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

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Virginia state law against two Arlington County police officers and a mental health examiner, alleging that the Arlington County defendants unlawfully seized and detained her for a mental health evaluation in violation of the Fourth Amendment and falsely imprisoned her in violation of Virginia state law. Plaintiff also filed suit against her employer, PAE, and three of PAE's employees, alleging that the PAE defendants conspired with the Arlington County defendants to unlawfully seize her and falsely imprison her, also in violation of section 1983 and Virginia state law.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Arlington County defendants on plaintiff's section 1983 claims where the Arlington County defendants had probable cause to detain plaintiff for an emergency mental health evaluation. Even assuming that they did not have probable cause to detain plaintiff, the Arlington County defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of their conduct was not clearly established at the time. Even if plaintiff had properly raised her challenge, the court also affirmed the dismissal of the state law conspiracy claims against the Arlington County defendants where the officers had the requisite legal justification to detain plaintiff for the evaluation, and they followed the legal process provided by Virginia law in doing so.The court further affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's section 1983 claim against the PAE defendants where plaintiff's allegations that the officers conspired with the PAE defendants to illegally seize her and remove her from the workplace for a psychological evaluation is comprised of nothing more than conclusory assertions and rank speculation. Furthermore, plaintiff's state law conspiracy claims rest upon the same conclusory and speculative allegation that the PAE employees and the police officers conspired to violate her civil rights and to falsely imprison her, regardless of how she acted or what she said to the police. The court affirmed the dismissal of this claim as well. View "Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to operating a commercial vehicle without a permit and entered a conditional guilty plea to a marijuana charge, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the Government has not carried its burden to show that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop defendant or that the stop was a valid administrative inspection under New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987). In this case, absent articulable suspicion that defendant lacked the required permit to drive on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the officer was not entitled to stop defendant's vehicle at his discretion to check whether defendant possessed a permit. Furthermore, the officer was not acting pursuant to commercial trucking regulations when he stopped defendant's vehicle. Because the initial traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment, any evidence obtained from it, including the marijuana found in defendant's shoe, should have been suppressed. Therefore, the court vacated defendant's marijuana conviction and remanded. View "United States v. Feliciana" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Six years after defendant received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for crimes he committed when he was 17 years old, he moved to vacate his sentence in light of the Supreme Court’s intervening decisions in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). The district court resentenced defendant to life imprisonment without parole after concluding that he presents "one of those uncommon cases where sentencing a juvenile to the hardest possible penalty is appropriate."The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that, even assuming the district court plainly erred in not vacating defendant's witness tampering by murder conviction, he has not shown that the error affected his substantial rights. The court also held that defendant's sentence of life imprisonment without parole is procedurally reasonable where the district court conducted a thorough resentencing and did not abuse its discretion in its consideration of defendant's age at the time of the offense or his postconviction diagnosis and conduct. Furthermore, the district court amply explained why it concluded that "the harshest possible penalty"—life imprisonment without parole—was appropriate. Finally, the court held that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that defendant's crimes, committed when he was 7-and-a-half months shy of his 18th birthday, reflected irreparable corruption rather than "the transient immaturity of youth." View "United States v. McCain" on Justia Law

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Baltimore filed suit against the Government, alleging that HHS's Final Rule, prohibiting physicians and other providers in Title X programs from referring patients for an abortion, even if that is the patient's wish, violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Final Rule, instead, requires them to refer the patient for prenatal care. Furthermore, the Final Rule requires entities receiving Title X funds, but offering abortion-related services pursuant to another source of funds, to physically separate their abortion-related services from the Title X services. After the district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the Government from implementing or enforcing the Final Rule because the Final Rule is likely not in accordance with law, the Government appealed. While the appeal of the preliminary injunction was pending and after discovery, the district court issued a permanent injunction on different grounds.The Fourth Circuit consolidated the appeals and a majority of the full court voted to hear both cases en banc. The court upheld the district court's grant of the permanent injunction on two grounds: first, the Final Rule was promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious manner because it failed to recognize and address the ethical concerns of literally every major medical organization in the country, and it arbitrarily estimated the cost of the physical separation of abortion services; and second, the Final Rule contravenes statutory provisions requiring nondirective counseling in Title X programs and prohibiting interference with physician/patient communications. Accordingly, because the court affirmed the permanent injunction in Case No. 20-1215, the appeal of the preliminary injunction in Case No. 19-1614 is moot and the court dismissed it. View "Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Azar" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's denial of petitioner's application for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and ordering his removal from the United States to El Salvador. The court held that substantial evidence supported the findings that petitioner was not entitled to asylum and withholding of removal. In this case, the record does not compel the conclusion that the Salvadoran government was unwilling or unable to control MS-13. Therefore, the court must uphold the IJ and BIA's conclusion that petitioner does not qualify as a refugee under 8 U.S.C. 1102(a)(42)(A), and is ineligible for asylum and withholding of removal.The court also held that substantial evidence in the record supports the BIA's determination that petitioner was not eligible for CAT protection, and the BIA did not otherwise err in dismissing the appeal of the IJ's denial of petitioner's CAT application. In this case, the IJ did not commit legal error, much less an obvious one, in finding that petitioner failed to establish that it was more likely than not that he would be tortured in El Salvador with the consent or acquiescence of the government. View "Portillo-Flores v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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A jury awarded plaintiff $1 million on his claims against Sparrows Point for nonpayment of a commission on the sale of a large parcel of industrial property located on the Sparrows Point peninsula. Defendants contend that the evidence is insufficient to support the jury's verdict as to all claims. In the alternative, they seek a new trial, contending that the district court erred in admitting evidence of an alleged effort to compromise plaintiff's claim to a commission and in granting plaintiff a jury trial.The Fourth Circuit held that the evidence of defendants' effort to compromise plaintiff's claim was not admissible for any purpose under Federal Rule of Evidence 408 and the error was not harmless. The court explained that, even assuming that the evidence is sufficient as a matter of law to support the jury's verdict, the court cannot be confident that the jury was not substantially swayed by the evidentiary error. Therefore, the court held that defendants are entitled to a new trial. Finally, the court found that the district court enjoyed ample discretion to grant plaintiff's untimely request for a jury trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 39(b), and thus the new trial may remain before a jury. View "Macsherry v. Sparrows Point, LLC" on Justia Law

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MSI, a non-profit organization dedicated to gun owner rights, individuals, and Atlantic, a family-owned, federally licensed firearms dealer that operates Maryland commercial gun stores, challenged Maryland Senate Bill 707 banning "rapid-fire trigger activators," which when attached to a firearm, increase its rate of fire or trigger activation, citing the Takings Clause and alleging that the statute was void for vagueness. The Fourth Circuit initially affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of standing.In an amended opinion, the court reversed in part. Atlantic has standing to pursue the Second Amendment claim. Uncontroverted testimony plus Maryland State Police records and Atlantic's year-over-year sales records are sufficient to establish an injury in fact for purposes of Article III standing. The extent of Atlantic's economic injury—including its ability to identify lost customers as well as the scope of the purported decline in handguns sold and lost revenue— are material issues of fact to be resolved in the Second Amendment analysis on the merits. Atlantic also has third-party standing to challenge the handgun qualification license requirement on behalf of potential customers like the individual plaintiffs and other similarly situated persons. The court otherwise affirmed the dismissal. MSI lacked organizational standing; it failed to prove the law hindered its ability to pursue its mission. The individual plaintiffs had not sought licenses. View "Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Hogan" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm in light of United States v. Medley, ---F.3d--- (4th Cir. 2020). In Medley, the court held that the failure of an indictment to provide proper notice combined with an improper jury instruction that omits an element of a crime are substantial errors that ought to be corrected under plain error review.In this case, defendant argued that Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), renders his indictment and conviction invalid where neither the indictment nor the jury instructions included a crucial element of the offense—that he knew his relevant status when he possessed the firearm. Applying Medley, the court held that the errors in this case warrant correction where defendant's indictment failed to provide him with notice that the Government would attempt to prove that he knew his prohibited status; afterwards, his conviction was predicated on an indictment that failed to allege an essential element of an offense and a verdict by a jury that was informed the Government was not required to prove that defendant knew his prohibited status; and, at trial, there was little—if any—evidence presented that would support that defendant knew his prohibited status. Therefore, the errors occurred at the inception of the Government's case against defendant and continued throughout. The court remanded with instructions to the district court to enter judgment dismissing the count without prejudice. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3583(e)(2) cannot be used to challenge the terms or conditions of supervised release on the ground that they are unlawful.After defendant pleaded guilty to two counts related to his role in a commercial sex operation and received a sentence of 70 months' imprisonment and five years' supervised release, the district court required that he register as a sex offender as a condition of supervised release. Defendant moved to modify the conditions of his supervised release under section 3583(e)(2), contending that the sex offender registration condition was illegal as applied to his offense of conviction. The district court denied the motion and defendant appealed. The Fourth Circuit held that defendant's motion for modification attacked the registration requirement on the ground that it was unlawful, using a motion under section 3583(e)(2) as a pathway to bring such a challenge presumably because other pathways (including a direct appeal) are now foreclosed. The court stated that defendant's current section 3583(e)(2) challenge is impermissible because it rests on the factual and legal premises that existed at the time of his sentencing. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal. View "United States v. McLeod" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2241 habeas application, rejecting his claim that he is entitled to habeas relief based on United States v. Chamberlain, 868 F.3d 290, 295 (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc), and the Sixth Amendment. In Chamberlain, the court held that the criminal forfeiture statute permits freezing only those assets traceable to the charged offense.The court held that petitioner failed to show that section 2255 would be "inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." In this case, the court's existing "savings clause" jurisprudence makes abundantly clear that a section 2255 motion is fully adequate to address alleged Sixth Amendment violations. Furthermore, petitioner's statutory claim still fails the court's "savings clause" tests. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed the section 2241 application for lack of jurisdiction. View "Farkas v. Warden" on Justia Law