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

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Muhammad, serving a 210-month sentence at FCI Loretto based on his convictions for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing cocaine base, sought a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), asserting that his increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to his age and medical conditions (chronic hypertension and cardiac arrhythmia) constituted extraordinary and compelling circumstances supporting his immediate release. Muhammad filed his motion for a sentence reduction 149 days after asking the warden to file the motion on his behalf and 132 days after the warden denied his request. Muhammad did not appeal the warden’s denial through the Bureau of Prison’s administrative remedy program. The district court held that because the warden responded to the request within 30 days, Muhammad had to exhaust his administrative remedies before he could file a motion on his own behalf.The Fourth Circuit vacated the dismissal. The district court erred in its interpretation of section 3582(c)(1)(A), which plainly provides that a defendant may file a motion on his own behalf 30 days after the warden receives his request, regardless of whether the defendant exhausted his administrative remedies. Moreover, section 3582(c)(1)(A)’s threshold requirement is non-jurisdictional and subject to waiver. View "United States v. Muhammad" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Gonzalez was granted deferred action on his removal from the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). After his conviction for a misdemeanor in North Carolina, the DHS terminated Gonzalez’s grant of deferred action; he was immediately placed in removal proceedings. During the course of his proceedings before the IJ, DHS restored Gonzalez’s DACA grant of deferred action. Gonzalez asked the IJ to either administratively close his case, terminate the removal proceedings, or grant a continuance based on his mother’s pending application to be a legal permanent resident (LPR). The IJ denied all requests for relief. While the matter was pending in the BIA, Gonzalez’s mother obtained LPR status, and Gonzalez sought remand. The BIA affirmed the IJ’s decision and denied the motion to remand, reasoning that neither the IJs nor the BIA had the authority to terminate removal proceedings and that administrative closure and a continuance were inappropriate based on the speculative possibility of Gonzalez’s mother earning LPR status.The Fourth Circuit vacated. IJs and the BIA possess the inherent authority to terminate removal proceedings. The BIA improperly denied the request for administrative closure because it failed to address Gonzalez’s specific argument based on his DACA status. View "Gonzalez v. Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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After shooting at military helicopters flying over his Mississippi farm, Curbow was charged with a federal criminal offense. The Mississippi district court deemed Curbow to be mentally incompetent to stand trial and temporarily placed him in the custody for further evaluation. Staff members at the Federal Medical Center at Butner, North Carolina eventually concluded that Curbow was unlikely to be restored to competency in the foreseeable future and that his mental condition rendered him dangerous to others. The government filed a certificate in the Eastern District of North Carolina — as the district where FMC Butner is located — attesting that Curbow was a dangerous person.The North Carolina district court ordered Curbow’s civil commitment under 18 U.S.C. 4246. Curbow does not dispute that there was ample evidence before the court of his dangerousness but argued that he was ineligible for civil commitment because he was no longer in legal custody at the time of his dangerousness certification. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument and affirmed. Curbow waived the theory that he was ineligible for section 4246 certification based upon unreasonable delays in his first two periods of section 4241(d) custody; with respect to his third period of custody, the court was entitled to accept that the government took a reasonable amount of time to be deliberate and ensure that it was evaluating Curbow’s dangerousness accurately — particularly considering his alleged criminal conduct and use of firearms. View "United States v. Curbow" on Justia Law

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EC contracted to repair the Navy ships Thunderbolt, Tempest, and Hurricane. The Navy claimed $474,600 in liquidated damages under the Tempest contract because of late delivery. Having already paid for the Tempest work, it withheld $473,600 under the Hurricane contract. EC claimed the Navy caused the delay and, after the contracting officer denied its claim, sued under the Tempest contract, referring specifically to the $473,600 setoff. While the litigation proceeded, EC sought additional compensation under the Hurricane contract for unexpected work on that ship and appealed to the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, seeking payment of the $473,600 “withheld from payments due under [the Hurricane] contract.”The parties settled the Tempest suit: EC released the government “from any and all actions, claims, . . . and liabilities of any type, whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, foreseen or unforeseen, or open or hidden, which have existed, presently exist, or may exist in the future, arising out of or in any way relating to the [Tempest] Contract.” The government released EC from “any and all” claims “arising out of or in any way relating to the issues that were raised ... or could have been raised in the pleadings.”In 2019, EC asserted a right to the same $473,600 in a third request to the contracting officer, then filed suit. The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The settlement agreement barred EC’s claims. View "East Coast Repair & Fabrication, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Marshall, while under the age of 21, wished to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer and sued to challenge the constitutionality of the federal laws and regulations that prohibited her from doing so while she was 18–20 years old. A divided panel of the Fourth Circuit found those laws violated the text, structure, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment. After the opinion was issued but before the mandate, Marshall turned 21, rendering her claims moot. She attempted to add parties and reframe her claimed injuries.The Fourth Circuit concluded that it is too late to revive the case and that it must be dismissed as moot. The court vacated the opinions and remanded with direction to dismiss. View "Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco & Firearms" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that an alien has no constitutional right to be advised of his eligibility for discretionary relief. The court affirmed the dismissal of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 habeas petition challenging his sentence for felony illegal reentry of an alien who has previously been removed, in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326(a) and (b). Petitioner claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to recognize that he was innocent of illegal reentry because the underlying removal order was invalid.The court agreed with the district court's finding that petitioner could not collaterally attack (and thus invalidate) that order because he had not satisfied 8 U.S.C. 1326(d)'s three requirements for doing so. The court concluded that, at a minimum, petitioner failed to satisfy the third condition: the entry of the removal order was fundamentally unfair. In this case, petitioner identifies no other due process violations arising from his removal hearing; he cannot invalidate his removal order; and thus his claim of actual innocence fails. View "United States v. Herrera-Pagoada" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit considered for the second time the Wikimedia Foundation's contentions that the government is spying on its communications using Upstream, an electronic surveillance program run by the NHS. In the first appeal, the court found that Wikimedia's allegations of Article III standing sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss and vacated the district court's judgment to the contrary. The district court dismissed the case on remand, holding that Wikimedia did not establish a genuine issue of material fact as to standing and that further litigation would unjustifiably risk the disclosure of state secrets.The court concluded that the record evidence is sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to Wikimedia's standing, and thus the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the government on this basis. However, the court concluded that the state secrets privilege prevents further litigation of this suit. Furthermore, Wikimedia's other alleged injuries do not support standing. View "Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency/Central Security Service" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that defendant can be reprosecuted on two 18 U.S.C. 924(c) charges without running afoul of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Pursuant to its precedent, the court is constrained to conclude that the vacatur of defendant's section 924(c) convictions constituted a procedural dismissal, and not an acquittal. The court explained that that is because the vacatur was unrelated to defendant's factual innocence. Rather, the vacatur was premised on the change of law wrought by United States v. Simms, 914 F.3d 229 (4th Cir. 2019) (en banc), and United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019). Accordingly, the court agreed with the district court that defendant can be reprosecuted without violating double jeopardy. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Individuals and organizations affiliated with the West Virginia Democratic Party challenged West Virginia Code 3-6-2(c)(3), under which election ballots for partisan state and federal elections are organized for each contest by listing first the candidates affiliated with the political party whose candidate for President received the most votes in West Virginia in the most recent presidential election. The plaintiffs contend that because candidates appearing first on the ballot “almost always” receive an increased vote share based solely on this priority status, this system favors candidates based on their political affiliation, violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments.The district court rejected jurisdictional challenges, including that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the complaint presented a nonjusticiable political question, and agreed with the plaintiffs on the merits. The Fourth Circuit vacated after holding that the district court properly asserted subject matter jurisdiction and a court may consider the lawfulness of the statute despite its partisan context. A ballot-order statute, which provides a neutral rule for listing candidates’ names on the ballot, does not violate the Constitution even though the statute may impair a candidate’s ability to attract “the windfall vote.” Such a statute places at most a modest burden on free speech and equal protection rights. Any modest burden imposed by the statute on the plaintiffs’ rights is justified by the state’s important interests in promoting voting efficiency and in reducing voter confusion and error. View "Nelson v. Warner" on Justia Law

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Enrollees in the North Carolina State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees (NCSHP) sued, alleging that NCSHP discriminates against its transgender enrollees by categorically denying coverage for gender dysphoria treatments like counseling, hormone therapy, and surgical care, in violation of section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which prohibits “any health program or activity” that receives federal funds from discriminating against individuals on any ground prohibited by various federal statutes, including Title IX, 42 U.S.C. 18116(a).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of NCSHP’s motion to dismiss, asserting that it was entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. NCSHP waived its immunity against this claim by accepting federal financial assistance. Under the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act (CRREA), “[a] State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States from suit in Federal court for a violation of . . . any other Federal Statute prohibiting discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance,” 42 U.S.C. 2000d-7. View "Kadel v. North Carolina State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees" on Justia Law