Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing these appeals brought by Appellant seeking to keep money owed to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts based on the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, holding that the district court dismissed the appeal prematurely and that the early dismissal was an abuse of discretion. Thomas Sheedy bought Carol Thibodeau's house and gave it to Appellant Donald Kupperstein, an attorney licensed in Massachusetts. The state court reversed the sale, but Appellant kept collecting rent. Appellant fought to keep the money, and by the time these appeals reached the First Circuit Appellant had defied seven state court orders, four arrest warrants, and numerous contempt sanctions. Appellant filed for bankruptcy in hopes that the Bankruptcy Code's automatic stay would stop the state court from enforcing its orders. The bankruptcy court subsequently lifted the stay, then Appellant "went AWOL." The district court dismissed Appellant's appeal based on the rule that a fugitive forfeits the right to appeal the judgment he's fleeing. The First Circuit held that reversal was required because the district court's inherent power to protect its own proceedings was not implicated in this case. The Court then remanded the case for the district court to decide the merits of Appellant's appeals. View "Kupperstein v. Schall" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit certified to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) an unresolved question under both state common law and state statutes concerning whether a judgment creditor of the settlor's estate may reach and apply assets in an irrevocable spendthrift trust after the death of the self-settlor of the trust, concluding that this case posed questions better answered by the SJC. Plaintiff brought this action against a Massachusetts spendthrift trust created by his parents' murderer, Donald Belanger, to enforce an Arizona wrongful death judgment against Belanger's estate. The district court entered judgment for Plaintiff, holding (1) Plaintiff had satisfied the elements for a reach and apply action required by Massachusetts law, and (2) under Massachusetts law, a self-settled trust cannot be used to shield one's assets from creditors even where the trust has a spendthrift provision and the trustee has made no distributions to the settlor prior to his death. At issue on appeal was whether the district court erred in holding that Plaintiff was entitled under Massachusetts law to reach and apply the irrevocable trust assets to satisfy the wrongful death judgment. Because Massachusetts law does not clearly answer the question upon which the disposition of this case depends the First Circuit certified the question to the SJC. View "De Prins v. Michaeles" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction on seven counts related to possession and distribution of methamphetamine and two counts related to possession of a firearm, holding that none of Defendant's claims on appeal required reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court's decision allowing the confidential informant to invoke a blanket Fifth Amendment privilege from testifying was harmless error; (2) the government's failure to provide Defendant with certain telephone records showing communications Defendant had with the confidential informant and an undercover officer did not amount to a Brady violation compelling a new trial; and (3) Defendant's challenges to the government's statements during closing arguments were unavailing. View "United States v. Cascella" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the bankruptcy court granting summary judgment in favor of Sacred Heart University and allowing the university to retain tuition payments made by Steven and Lori Palladino for their adult child's college education, payments that were made while the Palladinos were legally insolvent, holding that none of the classes of transactions that confer value were present in this case. The Palladinos paid $64,565 in tuition to Sacred Heart before pleading guilty to fraud in connection with operating a Ponzi scheme. The Palladinos and their closely held company later filed chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions. The bankruptcy trustee for the bankrtupcy estate filed a four-count adversary complaint against Sacred Heart seeking to claw back the Palladinos' tuition payments to Sacred Heart. The bankruptcy court granted summary judgment in Sacred Heart's favor on all counts of the complaint, including the constructive fraud claim. Specifically, the court found that the Palladinos paid their daughter's tuition because "they believed that a financially self-sufficient daughter offered them an economic benefit," which satisfied 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1)(B)(I)'s reasonably equivalent value standard. The First Circuit reversed, holding the law did not allow the payments, which were not for value by insolvent creditors, to be clawed back by the trustee. View "DeGiacomo v. Sacred Heart University, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy
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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court granting Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from his residence, holding that the fruits of the search of the residence were properly suppressed. The district court found that the warrant affidavit, reformed after a hearing under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), did not establish probable cause to search either Defendant's business or his home. The government appealed, arguing that the district court erred in its probable cause determination as to Defendant's residence. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the reformed affidavit failed to establish probable cause to search Defendant's residence, and therefore, the fruits of the search of the residence were properly suppressed. View "United States v. Roman" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the sentence imposed in connection with Defendant's conviction of one count of possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, holding that the sentence was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. At issue was whether the sentencing court erred in its consideration of both the conduct underlying a dismissed charge and a prior controlled substance conviction. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not commit plain error in its recitation of procedural facts furnished by Defendant and set forth in the presentence investigation report, notwithstanding that those facts related to a dismissed charge; (2) the district court did not commit procedural error by considering Defendant's prior conviction for possession of a controlled substance in the third degree; and (3) Defendant's thirty-six-month was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Miranda-Diaz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the convictions of Juan Taco-Baez (Tanco), Jose Cepeda-martinez (Cepeda), and Peter Rosario-Serrano (Rosario) with the exception of of Cepeda's conviction on one of the counts, affirmed Baez's sentence, but vacated and remanded Cepeda's sentence, holding that Cepeda's conviction for possession of firearms and ammunition by an unlawful user or addict of a controlled substance was not supported by sufficient evidence (Count One). The three co-defendants in this case were indicted as co-defendants on several federal firearms charges. All three defendants challenged certain aspects of their convictions, and Tanco and Cepeda challenged their sentences for certain convictions. The First Circuit rejected each co-defendant's challenge to his conviction exception for Cepeda's challenge to his conviction on Count One, which the Court held was not supported by sufficient evidence. The Court then affirmed Tanco's sentence but vacated and remanded Cepeda's sentence, holding that procedural errors in sentencing were not harmless. View "United States v. Tanco-Baez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit vacated the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denying asylum and withholding of removal as to Petitioner's family membership persecution claim for relief, denied the relief Petitioner sought on alternate particular social group (PSG) theories and for protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and remanded for proceedings on Petitioner's family membership persecution claim, holding that the agency's decision was based on errors of law. Petitioner, a Honduran nation, sought asylum, withholding of removal, and CAT relief, asserting that he had experienced past persecution on account of a protected ground - his membership in his mother's nuclear family - and would face future persecution. The immigration judge denied asylum relief, holding that Petitioner had not met his burden to show the required nexus. The BIA affirmed. The First Circuit vacated in part, holding (1) the BIA's decision as to Petitioner's asylum and withholding of removal claims based on his persecution as a member of his mother's family was based on legal errors, requiring a remand for the BIA to make its own finding using the correct legal standard; and (2) the BIA's decision as to Petitioner's other proposed PSGs and his CAT claim contained no legal errors and was supported by substantial evidence. View "Enamorado-Rodriguez v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated Defendant's sentence he received after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute furanyl fentanyl and cocaine base and for the distribution of furanyl fentanyl, holding that the district court erred in concluding that he was a career offender under the 2016 version of the United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual based on his 2000 New York state law robbery conviction. At issue on appeal was whether "robbery" in the enumerated offense clause of the "crime of violence" definition in the Guidelines encompasses the variant of robbery under New York law for which Defendant was convicted in 2000. The First Circuit held that the government did not meet its burden of establishing that Defendant's prior conviction qualified as a predicate offense for sentencing enhancement purposes and that the case must be remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Rabb" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court adopting bankruptcy court orders arising out of the bankruptcies of TelexFree, LLC, TelexFree, Inc., and Telexfree Financial, Inc. (collectively, TelexFree), one of the biggest Ponzi-pyramid schemes in United States history, holding that the bankruptcy court did not err in ruling that Appellant's unjust enrichment claims were stayed pursuant to 11 U.S.C. 362(a)(3). At issue in this case was who would be allowed to seek to recover payments made by new participants in the scheme to the existing participants who recruited them (the contested funds). While Trustee Stephen Darr attempted to recoup the contested funds through avoidance actions, victims represented by the Plaintiffs' Interim Executive Committee (PIEC) asserted unjust enrichment claims to recover the same amounts. The district court stayed the unjust enrichment claims under section 362(a)(3), thus permitting the trustee to pursue the contested funds and to stop PIEC's efforts to pursue those funds. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the arguments the PIEC raised on appeal were not persuasive. View "Darr v. Plaintiffs' Interim Executive Committee" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy