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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Maryland Transit Administration, alleging violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. Plaintiff suffers from cerebral palsy and uses a walker or crutches. She alleges that on numerous occasions, bus operators refused to use an assistance lift or otherwise assist her in boarding the bus. The district court applied the two-year statute of limitations from Maryland’s Anti-Discrimination Law, Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t 20–1035, 20-1013, and dismissed the suit as untimely. The court reversed and remanded, concluding that, because the Maryland Law does not contain a cause of action for disability discrimination in the provision of public services, the closer state-law analog to plaintiff's claim is a general civil action, which is subject to a three year statute of limitations. In this case, the complaint alleges discrimination occurring within three years of its filing. View "Brilliant Semenova v. MD Transit Administration" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against defendant, individually and in his official capacity as a state trooper, alleging federal claims of unlawful arrest, retaliatory arrest, and excessive force, and state claims of outrage/intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery. On appeal, defendant challenges the district court's denial of his motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The court explained that, under West Virginia law, police officers have the authority to effect an arrest for minor traffic violations, including the one at issue here. The district court’s determination that defendant arrested plaintiff “in practicality” for assault and obstruction of justice, instead of an expired inspection sticker, is irrelevant. Therefore, the district court erred in failing to grant summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff's claim of unlawful arrest. The probable cause inherent in plaintiff's minor traffic violation also defeats his First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim. In this case, plaintiff claims abrasions minor enough that he treated them at home with Neosporin and peroxide and did not seek medical assistance. The court held that an efficient, lawful arrest of a resisting suspect that causes the suspect to suffer only de minimis injuries does not constitute excessive force. Because defendant's actions were objectively reasonable and he is entitled to qualified immunity, the court concluded that the district court erred in holding otherwise. Finally, the court concluded that defendant is entitled to qualified immunity on the state claims. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions. View "Pegg v. Herrnberger" on Justia Law

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Police Chief Dixon revised a department policy governing officers’ use of social media platforms: “Negative comments on the internal operations of the Bureau, or specific conduct of supervisors or peers that impacts the public’s perception of the department is not protected by the First Amendment . … Officers may comment on issues of general or public concern (as opposed to personal grievances) so long as the comments do not disrupt the workforce, interfere with important working relationships or efficient work flow, or undermine public confidence in the officer.” The policy “strongly discourages employees from posting information regarding off-duty activities.” While off-duty, officers Liverman and Richards posted messages to Facebook, concerning “rookie cops” being given duties without adequate training, and referencing an unnamed supervisor who had not earned respect. Each received an oral reprimand and six months’ probation. Weeks later, Dixon altered another policy, excluding officers on probation from participating in the promotion process. The officers became ineligible to sit for the promotional exam. They indicated that they intended to challenge the disciplinary actions. Shortly thereafter, they were the subject of several complaints and investigations. Dixon decided to fire Liverman. The officers filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court found that Dixon was entitled to qualified immunity because the policy fell within a “gray zone” and concluded that the internal investigations were not retaliatory. The Fourth Circuit reversed in part, acknowledging need for discipline, but stating that the policy and the disciplinary actions taken pursuant to it would, if upheld, lead to an utter lack of transparency in law enforcement operations that the First Amendment cannot countenance. View "Liverman v. City of Petersburg" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was Va. Code 24.2-643(B), the voter identification law enacted as part of SB 1256. Plaintiffs alleged that the statutory requirement that voters present photo identification when they vote or shortly thereafter violates the Voting Rights Act and the federal Constitution. Specifically, Plaintiffs claimed hat the photo identification requirement “unduly burdens the right to vote, imposes discriminatory burdens on African Americans and Latinos, and was enacted with the intent to discriminate against minorities, young voters, and Democrats.” Following a bench trial, the district court entered final judgment against Plaintiffs. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the substance of SB 1256 does not impose an undue burden on minority voting, and there was no evidence that there was racially discriminatory intent in the law’s enactment. View "Lee v. Virginia State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted for unlicensed dealing in firearms and conspiracy to deal firearms without a license. After the district court denied defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment, he timely appealed. The court held that the prohibition against unlicensed firearm dealing comports with the Second and Fifth Amendments both facially and as applied. The court also concluded that the unlicensed dealing of firearms, even in intrastate sales, implicates interstate commerce and may be constitutionally regulated by Congress under the Commerce Clause. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Hosford" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against three charitable organizations, alleging that they unlawfully refused to admit her to homeless shelters because of her alleged mental health disability. The district court dismissed the claims under 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The court concluded that plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim cannot proceed because none of the defendants are state actors; plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1985 claim of civil conspiracy between the Salvation Army and Church in the City must also be dismissed because there are no allegations to support the existence of any conspiracy; plaintiff lacks standing to bring a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.; plaintiff's Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq., claim was properly dismissed because her complaint does not contain a plausible allegation of discrimination; and plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, was also properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of dismissal as modified to indicate that it be without prejudice. View "Thomas v. The Salvation Army" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against various Detention Facility officials, arguing that the imposition of disciplinary segregation without a hearing violated his procedural due process rights. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, concluding that due process requirements were satisfied by plaintiff's opportunity to file a written appeal after he was placed in disciplinary segregation. The court concluded, however, that as a pretrial detainee, plaintiff was entitled to a hearing before he was punished. In this case, defendants concede that no such hearing was afforded and thus the court directed that judgment be entered for plaintiff on his due process claim. The court remanded for consideration of plaintiff's excessive force claim under the proper standard. View "Dilworth v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former federal prisoner, filed suit alleging a number of violations under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, against several federal prison officials pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff argues that, in dismissing three claims that defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs, the district court made credibility determinations and weighed the parties’ evidence, thus violating the summary judgment standard. The court reversed the district court's disposition of the two Eighth Amendment claims against Dr. Phillip and Administrator McClintock. In this case, the court concluded that there is sufficient evidence that plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care and freedom from officials’ deliberate indifference to his medical needs was violated and that the right was clearly established. The court affirmed the district court's resolution of the claim against Warden Stansberry. View "Scinto, Sr. v. Warden Stansberry" 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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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