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

Articles Posted in Injury Law

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An ALJ found that Jerry Addison was entitled to benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901-944, because he had established the existence of clinical and legal pneumoconiosis that resulted in a total respiratory disability. Sea-B, Addison's former employer, filed a petition for review of the ALJ's decision. The court concluded that the ALJ’s decision to exclude the additional CT scan evidence was not harmless. This error affects the determination of both clinical and legal pneumoconiosis and impacts the ALJ’s consideration of the other evidence in this case. The omitted CT scan evidence is unquestionably probative of the central issue in dispute: whether Addison suffered from pneumoconiosis. Furthermore, the court could not determine from the ALJ’s sparse explanation how, or if, he weighed the x-ray readings in light of the readers’ qualifications. Finally, because the proffered explanation for elevating Dr. Forehand’s diagnosis is not supported, the ALJ must reevaluate that opinion to determine the proper weight it should be given. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sea "B" Mining Co. v. Addison" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, enrolled in Marshall University's Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, filed suit against defendants raising various claims, including violation of her due process and equal protection rights, after she unsuccessfully pursued reconsideration through Marshall’s internal grade-appeals process. Plaintiff had left her student-teaching post in protest over differences with her supervising teacher. Consequently, plaintiff was not awarded credit and did not receive her MAT nor teaching license. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's order granting defendants' motion to dismiss. The court concluded that the district court properly determined both that sovereign immunity bars plaintiff's claims against the Marshall University Board of Governors, and that the allegations in plaintiff's pro se complaint against the other defendants failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Kerr v. Marshall Univ. Bd." on Justia Law

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Victims of a massive ponzi scheme centered in South Carolina obtained a judgment of over $150 million against Derivium and others. Plaintiffs are now pursuing others whom they claim also participated in the scheme. The district court granted Vision International's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under FRCP 12(b)(2). The district court also granted Randolph Anderson, Patrick Kelley, and Total Eclipse's motion for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' claim for aiding and abetting common law fraud. Plaintiffs filed separate appeals on the two rulings. The court consolidated the appeals. The court concluded that, because the parties engaged in full discovery on the jurisdictional issue and fully presented the relevant evidence to the district court, that court properly addressed Vision International’s Rule 12(b)(2) motion by weighing the evidence, finding facts by a preponderance of the evidence, and determining as a matter of law whether plaintiffs carried their burden of demonstrating personal jurisdiction over Vision International. Further, the court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that South Carolina has not recognized a cause of action for aiding and abetting common law fraud and that it is not the court's role as a federal court to so expand state law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment as to both appeals. View "Grayson v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, diagnosed with leukemia, filed suit against CTS, alleging that CTS was responsible for dumping toxic solvents from an Asheville-area manufacturing plant into a local stream, and that childhood exposure to the contaminated stream water many years ago caused his leukemia. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that North Carolina General Statutes Section 1-52(16) barred his action. The court concluded that the Supreme Court of North Carolina has not yet directly resolved whether Section 1-52(16) applies to disease claims. Because the court understood that under North Carolina law a disease is not a “latent injury,” the court concluded that the Supreme Court of North Carolina would not find Section 1-52(16) applicable to plaintiff’s claim. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Stahle v. CTS Corp." on Justia Law
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Sie Giok Giang, a passenger on a Sky Express interstate, was killed when the driver fell asleep at the wheel and ran the bus off the side of a highway. About seven weeks before the crash, Sky Express had been given an “unsatisfactory” safety rating by the FMCSA. At issue is whether the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671-2680, bars an FTCA claim against the FMCSA for allowing Sky Express to continue to operate during a 10 day extension. The district court concluded that, pursuant to that exception, it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the case. The court concluded that, considering that any waiver of sovereign immunity must be strictly construed, the FMCSA’s decision to promulgate a regulation permitting 10-day extensions for passenger carriers was a permissible exercise of judgment subject to the FTCA’s discretionary function exception and thus did not waive sovereign immunity. Therefore, the district court correctly dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and the court affirmed the judgment. View "Pornomo v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, a colonel in the Somali National Army, under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. 1350, and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA), 28 U.S.C.1350, alleging several violations of international law after a group of soldiers kidnapped him from his home in northern Somalia. The district court dismissed the ATS claims and allowed the TVPA claims to proceed, holding that defendant was not entitled to immunity as a foreign official. Both parties appealed. The court concluded that plaintiff has failed to allege a claim which touches and concerns the United States to support ATS jurisdiction, and therefore the district court did not err in dismissing the ATS counts. The court also agreed with the district court that defendant lacked foreign official immunity for jus cogens violations under Yousuf v. Samantar. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Warfaa v. Ali" on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from multi-district litigation involving transvaginal mesh medical devices used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and other pelvic issues. The jury awarded plaintiff $250,000 in compensatory damages, and the punitive damages award was split pursuant to a Georgia statute, with seventy-five percent going to the State of Georgia and twenty-five percent going to plaintiff. Both parties appealed. The court affirmed the district court's exclusion of evidence that Bard had complied with the FDA's 510(k) product safety process under F.R.E. 402 for lack of relevance; affirmed the district court's decision to admit evidence of a material data safety sheet pertaining to polypropylene, a material used in the construction of the Avaulta Plus implanted in plaintiff's body, as non-hearsay, finding that any use of the evidence by plaintiff that went beyond the limited purpose for which it was admitted as non-hearsay resulted in harmless error and was not prejudicial to Bard’s defense; and concluded that the district court did not err in giving the Georgia pattern jury instruction, in denying Bard’s request for a modified instruction, or in upholding the jury’s causation finding. The court also concluded that the punitive award was not constitutionally excessive. In regard to plaintiff's challenges, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that Georgia's split-recovery statute garnishing seventy-five percent of any punitive damages award arising from a product liability judgment does not violate the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cisson v. C. R. Bard, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Severn and its insurer filed suit against IFC, alleging breach of contract and negligence because IFC improperly applied a dangerous pesticide while fumigating Severn’s peanut dome, resulting in fire, an explosion, loss of approximately 20,000,000 pounds of peanuts, loss of business, and various cleanup costs. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to IFC because the contract’s consequential damages exclusion bars Severn’s breach of contract claim, and because North Carolina does not allow Severn to veil that claim in tort law. View "Severn Peanut Co. v. Industrial Fumigant Co." on Justia Law
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Plaintiff was injured as the result of a train derailment. Plaintiff filed this negligence action in state court against Norfolk Southern Railway Company seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. Before trial, the district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff on the issue of whether Norfolk Southern’s negligence cause the derailment and granted summary judgment against Plaintiff on his claim for punitive damages. After a jury trial on the issue of Plaintiff’s compensatory damages, the jury awarded Plaintiff $2,977,383. The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court (1) erred in granting partial summary judgment to Plaintiff on the issue of Norfolk Southern’s liability for the accident because, while Plaintiff established that Norfolk Southern breached its duty as a matter of law to properly inspect the track, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Norfolk Southern’s breach proximately caused the derailment and Plaintiff’s injuries; and (2) properly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff’s punitive damages claim. View "Harris v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law
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Appellant-homeowners were victims of one of the largest residential arsons in Maryland history. Appellants sought to hold SSA Security, Inc. responsible for the arsons, which were allegedly committed by one of SSA's security guards. The district court granted summary judgment for SSA. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit certified to the Court of Appeals of Maryland a question of law regarding the Maryland Security Guards Act. The Court of Appeals answered that the Act does not impose liability beyond common law principles of respondeat superior such that an employer may be responsible for off-duty criminal acts while he or she was on duty. Because Appellants thus could not satisfy the common law doctrine of respondeat superior, the First Circuit affirmed in full the district court’s grant of summary judgment in SSA’s favor. View "Antonio v. SSA Security, Inc." on Justia Law
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