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

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The Fourth Circuit declined to enjoin the North Carolina State Board of Elections's extension of its deadline for the receipt of absentee ballots for the ongoing general election. The court explained that the only issue it must address now is plaintiffs' request for an emergency injunction pending appeal regarding a single aspect of the procedures that the district court below refused to enjoin: an extension of the deadline for the receipt of mail-in ballots. The court explained that the change is simply an extension from three to nine days after Election Day for a timely ballot to be received and counted.Because plaintiffs have not established a likelihood of success on the merits of their equal protection claim—and because, in any event, Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), and Andino v. Middleton, No. 20A55, 2020 WL 5887393 (U.S. Oct. 5, 2020), require that the court not intervene at this late stage—the court declined to enter an injunction pending appeal. The court also held that plaintiffs lack standing to raise their Elections Clause challenge. Even if they did not lack standing, the Pullman abstention doctrine strongly counsels the court against exercising jurisdiction over that claim. The court further held that all suggestions from the state courts point to the conclusion that the Board properly exercised its legislative delegation of authority, and there is no irreparable harm from a ballot extension. Finally, the balance of the equities is influenced heavily by Purcell and tilts against federal court intervention at this late stage, and Andino establishes that the appropriate status-quo framework is the status quo created by the state's actions, not by later federal court interventions. View "Wise v. Circosta" on Justia Law

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For the purpose of applying 31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(5)'s civil penalty, a "willful violation" of the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs) reporting requirement includes both knowing and reckless violations, even though more is required to sustain a criminal conviction for a willful violation of the same requirement under section 5322.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that the undisputed facts establish that defendants' failure to file the FBARs for 2007 and 2008 was objectively reckless. In this case, among other things, defendants knew that they were holding a significant portion of their savings in a foreign bank account and earning interest income on that account; defendants knew that interest income was taxable income and that foreign income was taxable in the United States; and defendants reported interest income to their accountant from domestic banks and foreign income earned in Saudi Arabia but failed to report foreign interest income. Furthermore, the Finter Bank account was a numbered account with "hold mail" service; the Swiss bank accounts were by no means small or insignificant and thus susceptible to being overlooked by defendants; and defendants stated that they did not have a foreign bank account on their tax returns. The court also affirmed the district court's conclusion that the civil penalty for a willful FBAR violation is established by 31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(5)(C)–(D), not 31 C.F.R. 1010.820(g). Finally, the civil penalties against defendants were timely assessed, and the enforcement action was timely filed. View "United States v. Horowitz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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Cartagena was born in El Salvador in 1996. In 2013, her parents moved to the U.S. Cartagena remained in El Salvador with her newborn daughter and two siblings. Cartagena received a call from a man, calling himself her cousin, who told her to tell her parents "they have to send us $200.” He sent texts saying that if they didn’t send the money an unidentified gang would kill her siblings. Cartagena’s parents sent her money for the gang. The threats continued. Her parents were unable to meet increasing demands. Gang members came to the family home and cut Cartagena's nine-year-old brother with a knife, telling him that “his parents [had] to see.” They later returned and beat Cartagena and her brother and raped Cartagena, threatening to kill her daughter. Cartagena fled to the U.S. with her daughter and siblings.Cartagena sought asylum based on the persecution that was based on her membership to the Cartagena family social group. An IJ found her credible but concluded that she had failed to demonstrate that the persecution occurred on account of her group membership because “the primary motivation … was monetary gain.” The BIA agreed, finding that family members were harmed because of their failure to meet the extortion demands, rather than their family ties.The Fourth Circuit reversed. The IJ and BIA failed to consider important evidence that compels the conclusion that family membership was at least one central reason for the persecution. Their conclusions are contrary to law and inconsistent with the evidence of repeated statements that the money being extorted was from Cartegena’s parents and that the persecutors contacted her in order to communicate their threats to her parents. View "Hernandez-Cartagena v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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In 2003, Taylor and a co-conspirator went to rob Taylor’s marijuana customer, Sylvester. The co-conspirator carried a semiautomatic pistol, which discharged during the attempt. Sylvester sustained a fatal gunshot wound. An indictment alleged Taylor conspired to commit Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951; attempted Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951; and used a firearm in furtherance of a “crime of violence,” 18 U.S.C. 924(c), citing as predicate crimes of violence the conspiracy and the attempted Hobbs Act robbery. Taylor pled guilty to the conspiracy and section 924(c) counts and was sentenced to 240 months’ incarceration for the conspiracy and 120 consecutive months for the 924(c) conviction.Taylor’s first motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 was denied. Taylor obtained permission to file a second section 2255 motion in light of the Supreme Court’s "Johnson" decision, which substantially narrowed the definition of “violent felony” in the Armed Career Criminal Act. In the meantime, the Fourth Circuit invalidated section 924(c)(3)(B), one of two clauses defining “crime of violence,” and held that conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under either clause. The Supreme Court similarly invalidated section 924(c)(3)(B) as unconstitutionally vague.The Fourth Circuit vacated Taylor’s 924(c) conviction. The elements of attempted Hobbs Act robbery do not invariably require “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force,” so the offense does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under 924(c). View "United States v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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District of Maryland Local Rule 109 requires that any motion requesting attorneys’ fees be filed within 14 days of “entry of judgment,” parroting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54.The district court granted the plaintiff’s contested motion for voluntary dismissal of its complaint under Rule 41(a)(2), entering an order of dismissal, with direction to the Clerk “to close this case.” No “separate document” set out the order as a “judgment,” as required by Rule 58(a). The defendant filed a Rule 59(e) post-judgment motion three days later. The court denied that motion. The defendant filed a motion for attorney fees, 18 days after the entry of the dismissal order but 13 days after the court disposed of the Rule 59(e) motion. The court found the motion untimely, rejecting arguments that the Rule 59(e) motion extended the judgment date and that in disregarding the extension, the court rendered its Local Rule in conflict with Rule 54.The Fourth Circuit vacated. Rule 58(a)’s separate-document requirement was not satisfied, so the “entry of judgment” did not occur on the date that the court entered its dismissal order, which did not trigger the time for filing motions for attorneys fees under either Local Rule 109 or Federal Rule 54. The district court’s interpretation of its Local Rule with respect to a Rule 59(e) motion’s effect on the date of judgment was inconsistent with Rule 54, in violation of Rule 83 (requiring local rules to be “consistent with . . . federal statutes and rules”). View "CX Reinsurance Co. Limited v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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The Fourth Circuit held that Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977), which applies a burden-shifting framework, provides the appropriate framework for reviewing inmates' First Amendment retaliation claims. However, the court held that the district court improperly resolved genuine disputes of material fact in defendant's favor. In this case, the district court erred in crediting defendant's reasons for segregating plaintiff because, at the summary judgment stage, a court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Doing so here, a reasonable juror could find that defendant placed plaintiff in segregation and kept him segregated for impermissible reasons. The court took the opportunity to reemphasize the well-settled principle that an action motivated by retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally protected right is actionable, even if the act, when taken for a different reason, might have been legitimate. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Martin v. Duffy" on Justia Law

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After his taxes were paid late from his mortgage escrow account, causing him to incur $895 in penalties, the homeowner-borrower filed a putative class action against the company that serviced his mortgage. Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. 2601, if a mortgage contract requires the borrower to place property tax payments in escrow, “the servicer” must make those tax payments on time. The right to service a mortgage is subject to purchase and sale. The rights to service the plaintiff’s mortgage had been transferred between the time of the plaintiff’s payment into the escrow account and the tax’s due date.Reversing the district court, the Fourth Circuit concluded that when servicing rights are transferred in the window between the borrower’s payment to escrow and the tax’s due date, RESPA requires taxes to be paid by the entity responsible for servicing the mortgage at the time the tax payment is due. By requiring “the servicer” to make tax payments “as [they] become due,” RESPA connects the servicer’s obligation to a payment’s due date, not the date of payment into escrow by the borrower. View "Harrell v. Freedom Mortgage Corp." on Justia Law

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Anderson County, South Carolina Deputy McKinney was on patrol when Deputy Lollis requested assistance with a traffic stop. Supervisor Hamby issued a “Code 3” emergency response; Code 3 is the only time officers are permitted to exceed posted speed limits or otherwise disregard traffic regulations. McKinney activated his lights and siren and proceeded to Lollis’ location. Seconds later, Lollis radioed that units could “back down on emergency response but continue to him ‘priority.’” Hamby canceled Code 3. McKinney acknowledged the cancellation, “cut back to normal run,” deactivated his lights and siren, and “began to reduce" his speed. Approximately two minutes after Hamby canceled the Code 3, McKinney lost control of his vehicle on a curved, unlit section of the road, crossed the center line, and struck Harkness’s sedan nearly head-on. Harkness sustained extensive, severe orthopedic and neurological injuries. An accident reconstruction determined that McKinney was traveling at least 83 miles per hour when he began to skid, in a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit zone. McKinney had previously received remedial counseling following his involvement in incidents involving his operation of police vehicles.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that McKinney violated Harkness’s substantive due process rights by exhibiting “conscience-shocking deliberate indifference” to Harkness’s life and safety, McKinney moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of McKinney’s motion. A reasonable jury could conclude that McKinney violated Harkness’s clearly established substantive due process right. View "Dean v. McKinney" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Virginia state law against two Arlington County police officers and a mental health examiner, alleging that the Arlington County defendants unlawfully seized and detained her for a mental health evaluation in violation of the Fourth Amendment and falsely imprisoned her in violation of Virginia state law. Plaintiff also filed suit against her employer, PAE, and three of PAE's employees, alleging that the PAE defendants conspired with the Arlington County defendants to unlawfully seize her and falsely imprison her, also in violation of section 1983 and Virginia state law.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Arlington County defendants on plaintiff's section 1983 claims where the Arlington County defendants had probable cause to detain plaintiff for an emergency mental health evaluation. Even assuming that they did not have probable cause to detain plaintiff, the Arlington County defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of their conduct was not clearly established at the time. Even if plaintiff had properly raised her challenge, the court also affirmed the dismissal of the state law conspiracy claims against the Arlington County defendants where the officers had the requisite legal justification to detain plaintiff for the evaluation, and they followed the legal process provided by Virginia law in doing so.The court further affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's section 1983 claim against the PAE defendants where plaintiff's allegations that the officers conspired with the PAE defendants to illegally seize her and remove her from the workplace for a psychological evaluation is comprised of nothing more than conclusory assertions and rank speculation. Furthermore, plaintiff's state law conspiracy claims rest upon the same conclusory and speculative allegation that the PAE employees and the police officers conspired to violate her civil rights and to falsely imprison her, regardless of how she acted or what she said to the police. The court affirmed the dismissal of this claim as well. View "Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to operating a commercial vehicle without a permit and entered a conditional guilty plea to a marijuana charge, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the Government has not carried its burden to show that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop defendant or that the stop was a valid administrative inspection under New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987). In this case, absent articulable suspicion that defendant lacked the required permit to drive on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the officer was not entitled to stop defendant's vehicle at his discretion to check whether defendant possessed a permit. Furthermore, the officer was not acting pursuant to commercial trucking regulations when he stopped defendant's vehicle. Because the initial traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment, any evidence obtained from it, including the marijuana found in defendant's shoe, should have been suppressed. Therefore, the court vacated defendant's marijuana conviction and remanded. View "United States v. Feliciana" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law