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

by
The Fourth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's conclusion that petitioner was not eligible for asylum, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). The court concluded that the Board erred in adopting the IJ's rationale regarding the corroborating evidence in this case; the Board committed legal error in concluding that petitioner had not established past persecution; and the Board committed legal error in concluding that petitioner had not established a nexus between her persecution and her particular social group. The court explained that the evidence established that petitioner's relationship with her husband's nuclear family was at least one central reason for her persecution and, likely, was the dominant reason. The court remanded for the Board to further consider petitioner's asylum claim so that she may receive the benefit of the presumption that she has a well-founded fear of future persecution if she returns to Honduras. View "Arita-Deras v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a complaint against federal employees in their individual capacities, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), based on sovereign immunity grounds.The court concluded that the Supreme Court's decision in Lewis v. Clarke, 137 S. Ct. 1285 (2017), does not purport to break from the Court's substantive approach to its real-party-in-interest jurisprudence, and plaintiff supplies the court with no compelling reason to extract any contrary holding. The court explained that the statutory mandate at the center of this case is the requirement that CMS "establish a system" for ensuring that applicants "receive notice of eligibility for an applicable State health subsidy program." The court concluded that, unlike the defendant in Lewis, defendants, as CMS employees, were plainly acting in furtherance of this federal mandate when they signed the contract with GDIT and instructed GDIT to place its automated calls. Therefore, defendants were acting in the course of their official duties and the United States is the real party in interest. View "Cunningham v. Lester" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, or possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances or to use a communication facility in committing and causing the facilitation of any felony controlled substance offense.The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions. The court also concluded that defendant has not demonstrated he is entitled to have his conviction vacated for a new trial because he has not shown error or prejudice. In this case, the court discerned no obvious problem with the verdict form despite the use of the "and/or" construction. Furthermore, because the conspiracy conviction can stand based on the first object of the conspiracy (drug distribution), the court need not consider defendant's challenge to the verdict form's wording of the second object of the conspiracy (use of a communication facility). The court further concluded that defendant has not met his initial burden of showing that he was entitled to a Franks hearing. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not commit reversible error in holding defendant responsible for between four and eight pounds of methamphetamine in determining his base offense level, and the district court did not err by imposing a two-level sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice under USSG 3C1.1. View "United States v. Seigler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Respondent — who was civilly committed in 2015 to the custody of the Attorney General under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 as a sexually dangerous person — was properly released under government-proposed conditions that prescribe a "regimen of medical, psychiatric, or psychological care or treatment," 18 U.S.C. 4248(e)(2). The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that respondent would be sexually dangerous to others without the conditions and that the district court did not procedurally err in imposing the conditions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Shea" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to lower his Sentencing Guidelines range. The court concluded that the Sentencing Guidelines generally prohibit courts from reducing a defendant's sentence where, as here, the original term of imprisonment is "less than the minimum of the amended guideline range." In this case, defendant was sentenced to a 180-month term of imprisonment for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. The court explained that defendant's original 180-month sentence is well below the 210-month minimum of the amended Guidelines range for his offense. The court also concluded that USSG 1B1.10(b)(2) does not irreconcilably conflict with 28 U.S.C. 991(b), and that section 1B1.10(b)(2) does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. View "United States v. Spruhan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Appellant filed suit on behalf of herself and her minor child, alleging that Principal Foster infringed on the child's First Amendment right to free speech when Foster determined that the child's fourth grade essay regarding the topic of LGBTQ equality was not age-appropriate and should not be included in the class's essay booklet.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that Foster's conduct was a proper exercise of the authority possessed by school officials to regulate school-sponsored student speech, and affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The court explained that the allegations underlying appellant's amended complaint, even if true, do not substantiate a violation of the child's constitutional rights. Applying Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), the court concluded that Foster's regulation of the child's speech was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns because Foster's refusal to include the child's essay in the fourth grade class's essay booklet was actuated at least in part by her concern that the essay's topic was "not age-appropriate" for fourth graders. Furthermore, even assuming, without deciding, that school officials' restrictions on school-sponsored student speech must be viewpoint neutral, the court concluded that appellant has not plausibly alleged that Foster's restriction on the child's speech violated that principle. Finally, although the district court did not comply with procedural requirements before sua sponte dismissing appellant's constitutional claim against the school district, the court concluded that the district court's failure to give appellant these procedural protections does not necessitate reversal because she was not prejudiced by the result. In this case, appellant cannot plausibly demonstrate that a constitutional violation occurred. View "Robertson v. Anderson Mill Elementary School" on Justia Law

by
Defendants Young and Volious were convicted of (1) a criminal conspiracy with several objectives; (2) aiding and abetting the transportation of an explosive in interstate commerce to kill an individual; (3) aiding and abetting the mailing of a non-mailable item with intent to kill; and (4) aiding and abetting the carrying of an explosive during the commission of a felony. Defendants' convictions stemmed from their plan to kill Young's ex-wife by mailing her a bomb.The Fourth Circuit concluded that, as a matter of law, an inert bomb that contains explosives qualifies as a nonmailable item under 18 U.S.C. 1716, and that sufficient evidence supported defendants' convictions for aiding and abetting the mailing of a nonmailable item. Furthermore, because mailing a nonmailable item with intent to kill under section 1716(j) was the predicate felony, the court upheld the jury's convictions for aiding and abetting the carrying of an explosive during the commission of a felony in violation of 18 U.S.C. 844(h). Finally, the court rejected Volious's challenges to the indictment, the jury instructions, and the district court's denial of his pre-trial motion to sever. View "United States v. Young" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion seeking to recover reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses from Montgomery County, Maryland. This case arose from the County's failure to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's disability. The district court concluded that plaintiff is not eligible for such an award because she was not a prevailing party under 29 U.S.C. 794a(b).The court found this case similar to Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970), and concluded that plaintiff is even more of a prevailing party than the Parham plaintiff. The court explained that plaintiff is not a prevailing party because she catalyzed the County to change its behavior by filing a lawsuit; rather, she is a prevailing party because she proved her claim to a jury before the County capitulated by transferring her to another call center. Furthermore, the transfer was key to the district court's subsequent finding that the County reasonably accommodated plaintiff and thus the district court's ultimate denial of plaintiff's request for equitable relief. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland" on Justia Law

by
Movant seeks authorization to file a successive 28 U.S.C. 2255 application based on the holding in Davis v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), that the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)'s crime-of-violence definition was unconstitutionally vague. The Fourth Circuit joined its sister circuits in holding that Davis applies retroactively to cases on collateral review. The court also found that movant has stated a plausible claim for relief that warrants review by a district court. Accordingly, the court granted the motion. View "In re: Dearnta Thomas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
After plaintiff experienced a serious fall down a short flight of stairs, she filed a premises liability action against defendants for negligence and negligence per se. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, holding that plaintiff did not offer sufficient evidence that there was a dangerous condition, defendants had notice of the condition, or the alleged dangerous condition caused her fall.The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude the loose bricks and the gap between them and the step posed a dangerous condition; there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants had constructive notice of the hazard; and there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable inference of causation. View "Sedar v. Reston Town Center Property, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury