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The DC Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for bank robbery and rejected defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The court held that, even assuming that counsel was inadequately prepared, defendant failed to show that this caused him to plead guilty; defendant's contention that counsel failed to object to an erroneous finding by the district court was based on a mischaracterization of the record; and defendant failed to allege that the purported conflict of interest actually affected his counsel's performance. Finally, the court held that the record established that the trial judge did not attempt to influence or coerce defendant into taking a plea, nor did the judge otherwise inappropriately participate in plea bargaining. View "United States v. Smoot" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, candidates for certain offices, including the Presidency, must file financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, 5 U.S.C. 103(e). A presidential candidate’s financial disclosure must include the “identity and category of the total liabilities owed to any creditor.” Reviewing officials determined that then-candidate Trump’s disclosures were “in apparent compliance.” Lovitky alleged that the disclosure included both personal and business liabilities, in violation of the Act, which “requires disclosure of only those liabilities for which candidates are themselves liable . . . or for which the spouse or dependent child of the candidate are liable.” Candidate Trump, Lovitky argued, “obscured his liabilities by commingling them with the liabilities of business entities.” Lovitky sought an order requiring amendment of the report. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The only possible basis of jurisdiction, the Mandamus Act, 28 U.S.C. 1361, refers to actions “to compel an officer of the United States to perform his duty.” The Ethics Act obligation is not a “duty” under the Mandamus Act, which includes only those obligations that pertain to a defendant’s public office. Detaching the duty from the office could lead to serious incongruities. For example, where an officer is sued in his official capacity, FRCP 25(d) automatically substitutes as defendant the official’s successor in office, so that, under the Ethics Act, a public official could be compelled to perform the personal financial disclosure duties of his predecessor. View "Lovitky v. Trump" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the widow of a Taiwanese plastics magnate and billionaire filed suit against the trusts created before her husband's death, alleging that the transfer of a large portion of her husband's assets to the trusts unlawfully denied her the full marital estate to which she was entitled. The district court ultimately granted, subject to conditions, the trusts' motion to dismiss the complaint on forum non conveniens grounds. The DC Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court failed to give appropriate weight to the widow's legitimate choice of forum and erred in concluding that the private interest factors weighed slightly in favor of dismissal and in overemphasizing the public interest factors in deciding to dismiss this case on forum non conveniens grounds. In this case, the trusts failed to meet its heavy burden of showing that suit in the United States was so inconvenient as to be harassing, vexing, or oppressive. The court held that, the district court's errors, considered together, constituted a clear abuse of discretion. View "Shi v. New Mighty U.S. Trust" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of FERC's decision upholding charges assessed by the Southwest Power Pool. The court held that FERC's decision was not arbitrary and capricious and rejected Missouri River's argument that the tariff unambiguously confers carve-out eligibility on its transmission reservation under the 1977 Contract; rejected Missouri River's argument that FERC improperly changed course by relying on extrinsic evidence in this case; and rejected Missouri River's undue discrimination claim. The court also held that there was no reason to reject FERC's conclusion that the congestion and marginal loss charges paid for new services not provided for in the 1977 Contract. Finally, the court rejected Missouri River's argument, to the extent it was not forfeited, that the Pool should be equitably estopped from imposing congestion and marginal loss charges against Missouri River. View "Missouri River Energy Services v. FERC" on Justia Law

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PETA appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking records relating to animal welfare laws and regulations from the USDA. In regard to reposted records featuring new redactions, the DC Circuit held that the complaint was most plausibly read as requesting that the USDA repost all information that those records contained before their takedown. Therefore, the district court should proceed to the merits on remand. In regard to "voluntary cessation," the court affirmed the mootness dismissal as to the research reports but remanded for further elucidation as to the inspection reports and the entity lists. The panel explained that, if the agency unambiguously commits to continued posting of those documents, plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed as moot, without discovery, even if the USDA continues to regard its postings as voluntary. View "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. US Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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USC petitioned for review of the Board's ruling that the full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty of USC's Roski School of Art and Design exercised no effective control over university policies and, as non-managerial employees, were therefore eligible to join a union. The DC Circuit granted the petition for review in part, holding that the Board's decision, extending the majority status rule in Pacific Lutheran University, 361 N.L.R.B. 1404 (2014), to faculty subgroups, conflicted with N.L.R.B. v. Yeshiva University, 444 U.S. 672 (1980). Because the Board's subgroup majority status rule ran afoul of Yeshiva, and because the court was uncertain whether the Board would have reached the same conclusion absent that rule, the court remanded to the Board for further consideration. View "University of Southern California v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an American citizen, filed suit under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA), against two foreign officials from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for alleged torture. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the foreign official immunity doctrine. The DC Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal and held that defendants were not entitled to conduct-based foreign official immunity under the common law. In this case, defendants were being sued in their individual capacities and plaintiff was not seeking compensation of state funds. The court explained that, in cases like this one, in which the plaintiff pursues an individual-capacity claim seeking relief against an official in a personal capacity, exercising jurisdiction did not enforce a rule against the foreign state. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lewis v. Mutond" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, and first-degree child sexual abuse with aggravating circumstances. The court held that there was no improper expert testimony on DNA evidence; the photo array from which the victim identified defendant was not impermissibly suggestive; and the statements defendant made to the police were voluntary. View "United States v. Kelsey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of the FAA's decision to revoke petitioner's pilot certification for knowingly operating an aircraft with narcotics on board. After petitioner's plane crash-landed due to an engine malfunction, a trooper doing a routine inventory of the aircraft's contents discovered three chocolate bars infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana) in petitioner's briefcase. The court held that the sanction of revocation of petitioner's pilot certificate was not imposed arbitrarily, capriciously, nor in conflict with the law. The court held that the Board explicitly considered petitioner's mitigating factors and simply determined that they did not warrant a lighter sanction. The Board reasoned that knowingly transporting illegal narcotics on an aircraft, regardless of quantity or purpose, fell within the scope of 14 C.F.R. 91.19 and was grounds for a certificate revocation. Likewise, the fact that the marijuana was purchased in Colorado did not change the fact that marijuana was illegal under federal law and in federal airspace. Finally, the passage of 49 U.S.C. 44710 did not limit the FAA's authority to revoke certificates under 49 U.S.C. 44709. View "Siegel v. Administrator of the FAA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied Novato's petition for review of the Board's decision finding that it committed an unfair labor practice by firing four union organizers two days before a union election. The court held that the Board's findings were supported by substantial evidence and therefore granted the Board's cross-application for enforcement. In this case, the Board determined that the testimony of one of Novato's supervisors should not be credited, and that trial counsel’s cross-examination of the supervisor provided substantial evidence to support that determination. The court found nothing unreasonable in the Board's conclusion that Novato failed to meet its burden of showing it would have fired the four employees notwithstanding its anti-union animus. The court also held that substantial evidence supported the Board's conclusion that another employee was discharged alongside the four employees in order to provide cover for Novato's discriminatory conduct toward those union supporters. Finally, a supervisor's questioning of an employee's union views would have a reasonable tendency to interfere with the employee's rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. View "Novato Healthcare Center v. NLRB" on Justia Law