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

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Plaintiff sued the government pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), asserting multiple negligent and intentional tort causes of action after being sexually assaulted by an employee of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The government moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court granted the government’s motion. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s determination that the assault occurred outside the scope of the employee’s employment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the FTCA makes clear that the scope-of-employment test is defined by state law, not the employer. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in concluding that the provider’s duties were restricted to providing battlefield acupuncture therapy (BFA). The court explained that initially, the provider denied sexually assaulting or massaging Plaintiff. He later admitted to the sexual assault and admitted that it was inappropriate for him to massage a patient. He also failed to document anything that occurred after the BFA therapy, including the massage. This is consistent with the finding that the massage and subsequent sexual assault exceeded the scope of his treatment authority. The court explained that in light of the pleadings and undisputed evidence, the district court did not err, determining that the provider acted outside the scope of his employment. View "Jane Doe v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his 2021 conviction for various sex-trafficking offenses. He argues that the Government was prohibited from prosecuting him based on a “No Further Prosecution” clause in a prior 2018 plea agreement that resolved heroin-related charges against him.The Eighth Circuit dismissed the indictment and vacated Defendant’s conviction. The court concluded that the prior plea agreement’s promise of no further prosecution encompasses the sex-trafficking convictions appealed here. The court explained that it considers three actors in considering a defendant’s demand for specific performance of a plea agreement after the defendant has pleaded guilty: (1) the possible prejudice to the defendant, (2) the conduct of the government, and (3) the public interest. Here, the prejudice is clear. Defendant pleaded guilty in 2018 to one drug offense in exchange for the Government dismissing the remaining drug offenses and promising not to bring further charges arising from or directly relating to the investigation. The Government reneged on that promise by pursuing the sex-trafficking prosecution, which relied on facts that were part of and arose out of the 2018 investigation. As a result, Defendant faced charges he would not otherwise have faced had the Government stuck to its bargain. The public also has an interest in safety from criminal behavior and in the prosecution of crimes. But that does not outweigh constitutional due-process interests, and the Government’s breach of the plea agreement violated Defendant’s due-process rights. View "United States v. Marlin Thomas" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of 15 child pornography-related offenses. On appeal, Defendant argued his possession and receipt of child pornography convictions violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, and he contends his sentence violates Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). Defendant raised an additional argument in a pro se supplemental brief, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence for his convictions.   The Eighth Circuit held that Apprendi requires the resentencing of Defendant for the possession of child pornography conviction. In all other respects, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court explained that there was sufficient evidence submitted to the jury establishing the victims were minors, including (1) W.S. testified he was 11 years old; (2) K.A. testified she was 15 and she informed Defendant she was 15 years old, and (3) N.W. and A.C. informed Defendant they were 13 years old, and their birth certificates introduced at trial corroborate their ages. Also, the material depicting all victims demonstrates they were minors based on their physical characteristics. However, here the jury made no finding of a qualifying minor victim, so the statutory maximum sentence the district court can impose is 10 years. Because the district court’s sentence on the possession conviction runs afoul of Apprendi, the court vacated the sentence and remanded it for resentencing. View "United States v. Kyle Soto" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and her daughter, D.A.M.I., natives and citizens of Guatemala, petition for review of an order of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirming the immigration judge’s (IJ) decision finding Petitioner removable and denying her application for asylum and withholding of removal. Petitioner alleged persecution on account of her membership in two particular social groups (PSG)—witnesses who cooperate with law enforcement and nuclear family members of Interiano-Erazo—and on account of an imputed political opinion. Petitioner challenged only the BIA’s determination that she failed to demonstrate that her proposed group of “witnesses who cooperate with law enforcement” is particular and socially distinct within Guatemalan society.   The Eighth Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that even assuming that the Eighth Circuit’s jurisprudence does not require as a matter of law that witness-based PSGs include an element of public testimony, the BIA and the IJ committed no error because each found that the record contains insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Guatemalan society views “witnesses who cooperate with law enforcement” as a socially distinct group. Accordingly, the court found that Petitioner has failed to show that the record, in this case, compels a conclusion contrary to the BIA’s determination that Guatemalan society does not view “witnesses who cooperate with law enforcement” as a socially distinct group. View "Judith Lemus-Coronado v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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While on supervised release after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, Defendant reportedly assaulted his girlfriend and therefore violated the conditions of his release. At the ensuing revocation hearing, the government did not call Defendant’s girlfriend to testify but instead related her statements through a different witness. The district court revoked Defendant’s supervised release and sentenced him to 24 months. Defendant maintains that the government's introduction of this hearsay denied him his due-process right to confront adverse witnesses.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that any error the district court may have committed in allowing the government to introduce this hearsay was harmless. The court reasoned that Defendant’s admission that he participated in a physical altercation with his girlfriend, coupled with the apparent injuries that resulted and the threatening messages sent in the immediate aftermath, supports a reasonable inference that he intentionally or knowingly committed the assault. Thus, the government has offered sufficient evidence apart from the girlfriend’s statements to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant committed a grade A violation of the conditions of his supervision. View "United States v. Calvin Starr" on Justia Law

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Five months after being sued in Oregon for trademark infringement, Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC provided notice to its liability insurer, Cincinnati Insurance Company. Due to Rieger’s delay, Cincinnati refused to reimburse Rieger’s legal fees for the five months that Cincinnati was unaware of the lawsuit. The Oregon case was ultimately dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Instead of waiting to be sued in a court that did have jurisdiction, Rieger’s parent company, GSP Licensing LLC, filed a new suit in Missouri as the plaintiff. GSP was not named under Rieger’s insurance policy, so Cincinnati denied coverage for the Missouri case. Cincinnati then filed this lawsuit, seeking a declaration of coverage. The district court granted summary judgment to Cincinnati.   The Eighth Circuit reversed in part the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Cincinnati. The court affirmed the dismissal of Rieger’s tort claims and the imposition of sanctions. The court explained that under Missouri law, a tort claim is independent of a contract claim if the tort claim can succeed without regard to the outcome of the contract claim. In other words, the tort claim could succeed regardless of the outcome of the contract claim. Here, Rieger admits that its tort claims would fail if its contract claim succeeded. By Rieger’s own admission, the court found that the district court properly dismissed Rieger’s tort claims. View "Cincinnati Insurance Company v. Jacob Rieger & Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that Police officers in the St. Peters Police Department created a text messaging group to update each other about local Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. Although the text group was intended for official purposes, specifically for officers to share up-to-date information about local BLM protests, they also shared “unrelated” content. Plaintiff sent the group a video from an animated sitcom called “Paradise PD.” It showed a black police officer who accidentally shot himself with a media headline stating, “another innocent black man shot by a cop.” According to Plaintiff, the video was satire and a parody of the BLM protests. The next morning, the Police Chief berated Plaintiff, ordered him to resign, and told him that if he refused, Plaintiff would open an investigation and recommend to City Administrator that Plaintiff be fired. Plaintiff resigned and filed a lawsuit under Section 1983, alleging that he was retaliated against for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. Defendants moved to dismiss, and the district court granted their motion.   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court reasoned that based on the allegations in the complaint, the group text was used to send both work-related and unrelated messages, and Plaintiff’s video was such an unrelated message. The court explained that while Plaintiff has met the threshold showing required to advance his First Amendment claim, the court expressed no opinion on the merits of that claim. View "Brian Bresnahan v. City of St. Peters" on Justia Law

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General Motors (“GM”) installed Generation IV 5.3 Liter V8 Vortec 5300 LC9 engines (“Gen IV engine”) in seven different GMC and Chevrolet trucks and SUVs in model years 2010 to 2014 (the “affected vehicles”). In 2016, representatives from various States filed a putative class action alleging that the affected vehicles contain a defect that causes excess oil consumption and other engine damage (the “oil consumption defect”). Plaintiffs appealed only the dismissal of their Missouri Merchandising Practice Act (MMPA) claim, stating that “the sole issue presented on appeal is whether the district court improperly applied the concept of puffery to  their deceptive omissions claims under the MMPA.”   The Eighth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the MMPA claims. The court concluded that advertising “puffery” does not affect an MMPA claim based on omission of a material fact, at least in this case, and the court agreed that Plaintiffs’ Class Action Complaint alleges sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state an omissions claim to relief that is plausible on its face. View "Michael Tucker v. General Motors LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a U.S.C. Section 1983 action against the City of Florissant, Missouri. They allege the City is liable under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), because Florissant police officers, acting pursuant to an unlawful custom or policy, violated First and Fourteenth Amendment rights at five protests in June and July 2020 when they declared an unlawful assembly and ordered the dispersal of protestors who had not committed the Missouri crimes of unlawful assembly or refusal to disperse. Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s Memorandum and Order dismissing their complaint for failure to state a claim on the ground that a municipality’s police power “to declare that an assembly is unlawful and to order individuals to disperse is not tethered to Missouri’s statutes codifying the criminal offenses of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.”   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (“FAC”) improperly limited Florissant’s broad civil authority to manage protests in the public interest to situations violating the criminal offenses of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. The court reasoned that the alleged customs of declaring unlawful assemblies and ordering protesters to disperse in “the absence of an agreement of one person acting in concert with six or more other persons to imminently violate a criminal law with force or violence” do not state a claim of constitutional injury under Monell. Thus, the FAC failed to plausibly allege a constitutional violation by any city employee and therefore failed to state a claim of Monell liability. View "Khalea Edwards v. City of Florissant" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to two child pornography offenses. The district court sentenced him to 600 months’ imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant challenges the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence, and the sentence imposed. Defendant argued that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress statements from his interview.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment, concluding there was no reversible error. The court explained that circumstances do not establish that Defendant was in custody during the interview. Agents did not physically restrain him in the vehicle. Only two agents questioned him, and they repeatedly told Defendant that he was not under arrest and was free to leave. The agents were not deceptive or threatening, and Defendant voluntarily answered their questions. The court reasoned with the district court that a reasonable person in Defendant’s position would have believed that he was free to terminate the interview if he wished. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the court concluded Defendant was not in custody for purposes of Miranda, and that the district court properly declined to suppress incriminating statements made during the interview before agents informed Defendant that he would be arrested.   Further, the court held that the district court properly considered the factors under 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a), and elected to impose Defendant’s advisory guideline sentence. The court saw no compelling circumstances in support of a shorter sentence that demonstrate an abuse of the district court’s discretion. View "United States v. Justin Treanton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law