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

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The Fourth Circuit granted the petition for review of the BIA's final order of removal, holding that petitioner and his family sufficiently established persecution based on threats of death and harm by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as FARC. Petitioner was a Colombian police officer who investigated FARC rebels.The court held that the BIA's determination that petitioner had not suffered past persecution was manifestly contrary to the law and constituted an abuse of discretion. In this case, petitioner had received multiple threats of death and harm to himself and his family from FARC. Furthermore, when an asylum applicant, such as petitioner, establishes that he has suffered past persecution, he is presumed to have a well-founded fear of future persecution. Because the BIA failed to apply this presumption, the BIA must reconsider the asylum application and apply the proper presumption. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez Bedoya v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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In this Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) case, employees claim that tips and automatic gratuities cannot be considered in determining whether the restaurant met its FLSA obligations because they were paid through an unlawful tip pool. The employees alleged that the restaurant included in its tip pool employees who did not meet certain criteria in violation of the FLSA.The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that the automatic gratuities were not tips, but concluded that the district court erred in its application of the 7(i) exemption in 29 U.S.C. 207(i). In this case, the district court incorrectly held that the section 7(i) exemption satisfied both the restaurant's minimum-wage and overtime obligations. Rather, the exemption applies only to overtime obligations. Furthermore, the district court erred in declining to include tips when determining whether the automatic gratuities constituted more than half of the employees' compensation for a representative period. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for the district court to consider the 7(i) exemption. To the extent that, on remand, the restaurant's tip pool remains relevant to its FLSA obligations, the court concluded that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether all of its participants customarily and regularly receive tips and, thus, whether the tip pool was lawful. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's judgment as to the retaliation claim. View "Wai Man Tom v. Hospitality Ventures LLC" on Justia Law

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While plaintiffs sought judicial review in federal district court of their denial of Social Security disability benefits, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, 138 S. Ct. 2044 (2018), which elucidated a possible constitutional objection to administrative proceedings pursuant to the Appointments Clause. At issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs may raise an Appointments Clause challenge in federal court that they did not preserve before the agency.The Fourth Circuit held that claimants for Social Security disability benefits do not forfeit Appointments Clause challenges by failing to raise them during their administrative proceedings. Balancing the individual and institutional interests at play, including considering the nature of the claim presented and the characteristics of the ALJ proceedings, the court declined to impose an exhaustion requirement. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgments of the district courts remanding these cases for new administrative hearings before different, constitutionally appointed ALJs. View "Probst v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, neighbors of Murphy-Brown's hog production facilities, filed suit against the company, seeking relief under state nuisance law from odors, pests, and noises they attribute to farming practices Murphy-Brown implemented at an industrial-scale hog feeding farm. On appeal, Murphy-Brown challenges a jury verdict against it awarding compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs.As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting Murphy-Brown's argument that Kinlaw Farms was a necessary and indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. Furthermore, the district court's decision as to the applicable statute of limitations was not legal error, and refusing to give the inapplicable jury instruction on continuing nuisances was not an abuse of discretion.The court affirmed the jury's verdict as to liability for compensatory and punitive damages. The court rejected Murphy-Brown's contention that North Carolina private nuisance law bars recovery of compensatory damages of any kind pursuant to the 2017 Right to Farm Act amendment. Rather, the court concluded that the amendment represents a substantive, forward-looking change in the law, and affirmed the district court's conclusion that the issue of annoyance and discomfort damages should go to the jury based on longstanding North Carolina case law allowing such recovery in nuisance suits. The court also affirmed the district court's decisions as to the admission and exclusion of expert testimony, and the district court's jury instruction as to vicarious liability because the contested jury instruction did not prejudice Murphy-Brown. However, the court vacated the jury's judgment as to the amount of punitive damages and remanded for rehearing on the punitive damages issue without the parent company financial evidence, including executive compensation. View "McKiver v. Murphy-Brown, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Lowe's for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that Lowe's had forced him out of his director-level job even though, with reasonable accommodations for him after his knee surgery, he could still perform its essential functions. Plaintiff also alleged that Lowe's violated the ADA when it refused to reassign him to another director-level position, and that Lowe's discriminated against him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lowe's, holding that no reasonable jury could find that working over eight hours each day was anything less than an essential function of the Market Director of Stores (MDS) position; plaintiff could no longer perform the essential functions of his job without reasonable accommodation; and no reasonable accommodation, consistent with plaintiff's doctor's orders, would have allowed him to perform his job's essential functions. Furthermore, the court rejected plaintiff's contention that Lowe's violated his rights under the ADA by failing to reassign him to another vacant and comparable position where the record demonstrates that Lowe's extended reasonable accommodations to plaintiff, acting at every stage to ensure that his disability did not unfairly compromise his equality of opportunity at Lowe's. Finally, plaintiff failed to prove a prima facie case under the ADEA where he was not able to perform the essential functions of his MDS job with our without reasonable accommodations. View "Elledge v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction under two administrative regulations for repeatedly refusing to comply with directions from an immigration judge and a courtroom bailiff to cease distracting conduct during an immigration proceeding. The charges stemmed from an incident where court personnel requested defendant, who works as an immigration attorney, to stop using her cell phone. When defendant refused, she received a citation from Federal Protective Service officers. Count One charged defendant with failing to comply with the lawful direction of an authorized individual while on property under the authority of the GSA in violation of the Direction Regulation. See 41 C.F.R. 102-74.385. Count Two charged defendant with impeding and disrupting the performance of official duties by government employees while on property under the authority of the GSA in violation of the Conduct Regulation. See 41 C.F.R. 02-74.390. The regulations were promulgated pursuant to 40 U.S.C. 1315.The court concluded that the district court properly rejected defendant's vagueness challenge; the district court properly concluded that section 1315 is a constitutional delegation of authority and that the regulations do not exceed the scope of that authority; the district court properly concluded that the regulations do not violate the Tenth Amendment; the district court properly interpreted the Direction Regulation; and the district court properly found that sufficient evidence supports defendant's conviction under Count Two. View "United States v. Moriello" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit granted Ergon's petition for review of the EPA's decision denying Ergon's petition to be exempt from the EPA's administration of a renewable fuel standard program. The court previously vacated and remanded the EPA's denial as arbitrary and capricious. On remand, the EPA denied Ergon's petition again. In this appeal, Ergon argues that the EPA repeated the errors the court previously identified in Ergon I by again relying on the DOE's facially deficient scoring metrics to deny the petition.The court reviewed the record and concluded that, although the EPA's post-remand decision largely cured the problems the court previously identified, Ergon has provided sufficient evidence undermining one aspect of the EPA's decision. In this case, part of the EPA's basis for accepting the DOE's reasoning as to Section 1(b) of the DOE's Scoring Matrix has been reliably called into question, and thus the EPA's decision was arbitrary and capricious. Because of the threshold problem with the rationale provided for the Section 1(b) scoring, the court did not reach the secondary issue regarding the apparently contradictory definitions of "refinery" used in Section 1(b) and 2(a). Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ergon-West Virginia, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Brinkley was subject to an arrest warrant. An ATF analyst identified possible addresses. Because a water bill for one address was in Brinkley’s name, Agent Murphy believed that address was Brinkley’s most likely residence. Another address was an apartment. Detective Stark also found multiple addresses, including the apartment. Brinkley’s Facebook page led Starck to believe that Brinkley was dating Chisholm, who was associated with the apartment.Officers went to the apartment. Chisholm opened the door, denied that Brinkley was there, grew “very nervous” and looked behind her. The officers saw another woman and heard movement from a back room. Chisholm stated that she did not want the officers to enter and asked whether they had a warrant. Murphy later testified that the sounds and the women’s reactions led him to believe that Brinkley was in the apartment. Five uniformed, armed officers entered and found Brinkley in a bedroom, then conducted a protective sweep and saw digital scales, a baggie containing cocaine base, and a bullet. They obtained a search warrant and seized firearms. Brinkley was charged with felon-in-possession counts, possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, and firearm possession in furtherance of a drug offense.The Fourth Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress. Though the officers developed a well-founded suspicion that Brinkley might have stayed in the apartment at times, they failed to establish probable cause that he resided there. Because they entered the apartment pursuant solely to the authority of the arrest warrant, their entry was unlawful. When police have limited reason to believe a suspect resides in a home, generic signs of life inside and understandably nervous reactions from residents, without more, do not amount to probable cause that the suspect is present within. View "United States v. Brinkley" on Justia Law

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Wambura, a citizen of Tanzania, was a lawful U.S. permanent resident. Wambura pled guilty to a conspiracy to fraudulently secure a mortgage and obtain federally subsidized rent using a stolen identity. He was sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment and ordered to pay $434,867.65 in restitution. Removal proceedings (8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)) asserted that Wambura had been convicted of two crimes involving moral turpitude not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct and had been convicted of an aggravated felony relating to an offense that involves fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victims exceeds $10,000.Wambura applied for asylum and withholding of removal and for protection under Convention Against Torture. The IJ concluded that Wambura was removable based on his aggravated felony and moral turpitude convictions and, because of those convictions, was ineligible for cancellation of removal or asylum. Due to the length of his sentence, Wambura was ineligible for withholding of removal. Pursuing deferral of removal under CAT, Wambura testified about his involvement with an opposition political party and claimed that his father told him he is being followed by the secret police. The IJ asked for corroborating evidence. Wambura claimed he was unable to provide it because he was unable to access his email account. The BIA affirmed a denial of relief.The Fourth Circuit remanded. Once the requirements for removability are met, the government does not have the burden to prove that the amount of loss caused by the fraud conviction is $10,000 or more for purposes of asylum and withholding of removal. An IJ is not required to provide an alien with advance notice of the need to offer corroborating evidence but must make a finding as to whether such corroborating evidence was reasonably available if it was not provided. View "Wambura v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment for defendants, holding that plaintiff filed his personal injury suit outside the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff, a coal miner, alleged that the respirators given to him by defendants to protect himself from inhaling excessive amounts of harmful coal dust failed to protect him from the lung disease that he developed.Applying Virginia law, the court held that there is no genuine dispute of material fact that plaintiff's coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) first manifested itself before September 29, 2014. Furthermore, the fact that earlier doctors could not have known his eventual diagnosis when exploring other causes of plaintiff's poor lung function does not create a genuine dispute as to the consistent medical opinion delivered by the experts in this case: plaintiff had CWP prior to September 29, 2014. Therefore, the court is bound to affirm the district court's correct conclusion that the limitations period did not begin to run on October 2, 2014, the date plaintiff first discovered he had CWP.The court noted that it would be remiss in remaining silent about the manifest unfairness that the court's conclusion poses to plaintiffs, like the one here, who suffer from latent diseases that cause ambiguous symptoms for the first two years or successive harms that fall outside the limitations window. The court therefore joined other state and federal courts in recognizing that Virginia law essentially bars certain plaintiffs from recovery. View "Adams v. American Optical Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury