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

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Plaintiff, a former special agent with the Virginia State Police, filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against the Commonwealth, seeking relief that includes compensatory damages, reinstatement, and back pay. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the ADA claim, because the Commonwealth has not waived its sovereign immunity from that claim. However, the court reversed the district court's decision that claim preclusion barred the Title VII claims, because the initial forum did not have the power to award the full measure of relief sought in this litigation. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Passaro v. Commonwealth of Virginia" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing heroin and cocaine with intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The court held that defendant abandoned his challenge to the government's contention that the warrantless search was valid as a search incident to the arrest. Even if defendant had not abandoned his argument, the court held that police may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle incident to a lawful arrest when it was reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle. In this case, after finding a bag of white power, and observing a suspicious baggie and a large amount of cash in plain view, the officers had a reasonable basis to believe they might find additional drugs in the vehicle. The court held that a conspiracy conviction under 21 U.S.G. 846 is a categorical mismatch to the generic crime of conspiracy enumerated in USSG 4B1.2(b). Therefore, the district court erred by applying a six-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(a)(4)(A). However, the error was not plain under United States v. McCollum, 885 F.3d 300, 308 (4th Cir. 2018), and there was no basis for reversal. View "United States v. Norman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiffs appealed from the district court's decision finding a 2007 default judgment against Defendant Borsy and others, including i-TV, void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in finding the default judgment void because there was an arguable basis for subject matter jurisdiction. Respondents filed a cross-motion challenging the district court's decision to permit extensive discovery from them notwithstanding a lack of personal jurisdiction. The court held that plaintiffs did not make out a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over respondents. In this case, the foreign respondents allegedly helped a foreign national carry out a purely foreign business transaction whose only tie to our country was that it allegedly violated a federal-court injunction. The court held that this was not enough to supply the minimum contacts that due process requires. Finally, although plaintiffs argued in the alternative that respondents are Borsy's successors-in-interest, plaintiffs have effectively waived that theory by changing their argument on appeal. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4) relief and remanded with instructions that Respondents be dismissed from the proceedings for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Hawkins v. i-TV Digitalis Tavkozlesi Zrt." on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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After English filed suit against RK&K and CDM Smith for breach of contract and indemnification, the district court granted summary judgment to defendants. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, holding that the district court construed ambiguous contractual language and resolved factual disputes, which violated the established principles of summary judgment. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the court noted that the factfinder will need to interpret the relevant aspects of the contract and to determine the effect of any breach by English on RK&K's liability. Furthermore, the factfinder will need to determine what CDM Smith’s contractual obligations were under the circumstances, whether CDM Smith satisfied those obligations, and if CDM Smith failed to meet its obligations, whether and to what extent English is entitled to damages. View "W. C. English, Inc. v. Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, LLP" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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After entering a settlement that released certain tort claims, plaintiff filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. When her debts were discharged and the bankruptcy proceedings closed, she filed suit seeking to rescind her settlement agreement as fraudulently induced and to pursue a tort action. The district court entered judgment in favor of defendants. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court's standing determination conflates Article III requirements with the distinct real-party-in-interest analysis. Rather, plaintiff has both Article III standing and the legal entitlement to pursue tort claims on her own behalf. In regard to judicial estoppel, the court also held that the district court relied on an improper presumption of bad faith, and therefore reached its conclusion without fully engaging in the necessary inquiry. Therefore, the court remanded to the district court for it to evaluate the appropriateness of judicial estoppel in light of all facts and circumstances without recourse to a presumption of bad faith. View "Martineau v. Wier" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for distributing 1.2 grams of methamphetamine. The court held that the district court erred in relying on the interstate nature of defendant's offense because nothing in the record, except defendant's out-of-state residency, indicated that his offense involved the interstate transportation of methamphetamine. The court remanded for resentencing and, to ensure the appearance of impartiality, ordered the case be reassigned to a different judge. View "United States v. McCall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1201(a) and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c). The district court sentenced defendant to 324 months imprisonment on the kidnapping charge, followed by 84 months imprisonment for brandishing the firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Defendant appealed his section 924(c) conviction. The Fourth Circuit held that, because settled law of the Supreme Court and this circuit have expressly held that section 924(c)(3)(B), the residual clause, was unconstitutionally vague, the district court clearly erred by finding that defendant violated that section. The court also clearly erred in holding that defendant violated section 924(c)(3)(A), because kidnapping clearly does not categorically qualify as a crime of violence under the force clause. Finally, these errors affected defendant's substantial rights as well as the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's conviction under section 924(c) and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Walker" 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 evidence obtained under a warrant and sought under a Franks hearing. Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of receiving child pornography after he clicked on a link appearing on a secretive online message board. The court held that the magistrate judge had a substantial basis for concluding that searching defendant's address would uncover evidence of wrongdoing. In this case, although the search relied on a "single click" of an internet link, the click was to a video of child pornography in circumstances suggesting the person behind that click plausibly knew about and sought out that content. Furthermore, the court found the warrant valid even though it was issued five months after the underlying events took place. Finally, the court noted that regardless of the warrant's validity, suppression would be inappropriate because the government obtained a warrant and reasonably relied on it to execute the search. View "United States v. Bosyk" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Applying North Carolina law, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment in favor of Penn National, holding that the district court erred by applying the prior publication exclusions to eliminate Penn National's duty to defend Beach Mart in the underlying lawsuit. In this case, a prior publication exclusion, like the one here, will not bar coverage for offensive publications made during the policy period which differ in substance from those published before commencement of coverage. Furthermore, because the prior publication exclusions could not eliminate Beach Mart's duty to defend, the district court erred in dismissing Beach Mart's counterclaims. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions. View "Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. v. Beach Mart, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions and sentences for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and related offenses based on an extensive online dating fraud scheme that induced elderly victims to transfer money to defendants' bank accounts based on postured romantic relationships. The court held that the district court did not err in denying Defendant Mojisola's motion to suppress, holding that admission into evidence of data from her phone, which was the fruit of her opening it, presented no risk that coerced statements would be used against her at a criminal trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting into evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 1006 a series of charts detailing selected deposits made into their bank accounts; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant Mojisola and Babatunde's motions for severance. The court rejected defendants' numerous claims of evidentiary errors and held that the district court did not err in giving the challenged jury instructions. Finally, the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions and defendants' claims of sentencing errors failed. View "United States v. Oloyede" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law