A few Eighth Circuit Cases

The 8th Circuit court of appeals holds court at Mizzou law school about once each year.  Although no IP cases this year, all three slated for tomorrow’s oral arguments are interesting:

Is the right to counsel enforceable in court?: The first case involves the class action Church  v. State of Missouri and Gov. Eric Greitens.   Plaintiffs in the case are “individuals who are currently facing criminal charges in Missouri state court and who are represented by lawyers from the Missouri State Public Defender Office.”  The problem is that Missouri has inadequately funded the Public Defender Office in a way that public defenders allegedly “systematically provide constitutionally deficient legal representation.”  The lower court is allowing the case to proceed.  The appeal by the State argues for immunity.  In particular, the Government argues that: (a) the Eleventh Amendment and the doctrine of sovereign immunity bar Plaintiffs’ claims against the State of Missouri; (b) Plaintiffs’ claims against Missouri’s Governor do not fall within the Ex parte Young exception to sovereign immunity; and (c) that absolute legislative immunity bars Plaintiffs’ claims against the Governor.

Seizing Guns of Someone with Mental Instability who has Committed No Crime:  The second case fits well within recent news cycles.  Mark Wellman v. St. Louis County.  In 2014, Wellman permitted himself to be admitted on a short term basis (96 hour hold) to a psychiatric facility based upon suicide threat.  He was released and has no further relevant medical history.  At the time, Officers were told there were guns in the home — they entered on two occasions while he was hospitalized without permission or a warrant and found dozens of weapons that they confiscated.   St. Louis County then refused to return the weapons unless he jumped through special hoops, including either obtaining a Writ of Replevin or else a “no-danger” note from a treating psychiatrist followed by administrative approval from St. Louis County Counselors.  Instead, he sued – both for a return of the guns and for damages for violating his constitutional rights.  The district court ordered return of the guns, but did not assign any liability under 42 U. S. C. §1983.  Wellman appealed.

Is an RV a residence or a vehicle?: US v. Houck. After snooping through peer-to-peer usage, a Pennsylvania cyber-crimes investigator found six files allegedly containing child pornography associated with a particular IP address. Using a court order, the investigator obtained information that Audrey HJ (the Defendant’s mother) was assigned that particular IP for her home use.  The police obtained a search warrant for Audrey’s Pennsylvania home as well as all “vehicles” present at the time.  At the time of the raid, the police searched Houck’s Recreational Vehicle (RV) (a “fifth wheel trailer”) where he claims to have been living (at the time, the RV was hooked-up to water and electric lines, and its A/C was running).  The district court suppressed the evidence — finding it to be an unreasonable search, and the U.S. government has appealed.

11 thoughts on “A few Eighth Circuit Cases

  1. 3

    “Church v. State of Missouri and Gov. Eric Greitens”

    They should probably try asking the good governator to waive the immunity anyway for the public good.

    1. 3.1

      The immunity question has an interesting (side) wrinkle:

      If the State is indeed immune from any effects of its provision of attorneys that are – in essence – acting unethically (we have an ethical obligation to the client, and here, it sounds in that ethical duty is being violated – and violated systematically), then the State can be said to be sanctioning unethical conduct.

      But immunity cannot protect unethical conduct.

      Immunity from suit only applies to lawful conduct.

    2. 3.2

      (attorneys that work for the State are still attorneys bound by the ethical guidelines of their oath)

  2. 2

    I assume every state has cases or statute defining a dwelling- in North Carolina, and RV is specifically included in the definition e.g. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-442 , “Dwelling” means any building, structure, manufactured home or mobile home, or part thereof, used and occupied for human habitation or intended to be so used…

    Established that the RV is a dwelling, rather than a vehicle, the case may turn on whether Houck was a tenant of that dwelling or not- if not, the RV was just part of the mother’s dwelling, even if not a vehicle.

    1. 2.1

      The “right” outcome is likely dependent on facts not presented.

      As you indicate, Houck’s argument appears to hinge on a vehicle/dwelling question, with Houck banking on the dwelling being the determination.

      But that would only lead to other factual inquiries, such as:

      What are the actual words of the warrant obtained?

      What are the State laws concerning “a dwelling within a dwelling”?
      – (i.e., a single recognized address may have multiple ‘traditional’ buildings, with one such ‘sub’ building being a guest house). If the RV – even being deemed a dwelling – does not have its own separate registered mailing address, the State law may not provide for the RV to be a separate dwelling than that provided for on the warrant.

      How “liberal” are the scopes of warrants viewed in that State?
      – If the warrant is one indicating a wide scope (note the language of ALL vehicles therein), then, the answer to the second question above may be tilted towards the RV being inclusive in the ‘property’ being searched regardless of the determination of “vehicle or property” and regardless of the dwelling being a recognized “sub” dwelling.

      Of course, other factors may tilt the other way. Such other factors (outside of a separate recognized mail address) may be whether or not an “arms-length” distinction of separateness has been established – for example, such may be established through a renter’s agreement and/or recognition of any income from rent on tax returns.

      If the son has no rental agreement, is not paying rent, and the RV is not recognized as having a separate mail address, then the attempted distinction of making the dwelling BE a separate dwelling from that on the warrant should not succeed.

      1. 2.1.1

        “If the son has no rental agreement, is not paying rent, and the RV is not recognized as having a separate mail address, then the attempted distinction of making the dwelling BE a separate dwelling from that on the warrant should not succeed.”

        Mmmm, idk about that. That part is likely in err. Esp if he owns the RV himself. Even if she owned it herself, it was allegedly his dwelling not hers. Kinda a tough one, but thems the apples. Still, i’d wonder why they can’t just go back and obtain a warrant now and find more evidence of the past wrong, though there might be evidence rules against such or estoppel or something similar idk.

        1. 2.1.1.1

          Mere separate ownership may not save the non-separateness of dwelling.

          If you own property and leave it at the dwelling of another, and a warrant is issued for that dwelling (and its contents), then the warrant will suffice to view the contents of your separately owned property.

          As I pointed out, the issue may turn on facts not present – those facts would be of the flavor of what satisfies the separateness of “dwelling.”

    2. 2.2

      This happened in Pennsylvania. What is the definition of “dwelling” in Pennsylvania? Did the warrant use the word “dwelling,” or did it use some other word like “home,” “residence,” or “building”? Search warrants are often very specific: “Single-family residence located at 101 Main Street . . . .” A cursory Google search for information on this case only leads back here, so I don’t have any idea what the decision will turn on.

    3. 2.3

      Anon is probably right but I bet that the court got it right already. The dwellingness of the RV being to a separate individual is likely enough to have the constitutional protections require, at the least, specific wording in the warrant directed to the other RV/dwelling, if not a separate warrant.

      “How “liberal” are the scopes of warrants viewed in that State?
      – If the warrant is one indicating a wide scope (note the language of ALL vehicles therein), then, the answer to the second question above may be tilted towards the RV being inclusive in the ‘property’ being searched regardless of the determination of “vehicle or property” and regardless of the dwelling being a recognized “sub” dwelling.”

      All true, but I think the court is within its discretion to decide that traditional protections would apply and require a more specific warrant at least.

    4. 2.4

      One wonders how much the particular subject matter of the alleged crime here may sway the judges.

      They are human beings.

      If this had been a raid (warrant) looking for marijuana or something else of fairly low emotive trigger, I think I’d have less trouble finding the RV a separate dwelling not included in the warrant…

      …guess it’s a good thing I’m not a judge.

  3. 1

    I see that you have Judges Gruender, Melloy, & Benton hearing arguments. That should be a good one. I find Judge Gruender in particular to be one for keeping the advocates on their toes during oral argument.

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