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

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CSI, which won a contract to perform road work on state highways across three Minnesota counties, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Mahnomen County and its Engineer, Jonathan Large, after Large stopped two of CSI's trucks for exceeding the posted weight limit on the road on which they were traveling.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the constitutional claims, concluding that, under the unique circumstances of this case, it was not clearly established that Large, a county engineer tasked with oversight of all county roads, could not prevent trucks that he had reason to believe were operating above the posted weight limit from passing over and damaging the roadway or could not call law enforcement to investigate compliance with the new, reduced weight restrictions. The court also concluded that it was not clearly established at the time that defendants could not change the weight restrictions in response to CSI's stated intentions to use the road despite the fact it had not been designated as a haul road or that the engineer could not seek law enforcement's assistance in investigating the trucks' weights. Furthermore, because CSI's complaint failed to allege any policy or custom of the county related to the engineer's conduct, claims against the county failed. Finally, the court concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on CSI's state law claim for tortious interference with contract, and the engineer did not exercise the dominion and control over plaintiff's trucks required to support a trespass to chattel claim. View "Central Specialties, Inc. v. Large" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's claims in his motion for 28 U.S.C. 2255 relief on the merits. Assuming without deciding that the government's use of false or discredited scientific evidence could violate a criminal defendant's right to due process, the court concluded that the district court did not err in concluding that defendant failed to prove that his trial and conviction were fundamentally unfair. The court also concluded that it need not decide whether a freestanding actual innocence claim is cognizable because, as in Rouse III, appellant's newly discovered victim recantations, medical science evidence, and juror bias evidence do not meet the extraordinarily high burden of proving actual innocence. The court further concluded that the district court properly concluded that appellant's Sixth Amendment claim, filed over 20 years after his conviction, is untimely under section 2255(f)(1), and even if the claim is not time-barred, it fails on the merits. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err in denying an evidentiary hearing. View "Feather v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's 63-month sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in imposing a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for possession of the handgun in connection with another felony offense. In this case, the district court found that the government established by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant possessed a firearm in connection with the North Dakota felony offense of preventing arrest. View "United States v. Nilsen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against Farm Bureau, alleging breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment. Plaintiff's breach of contract claim was based, in part, on an alleged violation of Arkansas Insurance Rule and Regulation 43, which he claimed was incorporated into the policy. The district court granted Farm Bureau's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff then filed a motion to clarify whether the order also disposed of the common law breach of contract theory, which the district court dismissed.The Eighth Circuit agreed that the Arkansas regulation that Farm Bureau allegedly violated is not incorporated into plaintiff's policy, and thus he cannot use it as the basis for a breach of contract claim. However, because plaintiff also states a breach of contract claim based on the policy language, the court reversed in part. In this case, plaintiff alleges that "a 9% reduction on a used vehicle is not typical and does not reflect market realities," and that dealers' actual practice is not to inflate prices above market value because of the "intense competition in the context of internet pricing and comparison shopping." The court explained that, if this is true, then Farm Bureau did not consider the truck's fair market value. Rather, it considered an artificially lower value, in breach of its contractual duty and thus plaintiff stated a claim for breach of contract based on the policy language. Finally, the court denied plaintiff's motion to certify questions of law to the Arkansas Supreme Court. View "Smith v. Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant remains at large after escaping from a residential reentry center just over four months ago. Having given him a chance to surrender and respond to an order to show cause, the Eighth Circuit now exercises its discretion and dismissed the appeal under the fugitive-disentitlement doctrine. The court explained that it may sua sponte dismiss in circumstances like this one. View "United States v. Emery" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel dismissed debtors' appeal of the bankruptcy court's orders based on lack of standing. In this case, debtors challenged the bankruptcy court's orders (1) granting in part and denying in part the chapter 7 trustee's application to pay her law firm as attorney for the trustee, and (2) denying debtors' motion to remove the trustee, among other findings not at issue here. The court concluded that debtors are not personally aggrieved by the orders and therefore lack standing to appeal them. View "Levitt v. Jacoway" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in determining plaintiffs' 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims for false imprisonment and unlawful search and seizure are time barred under Arkansas's three-year personal injury statute of limitations. In this case, the alleged Fourth Amendment violations -- false imprisonment and seizure of property based on fabricated evidence -- occurred before legal process began and are time-barred, despite plaintiffs' claim that the unlawful seizures continued even after the criminal charges were nolle prossed. The court rejected plaintiffs' contention that the district court improperly applied summary judgment standards in granting defendants' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss and in denying plaintiffs' motion to vacate or set aside the dismissal. Rather, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to vacate or set aside its initial dismissal order because plaintiffs failed to state plausible section 1983 malicious prosecution claims under controlling Eighth Circuit precedent. View "Martin v. Julian" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's 60-month sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g). The court concluded that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors, weighing the mitigation factors against his extensive criminal history and propensity for violence. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying an upward variance. View "United States v. Hubbs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act, concluding that recent precedents foreclosed defendant's arguments. The court concluded that the fact that the district court did not make an affirmative statement acknowledging its broad First Step Act discretion does not raise an inference that the court misapprehended the scope of its authority. Furthermore, in exercising its First Step Act discretion, a district court may consider the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors, but section 404 of the Act does not mandate analysis of these factors. In this case, the district court did not abuse its substantial discretion in denying relief under the Act. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Jacqueline Mills was convicted of multiple counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery. These charges were related to a years-long scheme to defraud the United States of monies intended to feed low-income children. The jury found that fourteen properties and monies were traceable to the proceeds of Mills's fraud. Rosie and John Farr, Mills's mother and stepfather, filed third party petitions asserting interests in various properties to be forfeited, including monies from a Southern Bancorp account number. The forfeiture order became final as to Mills when she was sentenced, but it remained preliminary as to the Farrs until the ancillary proceeding concluded. In the two years between the Farrs filing their third party petitions and the government moving for summary judgment, the Farrs failed to present evidence supporting their claims of a superior ownership interest in the Southern Bancorp account.The Eighth Circuit concluded that, on this record, the Farrs failed to prove a prior interest in the property under 21 U.S.C. 853(n)(6)(A) because the proceeds of an offense do not exist before the offense is committed, and when they come into existence, the government's interest under the relation-back doctrine immediately vests. Furthermore, the Farrs failed to present evidence that they qualify as bona fide purchasers for value under section 853(n)(6)(B). The court also concluded that excusable neglect under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) does not include ignorance or carelessness on the part of an attorney, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying that general rule in this case. Finally, as in United States v. Waits, it is clear that the Farrs as third parties had adequate notice the government intended to seek forfeiture, as their timely third party petitions confirmed. View "United States v. Farr" on Justia Law