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

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In his 2010 Chapter 7 petition, the debtor listed a claim against Simms based on an injury while under Simms’ employ, but did not claim an exemption on Schedule C. In 2011, a complaint was filed against Simms; in 2012, a companion action was filed against BWC. The debtor filed amended schedules, valuing the Simms claim at $21,625, but claiming no exemption. The debtor never listed the BWC claim. In 2013, the certified that the estate had been fully administered except for the Simms claim, stating: The ... settlement shall remain property of the bankruptcy estate upon the entry of a final decree; if money becomes available ... the case will be re-opened. The bankruptcy court closed the case; the order contained no reservations regarding the claim. In 2015, the trustee was notified of a settlement offer and moved to reopen the case. The debtor argued that the trustee had abandoned any interest in the personal injury litigation and that the settlement encompassed the claim against BWC in which the trustee had no interest. The court approved a settlement of $180,000. At a hearing, without evidence or testimony, the bankruptcy court found that the claims were not abandoned. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed in part. The court made no findings to support approval of the settlement over the debtor’s objections. Because no court order preserved the personal injury claim as an asset, the bankruptcy court erred by holding that the trustee did not abandon that claim under 11 U.S.C. 554(c); the unscheduled BWC claim was not abandoned. View "In re: Wayne Wright" on Justia Law

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Fleming had a sporadic work history in the coal industry. Between 1970 and 1991, Fleming worked for 25 different employers. In 2010, Fleming sought Black Lung Benefits Act payments. The DOL Office of Workers’ Compensation calculated that Fleming was employed as a miner for nine and one-quarter years and that he had contracted pneumoconiosis as a result of that employment. Aberry was designated as the employer responsible for payment of benefits. On appeal, an ALJ determined that Fleming could show he had worked 273.50 weeks in the industry (about 5.25 years), but that Fleming was credible and established that he had either been paid under the table or without proper records having been kept. Based on that determination, the ALJ found that Fleming engaged in coal-mine employment “for at least 15 years,” which entitled Fleming to the presumption of total disability under 30 U.S.C. 921(c)(4). The Benefits Review Board remanded, stating that the ALJ had neither explained how he resolved the conflict between Fleming’s “not [being] a good historian” and the ALJ’s crediting of Fleming’s testimony, nor resolved the conflicting evidence. The ALJ's second Decision again awarded benefits. finding that Fleming worked more than 15 years in coal-mine employment. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The evidence was insufficient to establish that Fleming had 15 years of employment. View "Aberry Coal, Inc. v. Fleming" on Justia Law

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Jackson died in a car accident on U.S. Highway 70 after he lost control of his 2012 Ford Focus. Mrs. Jackson, who was a passenger in the car, was seriously injured. She sued, alleging that Ford was responsible for the accident because it equipped the car with a defective “Electronic Power Assisted Steering” (EPAS) system that caused the loss of control. The district court dismissed, finding that Jackson did not adequately plead proximate cause. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that “the district court demanded too much of Jackson under the familiar Iqbal and Twombly pleading requirements.” Jackson plausibly alleged that a defect in the 2012 Ford Focus’s EPAS system was a substantial factor in bringing about the accident, as is apparent from the litany of other accidents identified by Jackson where the EPAS system allegedly failed, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Ford’s “hypertechnical arguments regarding the allegations” in Jackson’s complaint rest on an inaccurate understanding of notice pleading. View "Jackson v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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David Alan Smith’s employer, Tasson, was sold to Great Lakes Wine and Spirits. Former Tasson employees were not guaranteed a position with Great Lakes. Each employee had to apply for a Great Lakes job. Smith applied for the position of delivery driver, the position he had at Tasson. Great Lakes contracted with LexisNexis to carry out criminal history checks for employment applicants. Great Lakes provided Lexis with Smith’s date of birth but not his middle name. Lexis’s check returned a fraud conviction of a man named David Oscar Smith, resulting in six weeks’ delay in Smith’s being hired. Lexis had requested, but not required, the input of a middle name, and did not cross-reference the criminal history report with a credit report that showed Smith’s middle initial. Smith sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681e(b). Following a jury trial, the court awarded Smith $75,000 in compensatory damages for six weeks of lost wages, emotional distress, and harm to his reputation, plus $150,000 in punitive damages. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Although a reasonable jury could conclude that Lexis negligently violated the FCRA by not requiring Smith’s middle name, there was not sufficient evidence of willfulness to support punitive damages. View "Smith v. LexisNexis Screening Sols., Inc." on Justia Law

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Black drove a truck for Western, one of 48 freight service providers that carry raw paper to Dixie’s Bowling Green factory. Black parked the truck, containing 41,214 pounds of pulpboard rolls, separated by 10-lb. rubber mats. Black received permission from Chinn, the Dixie forklift operator, to enter the loading dock. It was “[c]ommon practice” for the truck driver to unload the rubber mats so that the Dixie forklift operator did not “have to get off each time.” Chinn and Black got “into a rhythm” in unloading the materials until Chinn ran over Black’s foot with the forklift, leading to a below-the-knee amputation of Black’s leg. Black received workers’ compensation from Western, then filed a tort action against Dixie, seeking $1,850,000. Following a remand, the district court denied Dixie summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Act barred Black’s claims, Ky. Rev. Stat. 342.610(2), .690. The work Black was doing as part and parcel of what Dixie does; a worker injured in this setting will receive compensation regardless of fault by a company in Dixie’s shoes or one in Western’s shoes. The immunity from a further lawsuit applies as well. This burden and benefit are the trade-offs built into any workers’ compensation system. View "Black v. Dixie Consumer Prods., LLC" on Justia Law

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Applebaum bought a Schwinn mountain bike from Target. The bike had been previously returned. Applebaum claims, and Target denies, that a defective brake was repaired before the bike was resold. Minutes into her first ride, Applebaum fell off the bike at the bottom of a hill and injured her shoulder. A passerby came to Applebaum’s assistance, showed her that the rear brakes had clamped down on the tire, and released the brakes so that the bike could be wheeled back to Applebaum’s car. She returned the bike and claims she left it at Target. Target denies having the bike, which has not been located. She sued Target, alleging it negligently sold her a brake-defective bike. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the jury’s verdict, in favor of Target. The court rejected claims that the evidence did not support the verdict; the court mistakenly excluded, as hearsay, correspondence between a claims examiner and the company that repairs bikes for Target; and the court mistakenly limited the scope of an adverse inference instruction relating to the spoliation of evidence by the defendant. View "Applebaum v. Target Corp." on Justia Law

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The American husband and German wife have lived together in Germany since 2002. They sought damages for complications that arose when a surgical stapler manufactured in Mexico by an American corporation, Ethicon, allegedly malfunctioned during a 2012 surgery that husband underwent in Germany. An Ohio district court dismissed on the ground of forum non conveniens in favor of litigating in Germany. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Where a district court has considered all relevant public- and private-interest factors, and has reasonably balanced those factors, its decision deserves substantial deference. Private-interest factors include the relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process and the cost of obtaining witnesses; possibility of view of premises, id appropriate; and all other practical problems. Public-interest factors include administrative difficulties from court congestion; the local interest in the controversy’; the interest in having the trial in a forum that is at home with the law that governs the action; and the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty. The court here correctly concluded that Ethicon met its burden of showing that if the case remained in Ohio, the vexation it would endure and trouble to the court would be disproportionate to the plaintiffs’ minimal convenience. View "Hefferan v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc." on Justia Law

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While working amidst a high-wall mining (HWM) system at Southern Coal’s Harlan County mine, Smith, disengaging a conveyor car from the system, inadvertently placed his foot in a “pinch point” that existed between a hydraulic pusher used to launch cars into the mine and an outer guide rail on the mining platform. When the hydraulic pusher was prematurely activated by another worker, it crushed Smith’s foot against the guide rail. The injury resulted in the amputation of his lower left leg. In Smith’s suit, alleging negligence and strict liability for defective design and failure to warn, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the HWM manufacturer (Joy). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Smith's arguments that the district court erred by instructing the jury that Joy could be liable for negligent failure to warn only if Smith was unaware of the danger he faced and regarding a rebuttable presumption of nondefectiveness. The court declined a request to certify to the Kentucky Supreme Court questions of state law concerning both of those jury instructions. View "Smith v. Joy Techs., Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Hogan sued the Life Insurance Company of North America for violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, by denying her benefits claim under a disability insurance policy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of judgment against her. While appeal was pending, Hogan filed a state court suit against two nurses who worked for the Life Insurance Company and who had provided opinions regarding Hogan’s eligibility for benefits after reviewing her claim. Hogan carefully pleaded her claims in the second suit to avoid reference to the Life Insurance Company or ERISA, alleging only that the nurses committed negligence per se by giving medical advice without being licensed under Kentucky’s medical-licensure laws. The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of ERISA’s complete-preemptive effect. The district court denied Hogan’s attempts to remand the case to state court and later granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of remand and the dismissal. Hogan’s artfully pleaded state-law claims are simply claims for the wrongful denial of benefits under an ERISA plan that arise solely from the relationship created by that plan. The court denied defendants’ motion for sanctions on appeal because Hogan’s arguments were not frivolous. View "Hogan v. Jacobson" on Justia Law

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Inmate Koprowski was cleaning a fry hood in the prison's food-service area when he fell off a ladder and landed on his back. Koprowski lost feeling in his legs for several minutes and experienced severe pain when he stood up. He had difficulty walking for several days; intense pain persisted even while lying down. Koprowski alleges that medical staff treated his injuries as minor and temporary, thereby causing him unnecessary pain and further aggravating his condition, by delaying x-rays and refusing to perform an MRI, which would have shown that he had broken his back. Koprowski also claims that prison staff denied him access to specialized care, surgery, and ambulatory aids. Koprowski brought a “Bivens” suit against prison officials, alleging deliberate indifference. The court dismissed, finding that the Inmate Accident Compensation Act, 18 U.S.C. 4126(c), a workers’ compensation scheme for federal prisoners injured during the course of their prison employment, is the exclusive vehicle by which a federal inmate may receive compensation for injuries suffered during the course of prison employment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The IACA does not displace this otherwise available claim just because the alleged unconstitutional conduct occurred in the context of prison employment. View "Koprowski v. Baker" on Justia Law