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

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Petitioner was arrested for sexually abusing his fourteen-year-old daughter and, during his first interview, he said he needed an attorney. Petitioner was reinterviewed three days later without an attorney present and confessed. With respect to petitioner's sexual abuse charges, the court found that petitioner has demonstrated ineffective assistance of counsel under both the deficient performance and prejudice prongs of Strickland v. Washington, and reversed the district court’s dismissal of his habeas petition as to those convictions. The court remanded with instructions that the district court issue petitioner a writ of habeas corpus as to the sexual abuse charges unless the Commonwealth endeavors, within a reasonable period of time, to prosecute him in a new trial on those counts without utilizing the confession. With respect to petitioner's convictions on the child pornography charges, the court found that petitioner has not shown a reasonable probability that his confession altered the outcome of his trial, as required to demonstrate prejudice under Strickland, and therefore the court affirmed the district court order in that respect. View "Grueninger v. Director, VDOC" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit against the City, alleging that the City, acting through it's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq., by denying plaintiffs' request for a variance to permit a certain property to be used as a church facility. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to state a claim that the BZA’s decision imposed a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ right of religious exercise. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs’ request to amend their complaint, because any such amendment would have been futile. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Andon, LLC v. The City of Newport News, VA" on Justia Law

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Maryland allows any voter to vote via absentee ballot. Plaintiffs filed suit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12132, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, against state election officials under federal law, alleging that marking a hardcopy ballot by hand without assistance is impossible for voters with various disabilities, and that they have therefore been denied meaningful access to absentee voting. Defendants argue that even if absentee voting is not fully accessible, the full accessibility of Maryland’s in-person polling places provides disabled voters with meaningful access to voting. The court concluded that defendants’ proposed focus is overbroad and would undermine the purpose of the ADA and its implementing regulations. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that by effectively requiring disabled individuals to rely on the assistance of others to vote absentee, defendants have not provided plaintiffs with meaningful access to Maryland’s absentee voting program. The court also concluded that plaintiffs’ proposed use of the online ballot marking tool is a reasonable modification to Maryland’s absentee voting policies and procedures. The court agreed with the the district court that defendants have not met their burden to show that plaintiffs’ proposed modification - use of the online ballot marking tool - would fundamentally alter Maryland’s voting program. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "National Federation of the Blind v. Lamone" on Justia Law

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IMP filed suit against LN, alleging that LN violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. 1 et seq., by engaging in monopolization, tying arrangements, and exclusive dealing in the music concert industry. IMP and LN both promote concert tours and operate concert venues, but they differ in geographic reach. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to LN, concluding that IMP failed to define the relevant markets or to demonstrate any anticompetitive conduct. View "It's My Party, Inc. v. Live Nation, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Maryland's Firearm Safety Act (FSA), Md. Code, Crim. Law 4-303(a), which, among other things, bans law-abiding citizens, with the exception of retired law enforcement officers, from possessing the vast majority of semi-automatic rifles commonly kept by several million American citizens for defending their families and homes and other lawful purposes. The court concluded that the FSA implicates the core protection of the Second Amendment and the court, pursuant to District of Columbia v. Heller, McDonald v. City of Chicago, and its own precedent, concluded the burden is substantial and strict scrutiny is the applicable standard of review for plaintiffs’ Second Amendment claim. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's denial of these claims and remanded for the district court to apply strict scrutiny. The court affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' equal protection challenge to the statutory exception allowing retired law enforcement officers to possess prohibited semi-automatic rifles. Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the term “copies” as used by the FSA is not unconstitutionally vague. View "Kolbe v. Hogan, Jr." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Delbert alleging that Delbert violated debt collection practices. The district court granted Delbert's motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 4. The court concluded, however, that the arbitration agreement in this case is unenforceable where it purportedly fashions a system of alternative dispute resolution while simultaneously rendering that system all but impotent through a categorical rejection of the requirements of state and federal law. The court went on to conclude that the FAA does not protect the sort of arbitration agreement that unambiguously forbids an arbitrator from even applying the applicable law. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Delbert Services Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, a colonel in the Somali National Army, under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. 1350, and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA), 28 U.S.C.1350, alleging several violations of international law after a group of soldiers kidnapped him from his home in northern Somalia. The district court dismissed the ATS claims and allowed the TVPA claims to proceed, holding that defendant was not entitled to immunity as a foreign official. Both parties appealed. The court concluded that plaintiff has failed to allege a claim which touches and concerns the United States to support ATS jurisdiction, and therefore the district court did not err in dismissing the ATS counts. The court also agreed with the district court that defendant lacked foreign official immunity for jus cogens violations under Yousuf v. Samantar. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Warfaa v. Ali" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against two former members of the North Carolina Army National Guard, Adjutant General William E. Ingram, and Lieutenant Colonel Peter von Jess, alleging that defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff claimed that defendants, motivated by revenge, directed other service members to monitor plaintiff’s email messages, which he sent while serving on active duty in Kuwait, and to forward incriminating messages to von Jess. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants based on the justiciability doctrine in Mindes v. Seaman. Mindes provided a four-factor test for reviewability of claims based on internal military affairs. The court acknowledged that defendant now renounces any claim for equitable relief and affirmed the district court's judgment on the basis of the military abstention doctrine set forth in Feres v. United States. In this case, plaintiff's alleged injuries arose out of activity incident to his service where he was on active duty, deployed in a war zone, and used a computer system set up by the DOD for military personnel deployed at Camp Doha. View "Aikens v. Ingram, Jr." on Justia Law

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Relators filed a qui tam action under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729 et seq., against Purdue, alleging that the company was involved in a fraudulent scheme regarding the equianalgesic ratio of OxyContin. The court declined realtors' invitation to read United States ex rel. Siller v. Becton Dickinson & Co., so as to render it internally inconsistent and at odds with the public disclosure bar’s purpose. Indeed, by foreshadowing the court’s conclusion in this case, Siller itself eschews the interpretation relators urge. Here, relators’ claims are based on facts their counsel learned in the course of making the prior public disclosure of Purdue’s allegedly fraudulent scheme. The court held, consistent with its reasoning in Siller and the public disclosure bar’s purpose, that the district court correctly dismissed the relators’ suit. View "United States ex rel. May v. Purdue Pharma L.P." on Justia Law

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Defendants David James Williams, III and Kristin Deantanetta Williams appealed from their conviction and sentence to one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and cocaine base. Both defendants stipulated to a sentence of 120 months in prison pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The court found no error in the convictions and affirmed the judgment. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review Kristin's sentence because a sentence imposed pursuant to the terms of a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement may only be reviewed if it is unlawful or expressly based on the United States Sentencing Guidelines. In this case, nowhere in the agreement is there a Guidelines-based calculation of an imprisonment term. Consequently, the sentence was not “imposed as a result of an incorrect application of the sentencing guidelines,” and no provision under 18 U.S.C. 3742 permits the court to review the reasonableness of her sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and dismissed in part. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law
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