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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's 360-month sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child. The court held that defendant's sentence is both procedurally and substantively reasonable. In this case, the district court did not err by failing to explain why it had rejected all of his non-frivolous arguments for a downward variance from the Guidelines range; the district court did not plainly err by applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 2G2.1(b)(5) for violation 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) as "a parent, relative, or legal guardian of the minor involved in the offense;" and defendant's within-Guidelines sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court considered defendant's criminal history and his acceptance of responsibility, and did not impose an unreasonable sentence. View "United States v. Lester" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiffs, aliens unlawfully in the United States seeking U-Visas, filed suit alleging that DHS unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed adjudication of their U-Visa petitions and their applications for work authorization pending U-Visa approval.The Fourth Circuit held that it lacked the power to review plaintiffs' work-authorization claims here because the agency is not required to adjudicate plaintiffs' requests. The court explained that, under the Administrative Procedure Act and All Writs Act, it can only compel faster agency action if the agency is required to act. In this case, neither congressional statutes nor agency regulations compel the agency to adjudicate these requested pre-waiting-list work authorizations. However, the court may review plaintiffs' claim that DHS unreasonably delayed adjudicating their U-Visa petitions. Furthermore, plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to avoid dismissal of their claim for unreasonable delay in placing them on the waiting list. Accordingly, the court dismissed plaintiffs' claims relating to their requests for pre-waiting-list work authorization and remanded plaintiffs' claim relating to U-Visa adjudications. View "Fernandez Gonzalez v. Cuccinelli" on Justia Law

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Heyer, a Deaf individual who communicates in ASL, is civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person. In prison and while civilly committed, Heyer’s access to the Deaf community has dwindled. Detainees in Heyer’s Unit can communicate with the outside by writing letters, in-person visits, the prison email system, and a TTY machine for making calls under the supervision of a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff member to preapproved numbers. BOP also installed a videophone in Heyer's unit and contracted with a provider of SecureVRS services for calls to preapproved numbers, with monitoring. SecureVRS calls do not allow Heyer to call Deaf friends. All of the available means of communication are problematic because Heyer’s English skills are “novice low. ”An expert concluded that his reading and writing skills mimic those of a seven-year-old.The district court held that the BOP’s refusal to allow Heyer to make point-to-point calls with other Deaf individuals did not violate his First Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit reversed. Heyer’s constitutional rights are not defined merely by his civil detainee status or his past conduct. They are also defined by his status as a Deaf individual cut off from his community in a manner more complete than even foreign language prisoners. The district court erred by crediting BOP testimony about the risks of point-to-point calls without considering testimony about safety features that have managed those risks for other forms of communication it makes available. View "Heyer v. United States Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's 13-year sentence and 5-year term of supervised release imposed after he pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery and to use of a firearm in the course of a crime of violence. The court held that two financial conditions of supervised release that appeared in defendant's written judgment were not pronounced orally by the district court during his sentencing hearing. Therefore, under the court's recent decision in United States v. Rogers, 961 F.3d 291 (4th Cir. 2020), defendant was never sentenced to those conditions. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Singletary" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A facility caring for an unaccompanied child fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care if it substantially departs from accepted professional standards. Appellants, a class of unaccompanied immigrant children detained at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC), filed a class action alleging that the Commission fails to provide a constitutionally adequate level of mental health care due to its punitive practices and failure to implement trauma-informed care. The district court found that the Commission provides adequate care by offering access to counseling and medication.The Fourth Circuit held that neither the Flores Settlement nor SVJC's cooperative agreement prevent appellants from addressing their alleged injuries through the relief they seek from SVJC. On the merits, the court applied the Youngberg standard for professional judgment and reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commission. The court explained that the district court incorrectly applied a standard of deliberate indifference when it should have determined whether the Commission substantially departed from accepted standards of professional judgment. Therefore, in light of the Youngberg standard, the district court must consider evidence relevant to the professional standards of care necessary to treat appellants' serious mental health needs. The court left it to the district court to determine in the first instance to what extent, if any, the trauma-informed approach should be incorporated into the professional judgment standard in this particular case. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission" on Justia Law

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Resettlement agencies filed suit challenging President Trump's Executive Order 13,888, which drastically alters the system by which the federal government resettles refugees across the United States. The order creates an "opt-in" system requiring that both a state and a locality provide their affirmative consent before refugees will be resettled there. Plaintiffs challenge the Order and notice implementing the order, asserting that they violate the Refugee Act, principles of federalism, and the Administrative Procedure Act.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Order and Notice. The court concluded that plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on their claim that the Order and Notice violate the carefully crafted scheme for resettling refugees that Congress established in the Refugee Act. The court explained that, at bottom, the consent requirement in the Order and Notice is "incompatible with the overall statutory scheme governing" the refugee resettlement program. Furthermore, the court's conclusion regarding the many infirmities of the consent requirement is not altered by the government's reliance on the so-called "savings clause" of the Order. The court also concluded that the record supports the district court’s award of preliminary injunctive relief under the remaining factors of Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 555 U.S. 7 (2008). The court affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a nationwide injunction. View "HIAS, Inc. v. Trump" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that defendant's conditions of supervised release banning legal pornography and internet access cannot be sustained as "reasonably related" under 18 U.S.C. 3583(d)(1) and are overbroad under 18 U.S.C. 3583(d)(2). The court explained that the district court abused its discretion in imposing an outright ban on defendant possessing legal pornography or entering any location where it may be accessed. In this case, defendant violated his release by travelling outside the judicial district without permission, skipping therapy appointments, and lying to his probation officer, among other similar violative conduct. The court stated that pornography use was not the basis of any violation. Furthermore, when defendant lied about watching pornography during a polygraph exam at the outset of his sex offender treatment, the violative conduct was dishonesty, not pornography consumption. Finally, the pornography restriction impermissibly restricts more liberty than is reasonably necessary.The court also concluded that an outright ban on defendant's internet access cannot be sustained under section 3583(d)(1)'s "reasonably related" requirement absent some evidence linking his offense or criminal history to unlawful use of the internet. The government’s remaining arguments fail for the same reasons as the pornography restriction. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions to strike those conditions of supervised release. View "United States v. Ellis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment affirming the IRS's disallowance of a charitable deduction that plaintiffs claimed on their 2011 joint income tax return. After plaintiffs purchased real property, they donated the existing house on the underlying land so that they could build a new one in its place. However, the charity ended up disassembling some of the house, salvaging useful components, and leaving the remainder for demolition by plaintiffs' contractor. Plaintiffs took a charitable deduction of $675,000 on their income tax return, representing the appraised value of the house as if it were moved intact to another lot. The IRS disallowed the deduction under 26 U.S.C. 170(f)(3). Plaintiffs paid the additional taxes assessed by the IRS and filed suit against the United States, seeking a refund of approximately $213,000.The court concluded that defendants donated their entire interest in the house and that they supported their donation with a "qualified appraisal" of the contributed property. In this case, the house was never recorded in the public land records, Plaintiff Linda Mann always retained record ownership of the house. Furthermore, even if the court were to accept that the donation agreement both "constructively severed" the house from the land and conveyed contractual ownership of the house to the charity, Linda still remained the record owner of the house responsible for real-estate taxes. The court also concluded that, even setting aside the consequence of Linda's continuing as the house's record owner, both the donation agreement considered as a whole and the substance of the transaction demonstrate that Linda failed to transfer her entire interest in the house to the charity. The court explained that Linda maintained the benefits and burdens of ownership of the remaining components which she ultimately paid her contractor to demolish. Therefore, she did not donate, as personal property, her entire interest in the house to the charity, making plaintiffs' attempt to claim the value of the entire house as a charitable deduction improper. Finally, the court concluded that the $313,353 appraisal used to claim the deduction was not a qualified appraisal of the contributed property under 26 U.S.C. 170(f)(11)(C). View "Mann v. United States" on Justia Law

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After Boehringer developed a drug called Pradaxa to help reduce the risk of stroke, the FDA approved the drug and its label. Betty Knight suffered complications from taking the drug and eventually died. Betty's children filed suit against Boehringer asserting a variety of state-law claims alleging Boehringer failed to adequately warn about the risks associated with taking Pradaxa. Boehringer argued that federal law preempted the claims, the district court agreed with plaintiffs, and then the jury returned a mixed verdict. Boehringer appealed, claiming that plaintiffs' fraud claim based on the physician label was preempted.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying Boehringer's post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law. The court held that there is no bright-line, one-size-fits-all line marking the moment when an analysis reveals new information. A careful review of the record is needed to determine whether a conclusion has been reached. Applying careful review here, the court concluded that Boehringer did not have "newly acquired information" regarding an optimal Pradaxa blood concentration level which would have warranted a unilateral change to the physician label. Therefore, the state-law fraud claim is preempted. View "Knight v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a United States citizen, and his daughter, a citizen and resident of Sierra Leone, filed suit challenging the denial of their visa to the daughter. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that the doctrine of consular nonrevieawability plainly prohibits the court from questioning the consular officer's visa determination. The court explained that the Supreme Court has unambiguously instructed that absent some clear directive from Congress or an affirmative showing of bad faith, the government must simply provide a valid ineligibility provision as the basis for the visa denial. In this case, the government met this obligation by providing 8 U.S.C. 1201(g) and 1182(a)(6)(C)(i) (an anti-fraud and misrepresentation provision) as the statutory bases for denial of the visa application. Furthermore, not only did the consular officer provide the applicable statutory provisions as the bases for the visa denial, but the officer went further than necessary by explaining her decisionmaking—she found the daughter had proffered a falsified passport and lied about her age. View "Sesay v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law