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

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the South Dakota State Penitentiary's pornography policy under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff named as defendants four South Dakota corrections officials in their official capacities. The district court granted in part and denied in part the parties' motions for summary judgment.In regard to plaintiff's as-applied challenges, the Eighth Circuit applied the Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), factors and concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for plaintiff on his claim that the policy is unconstitutional as applied to two erotic novels because defendants were within their discretion to censor these books. However, the district court properly granted summary judgment for plaintiff on his claim that the policy is unconstitutional as applied to the art book and nine pictures of Renaissance artwork.In regard to plaintiff's facial challenges, the court dismissed as moot plaintiff's claim that the prohibition on nudity is overbroad, but plaintiff's claim that the prohibition on sexually explicit content is overbroad remains a live case or controversy based on the court's reversal of the district court's ruling on his as-applied challenges regarding the erotic novels. The court read the policy in light of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance and concluded that plaintiff failed to show that the policy's prohibition on sexually explicit content is "substantially overbroad." The court concluded that although plaintiff's resolution of plaintiff's as-applied challenges does not moot his claim that the policy's prohibition on sexually explicit content is overbroad, this claim fails on the merits. Finally, the court dismissed as moot plaintiff's request for coercive sanctions, denied his request for compensatory sanctions, and denied plaintiff's request for sanctions for defendants' alleged violations of the district court's orders. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sisney v. Kaemingk" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress after defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. In this case, a police officer stopped the vehicle defendant was driving for having an unsafe windshield and, during the scope of the traffic stop, the officer asked defendant to get out of the vehicle, conducted a pat down search, and discovered a handgun.The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by deciding, in the absence of disputed facts, to rule on the motion to suppress without conducting an evidentiary hearing. The court also concluded that a reasonable officer could have believed on initial observation that the cracked windshield constituted a safety defect and the officer's mistake of fact was an objectively reasonable one. Therefore, defendant was not unreasonably seized when the officer conducted the traffic stop. Furthermore, the officer did not unlawfully expand the scope or extend the stop when he asked for identification from the occupants of the vehicle. View "United States v. Foster" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's ruling that an arbitration clause found in Walmart.com's terms of use was unenforceable against purchasers of gift cards. In this case, plaintiffs filed suit against Walmart after gift cards they purchased turned out to be worthless because third parties tampered with, and stole the funds on, the gift cards. Walmart sought to compel arbitration based on a notation on the back of the gift cards directing purchasers to see Walmart.com for complete terms.The court concluded, under the point-of-purchase theory, that the parties did not enter into a binding arbitration agreement at the moment plaintiffs purchased their gift cards because Walmart did not state that it wished to have the arbitration agreement bind the parties at the moment of purchase. Rather, the arbitration provision states that a customer accepts arbitration only by using or accessing the Walmart Sites. While the parties do not dispute that this case involves a browsewrap agreement, the court concluded that material disputes of fact exists on the question of whether the parties agreed to arbitration. The court explained that material disputes exist regarding whether plaintiffs used the website, whether the design of the website was sufficient to give a reasonable browser notice of the arbitration, and whether the language on the card was sufficient to put the buyer on notice. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Foster v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law

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A global settlement was approved in 2002 in securities law class actions concerning the merger of companies to form Bank of America, which included an award of approximately $58 million in fees to the attorneys appointed to represent the NationsBank Class. Two decades later, one of the lead plaintiffs for the class filed a motion to reconsider the fee award and to order disgorgement of some $38 million in fees previously paid to NationsBank Class Counsel based on their poor performance, mismanagement of the settlement fund, and abandonment of the class.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for redetermination, concluding that disgorgement of attorneys' fees was barred by the equitable doctrine of laches. The court concluded that the delay in asserting plaintiff's claim is manifestly unreasonable and inexcusable, prejudicing the other parties; the court and/or the district court previously rejected plaintiff's challenges; the challenged actions, from the inclusion of an exculpatory clause in the settlement checks to opposing cy pres distribution, occurred seven to fifteen years before plaintiff sought total disgorgement in his motion for redetermination; and plaintiff's failure to seek disgorgement in the proper manner and before the proper court was inexcusable delay. Finally, the court concluded that the district court has not failed to honor its ongoing fiduciary duty to the class in overseeing a complex settlement fund distribution made more complex and dilatory by the contentious actions of its participants, and the court has not allowed the class to be abandoned by those responsible for distributing the settlement fund. View "Oetting v. Sosne" on Justia Law

Posted in: Securities Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for compassionate release under the First Step Act of 2018, concluding that the COVID-19 pandemic is not an extraordinary and compelling circumstance to warrant a sentence reduction in this case. The court explained that, although certainly relevant, the threat of contracting COVID-19 in the prison environment, still real at this time, is not by itself sufficient reason to modify a lawfully imposed prison sentence. Here, the district court properly looked to USSG 1B1.13 and its commentary as relevant but not binding in determining that defendant's health conditions at the time he requested a 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) sentence reduction were not extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting a reduction. Furthermore, the court concluded that the district court did not err in weighing the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors in declining to grant compassionate release. View "United States v. Marcussen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2009, the original Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) director resigned. President Obama replaced him with Acting Director DeMarco, under 12 U.S.C. 4512(f). The President's nomination of a new director stalled. During DeMarco’s 52 months as Acting Director, the FHFA and Treasury Department entered into a third amendment to the agreement governing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders. DeMarco signed the amendment for the FHFA, as conservator for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The district court dismissed a suit by shareholders, alleging that the amendment would collapse the value of their holdings.The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, citing the Supreme Court’s 2021 "Collins" decision. The shareholders have standing to seek retrospective, but not prospective, relief. The de facto officer doctrine bars any Appointment Clause relief. Although the doctrine might not apply to an initially defective appointment, there was no such defect. Even if the Acting Director overstayed some implied limit, any defect was resolved when subsequent FHFA directors ratified the third amendment.The court rejected an argument that Congress unlawfully delegated authority to the FHFA under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, 12 U.S.C. 4617 The delegation directs the FHFA to act as a “conservator,” with clear and recognizable instructions.The FHFA leadership structure impermissibly limits the President’s removal authority, violating the separation of powers but the Acting Director was removable at will, defeating any argument for setting aside the third amendment entirely. All the officers who headed the FHFA were properly appointed. The court remanded to determine whether the unconstitutional removal restriction caused compensable harm to shareholders. View "Bhatti v. Federal Housing Finance Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against University officials, alleging that the University's then-existing events policy was unconstitutional facially and as applied to them under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In this case, after Students for a Conservative Voice (SCV) brought Ben Shapiro to speak at the University, officials rejected various proposed venues for the event, citing security concerns. Ultimately, the officials approved a smaller, more remote venue than what SCV had requested.The Eighth Circuit concluded that SCV's facial challenges and requests for injunctive relief are now moot and that plaintiffs lack standing to maintain their as-applied claim. The court explained that the University's "Large Scale Event Process" policy had been replaced with a new "Major Events" policy, which was more detailed and pertains to the entirety of the University's campus, and plaintiffs failed to show that it is "virtually certain" that the prior policy will be reenacted. In regard to plaintiffs' as-applied claim, they have failed to show that the policy was in fact applied to them. The court stated that the record reflects that the officials' decisions were independent of the Large Scale Event Process and made within the scope of each officials' position at the University, but plaintiffs' complaint presents no First Amendment challenge to the officials' actions apart from the application of the now repealed policy. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's orders with respect to those claims and remanded with instructions to dismiss without prejudice. View "Young America's Foundation v. Kaler" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of HHS and CMS in an action brought by Northport, alleging that a regulation promulgated by CMS through notice and comment rulemaking is unlawful and should be set aside for violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The revised HHS regulations (Revised Rule) prohibits long-term care facilities from conditioning the admission of Medicare and Medicaid residents on their agreement to pre-dispute, binding arbitration and gives the residents the right to rescind the binding arbitration agreements, as well as certain other rights.The court concluded that the Revised Rule does not, in words or effect, render arbitration agreements entered into in violation thereof invalid or unenforceable, and thus it does not conflict with the FAA. Furthermore, the Revised Rule represents a reasonable accommodation of manifestly competing interests and is entitled to deference, and thus the district court properly concluded that it is not ultra vires. The court also concluded that the Revised Rule reflects CMS's reasoned judgment in light of competing considerations, and is not arbitrary or capricious. Finally, although CMS failed to provide a factual basis in support of its section 605(b) certification in the Revised Rule, the court concluded that failing to do so was harmless error. View "Northport Health Services of Arkansas, LLC v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to officers in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that plaintiff's constitutional and state-law rights were violated when he was arrested for committing capital murder and abuse of a corpse. In this case, the officers moved for summary judgment, contending, pursuant to Messerschmidt v. Millender, 565 U.S. 535 (2012), that the prosecuting attorney's approval of the warrant affidavit entitles them to qualified immunity. The court concluded that the district court properly denied the second motion for summary judgment, which was based entirely on Messerschmidt and asserted reliance on counsel. The court explained that, given the prosecutor's testimony, a rational jury could find that the officers did not rely on her informed legal advice in making the challenged omissions or statements in the affidavit. View "Wheeler v. Kidder" on Justia Law

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On a well-lit summer evening in a Des Moines neighborhood with community-reported drug crimes, police officers Minnehan and Steinkamp lawfully stopped Haynes for suspected (mistaken) involvement in a drug deal. The exceedingly polite and cooperative exchange between the three did not make either officer view Haynes as a safety risk. Haynes could not find his driver’s license but shared three separate cards bearing his name. Steinkamp then handcuffed him. While the polite interaction continued, the cuffs stayed on. They also stayed on after a clean frisk and a consensual pocket search. They stayed on after the officers declined Haynes’s invitation to search another pocket and Haynes’s car. The officers declined another squad car’s offer to help.The district court rejected, on summary judgment, Haynes’s Fourth Amendment claims. 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Eighth Circuit reversed. Handcuffs constitute “greater than a de minimus intrusion,” their use requires the officer to demonstrate that the facts available to the officer would warrant a man of reasonable caution in believing that the action taken was appropriate. Here, the officers failed to point to specific facts supporting an objective safety concern during the encounter. Minnehan and Steinkamp had fair notice that they could not handcuff Haynes without an objective safety concern. View "Haynes v. Minnehan" on Justia Law