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

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Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of portions of Mo. Rev. Stat. 115.302, which provides for voting by mail-in ballot due to the ongoing global pandemic. Plaintiffs alleged that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating mail-in ballots differently than absentee ballots, requiring the former to be returned by mail only while allowing the latter to be returned by mail or in-person, either from the voter himself or a relative within the second degree of consanguinity. The district court entered a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiffs and the Secretary entered a temporary administrative stay of the preliminary injunction.The Eighth Circuit granted the Secretary's motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. The court held that the Secretary has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, under the Anderson-Burdick standard, that the requirement that mail-in ballots be returned by USPS mail is a minimal burden and a reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction. The Secretary has also shown that the State will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not grant the stay, and that the remaining factors of injury to other parties and the public's interest weigh in favor of granting the motion to stay. View "Organization for Black Struggle v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied the motion for an administrative stay and stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction in a dispute relating to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. This action concerns the validity of Minn. Stat. 204B.13, subd. 2(c), which addresses the administration of an election when the candidate of a major political party dies after the seventy-ninth day before a general election. The section states that the governor "shall issue a writ calling for a special election to be conducted on the second Tuesday in February of the year following the year the vacancy in nomination occurred"—in this case, February 9, 2021.The district court ruled that the Minnesota statute is likely preempted, ordered that section 204B.13 must not be enforced as to the election on November 3 for Representative from the Second District, and enjoined the Minnesota Secretary of State from refusing to give legal effect to the ballots cast for Representative on November 3.The court held that appellant is not likely to succeed on the merits of his contention that section 204B.13, as applied to the current situation, may coexist with the federal election laws. The court stated that even if the death of a Republican or Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate could qualify as an exigent circumstance that would allow the State to cancel an election and trigger a vacancy in office, it is unlikely that the rationale would extend to the death of a third-party candidate from a party with the modest electoral strength exhibited to date by the Legal Marijuana Now Party in Minnesota. Furthermore, that a short period of uncertainty affected campaign fundraising and tactical decisions by the candidates also does not justify a stay of the injunction without a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Craig v. Simon" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of U.S. Bank's motion for summary judgment in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the Bank fired her because of her age and in retaliation for reporting discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.The court held that the Bank articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate plaintiff with adequate support in the record: performance issues. The court also held that plaintiff failed to show that the Bank's explanation for her firing is mere pretext for intentional discrimination. In this case, none of the employees that she compares herself to are similarly situated in all relevant respects, and the evidence does not present a change in basis for firing her. Furthermore, plaintiff offered no evidence to support causation for her retaliation claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Finally, the Bank's decision not to hire plaintiff in another position was not based on a discriminatory and retaliatory motive, and plaintiff failed to establish pretext. View "McKey v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for three counts of transmitting a threatening communication in interstate commerce based on a series of tweets he directed at United States Senator Joni Ernst. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction where defendant's admission, the threatening content of his tweets, and the warning from the police officer were enough to allow a reasonable jury to find that he intended his tweets as threats or knew they would be viewed that way.The court also held that the district court should have required both a subjective finding of knowledge or intent and also an objective finding that the communication was threatening. Nevertheless, defendant's tweets were objectively threatening and it was clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found defendants guilty absent that error. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by permitting testimony from an officer about the meaning of the internet slang used in the tweets, and in refusing to admit an exculpatory tweet where it was not contemporaneous enough with his charged tweets. View "United States v. Dierks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Ohio law allows nonsignatory agents to compel arbitration under general principles of contract and agency law. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of Navient's motion to compel arbitration against plaintiff. The court disagreed with the district court's finding that the relevant arbitration clause does not include Navient as a party and so Navient cannot compel arbitration. Rather, the court held that Ohio law permits plaintiff to compel arbitration as a nonsignatory agent of the holder of the loan. The court also held that Ohio's rule of alternate estoppel prevents plaintiff from disavowing the arbitration clause because his claim arises out of the same contract. Therefore, plaintiff is estopped from avoiding the arbitration clause because his claims are integrally intertwined with the contract containing the agreement to arbitrate. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Neal v. Navient Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of habeas relief to petitioner based on the ineffective assistance of counsel. Petitioner was convicted for two counts of first degree murder among other things and was sentenced to death. Petitioner claims that counsel at his third penalty-phase trial was ineffective for failing to argue that the passage of time had undermined his mitigation case.The court held that petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel is not "substantial enough" to excuse his procedural default. The court explained that when postconviction counsel filed petitioner's petition in 2010, the law was far from settled that a 10-year delay between conviction and sentencing would give rise to a constitutional claim, much less that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the argument two years earlier. The court stated that failing to make an argument that would require the resolution of unsettled legal questions is generally not outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance. In this case, postconviction counsel's performance was reasonable and the Martinez exception—the only conceivable basis for excusing petitioner's procedural default—is unavailable to him. Finally, the court held that petitioner is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. View "Deck v. Jennings" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed Defendants Woods and Shelton's convictions for crimes involving bribes and kickbacks using public funds. The court held that the district court did not err in denying defendants' motion to dismiss based on an FBI agent's misconduct in destroying evidence. In this case, there is simply nothing to connect the dots between the agent's destruction of his computer data and the underlying cases against defendants and others as proven largely through records held by third-party custodians unrelated to and unaffected by the agent. Furthermore, in granting the government's motion to exclude evidence of the agent's bad acts, there was no error in the district court's assessment of potential prejudice, confusion of issues, wasting of time, or in the balancing of these issues.The court also held that the district court did not abuse its substantial discretion in denying a motion for a continuance. To the extent Woods and Shelton argue Instruction 7 as originally given, or as amended, misstated the law, the court rejected their argument; to the extent Woods and Shelton argue the district court violated their Sixth Amendment rights by engaging in ex parte communication with the jury, the court rejected their argument due to a lack of prejudice; and the court rejected the remaining challenges to the jury instructions. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for recusal. View "United States v. Woods" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that he was wrongfully fired from GM under both federal and state law because he reported safety issues with the manufacturing process at the plant in Wentzville, Arkansas. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of GM on the retaliatory discharge claim under section 31307 of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and granted costs to GM under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d).The Eighth Circuit held that plaintiff's complaints about the quality control processes in a manufacturing plant are not information related to a motor vehicle defect, and thus he did not engage in protected activity under MAP-21. The court also held that the district court did not err in deciding to grant costs, and did not abuse its discretion by awarding both the costs of stenographic and video deposition services. The court reversed the district court's award of $76.50 for the postage and shipping costs, and otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "Barcomb v. General Motors LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for six counts of interference with commerce by robbery. The court held that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress cell site location information (CSLI) obtained under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. 2703(d). In this case, when the officers obtained the information, the Supreme Court had not yet decided Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018), which held that an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through CSLI. Therefore, the evidence was admissible under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule because the officers acted with reasonable reliance on section 2703(d) and were not on notice that the statute was unconstitutional.The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of uncharged robberies as intrinsic evidence and in admitting evidence regarding a Mississippi robbery to show defendant's identity. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 3C1.1 for obstruction of justice where defendant perjured himself at trial and attempted to coach a witness' testimony. View "United States v. Reed" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for threatening a federal law enforcement officer (Count I), forcibly resisting a federal law enforcement officer (Count 2), and being a felon in possession of a firearm (Count 3). The court held that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress the firearm found under the driver's seat of the car he drove to the Richard Bolling Federal Building. In this case, officers conducted an inventory search consistent with standardized policies, and the extra thirty minutes between defendant's departure and the order for a tow truck was not an unreasonably long delay. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of recorded phone calls defendant made from jail; the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant of all three counts; and the district court did not commit plain Rehaif error. View "United States v. Everett" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law