Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that SWE's fracking waste migrated onto their property. The district court granted summary judgment for SWE. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court properly imposed initial limits on discovery; the district court abused its discretion in excluding plaintiff's expert report because, although the expert's equation and report imperfectly described where the fracking waste spread, the methodology was scientifically valid, could properly be applied to the facts of this case, and thus was reliable to assist the trier of fact; and, even without the expert's opinion, plaintiffs presented evidence that could support a reasonable inference that the fracking waste migrated across their property line. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Stroud v. Southwestern Energy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a class action against the Pegasus Pipeline's current owners and operators, Exxon, alleging that the company's operation of the pipeline was unreasonable and unsafe. The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court's decision to decertify the class based on a lack of commonality of issues. In this case, the contract claims would require examination of how Exxon's operation of the pipeline affects plaintiffs, which varies depending on where individual class members' property was located, as well as many other factors. The Eighth Circuit also concluded that the evidence here was insufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether there was unreasonable interference. The court explained that the question of unreasonable use of an easement was generally one of fact, dependent on the nature of the easement, the terms of the grant, and other relevant circumstances. Finally, the district court did not clearly abuse its discretion by denying plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend the judgment where the additional evidence at issue would not have produced a different result. Accordingly, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment. View "Webb v. Exxon Mobil" on Justia Law

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Jeannie K. May filed suit seeking to recover damages under state and federal law arising from the debt-collection practices of Nationstar. After a jury found in favor of May on her invasion-of-privacy claim and her claim that Nationstar negligently violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681, the jury awarded May compensatory damages on both claims and punitive damages on her invasion-of-privacy claim. The court concluded that there was ample evidence to support the jury's award of punitive damages and Nationstar's renewed assertions that it acted in good faith provided no legal basis to vacate the jury's verdict. In this case, the record reflected that May contacted Nationstar repeatedly in order to resolve the issue with her account; rather than suspend its efforts based on its erroneous assessment of her debt, Nationstar aggressively pursued collection, posted May's home for foreclosure and conducted inspections of her residence; Nationstar employees spoke to May in a mocking and sarcastic manner; and May suffered physical ailments from the stress caused by Nationstar's conduct. The court concluded that the $400,000 punitive damages award was not unconstitutionally excessive because of the reprehensible nature of Nationstar's conduct; the 8-to-1 ratio of the award was not unconstitutionally excessive; and the award did not violate due process. The court also concluded that the district court did not err by excluding the testimony of another borrower; and the jury instruction regarding the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), 26 U.S.C. 2601, was not plainly erroneous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "May v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a class of landowners subject to Sho-Me's easements, filed suit against Sho-Me and Tech for trespass and unjust enrichment after the companies used fiber-optic cable for commercial telecommunications. The district court certified the class and granted it summary judgment on liability. A jury trial was held on the issue of damages and the jury awarded plaintiffs over $79 million. The court concluded that Sho-Me and Tech's use exceeded the scope of the easements. The court explained that, under Missouri law, the companies exceeded their rights by using the fiber-optic cable for unauthorized purposes and thus their use became a trespass. The court also concluded that plaintiffs failed to identify any Missouri cases recognizing unjust enrichment as a remedy for unauthorized land use. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the unjust enrichment claim. The court noted that, on remand, plaintiffs may choose to pursue damages on their trespass claim. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Biffle v. Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and others filed suit alleging federal and state law claims arising from a nuisance abatement carried out on his land. The district court dismissed the claims based on the doctrine of claim preclusion. The court held that plaintiff's federal action challenging the nuisance abatement was precluded by the summary judgment granted in the Ramsey County District Court and affirmed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In this case, the actions involved the same set of factual circumstances, same parties or privies, there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior litigation, and plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate this matter in the prior action. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Anderson v. City of St. Paul, Minnesota" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the IRS seized $32,820.56 from Carole Hinders’s business bank account based on allegations that Hinders had unlawfully “structured” deposits to avoid federal currency reporting requirements. The government then filed a civil forfeiture complaint against the seized currency, and Hinders filed claims to the seized property. The district court eventually dismissed the action without prejudice. The district court then denied Hinder's motion for fees under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), 28 U.S.C. 2465(b)(1), and declined to reconsider its prior dismissal without prejudice. The court concluded, however, that Hinders has not “substantially prevailed” in this action where the district court’s dismissal without prejudice did not materially alter the legal relationship of the parties. Therefore, Hinders is not eligible for an award of attorney fees, costs, or interest under CAFRA. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the case without prejudice rather than with prejudice. In this case, the district court considered each of the relevant factors in deciding to grant the government’s motion and Hinders had not shown that she would be prejudiced by a dismissal without prejudice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Hinders" on Justia Law

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The Government filed suit to determine whether its 2004 tax lien on a foreclosed property had priority over several other competing interests in the property. The district court granted summary judgment for the Government. US Bank held an interest via a 2006 deed of trust, and appealed the district court's judgment. In chronological order, the 2004 deed of trust was recorded (March 29, 2004), the date the Government’s tax lien for unpaid 2004 taxes was assessed (November 21, 2005), and the date the 2006 deed of trust was recorded (July 11, 2006). The court concluded that the release-first sequencing combines with the lengthy gap in recording to prevent the court from considering the release of the 2004 deed of trust and recordation of the 2006 deed of trust to have occurred sufficiently contemporaneously to be part of the same transaction. Allowing U.S. Bank to stretch the notion of “same transaction” to include a more-than-two-month gap between release of an old deed of trust and recordation of a new one would undermine the integrity of the recording statute. The court concluded that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to the Government because no genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether the 2006 deed of trust retained the priority of the released 2004 deed of trust. View "United States v. US Bank Nat'l Ass'n" on Justia Law

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LaOstriches, Laura Avila-Barraza, and Avila-Barraza’s three children filed claims to property the United States was seeking civil forfeiture to based on the ground that the funds were money-laundered drug trafficking proceeds. The district court dismissed LaOstriches’s claim due to repeated failures to comply with orders that its corporate treasurer and secretary appear for discovery depositions. The district court granted summary judgment, dismissing Avila-Barraza’s claim because she failed to establish a sufficient interest in the seized property. In this case, that Avila-Barraza, the remaining claimant, was ultimately unsuccessful in defeating the government’s forfeiture claim did not convert the order dismissing LaOstriches’s claim into punishment that was subject to the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause; the district court erred in dismissing Avila-Barraza’s claim on the ground that she lacks Article III standing; in the alternative, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment rejecting Avila-Barraza’s claim that she is an innocent owner of the funds sought to be forfeited; and Avila-Barraza did have standing, and in particular, standing to contest the government’s claim that the funds are drug trafficking proceeds subject to civil forfeiture. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Barraza" on Justia Law

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Appellants filed a class action claiming the right to title and possession of twelve square miles of land in southern Minnesota. Appellants allege that they are lineal descendants of the Mdewakanton band of the Sioux tribe who were loyal to the United States during the 1862 uprising, and that the Secretary of the Interior set apart the twelve square miles for the loyal Mdewakanton and their descendants. The court concluded that the district court correctly held that appellants failed to state a claim under federal common law as set forth in the progeny of Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida; the district court properly granted defendants' motions to dismiss on the ground that Section 9 of the Act of February 16, 1863, Act of Feb. 16, 1863, ch. 37, 9, 12 Stat. 652, 654, does not provide a private remedy to the loyal Mdewakanton; the district court abused its discretion when it imposed sanctions, and the claims regarding the appellate-cost bond are moot; and, because the district court made no findings regarding the propriety of the Municipal Appelllees' motion for costs, the motion was moot. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of appellees' motion to dismiss; vacated the order imposing sanctions and requiring an appellate-cost bond; and remanded for limited consideration of Municipal Appellees’ motion for costs Under Rule 54(d) and 28 U.S.C. 1920. View "Wolfchild v. Redwood County" on Justia Law

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The utility and its insurers filed suit against BendTec for negligence, alleging that its pipes were the source of grit and had been improperly cleaned. The district court granted summary judgment to BendTec. The court affirmed the judgment, agreeing with the district court's conclusion that the negligence claim was barred under the two year limitations period in Minn. Stat. 541.051 since the installation of the turbine was an improvement to real property. Because the two year statute of limitations in Minn. Stat. 541.051 applies and the subdivision 1(e) exception does not, and plaintiffs did not file this lawsuit within the limitations period, the district court correctly granted summary judgment to BendTec. View "Associated Electric & Gas Ins. v. BendTec, Inc." on Justia Law