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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

By
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

By
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

By
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

By
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

By
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

By
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

By
N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-208.6(4) and 14-208.7(a) requires persons convicted of certain reportable sex offenses to register as “sex offenders.” Under N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-208.18(a), for persons convicted of a subset of those reportable sex offenses, North Carolina restricts their movement relative to certain locations where minors may be present. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging these statutes as unconstitutional. The district court permanently enjoined enforcement of section 14- 208.18(a)(2) and section 14-208.18(a)(3). The court concluded that neither an ordinary citizen nor a law enforcement officer could reasonably determine what activity was criminalized by subsection (a)(3). Consequently, that subsection does not meet the standards of due process because it is unconstitutionally vague. In regards to subsection (a)(2), the court concluded that the State failed to prove that, while all parties agree North Carolina has a substantial interest in protecting minors from sexual crimes, subsection (a)(2) was appropriately tailored to further that interest. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "John Doe #1 v. Cooper, III" on Justia Law

By
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

By
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

By
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