The Third Circuit in High Gear

At this time of the year, our Supreme Court and Appellate Division go relatively quiet. But the Third Circuit often reaches a peak. Today, for example, that court issued five published opinions. Here are summaries:

Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, Inc. v. Attorney General of New Jersey, 974 F.3d 237 (3d Cir. 2020). In this appeal, the court was “asked to determine whether a New Jersey statute that makes it illegal to possess large capacity magazines (“LCMs”)– defined as magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition– violates the Second Amendment, the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, or the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal protection Clause.” But the Court, by a 2-1 vote, declined to answer that question, since it had already been decided by a prior panel, who had found the statute constitutional. That prior decision was discussed here. Today’s majority opinion, written by Judge Jordan and joined by Judge Roth, applied law of the case and deferred to the prior ruling. Judge Matey was the dissenter.

Free Speech Coalition, Inc. v. Attorney General, United States of America, 974 F.3d 408 (3d Cir. 2020). Writing for the Third Circuit today, Judge Chagares noted that this case, “filed in 2009, has been litigated over the course of a decade.” Producers of pornography sued, claiming that federal statutes that require them to verify the age of persons showed in pornography, keep records of those verifications, and label each depiction with the location where law enforcement can obtain those records violated their First Amendment rights. The court today held that, as applied to the individual plaintiffs here (but not the two association plaintiffs, who were found to lack standing), the statutes violate the First Amendment. But the panel rejected plaintiffs’ overbreadth challenge. Finally, the court vacated what the government labeled a nationwide injunction, as “broader than necessary to provide full relief to those plaintiffs who prevailed on their as-applied claims.”

In re Plavix Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liab. Litig., 974 F.3d 228 (3d Cir. 2020). In an opinion by Judge Bibas, the Third Circuit reversed a District Court ruling that had dismissed a False Claims Act case after one member of the partnership that comprised the relator in the case left the partnership and was replaced. Defendants had successfully argued that the statute bars a new “person” from “interven[ing] or bring[ing] a related action based on the [same] facts.” But today the Third Circuit ruled that there was no “intervention” since the new partnership merely came in as the relator. The case was remanded for further proceedings as to, among other things, whether the new partnership was a proper relator.

Porter v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Corrections, 974 F.3d 431 (3d Cir. 2020). Judge Greenaway’s majority opinion in this case, joined by Judge Cowen, held that 33 years in solitary confinement may violate the Eighth Amendment. That was a win for plaintiff, a death row inmate. But he ultimately lost on that claim because that right was not previously “clearly established,” so that defendants had qualified immunity. The majority also affirmed summary judgment for defendants on plaintiff’s substantive due process claim. But plaintiff did obtain reversal of the summary judgment for defendants on his procedural due process claim and won a remand for a determination of damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. In a partial dissent, Judge Porter (presumably no relation to plaintiff) agreed about qualified immunity and the substantive due process claim, but differed with the majority about the procedural due process claim.

Harvard v. Cesnalis, 973 F.3d 190 (3d Cir. 2020). This was a Civil Rights Act case. Plaintiff brought false arrest and other claims against two Pennsylvania state troopers. The District Court granted summary judgment to both officers. Judge Rendell’s opinion for the Third Circuit today affirmed as to one officer, but reversed as to certain claims against the other officer.