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

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The district court determined that the Board's practice of opening its public meetings with an invocation delivered by a member of the Board violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court held that the legislative prayer in that case, although clearly sectarian, was constitutionally valid and did not transgress the Establishment Clause. Town of Greece guides the court's review of this case, which requires a case-specific evaluation of the facts and circumstances. The court concluded that the district court erred in determining that the fact that a legislator delivers a legislative prayer is a significant constitutional distinction; the Board’s legislative prayer practice amounts to nothing more than an individual commissioner leading a prayer of his or her own choosing; given the respectful tone of nearly all the invocations delivered here, which largely mirror those identified in Town of Greece, the Board’s practice crossed no constitutional line; a party challenging a legislative prayer practice cannot rely on the mere fact that the selecting authority has confined the invocation speakers to a narrow group; the prayers in this case, like those in Town of Greece, were largely generic petitions to bless the commissioners before turning to public business; and the district court erred in concluding the Board’s prayer practice was coercive. Because none of the constitutional contentions raised by plaintiffs have validity under the facts of this case, the court reversed and remanded with directions to dismiss the complaint. View "Lund v. Rowan County, NC" on Justia Law

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After the Court of Appeals of Maryland suspended Michael Tankersley’s law license when he refused to provide his social security number to the Client Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland, Tankersley filed suit against the trustees of the Fund, and the judges and the clerk of the Court of Appeals. Tankersley filed suit against these defendants in their official capacities, seeking injunctive relief based on his claim that his suspension violated the federal Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a. The district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss. Both the Tax Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 405(c)(2)(C)(i), and the Welfare Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 666(a)(13)(A), allow states to collect individuals’ social security numbers in specific situations. The court held that the district court erred in relying on section 666 of the Welfare Reform Act to dismiss Tankersley’s complaint. In this case, the court agreed with Tankersley that “applicant” cannot properly be read to include a Maryland attorney who must pay an annual fee to maintain his license. However, the court concluded that section 405 of the Tax Reform Act applies to Tankersley, and the state of Maryland may lawfully compel him to provide his social security number to the Fund or consequently have his law license suspended. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Tankersley v. Almand" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon and was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), to a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 months in prison. The court affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress but found that, because of an intervening change in law following sentencing, the district court erroneously sentenced defendant under the ACCA. In this case, Johnson v. United States was decided during the pendency of the appeal and the Supreme Court held in that case that the residual clause is unconstitutionally vague and therefore violates due process. Therefore, defendant's prior burglary convictions do not qualify as the ACCA enumerated offense of "burglary" under the categorical approach. Accordingly, the court affirmed defendant's conviction, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. White" on Justia Law
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Defendant plead guilty to one count of failing to register as a sex offender and one count of illegal reentry. The district court concluded that defendant's prior felony conviction qualified as a crime of violence and applied a 16-level enhancement, sentencing defendant to 46 months in prison. The court applied the plain and ordinary meaning of the Sentencing Guidelines' language and determined that defendant's prior conviction under Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law 3-307(a)(1) qualifies as a "forcible sex offense" for purposes of USSG 2L1.2. The court joined the other circuits addressing the issue and held that, for purposes of the re-entry Guideline, a “sex offense” is an offense involving sexual conduct with another person. And as the Guidelines commentary itself makes clear, a sex offense is “forcible” if it is not consensual. Therefore, the lease culpable version of the crime defined by section 3-307(a)(1) - sexual contact while aided or abetted by another - categorically qualifies as a “forcible sex offense” and thus a “crime of violence” under USSG 2L1.2. Accordingly, the court affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Alfaro" on Justia Law
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Defendant, a CPA, appealed his sentence and conviction for conspiracy and obstruction of justice following his involvement in earnings mismanagement and improper accounting transactions while acting as chief accounting officer of Beazer Homes. The court concluded that the district court did not err in excluding evidence surrounding the false email accusations. In any event, any error was harmless where defendant was not ultimately prejudiced. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in quashing defendant's Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(c) subpoena to Beazer; in prohibiting defendant's accounting expert from testifying about work papers prepared by Beazer's independent auditors; and in allowing the government to have Beazer employees testify as lay witnesses about the propriety of complex accounting transactions without calling an accounting expert to testify. Finally, the court rejected all three of defendant's potential misconduct claims and concluded that any error was harmless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Rand" on Justia Law

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After Kimberly Adkins and Chaille Dubois filed separate Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions in the Bankruptcy Court, Atlas filed proofs of claim in their bankruptcy cases based on debts that were barred by Maryland’s statute of limitations. At issue is whether Atlas violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692 et seq., by filing proofs of claim based on time-barred debts. The court held that Atlas’s conduct does not violate the FDCPA because filing a proof of claim in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy based on a debt that is time-barred does not violate the FDCPA when the statute of limitations does not extinguish the debt. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Dubois v. Atlas Acquisitions LLC" on Justia Law

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Over twenty electrical construction workers filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq., seeking unpaid hourly and overtime wages from Power Design for work completed under a federally funded subcontract between a joint venture and Power Design. The district court granted summary judgment for Power Design. The court found nothing in the relevant statutes barring the Electrical Workers from pursuing an FLSA claim. In light of the statutory texts, which admit of no conflict, and the similarities between Powell v. U.S. Cartridge Co., Masters v. Maryland Management Co., and this case, the court held that the statutes at issue apply concurrently to the Electrical Workers’ employment arrangement. Accordingly, the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Power Design and the court vacated the judgment, remanding for further proceedings. View "Amaya v. Power Design, Inc." on Justia Law

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Claimants appeal the district court's entry of default judgment for the government in a civil forfeiture action against funds deposited in claimants’ names in banks in New Zealand and Hong Kong. Default judgment was entered after the government successfully moved to disentitle claimants from defending their claims to the defendant property under the federal fugitive disentitlement statute, 28 U.S.C. 2466. Claimants’ alleged copyright infringement scheme, dubbed the “Mega Conspiracy,” used public websites to facilitate the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted movies, software, television programs, and music. The court rejected claimants' challenge to the district court's in rem jurisdiction over assets in foreign countries; the court affirmed the district court's adoption of the reasoning in Collazos v. United States, a Second Circuit case, holding that claimants had waived the due process rights they claim were violated by operation of section 2466; as section 2466 predicates disentitlement on an allowable presumption that a criminal fugitive lacks a meritorious defense to a related civil forfeiture, the court concluded that it does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and affirmed the district court’s decision; and the court adopted a specific intent standard for section 2466 and affirmed the district court's finding of intent with respect to each defendant. The court rejected claimants' remaining arguments and affirmed the judgment in its entirety. View "United States v. Batato" on Justia Law

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An ALJ found that Jerry Addison was entitled to benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901-944, because he had established the existence of clinical and legal pneumoconiosis that resulted in a total respiratory disability. Sea-B, Addison's former employer, filed a petition for review of the ALJ's decision. The court concluded that the ALJ’s decision to exclude the additional CT scan evidence was not harmless. This error affects the determination of both clinical and legal pneumoconiosis and impacts the ALJ’s consideration of the other evidence in this case. The omitted CT scan evidence is unquestionably probative of the central issue in dispute: whether Addison suffered from pneumoconiosis. Furthermore, the court could not determine from the ALJ’s sparse explanation how, or if, he weighed the x-ray readings in light of the readers’ qualifications. Finally, because the proffered explanation for elevating Dr. Forehand’s diagnosis is not supported, the ALJ must reevaluate that opinion to determine the proper weight it should be given. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sea "B" Mining Co. v. Addison" on Justia Law

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These consolidated cases challenge provisions of a recently enacted North Carolina election law. Session Law 2013-381.2 imposed a number of voting restrictions. The law required in-person voters to show certain photo IDs, beginning in 2016, which African Americans disproportionately lacked, and eliminated or reduced registration and voting access tools that African Americans disproportionately used. Prior to the enactment of SL 2013-381, the legislature requested and received racial data as to usage of the practices changed by the proposed law. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans. The court concluded that the asserted justifications for the law cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation: taking away minority voters' opportunity because they were about to exercise it. Therefore, the court concluded that the General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent. The court reversed and remanded with instructions to enjoin the challenged provisions of the law. View "N.C. State Conference v. McCrory" on Justia Law