Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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Burchett and Jude suffered from serious mental illnesses. Each hired attorney Conn to represent them in applying for Social Security disability benefits, 42 U.S.C. 405(a), which were granted in 2009 and 2010. Conn was perpetrating a fraudulent scheme. Conn paid doctors to submit fraudulent letters concerning his clients' ailments and bribed an ALJ to assign Conn’s cases to his own docket and to decide nearly all of those cases in favor of Conn. Plaintiffs allege that the SSA had reason to suspect Conn's fraud in 2007 due to the reports of internal whistle-blowers. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal published a story about Conn’s exploits. Conn was indicted and pleaded guilty. The Huntington, West Virginia SSA office's former Chief ALJ, pleaded guilty to retaliation against a whistle-blower. The SSA’s Appeals Council informed Jude and Burchett that it was legally required to redetermine their eligibility for benefits (42 U.S.C. 1320a-8(l). Their benefits were suspended pending redeterminations. Each requested additional time to gather evidence. About two weeks after the SSA notices, before the SSA granted those requests, Jude and Burchett each committed suicide. Their estates filed Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claims for wrongful death with the SSA, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b) and 2671, and a Bivens claim alleging procedural due process violations. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claims, concluding that the FTCA’s discretionary function exception applied to preclude that claim and that the Bivens claim was improperly formulated. View "Jude v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Tony Gunter injured his shoulder on the job. After Gunter had surgery to repair the injury, his doctor imposed work restrictions. Thinking the restrictions prevented him from performing his job, his employer, Bemis Company, fired Gunter. Gunter sued, alleging Bemis violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A jury ruled in favor of Gunter and awarded him damages, some of which the district court reduced. The parties cross-appealed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The Sixth Circuit determined the district court erred in giving the jury the option of awarding front pay rather than reinstating Gunter, and vacated the front-pay award. The Court affirmed the district court's judgment in all other respects. View "Gunter v. Bemis Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Henderson, a patient with Alzheimer’s disease at Watermark’s nursing home, wandered from her room unattended and died after drinking detergent that she found in a kitchen cabinet. Henderson’s estate filed a wrongful death suit against Watermark. Morrison provided kitchen services at the facility and its employees had been in the kitchen shortly before Henderson discovered the detergent, but Watermark did not implead Morrison and argued that Morrison’s employees had properly locked the cabinet before leaving. A jury awarded $5.08 million. Watermark did not appeal but settled with Henderson’s estate for $3.65 million. On a joint motion, the court dismissed the action with prejudice. Months later, Watermark sued Morrison for contractual indemnification and breach of contract. The district court dismissed, finding that issue preclusion barred both claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. While a judgment that is set aside upon settlement can be used for collateral-estoppel purposes in future litigation, only the contractual indemnification issue is barred. Under the parties’ contract, Watermark can prevail on its indemnification claim only by showing that the damages it seeks were not the result of its own negligence. It cannot do so; the jury determined that the damages were the result of Watermark’s negligence. The jury’s finding of negligence does not, however, preclude Watermark from going forward with its breach-of-contract claim, which does not rely on the indemnity provision of the parties’ contract. View "Watermark Senior Living Communities, Inc. v. Morrison Management Specialists, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wilden, age 19, and her infant son were involved in a traffic accident with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Wilden suffered severe brain damage when her sedan was pulled beneath the side of the trailer in a “side-underride” crash. The remaining defendant is Great Dane, the trailer’s manufacturer. The district court excluded plaintiffs’ expert-witness testimony about an alternative design that allegedly would have prevented, or at least mitigated, Wilden’s injuries. That alternative design is a “telescoping side guard.” An ordinary, fixed-position side guard would block the space underneath the side of the trailer so that, in a crash, automobiles would not go underneath. A telescoping side guard would also slide and expand to protect the space opened up when a truck’s sliding rear-axle— which trucks use to meet weight-per-axle regulations—is moved toward the rear of the truck. Although elements of the telescoping design have existed for some time, and computer simulations suggest that the design could work, nobody has ever built or tested one in the real world. The court held that the testimony of the two experts was unreliable and inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Great Dane. Given the total absence of real-world, physical-prototype testing and that neither expert had designed a telescoping side guard, the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the evidence. View "Wilden v. Laury Transportation, LLC" on Justia Law

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Upsher-Smith manufactures a generic form of amiodarone hydrochloride, which is FDA-approved as a drug of last resort for patients suffering from ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia, life-threatening heartbeat irregularities. As a generic manufacturer, Upsher-Smith is required to ensure that it includes the same labeling approved for its brand-name counterpart. 21 U.S.C. 355(j)(2)(A)(v), including making “Medication Guides” available for distribution to each patient with each prescription, 21 C.F.R. 208.24(b). Medication Guides explain the approved uses of a drug and its side effects “in nontechnical, understandable language.” The Guide for amiodarone warns that the drug “should only be used in adults with life-threatening heartbeat problems.” Lung damage is listed as a “serious side effect” that may continue after ceasing treatment. McDaniel sued Upsher-Smith, alleging that her husband died because he took amiodarone to treat his non-life threatening atrial fibrillation. Johnny apparently did not receive the Medication Guide when he filled his prescriptions in May and June 2015; Upsher-Smith neglected to ensure its availability. He was unaware that only adults with life-threatening heartbeat problems who had unsuccessfully sought alternative treatments should take the drug. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the failure-to-warn claims with prejudice, holding that they were impliedly preempted under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. McDaniel failed to cite any Tennessee duty paralleling the federal duty to provide a Medication Guide, so the claims would not exist without the Act. View "McDaniel v. Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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Leone’s employer used a degasser, a large vat lined with brick, to extract gas impurities from molten steel. The degasser’s components include an alloy chute near the top of the vat. The employer hired BMI to “tearout” the degasser’s deteriorated face brick. Although the contract did not include any work on the alloy chute, a BMI employee testified that his team would dislodge loose material from the chute to ensure that nothing could fall. He did not notice any loose slag on the chute. After BMI finished, his employer assigned Leone to reline the degasser. Leone and his crew frequently climbed ladders near the alloy chute. They never spotted any loose slag on the chute but, 21 days after BMI completed its one-day job, a 40-pound piece of slag fell and struck Leone. Leone sued, claiming that the slag detached from the alloy chute. Because no molten metal could have created new slag, the court concluded that the slag must have existed when BMI finished but that BMI owed Leone no duty of care under Michigan law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court interpreted Michigan law too narrowly. Although a contractor’s creation of a new hazard can trigger a duty to third parties, that is not the only way that such a duty might arise. A contractor can be liable to a third party if “any legal duty independent of the contract existed,” including by voluntary assumption of a duty. View "Leone v. BMI Refractory Services., Inc." on Justia Law

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Raymond, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was born in 1947 and was a long-term resident of Middlesboro, Kentucky. He worked in the coal-mining industry for over 20 years and developed severe respiratory issues. Raymond, a non-smoker, sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901, but died while his claim was pending. Raymond’s claim was consolidated with a claim for survivor’s benefits submitted by his widow, Joanna. The ALJ awarded benefits to Joanna, on both Raymond’s behalf, and as his surviving spouse. The Benefits Review Board affirmed. Zurich, the insurer of Straight Creek Coal, sought review. The Sixth Circuit denied Zurich’s petition, upholding the ALJ’s conclusions that Zurich failed to rebut the presumption of timeliness, that Raymond had worked for at least 15 years in qualifying employment, and that Raymond had a total respiratory disability. Raymond worked only in surface mines or coal-preparation plants during his career; the ALJ properly relied on 20 C.F.R. 718.305(b)(2) and determined whether Raymond’s mining employment was “substantially similar” to underground mining. View "Zurich American Insurance Group v. Duncan" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Dr. Menendez treated 15-year-old Garber for a fever, constipation, and back pain. Garber became a paraplegic. The state court dismissed Garber’s initial lawsuit because he failed to file an affidavit from an expert witness in support of his claim. In his second lawsuit, Garber tried to serve Menendez at his Ohio office, but (unbeknownst to him) Menendez had retired to Florida. Garber voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. Garber sued Menendez a third time in May 2017 and properly served him. Ohio provides a one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims, Ohio Rev. Code 2305.113, which began running on August 5, 2013, when Garber turned 18. Garber argued that Ohio tolls the statute of limitations when the defendant “departs from the state.” The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The court rejected an argument that the statute’s differential treatment of residents and non-residents violates the dormant Commerce Clause by disincentivizing individuals from leaving Ohio and offering their services (or retirement spending) in other states. The Ohio tolling provision does not discriminate against out-of-state commerce any more than many other policy benefits reserved for residents of a given state, including the existence of an estate tax for Ohioans but not for Floridians. View "Garber v. Menendez" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Dr. Menendez treated 15-year-old Garber for a fever, constipation, and back pain. Garber became a paraplegic. The state court dismissed Garber’s initial lawsuit because he failed to file an affidavit from an expert witness in support of his claim. In his second lawsuit, Garber tried to serve Menendez at his Ohio office, but (unbeknownst to him) Menendez had retired to Florida. Garber voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. Garber sued Menendez a third time in May 2017 and properly served him. Ohio provides a one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims, Ohio Rev. Code 2305.113, which began running on August 5, 2013, when Garber turned 18. Garber argued that Ohio tolls the statute of limitations when the defendant “departs from the state.” The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The court rejected an argument that the statute’s differential treatment of residents and non-residents violates the dormant Commerce Clause by disincentivizing individuals from leaving Ohio and offering their services (or retirement spending) in other states. The Ohio tolling provision does not discriminate against out-of-state commerce any more than many other policy benefits reserved for residents of a given state, including the existence of an estate tax for Ohioans but not for Floridians. View "Garber v. Menendez" on Justia Law

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Grimsby invited Nancy to take a boat trip on Lake Erie. The boat hit a wave, jarring the passengers and injuring Nancy. In her suit, invoking the court’s diversity and admiralty jurisdiction, Nancy pleaded that “this action is not to be deemed an ‘admiralty and maritime claim’ within the meaning of” Rule 9 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In 2015, the district court held that the incident fell within the court’s admiralty jurisdiction, meaning that federal maritime law controlled the duty of care. In 2016, the court held that a boat hitting a wave did not count as a “collision” under the Coast Guard Navigation Rules. A jury subsequently found that Grimsby was not negligent. The court granted Nancy’s motion for a new trial, finding that the evidence did not support the verdict. Grimsby filed an interlocutory appeal, and Nancy cross-appealed, citing the interlocutory exception to the final judgment rule that applies to admiralty cases. The Sixth Circuit dismissed. The exception does not apply because Nancy chose to pursue claims under ordinary civil procedures. View "Buccina v. Grimsby" on Justia Law