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

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Corey Lamar Cullar pleaded guilty to maintaining a home for the purpose of distributing controlled substances. The district court imposed a sentence of 240 months in prison, the maximum under the Guidelines. The court calculated Cullar's base offense level at 22, added levels for possessing a dangerous weapon, maintaining a drug premises, having an aggravating role in the offense, and using a minor or obstructing justice. The court then increased his offense level to 32 due to his status as a career offender and declined to give him a reduction for accepting responsibility.Cullar appealed, challenging the court's Guidelines calculation and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. He disputed the court's drug quantity finding, most of its sentencing enhancements, and its denial of a reduction for accepting responsibility. He also argued that the court did not sufficiently consider his mitigating circumstances, making his sentence substantively unreasonable.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that any error in the district court's drug quantity finding and sentencing enhancements did not affect Cullar's Guidelines range and was therefore harmless. The court also upheld the district court's denial of a reduction for accepting responsibility, finding that Cullar had obstructed justice after pleading guilty by leaking documents that identified a cooperator. Finally, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the substantive reasonableness of Cullar's sentence, as it had considered all relevant factors and had not given undue weight to any improper or irrelevant factors. View "United States v. Cullar" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Leroy Johnson, a supervisor at Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation (Wabtec), was terminated after failing to fully disclose his contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, violating the company's COVID-19 protocols and a Last Chance Agreement he had signed. Johnson, the only salaried black employee at the plant, sued Wabtec for wrongful termination under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wabtec.The district court's decision was based on the conclusion that Johnson had not established a prima facie case of discrimination. Johnson had argued that he was treated less favorably than similarly situated white employees, but the court found that the employees he cited were not similarly situated as they were not terminated for misconduct. The court also found that Johnson's failure to fully disclose his potential COVID-19 exposure constituted a safety concern and misconduct, which was grounds for termination under the Last Chance Agreement.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed that Johnson had not established a prima facie case of discrimination and that his termination was due to his misconduct, not his race or age. The court also noted that Johnson had waived his ADEA claim by failing to address its merits in his opening brief. View "Johnson v. Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation" on Justia Law

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Gabriel Eduardo Lemoine and co-defendant Manuel Martinez were indicted on charges related to drug trafficking, including conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, distribution of methamphetamine, and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine. Lemoine and Martinez had moved to Minnesota together, rented apartments and storage units, and were implicated in drug trafficking activities by a confidential informant. Lemoine, however, testified that he was unaware of Martinez's illegal activities.The district court granted Lemoine's motion for acquittal on the conspiracy charge, finding insufficient evidence to prove Lemoine's awareness or involvement in drug trafficking. The court narrowly rejected Lemoine's motion for acquittal on the remaining aiding and abetting counts. The jury found Lemoine guilty on three of the four counts, acquitting him on one charge of aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Lemoine renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal and moved for a new trial after the jury verdict. The district court granted his motion for judgment of acquittal, finding no direct evidence that Lemoine knowingly aided in drug trafficking, and conditionally granted a new trial if its order of acquittal was overturned on appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment of acquittal, finding that the district court had impermissibly reweighed the evidence and given Lemoine's testimony more weight than the inferences and evidence supporting the jury's verdict. The court found sufficient evidence for a jury to find Lemoine had constructive possession of the drugs located in the storage units. However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of a new trial, finding that the district court did not clearly or manifestly abuse its discretion in finding that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Lemoine" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves two defendants, Raekwon Patton and Austin Mallory, who were found guilty of their roles in a drive-by shooting following an encounter with a rival gang member. The shooting occurred after the defendants and their gang members spotted Raysean Nelson, a rival gang member, in a parking lot and followed him. The defendants were charged with attempted murder in aid of racketeering and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.The district court overruled multiple objections raised by the defendants. Patton argued that the jury instructions were missing and that the evidence presented by the government was excessive and portrayed him negatively. He also claimed that his decision to return fire was justified as the other side shot first. However, the court found that Patton had not attempted to retreat before using force, which was required by Iowa law. The court also rejected Patton's argument that the instructions set the bar too low on the racketeering element.Mallory challenged the verdict based on two evidentiary decisions and questioned whether the government established that he was a knowing accomplice. The court excluded a hearsay statement that Mallory hoped would prove he was not the driver during the shooting. The court also did not admit evidence showing Mallory's involvement in non-gang activities, considering it as inadmissible character evidence.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgments of the district court, finding sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Mallory was guilty as an accomplice and rejecting Patton's arguments about the jury instructions and the evidence presented by the government. View "United States v. Mallory" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a copyright infringement claim brought by Laney Griner, the owner of the copyright to a popular internet meme template known as "Success Kid." The meme was used by the King for Congress Committee, a political campaign committee, to solicit donations. Griner sued the Congressman and the Committee for copyright infringement. The jury found the Committee, but not the Congressman, liable for copyright infringement and awarded Griner $750, the statutory minimum. Both parties moved for costs and attorney’s fees, which the district court partially granted and denied to both parties, but denied all attorney’s fees.The Committee appealed the decision, arguing that it had an implied license to use the meme and that its use constituted fair use. The Committee also contested the district court's evidentiary rulings and the jury's instruction regarding damages. The Defendants appealed the denial of attorney’s fees and some costs.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the Committee had waived its implied license defense and that the jury correctly concluded that the Committee's use of the meme did not constitute fair use. The court also found no abuse of discretion in the district court's evidentiary rulings and held that the Committee's challenge to the jury instruction regarding damages was waived. The court affirmed the district court's decision not to award attorney’s fees and its denial of additional costs. View "Griner v. King for Congress" on Justia Law

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Michael Hoeft was found guilty by a jury of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute and possessing a firearm as a prohibited person. The case began when police officers responded to a call from a storage facility manager who reported an unauthorized individual asleep in a truck. Upon arrival, the officers found Hoeft asleep in the truck with a loaded crossbow on the passenger seat. After Hoeft refused to exit the vehicle, the officers tased and arrested him. A subsequent search of Hoeft and his truck revealed methamphetamine, syringes, a scale, a handgun, and the crossbow.Hoeft challenged the district court's decisions on four grounds. He argued that the evidence found by the police should have been suppressed as it was the result of an unconstitutional seizure. He also contended that the gun charge should have been dismissed from the indictment as the relevant statutes were unconstitutional. Hoeft further claimed that there was insufficient evidence to prove his intent to distribute the methamphetamine, and that an out-of-court statement he made to a chemical dependency counselor should have been admitted.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's rulings. The court found that the police officers had reasonable suspicion to investigate Hoeft, making the seizure reasonable. The court also upheld the constitutionality of the statutes under which Hoeft was charged. Regarding the drug charge, the court determined that a reasonable jury could infer intent to distribute based on the evidence presented. Finally, the court concluded that the exclusion of Hoeft's out-of-court statement was harmless, as it would not have introduced new evidence. View "United States v. Hoeft" on Justia Law

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Kevin Erikson, an employee of Wilbur-Ellis Company, LLC, left his job to work for a competitor, J.R. Simplot Company. Erikson had signed an employment agreement with Wilbur-Ellis in 2015, which included a non-competition and non-solicitation provision, preventing him from working with or soliciting from Wilbur-Ellis's customers or employees within a 100-mile radius of McCook County for two years after his employment was terminated. The agreement was set to terminate on March 31, 2019. Nearly four years after the termination of the agreement, Erikson resigned from Wilbur-Ellis and began working for Simplot, a competitor located in the restricted region.Wilbur-Ellis filed a lawsuit against Erikson, arguing that he had breached the agreement by violating the non-competition and non-solicitation provisions. The district court granted Wilbur-Ellis's motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that Wilbur-Ellis was likely to succeed on the merits of its breach of contract claim against Erikson. The court concluded that the non-competition and non-solicitation provisions survived the termination of the agreement and remained enforceable against Erikson at the time of his resignation in 2023.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Erikson argued that the non-competition and non-solicitation provisions were not enforceable against him because the agreement terminated on March 31, 2019, and the provisions did not survive the termination date. The appellate court agreed with Erikson, stating that the provisions did not contain express language sufficient to extend their application beyond the agreement's termination date. Therefore, the provisions expired at the same time as the agreement. The court reversed the district court's decision and vacated the preliminary injunction. View "Wilbur-Ellis Company v. Erikson" on Justia Law

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In this case, Amy Bricker, a high-ranking executive, moved from Cigna Corporation to CVS Pharmacy, Inc., both of which are major healthcare conglomerates. Cigna sued Bricker and CVS, seeking to enforce a non-compete agreement that Bricker had signed while employed at Cigna. The district court granted a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo and protect Cigna's business interests. Bricker and CVS appealed the preliminary injunction.Previously, the district court had found that Cigna's protected interests were numerous and substantial, spanning multiple lines of products and services. It also found that Bricker likely retained a considerable amount of protected information from her time at Cigna. The court concluded that Cigna had a fair chance of demonstrating that the non-compete agreement was reasonable and enforceable under Missouri law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court agreed with the lower court's findings and concluded that the non-compete agreement was likely enforceable under Missouri law. The court also found that Cigna would likely suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction was not granted, as Bricker could potentially disclose Cigna's trade secrets to CVS. The court concluded that the balance of equities favored Cigna and that the public interest supported the enforcement of contractual obligations. Therefore, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction. View "Cigna Corporation v. Bricker" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Marvel Jones, a civilly committed individual at Norfolk Regional Center in Nebraska, filed a pro se civil rights complaint against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS), several correctional facilities, and unnamed individuals. Jones alleged that the institutions' policies and the individuals' actions obstructed his right to legal assistance and unlawfully limited his access to the courts while he was incarcerated. He claimed that the NDCS's law library policies, which prohibit prison librarians and legal aides from assisting inmates in conducting legal research and other legal activities, violated his federal rights.The defendants moved to dismiss the case, citing sovereign immunity and the applicable statutes of limitations. The district court granted the motion, finding that Jones's claims against the correctional facilities and the individual defendants in their official capacities were indeed barred by sovereign immunity and the statutes of limitations. However, the court did not dismiss the claims against the unnamed individual defendants in their individual capacities. Instead, it conditionally dismissed the case against NDCS, requiring it to provide Jones with the requested names and addresses of the unnamed defendants. NDCS appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that the district court's order violated NDCS's sovereign immunity. The court noted that once the district court concluded that NDCS was entitled to sovereign immunity, it lacked the authority to hold NDCS in as a litigant, even on a relatively minor disclosure condition. The court reversed and vacated the portion of the district court’s order that conditioned NDCS’s dismissal on its disclosure of the identities and addresses of the unnamed defendant employees and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Jones v. Dept. of Correctional Services" on Justia Law

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Mohamed Gamar Ahmed was charged with possession of cocaine and fentanyl with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The charges stemmed from a search warrant executed at Ahmed's residence in Nebraska, where law enforcement officers discovered loaded handguns, ammunition, drug paraphernalia, marijuana, cocaine, and counterfeit Percocet pills containing fentanyl. Ahmed pleaded guilty to the charges. The United States Probation Office prepared a presentence investigation report (PSR), which alleged that Ahmed had supplied one of the fentanyl-laced pills to a minor female, who overdosed after ingesting it. The Government filed a motion for an upward departure or variance on the drug-possession count, arguing that the United States Sentencing Guidelines range of 15-21 months’ imprisonment failed to adequately account for the extent of the harm caused by Ahmed’s drug-dealing.The District Court for the District of Nebraska conducted an evidentiary hearing at sentencing that involved testimony from two witnesses. After hearing the direct- and cross-examinations of both witnesses, the district court overruled Ahmed’s objection to the PSR, finding that the testimony was consistent with the allegation that Ahmed supplied the pill that caused the minor to overdose. The district court then proceeded to sentencing, stating that it had considered all the federal sentencing factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), including the serious nature of the offense and Ahmed’s history and characteristics. The district court varied upward on the drug-possession count to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment, ultimately sentencing Ahmed to 48 months’ imprisonment. Ahmed also received a mandatory minimum term of 60 months’ imprisonment on the firearm-possession count, to be served consecutively, for a total of 108 months’ imprisonment.Ahmed appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, alleging that the district court committed procedural error and imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision, finding no procedural error and concluding that the district court imposed a substantively reasonable sentence. View "United States v. Ahmed" on Justia Law