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A local government violated the Establishment Clause when it displays and maintains on public property a 40-foot tall Latin cross, established in memory of soldiers who died in World War I. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court's judgment and held that the monument has the effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion. The court explained that the Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity. In this case, the cross is 40 feet tall; prominently displayed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Prince George's County, Maryland; and maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds. The court held that the purported war memorial breaches the "wall of separation between Church and State." View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Maryland-National Capital Park" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant fired her for supporting defendant's political rival, and thus violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that, as an Assistant State's Attorney, plaintiff was a policymaker exempt from the First Amendment's protection against patronage dismissals. The court reasoned that to hold otherwise would undermine the public mandate bestowed upon the victor of a hard-fought election and would needlessly interfere with a state official's managerial prerogative. View "Borzilleri v. Mosby" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was arrested for failing to confine his leafleting to an area designated for protest activities, as set forth in a protocol formulated by Baltimore's legal department in 2004, he filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the protocol. The Fourth Circuit addressed a challenge to the same protocol previously, Ross v. Early, 746 F.3d 546 (4th Cir. 2014), where the court affirmed the district court's decision to uphold the protocol. In this case, the district court dismissed the complaint because the court had already considered the constitutional claim in Ross. The court vacated, holding that, in Ross, the parties entered into a stipulation that dictated the level of constitutional scrutiny, but the parties to the instant case did not. Furthermore, the district court in the instant case did not consider an intervening relevant Supreme Court decision, McCullen v. Coakley, 134 S. Ct. 2518 (2014), and did not have the benefit of another, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lucero v. Early" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a suit challenging Rockville's zoning ordinance that prohibited the construction of self-storage facilities within 250 feet of property on which a public school is located. Plaintiffs argued that the enactment amounted to a denial of their due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court held that Siena did not have a constitutionally protected property interest in using its property to develop a storage facility. The court explained that the very nature of Siena's conditional site plan approval defeated any claim that Siena had a nondiscretionary entitlement to a building permit. Because Siena never satisfied the conditions of obtaining a requisite site plan approval, it was not eligible for a building permit. Even if Siena had a protected property interest here, the enactment of the zoning text amendment would still fall short of a substantive due process violation. In this case, the enactment represented nothing more than the ordinary exercise of a state's residual police power in land use and zoning, in which the state has long maintained a primary and sovereign interest. The court rejected Siena's remaining claims, including the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim, and affirmed the judgment in all respects. View "Siena Corp. v. Mayor and City Council of Rockville" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court found that defendant had been convicted of a crime of violence on the basis of his prior conviction for West Virginia aggravated robbery, and sentenced him to twelve months and one day of prison. The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that the West Virginia crime of aggravated robbery, W. Va. Code 61-2-12 (1961), is a predicate crime of violence under the force clause of USSG 4B1.2. View "United States v. Salmons" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Wauquiez Boats, alleging claims for breach of maritime contract and for products liability under the general maritime law. The district court dismissed the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for failing adequately to demonstrate admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. However, plaintiff had filed an amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 roughly an hour before the district court filed its order dismissing the case. The Fourth Circuit reasoned that, because the amended complaint remained the operative complaint in the district court and was unaddressed by Wauquiez Boats or the court, the district court's order dismissing the original complaint and denying sanctions was not a final decision under 28 U.S.C. 1291. Accordingly, the court dismissed plaintiff's appeal and Wauquiez Boats' cross-appeal requesting sanctions, for lack of appellate jurisdiction. View "Fawzy v. Wauquiez Boats SNC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment affirming the denial of disability benefits to plaintiff. The court agreed with plaintiff and held that the ALJ improperly assessed the medical opinion evidence and disregarded the treating physician rule in rendering his residual functioning capacity (RFC) determination and finding that plaintiff could persist through an eight-hour workday. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Brown v. Commissioner Social Security Administration" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits

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This case arose out of an underlying action to enforce the health benefits provisions of two court-approved settlement agreements. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. The court held that a motion for preliminary injunction filed before the act to be enjoined has occurred, and subsequently intended to restore the status quo once it has been disturbed, was not moot. The court also held that the district court had jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claim pursuant to Section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). On the merits, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits; that they were likely to suffer irreparable harm without a preliminary injunction; and that the balance of the equities and the public interest favor an injunction. View "Di Biase v. SPX Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit denied defendant's motion to release substitute assets as part of a government forfeiture in order for defendant to hire appellate counsel of his choice for the appeal of his criminal convictions. The court held that defendant did not have a property interest or title in the credit union funds which he wished to use to pay appellate counsel. The court explained that the Constitution required only that defendant be represented by counsel upon his first appeal of right, and the court would appoint counsel if the forfeiture rendered him indigent or he could not secure pro bono counsel. The court also held that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.2 was not a basis upon which to grant defendant's motion because he was fully aware of both the pending forfeiture itself and the exact amount. Furthermore, the Government provided notice in its Bill of Particulars that it intended to obtain the funds in his credit union account through forfeiture as early as two and a half months before trial. View "United States v. Marshall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's 36-month revocation sentence, holding that the district court's failure to address her arguments in favor of a within-policy-statement-range sentence constituted procedural error. In this case, defendant presented detailed, nonfrivolous evidence of her positive employment history, her efforts at rehabilitation, and her voluntary service to her community, and the district court did not so much as mention her arguments when it imposed the statutory maximum. Furthermore, the district court's failure to address defendant's nonfrivolous arguments in favor of a within-range sentence was compounded by its failure to explain why it was necessary to impose the statutory maximum sentence. Because the district court's procedural errors were not harmless, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Slappy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law