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Federal New Releases

New Releases
from Federal Courts

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Bankruptcy -- Discharge -- Violation of injunction -- A creditor violates a discharge injunction under 11 U.S.C. section 524(a)(2) by filing proof of claim in a bankruptcy proceeding to collect a debt that was discharged in a previous bankruptcy proceeding -- Section 524(a)(2) prohibits filing a proof of claim for a discharged debt where objective effect of claim is to pressure the debtor to repay the debt -- Test for whether a creditor violates discharge injunction under Section 524(a)(2) is whether the objective of creditor's action is to pressure a debtor to repay a discharged debt, regardless of legal entity against which the creditor files its claim -- Bankruptcy court correctly concluded that creditor violated the discharge injunction -- Sanctions -- Bankruptcy court erred in imposing non-compensatory sanctions for creditor's contempt in violating discharge injunction -- Non-compensatory sanctions must be vacated in light of creditor's withdrawal of its proof of claim prior to adjudication of contempt where the “flat, unconditional fine” of $50,000 that bankruptcy court imposed was punitive in nature and there is no indication in record that bankruptcy court afforded creditor the procedural due process protections that imposing such sanctions requires -- Sanctions imposed after creditor withdrew its proof of claim and became compliant with discharge injunction were punitive rather than coercive in nature where purpose of non-compensatory sanctions was primarily to serve public interest and creditor was unable to lift sanctions through compliance -- Remand of case to bankruptcy court is appropriate so that it may decide how properly to dispose of debtors' request for non-compensatory sanctions in light of creditor's withdrawal of its proof of claim -- Bankruptcy court had authority to impose compensatory sanctions after finding that debtor suffered from emotional distress caused by creditor's violation of discharge injunction; however, award must be vacated and remanded with direction to district court to instruct bankruptcy court, upon remand, to reconsider debtors' request for compensatory sanctions in light of Lodge standard for imposing emotional distress damages -- Form of instant action was improper, and should be modified on remand to convert this adversary proceeding to a contested matter before revising that sanctions award -- Generally, civil contempt sanctions for violations of discharge injunctions must be sought by contested matter rather than adversary proceeding
VIEW OPINION

Criminal law -- Evidence -- Intercepted communications -- Recorded telephone conversations -- District court did not abuse discretion in permitting government's translator, when translating intercepted telephone calls between defendant and his relatives in Pakistan, to add bracketed words, that is, words that were not actually spoken during the audio recordings -- Witnesses -- Expert testimony -- District court did not abuse discretion by allowing government's first witness at trial, an FBI agent who helped lead investigation into defendant, to testify based on his familiarity with the investigation and his extensive review of transcripts of intercepted telephone calls between defendant and his contacts -- Assuming it was error to permit witness's testimony, such error was harmless as it had no substantial influence on outcome of trial; and because sufficient evidence uninfected by error supports the verdict, reversal is not warranted -- Harmless-error doctrine forecloses argument that district court erred by permitting FBI agent to testify as an expert witness without proper notice or foundation, because both government and defense called experts who testified extensively about many of same topics on which FBI agent opined -- Overview testimony -- District court did not abuse its discretion by allowing FBI agent to testify as a summary witness, because at no point did agent testify as a summary witness -- Where prosecution laid a foundation that witness had personal knowledge of recorded conversations because of his role as a lead investigator and his review of admitted transcripts and witness offered his testimony only after proper foundation had been laid and transcripts had been published to jury, witness did not give overview testimony -- Cross-examination -- Limitation -- District court did not abuse discretion by limiting scope of defendant's cross-examination of witness regarding government's informant or regarding investigative report written by Pakistani police detailing investigation into defendant's contacts in Pakistan and disclosed to defense pursuant to Brady v. Maryland -- Continuance -- District court did not abuse discretion in denying defendant a continuance to obtain testimony or a mistrial after the Internet connection supporting live-video-feed testimony of defense witnesses from Pakistan failed mid-trial
VIEW OPINION

Bankruptcy -- Adversary proceedings -- Fair Debt Collection Practices Act -- Debt collection -- Defendants are entitled to reconsideration of order denying their motion to dismiss complaint alleging that they had violated Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by filing a proof of claim in debtor's Chapter 13 case without providing certain notices required by the Act, where denial of motion to dismiss complaint was manifest error under limited circumstances of case -- Upon reconsideration, debtor's complaint did not state a cause of action under FDCPA because defendants acquired alleged debt after bankruptcy case was filed, only collection activity alleged in complaint was the filing of a proof of claim in bankruptcy case, and complaint did not contain sufficient factual allegations to show that filing of proof of claim was deceptive or abusive -- Complaint should be dismissed without prejudice
VIEW OPINION

Bankruptcy -- Claims -- Objection -- Jurisdiction -- Bankruptcy court would exercise its discretion to abstain from hearing debtor's objection to claim filed as claim secured by mortgage on debtor's real property where issues raised by debtor are essentially state law matters that can be resolved in foreclosure action that was pending at time that bankruptcy case was filed -- Counts of complaint based on Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, and Section 510(c) of Bankruptcy Code, alleging that defendants violated federal law by filing and serving papers in bankruptcy case, and by failing to furnish debtor with information related to asserted claim would be dismissed without prejudice where complaint does not contain sufficient factual allegations to make causes of action plausible on their face
VIEW OPINION

Criminal law -- Appeals -- Plea -- Voluntariness -- Appeal waiver -- Claims that counsel's ineffective assistance rendered defendant's guilty plea involuntary, that district court violated Rule 11 by failing to inform defendant of nature of drug conspiracy charge and by failing to secure a sufficient factual basis for guilty plea, and that government breached plea agreement and caused district court to commit procedural error in calculating advisory guideline ranges for narcotics conspiracy charge are not barred by appeal waiver in plea agreement -- An appeal waiver or collateral attack waiver which is part of guilty plea is unenforceable if plea itself is involuntary or unintelligent -- An appeal waiver does not bar a Rule 11 claim that there is insufficient factual basis to support a guilty plea -- Appellate review is permitted when a defendant claims that government breached plea agreement which purports to bar him from appealing or collaterally attacking his conviction and sentence -- On the merits, defendant is not entitled to relief on his claims -- Record is not sufficiently developed to allow appellate review of the ineffective assistance claim on direct appeal, even though record contains some evidence concerning counsel's performance -- District court did not commit plain error when court asked defendant if he understood that he had been charged with a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine without explaining elements of narcotics conspiracy charge where failure to do so did not affect defendant's substantial rights -- District court did not commit plain error with respect to factual basis for guilty plea to narcotics conspiracy charge where any deficiency in factual basis for charge did not affect defendant's substantial rights -- Assuming government breached plea agreement, defendant cannot show that the breach, and any resulting procedural error in calculation of advisory guideline range, affected his substantial rights where record shows that district court would have imposed same sentence even if drug quantity attributable to defendant had been substantially lower
VIEW OPINION

Corporations -- Dissolution -- Election to purchase shares -- Corporate shareholder of closely-held corporation brought derivative suit seeking relief for misuse of corporate funds and waste of corporate assets and corporation, to avoid possible dissolution, elected to repurchase petitioning shareholder's shares for value pursuant to Florida's election-to-purchase statute -- Law of the case -- Appellate mandate -- District court was obligated to obey mandate of prior appellate decision to determine whether distribution of corporate assets to petitioning shareholder would render corporation insolvent and, if so, to direct corporation to pay its creditor before distributing any assets to petitioning shareholder -- Prior appellate panel did not clearly err in requiring assessment of insolvency test as of time of payment of indebtedness, rather than time purchase order issued -- To extent that relevant distribution in this case constitutes a distribution of indebtedness from corporation to petitioning shareholder at time purchase order issued, such distribution would have been forbidden unless analyzed under subsection (8) exception to general prohibition in distributions-to-shareholders statute forbidding a corporation from reacquiring shares by distribution if such distribution would render the corporation insolvent -- Subsection (8) allows a corporation to make an otherwise forbidden distribution of indebtedness by assessing the insolvency test as of time of any future payment made in satisfaction of the distribution of indebtedness incurred upon issuance of purchase order -- Relative claim priority -- District court fully heeded and properly held that clear mandate of prior appellate panel foreclosed argument that corporation's indebtedness to shareholder must be treated at parity with corporation's indebtedness to its general, unsecured creditors -- Prior panel explicitly resolved the matter of relative claim priority when it directed that if on remand district court finds a distribution to shareholder would violate insolvency test, corporation's other creditors should receive payment before any distribution to shareholder -- In light of appellate court's prior mandate, district court did not abuse discretion in declining to exercise its discretion to reduce amount awarded on creditor's claim once valued, assuming such an approach would have been permitted
VIEW OPINION

Criminal law -- Murder -- Death penalty -- Habeas corpus -- Counsel -- Ineffectiveness -- Defendant is not entitled to habeas relief on claim that counsel was ineffective at penalty phase because counsel allegedly failed to adequately present mitigating evidence -- State supreme court did not engage in unreasonable application of fact when it determined that its confidence in sentence imposed was not undermined by any alleged deficient performance by counsel, given the events and facts of case, fact that aggravating circumstances would have still greatly outweighed any mitigating circumstances, and the unanimous jury recommendation for death penalty -- Habeas relief is not warranted on claim that counsel rendered ineffective assistance at guilt phase of trial when he failed to impeach state witness because state supreme court did not unreasonably apply Strickland's prejudice prong when it determined that counsel's failure to cross-examine the witness did not prejudice defendant -- Witnesses -- False testimony -- Prosecutor's knowing use of perjured testimony -- Defendant is not entitled to habeas relief on Giglio claim because state supreme court's finding that witness's testimony as to facts she observed were not false, nor could they be, because they did not concern objective facts that were either true or not true, but rather subjective opinions that may have evolved, was neither contrary to, nor unreasonable application of, federal law, nor unreasonable determination of facts in light of evidence presented -- Sentencing phase of capital trial -- Mitigating evidence -- Habeas relief is not warranted on claim that sentencing judge improperly failed to consider nonstatutory mitigating evidence presented at penalty phase related to childhood abuse because state supreme court's conclusion that trial judge did, in fact, consider defendant's child abuse as mitigating circumstance when determining his sentence did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law or an unreasonable determination of facts -- State supreme court's factual determination that trial judge did consider and weigh defendant's child abuse mitigating evidence is fairly supported by record and thus entitled to deference regarding resolution of any ambiguity in state trial court's order -- Cruel and unusual punishment -- Mental age of minor -- Defendant is not entitled to habeas relief on claim that his execution is unconstitutional because he is mentally a minor because, even if it would be unconstitutional to sentence to death one who has reached the chronological age of legal maturity but who possesses the mental intellectual capabilities of a juvenile, state court's denial of claim was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law
VIEW OPINION

Insurance -- Underinsured/uninsured motorist -- Insureds' action against insurer for injuries sustained in automobile accident -- Federal jurisdiction -- Diversity -- Amount in controversy -- Although face of complaint, which seeks coverage for breach of insurance contract and alleges only that amount in controversy exceeds $15,000, is insufficient to satisfy by preponderance of evidence the amount-in-controversy requirement for federal diversity jurisdiction, other factors lead to conclusion that more likely than not plaintiffs' claims exceed the minimum jurisdictional requirement -- Factors considered include fact that plaintiffs demanded UM policy limits in a total amount of $500,000; information in plaintiffs' Civil Remedy Notice of Insurer Violation, which included fact that one insured had died and second insured had sustained severe injuries; fact that insured has not been compensated for continued pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, and loss of capacity to enjoy life due to the crash or for the loss of her husband; and fact that deceased insured's estate has not been compensated for his death -- Moreover, plaintiffs seek attorney's fees and costs from defendant -- Plaintiffs' motion to remand to state court is denied
VIEW OPINION

Bankruptcy -- Jurisdiction -- Abandoned property -- Trustee's abandonment of property removes the property, for purposes of lien stripping, from jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court -- Bankruptcy court lacked jurisdiction to grant motion to value and determine secured status of lien on real property which had been abandoned
VIEW OPINION

Bankruptcy -- Attorney's fees -- Trustee's application for compensation for special counsel whose employment by trustee on contingency fee basis was previously approved -- Court is not required to review the application under general reasonableness standards because trustee's application to employ special counsel did not mention 11 U.S.C. section 328 -- Determination whether a professional's fees have been pre-approved under Section 328 should be made based on totality of circumstances, and nothing in 11 U.S.C. section 328 or Bankruptcy Rules requires or mandates that an application to retain special counsel or the order approving that application specifically mention section 328 -- Objecting creditor had ample notice of trustee's intent to retain and pay special counsel on contingency fee basis but failed to make any objection until after special counsel completed work and recovered asset for estate -- Under totality of circumstances court finds that fee and costs were pre-approved and are reasonable
VIEW OPINION

Bankruptcy -- Chapter 7 -- Mortgages -- Strip down/off of junior lien -- Pursuant to controlling Supreme Court precedent, debtor in Chapter 7 may not void junior mortgage lien under section 506(d) when debt owed on senior mortgage lien exceeds current value of collateral
VIEW OPINION

Bankruptcy -- Homestead exemption -- Commercially zoned property in which debtor resides -- Bathroom and portion of “kitchen” on property, which are the only portions of the property the debtor uses exclusively for her residence as of date of bankruptcy petition, are exempt homestead -- Creditor's objection to homestead exemption is sustained as to remaining portions of property
VIEW OPINION

Bankruptcy -- Surrender of real property -- To “surrender” property in context of Bankruptcy Code sections 521 and 1325, debtor must relinquish secured property and make it available to secured creditor by refraining from taking any overt act that impedes a secured creditor's ability to foreclose its interest in secured property -- Because debtors in cases at issue took affirmative steps to oppose the state court foreclosure actions, they failed to surrender their property as required by Code
VIEW OPINION

Criminal law -- Murder -- Death penalty -- Habeas corpus -- Denial of Rule 60(b) and Rule 59(e) motions in which habeas petitioner contended that, based on intervening decisions by Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit, petitioner should be able to revive ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim that he procedurally defaulted in his state post-conviction proceedings -- Appeals -- Certificate of appealability is required before a habeas petitioner may appeal denial of a Rule 60(b) motion -- COA not warranted on any of the three potential issues raised by petitioner, including claim that decision in Martinez v. Ryan permits petitioner to raise procedurally defaulted ineffective-assistance claims, question whether district court should have held evidentiary hearing on claim that attorney abandoned petitioner in his section 2254 proceedings, and claim that district court should have granted relief on attorney-abandonment claim
VIEW OPINION

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