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

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The parties are involved in a dispute over a 12-year commercial lease of office space in Baltimore, Maryland. NCO, the lessee, claims that it properly exercised a right of early termination of the lease and that, during the course of the lease, it was overcharged for rent based on erroneous calculations of the space’s square footage. Montgomery Park, the lessor, claims that NCO failed to satisfy the lease’s specific conditions for early termination and that NCO now owes rent for the remainder of the lease term. The court reversed the district court’s ruling that NCO effectively exercised the right of early termination, and affirmed its ruling rejecting NCO’s overcharge claims. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings on Montgomery Park’s claim that NCO breached the lease agreement in failing to pay rent. View "NCO Financial Systems, Inc. v. Montgomery Park, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner seeks review of the district court's denial of his petition for habeas relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254. The trial judge rejected the plea agreement between defendant and the state prosecutor, off the record and without giving reasons other than stating that he was "ready to try a case." Defendant contends that his counsel was ineffective because he failed to object to the rejection of the plea agreement and preserve the issue for appellate review. In Missouri v. Frye, the Supreme Court has clearly stated that there is no federal right that a plea be accepted by a judge. Furthermore, the court rejected defendant's contention that Santobello v. New York announced a constitutional due process right that a judge accept a plea bargain. Therefore, the court concluded that defendant was not prejudiced by his attorney’s failure to make this meritless objection. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Rodriguez v. Bush" on Justia Law
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UBSFS filed suit seeking to vacate an arbitral award that, in practical effect, granted Gary Padussis over $900,000 in compensatory damages. The district court confirmed the arbitration award in its entirety and declined to impose an offset. In this case, UBSFS plainly agreed to arbitration; the dispute was within the scope of that agreement; and the rules by which the arbitration would proceed were openly declared and followed. The arbitration here spanned eighteen hearing sessions over nine separate days. Because the court found no basis for overturning the arbitral decision, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court explained that any other result would open arbitration proceedings to a host of challenges over the very type of subsidiary questions that Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, indicated should be left to the discretion of the arbitral body. View "UBS Financial Services, Inc. v. Padussis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff initially filed a medical malpractice claim with Maryland’s alternative dispute resolution agency within the Federal Tort Claims Act's (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671 et seq., limitations period. However, plaintiff did not file a complaint in federal court until well after that period had passed. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely. The court concluded that, because an “action is begun” under the FTCA only by filing a civil action in federal district court, plaintiff's claim was untimely. The court also concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that any extraordinary circumstances warranted equitable tolling. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Raplee, Jr. v. United States" on Justia Law
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Petitioner, convicted of murder, sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254, challenging the imposition of a capital sentence in the South Carolina courts. Petitioner raised seven grounds for relief, including prosecutorial misconduct and juror bias. The district court granted relief independently on both grounds, vacated petitioner's death sentence, and remanded for resentencing. According to the district court, the state courts unreasonably determined that the “King Kong” comment, “black Indians” testimony, and “blonde-headed lady” remark were not intentional appeals to racial prejudice. The district court also found unreasonable the PCR court’s determination that a juror was not racially biased at the time of the sentencing. Respondents appealed. The court concluded that the state courts unreasonably determined that the prosecutor’s references to petitioner during closing argument were not appeals to racial prejudice. Drawing on this flawed factual finding, the state courts unreasonably concluded that petitioner's right to due process was not violated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Bennett v. Stirling" on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm. The district court sentenced defendant to 15 years in prison pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), based on defendant's two predicate drug offenses and one predicate violent felony. The court agreed with the district court's determination that defendant's prior conviction for South Carolina strong arm robbery qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Doctor" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs, landowners, filed suit in state court seeking a declaration of their rights to build a dock on property subject to a flowage easement. The power company, owner of the easement, removed to federal court. The district court denied plaintiffs' motion to remand to state court and dismissed the complaint. The court concluded that this controversy does not necessarily raise a federal question; this case does not necessarily raise any federal issue; no federal question in this case is actually disputed where this case presents solely a dispute as to state property law; and any federal interest in interpreting the flowage easement is not substantial and that asserting federal jurisdiction over cases like this would disrupt the congressionally approved federal-state balance. Therefore, the court concluded that 28 U.S.C. 1331 provides no basis for federal jurisdiction over this case. Because this case does not “arise under” federal law for purposes of federal question jurisdiction under section 1331, there is no basis for exclusive jurisdiction under 16 U.S.C. 825p. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment and remanded. View "Pressl v. Appalachian Power Co." on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of attempting to persuade minors to engage in unlawful sexual activity and sentenced to 120 months in prison and a lifetime of supervised release. On appeal defendant contends that the district court erred by: (1) improperly refusing to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the purportedly unlawful searches of defendant’s vehicle; (2) violating Rule 30(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by failing to inform defendant’s counsel of its jury instructions prior to closing arguments; (3) improperly instructing the jury as to the meaning of “induce” in 18 U.S.C. 2422(b); and (4) improperly holding that the government produced sufficient evidence to sustain defendant’s conviction. The court rejected defendant's arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Clarke" on Justia Law
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RB&F seeks relief from the Benefits Review Board's holding that RB&F is responsible for the payment of benefits to Turl Mullins, a coal miner, and survivor's benefits to his widow under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901 et seq. At issue is whether RB&F or another operator is liable for the claim. The court concluded that Wilder is not a “responsible operator” for the purposes of the BLBA. The court explained that a mine operator cannot be the responsible operator if it is financially incapable of assuming liability. In this case, it is undisputed that Wilder is bankrupt and is itself incapable of assuming liability. It is also undisputed that Wilder’s insurance company, Rockwood, is insolvent and is incapable of assuming liability. The court need not reach the preemption issue because the VPCIGA is not an insurer for this claim and is not covered by the BLBA. Under DOL regulations, the liability for Mullins’s claim falls to the “potentially liable operator” that most recently employed the miner. Since Wilder cannot be found to be a “potentially liable operator” under 20 C.F.R. 725.494, the liability properly falls to the miner’s next most recent employer, RB&F. The court need not address RB&F's claim regarding the regulatory burden-shifting analysis because the burden of proof was irrelevant to the outcome of this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Board's decision. View "RB&F Coal, Inc. v. Mullins" on Justia Law

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This case arose more than fifteen years ago as a bid-rigging scheme conjured up by shipping businesses to defraud the United States. In the qui tam proceedings at issue, a jury returned a verdict in 2011 against the Gosselin defendants. Relators appealed, contesting the district court's refusal to award civil penalties. The court granted relief and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the district court was called upon to resolve the issue of whether relator Kurt Bunk was entitled to recover his judgment from another defendant, Government Logistics N.V. (GovLog). As a preliminary issue, the court concluded that the Peacock v. Thomas principle is inapplicable here, and the district court’s exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over the successor corporation liability claim against GovLog was entirely appropriate. The court concluded that the district court properly declined to apply the substantial continuity test here. However, the district court erred by dismissing Bunk's successor corporation liability claim as insufficiently pleaded. Finally, the court concluded that the district court erred in making the summary judgment award to GovLog. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "US ex rel. Kurt Bunk v. Government Logistics N.V." on Justia Law