Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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From 1910 until 1986, Greenlease Holding Co. (“Greenlease”), a subsidiary of the Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation (“Ampco”), owned a contaminated manufacturing site in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Trinity Industries, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Trinity Industries Railcar Co. (collectively, “Trinity”), acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. An investigation by Pennsylvania into Trinity’s waste disposal activities resulted in a criminal prosecution and eventual plea-bargained consent decree which required, in relevant part, that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. This appeal arose out of the district court’s determination that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”), Trinity was entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. The parties filed cross-appeals challenging a number of the district court’s rulings, including its ultimate allocation of cleanup costs. The Third Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court on several pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions, vacated the cost allocation determination and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, convicted of drug offenses between 1997 and 2007, applied to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) for jobs that involved operating vehicles. Each filled out a form disclosing his criminal history and authorizing SEPTA to obtain a background check. SEPTA denied them employment. SEPTA did not send Plaintiffs copies of their background checks before it decided not to hire them, nor did it send them notices of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which required SEPTA to send both before it denied them employment, 15 U.S.C. 1681b(b)(3). Plaintiffs filed a putative class action, which the district court dismissed for lack of standing, reasoning there was only a “bare procedural violation,” not a concrete injury in fact because Plaintiffs alleged that SEPTA denied them jobs based on their criminal history, which Plaintiffs disclosed before the background checks. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim based on failure to provide notice of FCRA rights. Plaintiffs became aware of their FCRA rights and were able to file this lawsuit within the prescribed limitations period, so they were not injured. The court reversed the dismissal of the claim based on failure to provide copies of the consumer reports. That right exists whether the report is accurate or not; FCRA clearly expresses Congress’s “intent to make [the] injury redressable.” View "Long v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Brown, a federal prisoner. filed his “Kemmerer” complaint, alleging that prison officials had injured him by placing him in restraints; he successfully moved to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which waives fees if the prisoner demonstrates that he cannot afford the fees. Under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), the “three strikes rule,” a prisoner cannot proceed IFP if he has on three or more prior occasions, brought an action that was dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim. Brown later filed his “Sage” complaint, alleging that prison employees were deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health issues. Brown again sought to proceed IFP. Brown subsequently filed an explanation that he had been informed that he had three strikes and would invoke section 1915(g)’s “imminent danger” exception. The court denied Brown’s motion in Sage, concluding that he did not qualify for the exception, and vacated its Kemmerer IFP decision. Brown then filed his third Bivens action, claiming that a prison physician assistant denied him treatment for burns after he spilled hot water on himself. The court again held he did not meet the exception and dismissed the case. In consolidated appeals, the Third Circuit reversed, concluding that it must use its own precedent to evaluate whether prior cases are strikes, rather than that of the Circuit from which the potential strikes emanated. Brown's third "strike" did not qualify because the case was closed for failure to state a claim without having actually been filed in the district court. View "Brown v. Sage" on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (NGA) requires a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A), for construction or operation of a natural gas pipeline, which requires compliance with other legal mandates. Transco sought a Certificate for expansion of its natural-gas distribution network, then received Water Quality Certification under the Clean Water Act, (CWA) 33 U.S.C. 1341(a)(1) from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), subject to conditions requiring a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, for discharges of water during hydrostatic pipeline testing, and state permits, covering erosion and sediment disturbance and obstructions and encroachments on Pennsylvania waters. Transco challenged the conditions in the Third Circuit under the NGA and before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board. The Third Circuit concluded that it has jurisdiction; NGA provides “original and exclusive jurisdiction" to review a state agency’s “action” taken “pursuant to Federal law to issue . . . any . . . concurrence” that federal law requires for the construction of a natural-gas transportation facility. PADEP issues Water Quality Certifications “pursuant to federal law," which requires PADEP concurrence before construction can proceed. The court then rejected claims that PADEP failed to provide public notice the CWA requires and acted arbitrarily by issuing a Certification that was immediately effective despite being conditioned on obtaining additional permits; that PADEP’s decision violated the Due Process and Takings Clauses, given that the approval was necessary for Transco to begin eminent domain proceedings; and that the approval violated PADEP’s obligation to safeguard the Commonwealth’s natural resources. View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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Vanguard offers retail securities brokerage accounts. Its website stated that Vanguard offered a price of “$2 commissions for stock . . . trades” for customers who maintained a balance in Vanguard accounts of $500,000-$1,000,000. The Taksirs, whose holdings met that threshold, used Vanguard to purchase Nokia stock. Vanguard charged them a $7 commission for each of their respective purchases, stating that the Taksirs’ accounts “are not eligible for discounts for trading stocks and other brokerage securities because of IRS nondiscrimination rules” and that “[u]nfortunately, this information is not listed on the Vanguard Brokerage Commission and Fee Schedule.” Weeks later, Orit Taksir acquired additional Nokia stock in the same Vanguard account and was charged a $2 commission. The Taksirs filed a putative class action for fraud or deception under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and breach of contract. The district court dismissed the UTPCPL claim but denied Vanguard’s motion to dismiss the contract claim. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. 78bb, does not bars investors’ claims that their broker overcharged them for the execution of securities transactions. The issue is whether the overcharges constitute “misrepresentation . . . in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security.” The overcharges do not have a “connection that matters” to the securities transactions. View "Taksir v. Vanguard Group" on Justia Law

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Philadelphia police officers shot and killed Purnell, who died intestate. Purnell’s minor daughter is the sole beneficiary of the estate. Murray, Purnell’s mother, hired an attorney and obtained letters of administration to act on behalf of her son’s estate. Murray filed a lawsuit on behalf of the estate alleging excessive force against the city and the officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the city summary judgment but allowed her claims against the officers to proceed to a jury trial. The officers' defense was that they had used deadly force in self-defense. The jury returned verdicts in favor of the officers. Murray filed a pro se notice of appeal. The Third Circuit ordered the pro bono appointment of amicus curiae to address whether Murray may proceed pro se on behalf of Purnell’s estate. Under 28 U.S.C. 1654, “parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel” in the federal courts. Although an individual may represent herself pro se, a non-attorney may not represent other parties in federal court. The Third Circuit then dismissed Murray’s appeal: a non-attorney who is not a beneficiary of the estate may not conduct a case pro se on behalf of the estate. View "Murray v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Plaintiffs purchased Cane Bay Beach Bar, on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2005, they sued Defendants for breach of contract related to the sale of that business. Plaintiffs resided in the Virgin Islands from the time they filed their suit until 2012, when they moved to the U.S. mainland. Upon learning that Plaintiffs were no longer Virgin Islands residents, Defendants sought an order requiring Plaintiffs to post a security bond for potential costs under Virgin Islands Code title 5, section 547. 4. The Superior Court subsequently dismissed the suit for failure to post the bond. The Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands reinstated the suit, finding that the Code provision violated the Constitution's Privileges and Immunities Clause. The Third Circuit dismissed a petition for certiorari review for lack of jurisdiction. In 2012, 126 Stat. 1606 (H.R. 6116) revoked certiorari authority for all “cases commenced on or after” December 28, 2012. Reversing a prior decision, the court concluded that H.R. 6116's effective date applies to the date an appeal from a final decision of the Virgin Islands Supreme Court is filed and not to the date a suit was filed in the Superior Court. The petition in this matter was filed after that effective date. View "Vooys v. Bentley" on Justia Law

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Reading, a Pennsylvania not-for-profit health system, issued auction rate securities (ARSs) to finance capital projects. J.P. Morgan was the underwriter and broker-dealer. Reading claims that J.P. Morgan and others artificially propped up the ARS market through undisclosed support bidding; when they stopped in 2008, the market collapsed. Reading filed state law claims and demanded arbitration with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The 2005 and 2007 broker-dealer agreements state “all actions and proceedings arising out of” the agreements or ARS transactions must be filed in the Southern District of New York. Reading filed a claim under FINRA Rule 12200, which requires a FINRA member (J.P. Morgan) to arbitrate any dispute at the customer’s request. J.P. Morgan refused, arguing that the forum-selection clauses in the 2005 and 2007 broker-dealer agreements constituted a waiver of Reading’s right to arbitrate under Rule 12200. The Third Circuit affirmed the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which resolved the transfer dispute before the arbitrability dispute, declined to transfer the action, and required J.P. Morgan to submit to arbitration. Reading’s right to arbitrate is not contractual but arises out of a binding, regulatory rule, adopted by FINRA and approved by the SEC. Condoning an implicit waiver of Reading’s regulatory right to arbitrate would erode investors’ ability to use a cost-effective means of resolving allegations of misconduct and undermine FINRA’s ability to oversee and remedy such misconduct. View "Reading Health System v. Bear Stearns & Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Ricketts petitioned the Third Circuit to review the BIA's denial of his motions to reopen his removal proceedings, arguing that he is actually a U.S. citizen. Finding that there were genuine issues of material fact as to his nationality, the court granted a joint motion and transferred the nationality dispute to the Eastern District of New York, where Ricketts resided at the relevant time (8 U.S.C. 1252(b)(5)(B)). After an evidentiary hearing, that court decided that the evidence overwhelmingly established that Ricketts is a Jamaican national who appropriated the identity of a U.S. citizen. Ricketts sought review by the Second Circuit. The district court transmitted the appeal to the Third Circuit. The government sought transfer the to the Second Circuit, requesting that the Third Circuit retain jurisdiction over Ricketts’s other consolidated petitions for review. The Third Circuit held that an appeal from a nationality determination following a transfer must be taken to the appellate court that typically hears appeals from the district court making the determination rather than to the appellate court that transferred the case to the district court in the first place. The statute indicates that Congress intended that hearings under section 1252(b)(5)(B) be treated as new proceedings separate from the underlying petitions for review. The Third Circuit held it lacked jurisdiction to entertain an appeal from a nationality determination made by the Eastern District of New York. View "Ricketts v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Disability rights advocates brought a proposed class action suit against Steak ’n Shake under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C 12101, alleging they have personally experienced difficulty ambulating in their wheelchairs through two sloped parking facilities. They sought to sue on behalf of all physically disabled individuals who may have experienced similar difficulties at Steak ’n Shake restaurants throughout the country. The district court certified the proposed class. The Third Circuit reversed and remanded, first holding that the plaintiffs have Article III standing to bring their claims in federal court. Although a mere procedural violation of the ADA does not qualify as an injury in fact under Article III, plaintiffs allege to have personally experienced concrete injuries as a result of ADA violations on at least two occasions. Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that these injuries were caused by unlawful corporate policies that can be redressed with injunctive relief. However, the “extraordinarily broad class” certified by the district court violates the Rule 23(a)(1) requirement that the proposed class be “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable” and Rule 23(a)(2)’s requirement that plaintiffs demonstrate that “there are questions of law or fact common to the class.” View "Mielo v. Steak N Shake Operations Inc." on Justia Law