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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Petitioner, convicted of federal drug and firearms offenses, appealed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion for habeas relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, petitioner claimed that his counsel's performance was deficient because she failed to bring to the attention of the trial court the fact that, before the trial began, a member of the jury approached petitioner's father while entering the courthouse and told him that "everything would be alright" and that he needed to give his son "a good kick in the butt," thereby allegedly demonstrating bias against petitioner. The court concluded that counsel's response fell within the range of competent representation required by the Sixth Amendment because the juror's alleged statement did not sufficiently indicate actual bias against petitioner but was instead ambiguous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Powell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, currently confined as a sexually dangerous person, filed suit against BOP, alleging various claims related to BOP's failure to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for medical appointments and other important interactions, its refusal to provide him with access to a videophone, and its failure to otherwise accommodate his deafness. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of BOP. The court concluded that plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to satisfy the objective and subjective components of the deliberate-indifference inquiry. Therefore, the district court erred by granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that BOP failed to provide him with constitutionally adequate medical care. The court also concluded that the district court erred by granting summary judgment as to plaintiff's claim that he was unreasonably denied access to the TTY device. Finally, the court agreed with plaintiff that the district court erred by relying on BOP's voluntary, post-litigation actions to reject his remaining claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Heyer v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are the Powhatan County Republican Committee and four individuals nominated by the Committee to be candidates for election to the Board of Supervisors for Powhatan County, Virginia. Plaintiffs filed suit against the Board of Elections, challenging the constitutionality of the portion of Virginia Code 24.2-613(B) that provides that only candidates in elections "for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices" may be identified on the ballot by the name of the political party that nominated them or by the term "Independent." The district court granted judgment in favor of the Board. The court concluded that the burden on associational rights imposed by Virginia's regulation of the use of party identifiers on official ballots is at most minimal and is amply justified by Virginia's important interests, which include minimizing partisanship at the local government level, promoting impartial governance, and maximizing the number of citizens eligible to hold local office under the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. 7321-7326; concluded that section 24.2-613(B)'s different treatment of local candidates and federal, statewide, and General Assembly candidates with respect to party identifiers on the ballot does not violate the Equal Protection Clause because such treatment is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests; and thus affirmed the judgment. View "Marcellus v. Virginia State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Maryland's Firearm Safety Act (FSA), Md. Code, Crim. Law 4-303(a). The district court awarded judgment to defendants, concluding that the FSA is constitutional. A divided three-judge panel of this court then remanded, directing that the district court apply the more restrictive standard of strict scrutiny to the FSA. The panel's decision was vacated in its entirety by the court's grant of rehearing en banc in this case. The court concluded that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment. The court reasoned that it had no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the District of Columbia v. Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage. Nevertheless, the court also found it prudent to rule that — even if the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are somehow entitled to Second Amendment protection — the district court properly subjected the FSA to intermediate scrutiny and correctly upheld it as constitutional under that standard of review. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Kolbe v. Hogan, Jr." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to Maryland's firearms regulatory scheme, arguing that the scheme is unconstitutional as applied to him. Plaintiff is a convicted felon in Virginia who has had his civil rights restored by the Governor of Virginia and his firearms rights restored by the Virginia courts. Currently a resident of Maryland, plaintiff wants to obtain a permit for a handgun and possess a long gun, both of which he is unable to do in Maryland absent a full pardon from the Governor of Virginia. The district court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim. The court held that a state law felon cannot pass the first step of the United States v. Chester inquiry when bringing an as-applied challenge to a law disarming felons, unless that person has received a pardon or the law forming the basis of conviction has been declared unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful. The court further held that evidence of rehabilitation, the likelihood of recidivism, and the passage of time may not be considered at the first step of the Chester inquiry as a result. Therefore, the court concluded that plaintiff failed at step one of the Chester analysis. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Hamilton v. Pallozzi" on Justia Law

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Two police officers appealed their dismissal from the force, alleging retaliation for the exercise of their First Amendment rights. The district court granted qualified immunity to the police chief. The court held that the chief is entitled to qualified immunity because he could reasonably have believed that the officers were acting as police officers rather than private citizens and believed that the officers' conversation with an individual arrested by another officer was surreptitious conduct designed to foment complaints and litigation against a supervisor with whom they did not get along. In this case, the chief saw this behavior as a serious threat to the smooth running of the police department and to his own ability to maintain operational control. The court explained that the chief could reasonably have viewed the department's interest in maintaining discipline as paramount in the Pickering balance. Because the court found that the law was not clearly established here, the court declined to determine whether a constitutional violation actually occurred. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Crouse v. Town of Moncks Corner" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former assistant county attorney, was terminated from her employment after she was elected to the City Counsel. Plaintiff filed suit challenging the County Attorney's decision to terminate her employment, contending that the County Attorney's actions violated her rights under the federal and state constitution, as well as a county ordinance. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court explained that, although plaintiff claims her termination was in violation of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has made clear that public employers may permissibly bar their employees from participating in a wide array of political activities, including running for elective office. In this case, the record reflects multiple potential points of conflict that could face plaintiff as a member of the City Council and an attorney in the Fairfax County Attorney’s Office. Therefore, the court rejected plaintiff's First Amendment arguments. Because plaintiff's termination did not violate the First Amendment, her section 1983 claim was also properly dismissed. Finally, the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's state law claim under Virginia Code 15.2-1512.2 and Fairfax County Ordinance 3-1-19. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Loftus v. Bobzien" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an Applications Developer for the CIA, was a covert employee who suffered from narcolepsy. Plaintiff first filed suit against the Agency, alleging discrimination and ultimately termination based on his disability, failure to accommodate, and retaliation. While the motion for summary judgment was pending on the first suit, plaintiff filed suit against the same defendants, alleging disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 791 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. In this case, even if plaintiff establishes a prima facie case for his claims, the court found that its precedent nonetheless requires dismissal because any defense to these claims that the government could offer would undoubtedly rely on privileged information. Therefore, the district court correctly concluded that the information at issue is properly privileged and that litigation of the case would present an unjustifiable risk of disclosure of that information. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Abilt v. CIA" on Justia Law

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Petitioner seeks review of the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief. Defendant argued that his petition was not time-barred because it was filed within one year of his discovery of his petitions' factual predicates -- his incorrect blood type and factual findings in the Zain III report -- which he argues could not have been discovered sooner. The court found, however, that had petitioner exercised due diligence, he would have discovered the factual predicates far earlier. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the petition. View "Gray v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against law enforcement officers and others, alleging violation of her constitutional rights when she was arrested and held in police custody for eighty days. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, finding that the officers had probable cause to believe plaintiff illegally possessed and sold crack. The court concluded that the district court properly stylized plaintiff's false arrest claims against the investigating officers as malicious prosecution claims. The court also concluded that Officer Munday's application for an arrest warrant lacked probable cause and thus violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. In this case, Munday had no evidence about plaintiff's conduct whatsoever, let alone any evidence connecting her to the crime in question. Because it would be unreasonable for any officer to view Munday's dearth of evidence as sufficient to establish probable cause, he is not entitled to qualified immunity. The court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded to the district court to consider in the first instance plaintiff's state-law claims against all of the individual officers, and negligent-supervision and pattern-or-practice theories of liability against the Chief of Police and City of Lincolnton. The court affirmed as to the false arrest claim against Officers Greene and Lesassier because the officers merely executed the arrest as they were required to do, pursuant to a facially valid warrant. View "Smith v. Munday" on Justia Law