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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed in substantial part the district court's issuance of a nationwide injunction as to Section 2(c) of the challenged Second Executive Order (EO-2), holding that the reasonable observer would likely conclude EO-2's primary purpose was to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs. Section 2(c) reinstated the ninety-day suspension of entry for nationals from six countries, eliminating Iraq from the list, but retaining Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Determining that the case was justiciable, the Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs have more than plausibly alleged that EO-2's stated national security interest was provided in bad faith, as a pretext for its religious purpose. Because the facially legitimate reason offered by the government was not bona fide, the court no longer deferred to that reason and instead may look behind the challenged action. Applying the test in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court held that the evidence in the record, viewed from the standpoint of the reasonable observer, created a compelling case that EO-2's primary purpose was religious. Then-candidate Trump's campaign statements revealed that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States. President Trump and his aides have made statements that suggest EO-2's purpose was to effectuate the promised Muslim ban, and that its changes from the first executive order reflect an effort to help it survive judicial scrutiny, rather than to avoid targeting Muslims for exclusion from the United States. These statements, taken together, provide direct, specific evidence of what motivated both executive orders: President Trump's desire to exclude Muslims from the United States and his intent to effectuate the ban by targeting majority-Muslim nations instead of Muslims explicitly. Because EO-2 likely fails Lemon's purpose prong in violation of the Establishment Clause, the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim. The court also held that plaintiffs will likely suffer irreparable harm; the Government's asserted national security interests do not outweigh the harm to plaintiffs; and the public interest counsels in favor of upholding the preliminary injunction. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a nationwide injunction was necessary to provide complete relief, but erred in issuing an injunction against the President himself. View "International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's application of a sixteen-level sentencing enhancement after pleading guilty to illegal reentry after being convicted of an aggravated felony. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that defendant's prior conviction under Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 2925.03(A)(2) categorically qualifies as a "drug trafficking offense" as defined in U.S.S.G. 2L1.2, cmt. n.1(B)(iv) (2015). Because the Ohio statute in this case requires that defendant have knowledge that the controlled substance is intended for sale, the statute does not apply to simple possession. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law
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Petitioner challenged the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition, alleging that his guilty plea to attempted murder and a related firearm offense resulted from his trial counsel's disabling conflict of interest. Determining that the appeal was not moot, the Fourth Circuit held that the petition was timely. In this case, petitioner's limitations period commenced on December 12, 2008, when the judgment entered upon his November 2008 resentencing became final. Because his postconviction proceedings statutorily tolled the limitations period from at least January 20, 2009 through October 21, 2013, his petition was timely. Furthermore, under the exceptional circumstances presented by petitioner's case, neither procedural bar at issue was adequate to preclude federal review of petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim; the Court of Special Appeals' application of Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. 7-106(b)(1)(i)(6) was inadequate to bar federal review of petitioner's claim; and the circuit court's reliance on section 7-106(b)(1)(i)(4) was inadequate to bar consideration of his ineffective assistance claim on federal habeas review. The court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Woodfolk v. Maynard" on Justia Law

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Wikimedia and eight other organizations filed suit challenging Upstream surveillance, an electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA. First, Wikimedia alleged that the sheer volume of its communications makes it virtually certain that the NSA has intercepted, copied, and reviewed at least some of its communications (Wikimedia Allegation). Second, all plaintiffs alleged that in the course of conducting Upstream surveillance the NSA was intercepting, copying, and reviewing substantially all text-based communications entering and leaving the United States, including their own (Dragnet Allegation). The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of Article III standing. The Fourth Circuit held that the analysis of speculative injury in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013), was not controlling in this case because the central allegations were not speculative. As to Wikimedia, the court vacated and remanded because Wikimedia made allegations sufficient to survive a facial challenge to standing. As to the other plaintiffs, the court affirmed because the complaint did not contain enough well-pleaded facts entitled to the presumption of truth to establish their standing. View "Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA/CSS" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the denial of his habeas corpus petition, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request an alibi instruction. The Fifth Circuit held that the post-conviction relief court's decision was a reasonable application of Strickland v. Washington. Although the parties accept for purposes of appeal that trial counsel's performance was deficient, even if the instruction had been given, there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. Therefore, because petitioner was not prejudiced by the error, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Maurice Hope v. Warden Cartledge" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, Sotera, alleging that the company violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Sotera, holding that the district court correctly rejected plaintiff's legal contention that Sotera interfered with plaintiff's FMLA rights by not restoring him to his pre-leave position; no reasonable factfinder could conclude that Sotera failed to place plaintiff in "an equivalent position" or that the differences between the two jobs at issue were more than merely de minimis; and plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to his termination-related claims. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that Sotera was entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that Sotera interfered with his FMLA rights by reinstating him to a sham position and then firing him at the first opportunity. Finally, plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact such that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the adverse employment action was taken for an impermissible reason, such as retaliation. View "Waag v. Sotera Defense Solutions" on Justia Law

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On remand from the United States Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit held that the Government stated a claim under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729(a), against Triple Canopy. The Fourth Circuit reconsidered its earlier panel decision in light of Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, 136 S.Ct. 1989 (2016), and held that the Government properly alleged an FCA claim -- that Triple Canopy knowingly presented false claims -- under section 3729(a)(1)(A). In this case, the Government sufficiently alleged falsity, and nothing in Universal Health undermines the Fourth Circuit's earlier conclusion that Triple Canopy's falsity was material. The Fourth Circuit reinstated those portions of its opinion that were not impacted by Universal Health, and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States ex rel. Badr v. Triple Canopy" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for charges related to his involvement in a retail theft scheme. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the evidence was sufficient to justify the district court's decision to give the jury a willful blindness instruction and to support the jury's finding that defendant knew the property at issue was stolen. In this case, there was ample evidence from which to find that defendant subjectively believed that there was a high probability that the goods he was buying and selling were stolen. The court rejected defendant's evidentiary challenges and challenges to the jury instructions; held that the evidence was sufficient to conclude that an individual who worked for defendant qualified as an employee, rather than a contractor; and rejected defendant's contention that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during his closing argument. View "United States v. Hale" on Justia Law
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Where an individual fails to allege a concrete injury stemming from allegedly incomplete or incorrect information listed on a credit report, he or she cannot satisfy the threshold requirements of constitutional standing. At issue in this case was whether the decision of Experian to list a defunct credit card company, rather than the name of its servicer, as a source of information on an individual's credit report -- without more -- created sufficient injury in fact under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681g(a)(2), for purposes of Article III standing. The Fourth Circuit found no concrete injury on behalf of plaintiff because he was not adversely affected by the alleged error on his credit report. Therefore, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of Experian's motion for summary judgment and remanded with instructions that the case be dismissed. View "Dreher v. Experian Information Solutions" on Justia Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying BMO Harris's renewed motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiff filed suit against BMO Harris, alleging that BMO Harris violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C.1961 et seq., when BMO Harris used its role within a network of financial institutions to conduct and participate in the collection of unlawful payday loans. BMO Harris sought to enforce an arbitration agreement for the loan, which was entered into by plaintiff and the lender, Great Plains. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of BMO Harris's motion to enforce the arbitration agreement in light of Hayes v. Delbert. In Hayes, the Fourth Circuit applied the prospective waiver doctrine and held that the entire arbitration provision at issue was unenforceable. The choice of law provisions in this case were indistinguishable in substance from the related provisions in the agreement in Hayes. These choice of law provisions were not severable from the broader arbitration agreement and rendered the entire arbitration agreement unenforceable. View "Dillon v. BMO Harris Bank, N.A." on Justia Law