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

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Defendant pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to one count of aiding and abetting the theft of a firearm. On appeal, defendant contends that the government breached the plea agreement. In the plea agreement, the government agreed to advise the district court at sentencing that the parties had agreed that the 4-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(b) (increasing a defendant’s offense level for use or possession of a firearm in connection with another felony offense)(6)(B) did not apply. At sentencing, however, the government advised the district court that it had changed its position on whether a North Carolina breaking and entering offense constituted a felony, concluding that it did, regardless of a defendant’s criminal history. Nonetheless, the government asked the district court to honor the plea agreement and not apply the enhancement to defendant. The district court concluded that the government, although acting in good faith, breached its undertaking in the plea agreement by stating that the enhancement did apply. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing before a different district judge pursuant to Santobello v. New York. View "United States v. Warner" on Justia Law
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Debtors purchased a home from creditors. The purchase was financed via a loan from creditors. In exchange for the loan, debtors granted creditors a deed of trust on the property and executed a promissory note requiring monthly payments. Where the rate of interest on debtors’ residential mortgage loan was increased upon default, at issue was whether a “cure” under section 1322(b) of the Bankruptcy Code allows their bankruptcy plan to bring post-petition payments back down to the initial rate of interest. The court held that the statute does not allow this, as a change to the interest rate on a residential mortgage loan is a “modification” barred by the terms of section 1322(b)(2). The court affirmed the judgment of the district court insofar as it required that post-petition interest payments be calculated using the seven percent default rate of interest, but reversed that part of the judgment which applied only a five percent rate of interest to payments calculated “for the period between September 16, 2013 and the December 2013, effective date of the plan.” The court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Anderson v. Hancock" on Justia Law
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Petitioner, a native and citizen of the Dominican Republic, seeks review of the BIA's decision finding him ineligible for cancellation of removal because he is an aggravated felon. The court held that, based on the court's application of the categorical approach, a conviction under the second paragraph of 18 U.S.C. 659 is not a “theft offense (including receipt of stolen property)” under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(G). Therefore, the BIA erred in finding petitioner to be an aggravated felon who is ineligible for cancellation of removal under 8 U.S.C. 1229b(a)(3). Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review and remanded for further proceedings. View "Mena v. Lynch" on Justia Law
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Defendant pled guilty to firearm and drug charges after the district court assured him that he was not waiving his right to appeal the court’s earlier denial of a suppression motion. At issue is whether defendant entered a valid conditional guilty plea. The court concluded that no valid conditional guilty plea was entered because the government-consent requirement was not satisfied. Insofar as defendant did not enter a valid conditional guilty plea, the question of whether the district court erred in denying his suppression motion is not properly before the court. Because the court has neither a valid conditional plea nor a valid unconditional plea, the court vacated the judgment. On remand, defendant can decide whether to plead guilty again or whether to proceed to trial. View "United States v. Fitzgerald" on Justia Law
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Defendant and two companions participated in a crime spree that started with a pair of burglaries and ended with a high-speed police chase. At issue is whether the two burglaries served as part of the predicate for defendant’s Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1), sentencing enhancement occurred on different occasions. The court affirmed the district court's ruling that the burglaries did in fact occur on different occasions. In this case, it was proper for the district court to note that defendant harmed 31 different victims during his many offenses; that defendant’s most recent pair of burglaries ended with a dangerous police chase; and that defendant appeared to be the leader in at least this latest chapter of his long history of criminal activity. View "United States v. Linney" on Justia Law
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After the Board certified a collective bargaining unit consisting of all maintenance employees at an ice-cream production facility operated by Dreyers, the company contends that the Board petitioned for review. The court held that the Board acted within its broad discretion in certifying the Union’s petitioned-for unit where the Regional Director (RD), under the Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile framework, applied the traditional community-of-interest factors to determine not only that the maintenance employees share a community of interest amongst themselves, but also that maintenance employees form a group distinct from production employees. By doing so, the RD did not allow the extent of organization to control his decision. The court rejected Dreyer's objections that focused on attacking Specialty Healthcare rather than on the Board's decision in this case. Accordingly, the court denied Dreyer's petition for review and granted the Board's cross-petition for enforcement. View "Nestle Dreyer's Ice Cream Co. v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against employees of SCDC and others, alleging that the food served to him at a prison managed by the SCDC was so deficient as to violate his Eighth Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), concluding that plaintiff's claim is barred by the doctrine of res judicata because it is the same as a complaint filed against SCDC employees by a fellow inmate in 2010, which the district court dismissed on the merits. The court concluded that, because plaintiff was a nonparty to the earlier suit, he is not precluded from pursuing the same claims on his own behalf in the instant action unless the state defendants are able to demonstrate that at least one of the six exceptions to the general rule against nonparty preclusion applies pursuant to Taylor v. Sturgell. Because the state defendants have not demonstrated that any of the exceptions apply, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Duckett v. Fuller" on Justia Law

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Maritime employed Elmer Escalante, an undocumented alien, at one of its two full-service carwashes. After Escalante filed a complaint against Maritime with the EEOC for discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., the EEOC issued a subpoena seeking information from Maritime related to Escalante’s charges. The parties disagree on how Escalante’s undocumented status affects the EEOC’s authority to investigate his charges. The district court denied the EEOC's application for subpoena enforcement. The court held that the EEOC’s subpoena, designed to investigate Escalante’s Title VII charges, is enforceable. In this case, the plain language of Title VII provides a "plausible" or "arguable" basis for the EEOC's subpoena where Title VII allows any "person claiming to be aggrieved" to file charges with the EEOC, and nothing explicitly bars undocumented workers from filing complaints. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "EEOC v. Maritime Autowash, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, trainees at the Casino, filed a putative class action against the Casino, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201-219; the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (MWHL), Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. 3-401 to -431; and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (MWPCL), Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. 3-501 to -509. The district court granted the Casino's motion to dismiss, holding that the trainees failed to show that the primary beneficiary of their attendance at the training was the Casino rather than themselves. The court concluded that the trainees alleged facts supporting their claim that the Casino, and not the trainees, primarily benefited from the training where the Casino received a very large and immediate benefit - an entire workforce of over 800 dealers trained to operate table games to the Casino’s specifications at the very moment the table games became legal. The trainees, in contrast, received very little because the training was unique to the Casino’s specifications and not transferable to work in other casinos. Moreover, there are charges that the training was either conceived or carried out in such a way as to violate the spirit of the minimum wage law. Finally, the trainees allege, and the Casino acknowledges, that the Casino paid all participants in the "dealer school" the minimum hourly wage for the last two days of the twelve weeks of training. Because the trainees have alleged sufficient facts to support their claims, the court reversed and remanded. View "Harbourt v. PPE Casino Resorts Maryland" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and being a felon in possession of a firearm. On appeal, defendant challenged the district court's denial of his motion to suppress drug and firearm evidence seized by police officers during a traffic stop. The court concluded that no constitutional violation occurred in this case. The officer did not unreasonably expand the scope of the stop by beginning an unjustified drug investigation. Furthermore, the officer did not conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle without probable cause when he stuck his head inside the car to examine its fraudulent inspection sticker where the officer's means of investigating the inspection sticker were appropriate and not unreasonably intrusive. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Palmer" on Justia Law
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