Circuit Split Widens on Aggravated Felony Issue
A blog dedicated to tracking developments concerning splits among the federal circuit courts.
Per Smithfield Foods, Inc. v. United Food and Commercial Workers Intern. Union, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2008 WL 4899535 (E.D. Va. Oct 14, 2008):
The well-recognized doctrine of unclean hands prevents a plaintiff from obtaining equitable relief if the plaintiff has been "guilty of any inequitable or wrongful conduct with respect to the transaction or subject matter sued on." WorldCom, Inc. v. Boyne, 68 Fed. Appx. 447, 451 (4th Cir.2003). It is unclear, however, both nationally and in the Fourth Circuit, whether the doctrine of unclean hands applies in civil RICO claims.
The circuit courts are currently divided on this issue. The First Circuit, in Roma Construction Co. v. Russo, 96 F.3d 566, 571-75 (1st Cir.1996), suggested that the doctrine does not apply, but ultimately concluded that the plaintiffs did not have "unclean hands." The Eleventh and Seventh Circuits have opined that the doctrine may apply in civil RICO actions. See Sikes v. Teleline, Inc., 281 F.3d 1350, 1366 n. 41 (11th Cir.2002); Laborers' International Union of North America v. Caruso, 197 F.3d 1195, 1197-98 (7th Cir.1999). The Third Circuit also has applied the doctrine of unclean hands in the context of determining whether an injunction, after trial, can be denied. Northeast Women's Center, Inc. v. McMonagle, 868 F.2d 1342, 1354-55 (3d Cir.1989).
Notwithstanding the uncertainty at the circuit court level, it is persuasive that "an overwhelming majority" of district courts to consider the issue have concluded that "the defense of unclean hands is not available in civil RICO actions." Florida Software Sys. v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15294, at *6 (M.D.Fla. Sept. 16, 1999); see, e.g., Local 851 of the Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3779, at *5, 1998 WL 178873, at *2 (E.D.N.Y 1998); Bieter Co. v. Blomquist, 848 F.Supp. 1446 (D.Minn.1994); In re National Mortgage Equity Corp. Mortgage Pool Certificates Sec. Litig., 636 F.Supp. 1138 (C .D. Cal 1986).
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Finally, the Supreme Court has held that the affirmative defense of unclean hands has "been rejected" in the context of statutes "where Congress [has] authorize[d] broad equitable relief to serve important national purposes." McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publ. Co., 513 U.S. 352, 357 (1995) (addressing unclean hands in the context of an AEDA claim). RICO is such a statute. See, e.g., Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20, 28 (1991) (RICO was "designed to advance important public policies").
The persuasive weight of authority is that the affirmative defense of unclean hands is not available in a civil RICO action and cannot be asserted by the Defendants as an affirmative defense. Of course, the existence of inequitable conduct may be pertinent in shaping equitable relief, if there is a finding of liability. See, e.g., Heldman v. United States Lawn Tennis Asso., 354 F.Supp. 1241, 1249 (S.D.N.Y.1973).
Per U.S. v. Santiago Moreno, 2008 WL 4787153 (11th Cir. Nov 4, 2008):
The [Sentencing] Guidelines Application Note 20 states "the court shall include consideration of the following factors" in determining whether the offense [manufacture of methamphetamines] created a substantial risk of harm to human life or the environment . . .
Although there is a circuit split on the issue, this Court has not published a case addressing whether the district court is obligated to explicitly consider each factor enumerated in [Sentencing Guidelines] Application Note 20. Application Note 20 does state that, in deciding whether to impose an enhancement under § 2D 1.1(b)(8)(B), the court "shall include consideration" of the four factors set forth in the Note. Id. Nevertheless, there is nothing in Application Note 20 that directs the court to do so on the record. See generally id. Because Application Note 20 does not provide the district court must consider on the record all four listed factors, and neither this Court nor the Supreme Court has held a district court is obligated to do so, the district court's failure to do so was not plain error.
Per BNA's Class Action Litigation Report, 11/14/2008:
Per U.S. v. Smith, 2008 WL 4534021 n.2 (D. Mont. Oct 09, 2008):
The issue of whether a walk-away escape is a violent crime under the ACCA [Armed Career Criminal Act] is the subject of a split of authority within the circuits. See United States v. Springfield, 196 F.3d 1180, 1185 (C.A.10 1999) ("walkaway" escape from prison honor camp is a violent felony under ACCA). Furthermore, the Supreme Court recently granted certiorari to consider whether a conviction for escape under a statute that encompasses walkaway escapes qualifies as a crime of violence under the ACCA. United States v. Chambers, 473 F.3d 724 (7th Cir.2007), cert. granted, No. 06-11206, 128 S.Ct. 2046 (Apr. 21, 2008).
Per Posey v. Lake Pend Oreille School Dist. No. 84, --- F.3d ----, 2008 WL 4570616 (9th Cir. Oct 15, 2008):
Given the factual disputes presented in the record, we must therefore determine whether the inquiry into the protected status of speech remains one purely of law as stated in Connick, or if instead Garcetti has transformed it into a mixed question of fact and law.
Our sister circuits are split over the resolution of this question. In Charles v. Grief, 522 F.3d 508 (5th Cir.2008), for example, the magistrate judge had concluded that the question whether Charles's statements were made in his capacity as a citizen or an employee presented a genuine issue of material fact requiring trial. Id. at 513 n. 17. On appeal, however, the Fifth Circuit disagreed, concluding that "even though analyzing whether Garcetti applies involves the consideration of factual circumstances surrounding the speech at issue, the question whether Charles's speech is entitled to protection is a legal conclusion properly decided at summary judgment." Id.
The Tenth Circuit has also concluded that "[all] three steps" of the inquiry into the protected status of speech, including the "determin[ation] whether the employee [has spoken] pursuant to [his] official duties," "are to be resolved by the district court [and not] the trier of fact." Brammer-Hoelter v. Twin Peaks Charter Acad., 492 F.3d 1192, 1202-03 (10th Cir.2007). There, despite a dispute among the parties, the court found at summary judgment that some of the plaintiffs' speech had been made pursuant to their employment duties and some had not. Id. at 1204.
The District of Columbia Circuit has also held, following Garcetti, that the question whether a plaintiff "ha[s] spoken as a citizen on a matter of public concern" is a "question[ ] of law for the court to resolve," and not a "question[ ] of fact ordinarily for the jury." Wilburn v. Robinson, 480 F.3d 1140, 1149 (D.C.Cir.2007) (internal quotation omitted) (going on to affirm summary judgment because, on review of the evidence of plaintiff's alleged but apparently disputed employment duties, the speech "easily" fell within the plaintiff's job responsibilities).
In conflict with the Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits, the Third Circuit has "held that 'whether a particular incident of speech is made within a particular plaintiff's job duties is a mixed question of fact and law.' " Reilly v. City of Atlantic City, 532 F.3d 216, 227 (3d Cir.2008) (quoting Foraker v. Chaffinch, 501 F.3d 231, 240 (3d Cir.2007)). In Foraker, the Third Circuit considered a First Amendment retaliation case that had already gone to trial. The court applied "clear error" review to the factual finding that the plaintiffs' speech had been "made pursuant to employment duties." Foraker, 501 F.3d at 250 (Pollak, J., concurring).
The Seventh Circuit has implicitly sided with the Third Circuit, concluding in Davis v. Cook County, 534 F.3d 650 (7th Cir.2008), that summary judgment was appropriate because "no rational trier of fact could find" that Davis's speech had been made in her capacity as a private citizen. Id. at 653. And, prior to Garcetti, the Eighth Circuit had already concluded (with respect to the second element, requiring the balancing of interests between the individual and the state) that "any underlying factual disputes concerning whether the speech at issue [is] protected should [be] submitted to the jury." Casey v. City of Cabool, 12 F.3d 799, 803 (8th Cir.1993) (citing Shands v. City of Kennett, 993 F.2d 1337, 1342 (8th Cir.1993)).
Upon consideration, we agree with the Third, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits and hold that the determination whether the speech in question was spoken as a public employee or a private citizen presents a mixed question of fact and law.
Per Smithfield Foods, Inc. v. United Food and Commercial Workers Intern. Union, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2008 WL 4610312 (E.D.Va. Oct. 14, 2008):