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

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging his sentence as no longer valid. The court held that defendant's predicate conviction for causing bodily injury to a witness under 18 U.S.C. 1513(b)(1) is categorically a violent Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) felony. In this case, defendant's conviction required knowing conduct that causes bodily injury to another, which categorically involved the use of violent force sufficient to bring it within the ACCA's elements clause. View "United States v. Allred" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress various ammunition and ammunition components seized from his residence pursuant to a search warrant. The court held that the search warrant was supported by probable cause. In this case, the warrant affidavit provided the magistrate with a substantial basis to conclude that defendant made terrorist threats within the meaning of W. Va. Code 61-6-24, and that evidence of this crime would be found in his home. The court also held that the alleged omissions in the warrant affidavit were immaterial to the magistrate's probable cause determination. In this case, defendant failed to demonstrate that the omitted statements were material to the magistrate's probable cause determination and thus the district court did not err in denying defendant's request for a Franks hearing. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants Taylor and Hersl, appealed their convictions and sentences for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) conspiracy and substantive acts of RICO, as well as Hobbs Act robbery. Defendants' convictions stemmed from, among other things, their participation, while employed as police officers who were members of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), in a conspiracy to rob citizens in the course of their police service. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the record was sufficient to convict defendant of the charges; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendants' pretrial motion in limine to prohibit the government and its witnesses from using the term "robbery" during trial and by overruling their subsequent objection; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendants' motion for a mistrial after an outburst by a government witness and opting, instead, to strike the testimony and give the jury a curative instruction; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to dismiss the indictment; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendants' motion for a new trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to grant defendants a downward departure; and defendants' sentences were substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Taylor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's declaratory judgment in favor of the insurer, holding that the district court abused its discretion when it assumed jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act. In this case, without addressing the decision to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction, the district court reached the merits despite a thin and ambiguous record. The court held that the district court created both a substantial question about whether Article III jurisdiction existed and a serious potential to interfere with ongoing state proceedings. Therefore, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss the action without prejudice. View "Trustgard Insurance Co. v. Collins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against defendant, alleging unlawful entry and use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In this case, police officers used a battering ram to enter plaintiff's dwelling to execute a warrant. The officers did not announce their presence before using the battering ram, and plaintiff responded by pulling out a gun. Although plaintiff never discharged the gun, 29 shots were fired at him and he was struck nine times. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity with respect to the excessive force claim, holding that disputes of material fact preclude an award of summary judgment. The court held that a reasonable jury could find under the facts presented that plaintiff did not pose a threat to the officers justifying the use of deadly force. Furthermore, in light of Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153 (4th Cir. 2013), the court held that plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force was clearly established at the time the incident occurred. View "Betton v. Belue" on Justia Law

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A law firm challenged the government's use of a "Filter Team" — created ex parte by a magistrate judge in the District of Maryland and comprised of federal agents and prosecutors — to inspect privileged attorney-client materials. The district court denied the law firm's request to enjoin the Filter Team's review of seized materials. The Fourth Circuit held that the use of the Filter Team was improper because the Team's creation inappropriately assigned judicial functions to the executive branch, the Team was approved in ex parte proceedings prior to the search and seizures, and the use of the Team contravened foundational principles that protect attorney-client relationships. Therefore, the court held that injunctive relief was warranted and the district court abused its discretion by failing to enjoin the Filter Team's review of the materials. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Under Seal" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife appealed the district court's denial of their complaint alleging that USCIS unlawfully rejected the Form I-130 petition for Alien Relative that plaintiff filed on behalf of his wife. The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, because the Administrative Procedure Act authorized plaintiff's claim and 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(B) did not strip the court of jurisdiction to determine whether I-130 petitions pending at the time the Adam Walsh Act amended 8 U.S.C. 1154 should be processed by USCIS under the former or amended version of the statute. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the complaint and held that USCIS properly applied the Adam Walsh Act's amendments when adjudicating plaintiff's petition and nothing in the text of the amendments indicated that Congress did not intend for them to apply to pending I-130 petitions. In this case, the petition had been filed, but the agency had not yet approved or rejected it when the statutory amendments came into effect. Therefore, the court held that the amendments were not applied retroactively to a past decision or concerning past eligibility, but rather were applied to a then-pending decision regarding current eligibility for the requested relief. Finally, the court held that plaintiff's remaining arguments to the contrary lacked merit. View "Moore v. Frazier" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Neither the Worker's Compensation exclusion or the Employee Indemnification and Employer's Liability exclusion in a standard commercial automobile insurance policy barred coverage for the liability of a third-party permissive user of an insured vehicle who caused personal injuries to an employee of a named insured. While employees of Milton Hardware were performing construction work at the home of Rodney Perry, Milton Hardware's owner authorized Perry to move one of Milton Hardware's trucks. In doing so, Perry accidentally struck a Milton Hardware employee, Greg Ball, and caused him serious injuries. Ball requested indemnification from Milton Hardware's insurer, United Financial, but United Financial denied coverage. The district court granted a declaratory judgment in favor of United Financial, holding that the policy it issued to Milton Hardware did not cover Perry's liability for Ball's injuries. The Fourth Circuit vacated and held that, because Ball's negligence claim against Perry was a claim against a third party, rather than a claim against his employer for workers' compensation, the Worker's Compensation exclusion did not apply. The court also held that the policy's broader exclusion for Employee Indemnification and Employer's Liability, which on its face would apply to exclude coverage for Perry's liability to Ball, was inoperable because its limitation of coverage contravened West Virginia Code 33-6-31. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United Financial Casualty Co. v. Ball" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging South Carolina's decision to terminate PPSAT's provider agreement because it offers abortion services. At issue was whether, and on what basis, the Medicaid Act's free-choice-of-provider provision affords a private right of action to challenge a state’s exclusion of a healthcare provider from its Medicaid roster. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of plaintiff and held that Congress's intent to create an individual right enforceable under 42 U.S.C. 1983 in the free-choice-provider provision is unambiguous. The court also held that a plain-language reading of the provision's mandate—that states "must" furnish Medicaid recipients the right to choose among providers "qualified to perform the service or services required"—bars states from excluding providers for reasons unrelated to professional competency. Because the individual plaintiff in this case has a private right of action to challenge South Carolina's denial of her right to the qualified and willing family-planning provider of her choice, the court agreed with the district court that she has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on her free-choice-of-provider claim. Furthermore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in enjoining South Carolina from terminating PPSAT's provider agreement; it was clear that plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction; and the remaining preliminary injunction factors were satisfied. View "Planned Parenthood South Atlantic v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress the firearm after he conditionally pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. The court rejected defendant's reliance on the agreement condition and held that the statutory search condition specifically provides that warrantless searches of supervisees may be undertaken by any post-release supervision officer. The court also held that, at bottom, the record supported the district court's determination that the warrantless search of defendant's apartment was not for the purpose of furthering general law enforcement goals. Rather, the officers conducted the search to ensure defendant's continued compliance with the terms of his supervision agreement. Finally, because the search of defendant's apartment complied with the statutory condition, no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. View "United States v. Scott" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law