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

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K.I., a minor who lives in Durham, North Carolina, was diagnosed with a variety of learning and psycho-social disorders. Dissatisfied with her school’s response to her request for special education services, K.I. and her mother J.I. asked for and received a hearing under North Carolina’s administrative procedures. Because they disagreed with the hearing decision, K.I. and J.I. tried to appeal it administratively. But their appeal was not considered because K.I. and J.I. did not follow North Carolina’s rules for filing appeals. K.I. and J.I. sued in federal court under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”). The district court found that K.I. and J.I.’s failure to properly appeal under North Carolina’s administrative rules meant that they had not exhausted their administrative remedies. So, it dismissed the federal action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. K.I. and J.I.’s appeal of that decision.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court held that it agreed with the district court because K.I. and J.I. did not challenge the court’s ruling on the ADA and Section 504 claims; the issue is waived. Second, the court found that the district court correctly analyzed these claims. Both the ADA and Section 504 claims sought relief due to the alleged failure of Durham Public Schools and the State Board to provide a FAPE to K.I. Thus, under Fry, the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement applied to those claims. The court also affirmed the district court in dismissing the ADA and Section 504 claims. View "K.I. v. Durham Public Schools Board" on Justia Law

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Defendant appeals the district court’s order denying relief on her 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence. Defendant claimed that her trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to move to suppress information obtained from a search warrant that relied, in part, on the Government’s warrantless procurement of certain data from her cell phone service provider.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because the Government relied in good faith on court orders issued in accordance with the Federal Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S.C. Section 2703 et. seq., did not request the data in its subpoenas, and the use of a subpoena to obtain the data was lawful at the time; the court held the district court’s admission of the challenged evidence must be sustained. Thus, any motion to suppress filed before Defendant’s trial would not have been meritorious. View "US v. Gloria Taylor" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant on two counts of lying to the FBI, violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). The district court sentenced him to concurrent 60-month prison terms. On appeal, Defendant challenged (1) the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss Count Two of his indictment as multiplicitous, (2) the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict, (3) the district court’s allegedly prejudicial statements to the jury, (4) the district court’s refusal to give an entrapment instruction, and (5) the district court’s application of a terrorism enhancement at sentencing.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to dismiss Count Two, vacated the judgment, and remanded for resentencing. The court otherwise affirmed. The court concluded that Defendant’s false statements denying relevant knowledge could have influenced the FBI’s investigation. The court further wrote that Defendant claims the district court erred in applying the terrorism enhancement because it failed to expressly find specific intent. However, the court explained it need not delve into this question given that the court is remanding for resentencing because of the district court’s error on multiplicity. On remand, the district court can address the merits of Defendant’s claim regarding the terrorism enhancement. View "US v. Alexander Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner petitioned or review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ final removal order under 8 U.S.C. Section 1252. The Board held that Petitioner, as the recipient of a K-1 nonimmigrant visa, couldn’t adjust status to that of a conditional permanent resident without an affidavit of support from her former husband, who originally petitioned for her K-1 visa.   The Fourth Circuit denied the petition, finding that the Board’s decision to be reasonable under Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). The court held that the Board didn’t act arbitrarily or capriciously by hewing to a regulatory provision that applies on its face, even if another (facially inapplicable) provision might have better protected Petitioner’s reliance interests.   Petitioner’s petition also seeks review of the Board’s refusal to reopen her removal proceedings so she could introduce a document entitled “Questions and Answers: USCIS— American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Meeting,” dated October 9, 2012. Petitioner suggested that this document supported her argument that subsection (f)(1) (and not (f)(2)) should apply to K-1 beneficiaries’ adjustment applications, such that a petitioner couldn’t withdraw a Form I-864 once the K-1 beneficiary has entered the United States. The document doesn’t render the Board’s decision unreasonable. At oral argument, both parties agreed that the document is ambiguous as to whether it truly reflected USCIS’s position in 2012. But even if it did, the Board’s later precedential decision in Petitioner’s case binds USCIS employees. View "Sothon Song v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to a drug offense and a related firearms offense in violation of federal law. He was sentenced as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines based on two prior state convictions: a 2007 conviction for assault with intent to kill (AWIK) and a 2013 conviction for what the district court determined was possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute (PWID). On appeal, Defendant challenged his career-offender status and the resulting sentence. He first argued that the district court erred in relying on inconclusive state-court sentencing documents to find that Defendant’s 2013 drug conviction was, in fact, a conviction for PWID. Second, Defendant questions whether his 2007 AWIK conviction remains a Guidelines crime of violence following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Borden v. United States. 
 The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that the district court did not err in relying on Defendant’s state-court sentencing sheet to determine that his 2013 conviction qualified as a controlled substance offense. And because Defendant did not contest that his AWIK conviction qualified as a predicate offense in his initial briefing with this Court, that argument is waived. View "US v. Cory Boyd" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed the district court’s order denying his First Step Act motion, which asked the court to reduce his completed sentence of incarceration or retroactively declare that he is a misdemeanant rather than a felon. Insofar as Defendant has moved for a reduction of his already-completed sentence, his request is moot because he has no continuing interest in serving less time on a sentence that he is no longer serving.   The Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the district court with directions that it be dismissed. The court explained that insofar as Defendant has moved for a reduction of his already-completed sentence, his request is moot because he has no continuing interest in serving less time on a sentence that he is no longer serving. Insofar as Defendant has moved for a retroactive reclassification of his offense from a felony to a misdemeanor, the court was powerless to grant relief because no statute authorized such reclassification. View "US v. Darwyn Payne" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was indicted on one count of unlawfully possessing a firearm. The firearms at issue were uncovered during a traffic stop. Defendant was traveling in the backseat of a vehicle when the vehicle was stopped by the officer for having an inoperable taillight. After printing a warning citation for the driver, the officer used his canine to sniff around the vehicle and then conducted a full search when the dog alerted, uncovering two firearms in Defendant’s backpack. The district court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of the firearms, concluding that the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop and conduct the search.   On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred by (1) denying her motion to transfer the proceedings to another district pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 21(a) and (2) finding that the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s order denying Defendant’s motion to suppress, vacated Defendant’s conviction and sentence, and remanded to the district court. The court held that (1) Defendant’s motion to transfer was appropriately denied and (2) the officer lacked a reasonable, articulable factual basis for extending the traffic stop to conduct the dog sniff. View "US v. Teresa Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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While serving his federal sentence, Appellant asked the warden of the facility where he was incarcerated to file a motion for compassionate release on his behalf. After the warden denied his request, Appellant moved for compassionate release in federal district court. In addition to the arguments for compassionate release that Appellant presented to the warden, which were related to his medical condition, Appellant’s motion for compassionate release in the district court included arguments that his convictions and sentence were unlawful. The district court denied Appellant’s motion.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that while it agreed with Appellant that he was not required to include the arguments about his convictions and sentence in his request for compassionate release to the warden, the court agreed with the district court that Appellant cannot challenge the validity of his convictions and sentence through a compassionate release motion. View "US v. Dwayne Ferguson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellant appealed the district court’s dismissal of her amended complaint filed against her former employer, the United States Department of the Army. Appellant alleged that she experienced a hostile work environment due to race-based harassment from a co-worker and retaliation by her supervisors through both discrete acts and a retaliatory hostile work environment.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s discrete-act retaliation claim but vacated its dismissal of her race-based hostile work environment and retaliatory hostile work environment claim. The court explained that Appellant has stated a prima facie case. The court wrote that an “employee’s decision to report discriminatory behavior cannot immunize that employee from those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience,” but the consistent (even if not constant) conduct Appellant alleged plausibly qualifies as materially adverse. The court further wrote that it agreed that Appellant failed to allege a non-speculative link between her Title VII claim and her non-selection. View "Marie Laurent-Workman v. Christine Wormuth" on Justia Law

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Three independent contractors of Eastman Chemical Company were severely injured, one of them fatally, when a pump exploded during maintenance. Eastman moved to dismiss their state-law personal injury suits, contending that the contractors qualified as Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law – which would mean that workers’ compensation was their exclusive remedy and that the courts lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.   The district court agreed that Plaintiffs were Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the workers’ compensation law and dismissed their actions. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held their cases in abeyance pending the decision of South Carolina’s Supreme Court in Keene v. CNA Holdings, LLC, 870 S.E.2d 156 (2021).   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling. The court explained that in Keene, when an employer makes a “legitimate business decision” to outsource a portion of its work, the contractors it hires to perform that work are not “statutory employees” for workers’ compensation purposes. 870 S.E.2d at 163. No party here contests that Eastman’s outsourcing of its maintenance and repair work was a “legitimate business decision.” It follows that the plaintiffs, independent contractors performing maintenance at the time of the 2016 pump explosion, were not statutory employees and may bring personal injury actions. View "Sallie Zeigler v. Eastman Chemical Company" on Justia Law