Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Defendant, an ordained Lutheran minister, moved to Haiti in 2004 to oversee a large ministry outside of Port Au Prince with his wife. Defendant conditionally plead guilty to two counts of engaging in an illicit sexual act with a minor after traveling in foreign commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2423(c) and (e), and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. At issue was whether Congress may prohibit individuals from engaging in non-commercial “illicit sexual conduct” after they “travel in foreign commerce.” The court held that the Foreign Commerce Clause provides constitutional sanction. The court also concluded that the sentenced imposed by the district court was reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Bollinger" on Justia Law
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The FDIC-R filed a civil action against several officers and directors of a North Carolina bank, Cooperative Bank, alleging that the officers and directors were negligent, grossly negligent, and breached their fiduciary duties, resulting in the failure of the Bank. On appeal, the FDIC-R argued that the district court erred in finding that North Carolina’s business judgment rule shields the officers and directors from allegations of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, and that there was insufficient evidence to support claims of gross negligence. The court vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the FDIC-R’s claims of ordinary negligence and breach of fiduciary duty as to the Officer Defendants because the court found that there is sufficient evidence to rebut the initial evidentiary presumption of the North Carolina business judgment rule; reversed and remanded the district court’s order denying as moot the FDIC-R’s cross-motion for summary judgment, as well as its order denying as moot the FDIC-R’s motion to exclude the declaration of Robert T. Gammill and the attached exhibits; and affirmed the district court’s judgment with respect to the remaining claims. View "FDIC v. Rippy" on Justia Law
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Defendants Fuertes and Ventura appealed their convictions for conspiracy to commit, and commission of, a number of sex trafficking and related offenses. The court concluded that Ventura's conviction under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence was erroneous because, the court held, sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1591(a), is not categorically a crime of violence. Therefore, the court vacated the conviction on Count Seven and remanded for entry of judgment of acquittal on that count. Otherwise, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Fuertes" on Justia Law
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Defendants, Somali pirates, were convicted of multiple offenses, including piracy as proscribed by 18 U.S.C. 1651. The district court declined to impose statutorily mandated life sentences on defendants, reasoning that such sentences would contravene the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The government appealed the district court's decision not to impose life sentences and defendants cross-appealed, challenging the district court's failure to dismiss the section 1651 charge, the jury instructions with respect to the piracy offense, and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting certain of their convictions. The court concluded that it was satisfied that “the relationship between the gravity of [the defendants’] offenses and the severity of [their proposed] punishment fails to create the threshold inference of gross disproportionality that is required” to satisfy prong one of the Eighth Amendment analysis. Therefore, without analyzing prong two, the court concluded that the district court erred in invalidating section 1651's mandatory life sentence to defendants. The court rejected all of defendants' claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions and reversed the sentences, remanding for resentencing. View "United States v. Said" on Justia Law
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Relator filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3730(h), against several defendants for violation of the Davis-Bacon Act, 40 U.S.C. 3141-3144, 3146, 3147. In this case, although the FCA complaint was properly filed under seal, relator's attorney revealed to relator's employer the existence of the complaint well before the end of the sixty day waiting period. The district court found a violation of the seal requirement and dismissed the action with prejudice. However, the court concluded that the dismissal was inappropriate under the FCA because the seal violation did not incurably frustrate the seal’s statutory purpose. The court further concluded that neither of the district court’s alternative reasons for dismissing relator’s claims - the doctrine of primary jurisdiction and failure to comply with Civil Procedure Rule 9(b) - warrant dismissal with prejudice. Finally, the court concluded that the district court erred when it dismissed relator’s retaliation claim. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Smith v. Clark/Smoot/Russell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, Carilion, alleging wrongful termination for engaging in protected activity, including opposing an unlawful employment practice, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that no individual activity in which plaintiff engaged by itself constituted protected oppositional conduct and that the so called “manager rule,” in any event, prevented an employee whose job responsibilities included reporting discrimination claims from seeking protection under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision. The court held, however, that the proper test for analyzing oppositional conduct requires consideration of the employee’s course of conduct as a whole and that the “manager rule” has no place in Title VII jurisprudence. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic" on Justia Law

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After charges against plaintiff were dismissed for alleged violations of South Carolina's anti-robocall statute, S.C. Code Ann. 16-17-446(A), plaintiff filed suit challenging the statute on First Amendment grounds. The statute prohibits only those robocalls that are “for the purpose of making an unsolicited consumer telephone call” or are “of a political nature including, but not limited to, calls relating to political campaigns.” The court found that, under the content-neutrality framework set forth in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, that the anti-robocall statute is a content-based regulation that does not survive strict scrutiny; plaintiff lacks standing to bring compelled-speech and vagueness challenges; and plaintiff's other claims fail due to the presence of probable cause to arrest him. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment except for the compelled-speech claim, which the court vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss it. View "Cahaly v. LaRosa, III" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed separate class action complaints against GMAC, alleging violations of Maryland's Credit Grantor Closed End Credit Provisions (CLEC), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law 12-1001 et seq.; breach of contract; declaratory and injunctive relief; restitution/unjust enrichment; and violation of Maryland's Consumer Protect Act, Md. Code Ann., Com. Law 13-101 et seq. At issue was whether borrowers may seek a remedy after their creditors violate the repossession notice requirements in the CLEC. The court concluded that the CLEC requires borrowers to have repaid more than the original principal amount of their loans before they are entitled to relief. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to GMAC. View "Gardner v. GMAC, Inc." on Justia Law
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This appeal stems from a franchise dispute between Dickey's and several of its franchisees in Maryland. At issue was whether the parties’ claims should be arbitrated, as Dickey’s argues, or heard in federal court in Maryland, as the franchisees contend. The court concluded that the clear and unambiguous language of the provisions in the parties' franchise agreement requires that the common law claims asserted by Dickey’s must proceed in arbitration, while the franchisees’ Maryland Franchise Law claims must proceed in the Maryland district court. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and instructed the district court to compel arbitration of the common law claims only. The court left it to the district court’s discretion whether to stay the franchisees’ Maryland Franchise Law claims pending conclusion of the arbitration. View "Chorley Enter. v. Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants" on Justia Law

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Defendants Graham and Jordan appealed their convictions for several offenses arising from a series of armed robberies. Jordan separately challenged restrictions on his own testimony imposed by the district court, the denial of his motion for severance, the exclusion of certain out-of-court statements attributed to Graham, the admission of evidence seized during a search of his residence, and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting several of his convictions.The court concluded that the government’s warrantless procurement of the cell site location information (CSLI) was an unreasonable search in violation of defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights. The court held, nonetheless, that the district court's admission of the challenged evidence must be sustained because the government relied in good faith on court orders issued in accordance with Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Pub. L. No. 99-508, 100 Stat. 1848, or the Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. 2703(a), (c). The court rejected Jordan's separate challenges, finding no reversible error. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Graham" on Justia Law
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