Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud arising from a scheme in which he overpaid for commodities to the benefit of certain customers while managing a grain elevator for Bunge. The district court ordered defendant to pay $1,561,516.25 in restitution to Bunge, which included $87,536.65 in attorney's fees and expenses Bunge paid to an outside counsel during the investigation of defendant's fraudulent scheme and his prosecution. The court affirmed the portion of the district court's restitution award which does not include attorney's fees; vacated the portion awarding attorney's fees and expenses; and remanded to the district court to specifically address whether the attorney's fees incurred after the government initiated its own investigation were "necessary" under 18 U.S.C. 3663A(b)(4). View "United States v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Century appeals the district court's final judgment determining that Hipner does have coverage under an umbrella policy entered between the parties. Because Wyoming law had not definitively addressed whether an insurer must be prejudiced before being entitled to deny coverage when the insured has failed to give notice “as soon as practicable,” the court certified the question to the Supreme Court of Wyoming. On certification, the Supreme Court of Wyoming adopted the notice-prejudice rule, holding that “prejudice to the insurer [is required] before coverage may be denied based upon a violation of a notice provision contained in the policy.” Additionally, that court held that “an insurance clause is [not] enforceable where it excludes coverage unless the insured notifies the insurer ‘as soon as practicable . . . whether [the insurer] [is] prejudiced or not.’” In this case, although Hipner did not provide timely notice to Century, the court concluded that Century failed to show how the four-month delay in receiving notice actually prevented it from taking any meaningful investigatory steps that it would have done had there been no delay. Because Century suffered no prejudice from the delay in notice, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Century Surety Co. v. Jim Hipner LLC" on Justia Law
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Defendant pled guilty to one count of possession of a firearm and ammunition by an unlawful drug user in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3) and 924(a)(2). On appeal, defendant challenged the denial of his motion to dismiss because 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to the facts of his case. The court concluded that a trial on the merits was needed to decide defendant's pretrial motion to dismiss where the parties dispute what evidence the district court could consider in its ruling. In this case, the district court could not rule on defendant's as applied constitutional challenge without resolving factual issues related to his alleged offense, such as the extent of his drug use, and therefore the district court should have deferred ruling until trial. The court concluded that this premature ruling prejudiced defendant's ability to obtain appellate review of his constitutional challenge, for he conditionally pled guilty under his mistaken assumption that he could "have an appellate court review an adverse determination" of his motion to dismiss. The court explained that had the district court informed defendant that it would have to defer a final ruling on his motion, defendant could have moved to vacate his guilty plea and proceeded to trial on the original charges. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "United States v. Turner" on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to 120 months in prison. The court concluded that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion to suppress the firearm where there was no Fourth Amendment seizure here until the officers removed defendant from the idling car. The court also noted that the wig wag lights activated by the officers are different from the full light bar which is used to notify motorists in moving vehicles that they are required to stop. Here, officers activated the wig wag lights in order to identify themselves as police for the safety of all parties involved. A reasonable person seeing the wig wag lights under these circumstances would have thought that he was still "at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business." Because defendant was not unlawfully seized, the district court did not err in denying his motion to suppress. The court also concluded that the district court did not err by admitting circumstantial evidence that connected defendant to a shooting death involving the gun because it was highly probative of defendant's possession of the weapon. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Cook" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Vermillion Police Department (VPD) officers, alleging violations of their First and Fourth Amendment rights. Given the totality of the circumstances, the relatively low .02 BAC limit under the minor DUI statute, and the absence of judicial decisions interpreting that statute, the court found that the officers had at least arguable probable cause to believe that Plaintiff Callissa Schaffer had violated SDCL 32-23-21. Therefore, the court concluded that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to plaintiffs' claim that officers violated Callissa's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. Likewise, the officers are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to plaintiffs' claim that the officers deprived Callissa of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches when she was frisked before being placed in the patrol car. The court also concluded that Officer Foley is entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiffs' claim that he deprived Callissa of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches because he purposefully misrepresented facts in his affidavit for a search warrant. In this case, plaintiffs failed to show that any of the omissions at issue were intentional or reckless. Finally, the court concluded that the officers are also entitled to qualified immunity on Jill Schaffer's claim that the officers retaliated against her for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment, and Chief Betzen is entitled to summary judgment on both the official capacity and individual capacity claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Schaffer v. Beringer" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed her sentence and conviction for two counts of producing child pornography. The court rejected defendant's argument that the district court erred by denying her motion to suppress 47 photographs of her hands, and concluded that the manner in which the officers carried out the search here did not exceed the scope of the warrant. In this case, the warrant specified that law enforcement could search defendant's person, specifically body views and photography of her hands. Furthermore, the court concluded that the photography process did not exceed the bounds of reasonableness required by the Fourth Amendment, and her due process rights were not violated. The court also concluded that any error in failing to exclude an agent's testimony was harmless where substantial evidence other than the testimony supported the jury's verdict. The court rejected defendant's claims of error relating to the exclusion of the videotaped interview of the minor where any probative value was substantially outweighed by the videotape's potential to confuse the issues. The court further concluded that the district court did not err with respect to the jury instruction on lascivious exhibition. Finally, the district court committed no procedural sentencing error and adequately considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. Accordingly, the court affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Merrell" on Justia Law
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Debtor appealed from the bankruptcy court's order denying his motion to reinstate his dismissed Chapter 13 bankruptcy case and an order denying his motion to reconsider that order. The panel concluded that the bankruptcy court did not clearly err in concluding that debtor had no meritorious defense to the UST’s motion to dismiss. Therefore, the panel affirmed the bankruptcy court's order denying debtor's motion to reinstate the dismissed case and denying his motion to reconsider. View "Paulson v. McDermott" on Justia Law
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Defendant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and the district court sentenced him to 180 months in prison pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e). On appeal, defendant argues that his prior conviction under Minn. Stat. 609.713, subd. 1 for making terroristic threats does not qualify as an ACCA predicate offense. The court concluded that the Minnesota terroristic threats statute's definition of "crime of violence" is not divisible. Minnesota's definition of "crime of violence" is broader than the ACCA requirement that a prior conviction have "as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another." Therefore, defendant's prior conviction for terroristic threats was not an ACCA predicate offense, and he does not qualify as an armed career criminal because he had only two prior ACCA predicate convictions. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. McFee" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs contend that their insurance policy from Amica covered damage caused by a fire to their house and personal property. On appeal, plaintiffs challenge the district court's grant of summary judgment for Amica. The district court concluded that no reasonable jury would be able to reconcile the difference between the value of the personal property plaintiffs reported as lost in the fire and the value of personal property they reported in their bankruptcy petition a year earlier. Therefore, the district court determined that the insurance policy was void as a matter of law, and granted summary judgment to Amica on plaintiffs' claims. The court affirmed, concluding, as a matter of law, that because plaintiffs intentionally made material misrepresentations on the Proof of Loss, their entire insurance policy is void under the Concealment of Fraud provision. View "Neidenbach v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law
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Debtor appealed the bankruptcy court's order denying his third motion to reconsider the order dismissing his chapter 7 case. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP) concluded that, although debtor argues in his brief that the dismissal order was erroneous, he failed to file a timely notice of appeal from that order and the panel lacked jurisdiction to review it. The BAP also concluded that the bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion when it denied his third motion for reconsideration. Accordingly, the BAP affirmed the judgment. View "Lee v. Edwards" on Justia Law
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