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The Fourth Circuit granted the petition for review of the BIA's decision ordering petitioner removed to her native El Salvador. The court held that petitioner credibly testified by affidavit that MS-13 threatened and extorted her after her father left El Salvador; MS-13 threatened to kill her children if she did not meet the gang's demands; and she felt terrorized by the threats and fears for her safety and the safety of her children. The court also held that petitioner was persecuted on account of her family membership. Because the BIA did not reach the issue of whether the Salvadoran government was either unwilling or unable to control the gang members who threatened the family, the court remanded for the BIA to consider this factual issue in the first instance. The court vacated the BIA's order denying withholding of removal and remanded. View "Zavaleta-Policiano v. Sessions" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law

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Although EQT's injection well was regulated by the state and authorized by a state-issued permit, the County sought to bar its operation by passing an ordinance that prohibited the disposal of wastewater anywhere within the County. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to EQT. The court held that the West Virginia legislature, in enacting its complex regulatory program for injection wells, did not leave counties with the authority to nullify permits issued by the state, and thus this central aspect of the ordinance was preempted by state law. The court also held that related aspects of the ordinance were preempted as well. View "EQT Production Co. v. Wender" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of first degree murder and sentence of death. The court found defendant's challenges to his conviction were without merit. The court rejected defendant's contention that his death sentence was unconstitutional because it was based solely on post-offense conviction aggravators; that the district court erred in failing to apply the categorical approach to state convictions that made him death penalty eligible; and that the district court erred by allowing him to forego a mitigation defense without conducting a second competency evaluation and hearing. The court held that the evidence clearly supported the special finding of the existence of an aggravating factor required to be considered under 18 U.S.C. 3592. The court also held that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor. View "United States v. Torrez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. The court rejected petitioner's claim, in light of Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), that his prior South Carolina conviction for assault on a police officer while resisting arrest qualified as a predicate "crime of violence" for career-offender status under the Sentencing Guidelines. Petitioner can succeed only if, inter alia, a Supreme Court precedent has rendered his motion timely by recognizing a new right entitling him to relief. The court held that neither Johnson nor Beckles v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 886, 895 (2017), nor any other Supreme Court case has recognized the specific right on which petitioner sought to rely. The court explained that only the Supreme Court can recognize the right which would render petitioner's motion timely under section 2255(f)(3). View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The federal criminal forfeiture statute, 21 U.S.C. 853, does not authorize the pretrial restraint of a defendant's innocently-obtained property. Section 853(e) permits the government to obtain a pretrial restraining order over only those assets that are directly subject to forfeiture as property traceable to a charged offense. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit overruled its precedents to the contrary, United States v. McKinney (In re Billman), 915 F.2d 916 (4th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 952 (1991), and United States v. Bollin, 264 F.3d 391, 421–22 (4th Cir. 2001), and vacated the district court's order relying on those authorities. View "United States v. Chamberlain" on Justia Law

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These appeals arose from the district court's denial of a motion to quash grand jury subpoenas demanding testimony of a criminal defendant's attorney and investigator. The Fourth Circuit found that part of the testimony sought was fact work product that may nonetheless be compelled because it fell under the crime-fraud exception to the work product privilege. However, the government may not ask a general question attempting to reach what the court deemed to be opinion work product. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Under Seal 1 v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., to recover alleged overpayments of retirement benefits to certain employees of DAK who were participants in the Plan. The Fourth Circuit held that the written language of the Plan clearly and unambiguously provided the lump sum elected by the employees was the actuarial equivalent of the Accrued Benefit payable at the employee's Normal Retirement Date. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's award of summary judgment to plaintiffs on their equitable restitution claim. The court also held that the doctrine of equitable estoppel could not be used to require the payment of benefits that conflict with the express, written terms of the Plan; the court assumed, without deciding, that the particular facts of this case could establish a finding that plaintiffs breached their fiduciary duty and turned instead to consider whether any of the employees established a triable issue of fact as to "actual harm" in connection with their claims for a surcharge remedy; and Rodney B. Smith was the only employee with a viable surcharge claim for purposes of summary judgment. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment against Smith and remanded for further proceedings. View "Retirement Committee of DAK Americas v. Brewer" on Justia Law

Posted in: ERISA

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction of immigration fraud, holding that he was denied an opportunity for a fair and impartial trial. Defendant, an Algerian native, entered the United States through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. During trial, the district court interjected numerous times, expressing skepticism of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program and a negative impression of individuals who participate in the program. The court found that this judicial intervention was improper, the district court failed to issue a curative instruction after its improper comments, and neither the timing nor the content of the boilerplate instructions to the jury addressed the comments. View "United States v. Lefsih" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiffs, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, visited the Cherokee Bear Zoo. Plaintiffs observed bear pits containing four bears, identified by signs as grizzly bears. The pits were compact and made entirely of concrete. Each pit had a small pool of water, but neither had any vegetation nor any shade. Plaintiffs observed the bears in listless form, pacing and begging for food. Patrons fed the bears apples and dry bread sold by the Zoo. Plaintiffs brought a citizen suit, alleging that the Zoo’s practice of keeping the bears in the described living conditions constituted a “tak[ing]” of and possession of a taken threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1538(a)(1). Plaintiffs’ argued that the Zoo’s conduct is a form of “harass[ment]” of, and “harm” to, its bears. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings in favor of Plaintiffs on the issues of standing and the bears’ status as protected but vacated the court’s ruling against Plaintiffs on the issue of whether the Zoo is committing an unlawful taking. To establish harassment, Plaintiffs must prove that the Zoo’s husbandry practices fall within 50 C.F.R. 17.3’s definition of harass and that those practices do not fall within the enumerated exclusion. The district court did not reach the first issue and improperly declined to ask whether the Zoo’s animal husbandry practices are “generally accepted.” View "Hill v. Coggins" on Justia Law

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M.L. was born in 2003 with Down Syndrome and is a “child with a disability” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S.C. 1401(3)(A). He and his family are members of the Orthodox Jewish faith and reside in an Orthodox Jewish community in Montgomery County, Maryland. In 2009, M.L. was enrolled, at his parents’ expense, in Sulam, “a special education program that serves the Orthodox Jewish community.” In 2012, his parents and school officials met to form an individualized education program (IEP) for M.L. so that he could attend classes in the public school district. After expert assessments of M.L.’s capabilities, the school determined that M.L. “is able to learn despite his severe intellectual disability, but he needs constant repetition and consistency.” M.L.’s parents rejected the school's proposed IEP “because it does not provide functional instruction to prepare [M.L.] for life in the Orthodox Jewish community.” The district responded that such instruction was “not part of the curriculum, too specific, religious, or not compatible with [M.L.’s] present levels.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed the rejection of the parents’ claims on summary judgment. The IDEA does not mandate that a school instruct a student in his preferred religious practices as part of a “free appropriate public education.” View "M.L. v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law