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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the City and the Foundation in an action alleging discriminatory taxation in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. The court applied the factors in San Juan Cellular Tel. Co. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 967 F.2d 683, 685 (1st Cir. 1992), and held that the City's storm water management charge was a fee, rather than a tax, and therefore was not subject to the Act's requirements. In this case, the charge was imposed by the City's legislative body, and the charge was part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. City of Roanoke" on Justia Law

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The risks of torture from all sources should be combined when determining whether a Convention Against Torture (CAT) applicant is more likely than not to be tortured in a particular country. The Fourth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's final order affirming the denial of petitioner's claim for protection under CAT. The court agreed with petitioner that the BIA made a legal error when it denied him CAT relief because it failed to aggregate his risk of torture from all three of the entities that he fears: gangs, vigilante groups, and the police. The court also agreed with petitioner that the BIA and IJ erred by (1) failing to meaningfully engage with the live testimony and over 300 pages of documentary evidence that he originally produced in support of his claim, and (2) failing to meaningfully consider the additional evidence that he submitted on remand about the risk of torture that he faced in El Salvador. Therefore, the court held that the BIA and IJ failed to provide a cogent, articulable basis for its determination that petitioner's evidence was insufficient. Accordingly, the court vacated the BIA's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez-Arias v. Whitaker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law

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Plaintiff, a student, filed suit alleging that school officials used statements about Islam to endorse that religion over Christianity and thus compelled plaintiff against her will to profess a belief in Islam. At issue in this appeal was whether two statements concerning Islamic beliefs, presented as part of a high school world history class, violated a student's First Amendment rights under either the Establishment Clause or the Free Speech Clause. The Fourth Circuit held that the challenged coursework materials, viewed in the context in which they were presented, did not violate the student's First Amendment rights, because they did not impermissibly endorse any religion and did not compel the student to profess any belief. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants. View "Wood v. Arnold" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain promotion can ever give rise to her employer's liability under Title VII for discrimination "because of sex." In this case, plaintiff was terminated after she complained of a hostile work environment stemming from the rumor. The Fourth Circuit held that the allegations of the employee's complaint, where the employer was charged with participating in the circulation of the rumor and acting on it by sanctioning the employee, did implicate such liability. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims alleging discrimination and retaliation for complaining about such a workplace condition. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the third claim because the employee failed to exhaust it before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. View "Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc" on Justia Law

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A consulting company and its owner appealed the district court's determination that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to pay certain employees proper overtime compensation. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment holding that the payment system violated the FLSA because it used a blended rate that functioned as the actual hourly rate for all hours worked, regardless of whether those hours were overtime or non-overtime. The court noted that, upholding such a scheme and accepting the company's retroactive justifications would undercut one of the fundamental purposes of the FLSA: ensuring that employees are adequately paid for all overtime hours. View "US Department of Labor v. Fire & Safety Investigation Consulting Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction of eight counts related to sex trafficking and child pornography. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court should have suppressed the evidence from defendant's cellphone, and the error was not harmless because the remaining evidence did not satisfy the elements of the two child pornography counts. The court held, however, that the district court did not err in admitting the hearsay statements. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's conviction as to the two child pornography counts and affirmed the other six counts, vacated defendant's sentence, and remanded to the district court. View "United States v. Pratt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Bankruptcy Code does not bar a creditor from asserting an unsecured claim for attorneys' fees, if those fees are incurred after the filing of a bankruptcy petition but guaranteed by a pre-petition contract. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's determination to the contrary and remanded for further proceedings. In this case, the court held that neither 11 U.S.C. 502(b) or 506(b) expressly disallows a creditor like SummitBridge from asserting an unsecured claim for post-petition attorneys' fees based on a valid pre-petition contract. View "SummitBridge National Investments III, LLC v. Faison" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy

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Trana, a developer of technology that could help find new drugs to treat HIV, filed suit against Southern, a contract research organization, for fraud and negligent representation. Trana alleged that Southern failed to identify certain promising compounds as potential HIV treatments (false negatives results) and Southern falsely identified other compounds as potential treatments when in fact they were not (false positives results). The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Southern, holding that Trana's false negatives theory represented an attempt to shoehorn a claim for professional negligence or breach of contract into one for negligent misrepresentation. Furthermore, in regard to the false positives theory, Trana has not presented any theory that explains the reasonableness of pursuing patents on compounds that it knew had no commercial value. Therefore, Trana's reliance on the false positives was unreasonable. View "Trana Discovery, Inc. v. Southern Research Institute" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law

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The Church and Reverend appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims against the county and board under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Free Exercise Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Article 36 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. This action stemmed from the board's dismissal of a second petition to approve the use of plaintiff's property as a church. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing plaintiffs' RLUIPA claim because plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the dismissal of the second petition imposed a substantial burden on their religious practice; the complaint plausibly alleged a prima facie claim of religious discrimination; and, while the county may have a significant interest in finality and economy that would ordinarily be served by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, the dismissal of the second petition was not narrowly tailored to serve that interest because the second petition did not seek to revisit the board's decision about the first petition. Accordingly, the court vacated these claims and remanded for further proceedings. The court also vacated the state constitutional claim. View "Jesus Christ is the Answer Ministries, Inc. v. Baltimore County" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for armed bank robbery and related crimes following a successful petition vacating his original sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Defendant argued that he received no benefit from the plea agreement because his previous conviction for a New York robbery offense did not count as his third strike. The court held, however, that the text and structure of 18 U.S.C. 3559(c) showed a congressional intent to encompass state laws such as the New York robbery offense in this case, which shared the essential characteristics of the enumerated robbery offenses under federal law. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law