Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Thomas and Jennifer married and purchased a family home with a first mortgage, then obtained a second mortgage. In a 2003 divorce consent decree, Thomas agreed to relinquish any interest in the home. Jennifer agreed to assume and hold him harmless from the obligation to pay both mortgages. Thomas agreed to pay child support. The couple remarried in 2004, but, in 2007, this marriage also ended in divorce. The 2007 consent decree waived spousal support; Thomas again agreed to give up any interest in the house, which he had never conveyed under the 2003 decree. Jennifer agreed to assume the first mortgage. Thomas's child support obligation was reduced and they agreed to split the second mortgage obligation. Thomas deeded his interest in the house. A $8,082.37 judgment lien was not addressed in the 2007 decree although it attached to the property before the second divorce. Jennifer sold the house in 2008. The first and second mortgage debts were satisfied. Jennifer negotiated release of the judgment lien for $5,000.00 and paid $836.14 to close the transaction. The state court entered an order in the 2007 divorce proceeding, requiring Thomas to reimburse Jennifer $7,500.00 for the second mortgage and $5,000.00 for the judgment lien. Thomas filed a petition for Chapter 13 bankruptcy relief, listing an unsecured priority claim for child support and a $15,000.00 unsecured claim on Schedule F. Jennifer asserted a priority unsecured claim for “[a]limony, maintenance, or support” of $12,500.00 for the second mortgage and judgment lien debts. Thomas objected, arguing that the claim was “satisfied when the real estate was sold,” and not a domestic support obligation. The bankruptcy court applied the Calhoun test and found Jennifer’s claim was in the nature of “alimony, maintenance or support.” The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed. View "In re: Thomas" on Justia Law

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A nursing home resident and her community spouse (husband) were penalized based on husband’s purchase of an annuity for himself using funds from his IRA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, holding that 42 U.S.C. 1396r-5(f)(1) precluded the transfer of assets because it exceeded husband’s community spouse resource allowance. Section 1396p(c) requires a state to impose a transfer penalty (a period of restricted coverage) if either spouse disposed of assets for less than fair market value during the look-back period. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that the transfer occurred before the Ohio agency determined that wife was eligible for Medicaid coverage and section 1396p(c)(2)(B)(i) permits an unlimited transfer of assets “to another for the sole benefit of the individual’s spouse.” View "Hughes v. Colbert" on Justia Law

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After her child was murdered by his father, the mother sued employees of county and state Child Protective Services (CPS) and others,, alleging negligence; violations of constitutional rights (42 U.S.C. 1983); and violation of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act--Adoption and Safe Families Act, 42 U.S.C. 670, and of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, 42 U.S.C. 5106. The complaint alleged that from 1998-2007, CPS received numerous complaints about the father’s abuse and neglect of the child and his siblings. The district court rejected a defense of qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The contours of the substantive due process right to be free from government action increasing the risk of harm was not sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that pursuing the father for use of a cattle prod, while failing to immediately remove the child, would violate the child’s substantive due process rights. Given previous cases, it is not clear that a reasonable CPS official would understand that failure to seek termination of parental rights would constitute denial of procedural due process. Without ignoring the father’s role in causing the child’s death, CPS employees’ conduct cannot be said to be the “most immediate, efficient, and direct cause” of the injury. View "Jasinski v. Tyler" on Justia Law

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Jena is a 19-year-old with a genetic disorder that causes physical defects and severe mental disability. She apparently communicates at the level of a child between the ages of five and seven and has the social skills of a child between four and eight. She reportedly told a teacher that her mother, Suzanne, “hit me.” The Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and Adult Protective Services (defendants), part of the Michigan Department of Human Services investigated. APS obtained an order appointing a guardian for Jena and authorizing her removal from the family home to a group foster facility. The family alleges that the defendants gave false testimony that Jena’s father made sexual comments about Jena. Following allegedly assaultive behavior, the probate court entered an order temporarily denying the family contact with Jena. Ultimately, Jena’s father was granted full custody and charges against her mother were dropped. The district court dismissed the family’s claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that the court was the final decision-maker with respect to Jena’s custody. The court rejected substantive and procedural due process claims and a claim of violation of First Amendment right to family association. View "Kolley v. Adult Protective Servs." on Justia Law

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A Juvenile Court standing order provided that social workers had authority to remove and provide temporary emergency care for children at imminent risk of serious physical or emotional harm and to request assistance by law enforcement officers. At a 2002 meeting, social workers determined that exigent circumstances required immediate removal of the children from Nancy’s home. A Temporary Emergency Care Order was completed in consultation with an assistant prosecuting attorney and a supervisor. A social worker, accompanied by police, went to Nancy’s home and took the children into temporary custody, and, the next day, filed a complaint for abuse, neglect, and temporary custody, with a notarized document detailing supporting reasons. A magistrate found that probable cause existed to support removal. In November 2005, Nancy and the children sued the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, the social workers, and others. In 2010, the district court granted in part and denied in part the social workers’ motion for summary judgment on the basis of absolute immunity, denied the social workers’ motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, and granted the children partial summary judgment on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to both absolute and qualified immunity. View "Kovacic v. Cuyahoga Cnty. Dep't of Children & Family Servs." on Justia Law

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The DeGroots divorced; Joel was ordered to pay child support. The court awarded Joy the residence and ordered Joy to pay $48,000 for Joel’s equity in installments. Joy paid $10,000.00. Joel later filed a no-asset chapter 7 petition, listing Joy’s claim of $10,336.33 for unpaid support and medical bills, but not listing the receivable or the lien as assets. Following negotiations, of which the trustee was aware, Joy waived claims to support and Joel released his lien. Neither sought relief from the stay. The Trustee filed notice claiming ownership of the lien for the estate (11 U.S.C. 541(a)(1)). Joy did not receive notice and, when the trustee notified creditors that there might be assets, did not file a claim because she believed it extinguished by the settlement. The trustee later reported no assets and the case closed. Joy attempted to refinance her mortgage and discovered the assignment of lien. The case was reopened (11 U.S.C. 350(b)). The Trustee agreed to subordinate his lien to that of the mortgage company in exchange for $5,000.00. The bankruptcy court concluded that, while the trustee may administer the $5,000.00, the balance should be deemed abandoned under 11 U.S.C. 554(c) and (d). The Bankruptcy Panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "In re: DeGroot" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Hickman County, received a referral regarding allegations of abuse concerning the Andrews. A social worker was attempting to make contact when DCS received a second referral concerning the Andrews. Due to references to guns in the home and because the site visit was to be carried out at night, DCSs requested law enforcement to assist. The Sheriff’s Department dispatched two officers. Andrews was outside working when the group arrived and asked the officers to wait outside while he called the sheriff’s office. The Andrews claim that when Mr. Andrews opened the door, he was immediately followed into the house by a “whoosh of presence.” The Andrews claim that they granted permission for interviews of the children because they feared arrest or losing their children. The officers left the house and the Andrews acquiesced to the walk-through. No charges were filed and the assessment was closed as “no services indicated.” The Andrews filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment of qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed as to the social workers, but affirmed with respect to an officer. View "Andrews v. Hickman County" on Justia Law

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The bankruptcy court held that fees owed to a court-appointed guardian ad litem constitute a “domestic support obligation” under Section 101(14A) of the Bankruptcy Code and are, therefore, a nondischargeable debt under Section 523(a)(5) of the Code. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed. View "In re: Kassicieh" on Justia Law

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Debtor paid off a line of credit and a $28,000 loan from her parents and transferred her interest in the marital residence to her husband, Bruno. In a separation agreement, Debtor waived any claim to equity in the residence, about $27,500. Bruno agreed to pay the mortgage and retained four vehicles (marital property) plus three other vehicles and tracts totaling 60 acres, non-marital property. Debtor retained a 1999 Pontiac. Both waived claims to support and retirement accounts. Debtor later filed her chapter 7 no-asset petition, listing an $11,000.00 lien on the Pontiac and $60,763.48 credit card debt (both incurred during marriage). The Trustee filed an adversary complaint to recover the value of alleged fraudulent transfers, 11 U.S.C. 548(a)(1)(B), 544, 550. Bruno argued that in a contested divorce, he would have likely received support, insurance and part of Debtor’s pension. The bankruptcy court concluded that Debtor did not receive reasonably equivalent value and entered a judgment of $47,635.27. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Debtor did not receive reasonably equivalent value, but remanded to amend the judgment to $4,532.98. It was unnecessary to consider the likely outcome of a contested divorce; the issue was comparison of the value Debtor received with the value Debtor transferred. View "In re: Neal" on Justia Law

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Tangled in a prolonged legal dispute over visitation rights to see his daughter, Jeffries wrote a song, “Daughter’s Love,” which contains passages about relationships between fathers and daughters, but also includes complaints about his ex-wife, ranting gripes about lawyers and the legal system, and threats to kill the judge if he doesn’t “do the right thing” at an upcoming custody hearing. Jeffries created a video of himself performing the song on a guitar painted with an American flag and posted the music video on YouTube. He shared it with friends, family and the media. In the video, Jeffries says “This song’s for you, judge.” Agents charged Jeffries with violating a federal law that prohibits “transmit[ting] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to . . . injure the person of another” 18 U.S.C. 875(c). A jury convicted Jeffries. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. All that the First Amendment requires in the context of a section 875(c) prosecution is that the threat be real; there was sufficient evidence to convict. View "United States v. Jeffries" on Justia Law