Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In a previous lawsuit, HCB won a $2 million judgment against Lee McPherson for a defaulted loan. After unsuccessful attempts to collect, HCB filed suit against McPherson, seeking treble damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). One month after HCB filed suit, McPherson registered the $2 million judgment plus interest with the first court. The district court dismissed the suit with prejudice, concluding that McPherson satisfied the underlying judgment and thus HCB suffered no injury.The Fifth Circuit joined its sister circuit and held that a plaintiff may not recover treble damages sustained in a RICO action after the underlying debt is satisfied. In this case, because HCB recovered its lost debt shortly after filing suit, the court concluded that the debt is no longer lost. The court explained that HCB points to a speculative investment return even though it received post-judgment interest, and thus it has no legal claim to lost investment opportunity. Therefore, HCB cannot plead an essential statutory element of a RICO offense. Because no amendment can cure that pleading defect, the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the federal claims with prejudice or declining supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. View "HCB Financial Corp. v. McPherson" on Justia Law

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Over the course of a few years, an employee of Severin Mobile Towing Inc. (Severin) took about $157,000 in checks made payable to Severin’s d/b/a, endorsed them with what appears to be his own name or initials, and deposited them into his personal account at JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. (Chase). Because the employee deposited all the checks at automated teller machines (ATM’s), and because each check was under $1,500, Chase accepted each check without “human review.” When Severin eventually discovered the embezzlement, it sued Chase for negligence and conversion under California’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and for violating the unfair competition law. Severin moved for summary judgment on its conversion cause of action, and Chase moved for summary judgment of all of Severin’s claims, asserting affirmative defenses under the UCC, and that claims as to 34 of the 211 stolen checks were time- barred. The trial court granted Chase’s motion on statute of limitations and California Uniform Commercial Law section 3405 grounds; the court did not reach UCL section 3406. The court denied Severin’s motion as moot, and entered judgment for Chase. On appeal, Severin argued only that the court erred in granting summary judgment to Chase on Severin’s conversion cause of action (and, by extension, the derivative UCL cause of action). Specifically, Severin argued the court erroneously granted summary judgment under section 3405 because Chase failed to meet its burden of establishing that Severin’s employee fraudulently indorsed the stolen checks in a manner “purporting to be that of [his] employer.” Severin further argued factual disputes about its reasonableness in supervising its employee precluded summary judgment under section 3406. The Court of Appeal agreed with Severin in both respects, and therefore did not reach the merits of Chase’s claim that its automated deposit procedures satisfied the applicable ordinary care standard. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Severin Mobile Towing, Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase etc." on Justia Law

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The class’s version of events painted the Hutchenses as cunning con artists who "puppeteered" a advance-fee loan scam from afar. Defendants Sandy Hutchens, Tanya Hutchens, and Jennifer Hutchens, a three-member family who purportedly orchestrated a loan scam, challenged a district court’s rulings to avoid paying all or part of the judgment against them brought pursuant to a class action suit. The Tenth Circuit concluded almost all of those challenges failed, including their challenges to the jury’s verdict, class certification, proximate causation, and the application of the equitable unclean hands defense. However, the Court agreed with the Hutchenses’ position on the district court’s imposition of a constructive trust on some real property allegedly bought with the swindled fees. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court for entry of a revised judgment. View "CGC Holding Company v. Hutchens" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from an attempt to hold Defendant Paul Robben liable for securities fraud. Various Plaintiffs alleged that Robben fraudulently induced them to purchase ownership interests in a Kansas limited liability company named Foxfield Villa Associates, LLC (“Foxfield”). Plaintiffs argued that those interests were securities under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Plaintiffs contended Robben violated section 10(b) of the 1934 Act (its broad antifraud provision) and SEC Rule 10b-5 (an administrative regulation expounding upon that antifraud provision) when engaging in his allegedly deceitful conduct. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the specific attributes of the LLC interests in this case lead it to conclude the interests at issue were not securities as that term was defined by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Court affirmed the district court's order declining to characterize the LLC interests as securities, thus granting summary judgment to defendants on those grounds. View "Foxfield Villa Associates v. Robben" on Justia Law

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A district court dismissed Plaintiff–Appellant Lawrence Smallen and Laura Smallen Revocable Living Trust’s securities-fraud class action against Defendant–Appellee The Western Union Company and several of its current and former executive officers (collectively, “Defendants”). Following the announcements of Western Union’s settlements with regulators in January 2017 and the subsequent drop in the price of the company’s stock shares, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on behalf of itself and other similarly situated shareholders. In its complaint, Plaintiff alleged Defendants committed securities fraud by making false or materially misleading public statements between February 24, 2012, and May 2, 2017 regarding, among other things, Western Union’s compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws. The district court dismissed the complaint because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead scienter under the heightened standard imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”). While the Tenth Circuit found the complaint may have given rise to some plausible inference of culpability on Defendants' part, the Court concurred Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts giving rise to the strong inference of scienter required to state a claim under the PSLRA, thus affirming dismissal. View "Smallen Revocable Living Trust v. Western Union Company" on Justia Law

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Charte (relator) filed a False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729–3733, "qui tam" suit alleging that defendants, including Wegeler, submitted false reimbursement claims to the Department of Education. Relators are entitled to part of the amount recovered. As required to allow the government to make an informed decision as to whether to intervene, Charte cooperated with the government. Her information led to Wegeler’s prosecution. Wegeler entered into a plea agreement and paid $1.5 million in restitution. The government declined to intervene in the FCA action. If the government elects to pursue an “alternate remedy,” the statute provides that the relator retains the same rights she would have had in the FCA action. Charte tried to intervene in the criminal proceeding to secure a share of the restitution. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. A criminal proceeding does not constitute an “alternate remedy” to a civil qui tam action, entitling a relator to intervene and recover a share of the proceeds. Allowing intervention would be tantamount to an interest in participating as a co-prosecutor in a criminal case. Even considering only her alleged interest in some of the restitution, nothing in the FCA suggests that a relator may intervene in the government’s alternative-remedy proceeding to assert that interest. The text and legislative history regarding the provision indicate that the court overseeing the FCA suit determines whether and to what extent a relator is entitled to an award. View "United States v. Wegeler" on Justia Law

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Johnny Williams worked for Violeta Baker and her home healthcare services company, Last Frontier Assisted Living, LLC (Last Frontier), from 2004 to 2009. Baker hired Johnny to provide payroll, tax-preparation, bookkeeping, and bill-paying services. She authorized him to make payments from her accounts, both for tax purposes and business expenses, such as payroll. She also gave him general authority to access her checking account and to execute automated clearing house (ACH) transactions from her accounts. In addition, Baker allowed Johnny to write checks bearing her electronic signature. Johnny did not invoice Baker for his labor; rather he and Baker had a tacit understanding that he would pay himself a salary from Baker’s payroll for his services. In 2009 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notified Baker that her third-quarter taxes had not been filed and she owed a penalty and interest. Baker contacted Johnny to find out why the taxes had not been filed. When he could not produce a confirmation that he had e-filed them, Baker contacted her son for help. Baker’s son discovered that several checks had been written from Baker’s accounts to Personalized Tax Solutions (a business he maintained) and Deverette. A CPA audited the books and found that Johnny’s services over the time period could be valued between $47,500 and $55,000. Subtracting this from the total in transfers to Johnny, Deverette, and Personalized Tax Solutions resulted in an overpayment to the Williamses of approximately $950,000. A superior court found Deverette and Johnny Williams liable for defrauding Baker, after concluding that both owed her fiduciary duties and therefore had the burden of persuasion to show the absence of fraud. The court totaled fraud damages at nearly five million dollars and trebled this amount under Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). After final judgment was entered against Deverette and Johnny, Johnny died. Deverette appealed her liability for the fraud. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed Deverette’s liability for the portion of the fraud damages that the superior court otherwise identified as her unjust enrichment. But the Court reversed the superior court’s conclusion that she owed Baker a fiduciary duty, and reversed the UTPA treble damages against Deverette. The Court vacated the superior court’s fraud conclusion as to Deverette and remanded for further proceedings. View "Williams v. Baker" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a federal grand jury in Utah returned a single count indictment against Kemp & Associates, Inc. (“Kemp”) and its Vice President/COO Daniel Mannix (collectively, “Defendants”) for knowingly entering into a combination and conspiracy in violation of the Sherman Act. Kemp was an “Heir Location Service,” a company that “identif[ies] heirs to estates of intestate decedents and, in exchange for a contingency fee, develop evidence and prove heirs’ claims to an inheritance in probate court.” The Government alleged at some point before January 29, 2014, Defendants “knowingly entered into and engaged in a combination and conspiracy with Richard Blake, Jr., [a competitor Heir Location Service] and other unindicted co-conspirators to suppress and eliminate competition by agreeing to allocate customers of Heir Location Services sold in the United States.” Under this agreement, when the two companies both contacted a potential heir, “the co-conspirator company that first contacted that heir would be allocated certain remaining heirs to that estate who had yet to sign a contract with an Heir Location Services provider.” In return, the company to which heirs were allocated “would pay to the other co-conspirator company a portion of the contingency fees ultimately collected from those allocated heirs.” The Government alleged that, in furtherance of this scheme, Defendants “made payments to the co- conspirator company, and received payments from the co-conspirator company, in order to effectuate this agreement.” Defendants moved for an order that the antitrust case would proceed pursuant to the rule of reason, as opposed to the per se rule, and to dismiss the indictment. As to the statute of limitations, Defendants noted that the limitations period for criminal violations of the Sherman Act was five years, and they argued that the indictment was thus untimely because any agreement between the alleged co- conspirators ended prior to a Mannix email from July 2008, whereas the charging Indictment wasn’t returned until August 2016, and served on defendants on September 1, 2016. The Tenth Circuit determined that the indictment at issue here was timely, but that it did not have jurisdiction over the district court's rule of reason order, and that mandamus was inappropriate in this circumstance. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court's dismissal of the indictment, dismissed the Government's appeal of the rule of reason order for lack of jurisdiction, and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "United States v. Kemp & Associates" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of Michael and Sue Clarke’s attempted recovery of earlier financial losses sustained due to the fraudulent investment practices of Zach Latimer. After obtaining a judgment against Latimer, the Clarkes filed a separate action against his wife, Holly Latimer, alleging that the Latimers engaged in transfers of funds that violated the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. The district court found in favor of the Clarkes’ claim after a bench trial but ruled that there was no prevailing party and denied the Clarkes’ request for attorney’s fees and costs. The court also ordered the Clarkes to file a partial satisfaction of judgment in their separate action against Zach and denied their post-trial motion for prejudgment interest. The Clarkes challenged each of these determinations, and sought additional fees and costs for their appeal. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the Clarkes should have been found to be the prevailing party, and the district court erred by ordering the Clarkes to file a partial satisfaction of their judgment in their case against Zach Latimer. The district court did not, however, abuse its discretion by denying the Clarkes' prejudgment interest or attorney's fees, however, they were entitled to costs. View "Clarke v. Latimer" on Justia Law

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Larson was involved with—and later convicted of crimes related to—the organization of fraudulent tax shelters. The IRS then required organizers/promoters to register tax shelters not later than the day of the first offering for sale, 26 U.S.C. 6111(a). Organizers/promoters who failed to register were subject to a penalty of the greater of one percent of the aggregate amount invested in the tax shelter, or $500. Eight years after the IRS notified Larson that he was under investigation, it informed him that it considered him an organizer with a duty to register and was subject to penalties of $160,232,0261 for failure to do so. The IRS Office of Appeals reduced the penalties to $67,661,349, stating that Larson would need to pay the remaining penalty and file a Claim for Refund if he wanted to contest the assessment. Larson paid $1,432,735 and filed his Refund Claim. The IRS rejected Larson’s claim for failure to pay the entire amount. Larson filed suit. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that because Larson had not paid the assessed penalties in full, the court lacked jurisdiction. The court agreed, concluding that application of the full-payment rule did not violate Larson’s due process rights. The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that the full‐payment rule applies to Larson’s section 6707 penalties and that his tax refund, due process, Administrative Procedure Act, and Eighth Amendment claims were properly dismissed. View "Larson v. United States" on Justia Law