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

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Appellant challenged the district court's decision to grant the federal government's motion to dismiss the information filed against him in a juvenile delinquency proceeding without prejudice, and its decision to deny Appellant's motion to dismiss the information with prejudice. Appellant also challenged the district court's decision to authorize the federal government to disclose two confidential documents and Appellant's identity to third-parties, contending that the disclosed information should have been kept private. The court dismissed as interlocutory the appeal over the dismissal of the information without prejudice and the denial of Appellant's motion for dismissal with prejudice; affirmed the district court's authorization of disclosure of the confidential documents; and, because the court believed that the controversy surrounding the disclosure of Appellant's identity was moot on appeal, the court vacated the district court's decision to authorize disclosure of that information. View "United States v. Under Seal" on Justia Law

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North Carolina filed suit against Alcoa, seeking a declaratory judgment that North Carolina owns a 45-mile segment of the riverbed of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. The district court ruled as a matter of law that Alcoa successfully proved its title to 99% of the relevant segment under North Carolina's Marketable Title Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. 146-79, and to the remaining 1% under the doctrine of adverse possession. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in its factual finding that the Yadkin River was not navigable at statehood and did not err in concluding, as a matter of law, that Alcoa has good title to the riverbed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "North Carolina v. Alcoa Power Generating, Inc." on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, he appealed the denial of his motion to suppress evidence of statements he made during a traffic stop and of a firearm that was seized during the stop. The court concluded that the district court did not err in denying the suppression motion, because the traffic stop did not exceed the time reasonably required to complete the tasks incident to the mission of the stop. The court reasoned that the Supreme Court's decision in Rodriguez v. United States did not require courts to second-guess the logistical choices and actions of a police officer that, individually and collectively, were completed diligently within the confines of a lawful traffic stop. In this case, the court held that because the evidence shows that the officers acted with reasonable diligence in executing the tasks incident to the traffic stop, and the stop was not impermissibly expanded in scope or time beyond the pursuit of the stop's mission, the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Hill" on Justia Law
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This appeal arose out of two separate Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings that followed a similar pattern. On appeal, LVNV argued that the bankruptcy court's Chapter 13 plan confirmation orders barred the objections to LVNV's claims because those objections were filed after entry of the Confirmation Orders. The court held that debtors' objections to LVNV's proofs of claim as an unsecured creditor were not barred by the doctrine of res judicata; when the bankruptcy court confirmed debtors' Chapter 13 plans, it only considered treatment of unsecured creditors as a single class; there was no adjudication of the claim of any individual unsecured creditor as part of plan confirmation; determining the validity of individual unsecured claims was a distinctly separate process under section 502 both in procedure and timing; and thus an essential element of application of res judicata was simply absent from the Chapter 13 plan confirmation as to unsecured creditors like LVNV. Because res judicata did not apply in the bankruptcy court's later determination of contested unsecured claims under section 502, the court affirmed the judgment of the bankruptcy court. View "LVNV Funding, LLC v. Harling" on Justia Law
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Plaintiffs, three death row inmates in Virginia, filed suit alleging that their conditions of confinement amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Death row inmates, among other things, spent 23 hours a day alone; had only non-contact visits and contact visitations with immediate family members were subject to unspecified "extreme circumstances" with the warden maintaining unconstrained discretion to grant or deny such requests; and were barred from joining general population inmates for vocational, educational, or behavioral programming. After plaintiffs filed their complaint, defendants substantially changed the policies governing the conditions of confinement for inmates on Virginia's death row, addressing virtually all of the issues raised in plaintiffs' complaint. The district court concluded that plaintiffs' action was moot. The court agreed with plaintiffs that defendants' voluntary cessation of the challenged practice has not yet mooted this action because defendants failed to meet the Supreme Court's requirement of showing that it was absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur. In this case, nothing bars the Corrections Department from reverting to the challenged policies in the future. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Porter v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence from various offenses arising from his leadership of schemes wherein fraud was systematically utilized to keep his real estate empire afloat. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to convict defendant of the thirteen charges stated in the indictment; the trial court acted well within its discretion by instructing the jury on willful blindness; and defendant's below-Guidelines sentence of 216 months in prison was substantively reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Vinson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an inmate who is missing toes on his right foot, filed suit against defendants after he fell and injured himself while ascending the stairs to his upper-tier cell. The district court sua sponte dismissed the complaint based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The court held that the district court improperly sua sponte examined defendant's administrative exhaustion requirement. In this case, it was not apparent from the face of the complaint that plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The court explained that before Jones v. Bock, this court allowed district courts to sua sponte dismiss an inmate's complaint where exhaustion was not apparent in his pleading, so long as the court gave the inmate an opportunity to address the exhaustion question. In Jones, the Supreme Court held that failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, and that inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaint. After Jones, this Court held that, where exhaustion is not apparent from an inmate's pleading, a complaint may be dismissed on exhaustion grounds so long as the inmate is first given an opportunity to address the issue. The court held that to the extent that Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health Servs., Inc., allows courts to sua sponte dismiss complaints where exhaustion is unclear so long as an inmate receives only an opportunity to address the issue, it is irreconcilable with Jones and cannot survive. Because the district court erred in this case when it sua sponte examined plaintiff's exhaustion of available administrative remedies, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Custis v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The United States filed an application for prejudgment remedies under the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act (FDCPA), 28 U.S.C. 3001 et seq., seeking writs of attachment against personal and real property owned by defendants and writs of garnishment against bank accounts totaling approximately $16.7 million. The government argued that, because defendants violated the Anti-Kickback Statute, 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b, and the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729 et seq., defendants owed the United States at least $298 million. On appeal, defendants challenged the district court's denial of their motions to quash the writs of attachment against real and personal property and writs of garnishment against two bank accounts. The court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because the denial was an unreviewable interlocutory order. View "Bluewave Healthcare v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a class of retirees and their union, filed suit against Constellium after the company unilaterally altered its retiree health benefits program. The district court granted summary judgment to Constellium. The court interpreted Article 15 of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) using ordinary contract principles and concluded that the plain language of the CBA and summary plan description (SPD) clearly indicated that the retiree health benefits did not vest. The court rejected plaintiffs' assertion that the Cap Letters and other provisions of the CBA evince an intent to vest the retiree health benefits. The court also rejected plaintiffs' remaining claims and affirmed the judgment. View "Barton v. Constellium Rolled Products-Ravenwood, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former Battalion Chief, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the County and others, alleging that he was fired in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment free speech rights, and that the Department's social media policy was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants on the First Amendment claim, and dismissed as moot the facial challenge to the social media policy. The court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to defendants as to the First Amendment claim. In this case, at least some of plaintiff's Facebook activity prompting his termination implicated matters of public concern, and the Department's interest in workplace efficiency and preventing disruption outweighed the public interest commentary contained in plaintiff's Facebook activity. Because the court found that the district court properly granted defendants' motion for summary judgment against plaintiff, the court declined to review the as-applied challenge. The court concluded that the third-party facial challenge was properly dismissed as moot where defendants have adopted a new social media policy and revised code of conduct, as well as declared that the Department has no intent to reenact the offending policies. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Buker v. Howard County" on Justia Law