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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress child pornography images that were seized from his computer pursuant to a search warrant issued by a state magistrate judge. The court held that, even if the Fourth Amendment might require more specificity as to the place to be searched or the items to be seized in some computer searches, defendant failed to convince the court that the Fourth Amendment demanded that the descriptions of the place to be searched and the things to be seized needed to be more specific in this case.The court also affirmed the district court's ruling that the constitutionality of the warrant was unaffected by the superfluous language included at the end of the warrant; affirmed the district court's application of the plain view doctrine to the evidence of child pornography; and rejected defendant's belated request that the court not follow its own prior holding in United States v. Williams, and hold instead that ordinary principles of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, including the plain view doctrine, should not apply to computer searches. View "United States v. Cobb" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit dismissed the County's petition to vacate or set aside the FAA's modified air-traffic procedure, or series of flight routes, that governs westbound departing aircraft at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (TERPZ-6). The court agreed with the FAA that the petition is untimely under 49 U.S.C. 46110(a) because it was filed well over sixty days after the issuance of the agency's relevant order. In this case, the County unreasonably waited 110 days to demand voluntary relief from the FAA as a first resort, and six months for the agency to come to the table. Therefore, the County's belated effort to engage the FAA in a voluntary fix to the noise impacts associated with TERPZ-6, together with the FAA's belated offer to pursue such a fix, provides no grounds for not filing by the 60th day. View "Howard County v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, participants in the Gannett Co. 401(k) Savings Plan, filed suit alleging that defendants breached their fiduciary duties of prudence and diversification under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Plaintiffs contend that defendants ignored an imprudent single-stock fund in the Plan for several years, resulting in millions of dollars in losses.The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that plaintiffs plausibly alleged that a fiduciary breached a duty, causing a loss to the employee benefit plan. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that defendants breached their duty of prudence by allegedly failing to monitor the continuing prudence of holding a single-stock fund; because defendants did not monitor the merits of the fund, they did not uncover that it was an imprudent fund; defendants' failure to discover the imprudence led to the failure to divest the fund; and, when the price of the stock in the fund went down, the Plan suffered a loss. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Quatrone v. Gannett Company, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: ERISA
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Plaintiff, a former Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County, Virginia, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that her former employer violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by terminating her in retaliation for reporting alleged sex discrimination.In line with Fourth Circuit precedent and the majority of courts to consider the question, the court held that a pure retaliation claim is not cognizable under the Equal Protection Clause. The court explained that, to the extent a public employee contends she suffered adverse consequences for expressing complaints or reporting discrimination to her employer, her claim arises under the First Amendment. Furthermore, to the extent a public employee links an alleged retaliatory action to her gender, that allegation would constitute part of an equal protection discrimination claim, not a freestanding retaliation claim. In this case, plaintiff has not made such an allegation, nor has she pleaded a First Amendment action. Rather, the right to be free from retaliation for protesting sexual harassment and sex discrimination upon which plaintiff solely relies is a right created by Title VII, not the equal protection clause. The court noted that these existing legal avenues challenging public employer retaliation remain open to employees, but declined to create a new one under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim under the Equal Protection Clause. View "Wilcox v. Lyons" on Justia Law

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After defendant was captured and transported to a detention center in Iraq, the FBI Assistant Legal Attaché for Iraq interviewed defendant to gather intelligence about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) without providing him Miranda warnings. Ten days later, a different team of FBI agents interviewed defendant for purposes of a potential United States criminal prosecution. Defendant was subsequently convicted of conspiring to provide material support or resources to ISIL; providing material support or resources to ISIL; and possessing, using, and carrying firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence. On appeal, defendant challenged the admission of his statements to the second team of FBI agents, contending that the midstream Miranda warnings he received were ineffective.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress his Mirandized statements and held that, even assuming the FBI deliberately used a two-step interview strategy, the agents undertook sufficient curative measures to ensure that a reasonable person in defendant's position would understand the import and effect of the Miranda warnings and waiver. However, the court vacated defendant's firearm conviction under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) in light of United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), because defendant's conspiracy offense is not a predicate crime of violence. The court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Khweis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant in an action brought by plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a malicious prosecution claim. In this case, defendant arrested plaintiff and charged him with congregating on the sidewalk in violation of the City Code of Columbia, South Carolina. Defendant voluntarily dropped the charge over three years later. Plaintiff alleged that defendant arrested him without probable cause and ultimately dismissed the case because plaintiff was innocent.The court held that there is a genuine dispute of material fact concerning the termination of criminal proceedings against plaintiff. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court held that plaintiff has presented testimony that conflicts with defendant's explanation, as well as corroborating circumstantial evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that the nolle prosse was consistent with plaintiff's innocence. Therefore, in light of the evidence and the fact that the district court cannot weigh credibility at this stage, summary judgment was not appropriate. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Salley v. Myers" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying DIRECTV's motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Plaintiff alleged that defendants called her cell phone to advertise DIRECTV products and services even though her telephone number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.Because plaintiff signed an acknowledgement expressly agreeing to the arbitration provision of the Wireless Customer Agreement with AT&T, which provision applies to her as an authorized user, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that she did not form an agreement to arbitrate. The court held that plaintiff formed an agreement to arbitrate with DIRECTV where the ordinary meaning of "affiliates" and the contractual context convinced the court that the term includes affiliates acquired after the agreement was signed. Furthermore, in light of the expansive text of the arbitration agreement, the categories of claims it specifically includes, and the parties' instruction to interpret its provisions broadly, the court must conclude that plaintiff's TCPA claims fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mey v. DIRECTV, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Immigration and Nationality Act states that any alien who is “likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible,” 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(A) but has never defined “public charge.” The Department of Homeland Security sought to define “public charge,” via rulemaking, as an alien who was likely to receive certain public benefits, including many cash and noncash benefits, for more than 12 months in the aggregate over any 36-month period. The district court enjoined that Rule nationwide.The Fourth Circuit reversed. Invalidating the Rule “would visit palpable harm upon the Constitution’s structure and the circumscribed function of the federal courts that document prescribes” and would entail the disregard of the statute's plain text. The Constitution commands “special judicial deference” to the political branches in light of the intricacies and sensitivities inherent in immigration policy. Congress has charged the executive with defining and implementing a purposefully ambiguous term and has resisted giving the term the definite meaning that the plaintiffs seek. The court noted that, in cases addressing the identical issue, the Supreme Court granted the government’s emergency request to stay the preliminary injunctions, an action which would have been improbable if not impossible had the government, as the stay applicant, not made “a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits.” View "Casa De Maryland, Inc. v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against CBS after the CBS Evening News aired two reports on the opioid crisis in West Virginia that featured plaintiff and his pharmacy. Plaintiff alleged claims of defamation, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's rulings as to two allegedly defamatory statements in the report.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the two allegedly defamatory statements in the reports: (1) "Records show Tug Valley was filling more than 150 pain prescriptions a day from one clinic alone," and (2) plaintiff "admit[ted] to filling 150 pain pill prescriptions daily for one clinic alone." The court held that, because plaintiff failed to offer evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that the allegedly defamatory statements in the CBS reports were false, rather than minor inaccuracies, and he bears the burden of proof on this element of his defamation and false light invasion of privacy claims, summary judgment on both claims was appropriate. Finally, the court held that plaintiff's attempt to raise for the first time on appeal two new implications of the news reports is foreclosed. View "Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the State Defendants, challenging the constitutionality of Maryland's handgun licensing law, which is part of the Maryland Firearm Safety Act of 2013 (FSA), for violating their Second Amendment rights. Plaintiffs also challenged other FSA regulations as vague and ambiguous in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment and separately attacked certain FSA regulations as ultra vires under Maryland law. The district court granted summary judgment to the State Defendants based on plaintiffs' lack of Article III standing.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in holding that Atlantic Guns lacks both independent and third-party standing to bring a Second Amendment claim. In this case, the district court erroneously weighed the evidence by focusing on the extent of the economic injury as opposed to the existence of one; Atlantic Guns' owner and presidents' uncontroverted testimony and declaration, as well as the pertinent Maryland State Police records and Atlantic Guns' year-over-year sales records, are sufficient to establish an injury in fact for purposes of Article III standing; Atlantic Guns' injuries are fairly traceable to the challenged statute; and the injuries are likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Furthermore, Atlantic Guns has standing to challenge the statute on behalf of potential customers like the Individual Plaintiffs and other similarly situated persons.The court also held that, because standing for one party on a given claim is sufficient to allow a case to proceed in its entirety on that issue, the court need not reach the question of whether the Individual Plaintiffs and MSI have standing to bring their Second Amendment claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Hogan" on Justia Law