Eighth Circuit reverses “novel” limitation on a defendant’s procreation

By: Administrator on July 21st, 2015

By Ryan Leemkuil

Today, the Eighth Circuit ruled that a district court goes too far when it attempts to limit a defendant’s ability to procreate.  

Christopher Harris, a convicted felon, fathered ten children out of wedlock with seven different women.  After Harris was caught illegally possessing firearms, the district court took it upon itself to curtail Harris’s procreation, which the court viewed as a “very serious social problem.”  So the court crafted a special condition of supervised release that the Eighth Circuit accurately described as “novel.”  The court ordered that Harris not engage in “unprotected sex activities without probation office approval.”  Harris, apparently not wanting to run these things by his probation officer when he’s released in 2029 (he got a fifteen year sentence), appealed.

The Eighth Circuit, Judge Colloton writing, held that the district court lacked authority to impose the special condition:

For one thing, the special condition as pronounced is even broader than the novel restriction on fathering children that the court seemed to contemplate during the hearing.  By restricting “unprotected sex activities,” without limitation, the condition purports to regulate conduct that could not result in pregnancy.  The condition is not even reasonably related to the purposes that motivated the condition.

There were other problems with the restriction.  There was no showing, for example, that Harris’s sexual activity was “related to his unlawful possession of a firearm.”  The restriction also involved a greater deprivation of liberty than was necessary to provide deterrence and protect the public from future crimes.  In short, the district court “sought to address a perceived social problem that does not have the required nexus to factors that guide sentencing in a federal criminal case.”

*Ryan Leemkuil is legal counsel at Fareway  Stores and before that was an attorney at Nyemaster Goode. 


Beard Update

By: Administrator on January 21st, 2015

By Ryan Leemkuil

Last month, the Eighth Circuit rejected Arkansas inmate Christopher Deaton’s request to grow a full-length beard for religious reasons.  As we noted then, Judge Colloton dissented, arguing that the panel should wait for the Supreme Court’s decision in Holt v. Hobbs, another beard case out of the Eighth Circuit.  Although Holt is a bit different (it involves an inmate’s “compromise” request for just a half-inch beard), Judge Colloton noted that the Supreme Court’s soon-to-come decision might give the Eighth Circuit some guidance in approaching the more robust beard at issue in Deaton.  And, as Judge Colloton noted, awaiting the outcome in Holt could save Mr. Deaton the burden of filing a cert. petition and waiting for the Supreme Court to vacate the Eighth Circuit’s decision and remand for further consideration in light of Holt.

Yesterday, just over a month after the Eighth Circuit rejected the beard request in Deaton, the Supreme Court held that Gregory Holt is entitled to grow a half-inch beard consistent with his religious beliefs.  It’d be tough, the Court thought, to stash contraband in such a short beard.  Wouldn’t the stuff just fall out?  And the prison lets inmates have hair on their heads; can’t they hide contraband there, too? The state’s concerns with the well-kept beard seemed overblown, so the no-beard policy had to give way to Holt’s religious exercise under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA). 

But as Deaton teaches, beards come in all shapes and sizes.  Do the security concerns grow with the beard?  That’s the question now facing the Eighth Circuit after Holt.  And fortunately for Mr. Deaton, it doesn’t look like he’ll have to go to the Supreme Court (at least not yet) to pursue his case.   Late last month, he asked for more time to file a petition for rehearing.  The Court granted that request, so the Eighth Circuit should be able to reconsider Deaton (in light of Holt), without the rigmarole of a cert. petition and remand order. 

*Ryan Leemkuil is legal counsel at Fareway  Stores and before that was an attorney at Nyemaster Goode. 


When should an inferior court just sit tight?

By: Administrator on December 18th, 2014

By Ryan Koopmans

That was the main question yesterday in Deaton v. Arkansas Department of Correction. Arkansas prisoner Christopher Deaton wants to grow a full-length beard for religious reasons, but prison policy doesn’t allow it because of safety concerns.  Deaton sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA), but a federal district court threw out the case and yesterday an Eighth Circuit panel summarily affirmed that ruling in a one-paragraph order.

One paragraph, because the Eighth Circuit has already decided this question.  In fact, the court ruled last year in Holt v. Hobbs that the no-beard policy doesn’t violate RLUIPA even if the prisoner agrees to keep his facial hair to a half inch.  And since one three-judge panel cannot overrule another, the panel in Deaton has no authority to say that a full-length beard is okay.

But it might soon.  Which is why Judge Colloton dissented.  The Supreme Court granted cert. in Holt and heard oral argument in October.  That means a decision could be coming out any day, and any day the law in the Eighth Circuit might be completely different.  So why not wait, Judge Colloton asks:

This case is factually distinguishable from Holt, because appellant Deaton—like the prisoner in Fegans v. Norris, 537 F.3d 897 (8th Cir. 2008)—claims a right based on RLUIPA to grow a full beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. But the Court’s reasoning in Holt will inform how Deaton’s claim should be analyzed and whether Fegans has continuing vitality. In the interest of judicial economy, I would hold this case briefly pending a decision in Holt rather than burden Mr. Deaton with the need to file a petition for writ of certiorari to secure an order granting certiorari,vacating this court’s decision, and remanding for further consideration in light of Holt.

That’s not the kind of dissent we usually get to see.  It’s not about the merits of the case (everyone agrees that Eighth Circuit precedent dictates the outcome, at least for now) but on how the court should conduct its business. Assuming he does not file for rehearing, Deaton will have to write and file a cert. petition and  file a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (i.e., ask the court to waive the filing fee).  He has 90 days to do that, so the Supreme Court may very well have decided Holt by then.  That, though, won’t alleviate the need for the filings, even if it’s clear that Deaton would win under the new Supreme Court decision. (And if oral argument is any indication, it seems likely that Deaton will get some help.)

But the extra burden isn’t just on Deaton.  The Supreme Court clerk’s office will have to docket the case, a law clerk in the Supreme Court clerk pool will have to review the cert. petition, verify that the Holt decision could possibly change the outcome, and draft a memo to the justices recommending that the court grant the petition and remand the case to the Eighth Circuit.  Once the Court enters the order, the Eighth Circuit clerk’s office will have to notify the panel that the case is back, thus putting the three judges back in the same position they would have been had they held the case (which was submitted just last month) a few more months.  Hence Judge Colloton’s dissent.


Judge Colloton warns of Twombly and Iqbal embellishment

By: Administrator on September 12th, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans

Twombly and Iqbal aligned the case law with the Federal Rules’ pleading standards, they didn’t change them (nor could they).  That was Judge Colloton’s message last week in Horras v. American Capital Strategies, Ltd., an Iowa case about minority shareholder rights.

Thomas Horras owned a minority interest in a home healthcare business and the majority shareholder purported to sell out without telling him.  So Horras sued.  He claimed that the majority shareholder had a duty to disclosure the sale to him, especially because the majority shareholder represented that it was selling all of the company’s shares, not just a controlling interest.

The district court dismissed the lawsuit, and last week an Eighth Circuit panel affirmed that ruling 2-1. The majority of the panel, Judge Gruender writing, concluded that if given the chance, the Iowa Supreme Court would not require majority shareholder to tell the minority shareholder that he intended to sell the majority interest.  While the Iowa Supreme Court might very well recognize such a claim for a closely held company, Horras hadn’t pled that this was a closely held company.  And according to Judge Gruender (joined by Judge Benton) Twombly and Iqbal require that he plead it.

As for Horras’s claim that the majority shareholder purported to sell all of the company’s shares, Judge Gruender wrote that Horras hadn’t properly pled that either.  The breach-of-fiduciary-duty count stated only that the majority shareholder failed to notify Horras of “corporate activity [a]ffecting his shares.”  The part about purporting to sell off the shares was in a separate breach-of-contract count, which the district court also dismissed.  (That dismissal was unanimously affirmed.).

Judge Colloton dissented. In an interesting opinion about what Twombly and Iqbal do and what they don’t, Judge Colloton–who served on the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules from 2008-2013– concluded that Horras said enough to get by the motion to dismiss.  Here’s the relevant portion of his dissent:


Eighth Circuit Newsletter: Intra-Circuit Splits, the Twenty-First Amendment, and Judge Jane Kelly

By: Administrator on June 27th, 2013

The Eighth Circuit Bar Association’s summer newsletter is out, and  it contains two articles by Nyemaster Goode attorney and On Brief contributor Ryan Koopmans. The first article discusses the Eighth Circuit’s conflicting, same-day decisions in United States v. Bruguier and United States v. Rouillard.  (Our earlier coverage of those decisions is here and here.)

The second article analyzes a pending Eighth Circuit case that will decide the meaning of the Twenty-first Amendment.  (Yeah, the one that says we can drink booze.)  The three-judge panel includes two Iowans: Judge Steven Colloton and Judge Stephanie Rose, a newly confirmed district court judge who is sitting on the Eighth Circuit by designation.

The newsletter, which is edited by Briggs & Morgan attorney Scott Flaherty, also contains a profile of our newest Eighth Circuit judge, Jane Kelly (who also hails from Iowa). Read the the whole thing here.


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