Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions
Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.
Friends, civil forfeiture turns cops into robbers. How else to explain the actions of FBI agents who misled a court to obtain a search warrant and then violated the express limitations in the warrant, seizing property they had no business taking from hundreds of people? Click here to learn more about the case. Or click here for the latest brief, which alert readers may notice is somewhat redacted . . . for now. This plot will thicken.
- Army veteran attempts to go through security at Tampa International Airport to pick up his two minor children who are traveling alone. When a swab of his hands detects possible explosive materials, he’s told he must undergo a pat-down. The man objects, citing PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma. He’s escorted away from security and hit with a $2k fine for interfering with TSA screening personnel. Veteran: I didn’t interfere; I was medically incapable of submitting to the pat-down. D.C. Circuit: You voluntarily entered security where you knew it could happen, and then you didn’t let it happen; that’s interference enough.
- Circuit split alert: Can governments discharge Fifth Amendment just compensation awards in bankruptcy just like any other debt? The First Circuit, splitting with the Ninth, says no because, just maybe, there’s something special about debts the Constitution specifically says you have to pay.
- Nicodemo “Nicky” Scarfo is a made man among the Lucchese La Cosa Nostra (and the son of the former mob boss of Philadelphia). Together with associate Salvatore Pelullo, Nicky stumbles on the “golden vein of deals”—a recently bankrupt mortgage company that was receiving periodic payments from its bankruptcy trust without doing any actual business. They strongarm the company’s leadership into resigning, take over, and bleed the company of $14 mil via bogus trusts, shell companies, and “consulting” arrangements—leaving 1,200 public stockholders with nothing. But then the feds found out. Nicky and Pelullo are sentenced to 30 years; two brothers they installed as special counsel and CEO are sentenced to 20 and 10 years, respectively; and all four are ordered to pay $14 mil in restitution and held jointly and severally liable for a $12 mil criminal forfeiture order. Third Circuit: All of which is fine, except for including the former CEO in the forfeiture order as he was a figurehead more than the mastermind.
- Future historians may be interested in the following line: “Plaintiff-Appellant Michael Avenatti is a celebrity lawyer who rose to public prominence in early 2018 by representing Stephanie Clifford (a/k/a Stormy Daniels), a woman with whom then-President Trump had allegedly had an extra-marital affair.” But they’ll probably skip over the rest of this Third Circuit case, which says it was okay for the district court not to let Avenatti add a defendant just to defeat diversity jurisdiction after the suit—alleging Fox News and various Fox News personalities defamed him—was removed to federal court.
- Remember Matthew Whitaker, that dude Trump installed as attorney general even though it was contrary to the Vacancies Reform Act and he hadn’t been confirmed by the Senate? Well, during his brief tenure he promulgated a rule redefining “machinegun” to include a rifle with a bump stock, thus making the possession of bump stocks illegal. Was Whitaker invalidly appointed, thus making the rule itself invalid? Who cares, says the Third Circuit, because Senate-confirmed AG Bill Barr subsequently ratified Whitaker’s promulgation.
- In which the Fourth Circuit shows itself once again to be the bête noire of Younger abstention. A smashing read, for those interested in either abstention or the inherently transitory exception to the mootness doctrine. (Also, the opinion contains a horror show of allegations about West Virginia’s foster care system.) Not interested in Youn
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