Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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In 2010, Pennsylvania inmate Houser sued prison officials (42 U.S.C.1983), claiming deliberate indifference to his medical needs. Houser unsuccessfully requested appointed counsel. Discovery proceeded. The defendants moved for summary judgment in 2013. Houser filed opposition papers pro se but again moved to appoint counsel. The court denied the defendants’ motions, granted Houser’s motion, and conducted a search to secure pro bono counsel. After two attorneys declined the case, Reed Smith assumed Houser’s representation and devoted over 1,000 hours to the case before moving to withdraw based on fundamental disagreements with Houser on strategy, a breakdown in communication, and an irremediably broken attorney-client relationship. The court told Houser that it could not dictate strategy, and stated: “We’re not going to ask anyone else... do you want to ... represent yourself?” Houser never gave a straightforward answer. The court granted Reed Smith’s motion. Houser unsuccessfully requested that the court put him back on the “appointment of counsel” list and stay the case. Noting that the case was five years old, the court pushed the trial to December 2015. In October 2015, Houser unsuccessfully moved to appoint counsel. A jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Houser unsuccessfully moved for a new trial based on the denial of his motion to appoint counsel. Houser moved to reconsider, arguing his claims had merit and involved “medical issues that were complex including requiring an expert” and the “conflicting testimony of multiple witness[es].” The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion; denying Houser new counsel was not an abuse of discretion. View "Houser v. Folino" on Justia Law

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In 2005-2006, Blake and Orkis took out mortgages from JP Morgan to buy homes. In 2013, they filed a class action against JP Morgan under the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act, alleging a scheme to refer homeowners to mortgage insurers in exchange for streams of kickbacks. The Act has a one-year statute of limitations that runs from the date of the violation, 12 U.S.C. 2614. Blake and Orkis argued that, rather than the limitations period running from the mortgage closing, each kickback separately violated the Act and had its own limitations period. The Third Circuit accepted that argument. While the kickbacks ended more than a year before they sued, they attempted to piggyback on a different class action filed in 2011 that raised the same claims against JP Morgan but was dismissed. As members of that putative class, they argued, the limitations period should toll for them under the Supreme Court’s 1974 “American Pipe & Construction” decision. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit, citing the Supreme Court’s 2018 holding in “China Agritech” that a timely class action should never toll other class actions under American Pipe, which applies only to toll individual claims. View "Blake v. JP Morgan Chase Bank NA" on Justia Law

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GSK's drug Avandia is indicated to treat Type II diabetes. Health insurance plans contend that GSK concealed evidence of Avandia’s cardiovascular risk, promoted Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits, and reaped billions of dollars in profits. In 2007, an independent researcher published an article claiming that Avandia increased the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. The FDA investigated, and the Senate Finance Committee released a report. Plaintiffs’ suits under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state consumer protection laws became part of multi-district litigation (MDL). A protective order (PTO) covered discovery of confidential materials. GSK sought summary judgment on the consumer protection claims on preemption grounds and argued that the RICO claims should be dismissed for failing to identify a distinct RICO enterprise. The parties filed documents under seal pursuant to the PTO. Neither raised any issue as to the confidentiality of the sealed exhibits. The court granted GSK summary judgment. After the plans appealed, GSK sought to maintain the confidentiality of certain sealed documents that had been filed in connection with the summary judgment motion. The court unsealed its own summary judgment opinion but maintained the confidentiality of the remaining documents and directed GSK to file a redacted statement of undisputed material facts. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The district court failed to apply the presumption of public access and, instead, applied the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 standard for a protective order. View "In re: Avandia Marketing Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Hildebrand was hired by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office in 2005, after 15 years as an undercover Pittsburgh detective. He performed satisfactorily and without incident for four years. In 2009, he was assigned a new supervisor. From that time until his 2011 termination, Hildebrand alleges he was subject to several forms of age-based discrimination. In 2013, Hildebrand sued the DA’s Office for age discrimination under 29 U.S.C. 621 and constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the office had an established practice of targeting older detectives to force them out of their jobs. After appeals, Hildebrand’s remaining claim stagnated for three years until 2018, after the death of Hildebrand’s former supervisor, a key witness. The delay was caused by clerical error. The district court then dismissed for failure to prosecute (FRCP 41(b)). The Third Circuit vacated and remanded, finding that the district court failed to properly consider the “Poulis” factors. There was no evidence that Hildebrand was personally responsible for the delay; Hildebrand’s conduct was not delinquent at any other point. There is no evidence that the delay was part of any bad-faith tactic. While prejudice to the DA’s Office bears substantial weight in favor of dismissal, it is not dispositive of the appropriateness of imposing the harshest sanction; evidentiary or other sanctions may have been sufficient. View "Hildebrand v. Allegheny" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the League of Women Voters and Pennsylvania Democratic voters filed a state court lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional districting map. They alleged that Republican lawmakers drew the map to entrench Republican power in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation and disadvantage Democratic voters and that the Republican redistricting plan violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by burdening and disfavoring Democratic voters’ rights to free expression and association and by intentionally discriminating against Democratic voters. Five months later, State Senate President Pro Tempore Scarnati, a Republican lawmaker who sponsored the 2011 redistricting plan, removed the matter to federal court, contending federal jurisdiction existed because of a newly scheduled congressional election. The federal district court remanded the matter to state court, where the suit has since concluded with a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. Citing 28 U.S.C. 1447(c), the federal court directed Senator Scarnati personally to pay $29,360 to plaintiffs for costs and fees incurred in the removal and remand proceedings. The Third Circuit ruled in favor of Scarnati, citing the Supreme Court’s directive that courts carefully adhere to the distinction between personal and official capacity suits, The court upheld a finding that the removal lacked an objectively reasonable basis. View "League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

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In the mid-1980s, merchant mariners filed thousands of lawsuits in the Northern District of Ohio against shipowners, asserting that the mariners had been injured due to exposure to asbestos onboard ships. The District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ultimately presided over a nationwide asbestos products multidistrict litigation (MDL) and dismissed claims against numerous defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction. In a third appeal, the Third Circuit concluded that dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction was inappropriate. The shipowner-defendants timely moved for dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction in the Northern District of Ohio, after which they had to choose between waiving their personal jurisdiction defenses and remaining in the Northern District of Ohio, or submitting to transfer to a court where personal jurisdiction existed. By objecting to transfer, the defendants constructively opted to waive their personal jurisdiction defenses. The court noted that the shipowners also filed answers in the Northern District of Ohio after the parties expressly agreed that they could demonstrate a waiver of the defense by filing an answer. View "In re: Asbestos Products Liability Litigation (No. VI)" on Justia Law

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Robinson was told by her manager that “you either don’t know what you’re doing, or you have a disability, or [you’re] dyslexic.” Taking those words seriously, Robinson was tested for dyslexia. She submitted an evaluation that concluded that Robinson had symptoms consistent with dyslexia and requested accommodations. She was told that any diagnosis would not excuse her from performing her work in a satisfactory matter; she was advised to focus on improving her performance. Weeks later, she was fired. During the litigation, Robinson acknowledged that she could not prove she was dyslexic. She proceeded on a theory that she was perceived or regarded as dyslexic by her employer and was entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Third Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Robinson on her reasonable accommodation claim, finding that her employer had waived its argument under the 2008 ADA amendments. The Act now provides that employers “need not provide a reasonable accommodation . . . to an individual who meets the definition of disability in” 42 U.S.C. 12102(1)(C), which includes individuals who are “regarded as having” a physical or mental impairment. Despite the amendment, both parties proceeded under the “regarded as” case theory throughout the litigation. View "Robinson v. First State Community Action Agency" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Philadelphia police found drugs and a gun in an apartment that they thought was Randall’s. They arrested Randall. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office charged him but dropped all the charges in August 2015. When he was arrested in Philadelphia, he was already on probation in New Jersey and Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Hearing about his arrest, both jurisdictions issued detainers for him. After dropping the charges, Pennsylvania released Randall into New Jersey’s custody. He remained in custody, first in New Jersey and then in Delaware County, until December 24, 2015. On December 26, 2017, Randall sued the Philadelphia Law Department and the police officers who had arrested him under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed Randall’s claims as time-barred. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting Randall’s “continuing-violation” argument. Section 1983 borrows the underlying state’s statute of limitations for personal-injury torts. In Pennsylvania, that period is two years. When a Section 1983 claim accrues is a matter of federal law, under which a malicious-prosecution claim accrues when criminal proceedings end in the plaintiff’s favor. For Randall, that happened in August 2015, so he had until August 2017 to file his suit unless something tolled the statute of limitations. The continuing-violation doctrine focuses on continuing acts, not continuing injury. No Philadelphia defendant detained Randall beyond August 2015. View "Randall v. Philadelphia Law Department" on Justia Law

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Kamal visited various J. Crew store, making credit card purchases. Each time, Kamal “received an electronically printed receipt,” which he retained, that “display[ed] the first six digits of [his] 6 credit card number as well as the last four digits.” The first six digits identify the issuing bank and card type. The receipts also identified his card issuer, Discover, by name. Kamal does not allege anyone (other than the cashier) saw his receipts. His identity was not stolen nor was his credit card number misappropriated. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Kamal’s purported class action under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA), which prohibits anyone who accepts credit or debit cards as payment from printing more than the last five digits of a customer’s credit card number on the receipt, 15 U.S.C. 1681c(g), for lack of Article III standing. Absent a sufficient degree of risk, J. Crew’s alleged violation of FACTA is “a bare procedural violation.” View "Kamal v. J. Crew Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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In March 2015, the Boards of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and PinnacleHealth formally approved a plan to merge. They had announced the proposal a year earlier; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) were already investigating the impact of the proposed merger. This joint probe resulted in the FTC filing an administrative complaint alleging that the merger violated Section 7 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. 18. The FTC scheduled an administrative hearing for May 2016. The Commonwealth and the FTC jointly sued Hershey and Pinnacle under Section 16 of the Clayton Act, and Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. 53(b) seeking a preliminary injunction. In September 2016, the Third CIrcuit reversed the district court and directed it to preliminarily enjoin the merger “pending the outcome of the FTC’s administrative adjudication.” Hershey and Pinnacle terminated their Agreement. The Commonwealth then moved for attorneys’ fees and costs, asserting that it “substantially prevailed” under Section 16 of the Clayton Act. The district court denied the motion, finding the Commonwealth had not “substantially prevailed” under Section 16. The Third Circuit affirmed, reasoning that it had ordered the injunction based on Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, not Section 16 of the Clayton Act. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Penn State Hershey Medical Center" on Justia Law