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

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Appellant pleaded guilty to one charge of being a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2), but reserved his right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized during a warrantless search of his vehicle after officers visually observed a glass stem pipe in the console of his car. Appellant now makes that appeal, arguing the stem pipe was insufficient to trigger the plain view exception to the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches.   In finding neither clear factual error nor an error of law in the district court’s reasoning the Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that for the plain view exception to apply, the government must show that: “(1) the officer [was] lawfully in a place from which the object [could] be plainly viewed; (2) the officer ha[d] a lawful right of access to the object itself; and (3) the object’s incriminating character [wa]s immediately apparent.” United States v. Jackson, 131 F.3d 1105 (4th Cir. 1997).   Here, even though a glass stem pipe may be put to innocent uses—uses that continue to expand and should be taken into consideration—here, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government and in its totality, the plain view exception applies, and the search of the vehicle was lawful. View "US v. Ricky Runner" on Justia Law

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The National Labor Relations Board petitioned the Fourth Circuit to enforce its order imposing obligations on an employer. The charged employer, Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC, consented in a stipulated settlement agreement to the enforcement of the order, skipping a process of agency prosecution and adjudication. Constellium agreed to a factual statement, waived any defenses, and now dutifully agrees that the Fourth Circuit should enter a judgment against it.The Fourth Circuit dismissed the petition. The court held that it lacks jurisdiction to exercise judicial power when it would have no real consequences for the parties and would only rubberstamp an agreement the parties memorialized in writing and consummated before ever arriving on a federal court’s doorstep. The court further explained that the parties agree on every relevant question potentially before the court. That agreement led the parties to resolve this dispute among themselves before ever coming to federal court, leaving nothing for the court to do that would have real consequences in the world. And the Board agrees that Constellium has complied with the order and continues to do so. View "NLRB v. Constellium Rolled Products" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged the district court’s disgorgement order against him and Owings Group, LLC, the entity he founded and controlled. Together, Defendant, Owings, and three codefendants perpetrated a fraudulent scheme in violation of federal securities laws. After Defendant consented to an entry of judgment, the court ordered him to disgorge $681,554 and imposed a monetary penalty in the same amount.Defendant argued that the disgorgement order violates Liu v. SEC, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020) and that the district court erroneously premised the associated monetary penalty on joint-and-several liability. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s disgorgement order and its monetary penalty.The court explained that it agreed with the district court that Defendant and Owings were “partners engaged in concerted wrongdoing". The court wrote that Owings’s conduct in the scheme generated its ill-gotten gains—and Defendant controlled that conduct. Further, the district court didn’t order a joint-and-several penalty. It ordered a penalty equal to Defendant's disgorgement, which happened to be joint and several.Finally, the court concluded that it found no abuse of discretion. Though the district court didn’t explicitly discuss Defendant's financial situation, it’s clear to the court that the district court considered it, along with the remaining factors. The district court understood that all the defendants were insolvent but decided that Defendant's substantially more serious role in the scheme warranted a penalty all the same. View "SEC v. Mark Johnson" on Justia Law

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Justice 360 offers post-conviction representation to South Carolina’s death-row inmates. In the current matter, Justice 360 acts solely on its own behalf. The organization’s Amended Complaint alleges that South Carolina Code Section 24-3-580 (“Identity Statute”)— which protects against the disclosure of certain information related to the State’s execution protocols—violates its First Amendment right to counsel clients and to participate in public debate about the death penalty.The district court rejected those assertions, and Justice 360 timely appealed, challenging only the dismissal of its claims against the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC” or the “Department”) and its director. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, holding that Justice 360 lacks standing. The court explained that granting Justice 360 the relief it seeks in its Amended Complaint would amount to no more than an impermissible advisory opinion, as the organization’s alleged injuries would remain unredressed. View "Justice 360 v. Bryan Stirling" on Justia Law

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Petitioners a twenty-three-year-old mother and her seven-year-old son, respectively, sought asylum in the United States after fleeing El Salvador following death threats and violence at the hands of the Mara 18 gang due to Petitioner’s Catholic religion.An immigration judge (IJ) found Petitioner’s testimony was credible and that one of the death threats she received had a nexus to her statutorily protected right to religion. However, the IJ then concluded that the death threat did not rise to the level of past persecution because the threat never came to fruition. It thus denied her application for asylum and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed that decision.The Fourth Circuit granted Petitioners’ petition for review of the BIA’s decision. The court explained that the IJ’s decision, which the BIA adopted, blatantly ignored our long line of cases establishing that the threat of death alone establishes past persecution. This was legal error, and therefore, an abuse of discretion. The court held has established she was subjected to past persecution in El Salvador. She is thereby entitled to the presumption of a well-founded fear of future persecution. View "Zoila Sorto-Guzman v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to “knowingly” possessing a firearm after being convicted of “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” 18 U.S.C. Sections 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). Two years later, the Supreme Court held that the word ‘knowingly’ applies both to the defendant’s conduct and to the defendant’s status. Defendant was was not advised of the second knowledge requirement before pleading guilty, and his lawyer made no objection to that omission.The Fourth Circuit vacated Defendant’s conviction. The court held that Defendant s the rare defendant who can make the “difficult” showing that, had he been properly advised, “there is a reasonable probability that he would not have pled guilty,” Greer v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 2090 (2021).The court explained that “satisfying all four prongs of the plain-error test is difficult,” and the ultimate decision to grant relief is always discretionary. Greer, 141 S. Ct. at 2096–97. Here, based on on all the facts and circumstances of this case, the court concluded it is appropriate to exercise our discretion to correct this particular Rehaif error. That error resulted in Defendant unknowingly agreeing that the government need not advance proof of the knowledge-of-status element, notwithstanding his persistent and contemporaneous assertions that he had not known of his legal status at the relevant time. Because these circumstances raise obvious—and troubling—questions about whether Defendant would have so agreed had he been fully and correctly informed, allowing the current plea to stand without further inquiry would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings. View "US v. Antwan Heyward" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff sued the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency alleging religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that because the alleged discrimination and retaliation arose from Plaintiff’s failure to satisfy additional security requirements and would require the court to review the merits of the security-authorization decision, the court is bound by the decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988), to affirm the district court’s dismissal of this matter for lack of jurisdiction.   The court explained that it agrees that courts must exercise caution in expanding the reach of Egan. Nevertheless, the court declined to adopt the hardline position, urged by Plaintiff, that Egan’s rationale may only ever apply to determinations explicitly labeled “security clearances.” Rather, as in Foote and Sanchez, this case requires a more detailed analysis of whether the judgment at issue is of the type that Egan intended to shield from judicial review. Furhter, the court held that the CIA’s decision to stop Plaintiff’s assignee-security authorization processing is the kind of discretionary predictive judgment shielded from judicial review by Egan. View "Nathan Mowery v. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are “in the business of purchasing tax-lien certificates.” They attend government auctions where they bid on tax-delinquent properties and, if successful, either take title to the properties or earn interest while the owners try to redeem them. A Maryland statute has made that endeavor difficult in Prince George’s County. The problem: the statute directs the County to offer defaulted properties to a select class of people (comprising largely those living and holding government positions there) before listing the properties for regular public auction. Plaintiffs, who do not fit that limited class, claim the statute violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and held that Section 14-817(d) violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause and that Section 14-821(b) cannot be severed from it, and remand with instructions to enter summary judgment in Plaintiffs’ favor, enjoining Defendants from conducting limited auctions under Section 14-817(d) going forward and allowing the transfer of the already-purchased liens. The court reasoned that no substantial reasons justify the favoritism, and the court must hold the statute unconstitutional. View "Chris Brusznicki v. Prince George's County" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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Plaintiff claims that Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations discriminated against her based on her race by allowing a hostile work environment to pervade its manufacturing plant and by retaliating against her for accusing a co-worker of tampering with her machine. Bridgestone moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment in Bridgestone’s favor on all claims.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court wrongly concluded that her hostile-work-environment claim was not supported by evidence of race-based harassment that was severe or pervasive enough. She also argues that her retaliation claim was based on a reasonable belief that the tampering with her machine was due to her race and that her transfer to KBN2 was causally related to her complaints.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff presented no evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that any tampering that occurred in 2018 was based on her race. The court explained that the totality of Plaintiff’s these allegations, and the evidence put forward to support them, fails to create a genuine question of material fact that racial discrimination in Bridgestone’s MTS department was so severe or pervasive that it constituted a hostile work environment. View "Laverne McIver v. Bridgestone Americas, Inc." on Justia Law

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The appeal turns on a plea agreement between Defendant and the government. In that agreement, the government promised to dismiss two of the three counts on which Defendant had been indicted. In exchange, Defendant agreed to plead guilty to the remaining count: committing a crime of violence – kidnapping – while having failed to register as a sex offender. But under the parties’ conditional plea agreement, Defendant expressly reserved the right to appeal his conviction on the ground that kidnapping is not categorically a crime of violence. Defendant did appeal, and the government conceded that under intervening precedent, he was correct.   The Fourth Circuit, therefore, vacated the judgment against Defendant and remanded to the district court. The district court then entered the decision at issue on appeal: Over Defendant’s objection, the court allowed the government to proceed against Defendant on one of the charges previously dismissed under the plea agreement, for failure to register as a sex offender.   On appeal, Defendant challenges that decision and his resulting conviction, arguing that his plea agreement barred the government from pursuing the dismissed charges. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated Defendant’s conviction and sentence and remanded to the district court with instructions to order his release from federal custody. The court explained that the parties that Section 3296 is neither sufficient (the government) nor necessary (Defendant) to allow for prosecution on the dismissed charges after Defendant’s conviction was vacated on appeal; here, it is the plea agreement itself that controls. That is enough to dispose of this case. View "US v. Shelby Petties" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law