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

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After being hit by an under-insured motorist, Plaintiff experienced worsening symptoms from his Parkinson’s disease. His condition eventually deteriorated to the point that he could no longer work as a doctor. Plaintiff sued Encompass Insurance for $500,000, the maximum available under his automobile policy. The state trial court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff, concluding that Encompass failed to refute that Plaintiff lost at least $500,000 in earning capacity because of the accident. On removal, a federal district court held that it was unable to vacate that judgment.   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court interpreted Encompass’s notice of appeal as challenging the Arkansas court’s ruling, as merged into the final judgment of the district court, and held that it constituted an appeal of a “final decision of a district court of the United States” under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291.   The court also rejected the district court’s conclusion that a federal court lacks jurisdiction to vacate the state court’s summary judgment order. The court explained that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has no application to a properly removed case where, as here, there is no attack on a separate and final state-court judgment. Finally, the court held that the Arkansas court erred by granting summary judgment. The conflict between expert witnesses created a genuine dispute of material fact, so summary judgment was improper. View "Paul Wills v. Encompass Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged a sentence imposed by the district court after revocation of Corn’s term of supervised release. Defendant’s principal argument on appeal is that his revocation sentence exceeds the maximum term authorized by statute and that the district court plainly erred in imposing it.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed holding that Defendant invited any error regarding the statutory maximum sentence, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant within the invited range. In this case, the court concluded that Defendant is not entitled to plain-error review because he invited the alleged error. Under the invited error doctrine, a defendant who invites the district court to make a particular ruling waives his right to claim on appeal that the ruling was erroneous.   Defendant invited the district court to treat Section 922(q) as a Class D felony at the revocation hearing. Defendant agreed that the statutory maximum penalty was two years’ imprisonment, and that custody and supervised release together could not exceed three years. The court further wrote that it sees no principled reason why an invited sentence that allegedly exceeds the statutory maximum should be appealable while other invited errors of equal or greater significance to a defendant are not. View "United States v. Christopher Corn" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration.  Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with federal offenses of cyberstalking and extortion after he sent a series of e-mails to a candidate for the Nebraska legislature. A jury acquitted Defendant of extortion but convicted him of cyberstalking. Defendant appealed the conviction, arguing that the e-mails constituted speech that is protected by the First Amendment, and that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction.   The Eighth Circuit concluded that the evidence was insufficient under a proper interpretation of the cyberstalking statute, and therefore reversed the conviction. The court explained that to qualify as speech integral to criminal conduct, the speech must be integral to conduct that constitutes another offense that does not involve protected speech, such as antitrust conspiracy, extortion, or in-person harassment. In this case, however, the jury acquitted Defendant of extortion, and there is no other identified criminal conduct to which the jury could have found that Defendant’s e-mail communications were integral.   Further, under prevailing law, where an alleged victim of defamation is a public figure, a speaker’s assertions are unprotected speech only if the speaker acted with “actual malice”—that is, with the knowledge that his statements were false or with reckless disregard of their falsity. Here, on this record, the evidence is insufficient to support a finding that Defendant harassed the relevant parties with defamatory speech. Finally, the government did not charge Defendant with the separate offense of transmitting obscene materials via the internet and its belated obscenity theory is insufficient to sustain the cyberstalking conviction. View "United States v. Dennis Sryniawski" on Justia Law

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Two doctors missed Plaintiff’s cancer: Dr. P.J. in March 2015, and Dr. J.B in January 2018. After another doctor eventually discovered cancer, Plaintiff sued both Dr. P.J and Dr. J.B., arguing that their negligence reduced his chance of surviving. The jury returned a favorable verdict for Dr. J.B and Plaintiff moved for a mistrial based on the district court’s evidentiary rulings. The court denied that motion and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.On appeal, Plaintiff argues that the district court should have granted his motion for a new trial for three reasons. First, he says that the testimony about Dr. P.J.’s diagnosis was irrelevant and prejudicial. He next argued that the district court improperly allowed Exhibits S, T, and U to be referenced at trial. Those exhibits are hearsay, but the district court held that they fell within an exception under Federal Rule of Evidence 803. Finally, Plaintiff claimed that even if Rule 803(18) applies to Exhibits S, T, and U, those exhibits still should not have been received by the jury.The court held that the district court’s finding was not a clear abuse of discretion. While it is a close call, the record contained enough evidence for a jury to properly find that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof. The court explained that the district court, which “is in the best position to determine the impact evidence will have upon the jury,” did not abuse its discretion in finding that the jury wasn’t prejudiced by the disputed evidence. View "Steve Williams v. Jeremy Baum" on Justia Law

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This insurance coverage dispute involves claims for coverage by Doe Run Resources Corporation against its insurer, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, stemming from multiple lawsuits against Doe Run’s Peruvian subsidiary, Doe Run Peru, which allege various claims stemming from Doe Run Peru’s alleged release of toxic chemicals from a metallurgical plant. After an earlier coverage dispute in state court, where the court determined that a pollution exclusion in St. Paul’s policy precluded coverage, Doe Run filed this action alleging that additional, newly discovered facts implicated an exception to the exclusion that was not raised in the previous state court action. St. Paul filed a motion to dismiss based on issue and claim preclusion. The district court granted the motion based on issue preclusion, and Doe Run appeals.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in granting St. Paul’s motion to dismiss based on issue preclusion, and because the district court did not err, the court wrote, it need not consider the parties arguments regarding claim preclusion. The court explained that in the absence of subsequent events or circumstances representing an actual change between the prior state court action and this action, issue preclusion applies. Here, St. Paul did reconsider Doe Run’s claim for coverage when Doe Run resubmitted the claim following the nine newly filed lawsuits alleging pollution from the La Oroya plant, which alleged a new theory of liability. View "Doe Run Resources Corporation v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins Co" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, an individual and a registered Nebraska ballot campaign committee, challenged as contrary to the Equal Protection Clause a provision in the Nebraska constitution that establishes a signature requirement for ballot initiatives. The district court entered a preliminary injunction barring the Nebraska Secretary of State from enforcing the provision. The Secretary appealed.   The Eighth Circuit reversed explaining that because the signature distribution requirement “does not draw a suspect classification or restrict a fundamental right,” Plaintiffs must show that it cannot survive even rational-basis scrutiny. The court explained that Plaintiffs have not shown even a “fair chance” of carrying this burden. The Secretary identifies multiple legitimate government interests served by the signature distribution requirement.  A lawmaker could rationally conclude that the signature distribution requirement furthers this interest by weeding out initiatives with a small but concentrated support base.   The court explained that it need not decide here whether to extend this principle to requests for injunctions against the enforcement of state constitutional provisions because the balance of the remaining preliminary injunction factors weighs in the Secretary’s favor anyway. Thus, on balance, the preliminary-injunction factors clearly weigh in the Secretary’s favor. The district court abused its discretion by granting Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction View "Crista Eggers v. Robert Evnen" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a former state senator, and others were convicted of several offenses related to bribery and kickback schemes involving state funds. Approximately six months after the Eighth Circuit issued an opinion affirming Defendant’s convictions and four months after issuing a mandate, Defendant filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 alleging that newly discovered evidence demonstrated violations of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).  The district court determined that evidence concerning the vetting was neither material nor exculpatory.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that given the evidence actually adduced at trial, the court agrees that disclosure of the vetting by a co-conspirator and further evidence as to her qualifications would not have created a “reasonable probability” of a different outcome at trial. Further, the court also agreed that the evidence in question—notes from an investigator referencing a discussion of the vetting with another co-conspirator—was not exculpatory. On balance, the notes tended to buttress rather than rebut the government’s theory of the case View "United States v. Jonathan Woods" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioners, the owners of a large ranch in rural North Dakota, filed this petition for review related to their challenge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) renewal of a Clean Air Act (CAA) Title V operating permit for Coyote Station, a coal-fired electric generating plant that is serviced by the nearby Coyote Creek Mine. Petitioners petitioned the EPA Administrator to object to the renewal of the permit, and the Administrator denied the petition on the basis that Petitioners failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that the permitting decision was contrary to the CAA.   The Eighth Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that in response to Petitioners’  petition, the EPA has interpreted the term “demonstrates” in Section 7661d(b)(2) to include an obligation to discuss the specific points in the NDDOH permit or reasoning to which Petitioners objected. The Administrator determined that because Petitioners failed “to engage with the facts that [the NDDOH] deemed to be most relevant, the [Petitioners] . . . failed to demonstrate that [the NDDOH’s] justification was unreasonable, or that its ultimate decision was contrary to the CAA.” The court concluded that this interpretation is entitled to deference under either Chevron or Skidmore because it is both reasonable and persuasive, a conclusion other courts have similarly reached. The court thus concluded that the Administrator’s interpretation of “demonstrates” in Section 7661d(b)(2) is entitled to deference. Finally, Petitioners’ arguments about the lack of a notice and comment period did not change the court’s conclusion View "Casey Voigt v. U.S. E.P.A." on Justia Law

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Appellants (the “Bullion Traders”) are a collection of in-state and out-of-state precious metal traders or representatives thereof challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 80G, which regulates bullion transactions. The Bullion Traders argue the statute violates the dormant Commerce Clause.   The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s partial grant of the Commissioner’s motion to dismiss and the district court’s partial denial of the Bullion Traders’ motion for summary judgment. On remand, the court left to the district court to decide in the first instance whether the extraterritorial provisions of Chapter 80G, as amended, are severable from the remainder of the statute.   The court explained that certain in-state obligations, such as a registration fee for traders doing business in Minnesota, even when calculated considering out-of-state transactions, do not control out-of-state commerce. However, Chapter 80G does not merely burden in-state dealers with a monetary obligation that considers both in-state and out-of-state transactions. Rather, it prohibits an in-state dealer who meets the $25,000 threshold from conducting any bullion transaction, including out-of-state transactions, without first registering with the Commissioner. View "Thomas Styczinski v. Grace Arnold" on Justia Law