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

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Nine parents of students with disabilities who attend South Carolina public schools and two disability advocacy organizations filed suit challenging a South Carolina provision in the South Carolina state budget that prohibits school districts from using appropriated funds to impose mask mandates. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the parents and the disability advocacy organizations lack standing to sue the governor and the attorney general, and thus vacated the district court's order granting the preliminary injunction as to those defendants. In this case, although plaintiffs have alleged a nexus between their claimed injuries and the Proviso, they have not established that such injuries are fairly traceable to defendants' conduct or would be redressed by a favorable ruling against defendants. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss defendants from this case. View "Disability Rights South Carolina v. McMaster" on Justia Law

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In two consolidated cases, petitioners seek review of the Forest Service and BLM's decisions to allow the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross three and a half miles of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and West Virginia. The Fourth Circuit previously vacated the agencies' records of decision (RODs) because the Forest Service and the BLM failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Forest Management Act (the NFMA), and the Mineral Leasing Act (the MLA). Petitioners argue that the agencies' renewed RODs after remand also violate NEPA, the NFMA, and the MLA.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the Forest Service and the BLM inadequately considered the actual sedimentation and erosion impacts of the Pipeline; prematurely authorized the use of the conventional bore method to construct stream crossings; and failed to comply with the Forest Service's 2012 Planning Rule. Accordingly, the court granted the petitions for review as to those errors; denied the petitions for review in regard to petitioners' remaining arguments about the predecisional review process, alternative routes, and increased collocation; vacated the decisions of the Forest Service and the BLM; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wild Virginia v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a False Claims Act qui tam suit against his employer, Forest Laboratories, alleging that it engaged in a fraudulent price reporting scheme under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Statute by failing to aggregate discounts given to separate customers for purposes of reporting "Best Price."The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, concluding that because Forest Laboratories' reading of the Rebate Statute was at the very least objectively reasonable and because it was not warned away from that reading by authoritative guidance, it did not act "knowingly" under the Act. In this case, Forest Laboratories made eminently reasonable assumptions based on the statutory text, and CMS invited assumptions precisely of this sort. The court noted that the government is not without recourse. Should Congress so wish, it can alter the Rebate Statute to require the aggregate reporting of discounts to separate entities. View "United States ex rel. Sheldon v. Allergan Sales, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that, after the Commissioner of Internal Revenue conceded that a taxpayer owed $0 and was entitled to the removal of any lien or levy, the United States Tax Court did not have jurisdiction to determine that the taxpayer overpaid and to order a refund. The court affirmed the district court's judgment, explaining that, when as here, the Commissioner has already conceded that a taxpayer has no tax liability and that the lien should be removed, any appeal to the Tax Court of the Appeals Office's determination as to the collection action is moot. The court stated that the phrase "underlying tax liability" does not provide the Tax Court jurisdiction over independent overpayment claims when the collection action no longer exists. View "McLane v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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On rehearing en banc, the court vacated defendant's sentence for possession with intent to distribute hydrocodone and oxycodone. Instead of pursuing defendant's objections, counsel relied entirely on a motion to enter a drug court diversion program (the BRIDGE program) that could have permitted defendant, if admitted, to enter treatment instead of going to prison.The court concluded that defendant clearly received ineffective assistance of counsel where counsel was unequivocally wrong on the law when he waived her meritorious objections to the PSR on the ground that none of those objections reduce the number that is relevant to this court. Rather, if successful, defendant's objections would have reduced the low end of her Sentencing Guidelines range by almost ten years. Because counsel's deficient performance prejudiced plaintiff, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Freeman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion seeking to vacate his sentence. The district court found that defendant qualified as an armed career criminal by relying on prior convictions that were not identified as predicates in defendant's presentence report and of which he had no notice at sentencing. The court concluded that the district court's finding was contrary to United States v. Hodge, 902 F.3d 420 (4th Cir. 2018), which held that the government cannot rely on collateral review on ACCA predicates that were not identified at sentencing, in order to preserve an enhancement that no longer can be sustained by the original predicates. Because there was a Hodge violation in this case, the court vacated defendant's 18 U.S.C. 922(g) sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Benton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Nadendla, a physician, is of Indian origin. Nadendla was a member of WakeMed’s hospital's medical staff where she was granted clinical privileges in 2010, In 2017, citing “clinical concerns,” WakeMed informed Nadendla that she would not be reappointed clinical privileges; her appointment on the medical staff would expire. Nadendla requested a hearing, pursuant to the Bylaws. She alleges that WakeMed’s actions during the hearing process “exhibited an abject lack of fairness” and deprived her of adequate process in contravention of the Bylaws.Nadendla sued the hospital under 42 U.S.C. 1981, which guarantees to all persons in the United States “the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.’” The district court initially ruled that Nadendla sufficiently stated a section 1981 claim and state-law claims for breach of contract and for arbitrary and capricious conduct, but subsequently dismissed Nadendla’s section 1981 claim. The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part. The district court had the discretion to revisit its prior order and did not abuse its discretion in doing so. The complaint contained extensive, specific allegations regarding WakeMed’s failure to abide by the Bylaws but details regarding race are conspicuously absent. The court reversed the dismissal of Nadendla’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. View "Nadendla v. WakeMed" on Justia Law

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North Carolina inmate Moskos asked Officer Hardee for permission to cross the prison yard to get cold water. Hardee denied this request. Shortly thereafter, Moskos encountered Officer Butler, who allowed him to use a nearby cooler. Returning, Moskos encountered Hardee again. According to Butler and Hardee, Moskos attacked Hardee. Officer Horne ran to the scene and used pepper spray when Moskos refused to stop. According to Moskos, he had threatened to file a grievance against Hardee and Hardee struck him in the head without warning. Moskos complained that his eyes were burning, and according to an officer, he was given a shower within 30-45 minutes, subjected to a full medical assessment, then transferred to a medical center. Moskos disputes the timing and claims that when he returned from the hospital, he was placed in a segregation unit with horrible conditions and not allowed to shower or shave for about 20 days. Moskos was found guilty of assault on an officer, profane language, and disobeying an order. He lost 15 good-credit days, was sentenced to 60 days in segregation, and was transferred to a maximum-level security facility,Moskos unsuccessfully submitted a prison grievance then filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Fourth Circuit affirmed judgment as a matter of law for the defendants on his deliberate indifference and due process claims and a defense jury verdict on the remaining claims. View "Moskos v. Hardee" on Justia Law

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Moses was convicted of two counts of drug trafficking. The district court sentenced him as a career offender under U.S.S.G. 4B1.1, based on two prior drug-trafficking convictions. Moses argued that the conduct involved in one prior conviction was part of the same course of conduct as his current offenses and should have been considered “relevant conduct” under section 1B1.3, rather than as criminal history. Application Note 5(C) to section 1B1.3 states that “conduct associated with a sentence that was imposed prior to” the conduct of the instant offense “is not considered” to be relevant conduct. Moses argued that Application Note 5(C) is not entitled to controlling weight.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, declining to apply the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Kisor” rule, which limited controlling deference to an executive agency’s reasonable interpretation of its own regulations to where “the regulation is genuinely ambiguous.” The court applied the 1993 “Stinson” ruling, which held that Guidelines commentary, even when the related Guideline is unambiguous, is authoritative and binding on courts unless the commentary is inconsistent with law or the Guideline itself. Noting disagreement among the circuits, the court reasoned that subjecting Guidelines commentary to the Kisor framework would deny courts the benefit of much of the Guidelines commentary. The Guidelines themselves state that the failure to follow commentary could result in “an incorrect application of the guidelines” and subject sentences to “possible reversal on appeal,” U.S.S.G. 1B1.7. View "United States v. Moses" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The district court dismissed a class action, alleging that Carrington violated the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (MCDCA) and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) by charging $5 convenience fees to borrowers who paid monthly mortgage bills online or by phone. The district court held that in charging the convenience fees, Carrington was not a “collector” for either MCDCA claim, that Carrington was not a “debt collector” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. 1692f(1)), that plaintiffs’ choice to use the online payment option was “permitted by law,” that Carrington’s convenience fees were not “incidental” to plaintiffs’ mortgage debt, and that Carrington had the “right” to collect the convenience fees since none of the mortgage documents expressly prohibited the fees and plaintiffs voluntarily chose to make payments online.The Fourth Circuit reversed in part. Carrington need not be a debt collector under federal standards for plaintiffs’ state claim to proceed. Carrington violated the MCDCA by engaging in conduct violating the FDCPA, so the derivative MCPA claim can also proceed. The FDCPA prohibits “[t]he collection of any amount . . . unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.” View "Alexander v. Carrington Mortgage Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law