Burkholder v United States

Burkholder appealed his conviction for violation of 21 USC 841(b)(1(E)(i) distributing controlled substances and a death resulting. He argued that the district court erred by failing to charge proximate causation to the jury. The panel, 2-1, affirmed. The majority held the statutory language “death…results from the use of such substance “ is unambiguous, only requires but for causation and this is conclusion is supported by the passive voice of the statement, the use of proximate causation language in other criminal statutes, and the uniform rejection of proximate causation by the federal appeals courts in construing identical language in the same section. The majority held that eth cases relied upon by Burkholder do not change the outcome as one deals with a statute with proximate causation language, one left the issue open and one only deals with sufficiency of proof not the elements of the sentencing enhancement. The dissent argued that the United States Supreme Court held the death results language ambiguous, common law background principles apply and include proximate causation and 10th Circuit precedent in this area also requires proximate causation.

BNSF Railway Company v United States Department of Labor, Administrative Review Board (Cain, Intervenor)

BNSF petitioned for review of Board’s decision that it violated the federal railway safety act by firing Cain and awarding punitive damages. The panel granted the petition in part, denied it in part and remanded. It held that Cain’s filing of an updated accident report was a contributing factor to his termination as supervisors discouraged him form filing it and the investigation which led to his termination only started after he field the report. It held BNSF failed to prove that it would have fired Cain anyway because the supervisors discouraged filing, warned that things would go badly for Cain if he field, BNSF was aware that can suffered injuries beyond those in the initial report yet only took action after the updated report was filed, there were inconsistencies in the rationale for termination and BNSF could not point to any other employee terminated for late filing of an accident report. It granted relief on the punitive damage award holding that an award was appropriate here given the supervisors’ effort to prevent the updated report, but, the board erred in not establishing the facts which support eh amount awarded. The panel finally held that the board additionally erred by not following the guideposts in Supreme Court precedent to evaluate the amount of the punitive damages award.