Federal Opinions of Interest

Jane warned me that trying to post about all the Fifth Circuit handdowns every day would kill me. She was right. I am now posting this as a ghost. If you have a case against me, I am filing pleadings from beyond the grave.

Oh, I’m kidding. But it has been a hectic six weeks. So, here’s a few federal opinions I thought you might like:

Tussey v. ABB, Inc. – 12-2056 (8th Cir.): The Eighth Circuit adopted a deferential standard of review for all plan administrator decisions in ERISA plans, despite the appellants’ request that they adopt de novo review for non-benefits determinations. In this, the Eighth Circuit follows the Third, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits while rejecting the analysis of the Second Circuit. However, even with this deferential standard, any failure on the part of the district court to defer on administrator fees was harmless, because the employer fiduciary failed to conduct even the most rudimentary investigation into the reasonableness of the plan administrator’s fees. The Court reversed on another issue, concluding that the district court did not properly defer on investment decisions to the administrator’s knowledge and expertise at the time, instead engaging in “hindsight analysis.” The Court also reversed on the fiduciary’s liability for failure to pay float income, or income derived from the conversion of assets to cash and vice versa, concluding that the plaintiffs failed to show that float was a Plan asset. Judge Bye dissents in part, concluding that float income is a plan asset.

Sutton v. Carpenter – 12-6310 (6th Cir.): The Sixth Circuit concludes that Trevino v. Thaler, which provides that inadequacy of post-conviction counsel can excuse procedural default of ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims in federal habeas proceedings, applies in Tennessee. Trevino expanded on Martinez v. Ryan, such that in any state where the direct appeal framework likely prevents consideration of IAC claims, the inadequacy of post-conviction counsel provides cause that the trial counsel’s inadequacy is not defaulted. This case is important for criminal practitioners because of the Mississippi appellate court’s usual refusal to hear IAC claims on direct appeal.

Williams v. Wells Fargo – 13-10233 (5th Cir.): The most important issue in this case for others is the fact that Rule 54 attorney’s fees motions are a proper vehicle for recovery of attorney’s fees under a contract, and those fees are not an element of damages (which cannot be recovered through a Rule 54 motion).

Hurley v. Kent of Naples – 13-10298 (11th Cir.): In this case involving the Family Medical Leave Act, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a jury verdict in plaintiff’s favor because the plaintiff had characterized his leave request as “vacation” instead of “medical leave,” and conceded that he was not actually incapacitated. His doctors also contradicted his assertion that he needed leave for medical purposes.

Bell v. City of Winter Park – 13-11499 (11th Cir.): The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a 12(b)(6) dismissal of a complaint alleging that a city ordinance outlawing picketing within fifty feet of a private dwelling was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. However, it reversed the dismissal of a similar ordinance which permitted private citizens to post “no loitering” signs and have them enforced against those “loitering” in a public right of way.

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