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

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The Fourth Circuit held that defendant's prior conviction for assaulting with intent to rob, steal, or purloin a postal employee and placing their life in jeopardy by use of a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2114(a), constitutes a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)'s force clause. The court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence, holding that the aggravated offense contained in the second clause of section 2114(a) may apply to any of the basic offenses listed in the first clause of the statute, including assault with intent to rob, steal, or purloin. The court also held that the aggravated offense contained in section 2114(a), which requires that the defendant wound or put the victim's life in jeopardy by use of a dangerous weapon during the commission of the basic offense, is categorically a crime of violence under the force clause of section 924(c)(3)(A). View "United States v. Bryant" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's rulings determining that petitioner's testimony was not credible. The court held that the Baltimore IJ failed to give petitioner an opportunity to testify and weigh the relevance of that testimony in conjunction with the entire record. The court declined to address whether the adverse credibility determination and denials of petitioner's applications for withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture were erroneous. Accordingly, the court vacated the BIA's summary affirmance of the IJ's rulings and remanded for reconsideration of petitioner's asylum claim, which included affording her an opportunity to testify and appropriate consideration of that testimony as well as any factual determinations. View "Atemnkeng v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Gunvor, a Swiss corporate business entity, filed suit against United States citizen defendants and Amira Group in the Eastern District of Virginia. Gunvor invoked that court's alienage diversity jurisdiction and asserted various state law claims. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) because Gunvor failed to join Nemsss Petroleum, a British Virgin Islands corporation, which defendants asserted was necessary and indispensable to the action. The court held that Gunvor's own complaint places Nemsss at the heart of this case, and the district court’s factual findings follow inexorably from that account. Therefore, taking Gunvor at its word in its complaint, the court found no error in the district court's factual findings. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in deeming Nemsss a necessary party under Rule 19(a), and that Nemsss's absence would surely prejudice Nemsss. Therefore, Nemsss was an indispensable party and the district court did not err in dismissing the complaint. View "Gunvor SA v. Kayablian" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim, alleging that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated when an officer shot and killed her dog, Jax. The court held that the complaint plausibly stated a claim for an unconstitutional seizure of plaintiff's property for which the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity. Although the court acknowledged that there was evidence in the record on appeal that contradicted some of the allegations in the complaint, the complaint nonetheless alleged that the officer shot Jax when it was in plaintiff's yard, tethered, and incapable of reaching or harming the officer. Because the court must grant all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ray v. Roane" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, alleging that corrections officers at a correctional center violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment by subjecting her to a strip search during her visit with an inmate. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the corrections officer, because the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that plaintiff was attempting to pass contraband to the inmate and therefore the strip search was lawful. In this case, the officers knew that the inmate had been transferred to the correctional center earlier in the year after attempting to smuggle contraband into a different Virginia prison. Furthermore, before plaintiff's visit, one of the officers received a tip that the inmate was smuggling drugs. Under the totality of the circumstances, the court held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to justify their search. View "Calloway v. Lokey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply in this instance to dismiss a federal action alleging misconduct by litigants in two lawsuits previously tried in state court. The court held that plaintiff was not a state court loser complaining of an injury caused by a state court judgment and specifically seeking district court review and rejection of that judgment. Therefore, plaintiff's claims were not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Accordingly, the court reverse and remanded, declining to resolve alternative arguments in the first instance. View "Hulsey v. Cisa" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's qui tam action under the False Claims Act, because a pro se plaintiff cannot represent the Government's interest in a qui tam suit. Likewise, the court affirmed the district court's denial of appellant's motion for reconsideration of its dismissal order. In this case, appellant alleged that appellees violated the Act by filing false claims under the South Carolina Base Load Review Act in order to receive permission to increase electric energy rates to cover costs of construction of two nuclear units. After filing the complaint, appellant failed to retain counsel and to provide summonses necessary for service of the complaint on the United States Attorney General and United States Attorney for the District Court of South Carolina. View "Wojcicki v. SCANA Corporation" on Justia Law

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On remand from the district court, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to debtor in an action arising from the nonpayment of a promissory note. The court held that the district court did not give proper weight to the evidence before it; the evidence construed most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, the Foundation, was that debtor waited until after the entry of final judgment to assert an arbitration defense; and neither debtor nor the district court has pointed to a single case in which a party waited until after the entry of final judgment to raise the right to arbitration without defaulting that right. Rather, the court held that, in such circumstances, courts have typically found default of the right to arbitrate, even in cases involving domestic judgments. In this case, given the dueling deposition testimony, the court held that a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether debtor asserted his right to arbitrate during proceedings in the Iraqi trial court. View "Iraq Middle Market Development Foundation v. Mohammad Harmoosh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Roe and Voe sought a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo while they challenged their discharges after the Air Force's determination that plaintiffs' chronic but managed illness—HIV—makes them unfit for military service. Determining that plaintiffs' claims presented a justiciable military controversy, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claims that their discharges were arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In this case, if the deployment policies permit servicemembers to seek a waiver to deploy to CENTCOM's area of responsibility, the Air Force violated the APA because it discharged the servicemembers without an individualized assessment of each servicemember's fitness, instead predicting they could not deploy as a result of their HIV status. Furthermore, even if the Air Force was correct that CENTCOM's policies render the servicemembers categorically ineligible to deploy to its area of responsibility, plaintiffs have shown they are likely to succeed on their claim that the deployment policies at issue violate the APA because the Government has not—and cannot—reconcile these policies with current medical evidence. The court also held that the district court did not clearly err in its findings that the discharges would cause irreparable harm to plaintiffs, and the district court correctly determined that the balance of equities and the public interest favored a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo during litigation. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in crafting this preliminary injunction. Because plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their APA claim, the court need not address their equal protection claim. . View "Roe v. United States Department of Defense" on Justia Law

Posted in: Military Law
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On rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and remanded the case for further proceedings. Defendant argued that if he had been properly informed of his sentencing exposure, there was a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty. Defendant also argued that his intervening decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), rendered his guilty plea involuntary, because he did not understand the essential elements of the offense to which he pleaded guilty. Considering the totality of the circumstances relevant to defendant's potential sentence, the court held that the required warning about defendant's Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) exposure would have had a significant effect on his assessment of his strategic position. Furthermore, the government conceded, and the court agreed, that the magistrate judge plainly erred in accepting defendant's guilty plea based on this pre-Rehaif understanding of the law. Therefore, given the procedural and factual circumstances of this case, the magistrate judge's failure to properly advise defendant of his ACCA exposure, together with the Rehaif error, in the aggregate were sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the proceeding. View "United States v. Lockhart" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law