A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.

The now-retired Midland County in Texas, dated 2001 through 2018. prosecutor Ralph Petty worked on over 300 cases as both the lead prosecutor and law clerk for the judge overseeing those cases, arguing by day and (among other improprieties) drafting orders in his own favor at night—unbeknownst to the defense. Erma, who was falsely charged with drug possession, filed suit alongside IJ against Petty as well the district attorney, which approved the agreement and the county. (The judge has died. You can read all about it here The Wall Street Journal. Many thanks! USA TodayThank you for reporting the story last year. You can find the complaint here.

  • Brooklyn men sentenced to 16 years for racketeering. They used violence in order to defend their illegal business, including conspiring to set fire at a nearby gambling den. Second Circuit: Accepted. Dissent: If it is just a few men doing felonies together, then it doesn’t qualify as racketeering. The so-called syndicate they were referring to had no name or rules. There was no organization structure.
  • Allegiance: Motorcyclist killed in accident caused by truck driver who left Albany County, N.Y. police didn’t conduct field sobriety tests or gather any evidence, and filed a dishonest investigative report. This violated the mother of the motorcyclist’s right to access the courts. Second Circuit: Her claims against police are being thrown out because she is actively pursuing state-law lawsuits against truck driver and bar.
  • District court: You are allowed to file the amended complaint. Plaintiffs, this is an entirely different, shorter, amended complaint. District court: That complaint is not sufficiently detailed. It’s been dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiffs: We are appealing! Third Circuit: Guys. C’mon.
  • Jurors are initially unable to reach an agreement and request production of an extended freeze frame taken from the informant’s surveillance video. It shows a Myrtle Beach cocaine dealer’s face in rearview mirror. This freeze frame was not present prior to deliberations. They also ask—and the court orders—the defendant to stand next to the photo. He was convicted, and sentenced for 17 years. Fourth Circuit: Habeas granted. He failed to make a more vigorous objection, which was in violation of the Constitution.
  • A military staff sergeant is currently serving 9 years in prison. He’s released after being subject to several conditions and under the supervision of a civilian parole board. One of his conditions was broken and he’s been sentenced. Wait, is a civilian parole board able to place parole conditions on him, or the court-martial who sentenced him? District court: This is not a matter to be resolved. He’s already been released so it doesn’t make sense for him to assert any rights. Fifth Circuit: Not so fast. The parole violation has resulted in him being denied veterans benefits, but this may not be enough to end the case.
  • A civilian contractor drives to San Antonio, Texas. military training base is swept away on a flooded road on base—a road that officers are supposed to inspect and close when flooded. He drowns. Fifth Circuit. His parents could sue for failure to secure the gate. Case undismissed.
  • A family farmer plans to annexe their land into the next-door town and have it rezoned for residential use. However, the town’s zoning board denies the application. After that, the request is void. District court. You cannot sue the town about its zoning decisions because your land doesn’t exist in that area. Case dismissed! Sixth Circuit: They’re in town, but not because of the zoning ruling. Case un-dismissed!
  • A town may decide to take down a dam, flooding a property owner’s home. Can there be a right of takings before or after the dam is removed? Sixth Circuit (overa dissent). Article III doesn’t require property owners that they wear arm floaties when they sue.
  • Plaintiff (pro se). I was called the n-word by two Ramsey County, Minn. jail supervisions and they ignored complaints about my subordinates doing it. They said: After an investigation, we concluded that they did not. Eighth Circuit: No doubt. Qualified immunity. However, some state-law claims may be remanded.
  • Allegation: A woman buys a fleece jacket for $19.99, which is a marked reduction from the original $39.99 price. You wait! But wait! List price is never paid. She can file a group action against the retailer. Ninth Circuit – Before answering that question, let’s ask if any of the Oregon Supreme Court judges believe anyone is being conned.
  • One man was convicted for tax-related crimes, and sentenced to 21 month imprisonment. But, wait! But wait! Eleventh Circuit (over an appeal): A judge could have given him misleading information and he couldn’t waive his right of counsel. The conviction was vacated.
  • If you read between the lines a little, it seems that your editor thinks it is possible to scam Medicaid and Medicare. As long as you aren’t going overboard. This former Valdosta doctor (now deceased) regularly bill the federal government for viewing over 50 patients in nursing homes per day, sometimes 150, claiming that he provided services that took 70 hours or more. He also once billed for services while he was in Vegas playing poker. The conviction of the defendant and his 8 year sentence were affirmed.
  • The federal law states that the owners of car rented, leased, or rented are generally not vicariously responsible for injuries caused by customers. But what about the owner of a loaner vehicle—here a Mooresville, N.C. auto dealership that provided a car to a couple (who drove the car to Florida while theirs was in the shop)? According to the Eleventh Circuit, the dealership is exempted from liability.

Victory! This week, the feds agreed to return 100 percent of the funds—approximately $1.1 mil—seized from IJ client Empyreal Logistics in California. Last year, the San Bernardino County sheriff’s office confiscated the contents of the armored vehicle company that provides services for state-legal cannabis companies (among other cash-intensive sectors like convenience stores and restaurants) and twice searched the vehicles. After the sheriff had seized the cash, the DOJ’s equitable share program allowed the federal government to civilly forfeit it. Settlement does not impact Empyreal’s claims against herriff. For more information, click here

A new case! Rochester, NY police took $8k in cash from Cristal starling, which she had mostly made from her mobile restaurant business. The money was used to pay for a food truck. Although police suspected that her boyfriend was involved in drug deals, the jury found him not guilty. Cristal wasn’t charged or arrested, but she tried her best to avoid the procedures that could lead to Cristal losing all of her money. A federal court found that Cristal lost her case by default because she failed to meet a deadline. Now represented by IJ, she is asking the Second Circuit to apply the normal rules of civil procedure—where defaults are disfavored and parties without counsel are granted extra leeway in cases involving complex procedural rules—to civil forfeiture cases and to remand the case back to district court to hear the case on its merits. You can find out more information by clicking this link