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

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Metro Machine and Signal Mutual seek review of the Benefits Review Board's order affirming the ALJ's grant of a claim for medical benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. 907. The court concluded that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s order awarding Claimant medical benefits for his work-related COPD. The only error the ALJ committed was in failing to apply the “naturally or unavoidably results” standard to the fracture claim. Because remand for application of that standard would be a futile exercise, given that there was no issue presented regarding avoidability, the court denied the petition for review and affirmed the Board's decision. View "Metro Machine Corp. v. DOWCP" on Justia Law

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Defendant, the former chairman and CEO of Massey, appealed his conviction for violating federal mine safety laws and regulations. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his involvement in a tragic mine accident that caused the death of 29 miners. The court concluded that the district court did not err in refusing to dismiss the superseding indictment; the district court did not reversibly err in denying defendant an opportunity to engage in recross-examination of a Massey employee; the district court properly instructed the jury that it could conclude that defendant “willfully” violated federal mine safety laws if it found that defendant acted or failed to act with reckless disregard as to whether the action or omission would lead to a violation of mine safety laws; the first, second, and third jury instructions reflect the “bad purpose” mens rea discussed in Bryan v. United States because they required that the jury conclude that defendant took actions that he knew would lead to violations of safety laws or failed to take actions that he knew were necessary to comply with federal mine safety laws; and the district court did not reversibly err in providing the two-inference instruction. The court noted that, although it disapproved of the two-inference instruction, the district court's use of that instruction in this case does not amount to reversible error. The court directed the district courts not to use the two-inference instruction going forward. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenges the denial of her application for social security disability benefits. Before the court is an issue of first impression regarding whether an ALJ's failure to follow the special technique required by 20 C.F.R. 404.1520a when evaluating a claimant’s mental impairment requires remand or may constitute harmless error. The court held that such an error does not automatically require remand, but that the error was not harmless on these facts. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's order denying benefits and remanded with instructions to the ALJ for appropriate review of plaintiff's mental impairment. View "Patterson v. Commissioner of SSA" on Justia Law
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Debtor filed a voluntary Chapter 13 petition that included a mortgage claim held by PNC and secured by a deed of trust on debtor's primary residence. The anti-modification clause in 11 U.S.C. 1322(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code protects a mortgagee from having its claim in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding modified, if the mortgage is secured “only by a security interest in real property that is the debtor’s principal residence.” The court held that reference in the Deed of Trust to escrow funds, insurance proceeds, or miscellaneous proceeds constitute incidental property, rather than additional collateral, which entitles debtor to anti-modification protection under section 1322(b)(2). In this case, the Deed of Trust on debtor's residence is secured only by real property that is also his principal residence. Escrow funds, insurance proceeds, and miscellaneous proceeds do not constitute additional collateral. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Birmingham v. PNC Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
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Defendant signed a plea agreement in which the government agreed to seek a sentence at the lowest end of the “applicable guideline range.” After the government recommended a sentence at the lowest end of the guideline range found by the district court, defendant appealed. The court held that, in this case, the phrase “applicable guideline range” only obligated the government to recommend a sentence at the lowest end of the guideline range found by the district court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Tate" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against the Maryland Transit Administration, alleging violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. Plaintiff suffers from cerebral palsy and uses a walker or crutches. She alleges that on numerous occasions, bus operators refused to use an assistance lift or otherwise assist her in boarding the bus. The district court applied the two-year statute of limitations from Maryland’s Anti-Discrimination Law, Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t 20–1035, 20-1013, and dismissed the suit as untimely. The court reversed and remanded, concluding that, because the Maryland Law does not contain a cause of action for disability discrimination in the provision of public services, the closer state-law analog to plaintiff's claim is a general civil action, which is subject to a three year statute of limitations. In this case, the complaint alleges discrimination occurring within three years of its filing. View "Brilliant Semenova v. MD Transit Administration" on Justia Law

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QinetiQ, the successor in interest to DTRI, contends that the stock issued to an executive employee of DTRI was issued in connection with the executive’s employment and was subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture until 2008. QinetiQ argues that it is entitled to a tax deduction for the value of the stock as a trade or business expense in the tax year ending March 31, 2009. The IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency concluding that QinetiQ had not shown its entitlement to the claimed deduction. The court concluded that the IRS complied with all applicable procedural requirements in issuing the Notice of Deficiency to QinetiQ; the tax court did not err in concluding that the stock failed to qualify as a deductible expense for the tax year ending March 31, 2009, because the stock was not issued subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture; and thus the court affirmed the judgment. View "QinetiQ US Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner of IRS" on Justia Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to traveling in foreign commerce and engaging in illicit sexual conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2423(c). The district court agreed with defendant that, as a matter of law, he did not travel in foreign commerce in connection with his illicit sexual conduct and is thus actually innocent of the offense. The court concluded, however, that defendant is not actually innocent of the section 2423(c) offense because defendant was still traveling in foreign commerce from the time he departed the United States until the time of his illicit sexual conduct in Cambodia. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Schmidt" on Justia Law
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After debtors filed for bankruptcy relief, the Bankruptcy Administrator, Marjorie Lynch, moved to dismiss the case as an abuse because debtors used the National and Local Standard amounts for certain categories of expenses rather than the actual amount of their expenses, which were less than the standardized amounts. The bankruptcy court denied the motion to dismiss. The court granted the appeal as to the issue of whether 11 U.S.C. 707(b)(2) permits a debtor to take the full National and Local Standard amounts for expenses even though the debtor incurs actual expenses that are less than the standard amounts. The court concluded that debtors are entitled to the full National and Local Standard amount for a category of expenses if they incur an expense in that category. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the bankruptcy court. View "Lynch v. Jackson" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs, several environmental groups, filed suit against the Fola Coal Company alleging that it had violated the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251, and seeking injunctive relief. Plaintiffs alleged that the company discharged ions and sulfates in sufficient quantities to cause increased conductivity in the Stillhouse Branch tributary and waterway, which resulted in a violation of water quality standards. The district court found that the company had indeed violated the Act and ordered it to take corrective measures. The court concluded that, because the company did not comply with the conditions of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit, the permit does not shield it from liability under the CWA. Therefore, the district court properly ordered appropriate remedial measures. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Fola Coal Company, LLC" on Justia Law
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