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8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Digest: March 1, 2023

Civil Practice

 

Dismissal

Rule 60(b) Motion; Challenge to Basis for Dismissal

Plaintiff appealed the denial of her Rule 60(b) motion challenging the district court’s dismissal of her complaint.

Where plaintiff’s arguments in support of her motion did not challenge the district court’s basis for dismissal, the court affirmed.

Judgment is affirmed.

22-2853 Westjohn v. Seldin Co., per curiam. Appealed from U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska.

 

Civil Rights

 

§1983

Excessive Force; Qualified Immunity

Plaintiff appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant in plaintiff’s §1983 claim alleging excessive force. Plaintiff tried to flee when officers stopped him on an outstanding warrant. Plaintiff was placed in defendant’s patrol car after being apprehended. Plaintiff refused to exit the vehicle at the police station; plaintiff claimed that when he finally got out of the car, defendant punched him in the head and neck. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that defendant’s use of force was objectively reasonable and that he was entitled to qualified immunity because any constitutional violation was not clearly established.

Where there was conflicting testimony regarding the amount of force used and whether plaintiff posed a threat or risk of flight, there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether defendant’s use of force was reasonable or whether defendant had violated plaintiff’s clearly established rights.

Judgment is reversed and remanded.

22-1685 Westwater v. Church, Loken, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa.

 

Consumer Law

 

Class Action

Travel Insurance

COVID-19 Closures

Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their putative class action against defendant. Plaintiffs had purchased multi-resort season ski passes, along with an insurance policy on those passes from defendant. The policy provided coverage for interruptions to use of the season passes, including for quarantines. When the COVID-19 pandemic required the shutdown of ski resorts, plaintiffs filed claims with defendant for coverage, arguing that the shutdowns constituted a quarantine. Defendant issued a blanket denial of coverage. The district court dismissed plaintiffs’ action, ruling that the term “quarantine” did not encompass COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Where a reading of the policy compelled an interpretation of “quarantine” as the compulsory isolation of the insured, defendant correctly denied coverage for the nationwide shutdown of ski resorts in response to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Grasz, J., concurring: “In my view, this case can be resolved by holding that the “travel supplier exclusion” applies. This policy exclusion provides that “[b]enefits are not payable for any loss due to, arising or resulting from . . . failure to supply services by a Travel Supplier.” A “Travel Supplier” is defined as “any entity or organization that coordinates or supplies the Season Pass for You.” The ski resort failed to supply services and the loss to plaintiffs arose from this failure under the terms of the exclusion. I would end the analysis there.”

Judgment is affirmed.

21-3087 Rossi v. Jackson, Kelly, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri.

 

 

FDCPA

Failure to Distinguish Principal and Interest; Injury in Fact

Defendants appealed the district court’s grant of plaintiff’s motion for judgment as a matter of law in plaintiff’s FDCPA class action. Defendants sent plaintiff a debt collection letter that listed amounts owed that did not distinguish interest from principal. Because the legality of assessing interest on plaintiff’s debt was uncertain, plaintiff filed a FDCPA action. The district court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss challenging plaintiff’s Article III standing.

Where plaintiff did not pay any interest demanded by defendants or otherwise take any action detrimental to her interest, she had failed to plead an injury in fact that would support Article III standing since merely seeking compliance with regulations was not the same as seeking a remedy for harm.

Judgment is vacated and remanded.

21-2864 & 22-1206 Bassett v. Credit Bureau Services, Inc., Benton, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska.

 

Criminal Law

 

Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances

Admission of Wiretap Evidence; Jury Instructions

Defendants appealed their convictions for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and their resulting sentences. On appeal, defendants challenged the admission of wiretap evidence, the sufficiency of evidence supporting their convictions, the jury instructions, and the sentences imposed by the district court.

Where the government met the statutory requirements for seeking a wiretap and minimized its surveillance as required by law, the district court properly admitted the wiretap evidence. The district court properly rejected defendants’ request for a multiple-conspiracies instruction because the government’s evidence provided overwhelming proof of a single conspiracy, and there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions. Finally, there was sufficient evidence to support the district court’s imposition of sentencing enhancements and rejection of defendants’ requests for minor-role reductions.

Judgment is affirmed.

21-3769, 21-3793, & 22-1252 U.S. v. Armstrong, Gruender, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa.

 

 

Conspiracy to Distribute Drugs

Sufficiency of Evidence; Reasonableness of Sentence

Defendant appealed her conviction and sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Following a post office investigation, defendant admitted to knowing that packages arriving at her home contained illegal drugs but claimed she was told they contained marijuana instead of methamphetamine. On appeal, defendant challenged the sufficiency of evidence, also arguing that the district court improperly admitted evidence of prior bad acts. Defendant also challenged the reasonableness of her sentence, arguing that the district court failed to credit her for acceptance of responsibility.

Where defendant admitted to knowing the contents of the package and sending wire transfers at the request of her co-defendant, there was sufficient evidence to sustain defendant’s conviction, and the evidence of her prior bad acts was relevant to show she had knowledge of methamphetamine. Defendant’s sentence was also reasonable where, despite admitting her participation to investigators, she denied her factual guilt at trial, and the disparity between her and her co-defendant’s sentences was based on their individual circumstances.

Judgment is affirmed.

22-1221 U.S. v. Aguilar, Grasz, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa.

 

 

Drug Distribution

Career Offender; Predicate Offenses

Defendant appealed the sentenced imposed following his guilty plea to distributing controlled substances. The district court applied a career offender sentencing enhancement. On appeal, defendant argued that his prior attempted murder and vehicular carjacking offenses did not qualify as predicate offenses because he had not served any portion of a sentence for those offenses within 15 years of the present drug distribution offense and because they were not crimes of violence.

Where defendant was serving a mandatory supervised release period within 15 years of his current drug distribution offense after having his parole revoked on his attempted murder and carjacking offenses, the district court correctly found that those offenses fell within the limitations period and that they qualified as crimes of violence because they had the same statutory elements as the generic federal offense.

Judgment is affirmed.

22-1528 U.S. v. Coleman, Gruender, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa.

 

 

Possession of a Firearm by a Felon

Motion to Suppress; Traffic Stop

Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress evidence of a firearm found during a traffic stop. While on patrol for vehicles with switched license plates, the officer ran a plate check on defendant’s motorcycle and learned that it was registered to a motorcycle of a different color. Seeing that defendant was about to turn into the driveway of a residence known to house narcotics and stolen property, the officer conducted a traffic stop and patted down defendant to find a firearm and other weapons. The district court ruled that the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop and denied defendant’s suppression motion.

Where the color discrepancy in vehicle registry records indicated that defendant’s motorcycle may have been stolen or had an expired registration or that defendant had a suspended license, also given the fact that defendant was riding in a neighborhood where stolen vehicles were common, the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop.

Judgment is affirmed.

22-2133 U.S. v. Brown, Gruender, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa.

 

 

Possession with Intent to Distribute

Calculation of Base Offense Level; Relevancy of Conduct

Defendant appealed the judgment of sentence after he pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute. The district court imposed a below-Guidelines sentence. On appeal, defendant argued that the district court miscalculated his base offense level and the Guidelines range by erroneously determining that several drug transactions were relevant.

Where the government presented substantial evidence that defendant participated in drug sales for several years that involved hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine, there was no error in the district court’s drug quantity calculation where the district court could use reliable hearsay testimony that was corroborated by defendant’s own admissions to police.

Judgment is affirmed.

21-3229 U.S. v. Elcan, per curiam. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri.

 

Employer-Employee

 

Restrictive Covenants

Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations; Breach of Employment Contract

Plaintiff appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendants. Five of plaintiff’s employees jumped ship to join a competitor. Plaintiff sued the former employees and the competitor, alleging that the former employees had solicited plaintiff’s employees and customers and misappropriated plaintiff’s confidential or proprietary information. Plaintiff asserted various claims, including tortious interference with contractual relations. After granting summary judgment to defendants, the district court also awarded defendants attorneys’ fees.

Where it was unclear whether California law applied to one of the employee’s claims pursuant to the choice of law provision in their agreement, the court remanded claims against that employee for a choice-of-law analysis, but the court affirmed the summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff’s tort claims for lack of evidence, and the question over applicable law required vacatur of the attorneys’ fees award under California law.

Judgment is affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Traffic Tech, Inc., Grasz, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, Davis, J.

 

 

Sex Discrimination

Retaliation; Constructive Discharge

Plaintiff appealed the grant of summary judgment for defendant in plaintiff’s sex discrimination case. Plaintiff worked for defendant as a radiology technician. Plaintiff began documenting incidents between herself and one of the doctors she worked with, believing that he treated female workers differently than male workers. Plaintiff met with her supervisor, who created a safety plan that allowed plaintiff to call if she ever felt unsafe working with the doctors. Plaintiff used the plan once when she believed that a doctor was intoxicated during a procedure. After the doctor was forced to take a breathalyzer test, he informed defendant that he would never work with them again. Plaintiff was subsequently placed on administrative leave and declined a transfer to another hospital.

Where plaintiff presented no evidence that defendant intended for plaintiff to quit or otherwise subjected her to an adverse employment action, the district court correctly dismissed plaintiff’s sex discrimination and constructive discharge claims on summary judgment.

Judgment is affirmed.

22-2057 Bell v. Baptist Health, Gruender Appealed from U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas.

 

 

Termination of Employment

COBRA Coverage; Loss of Coverage

Plaintiff appealed the grant of summary judgment for defendant. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant, her former employer, failed to enroll her for COBRA coverage following the termination of her employment despite her request for coverage and submission of premiums. Defendant denied receiving the premium and claimed that it nevertheless enrolled plaintiff for coverage, which was later terminated for non-payment.

Where plaintiff presented no objective evidence that she sent checks to defendant to pay the COBRA premiums, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for defendant where plaintiff’s assertions were belied by the fact that defendant advanced two months of coverage that was ultimately canceled for non-payment.

Judgment is reversed and remanded.

22-1021 Anglim v. Sharp Medical Staffing, LLC, per curiam. Appealed from U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska.

 

 

Immigration

 

Asylum

Withholding of Removal; Challenge to Jurisdiction

Petitioner sought review of an order of the BIA, which rejected petitioner’s jurisdictional arguments and affirmed the denial of his application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture.

Where petitioner’s jurisdictional challenged was foreclosed by legal precedent, and where petitioner had failed to present sufficient evidence to establish past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution, the BIA correctly denied his application.

Petition is denied.

22-1214 Tziquin Matias v. Garland, per curiam. Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals.

 

 

 

Relief from Removal

Filing of Appellate Brief; Denial of Extension of Time

Petitioner sought review of the order of the BIA. The BIA denied petitioner’s motion for extension of time to file an administrative appellate brief and dismissed his appeal from the denial of his request for relief from removal. After the deadline for petitioner’s brief passed, counsel filed a motion for an extension of time to file the brief. The BIA denied the motion as untimely filed.

Where the BIA adhered to its own schedule and regulations in finding petitioner’s request for an extension of time to be untimely filed, the court found no basis for reversal.

Petition is denied.

22-2621 Laureano-Martinez v. Garland, per curiam. Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals.

 

Insurance

 

Accidental Death Benefits

‘Intentionally Self-Inflicted Injury’; Lack of Appeal/Review Procedures

Defendant appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to plaintiff. After her husband died of a heroin overdose, plaintiff sought accidental death benefits under an employer-sponsored benefit plan. Defendant, the plan’s insurer, denied plaintiff’s claim. On appeal, defendant argued that plaintiff’s suit was barred by her failure to exhaust internal review procedures and that her benefits claim was subject to an exclusion from coverage.

Where the written plan documents did not describe any appeal or review procedures, plaintiff was not required to exhaust internal procedures before filing suit, and defendant erred in denying coverage because using heroin was not an intentionally self-inflicted injury because overdose was not an intended result of drug use.

Judgment is affirmed.

22-1093 & 22-2257 Yates v. Symetra Life Insurance Company, Kelly, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri.

 

Life Insurance

ERISA; Conversion of Policy

Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her complaint. Plaintiff’s husband’s employer provided him a group life insurance policy. Under the terms of the policy, when an employee terminated their employment, they could convert their policy to an individual policy by applying for conversion and paying the required premium. Plaintiff’s husband accepted early retirement in August 2020 and was orally advised by his employer that he could covert his insurance policy. However, he never received a conversion notice from defendant. Defendant later discovered the error and granted plaintiff’s husband a 31-day period to convert his policy. Plaintiff’s husband died within this period. Plaintiff filed for benefits but was denied. The district court dismissed plaintiff’s suit, concluding that defendant’s letter did not extend the conversion window.

Where the letter did not comply with the policy’s requirements for changing provisions of the policy and by its express terms did not extend the original conversion period but rather offered a new conversion period, plaintiff was not entitled to coverage when her husband’s death occurred during this new period, not the original conversion period.

Judgment is affirmed.

22-2096 Powell v. Minnesota Life Insurance Company, Gruender, J. Appealed from U.S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa.

 

Municipal

 

City Ordinance

Ban on Flavored Tobacco Products; Preemption by Federal Law

Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s grant of defendant’s motion to dismiss. Defendant passed an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products within city limits. Plaintiff filed suit, arguing that the ordinance was preempted by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which set national standards for tobacco products. The district court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the ordinance fell within the TCA’s savings clause.

Where defendant’s ordinance was merely a ban on the sale of certain tobacco products, rather than a regulation on the standards for the manufacture of tobacco products, the district court correctly determined that the ordinance was not preempted by the TCA.

Judgment is affirmed.

20-2852 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. City of Edina, per curiam. Appealed from U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, Schiltz, J.


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