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

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Defendant appealed the sentence imposed by the district court after he admitted to violating the terms of his supervised release. Defendant argued that the district court improperly considered his need for rehabilitation in crafting the sentence, in violation of Tapia v. United States, 564 U.S. 319 (2011). He further argued that the district court abused its discretion by failing to account for his significant physical and mental health challenges in determining his sentence. Finally, he challenged the district court’s decision to impose an additional term of supervised release following the term of imprisonment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court reasoned that Defendant did not ask the district court not to impose any more supervised release. In fact, Defendant asked to remain on supervised release and pursue treatment. Further, Defendant had repeatedly violated the terms of his supervised release, continued to use illegal substances, and did not put any effort into his own rehabilitation. Thus, given the circumstances, the court discerned no abuse of discretion. View "United States v. Dewey Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff appealed a judgment of the district court upholding an agency decision to deny her application for social security disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff argued that the administrative law judge (ALJ) who denied her claim erred by giving “little weight” to the opinion of one of her treating physicians.  The Eighth Circuit concluded that the ALJ permissibly weighed the evidence and affirmed the decision. The court held that the agency’s decision is supported by substantial evidence. On the record as a whole, the ALJ was justified in declining to give controlling weight to the conclusory opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician.   The court reasoned that the doctor’s opinion was entitled to relatively little evidentiary value on its face because it was rendered on a check-box and fill-in-the-blank form. Further, the doctor’s opinion is also in tension with her own treatment notes. The treatment notes refer only to “evidence of elevated blood pressure levels and occasional skin abnormalities,” while observing “otherwise normal heart, lungs, and extremities.” Additionally, some of Plaintiff’s daily activities also undermined her doctor’s opinion of severe limitations. View "Deborah Swarthout v. Kilolo Kijakazi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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Five defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to transport persons to engage in prostitution, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and conspiracy to use a communication facility to promote prostitution. The jury also found one of the five, guilty of a substantive count of sex trafficking. Defendants appealed various aspects of their convictions and sentences.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment finding that there was no reversible error. Defendants 1 and 2 argued that their convictions must be reversed because there was a variance between the conspiracy charged in the indictment and the conspiracy proved at trial. The court held that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that they joined a single ongoing conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.   Defendant 3 challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. The court held that based on the evidence a reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant 3 knowingly agreed to engage in sex trafficking and did so with the knowledge that women working in her houses were subject to coercive debt.   Defendant 4 challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction on a substantive count of sex trafficking. The court reasoned that the offense of benefiting from participation in a venture to “maintain” a victim of sex trafficking is a continuing offense that may occur in more than one district. The court found no clear error in the district court’s orders of restitution and forfeiture to Defendant 5. View "United States v. Pawinee Unpradit" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff sued her former employer, the University of Minnesota, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), for discrimination based on her disability, failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for her disability, and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment to the University.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court first addressed whether Plaintiff met her burden to show that the University failed to provide a reasonable accommodation; specifically, whether Plaintiff qualified for any alternative positions. The court held that Plaintiff did not meet her burden, reasoning that she did not submit the job posting, the job title, or any evidence of the duties or requirements of any position.Further, the court addressed whether the University failed to engage in the interactive process. The court concluded that there is no genuine dispute of material fact about whether the University acted in good faith to make reasonable accommodations for Plaintiff. The University offered to help Plaintiff find a new job many times and considered adopting technologies to help Plaintiff perform her job duties. Once the University realized Plaintiff could not be accommodated in her current position, an employee from the job center reached out to Plaintiff to schedule a meeting about vacant positions. But Plaintiff cancelled it, and the rescheduled meeting could not take place because Plaintiff went on full-time medical leave. Moreover, even if the University did not use good-faith efforts, Plaintiff needed to show that she “could have been reasonably accommodated but for the employer’s lack of good faith.” View "Jessica Ehlers v. University of Minnesota" on Justia Law

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MNDKK, LLC’s insurer, Great Lakes Insurance, sent subrogation demands through an assignee to Dingmann Brothers Construction (“Dingmann”) due to alleged dust-related property damage. Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company (“Grinnell”), Dingmann’s insurer, commenced a declaratory-judgment action to determine coverage under the insurance policy issued to Dingmann. The district court granted Grinnell’s motion for summary judgment, holding that two policy exclusions unambiguously apply due to the presence of silica in the dust and that coverage is foreclosed. Defendants argued that the two exclusions do not apply, meaning Grinnell is responsible for covering the cost of the property damage caused by the dust.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that there is no genuine dispute of material fact about whether the dust contained silica. Further, Defendants argued that the cleanup provision does not apply because the damage was due to silica or silica-related dust itself, not its effects. Defendants claimed that there is a misplaced comma between “effects of” and “silica.” The court held that the comma before “silica” indicates that the phrase “the effects of” belongs with the phrase immediately preceding it, rather than with “‘silica’ or ‘silica-related dust.’” So, the last verb phrase in the series is “or in any way responding to or assessing the effects of,” and the comma separates the series from the noun phrase that is its direct object. Finally, the court held overlapping provisions can exist in an insurance policy and that both the cleanup and property-damage provisions apply. View "Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co v. Great Lakes Insurance SE" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of attempted commercial sex trafficking of a minor, 18 U.S.C. Sections 1591(a)(1), (b)(2), and 1594(a), and attempted enticement of a minor for sexual activity using a facility of interstate commerce, 18 U.S.C. Section 2422(b). Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress and his conviction on numerous grounds.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and denied Defendant's motion to suppress and affirmed his conviction.  Defendant argued that law enforcement’s warrantless arrest violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures.  The court held that a reasonable person could believe Defendant committed or was committing a crime and the facts sufficiently establish probable cause to believe that Defendant was attempting to commit sex trafficking crimes. Defendant further argued that his indictment was insufficient because he contends his crimes cannot be based on a non-existent victim. The court held that caselaw states a defendant may commit both attempted commercial sex trafficking of a minor and attempted enticement of a minor for sexual activity using a facility of interstate commerce.  Next, Defendant argued insufficient evidence supported either conviction. Here, the evidence sufficiently showed Defendant’s subjective intent to engage in a commercial sex act with someone he believed to be a minor. Moreover, the evidence showed Defendant knowingly used two facilities of interstate commerce, to try to entice a fictitious minor female to engage in illegal sexual activity and then took a substantial step toward committing the offense by driving to the meeting spot. View "United States v. Carlocito Slim" on Justia Law

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Defendants Kim Reynolds, Governor of Iowa, and Ann Lebo, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, appealed the district court’s entry of a preliminary injunction completely barring enforcement of Iowa’s facial covering statute, Code Section 280.31. The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s entry of preliminary injunction completely barring enforcement of Iowa Code Section 280.31 as moot.   The court reasoned that the issue surrounding the preliminary injunction is moot because the current conditions differ vastly from those prevailing when the district court addressed it. The court reasoned that COVID-19 vaccines are now available to children and adolescents over the age of four, greatly decreasing Plaintiffs’ children’s risk of serious bodily injury or death from contracting COVID-19 at school. Further, when Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction, delta was the dominant variant, producing high transmission rates and caseloads throughout the country. Now, omicron has become dominant and subsided, leaving markedly lower transmission rates and caseloads throughout Iowa and the country. The court noted that to the extent that the case continues, the Court emphasized that the parties and district court should pay particular attention to Section 280.31’s exception for “any other provision of law.” Iowa Code Section 280.31. This exception unambiguously states that Section 280.31 does not apply where “any other provision of law” requires masks. The word "any” makes the term “provision of law” a broad category that does not distinguish between state or federal law. View "The Arc of Iowa v. Kimberly Reynolds" on Justia Law

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The parties entered into a contract related to the construction of a bridge. Plaintiff filed a claim against Defendant including those of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and negligent misrepresentation. Based on an arbitration agreement, the parties presented their cases to an arbitrator, which found in Defendant's favor. The arbitrator awarded attorney's fees to Defendant.The district court reversed the arbitrator's award of attorney's fees, finding that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in awarding the fees.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's order reducing Defendant's arbitration award to exclude attorney's fees. The arbitration agreement at issue was not entirely clear on the attorney's fees issues, but Plaintiff cannot show that “the arbitrator based his decision on some body of thought, or feeling, or policy, or law that is outside the contract." View "Ind. Steel Construction, Inc. v. Lunda Construction Company" on Justia Law

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Two insurance-related companies claim the name “AIG.” Agency is a family-owned insurance broker in Missouri. Agency allegedly began calling itself “AIG” around 1958. International is an insurance company incorporated in 1967. International first used the “AIG” mark sometime between 1968 and 1970. International obtained a federal trademark registration for “AIG” in 1981, which is still active. Agency sued International in 2017 over International’s use of “AIG.” Relevant here, Agency alleged common-law trademark infringement and unfair competition along with violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1125. The district court agreed with International that Agency’s claims were barred by the doctrine of laches, so it granted summary judgment in favor of International and dismissed Agency’s claims. On appeal, Agency argues the district court erred in granting summary judgment because it weighed disputed facts in International’s favor.The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s grant of summary judgment in Plaintiff’s lawsuit for trademark infringement over International’s use of the “AIG” trademark. The court held that Plaintiff’s claims were barred by the doctrine of laches. The court reasoned that the district court abused its discretion by not applying for progressive encroachment and did not announce any test on which it relied for determining when a likelihood of confusion arose. It also did not meaningfully analyze the strength of International’s mark at the relevant times, whether Agency intended to confuse the public, the degree of care expected of potential customers, or the evidence of actual confusion. View "A.I.G. Agency, Inc. v. American International Group" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trademark
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Plaintiff’s father died when a driver collided with a BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”) train. Plaintiff filed a wrongful death suit in state court against BNSF, the train operator, and the driver. The driver’s widow filed a wrongful death suit against the City of Hayti (“City”) and the train operator in state court. Plaintiff and his sister filed a wrongful death suit against the City in state court, and a motion to consolidate that action with the driver's. Plaintiff moved to voluntarily dismiss this case without prejudice. BNSF opposed the motion, arguing improper forum shopping and prejudice to the defendants.   The state court granted Plaintiff’s motion to consolidate and the district court granted the motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice. The district court concluded that a single action in state court “will best allow for efficient use of judicial resources that this Court cannot ignore.” BNSF appealed, arguing (i) the court erred when it “failed to address Plaintiff’s purpose in seeking to voluntarily dismiss, and (ii) abused its discretion in dismissing without prejudice.   The Eighth Circuit found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the district court’s ruling.  The court reasoned that Plaintiff’s memorandum supporting his motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice set forth the proper standard; explained that two actions arising out of the same crash were pending in state court and were not removable; and argued that judicial economy and the interests of justice would be served by dismissing the case without prejudice so it can be consolidated with the state court cases. View "Ricky Tillman, Jr. v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law