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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg filed suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that Bishop Mark J. Lawrence violated the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., by falsely advertising himself to be the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The district court applied Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of America and Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., abstaining in favor of related state court proceedings. The court vacated on appeal, concluding that Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, not Brillhart and Wilton, governs abstention decisions in actions where the plaintiff seeks both declaratory and nondeclaratory relief. On remand, the district court again abstained. The court concluded that, because the state and federal cases involve different parties and different claims, the district court abused its discretion under Colorado River by abstaining in favor of the state court proceedings. Accordingly, the court vacated the abstention order and remanded for further proceedings. View "vonRosenberg v. Lawrence" on Justia Law
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In these consolidated appeals, veterans who received medical treatment and health care at the Dorn VAMC, filed separate actions against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Dorn VAMC officials, alleging violations of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. 552(a) et seq., and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 701 et seq. Plaintiffs sought to establish Article III standing based on the harm from the increased risk of future identity theft and the cost of measures to protect against it. The district court dismissed based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal, concluding that plaintiffs failed to establish a non-speculative, imminent injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing. View "Beck v. McDonald" 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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CIT obtained a judgment against defendant in the Eastern District of Virginia. Under Virginia law, that judgment remained viable for 20 years. Roughly 10 years after the judgment had been entered, on August 27, 2003, CIT registered the judgment in the District of Maryland pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1963. Under Maryland law, made relevant by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 69(a), judgments expire 12 years after entry. After CIT sold the judgment to Wells Fargo, Wells Fargo began collection efforts in April 2015. The district court concluded that the time limitation for enforcement of the judgment began with the date of its registration in Maryland, on August 27, 2003, and that therefore it was still enforceable against defendant. The court held that the registration of the Virginia district court judgment in the District of Maryland at a time when the judgment was not time-barred by Virginia law functions as a new judgment in the District of Maryland, and Maryland’s 12-year limitations period for enforcement on the judgment begins running from the date of registration. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Wells Fargo Equipment Finance v. Asterbadi" on Justia Law
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On March 8, 2012, as high school students were being released from school, Officer Church received a call for back-up and arrived to find juveniles running through the streets. Officer Jackson was struggling to arrest one of them. Smith was standing outside of her car with her phone up as if videotaping. Officer Church, over 50 feet away, yelled, “Ma’am, pull your car to the side or keep on going.” Smith replied, “I’m not going to let you hurt that young boy. I ain’t moving.” Church moved closer, told her this was a traffic stop, and asked for her license. Smith “ran back into her car.” A struggle ensued. The parties disagree about the details. Church arrested Smith. The charges were eventually dropped. Smith sued the police department and officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983. At trial, the court allowed defense counsel to elicit testimony that Smith had been arrested three times before. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the officers on all counts. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding Smith’s prior arrests not relevant to her claim for damages, which was the sole reason the court admitted them, and that any probative value of those arrests was far outweighed by prejudice to Smith, in violation of Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). View "Smith v. Baltimore City Police Department" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, four Iraqi nationals, filed suit against CACI, alleging that they were abused while detained in the custody of the United States Army at Abu Ghraib prison. CACI provided contract interrogation services for the military at the time of the alleged mistreatment. In their third amended complaint, plaintiffs alleged pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. 1350, that CACI employees committed acts involving torture and war crimes, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Plaintiffs also asserted various tort claims under the common law. On remand, after reopening discovery, the district court dismissed plaintiffs’ complaint on the ground that it presented a non-justiciable political question. The court held that conduct by CACI employees that was unlawful when committed is justiciable, irrespective whether that conduct occurred under the actual control of the military; acts committed by CACI employees are shielded from judicial review under the political question doctrine if they were not unlawful when committed and occurred under the actual control of the military or involved sensitive military judgments; and thus the court vacated and remanded for the district court to re-examine its subject matter jurisdiction under the political question doctrine. View "Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology, Inc." on Justia Law
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Relators filed suit against medical laboratory businesses in 2007 in state court, alleging that the labs had submitted false claims to the Commonwealth for Medicaid reimbursement. Defendants removed to federal court. After the Commonwealth entered into a settlement agreement with defendants, the district court awarded relators a share of the settlement proceeds. Relators appealed, contending that the district court's award was insufficient under state law. The court vacated and remanded to the state court, concluding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the qui tam action. In this case, by the plain terms of the complaint, relators could have prevailed on their state law claims by proving that defendants contravened the Commonwealth’s Medicaid regulations, without showing any violation of federal law. View "Commonwealth of Virginia ex rel. Hunter Labs. v. Commonwealth of Virginia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff initially filed suit against defendants on June 4, 2010. Defendant then decided to voluntarily withdraw her complaint. On November 3, 2010, plaintiff dismissed her first action and filed a second complaint, which she served on defendants in February 2011. Defendants moved to stay the second action and for costs under FRCP 41(d). The magistrate judge awarded defendants' motion for attorneys’ fees and other expenses that had been incurred in defending the first action. The district court affirmed, finding that plaintiff's conduct amounted to vexatious litigation, for which fees could be recovered. In 2013, plaintiff appealed before this court before an amount could be determined and the court dismissed. On remand, the district court awarded $13,403.75 in attorneys’ fees to defendants and stayed the case pending payment. In 2015, plaintiff appealed without paying the costs and before the case was dismissed for nonpayment. On remand, the district court dismissed the second action for failure to pay the awarded attorneys’ fees. The court adopted the Seventh Circuit's reasoning and held that Rule 41(d) does not provide for an award of attorneys’ fees as a matter of right; instead, a district court may award attorneys’ fees under this rule only where the underlying statute provides for attorneys’ fees. A court may also, within its discretion, award attorneys’ fees where it makes a specific finding that the plaintiff has acted “in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons,” a well-established exception to the American Rule. In this case, the court found that plaintiff's conduct was not undertaken in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons. Accordingly, the court reversed the order to pay attorneys' fees, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Andrews v. America's Living Centers, LLC" on Justia Law
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As part of a joint effort to construct a Zoroastrian worship center, the parties signed a ninety-nine-year lease on a parcel of property owned by Rustam Guiv in the Vienna area of Fairfax County, Virginia. After Rustam Guiv terminated the lease, the Center filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment to reinstate the lease. After removal, the district court granted summary judgment to Rustam Guiv and awarded attorneys’ fees. The court concluded that Rustam Guiv presented sufficient evidence to show complete diversity between the parties, thereby establishing subject matter jurisdiction in federal court. The court also concluded that the undisputed material facts show that The Center breached the lease. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint in its entirety. The court concluded, however, that the attorneys' fee award must be vacated where the district court correctly identified Rustam Guiv as the prevailing party but made no effort to narrow the fee award to its successful claims. Under Virginia law governing contractual fee-shifting provisions, the prevailing party is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees for work performed only on its successful claims. View "Zoroastrian Center v. Rustam Guiv Found." 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