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

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Assuming without deciding that a justification defense to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) is available, the court agreed with the district court that defendant failed to present evidence sufficient to warrant denying the government's motion to exclude the justification defense.Even if applying the voluntary manslaughter cross-reference was procedural error, the court concluded that such error was harmless because the district court stated that it would have varied upward had it not applied the cross-reference. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that defendant had attempted to destroy or conceal evidence and thereby to apply the obstruction of justice enhancement. Finally, defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the statutory maximum sentence was appropriate because of the "seriousness of the offense" and the "serious effects of what happened that day." View "United States v. Still" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City in an action brought by plaintiffs, challenging its enforcement of the City's zoning regulations against them. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from the City's enforcement of commercial zoning regulations.Even assuming zoning-enforcement decisions are susceptible to class-of-one challenges, the court concluded that plaintiffs have not shown that the City lacked a rational basis for its differential treatment of plaintiffs and other property owners. In this case, plaintiffs have not shown that they are identical or directly comparable to the comparator property owners in every material respect. The court also concluded that plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence of affirmative misconduct to withstand summary judgment on their equitable-estoppel claim. View "Bruning v. City of Omaha" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit dismissed defendant's appeal of his mandatory-minimum sentence of 60 months in prison. The court concluded that, no matter what it decides, defendant's sentence cannot get any shorter. The court explained that any live controversy over the relevant enhancement ended the moment the district court gave defendant a 60-month prison sentence. At that point, enhancements and reductions no longer mattered because a decreased offense level could not drive his sentence any lower. View "United States v. Corrigan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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This appeal arose out of a construction dispute between Timber Ridge and Quality Structures. After a bench trial, the district court awarded Timber Ridge $22,500 in damages and Quality Structures an amount in excess of $5 million in damages.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not clearly err in determining that Quality Structures substantially complied with the contractual predicates for payment for the extra excavation work. Furthermore, the district court did not clearly err in finding Quality Structures proved damages related to Timber Ridge's failure to pay for the additional excavation work. The court affirmed the district court's award of other damages to Quality Structures with one exception regarding site lighting. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err in awarding defendant attorneys' fees under the Missouri Prompt Payment Act. View "Timber Ridge Escapes, LLC v. Quality Structures of Arkansas, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2018, plaintiffs filed suit against Missouri under Section 5 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Plaintiffs ultimately obtained a preliminary injunction requiring Missouri to send voter registration forms to thousands of Missouri citizens and to make certain changes to its voter registration procedures in time for the 2018 midterm elections. In 2019, the parties entered into a settlement agreement that resolved all remaining issues except for attorney's fees. The district court noted that Missouri did not dispute plaintiffs' status as the prevailing party, and therefore granted plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees a few months later and awarded plaintiffs $1,143,627.96 in fees and $27,484.15 in litigation expenses.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that plaintiffs reasonably expended 3,251.38 hours on this matter. The court also concluded that the district court sufficiently considered the Johnson factors in determining the reasonableness of the lodestar amount and did not abuse its discretion. View "League of Women Voters of Missouri v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Assuming without deciding that defendant has standing to challenge the search, the court concluded that the protective sweep was justified. In this case, there was good reason for a sweep where defendant was suspected of stealing several guns from a pawn shop in a burglary, committing a robbery, and possessing a handgun during a gunfight; after announcing their presence, officers were forced to wait for minutes while the blinds on either side of the door moved and they heard movement (and possible preparation for an attack) inside; officers thought the house belonged to defendant's girlfriend, who was not located; an occupant's initial reluctance and his unusual response strengthened suspicion that potentially dangerous people remained in the house; and defendant was covered in dust and cobwebs, suggesting that he had just been in a dusty place like an attic or basement. Therefore, these facts support a reasonable belief that someone else could be inside posing a danger to officers during or following the arrest. Furthermore, even if the protective sweep could not cover the attic, defendant does not show that the occupant's later consent to search the home was insufficient.The court also concluded that defendant is not entitled to Rehaif-relief because he cannot show a reasonable probability that, but for the error, the outcome of the trial would have been different. Finally, even if the court agreed with defendant that the district court erred in imposing a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for possessing the firearms in connection with another felony offense, defendant's offense level was driven by his armed career criminal status and his total offense level would not decrease. View "United States v. Thompson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus where petitioner alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for not providing closing argument during the penalty phase of his capital-murder trial. Petitioner, though advised otherwise, insisted that his trial counsel forgo closing argument.The panel concluded that petitioner's informed, voluntary decision prevented his attorney's reluctant compliance with petitioner's wishes from subsequently becoming ineffective assistance of counsel. The court explained that the nature of the decision to forego oral argument, whether fundamental or one of trial strategy, does not alter this result. Therefore, petitioner's ineffective assistance-of-counsel claim is procedurally defaulted and barred. View "Taylor v. Steele" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the City of Pierre, South Dakota, and one of its police officers, Matthew Shaver, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 in federal district court, alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that defendant was collaterally estopped from relitigating his claim because he had already litigated the Fourth Amendment issue before the South Dakota trial court in the criminal proceedings against him. In this case, during criminal proceedings in a South Dakota trial court, defendant moved to suppress certain evidence as being obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. After the trial court denied defendant's motion, he then pleaded nolo contendere and did not appeal the suppression ruling. Plaintiff later filed his section 1983 action. Therefore, the court concluded that there was a final judgment on the merits for the purpose of collateral estoppel. View "Sparks v. Shaver" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress and affirmed defendant's conviction for two counts of possessing child pornography. In this case, after a police officer downloaded part of a computer file containing child pornography on a peer-to-peer network from an IP address connected to defendant, investigators searched his home and digital devices and uncovered additional illicit files.The court has held numerous times that a defendant has no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in files he shares over a peer-to-peer network, including those shared anonymously with law enforcement officers. The court also concluded that there was no error in denying defendant's request for independent testing of the software law enforcement used to identify him as possessing and sharing child pornography. The court explained that the evidence in the record, which the magistrate judge expressly found credible, is that the programs operated reliably and did not access private areas of defendant's computer. Furthermore, defendant has not offered any reason to conclude otherwise. View "United States v. Shipton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After a Tessier's employee was modifying a hole cover on the roof of an unfinished building when the cover collapsed and he fell 22 feet to the floor below, OSHA issued a citation against Tessier's under 29 C.F.R. 1926.501(b)(4)(i), for failing to protect its employees from falling through holes.The Eighth Circuit denied the petition for review filed by Tessier's, concluding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's conclusion that the employees had removed a one-foot-by-three-foot section of the cover before it collapsed and, in doing so, exposed a hole. Because this hole was not covered and was more than six feet above the second floor, Tessier's was required to protect its employees from falling by means of an alternative form of fall protection, which it had not done. Therefore, the ALJ did not err in concluding that Tessier's had committed the violation. View "Tessier's, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law