day, 5 published opinions. I’ll summarize the 3 criminal opinions separately. Below are the two civil cases.

A Goldman Sachs vice president took a job with another company, and when he left he took some computer files with him. Criminal charges for taking the files are pending against the employee; this suit arises from his claim for indemnification and attorney’s fees from Goldman. The district court granted summary judgment for the employee; today, CA3 reversed, finding Goldman’s applicable by-laws ambiguous.

The case is Aleynikov v. Goldman Sachs. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Jones EDPa by designation; Fuentes dissented. Arguing counsel were Christopher Duffy of Boies Schiller for Goldman Sachs and Kevin Marino for the former employee.

Today’s other civil case is the latest appeal arising out of the elephantine asbestos class-action litigation. Decades ago, a talc manufacturer discovered its product contained asbestos, hid that fact, and so defended asbestos-injury suits for decades. When the truth came out, the old plaintiffs sued again: “the crux of their complaint is that BASF and Cahill defrauded them in their initial lawsuits and caused them to settle or dismiss claims that they would otherwise have pursued.” The district court dismissed, and today CA3 reversed the dismissal of the fraud and fraudulent concealment claims.

The case is Williams v. BASF Catalysts. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by McKee and Ambro.

New opinion — consumer win in debt-collection appeal

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits what debt collectors may make visible on envelopes sent to collect debts. In this case, a debt collector sent a envelope, and visible through the window of the envelope was an account number — apparently an internal account number generated by the debt collector. The debtor sued, asserting that this visible account number violated the FDCPA. The district court held that the account number met a benign language exception; today, CA3 reversed, holding that, if such an exception exists, this account number would not meet it because “it is a piece of information capable of identifying Douglass as a debtor” and “Disclosed to the public, it could be used to expose her financial predicament.” I’m not persuaded. I get lots of mail with account numbers that don’t involve debt collection. I don’t see — and the opinion never says — how an internal account number could “expose” the recipient “as a debtor.”

The case is Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing. Opinion by Scirica, joined by Fisher and Mariani MDPA by designation. Arguing counsel were Cary Flitter for the debtor and Richard Perr for the debt collector.

More on Erwin

I posted here yesterday on US v. Erwin, one of CA3’s most important opinions of the year to date. Today, two additional notes.

First, the impact of Erwin will be magnified exponentially by circuit sentencing practice. I noted this a few weeks back:

Digging deeper into the numbers, the biggest single reason CA3 defendants get below-Guidelines sentences is for substantially assisting the prosecution, accounting for 31.2% of all CA3 sentences. That’s the highest circuit rate in the country, by far. The national rate is only 12.8%. In fact, one CA3 district — E.D.Pa. — has the single highest rate of defendants credited for substantial assistance of any district in the country, 43.6%. And DNJ is third at 35.7%.

So almost a third of criminal defendants in CA3 are getting sentence reductions for cooperation, like Erwin did. The vast majority of these reductions are the product of plea deals, like Erwin’s was. Now, after Erwin, every one of those reductions is at risk if the defendant appeals; so every one of those defendants has an incredibly powerful incentive not to appeal, even if the defendant and her lawyer strongly believe they have a valid claim to raise. So the impact of Erwin is broad indeed.

Second, a comment over at Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy blog (which graciously linked to my original post) caught my eye, although I’m no contract-law whiz. Commenter Clint Broden (him, I assume) wrote:

It seems to me that the Third Circuit does not understand contract law. If the government alleges a breach and asks for the remedy of voiding the contract then the defendant should also not be bound by the contract. This means that the appeal should be considered on the merits because there is not longer a plea agreement barring an appeal. One could also argue that since the plea of guilty was part of the plea agreement that the defendant should now have the right to go to trial upon remand. Under this ruling it is now the government that is having its cake and eating it too. It can withdraw the 5k1 but was still allowed to assert the appellate waiver on appeal. If the government seeks to void the plea agreement instead of specific performance that also should have consequences.



New opinions — three reversals

Three opinions, three reversals — one a significant criminal appeal, the other two disability-rights.

First, the criminal case, a defendant win on 404(b) and prosecutorial misconduct. Here’s the court’s cogent intro summary:

Ebon Brown  brings this appeal following his
conviction  in the United States District Court for the
Western District of Pennsylvania  of  unlawful possession
of a firearm by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).
He  raises three arguments on appeal. First,  he  argues  the
District Court erroneously denied his motion to suppress the firearm  recovered  by  law enforcement. Second,  he
argues that the District Court erroneously admitted, under
Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b),  evidence  that he had
previously obtained guns through  a straw purchaser. And
third, he argues  that  a new trial is warranted because the
District Court permitted the prosecutor  to make improper
statements during closing  arguments.
We are not
persuaded by Brown’s  argument that  evidence of  the
firearm should have been suppressed.  We agree,
however,  that the District Court erred in admitting
evidence of  Brown’s  past firearm purchases and  by
overruling Brown’s objection to the prosecutor’s closing
arguments. Because the  Rule 404(b)  error  was  not
harmless,  we will  vacate the judgment of the District
Court and remand for a new trial.

Aside: I’d love to see a study done on whether prosecutorial misconduct happens more often in cases where the caption was larded with sinister AKAs — here the caption reads “United States of America v. Ebon P.D. Brown, a/k/a/ E-Murder.” I’ve always thought that practice unworthy of our legal system.

The case is US v. Brown. Opinion by Smith, joined by Vanaskie and joined in part by Shwartz. Shwartz dissented in part, concluding that any 404(b) error was harmless. Arguing counsel were Kimberly Brunson for the defendant and Rebecca Haywood for the government.

Next up is a pro-plaintiff disability-rights reversal. The suit was brought under the IDEA, ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act on behalf of a disabled public-school student who alleged discrimination and denial of a free appropriate education. The district court dismissed the IDEA claim and granted summary judgment the rest. In this appeal, CA3 reversed the IDEA dismissal.

The case is D.E. v. Central Dauphin School Dist. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Van Antwerpen and Tashima CA9 by designation. Arguing counsel were Joel Mallord of Dechert for the family and Thomas Specht for the district.

The final case is another partial win for a plaintiff in a disability appeal. Budhun’s job was 60% typing, so it was a problem when she broke a bone in her hand, and she eventually lost her job. She sued under the FMLA and tried to amend to add an ADA claim. The district court granted summary judgment to the employer; today CA3 affirmed the ADA amendment-denial but vacated and remanded on the FMLA claim.

The case is Budhun v. Reading Hospital. Opinion by Chagares, joined by Shwartz and Aldisert. The case was submitted without oral argument.


Zephyr Teachout, former CA3 clerk and political rising star

Zephyr Teachout clerked for CA3 wonder-judge Edward Becker. I haven’t made a study of the Most Famous Former Third Circuit Clerks (yet), but I suspect at this moment in time she’s leading the pack. (Update: Or maybe not. In the comments, Peter Goldberger reminds me about “a guy named Sam Alito.”) She’s challenging Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. It seemed like a silly idea at first — For Governor? Against Cuomo? Zephyr??? But she’s run an inspired campaign, Cuomo has not, and just this week the New York Times declined to endorse Cuomo. Jaw-dropping.

Zephyr is a friend of mine, and, inevitably, that’s CA3-related too. I interviewed with Becker during her clerkship, we had mutual friends, and we struck up a friendship. After her clerkship ended (my third year in law school) we started a legal non-profit together, along with my law school classmate David Neal, called the Fair Trial Initiative. Embarrassing photo here. After doing amazing work for FTI, she finally left for Vermont and the Howard Dean presidential campaign, and the rest is history. Suffice to say I’ve spent much of the past 3 months sporting a look of stupid incredulity, babbling to anyone who will listen “can you believe this …”

Full disclosure: I contributed some money to Zephyr’s campaign. This isn’t a political blog, and I’m not writing this to try to persuade anyone to support her. But it’s not every day that a CA3 clerk alum becomes a national political sensation, still less someone I know. So silence wouldn’t do.

I wonder what Judge Becker would have said if he were alive to see this. I’m pretty sure it would have been a good story well-told.

New opinions — election-law reversal and Lanham Act affirmance (Update: and an FLSA affirmance)

Three opinions today. I already discussed one of them separately here.

CA3 continued its recent flurry of Virgin Islands cases today with an election-law reversal. Candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor of the Virgin Islands were barred from the ballot and they sued. The district court dismissed their appeal, but CA3 applied VI law to vacate.

The case is Coffelt v. Fawkes. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Fisher and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Andrew Simpson for the candidates and Kimberly Salisbury for the government.

Today’s final opinion arose from a dispute between two pharmaceutical companies that sell competing fertillity drugs. One of them made statements about the other’s drug and the other sued. The district court found that the plaintiff was not entitled to a Lanham Act preliminary injunction because it failed to show irreparable harm; CA3 today affirmed.

The case is Ferring Pharmaceuticals v. Watson Pharmaceuticals. Opinion by Chagares, joined by Shwartz and Aldisert. Arguing counsel were Arne Olson for the plaintiff and David Phillips for the defendant.

Update:  turns out there was a fourth opinion issued yesterday, too. Unless I’m losing my mind, it was added to the CA3 website after the others, which is the first time I’ve noticed that done. Hmm. Anyway, it’s another Chagares opinion — three in one day, it must be August. This one affirms the dismissal of class-action and individual FLSA claims against various healthcare providers.

The case is Lynn v. Jefferson Health System. Opinion by Chagares, joined by Shwartz and Aldisert. The case was submitted without argument.


New opinion — violating an appeal waiver voids the plea deal

The Third Circuit just issued what looks to me like a very significant new criminal sentencing ruling: when a defendant violates an appeal waiver, he can be re-sentenced without the deal. Defendants who plead guilty and waive their appeals (i.e. virtually all federal defendants) can still raise miscarriage-of-justice challenges to their sentences, but the cost of losing such a challenge just went way, way up.

In the case decided today, defendant Erwin pled guilty to oxycodone distribution. Under his plea deal, the government agreed to move for a 5-level downward departure for cooperation, while Erwin agreed not to appeal. But Erwin did appeal, arguing that his sentence was a miscarriage of justice because the court calculated the downward departure from his guidelines level instead of his (lower) statutory maximum. CA3 rejected his argument, and granted the government’s argument for resentencing without the downward departure motion. Erwin’s sentence could well go from 188 months to 240 months upon resentencing — ouch.

The case is US v. Erwin. Opinion by Chagares, joined by McKee and Nygaard. Note that McKee was the assigning judge on the panel — interesting to me that he did not keep this one. Arguing counsel were Kentucky attorney Jeffrey Brandt for the defendant and Norman Gross for the government.

There were two other opinions today, I’ll post about them separately.

Edit: some quick further thoughts on the impact of the decision. The opinion at n.10 noted that there were nearly 50 motions to enforce an appellate waiver filed in CA3 in 2013, and concluded “the costs are not trivial.” If the court’s hope is that this holding will dramatically cut federal-court costs, I’m skeptical. Some defendants are still going to violate their appeal waivers, and every time the government invokes Erwin, the upshot will be a full-blown sentencing in front of a new judge: talk about a non-trivial cost. And I’d expect most of them to get higher sentences and then to assert appellate IAC in a 2255 motion. All those additional resentencings and 2255 motions will mean more work for district courts, even if it’s less work for CA3.

Update: I posted further thoughts on Erwin here.

New opinion — Virgin Islands cert case

Before I started this blog, I had no idea that CA3 had certiorari jurisdiction over Virgin Islands Supreme Court cases. Today I learned that such cert jurisdiction soon will be a thing of the past, because in 2012 Congress eliminated CA3’s cert jurisdiction and replaced it with Scotus direct review. Today’s decision involves a cert petition filed before the 2012 change; the court ruled that it retains cert jurisdiction over such cases but it dismissed this case as moot.

The case is United Industrial v. Government of the Virgin Islands. Opinion by Cowen, joined by Fisher and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Namosha Boykin for the petitioner and Joss Springette for the respondent.

Appellate-rule amendments proposed

The Judicial Conference rules committee this week issued proposed changes to various federal rules, including the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. A link to the proposed amendments is here, with written comments here sought by February 17, 2015. Bruce Greenberg provides a lucid synopsis here of the changes at his New Jersey Appellate Blog. Howard Bashman also had an uncharacteristically lengthy post about the word-count change Wednesday at How Appealing.

The proposal many lawyers probably care about most is the change to Rule 32 that would cut the word limit for opening briefs about 10%, from 14,000 words to 12,500 words. Personally, I’m not too vexed about that one; I agree with Scalia and Garner that “[t]he power of brevity is not to be underestimated,” so I work hard to write concise briefs and I usually come in well under the limit.

On the other hand, I surely would miss the extra 3 days to file now granted to rules-hounds by Rule 26(c).

I may have more to say on the amendments after I’ve had more time to consider them.

NFL concussion-suit oral argument set for September 10

CA3 just set oral argument for September 10 in the NFL concussion-suit appeal, one of the court’s most-watched cases. The argument is on the petition to appeal of 7 former NFL players, plus amicus Public Citizen, who object to the recent class settlement.

I’ve written about this case here and here, noting the appeal  “is fast becoming one of the biggest cases of the year. Among the legal luminaries who’ve now joined the fray are Beth Wilkinson, Samuel Issacharoff, Stephen Rosenthal, and Ted Wells,” joining Martin Totaro, Hangley Aronchick, and Alan Morrison. So it’s a safe bet that the quality of argument will be very, very high.

Adding to the interest is the fact that this will be the first oral-argument sitting for new CA3 judge Cheryl Krause. Joining her on the panel will be Ambro and Smith.


New opinion — Government 4th Amendment win

By my count, CA3 has reversed 13 times this year in published criminal appeals. (My compilation of 2014 reversals is here.) Four of those 13 reversals have been government wins. That’s pretty extraordinary, given that the overwhelming majority of criminal appeals are by defendants. Today, another government win.

The opinion begins:

In light of the “automobile exception” to the usual search warrant requirement, it is difficult to pick a worse place to conceal evidence of a crime than an automobile. The Supreme Court has interpreted—and reinterpreted—the automobile exception so expansively that the Court essentially has obviated the requirement that the government obtain a warrant to search a vehicle provided it has probable cause to  believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.

The case is US v. Donahue. Opinion by Greenberg, joined by Ambro and Barry. Arguing counsel were Gino Bartolai Jr. for the defendant and Todd Hinkley for the government.

Incidentally, it’s been a bad week for MDPA Judge Caputo. Today’s reversal was his case below, as was a reversal earlier this week in which CA3 was reversing the case for the third time.

New opinion — bad faith does not support supervised-release revocation

A defendant was convicted, and his sentence included over $500,000 in restitution. He was ordered make periodic restitution payments of at least 10% of his income. He then inherited over $400,000, and so the government moved to modify the restitution payment order. He paid $100,000 in towards restitution, but blew most of the rest in a lavish spending spree while he got extensions on the government’s motion to modify. The district court ruled that the defendant’s bad faith violated the restitution order. Today, CA3 reversed, holding that revocation requires violation of a specific condition of supervised release, and neither bad faith nor violation of an informal agreement with the prosecution sufficed.

The case is US v. Bagdy. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Smith and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Candace Cain for the defendant and Donovan Cocas for the government.

New opinions — First Amendment, two criminal, and an immigration

CA3 issued 4 published opinions today.

The day’s headliner is a ruling that allows Philadelphia police officers to contribute to their union’s PAC, reversing the district court and striking down on First Amendment grounds a half-century-old city rule that aimed to insulate police from political influence. Section I.C of the opinion offers a lively history of Philly police corruption and noted that the city argued it remains a serious concern.

The case is Lodge 5 v. City of Philadelphia. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Scirica and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Thomas Jennings for the union and Eleanor Ewing for the city.

The day’s other reversal is a criminal appeal. The basis for reversal was the district court’s failure to make clear what evidence it relied on for a drug-quantity finding at sentencing (p.29). The court affirmed on numerous other issues, including, unusually, one on which the Government confessed error.

The case is US v. Freeman. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Cowen and Nygaard. Arguing counsel were Pamela Colon for one defendant, Dale Smith for the other, and Nelson Jones for the government.

The court also affirmed a criminal appeal. After Claxton was convicted of drug dealing, the district court granted his judgment of acquittal for insufficient evidence, but CA3 reversed, and on remand Claxton was sentenced to 10 years. In this appeal, he raised issues including speedy trial, jury issues, Rule 403, Brady, and sentencing safety-valve eligibility, and CA3 affirmed.

The case was US v. Claxton. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Cowen and Nygaard (same panel as the previous case). Judge Cowen also wrote separately to express his view that the defendant waived one of this claims by failing to include or cite the relevant transcript in the record on appeal. Arguing counsel were Susan Moorehead for the defendant and Nelson Jones for the government.

Today’s final case is an immigration appeal. A Jamaican citizen who overstayed his visa had two minor drug convictions and was ordered deported. He conceded his removability but argued he was entitled to a waiver of criminal admissibility. After losing before the BIA, he appealed, and CA3 affirmed. On one point the court joined 4 circuits against CA2.

The case is Syblis v. AG. Opinion by Fisher (3 published opinions in one day = clerkships ending), joined by Jordan and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Ryan Muennich for the deportee and Anthony Nicastro for the government.


New opinions — a prisoner-rights reversal (again) and a white-collar affirmance

Two opinions today.

The first is a prisoner civil-rights case back in CA3 for the third time. Pa. prisons take money from inmate accounts to pay restitution and other conviction-related costs. Two inmates, Montanez and Hale, sued under 1983 to allege that such removal violates due process. After twice being reversed for ruling that the inmates failed to state a claim, the district court ruled against the inmates again. Today, CA3 reversed in part. The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Montanez’s suit as untimely, rejecting his accrual-date, continuing-violation, and equitable-tolling arguments. But Hale’s suit was timely, and the court found a genuine issue of material fact on whether denying him pre-deprivation notice and an opportunity to be heard violated due process.

The case is Montanez v. Secretary. Opinion by Roth, joined by Greenaway and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Ernest Preate Jr. (the former Pa. AG who became an advocate from inmate rights after his own federal criminal conviction) for Montanez, Su Ming Yeh of the PA Institutional Law Project for Hale, and Howard Hopkirk for the state.

Today’s other case is a white-collar criminal appeal. The defendant was convicted of securities fraud and perjury. He challenged the validity of an SEC rule, the sufficiency of the evidence, and denial of his new-trial motion based on newly discovered evidence. CA3 affirmed.

The case is US v. McGee. Opinion by Aldisert, joined by Chagares and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were John Grugan of Ballard Spahr for the defendant and Bernadette McKeon for the government.

New opinion — breach-of-contract damages

This appeal arises from a contractual dispute between a sports-car racing team and its sponsor. At trial, the district court found that the sponsor breached its contract and awarded the team $7 million in damages, but it refused to award additional damages on failure-to-mitigate, windfall, and policy grounds. On appeal, CA3 affirmed the damages awarded and reversed the damages denied, remanding for further proceedings.

The case is Vici Racing v. T-Mobile. Opinion by Baylson EDPA by designation, joined by Ambro and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were James Martin for the sponsor and Joseph Klock for the team.

New opinions — a death penalty affirmance and a case about missing packages

Two published opinions today.

The first involves Antyane Robinson’s habeas corpus challenge to his death sentence. The jurors that decided his fate were told that the alternative to death was life imprisonment, but they were not told that life meant life without parole. The PA courts ruled that juries need only be told about the unavailability of parole if the prosecutor “expressly” argues the defendant’s “future” dangerousness. Today, CA3 affirmed the district court’s ruling denying habeas relief.

The case is Robinson v. Beard. Opinion by Chagares, joined by Vanaskie and Aldisert. Arguing counsel were Matthew Lawry for the inmate and Jaime Keating for the state.

The day’s other case involves missing UPS packages. A company specializing in coins and metals alleged that 27 separate shipments, together worth over $150,000, were lost or stolen by UPS employees. The district court dismissed, ruling that the plaintiffs’ state-law claims were pre-empted, and today CA3 affirmed.

The case is Certain Underwriters v. United Parcel Service. Opinion by Chagares, joined by Rendell and Jordan. Arguing counsel were Robert Cosgrove for plaintiffs and Jerry DeSiderato for UPS.

New opinions issued last week — habeas, criminal, and FMLA reversals and an ERISA affirmance

CA3 entered 4 published opinions last week while I was away on vacation. They were:

  • Cox v. Horn (habeas)– this is CA3’s most significant habeas ruling of 2014 so far. It is CA3’s first significant opinion applying Martinez v. Ryan, the Scotus case that held that post-conviction counsel’s ineffectiveness can excuse procedural defaults. Barry, joined by Ambro and Restani, vacated the district court’s dismissal of petitioner’s FRCP Rule 60(b)(6) motion for relief from judgment. Arguing counsel were Stu Lev of the Philly CHU for the inmate and Molly Lerber for the DA.
  • US v. Napolitan (criminal) — the Government won a sentencing reversal on appeal, successfully challenging the district court’s sentencing procedure in refusing to apply two enhancements. It’s holding purported to join 9 other circuits disagreeing with CA8, so there’s a circuit split. The court also rejected the defendant’s request for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence of false testimony. Opinion by Smith, joined by Vanaskie and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Renee Pietropaolo for the defendant and Donovan Cocas for the government.
  • Menkes v. Prudential Insurance (ERISA) — CA3 affirmed rulings that certain insurance coverage is governed by ERISA and that ERISA pre-empts the plaintiffs’ state-law claims. Opinion by Chagares, joined by McKee and Fuentes. (Aren’t ERISA appeals always assigned to the junior judge on the panel?) Arguing counsel were Andrew Bell for the employees, Hillary Richard for the insurer, and Scott Smith for the employers.
  • Lupyan v. Corinithian Colleges Inc (employment) — CA3 reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment against an employee who brought interference and retaliation claims under the FMLA. Opinion by McKee, joined by Fuentes and Schiller by designation. Arguing counsel were Adam Gorzelsky for the employee and Jeffrey Balicki for the employer.

There also were two non-opinion case developments of note last week. First, the court remanded Conestoga Wood to the district court for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling reversing CA3.

Second, the NFL-concussion-settlement appeal I first blogged about here is fast becoming one of the biggest cases of the year. Among the legal luminaries who’ve now joined the fray are Beth Wilkinson, Samuel Issacharoff, Stephen Rosenthal, and Ted Wells. A panel of Ambro, Smith (lucky hit for the objectors, represented by former-Smith-clerk Totaro), and the just-confirmed Krause entered an order last week directing the objectors to file a reply regarding their petition to appeal by this Friday.

New opinions — attorney advertising and insurance arbitration

Two opinions today, plus a panel rehearing grant.

First up is an interesting attorney-advertising case. Certain judges had praised a lawyer in unpublished opinions, and the lawyer prominently quoted that praise on his website. One of the judges asked him to take down the quote, and ultimately the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted a professional rule banning advertising with opinion-quotes unless the opinion appears in full. The district court rejected the lawyer’s argument that this rule violated his First Amendment speech rights, but CA3 reversed. The court ruled that the ban was unduly burdensome and not reasonably related to consumer deception.

The case is Dwyer v. Cappell. Opinion by Ambro, joined by Hardiman and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Andrew Dwyer for himself and Susan Scott for the state. Maybe Dwyer will be able to find more quotes from his remarkable win today to add to his site.

Today’s other opinion was summarized by CA3 thus:

Appellee Lincoln T. Griswold purchased a life
insurance policy that was later sold to Appellant Coventry
First LLC (Coventry) for an allegedly inflated price that
included undisclosed kickbacks to the broker. Griswold sued,
and Coventry moved to dismiss the case for lack of standing
or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration. The District Court
denied the motion and Coventry appealed. Two questions are
presented: (1) whether we have appellate jurisdiction to
review the District Court’s denial of a motion to dismiss for
lack of standing; and (2) whether the District Court erred
when it denied a motion to compel arbitration.

The court answered both questions in the negative and affirmed.

The case is Griswold v. Coventry First LLC. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Ambro and Greenaway (same panel as today’s other case, but argued a month earlier). Arguing counsel were Ronald Mann for the insured and Kannon Shanmugam for the insurer, both appellate heavy hitters. Link to the argument audio here.

Besides today’s two published opinions, the court also entered an order granting panel rehearing in NLRB v. New Vista Nursing and Rehabilitation, a case decided by CA3 over a year ago (opinion here). The cases involves the Recess Appointments Clause, so I assume rehearing was granted to assess the impact of the June USSC ruling in Noel Canning. Stay tuned.

Back to blogging

I was away on vacation last week. Because I’m that nerdy, I’d planned to keep updating the blog while I was gone. But, because I’m that absent-minded, I couldn’t post because I didn’t bring the password. Sorry for the radio silence. I will post on last week’s opinions and update the reversals compilation soon. But first, three new opinions today.

New(ish) opinion — major criminal reversal on evidentiary grounds

Akeem Caldwell was tried for being a felon in possession of a gun. He testified at trial, denying possession; during cross-examination, the prosecution introduced his prior conviction for felon-gun-possession. On appeal, CA3 reversed, holding that introduction of the prior conviction violated Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

The court began by noting, “We have repeatedly emphasized that Rule 404(b) must be applied with careful precision, and that evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts is not to be admitted unless both the proponent and the District Court plainly identify a proper, non-propensity purpose for its admission.” After surveying the history of prior-bad-act-admissibility, the court said, “let us be clear: Rule 404(b) is a rule of general exclusion, and carries with it no presumption of admissibility.” The court described in detail the four-step 404(b) analysis district courts must follow, which is summarized thus:

Rule 404(b) provides that prior act evidence is inadmissible unless the evidence is (1) offered for a proper non-propensity purpose that is at issue in the case; (2) relevant to that identified  purpose; (3) sufficiently probative under Rule 403  such that its probative value is not outweighed by any inherent danger of unfair prejudice; and (4) accompanied by a limiting instruction, if requested.

The court applied the four-step analysis to find a 404(b) violation. Finally, it found that the error was not harmless even “[t]hough the prosecution’s case may have been strong” and rejected the government’s argument that the prior convictions were admissible as impeachment under Rule 609. The opinion closed where it began, reiterat[ing]  the importance of a methodical approach by the proponent of prior act  evidence and  a carefully reasoned ruling by  the trial judge who must decide the question of admissibility.”

The case is United States v. Caldwell. Opinion by Smith, joined by Vanaskie and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Renee Pietropaolo for the defendant and Michael Ivory for the Government.

This important opinion was issued back on July 24, but somehow I missed it until I saw it on Matt Kaiser‘s excellent Federal Criminal Appeals Blog.

New opinion — courts not arbitrators decide whether class claims are subject to arbitration

Employees sued their employer in federal court, individually and as a class, for failing to pay overtime. The employees had signed an employment agreement that included a provision that any dispute relating to their employment would be submitted to arbitration. The employer moved to compel arbitration, and the district court granted the motion and terminated the case in 2011; in its order, the district court said it was up to the arbitrator to decide whether arbitration of the classwide claims was available. The arbitrator went on to rule that classwide arbitration was available and issued a partial award for the employees.

Then — even though the employer was the party who moved to compel arbitration, and even though the employer did not appeal the part of the 2011 order it didn’t like but instead waited to see what the arbitrator said — the employer then went back to district court and asked it to vacate the award. The district court denied the motion, so the employer appealed. Today, CA3 reversed.

First, the panel held that the employer’s failure to appeal the 2011 order, instead waiting until after it lost before the arbitrator, was no problem because the employees were not prejudiced. This part of the opinion cited no authority. I don’t know that this holding is wrong, but I sure don’t know that it’s right.

On the merits, the panel deemed the crux issue to be who decides whether class-wide claims were subject to arbitration, the arbitrator or the district court. It held that the district court decides here because the arbitration clause did not unmistakeably provide otherwise. The opinion said the agreement was silent there, but it did not address the provision that an arbitrator would decide “any dispute . . . relating to . . . any provision of this Agreement.” Also odd.

The case is Opalinski v. Robert Half Int’l. Opinion by Ambro, joined by Jordan and Roth. Arguing counsel were Robert Alfred for the employer (one of 8 lawyers from 5 offices in 4 states on the brief) and Shannon Liss-Riordan for the employees.

Update: appellees have filed for panel and en banc rehearing.

Judge Gleeson and sentencing fairness


US District Judge John Gleeson (EDNY) (Wikimedia Commons public domain)

2014 CA3 judicial conference presenter Judge John Gleeson (EDNY) has been in the news this week for reducing the sentence of a defendant he himself had originally sentenced. Articles in the New York Times here and here. The original sentence was the product of the trial penalty and stacking.

I’m not normally one for long quotations, but I think they’re warranted here. This is how Gleeson’s memorandum in the case begins (I’ve omitted the footnotes):

There are injustices in our criminal justice system, including in this district,
and they often result from the misuse of prosecutorial power.  I have pointed some out in
recent years in the hope that doing so might help eradicate or reduce the number of such
abuses. But prosecutors also use their powers to remedy injustices.  In the spirit of fairness –
and with the hope of inspiring other United States Attorneys to show similar wisdom and
courage – I write to applaud the admirable use of prosecutorial power in this case.

The power United States Attorney Loretta Lynch has put to use in Francois
Holloway’s case inheres in our adversarial system. It is the power to seek justice even after
all appeals and collateral attacks have been exhausted and there is neither a claim of
innocence nor any defect in the conviction or sentence. Even in those circumstances, a
prosecutor can do justice by the simple act of going back into court and agreeing that justice
should be done. After careful consideration of Holloway’s crimes, the views of his victims,
and his conduct during the two decades he has been imprisoned as a result of this case, the
government has decided that it need not stand by silently while Holloway serves three more
decades of an unjust sentence. Specifically, it has agreed to an order vacating two of
Holloway’s counts of conviction and to a resentencing of him on the remaining counts. Even
people who are indisputably guilty of violent crimes deserve justice, and now Holloway will
get it.

And here is how it ends:

It is easy to be a tough prosecutor. Prosecutors are almost never criticized for
being aggressive, or for fighting hard to obtain the maximum sentence, or for saying “there’s
nothing we can do” about an excessive sentence after all avenues of judicial relief have been
exhausted. Doing justice can be much harder. It takes time and involves work, including
careful consideration of the circumstances of particular crimes, defendants, and victims – and
often the relevant events occurred in the distant past.  It requires a willingness to make hard
decisions, including some that will be criticized.

This case is a perfect example. Holloway was convicted of three armed
robberies. He deserved serious punishment. The judgment of conviction in his case was
affirmed on direct review by the Supreme Court, and his collateral attack on that judgment
failed long ago. His sentence was far more severe than necessary to reflect the seriousness of
his crimes and to adequately protect the community from him, but no one would criticize the
United States Attorney if she allowed it to stand by doing nothing.

By contrast, the decision she has made required considerable work. Assistant
United States Attorney Nitze had to retrieve and examine a very old case file. He had to track
down and interview the victims of Holloway’s crimes, which were committed 20 years ago.
His office no doubt considered the racial disparity in the use of § 924(c), and especially in the
“stacking” of § 924(c) counts. He requested and obtained an adjournment so his office could
have the time necessary to make an extremely important decision. United States Attorneys’
offices work with limited resources. The effort that went into deciding whether to agree to
vacate a couple of Holloway’s convictions could have been devoted to other cases.

Finally, the easy route – that is, the “there’s nothing we can do about your
sentence” response – would have eliminated any concern that Holloway might squander the
opportunity to make something of the rest of his life. The United States Attorney’s decision
here will be criticized if Holloway commits another crime upon his early release from prison.
She could have extinguished that risk by doing nothing. But she has the wisdom and courage
to confront it the right way – by asking me to ensure that Holloway gets the re-entry
assistance a prisoner who has spent decades in prison will need.

This is a significant case, and not just for Francois Holloway. It demonstrates
the difference between a Department of Prosecutions and a Department of Justice.  It shows
how the Department of Justice, as the government’s representative in every federal criminal
case, has the power to walk into courtrooms and ask judges to remedy injustices.

The use of this power poses no threat to the rule of finality, which serves
important purposes in our system of justice. There are no floodgates to worry about; the
authority exercised in this case will be used only as often as the Department of Justice itself
chooses to exercise it, which will no doubt be sparingly.  But the misuse of prosecutorial
power over the past 25 years has resulted in a significant number of federal inmates who are
serving grotesquely severe sentences, including many serving multiple decades and even life
without parole for narcotics offenses that involved no physical injury to others. Even
seasoned federal prosecutors will agree that many of those sentences were (and remain)
unjustly severe.

The United States Attorney has shown here that justice is possible in those
cases. A prosecutor who says nothing can be done about an unjust sentence because all
appeals and collateral challenges have been exhausted is actually choosing to do nothing
about the unjust sentence. Some will make a different choice, as Ms. Lynch did here.

Numerous lawyers have been joining pro bono movements to prepare
clemency petitions for federal prisoners, and indeed the Department of Justice has
encouraged the bar to locate and try to help deserving inmates.

Those lawyers will find many inmates even more deserving of belated justice than Holloway. Some will satisfy the criteria for Department of Justice support, while others will not. In any event, there’s no good
reason why all of them must end up in the clemency bottleneck. Some inmates will ask
United States Attorneys for the kind of justice made possible in this case, that is, justice
administered not by the President but by a judge, on the consent of the Department of Justice,
in the same courtroom in which the inmate was sentenced. Whatever the outcome of those
requests, I respectfully suggest that they should get the same careful consideration that Ms.
Lynch and her assistants gave to Francois Holloway.

Remarkable stuff. Coming as it does from a 9-year federal prosecutor who got the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award, it packs a punch.

New opinion — Medicare reimbursement appeal

When a woman was injured, Medicare paid for her medical care. She later sued for her injuries and reached a settlement. She argued that she got to keep the Medicare payment despite the settlement. A NJ state court held that the settlement did not cover medical expenses, but Medicare then demanded repayment,  and she sued. The district court dismissed her suit. In an opinion analyzing the interplay of the federal Medicare as a Secondary Payer Act and the New Jersey Collateral Source Statute , CA3 affirmed.

The case is Taransky v. Secretary. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Sloviter and Barry. Arguing counsel were Franklin Solomon for the woman and Daniel Tenny for the government.

New opinion — employment-suit pre-emption

In today’s lone opinion, the court held that neither ERISA nor the LMRA pre-empt the New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act, vacating the ruling below with instructions to remand to state court.

The case was New Jersey Carpenters v. Tishman Construction. Opinion by Chagares, joined by McKee and Shwartz. The case was decided without oral argument.

New opinion — reversing denial of post-judgment discovery

In 1975, a gun malfunctioned and injured its owner. The owner sued the gun-maker and won an $847,000 judgment. But the gun-maker is based in Turkey and has ignored all efforts to collect the judgment, and today the debt has risen to about $25 million. When the owner learned in 2011 that the gun-maker had a large transaction with an American company, the owner sought post-judgment discovery in aid of judgment-execution from the American company, and the district court denied it in part because it thought discovery might be futile. The owner appealed, and CA3 reversed, holding that the district court “improperly considered the possibility that discovery might be futile without determining whether that was in fact the case.”

The case is Ohntrup v. Makina Ve Kimya Endustrisi Kurumu. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Ambro and Fisher. Arguing counsel were William Ford for the American company, Casey Green for the owner, and Thomas Sullivan for the poor law firm that represented the gun-maker at trial and finally was allowed to withdraw from the case.

More CA3 defendants get sentences below-Guidelines than within-Guidelines

Less than 36% of criminal defendants sentenced in the Third Circuit are receiving sentences within the range set by the Sentencing Guidelines, according to the most recent data from the US Sentencing Commission. This is much lower than the within-Guideline sentencing rate nationally, which is 48.6%. Only CA2 and CA9 courts sentence within the Guidelines less often than CA3.

Defendants sentenced outside the Guideline range almost always are sentenced below the Guidelines range. Within CA3, less than 2% of defendants received an above-Guidelines sentence.

Digging deeper into the numbers, the biggest single reason CA3 defendants get below-Guidelines sentences is for substantially assisting the prosecution, accounting for 31.2% of all CA3 sentences. That’s the highest circuit rate in the country, by far. The national rate is only 12.8%. In fact, one CA3 district — E.D.Pa. — has the single highest rate of defendants credited for substantial assistance of any district in the country, 43.6%. And DNJ is third at 35.7%. (Why? Are prosecutors more generous about rewarding cooperation? Are they more draconian about punishing non-cooperation?)

On the other hand, very few defendants within CA3 — less than 1% — are benefiting from early disposition programs. That’s far below the national rate of 9.2%, a figure driven mostly by a 28.6% rate in CA9 (including 56.8% in SDCa!) and 17.3% rate in CA10. And EDNY, where CA3-conference-presenter Gleeson sits, has a 10.9% early-disposition-sentence-reduction rate. In the wake of this year’s CA3 circuit conference, I’m hoping use of early disposition in CA3 will rise dramatically.

These stats all come from the US Sentencing Commission’s 2nd quarter Preliminary Quarterly Data Report released earlier this week. H/T Douglas Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy.

Retired players and Public Citizen ask to appeal NFL-concussion-suit class certification

Earlier this week, 7 retired NFL players asked CA3 to let them appeal from the district court’s order certifying a settlement class in the ongoing concussion lawsuit brought by players against the NFL. Today, Public Citizen filed an amicus in support of the 7 seeking to appeal. The New York Times wrote that the request to appeal appeal is “an unusual strategy because the proposed settlement is not final and may still be altered.”

Unusual or not, the appeal effort has real legal muscle behind it. Counsel for the players is Martin Totaro, an appellate specialist at MoloLamken in DC and a former Smith clerk, and the Philly powerhouse Hangley Aronchick. And Public Citizen and Alan Morrison are widely  respected repeat players in class-action-fairness litigation.

Stay tuned.

Update: the CA3 website’s ‘cases of interest’ page gives a link to the players’ petition to appeal, but the link doesn’t work currently.

Government moves to amend the opinion I called “buck-naked wrong”

Last month, I blogged here about the Third Circuit panel opinion in US v. Reyes. I tactfully observed that the opinion mistakenly applied the higher retroactivity standards for successor habeas petitions to a first habeas petition:

This is buck-naked wrong. The decision to make Alleyne retroactive rests exclusively with the Supreme Court only as to successors, per 28 USC 2244(b)(2)(A), a provision that does not apply to non-successor collateral cases like Reyes. Simpson and Redd, like Winkelman, are successor cases, not collateral cases. The court will have to grant rehearing in this case to correct this error.

The panel’s error favored the Government, but, to its great credit, the Government has filed a motion to amend the panel opinion to correct the error. The motion is signed by AUSAs Robert Zauzmer and Bernadette McKeon. After quoting the same paragraph I quoting in my post, the Government’s motion continued:

This paragraph is unnecessary to the Court’s decision, and is inconsistent
with this Court’s precedent. In United States v. Swinton, 333 F.3d 481, 485-87
(3d Cir. 2003), the Court held that, in addressing a first petition for relief under
28 U.S.C. § 2255 (as in this case), a district court or Court of Appeals has
authority to determine whether a new Supreme Court decision is retroactively
applicable on collateral review. In contrast, the Swinton Court explained, only
the Supreme Court may apply a new rule retroactively when addressing a second
or successive petition under Section 2255.

The decisions cited in the paragraph at issue in the opinion – United States
v. Winkelman, 746 F.3d 134 (3d Cir. 2014); Simpson v. United States, 721 F.3d 875 (7th Cir. 2013); and United States v. Redd, 735 F.3d 88, 91 (2d Cir.2013) – all
involved second or successive 2255 petitions, and correctly observed that in that
context only the Supreme Court may declare a new rule retroactively applicable.
In contrast, the present case, like Swinton, concerns an initial petition.

The Government’s motion was filed June 30 and it remains pending.

Common-sense reasonableness is smart appellate lawyering. Motions like this are part of why Zauzmer is one of the Third Circuit’s top advocates. At oral argument in another recent case, Chief Judge McKee went out of his way to praise Zauzmer for a concession, observing, “lesser advocates would not have done this.” Judges notice.

New opinion — carjacking a more expensive car leads to a longer sentence


Don’t carjack this one. (Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (C 197) – Frontansicht geöffnet, 10. August 2011, Düsseldorf. Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0-de)

Two different victims are car-jacked. One is driving a Ford worth $5,000, the other is driving a Mercedes worth $60,000. Neither car is damaged during the crime. If the cases and defendants are otherwise identical, should the defendant whose victim drove a more expensive car get a longer sentence? In the Third Circuit, the answer now is “yes.”

The case is United States v. Smith. Opinion by Jordan, joined by Rendell and Chagares. The opinion was issued without oral argument just 12 days after its panel date.

What Smith actually held is that the USSG 2B3.1 sentence enhancement for property “taken, damaged, or destroyed” applies to undamaged car-jacked cars. And that enhancement goes up one level for property worth over $10,000 and two levels for property worth over $50,000.

The upshot? Our Ford carjacker might get a prison sentence of 41 to 51 months. Our otherwise identical Mercedes carjacker gets 57 to 71 months. Because the victim was driving a nicer car, the prison sentence is 40% longer.

I don’t see how this result is any different from one where a kidnapper gets a longer sentence because his victim was wearing a Rolex instead of a Timex. A head-scratcher.

Update: no rehearing petition filed, mandate issued.


New opinion — disabilities-suit exhaustion

A parent and her son sued a school district under the Individuals with Disability Act and other laws. The district court dismissed their suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA. The plaintiffs appealed, and CA3 affirmed.

The case is Batchelor v. Rose Tree Media School District. Opinion by Greenaway, joined by Ambro and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Frank Schwartz for the plaintiffs and Craig Ginsburg for the district.

New opinion — En banc opinion on preserving procedural sentencing error

The en banc court today ruled that, going forward, a defendant must object to procedural errors at sentencing in order to avoid plain error review, superseding a 2008 panel ruling to the contrary and, according to the majority, splitting with CA4 (and maybe CA7). But the court applied the old rule to the case before it and reversed for resentencing.

The case is United States v. Flores-Mejia. Opinion by Roth, joined by McKee, Rendell, Ambro, Fisher, Chagares, Jordan, Hardiman, and Vanaskie, and by Fuentes as to the need to apply the old rule and how it applies. Greenaway dissented, joined by Smith, Shwartz, and Sloviter, and by Fuentes in part. Arguing counsel were AFD Robert Epstein for the defendant and AUSA Robert Zauzmer for the government.

Update: I have a few thoughts.

First, although there’s a circuit split here, my hunch is cert is unlikely. I’m skeptical that there are 5 votes on the current Court for the dissent’s view, no matter how persuasive its textual analysis of FRCrP 51 may be.

Second, I find the court’s application of its procedural reasonableness rule (the ‘old rule’ above) baffling. The standard is that sentencing courts must “acknowledge and respond to” adequately presented sentencing arguments, and failure to give “meaningful consideration” to such arguments is error. Here, the court heard the argument and replied “Ok, thanks. Anything else?” I guess that might count as ‘acknowledging,’ but how could it be ‘responding to?’ How does that show meaningful consideration? The majority says it is error but “it’s a close issue.” Close? How much further from a meaningful response is possible? Yet the dissenters go further: except for Fuentes, they would affirm. I don’t understand it. If you’re not going to apply a prior holding, don’t you have to overrule it? If judges don’t care about this sort of thing, who will? (Answer: nerds like me.) Anyhow, today’s ruling largely moots the whole point anyway.

Third, the judge split here is interesting. The majority’s core holding is pro-government, so, given a split, one might expect the conservatives in the majority and the liberals in dissent. But McKee, Rendell, Ambro, and Vanaskie all joined the majority, while Smith joined the dissent. Judicial economy was central to the majority’s reasoning, while the language of the controlling federal rule was not, and that may help explain the voting.

Finally, the court applied the old rule here because it wasn’t fair to punish a lawyer for failing to make an objection that then-settled law said wasn’t required. So what about defendants sentenced today? Tomorrow? Do CA3 judges think that lawyers who do federal sentencings read their new opinions on a daily basis? I bet it will be weeks or even months before the word of Flores-Mejia really gets around. Interesting practical problem.

Update: Elisa Long discusses Flores-Mejia in this post on the Federal Defender Third Circuit Blog.


New opinion — federal agency jurisdiction


“View of the Ewen Breaker of the Pa. Coal Co. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrated the utmost recesses of the boy’s lungs. A kind of slave-driver sometimes stands over the boys, prodding or kicking them into obedience. S. Pittston, Pa.” [1911] (Wikimedia Commons public domain)

The Shamokin Filler Company repeatedly violated federal workplace-safety standards that limit breathable coal dust. So it sued, arguing that it should be regulated by OSHA’s less-stringent standards instead of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s more-stringent ones. In today’s lone published opinion, CA3 denied the company’s petition for review.

The case is Shamokin Filler Co. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by McKee and Chagares. Arguing counsel were Adele Abrams for the company and Sara Johnson for the government.

New opinion — applying plain error to affirm forcibly medicating a schizophrenic defendant to make him competent to be sentenced

Abraham Cruz was convicted of threatening a federal law enforcement officer. After trial but before sentencing, the district court ordered a competency evaluation at the prosecution’s request, and he was found incompetent due to schizophrenia. It is unclear whether his mental illness was ever raised at trial to challenge competency or support a defense. Like many persons with schizophrenia, Cruz refused anti-psychotic medication. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court ordered Cruz forcibly medicated so that he could be sentenced. Even though Cruz, through counsel, had not opposed the forcible-medication motion and presented no evidence or argument at the hearing, he appealed, apparently still represented by the same office. Reviewing for plain error only, CA3 affirmed.

The case is United States v. Cruz. Opinion by Cowen, joined by Fisher and Tashima CA9 by designation.

Judging from the opinion, this case is disturbing. I hope Cruz at least gets counsel to represent him for a 2255 motion.

CA3 hears argument in gay-conversion-therapy-ban case


Hypnosis. Sascha Schneider, 1904 (Wikimedia Commons public domain)

A CA3 panel heard argument yesterday in an appeal challenging New Jersey’s ban on so-called gay-conversion therapy. The case is King v. Governor of NJ, the panel is Smith, Vanaskie, and Sloviter. Argument audio has not been posted yet (it will be here), but coverage of the argument is here.

H/T: Howard Bashman at How Appealing.

New opinions — third-party election-law case and habeas reversal

Two interesting cases today, both reversals.

First up is a significant election-law case. Third-party candidates in PA have to apply to get on the ballot, and their applications must include a specified number of signatures. Three state political parties–the Constitution Party, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party–challenged PA’s third-party ballot-access procedure, and the district court dismissed for lack of standing. On appeal, a divided panel found standing and reversed.

The case is Constitution Party of PA vs Aichele. Opinion by Jordan, joined by Roth, with dissent by Ambro. Arguing counsel were Oliver Hall for the third parties and Claudio Tesoro for the Commonwealth.

Today’s other case is a rare reversal in favor of a non-capital habeas petitioner. Defense counsel at Horace Branch’s criminal trial failed to present two witnesses, and Branch argued that his counsel was ineffective. The state courts denied MAR relief and the district court denied relief (and denied COA). CA3 reversed, holding that the state court denial was an unreasonable application of federal law and that the district court abused its discretion in failing to grant an evidentiary hearing.

The case is Branch v. Sweeney. Opinion by Greenberg joined by Fuentes and Van Antwerpen. Arguing counsel were Elyse Lyons (a 3L in Duke Univ. law school’s appellate litigation clinic) for the inmate and Sara Friedman for the state. Footnote 3 of the opinion notes that the clinic represented Branch with great skill and thanked Ms. Lyons by name “for this fine representation.”

New opinions–DOC can’t be sued for erroneous denial of half-way-house transfer, plus a criminal-sentencing affirmance with a dissent

Two published decisions today.

First up is the sad case of Darryl Powell. Powell was serving a prison sentence and was due to be transferred to a community correctional center (a half-way house). But DOC made an error, so instead Powell was stuck in prison an extra 17 months. Powell sued under 1983, and the district court dismissed. On appeal, CA3 affirmed. Although the court “sympathize[d] with Powell,” it held that he had no liberty interest in transfer from prison to a half-way house.  (The error also caused Powell serve an extra seven months on parole, but the court rejected Powell’s wrongful-parole claim based on its sua sponte conclusion that he sued the wrong employee.) Seems like a harsh result.

The case is Powell v. Weiss. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Ambro and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Brian Zeiger for Powell, and Laura Neal and Alan Robinson for the corrections employees.

Today’s other case involves a criminal sentencing issue. When a defendant violates the terms of her supervised release, the court must (given specified circumstances) revoke her release and impose a new prison sentence. Here, the court held that the general sentencing statute, 18 USC 3553, also governs such revocation sentences.

The case is US v. Thornhill. Opinion by Smith, joined by Hardiman; Rendell concurred that section 3553 applies, but dissented from the panel majority’s ruling that no remand was needed to allow the district court to apply the correct standard. Arguing counsel were Elisa Long for the defendant and Michael Ivory for the government.

Two argument panels this week

The court is hearing panel oral arguments in Philadelphia this week in two courtrooms. A panel of Rendell, Chagares, and Jordan are hearing arguments Tuesday and Wednesday. A panel of Smith, Vanaskie, and Shwartz sits Tuesday and of Smith, Vanaskie, and Sloviter sits Wednesday. There are 3 arguments each sitting, all starting at 10 a.m.


Cheryl Ann Krause has been confirmed

Dechert partner and Penn Law adjunct Cheryl Ann Krause has been confirmed by the Senate. The vote was 93-0. She fills the seat that opened when Sloviter went senior. When she receives her commission, the court will have 13 active judges (8 nominated by Democratic presidents, 5 by Republicans) and one remaining open seat. Krause is the fourth CA3 Obama nominee confirmed.

Judge Krause will be the only former Scotus clerk on the court, and at 46 its youngest judge.

Update: After her confirmation, Krause was quoted by Jeff Blumenthal of Philadelphia Business Journal (link here):

“I am humbled and grateful to President Obama and the Senate, and in particular [Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators, Robert Casey and Pat Toomey] for this opportunity to return to public service and am deeply honored to join the esteemed bench of this Court,” Krause said. “I look forward to continuing its traditions of excellence and collegiality.”

New opinion — affirming 2255 denial

Perhaps believing CA3’s reversal rate in federal post-conviction appeals is too high — in 2013 it was 0.8% — a conservative CA3 panel today contorted to make 2255 relief even harder. It  wrote:

As a collateral challenge, a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is reviewed much less favorably than a direct appeal of the sentence.  See, e.g., United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 167-68 (1982). Indeed, relief under § 2255 is available only when “the claimed error of law was ‘a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice,’  and  . . .  ‘present[s] exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy afforded by the writ . . . is apparent.’”  Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 346 (1974) (quoting  Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)).

And the opinion repeats this “fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice” standard in its conclusion. Actually, what Davis held is that 2255 applies to federal statutory claims, not just constitutional claims. The language quoted today was passing dicta offered to show that “ a prior case “did not suggest that any line could be drawn on the basis of whether the claim had its source in the Constitution or in the “laws of the United States.” That’s an odd source for sweeping 2255 standard-of-review language.

The impact of that scare-language should be negated, at least as to ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, by the opinion’s later acknowledgment that “if Travillion shows both elements of Strickland, he satisfies the requirements of § 2255.” Time will tell.

The case is US v. Travillion. Opinion by Van Antwerpen, joined by Fisher and Tashima CA9 by designation. Arguing counsel were Louise Arkel for the inmate and Jane Dattilo for the government.


Court rejects effort to appeal same-sex marriage ruling

When PA Governor Corbett decided not to appeal a district-court ruling striking down the state’s same-sex-marriage ban, it looked like CA3 would be shut out of the historic legal fight over same-sex-marriage.

But not entirely–yesterday the court got to decide a minor related issue. When the Governor chose not to appeal, a county clerk responsible for issuing marriage licenses sought to intervene to appeal. The district court denied the motion, reasoning that the clerk was bound by his ruling and lacked standing to appeal it.

In a two-sentence order, CA3 summarily affirmed for essentially the reasons given by the district court. The order was signed by Shwartz, with Fuentes and Jordan also on the panel.

Brown v. Board it ain’t. But the clerk reportedly has vowed to seek Supreme Court review, so maybe CA3 will get its chance yet.

Wait … there was another CA3 cert grant this term?

Well, I try to follow CA3 closely, but when it comes to Scotus cases outside of my own practice areas I often just rely on the experts at Scotusblog. So when their case stats page said there was just one CA3 cert-grant this term, Bond v. US, well, I poked no further. (My fault, not theirs.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally realized that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby — only the biggest Scotus case of the term — had a companion grant, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, from CA3. Oops.

Anyhow, CA3 decided Conestoga Wood last July, opinion here. The list of amici runs over 6 pages in the slip op, so it was a big case long before cert was granted. Cowen wrote the opinion for the panel majority, joined by Vanaskie. The majority held that, because a corporation is distinct from its owners, it cannot engage in religious exercise. Jordan dissented, 66 pages of Justice Kennedy-esque grand tone like this:

My colleagues, at the government‟s urging, are willing to say that the  Hahns’ choice to operate their business as a corporation carries with it the consequence that their rights of conscience are forfeit.

That deeply disappointing ruling rests on a cramped and confused understanding of  the  religious rights preserved by Congressional action and the Constitution. The government takes us down a rabbit hole where religious rights are determined by the tax code, with non-profit corporations able to express religious sentiments while for-profit corporations and their owners are told that business is business and faith is irrelevant. Meanwhile, up on the surface,  where people try to live lives of integrity and purpose, that kind of division sounds as hollow as it truly is. I do not believe my colleagues or the District Court judge whose opinion we are reviewing are ill-motivated in the least, but the outcome of their shared reasoning  is genuinely tragic, and one need not have looked past the first row of the gallery during the oral argument of this appeal, where the Hahns were seated and listening intently, to see the real human suffering occasioned by the government‟s determination to either make the Hahns bury their religious scruples or watch while their business gets buried.

Of course, Jordan’s position prevailed in the Supreme Court.

Conestoga’s en banc petition fell a single vote 2 votes short. (Order here). (Update: My thanks to David Fine for pointing out that 6 of 12 is not enough to grant rehearing.) The only Republican-nominated judge voting against rehearing en banc was Chagares.

Krause nomination hits the home stretch, confirmation expected after July 4

As I predicted, Cheryl Krause’s CA3 confirmation vote appears to be nearing. Last Thursday, the Senate voted 57-39 to invoke cloture, and a confirmation vote now is expected after the July 4 holiday.

In a floor speech before the vote, Republican PA Senator Toomey expressed his enthusiastic support for Krause’s nomination. He noted she has experience “both on prosecution side and defense side, so she understands both perspectives, both of which need to be understood to have a proper balanced perspective on the court.” Hear hear.

Toomey also described his ongoing bipartisan collaboration on judicial nominations with Democratic Senator Casey, noting that they were working on filling the remaining vacancies, which include the last CA3 seat.

Video of the proceedings on C-Span here; Toomey’s remarks begin at 36:17, the vote begins at 2:16:03 and ends at 2:49:50. Coverage of the vote by Daniel Wilson at here.

What the wanna-be clerks say

I’m a CA3 inside-baseball nerd, so I was excited when I came across a thread on a big law-student message board about CA3 clerkship applying, link here. Alas, so far it’s proven less of a crowd-source info-trove than one could hope. (I had high hopes, because this thread on Scotus clerkships is mighty interesting, H/T David Lat at Above the Law).

Anyway, happy Friday.

New opinions — “bench of fire” case ends in immigration reversal, plus an employment reversal

Regular readers may recall the “bench of fire” argument, wherein a CA3 panel reset my standard for what constitutes a hot bench. I wrote:

If I ever create an online legal dictionary, the entry for “hot bench” will just be a link to this recent argument. Holy moly. The case was Mayorga v. AG, a deportation challenge argued April 8.

Start at 8:30 (that’s AG counsel’s argument, after the panel sat Mayorga’s lawyer down early). The resignation in counsel’s voice by 9:09 is priceless.

The panel was Hardiman, Sloviter, and Barry. Arguing counsel were Tad Macfarlan pro bono (assigned by CA3 superstar David Fine) for the petitioner and Anthony Nicastro for the AG, and both did quite well considering.

Mayorga was decided today. Reversing, the panel held that a conviction for unlicensed firearms dealing is not categorically a crime involving moral turpitude and therefore does not support a lifetime ban on entry to the country. Opinion by Sloviter joined by Barry, with Hardiman dissenting on standing.

A couple things I found interesting in Mayorga:

  • CA3 goes weeks at a time without issuing a published opinion with a dissent. I haven’t researched it yet, but I bet CA3’s dissent rate is way below other circuits’.
  • The court included a prominent footnote naming and thanking K&L Gates for allowing its associate to represent the indigent petitioner.
  • For appeal nerds, Hardiman’s dissent offers an inside-baseball nugget. He explained that Mayorga’s winning issue was spotted by a motions panel (my guess is it was a circuit staff attorney who actually spotted it), reviewing the merits of Mayorga’s case in order to decide whether to grant his motion to appoint counsel. If my guess is right, this is the second case this week where the outcome turned on vigilant clerks and staff counsel (I discussed the other here).

The day’s other published case was an employment-discrimination appeal. When a DA’s-office detective was fired, he sued for age discrimination. The district court dismissed the suit, but CA3 vacated in part.

The case is Hildebrand v. Allegheny County. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Greenaway and Roth. Arguing counsel were Marjorie Crist for the employee, Virginia Scott and Bernard Schneider for the employers, and Anne Occhialino for the EEOC as amicus. Sad to say in 2014, but it’s refreshing to see a CA3 appeal where 3 of the 4 arguing attorneys are women.



New opinion — debt-collection suit reversal

Sometimes, the court’s own summary says it best:

Timothy McLaughlin had a mortgage. As a result of an error, the mortgage company  believed that he was in default and referred the matter to the law firm … (collectively “PHS”).    PHS sent McLaughlin a letter about the debt that he claims violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692  et seq.  The District Court  dismissed certain  claims because McLaughlin did not ask PHS to validate the debt before he filed suit. Because we conclude that he is not required to do so, we will reverse. We will, however, affirm the District Court’s imposition of  sanctions against PHS for its failure to produce certain documents during discovery.

The case is McLaughlin v. Phelan Hallinan & Schmieg. Opinion by Shwartz, joined by Smith and Vanaskie. Arguing counsel were Trent Echard for the plaintiff and Jonathan Bart for the debt-collecting firm.

Law clerks make justice happen, sometimes

We lawyers are sure that we win cases because of our great lawyering and lose them because of someone else’s bad facts or law. That’s often delusion, and proof of that came again yesterday in a soon-to-be-forgotten Establishment Clause case.

Here was how I summarized the case:

A neighbor sued under 1983, and the district court held that her Establishment Clause claim was barred because the statute of limitations began to run when the sign was posted. CA3 reversed, and for a reason not argued by the litigants: state statutes limitations do not apply to Establishment Clause claims challenging a still-existing display.

That holding won’t change the world, but what made the case interesting to me was this: the court rejected the appellant’s argument, but it reversed anyway based on an argument the appellant didn’t make. But if the lawyers didn’t come up with it, who did?

Maybe it was one of the judges, but my guess is that it was one of their clerks. Maybe it was a circuit staff attorney. Whoever it was, s/he has my respect. There are a lot of cases, a lot of meritless arguments, and a lot of lousy briefs to slog through. For clerks, it’s easier to just analyze the lawyer’s arguments, accept or reject them, and keep on moving. Going beyond the briefs — to get it right, even if the lawyers didn’t — is effort. It’s essentially invisible effort, justice for justice’s sake alone.

Just last week I was critical of what I see as a bad mistake in a published CA3 case. “Buck-naked wrong,” said I. It’s a mistake that reflects badly on the court in general, in my view, but the clerks who missed it are the ones who are going to squirm. I was a clerk myself, and, well, I know of what I speak.

Circuit court clerks aren’t perfect, any more than judges or lawyers or nerdy bloggers. When they go the extra mile to get it right, it’s a reminder of the critical role they play.

The budgets are coming, the budgets are coming!


The Midnight Ride (Wikimedia Commons public domain)

CA3 is advertising to hire a circuit case-budgeting attorney. (So are CA4, CA7 & CA8, and CA10. Update: CA1, too.)

CA3’s job listing says the case budgeting attorney will

work with Third Circuit committees, district court judges, magistrate judges, and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorneys to develop budgets and review budgets of criminal mega-cases and death penalty cases. Specifically, in conjunction with counsel and the assigned judge, the Circuit Case Budgeting Attorney will assist in preparation of budgets that address attorney and paralegal time, experts, investigation, and other case costs.

My two cents: case budgets sound sensible, but in practice they are a disaster. Most federal judges have no earthly idea how many hours are needed to provide competent representation in a capital case, and that’s likely to be doubly true in circuits like ours where CHUs do most of it. I’ve experienced capital case budgets in other circuits, and it was unpleasant indeed. For many indigent capital and multi-defendant litigants, case-budgeting will mean deep funding cuts. And over time this will further dry up the already shallow pool of competent CA3 lawyers doing this work.

After the British invaded, Washington’s army suffered a hard winter at Valley Forge: “Some men had no shoes, no pants, no blankets. Weeks passed when there was no meat and men were reduced to boiling their shoes and eating them. The wintry winds penetrated the tattered tents that were at first the only shelter.”

The budgets are coming — boiled shoes and tattered tents for CJA defense are coming too.

New opinion — establishment clause reversal

The Borough of Shickshinny, Pennsylvania (pop. 838) posted a sign on borough property that read:

 “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You!”    It has a directional arrow with “1 BLOCK” written on it, and depicts a gold cross and a white Bible.

A neighbor sued under 1983, and the district court held that her Establishment Clause claim was barred because the statute of limitations began to run when the sign was posted. CA3 reversed, and for a reason not argued by the litigants: state statutes limitations do not apply to Establishment Clause claims challenging a still-existing display.

The case is Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny. Opinion by Vanaskie, joined by Chagares and Greenaway. The appeal was decided without argument.


Krause confirmation vote coming soon?

Cheryl Krause’s CA3 nomination has been awaiting a full-Senate vote for over 11 weeks now. According to, of the 16 judicial nominations pending before the full Senate, Krause has been there the longest, by more than a month.

From my quick look at 2014 circuit confirmations, about 10 weeks looks like the mean wait-time between committee vote and Senate vote.

So I think we can expect a Krause confirmation vote soon.

My earlier post on Krause’s nomination is here.

Update — New opinion: Retroactivity law is mighty confusing, even for CA3


First, my original post:

Last year, Alleyne v. United States expanded the rule of Apprendi to hold that facts that increase the prescribed range of punishment must be found by jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Earlier this year, CA3 held in US v. Winkelman that Alleyne does not apply to defendants whose convictions already are final. Today, the court reiterated that Alleyne is not retroactive, and clarified that Alleyne is a new rule.

The case is US v. Reyes. Opinion by Nygaard, joined by McKee and Chagares. It was decided on the briefs.

Ho hum. But, now, what I missed:

Reyes said it was only reiterating Winkelman, and Winkelman said it held that Alleyne does not apply on collateral review, but actually Winkelman was only a successor case, by both its facts and reasoning. (Not a habeas nerd? Collateral means all habeas corpus petitions, successor means only that subset of habeas petitions filed by people who’ve already lost a habeas in the same case; so a ruling that applies only to successors is narrow, one that applies to all collaterals is broad.) So Winkelman’s outcome, denying the successor, may have been defensible, but its stated holding was not.

But here’s the startling part: Reyes actually doubles down on its Winkelman error.  Reyes says:

[O]f course, the decision  to make Alleyne
retroactive rests exclusively with the Supreme Court, which
has not chosen to do so.  See Winkelman, 746 F.3d at 136; see
also Simpson, 721 F.3d at 876 (“Unless the Justices
themselves decide that  Alleyne  applies retroactively on
collateral review,” lower courts may not do so.);  United
States v. Redd,  735 F.3d 88, 91 (2d Cir. 2013).  Therefore,
Alleyne  does not provide Reyes  with any basis for relief
because the Supreme Court has not chosen to apply  Alleyne’s
new rule retroactively to cases on collateral review.

Slip op. at 6. This is buck-naked wrong. The decision to make Alleyne retroactive rests exclusively with the Supreme Court only as to successors, per 28 USC 2244(b)(2)(A), a provision that does not apply to non-successor collateral cases like Reyes. Simpson and Redd, like Winkelman, are successor cases, not collateral cases. The court will have to grant rehearing in this case to correct this error.

My sincere thanks to Peter Goldberger (who has forgotten more case law than I’ll ever know) for pointing out what I’d missed.

4 new opinions — a really dumb cop, an asbestos reversal, acronyms, and Younger abstention

It’s a big day for published opinions today, with four.

First up is a criminal affirmance with odd facts. Waterman was a police officer. One day, he up and told a supervisor he had downloaded 20 child porn videos. The FBI interviewed him about it — a year and a half later. Waterman told the FBI that he threw away the hard drive when it died. But the next day, he was caught in his patrol car breaking apart a computer circuit board (which doesn’t store data); also in the car was an already damaged hard drive (which does).  He was convicted of destroying evidence and his sentence was enhanced for interfering with administration of justice. On appeal, CA3 held it was not clear error to apply the enhancement even though no one saw him destroy the hard drives after the FBI interview.

The case is US v. Waterman. Opinion by Mariani MDPa by designation, joined by Fisher and Scirica. Arguing counsel were Maggie Moy of the FPD for Waterman and John Romano for the USA.

Today’s second opinion is a reversal in an asbestos case. When one former asbestos defendant went bankrupt, two others brought a bankruptcy claim seeking the money it owed a joint settlement fund. CA3 held that the bankruptcy claim stated a valid claim for breach of contract and reversed.

The case is In re G-I Holdings. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Scirica and Mariani MDPa. Argued by Rachel Bloomekatz and Stephen Hoffman for the appellants and Andrew Rossman for the debtor.

The third opinion arose from an FMLA employment suit. The employee sued claiming that he was punished for taking health leave. The district court granted summary judgment for the employer, and CA3 affirmed.

The case is Ross v. Gilhuly. Opinion by Jordan, joined by Ambro & Roth. (The opinion is filled with acronyms. Jordan is mighty lucky he’s not a D.C. Circuit lawyer.) Arguing counsel were Charles Sipio, a 2012 Widener law grad, for the employee, and Madeline Baio (her web page reveals that she won an award for best brief as a 1L in 1981) for the employer.

The final opinion involves a public employee who alleged discrimination, and his employer punished him because it believed his allegations contained false statements. He sued, and the district court invoked Younger abstention and dismissed. Interpreting the 2013 Scotus ruling in Sprint Communications, CA3 affirmed.

The case is Gonzalez v. Waterfront Commission. Opinion by Smith, joined by Rendell and Hardiman. The case was decided without oral argument.

New CA3 cert grant — Facebook-threats case

Having just reversed the Third Circuit on a criminal conviction arising from an ugly romantic break-up, yesterday Scotus granted cert to review another one. Virginia is for lovers, but Pennsylvania is for menacing, but perhaps not federally criminal, ex-lovers.

The case is US v. Elonis. The CA3 opinion upholding the conviction is here: Scirica was the author, joined by Hardiman and Aldisert. CA3 oral argument audio here. Elonis was represented in CA3 and on cert by Ronald Levine and Abraham Rein of Post & Schell. They were joined on the cert petition by Vinson & Elkins and the UVa Scotus clinic.

The question presented is whether subjective intent to threaten is required by either the First Amendment or the criminal statute. After Elonis’s wife left him, he made a series of posts on Facebook, including this (excerpted):

Did you know that it’s illegal for me to say I
want to kill my wife?
It’s illegal.
It’s indirect criminal contempt.
It’s one of the only sentences that I’m not
allowed to say.
Now it was okay for me to say it right then
because I was just telling you that it’s illegal for
me to say I want to kill my wife.
I’m not actually saying it.
I’m just letting you know that it’s illegal for me
to say that.
It’s kind of like a public service.

Now the Supreme Court will decide whether that was “okay.”

For more, here are some links:

  • Scotusblog page with QPs and cert and amicus filings here
  • Post by the law school clinic here
  • Blog post by Jessica Mason Pieklo on RH Reality Check here
  • Early news coverage in USA Today here and Slate here

An unusual visitor

In April I observed here that visiting judges have been hearing far fewer CA3 cases than in years past. Bucking the trend, visiting judge Jane Restani sat with the court this week, visiting from an Article III court I’d never even heard of: the United States Court of International Trade. (Court page here, wikipedia here). Its mission:

to resolve disputes by:

Providing cost effective, courteous, and timely service to those affected by the judicial process;

Providing independent, consistent, fair, and impartial interpretation and application of the customs and international trade laws; and

Fostering improvements in customs and international trade law and practice and improvements in the administration of justice.

Judge Restani’s poor law clerks probably find themselves climbing a steep learning curve, since  customs courts doesn’t get much experience handling tricky and important capital habeas cases like the one the panel heard yesterday. (Although Judge Restani sounded admirably prepared at argument.)

Ambro and Barry were the other two judges on the panel.

New opinion — moocher-hunting isn’t searching

One new opinion today.

Richard Stanley thought he’d figured out how to share child porn on the internet without getting caught: instead of using his own internet connection, he mooched his neighbor’s (non-password protected) wifi. Police can track the activity to the neighbor’s ISP, but that doesn’t tell them who’s mooching. Pretty clever.

Unfortunately for Mr. Stanley, the state police also had a clever idea: bring in the “MoocherHunter.” A MoocherHunter, as you no doubt already know, is a software tool that measures directional signal strength to give you an idea where a wifi moocher is. It hunted, Stanley confessed, and he pled guilty but reserved the right to challenge the warrantless MoocherHunter-ing. Today, CA3 affirmed, denying Stanley’s appeal and holding that moocher-hunting isn’t searching.

The case is US v. Stanley. Opinion by Smith, joined by Shwartz (mostly) and Scirica. The opinion’s earnest use of “mooching” throughout is endearing.

At the end of the opinion is an interesting detour for Fourth Amendment nerds and CA3 nerds. Having found no search, the court nevertheless went on to criticize the district court’s  alternative reasoning rationale that people assume the risk that what they send over the internet will be exposed to police. The panel majority rejected this view because it “could, without adequate qualification, unintentionally provide the government unfettered access to this mass of private information without requiring its agents to obtain a warrant.”

Interestingly, Shwartz did not join that section of the opinion. Also interestingly, she did not write separately, but instead Smith explained her contrary position in a footnote. Shwartz viewed the discussion as unnecessary (it’s obviously dicta) and in any event she viewed the district court’s assumption-of-risk holding as correct in cyber-trespassing cases.

Early news coverage here.



New opinions — another correction, and another donning-and-doffing appeal

Two opinions today, both echoing recent appellate-junkie news.

First, the court issued a corrected opinion in Foglia v. Renal Ventures, a published reversal from last week. I mentioned here that it was 9 months between argument and opinion, but apparently that wasn’t quite long enough to catch an error. (Your diligent blogger had to know: the only change was on page 7, the original opinion erroneously said it was joining the First, Fifth, and Eleventh [corrected to Ninth] Circuits.)

Kudos to the court for catching and correcting its error (and for giving notice of the correction, unlike Scotus). Nothing nearly so embarrassing as Scalia’s plus ça faux pas earlier this term.

Today’s new opinion comes in a labor case brought by police officers arguing, among other things, that they should be paid for their time putting on and removing (“donning and doffing”) their uniforms each day. Appeals nerds will recognize this as the same sort of claim that got Posner in some well-deserved hot water earlier this year, when he cited his own in-chambers don-and-doff experiment as support for the outcome, leaving dissenting Judge Woods “startled, to say the least.” You’ll not be surprised to learn that CA3 chose not to reprise (or, at least, not to brag about in its opinion) Posner’s experiment — didn’t even cite the opinion. CA3 affirmed summary judgment against the officers.

The case is Rosano v. Township of Teaneck. Opinion by Fisher, joined by McKee and Sloviter. Arguing counsel were Marcia Tapia for the donner-and-doffers, Angelo Genova for the township.

New opinion — bankruptcy reversal

When a federal court interprets a state statute, how much deference does it owe to an intermediate state court’s interpretation of that statute? That was a key issue in an appeal decided today. The district court criticized the state court ruling but treated it as binding. Reversing, CA3 disagreed: “a federal court interpreting a state law may discount state appellate decisions it finds flawed, if it predicts the state supreme court would reach a contrary result.”

The case is In re: Makowka. Opinion by Hardiman, joined by Sloviter and Barry. It’s a published reversal without oral argument, unusual but not unheard-of.

New opinions — false claims, securities fraud

First up, a reversal that deepens a circuit split. A nurse who was fired sued her former employer under the False Claims Act, alleging the employer was lying about its compliance with state regulations. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim based on heightened pleading requirements for fraud claims, but CA3 reversed. The court noted a circuit split on FCA pleading requirements and joined Circuits 1, 5, & 9, rejecting Circuits 4, 6, 8, & 11.

The case is Foglia v. Renal Ventures Management. Opinion by Sloviter, joined by McKee and Smith. Arguing counsel Ross Begelman for the nurse and Barry Muller for the employer. Nearly 9 months passed between argument and issuance, unusual for a 12-page opinion with no dissent.

Update: the opinion was reissued on 6/10/14, new opinion here.

The other published case today is a securities-fraud affirmance. A pension fund sued a drug-maker, alleging the maker misled the public about an Alzheimer’s drug it was developing.  CA3 upheld 12b6 dismissal of the suit.

The case is City of Edinburgh v. Pfizer. Opinion by Scirica, joined by Smith and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were Daniel Berger for the funds and John Villa for the drug-maker.


CA3 reversed in Bond


John Singer Sargent’s painting Gassed, referenced in the opening sentence of today’s opinion.

The Supreme Court this morning decided Bond v. United States, the lone cert grant from CA3 this term. Opinion here. CA3 was reversed 9-0, again, with Roberts writing for the court and the other 3 conservatives concurring in the judgment.

Update: NYT coverage here, reaction on Volokh Conspiracy here, noting, “It is worth noting that this is one of the few cases that has gone to the Supreme Court twice. Even more unusually, Carol Anne Bond prevailed both times without losing a single justice’s vote.”  Most unusual of all is the fact that both times the Court reversed unanimous panel decisions.

New opinion — shareholder challenge to tax-deductible CEO pay fails


This is my daughter, making the exact same face I made when I read this opinion.

Today, I learned that, when a corporation pays its top executives over $100 million, the corporation can claim that as a tax-deductible business expense. Because, really, what could be more sensible than having insanely large executive pay be subsidized by taxpayers?

Anyhow, that’s what Viacom did (the opinion dryly notes Viacom in 2011 earned over $2 billion), and one of its shareholders sued the corporation and its board members over it. Today, without reaching the question of whether the deduction was legal,* the Third Circuit ruled for Viacom.

The case is Freedman v. Redstone, the opinion is here. The author is Greenberg, joined by Fuentes and Van Antwerpen. Arguing counsel were Arnold Gershon for the shareholder and Stuart Baskin for Viacom.


* In a footnote, the Court notes, “Though we place only limited significance on this circumstance, the amount of compensation paid the executives was so large that it well may have come to the IRS’s attention. Yet so far as we are aware, the IRS did not challenge the compensation’s deductibility.”

“Several of the figures most central to the region’s mortgage fraud problem cooperated with prosecutors, and got non-prison sentences.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Duquesne’s law school recently teamed up to study mortgage-fraud prosecutions in WDPA. The upshot was two articles last weekend, here and here. Two related stories here and here.

Sentencing policy is getting long overdue attention (including at the recent CA3 judicial conference), and NACDL among others is tackling the trial penalty head-on, so this is a timely study.

Core findings:

• Leniency for cooperation was doled out liberally. At least 30 of the 100 defendants were the beneficiaries of prosecutorial motions to reward “substantial assistance” to the investigation. That cooperation rate is nearly double that seen in fraud cases nationwide, suggesting that prosecutors here rewarded more defendants than normal.

• Most of the mortgage criminals who assisted prosecutors got no prison time, and the average amount of incarceration for those 30 defendants was a little more than three months. By contrast, defendants who pleaded guilty but didn’t provide substantial assistance to prosecutors, got average sentences of three years in prison. Those few who went to trial faced an average of 6½ years behind bars.

• Several of the figures most central to the region’s mortgage fraud problem cooperated with prosecutors, and got non-prison sentences. For instance, Kenneth C. Cowden, formerly of McKees Rocks and now of Florida, performed unlicensed appraisals that exaggerated real estate values in the region to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. He cooperated and got nine months in a halfway house. Jay Berger of Fox Chapel, who recruited Cowden and lived lavishly from fraudulent mortgages, was sentenced in 2012 to 15 months in prison, but died this month at age 49 without serving time.

Hat tip: Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy, which observes here, “I view this terrific bit of investigative journalism as further proof that those who are really concerned about suspect disparities in federal sentencing ought to be much more focused on the application of (hidden and unreviewable) prosecutorial sentencing discretion than about the exercise of (open and reviewable) judicial sentencing discretion.”

Upcoming oral arguments

Doesn’t everyone who clerks for a federal appellate judge daydream about arguing in front of the judge s/he clerked for? Next week, Brian Rabbitt gets to live the dream. He clerked for Hardiman in 2009-10, and on Wednesday he’s arguing before a panel of Hardiman, Scirica, and Roth. Rabbtit is an associate at Williams & Connolly. The case is Carlyle Investments Management v. Moonmouth Co., 13-3526.

Two other appeals (one criminal, one immigration) will be argued the same day with the same panel, the only panel sitting next week. Calendar here.

Katzin en banc oral argument audio

Audio of this morning’s en banc argument in USA v. Katzin is up already, here. Katzin is a high-profile Fourth Amendment case. The specific issue at argument was application of the good-faith exception to warrantless vehicle placement of a GPS, a search not covered by binding precedent. My argument preview is here. Lead EDPA appellate AUSA Robert Zauzmer seems likely to extend his impressive en banc win streak; in my opinion he’s one of the top oral advocates regularly appearing in CA3.

Chief Judge McKee offered a characteristic practice pointer, commending Zauzmer for admitting that he was seeking a slight extension of a particular case, noting “lesser advocates would not have done this.”

Catherine Crump argued for the defendant (starting at 27:50 in the audio). At the close of argument, McKee described her argument as “phenomenal.”

For more, early AP news coverage here.


Panel rehearing grant in CA3-cert case

No CA3 opinions today, but an arcane order granting panel rehearing and vacating the prior panel opinion in United Industrial, Service, Transportation, Professional & Gov’t Workers of North America Seafarers Union v. Gov’t of the Virgin Islands. Arcane, because this case came to CA3 not as an appeal but rather on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands (what, you mean you haven’t read CA3 L.A.R. 112?). The rehearing petition, here, argued that the lower-court decision should be vacated as moot due the death of a party.

Appellate lawyering, and darling-murder


Murder in the House, by Jakub Schikaneder (public domain / Wikimedia Commons)

Today, some thoughts about appellate advocacy. Specifically, about the difference between Great Lawyers and great lawyering.

There are lots of brutally bad federal appellate briefs out there, so it’s a relief to read a brief by a Great Lawyer. It’s a brief that makes you say, “wow, here’s a mighty smart lawyer who worked mighty hard.” A masterful brief, with law-review-worthy string cites and soaring prose, a rich vocabulary and clever allusions, all spiced with a devastating put-down or two to add zing. A Great Lawyer writes even obviously marginal issues with panache and erudition. Those are the briefs whose writers command attention and rise above the dreck.

But that’s not great lawyering.

Great appellate lawyering is harder to spot than Great Lawyers because it works very hard to hide and disguise itself. When I look at great lawyering in a circuit appeal, all I notice are easy issues. Great lawyering is a brief you finish reading and say, “any clown could win an issue this simple and clear-cut, how come I never get cases like this?” Great lawyering results in a lot of unpublished circuit opinions, unsexy little victories no one will notice, except for the clients.

Great appellate lawyering is recklessly ethical because it subordinates the lawyer’s interest in dazzling to the clients’ interest in winning. It is irrational because it takes more work than most clients or courts will pay you for. It isn’t brilliant, it is relentless — relentless in finding a winning point, relentless in pruning away the weaker issues and arguments, relentless in transforming good-enough fourth drafts into clear and persuasive briefs.

I used to write to impress other lawyers; now I write to persuade judges. It’s harder than it looks. Here’s a quote that helped light the way:

[I]f you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — wholeheartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Weev postscript

I posted here and here about hacker Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer’s recent Third Circuit win vacating his conviction. Now, Staci Zaretsky at Above the Law reports that Auernheimer has sent his trial judge, prosecutors, and FBI agent an invoice requesting (“PAY ME MY MONEY, YOU LYING SUBHUMAN GARBAGE”) $13.2 million for his time behind bars.

Report, with the full “entertainingly trollish” letter, here.

New opinion — high-low agreement enforcement

During a civil trial, the parties entered into a high-low agreement — regardless of the outcome, the defendant would pay no more than $2.7 million and no less than $900,000. After the jury returned an $8.6 million verdict, the plaintiffs asserted that the defendants had breached the agreement. The defendants moved to enforce the agreement, but the trial judge ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to resolve the issue. Today, CA3 reversed, and it remanded to let the district court decide whether the deal was breached.

The case was Bryan v. Erie County Office of Children & Youth. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Fisher and Stark D.Del. by designation. Arguing counsel were Sheila Haren for the trial defendants and Jay Paul Deratany for the plaintiffs.


CA3 cert case stiiillll pending


The lone CA3 case pending before the Supreme Court is term is proving to a stumper.

Over a month ago, I wrote:

In the current term (OT 2013), only 1 CA3 decision had cert granted: Bond v. US, a treaty-power criminal case making a return trip to Scotus. Bond was argued in the Court back in early November but no opinion yet; it is the second-oldest argued case awaiting decision, and it appears the author will be Roberts or Kennedy (my money’s on Kennedy, reversing again).

Bond still hasn’t come down, and it now is the oldest undecided Scotus case. My author prediction was wrong: Roberts is the only justice who hasn’t authored a November-argument case, so it seems clear he assigned Bond to himself. I’m sticking with my reversal prediction.

New opinions — two civil-rights appeal reversals

Two opinions today, both appeals from 1983 suits, both reversing in part.

The first involves a police-misconduct 1983 suit arising out of shocking facts, shocking enough that a jury awarded $2.7 million damages. And after a remittitur motion, a second jury awarded $4 million. A second remittitur motion followed, but instead of ruling on that motion the district court just reinstated the first verdict. CA3 reversed, instructing the district court to reinstate the second verdict and then rule on the second remittitur motion.

The case is Lesende v. Borrero. Opinion by Cowen, joined by Fisher and Scirica. Arguing counsel were John Scott for the defendant city and Robert Kobin for the trial plaintiffs.

The second is another police-misconduct suit where a state police officer went around to the back of a property without trying the front door but argued that his warrantless entry was covered by the “knock and talk” exception. The district court denied the plaintiff’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on unlawful entry and the jury ruled for the officer. CA3 reversed, holding that the officer violated the Fourth Amendment as a matter of law and was not entitled to qualified immunity.

The case is Carman v. Carroll. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by McKee & Schiller EDPA by designation. Argument audio here. Arguing counsel were Barry Dyller for the trial plaintiffs and Deputy AG Sean Kirkpatrick for the officer.

UPDATE: Julie McGrain has a helpful write-up of Carman at Federal Defender Third Circuit Blog, here.

UPDATE II: The Supreme Court reversed per curiam, opinion here.

Judicial conference wrap-up


Yes, this really is the Hershey Lodge’s bathroom wallpaper.

Last week was the Third Circuit judicial conference in Hershey. I was there. A few hyper- hyperlinked thoughts:

  • The circuits have come under fire for their judicial-conference spending (CA9 held theirs in Maui in 2011: oops), but I saw nothing to criticize here. Especially since CA3 foisted the cost of receptions off on outside groups including the Third Circuit Bar Association. I agree with Justice Kennedy that “The circuit conference is a prudent and proper exercise of the judicial function.” Even in this time of federal judicial budget struggles, judges and lawyers need a forum to grapple with systemic legal issues,.
  • Chief Judge McKee’s influence on the program was evident and, in my opinion, very positive.
  • Justice Alito: budding stand-up comedian. I did learn two things from his talk: (1) the Court has an internal deadline of the end of May for majority opinions and June 15 for dissents, and (2) the Justices have a no-talking-about-cases-at-lunch rule. During Alito’s talk, I kept rolling my eyes and mouthing “Not true,” but no one noticed.
  • SG Verrilli said the reason the US sided with the town in the recent legislative-prayer case was Congress’s interest in keeping its own opening prayers. I found that wacky, but this time I kept it to myself.
  • EDNY judge John Gleeson stole the show with his talk on innovative sentencing. Sixty-year-olds aren’t Scotus nominees, but Gleeson sounded Scotus-caliber to me.*
  • Cheryl Krause, whose CA3 nomination is pending before the full Senate, was there, often with a sitting judge or 2 at her side. On the rumor front, I overheard that Becker’s district court chambers have been designated for her, which may reflect the confidence that she’ll be confirmed.
  • Screened at the conference was a documentary film on criminal re-entry called Pull of Gravity. Website here, trailer here, reaction video here. The odd part: the Philly US Attorney’s office was the film’s executive producer (what sequester?), and Executive AUSA Robert Reed is its biggest champion. The good part: the film itself is eye-opening and honest. Look for it.
  • If you’re in Hershey for a meal, try Troeg’s Brewery tasting room; Nugget Nectar is the beer-nerd choice.

* Update: for more on mandatory minimums, see yesterday’s thoughtful post at Hercules & the Umpire.

New opinion — NJ professional-suit appeal

New Jersey has a statute that says that, if you want to sue a licensed professional for negligence or malpractice, you need to find a like professional to vouch for your claim. CA3 today ruled that this requirement applies to an intentional tort claim seeking money damages, a result it admitted was “counterintuitive (one may argue illogical),” affirming the district court’s dismissal.

The case is Nuveen Municipal Trust v. Withumsmith Brown. Opinion by Ambro, joined by Vanaskie and Aldisert. Arguing counsel were Robert Heim (who was impressive on a class-actions panel at the CA3 conference last week) and Scotus regular Eric Brunstad for the appellant; Michael Canning, Donald Campbell, and Louis Modugno for appellees. Goes to show that the side with the superstar lawyers doesn’t always win.

For more: Bruce Greenberg’s New Jersey Appellate Law blog analysis here.

New opinion — tax reversal

CA3 reversed today in a tax appeal, holding that the district court erred in summarily denying the taxpayer’s estate’s argument that a tax expert’s mistaken advice excused its late payment.

The case was Estate of Thouron v. US. Opinion by Ambro, joined by Hardiman and Greenaway. Arguing counsel were Maureen McBride for the estate and Jonathan Cohen for the government.

Upcoming oral arguments

A panel of McKee, Chagares, and a shifting third (Nygaard, Garth, and Thompson of DNJ) is sitting for arguments in Philadelphia next week. Schedule for the sitting here.

Two recent CA3 clerks will be arguing; both are law firm associates appearing pro bono. Hardiman alum Michael Glick will argue Scott v. Warden on Tuesday, and 2007 Fisher alum Paige Foster will argue Siluk v. Merwin on Wednesday. Welcome back to both.

Also next week there’s a capital habeas argument on Tuesday in Michael v. Wetzel. CA3 remanded Michael’s case in 2006 for a competency evaluation. The panel is Ambro, Greenberg, and Nygaard. Arguing are Amy Donnella for the Philly CHU and James Barker for the AG.

Finally, this week there are two panels sitting out-of-town, one in Pittsburgh and one in the Virgin Islands. Some clerks bitter, some happy …

New opinions, including 2 without oral argument

Three published opinions today, which goes to show that someone’s been working even as the Judicial Conference wraps up today. Two of them were decided without oral argument, which is unusual.

First is US v. Smith, which, without argument, reversed a restitution order imposed at resentencing on the ground that restitution was outside the scope of the remand. A remand to consider specified sentencing issues does not authorize the sentencing court to revisit other sentencing issues, even if both parties urge the revisiting. The court also affirmed on several other issues. Any published opinions without oral argument are uncommon, and criminal-appeal reversals without argument are rare.

Opinion by Barry, joined by Sloviter and Hardiman. Arguing counsel for Smith was Peter Levin. Three other defendants also were on the appeal  (disclosure: one of the co-defendants was a co-defendant of one of my clients in an unrelated prosecution).

The second opinion today also is a criminal appeal, US v. Harris aka Pickle. Harris pled nolo contendere but sought an offense-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. The court held that a nolo plea does not automatically bar the reduction, but affirmed denial of the reduction here.

Opinion by McKee, joined by Fisher and Sloviter. Arguing counsel were Joseph Yablonski for the defendant and Jane Dattilo for the government.

Third up is an immigration appeal, Capadan v. Attorney General. This opinion was released back in March as an unpublished opinion; today the court granted the AG’s motion to reissue as a precedential opinion. Unpublished opinions that break new ground do happen, and Capadan is a reminder that the court sometimes will publish if you ask. The court affirmed, holding that a PA conviction for indecent assault is an aggravated felony supporting removability.

Opinion by Rendell, joined by Smith and Hardiman. No oral argument, but counsel were Valerie Burch for Capadan and Christina Martin and Carmel Morgan for the AG.


New opinion — arbitration clause interpretation

CA3 reversed today in an insurance-coverage appeal. The district court had held that the claims fell under an arbitration clause and dismissed the suit. CA3 reversed and remanded. The court noted “concerns about the policy implications of forcing a provider to arbitrate participants’ claims against an insurer,” because the insurer’s position “trivializes the important public policy interests served by permitting providers to bring such claims on behalf of plan participants.”

The case is Cardionet v. Cigna Health, opinion here. Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Fisher and Stark D.Del. Arguing counsel were Mark Gallant of Cozen for the provider and Paul Hummer of Saul Ewing for the insurer.

Denial of en banc rehearing in consumer-class-certification appeal

CA3 denied rehearing en banc rehearing Friday in a high-profile case involving products-liability-suit class certification. Ambro, joined by McKee, Rendell, and Fuentes, dissented from the denial. Given CA3’s track record shaping class-action law, I doubt we’ve heard the last of this issue.

The panel opinion is Carrera v. Bayer Corp. The en banc denial and dissent are here. The panel opinion built on a prior CA3 case, Marcus v. BMW. Ambro wrote Marcus, so his dissent here carries special force: “Several amici — including this country’s most recognized expert on procedure, Arthur Miller — warn that Carrera threatens the viability of low-value consumer class action ‘that necessitated Rule 23 in the first instance.'” Ambro  also urges the Rules Committee to take a look.

A blog post about the denial and dissent by Bruce Greenberg of New Jersey Appellate Law blog here. He’s the one who uploaded the rehearing denial; he thinks the dissenters are right. Hat tip also to Howard Bashman’s How Appealing.

One year on the court: Judge Shwartz — introduction

The Third Circuit’s newest judge, Patty Shwartz, has now been on the court for a year. One year isn’t long enough to give a full picture any judge, but it’s a start.

Good lawyers know their judges. It’s one of the advantages lawyers have who do a lot of CA3 appeals. They have a better sense of how a judge will approach their case, how she handles oral argument, whether she’s likely to be the swing vote on their panel, even whether she’s reachable with an en banc petition. CA3 regulars have that sort of knowledge about Rendell, Smith, and Sloviter, but most don’t know Shwartz as well yet.

So over a series of posts, I’ll take a closer look at Judge Shwartz and her first-year body of work — the opinions she’s written, opinions she’s joined, and her oral arguments. To be clear, I don’t suggest there’s anything unusual about Shwartz here; as other judges join the court, I plan to do one-year summaries for them, too.

Quick follow-up on habeas reversal rates

I posted yesterday about CA3’s dropping reversal rate. I noted the overall drop was driven by a dramatic drop in CA3’s reversal rate for prisoner-petition appeals, including habeas, and I hypothesized that two 2011 Scotus habeas opinions might help explain why.

I was floored by what I’d found. Here’s a little more perspective from the other circuits. I’ve limited the years and focused on private-prisoner-petition cases, which includes habeas but does not include 2255s:

So CA3 was not the only circuit that dramatically lowered its reversal rate between 2011 and 2012: so did CA1, CA4, CA5, and CA7. And between 2012 and 2013, the reversal rate dropped in all 11 circuits.

Indeed, adding a couple more years’ data, it’s notable how similar the curves for CA4, CA5, and CA7 are to CA3’s:

2011 peaks, 2012 plunges. This still doesn’t prove that Richter and Pinholster caused the reversal-rate drop, but it does confirm that CA3’s experience is not unique.

* I’ve omitted the DC circuit due to their tiny numbers in this category. They had 12 cases and affirmed in all.

New opinions — criminal sentencing plain error, pre-emption

Two published opinions today.

In U.S. v. Tai, CA3 found plain error and remanded because the district court applied the USSG role enhancement without any finding that another participant was criminally culpable. The court denied other plain-error challenges.

Opinion by Shwartz (her 7th since joining the court), joined by Fuentes and Rosenthal SDTX. Arguing counsel were Peter Goldberger for the defendant and Paul Shapiro for the government.

In In re: Fosamax, the court affirmed dismissal of state-law product liability claims on pre-emption grounds. Remarkable to see an appeal where, on one side, an associate did the argument, and on the other side it was an NLJ top-100 lawyer backed by a big-firm who’s-who. Guess who won.

Opinion by Jordan, joined by Vanaskie and Greenberg. Arguing counsel, both out-of-circuit, were Brandon Bogle and Jay Lefkowitz.

New opinion — declining declaratory judgment jurisdiction

In today’s lone published opinion, CA3 affirmed a district court ruling declining jurisdiction over a suit under the Declaratory Judgment Act. The court answered in the affirmative a “question of the ‘outer boundar[y]’ of a district court’s discretion under the DJA, specifically whether a district court may decline jurisdiction over a declaratory judgment action when there are no parallel state proceedings.”

The case was Reifer v. Westport Insurance Corp. Opinion by Van Antwerpen, joined by Fuentes and Greenberg. Arguing counsel, both out-of-circuit, were Christopher Wadley for the insurance company and David Knauer for Reiffer.

A closer look at reversal rates — habeas is the big news

The suddenly famous Ellen Brotman commented here yesterday that CA3’s 5% reversal rate was lower than previous years. Very true. Reversals are dropping, led by a freefall in CA3 habeas reversals. I’ve whipped up some quick graphs to illustrate.

First, CA3’s overall reversal rate over the last 13 years:

At first glance that looks like a steep, steady drop. But notice that two years — 2006 with its 28% reversal rate, and 2013 with 5.4% — are outliers. Eight of the 13 years fall between 9% and 12%.

Here are CA3’s reversal rates for the two largest categories of cases, criminal and private civil:

So civil reversals are dropping, while criminal reversals spiked in 2006* but have otherwise have held relatively stable. Bottom line: private civil and criminal appeals don’t explain the 2013 reversal-rate plunge.

To get the plunge, we need to look at prisoner post-conviction appeals.** Here there are two groups: 2255 petitions for federal convictions, and habeas corpus petitions for state convictions. The numbers are startling:

Look at that habeas relief rate, the red line. For 10 years 2002 to 2011, CA3 reversed over 12% of cases every year, peaking in 2011 at 16%. Then, the elevator shaft: 6% in 201