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

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This dispute concerned whether an international trader of bunker fuel was entitled to a maritime lien on a vessel under the Commercial Instrument and Maritime Lien Act (CIMLA). The M/V LILA SHANGHAI (the Vessel) was a gross tonnage bulk carrier owned by Autumn Harvest Maritime Co. Autumn Harvest time-chartered the Vessel to Bostomar Bulk Shipping Pte Ltd. (Bostomar). The contract foreclosed charterers from unilaterally placing liens on the Vessel; in the event of "any dispute" between Autumn Harvest and Bostomar about the Vessel and their respective obligations, the parties would refer the matter to arbitration. Bostomar sub-chartered the Vessel to Medmar Inc. (Medmar). While sailing to India, the Vessel needed bunkers to complete its journey. Costas Mylonakis, an employee of Windrose Marine, contacted Appellant Sing Fuels Pte. Ltd. (Sing Fuels) to order the Vessel’s bunkers. Sing Fuels transmitted its bunker contract only to Mylonakis’s e-mail address affiliated with Windrose Marine. Mylonakis never returned any memorialized document from Medmar. Sing Fuels exclusively communicated with Mylonakis for this transaction, considered Mylonakis to be Medmar’s fuel broker, and never spoke directly with Medmar. Mylonakis also never communicated with Medmar, he conferred instead with a mysterious entity called M.A.C. Shipping. Medmar returned the Vessel to Bostomar in August 2019, with Sing Fuels still awaiting payment for July bunkers. By October 2019, payment for the July bunkers was still outstanding, so Sing Fuels sent Autumn Harvest a notice of nonpayment; Autumn Harvest refused to pay. In the wake of collapsed negotiations, Sing Fuels paid the physical supplier of the July bunkers. Without knowing where to turn after Medmar’s payment default on the bunkers, and its discussions with Autumn Harvest exhausted, Sing Fuels waited until the Vessel docked in the United States and then availed itself of US courts to recoup payment. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the bunker trader failed to show that it procured the vessel’s fuel “on the order of the owner or a person authorized by the owner,” under CIMLA, therefore, it affirmed the district court’s judgment denying the maritime lien. View "Sing Fuels Pte Ltd. v. M/V LILA SHANGHAI" on Justia Law

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Genesis Healthcare was a healthcare provider participating in the federal “340B Program,” which was designed to provide drugs to qualified persons at discounted prices. Under the Program, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) enters into agreements with drug manufacturers to sell drugs at discounted prices to entities such as Genesis Healthcare, which could, in turn, sell the drugs to their patients at discounted prices. After Genesis Healthcare purchased the covered drugs from the manufacturers, it dispensed them to patients through its wholly owned pharmacies or contract pharmacies. After the Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”) conducted an audit of Genesis Healthcare in June 2017 for Program compliance, HRSA removed Genesis Healthcare from the 340B Program. The audit report found, among other things, that Genesis Healthcare dispensed 340B drugs to individuals who were ineligible because they were not “patients” of Genesis Healthcare. HRSA rejected Genesis Healthcare’s challenges; Genesis Healthcare, in turn, filed suit seeking a declaration it did not violate the requirements of the Program, and injunctive relief requiring HRSA to reinstate it into the Program and to retract any notifications that HRSA had provided to manufacturers stating that Genesis Healthcare was ineligible under the Program. In response to the lawsuit, HRSA ultimately: (1) notified Genesis Healthcare by letter that it “ha[d] voided” all audit findings and that Genesis Healthcare “ha[d] no further obligations or responsibilities in regard to the audit” and (2) filed a motion to dismiss Genesis Healthcare’s action as moot based on the letter. The district court granted HRSA’s motion, finding that the action was moot. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's finding the case was moot: Genesis Healthcare continued to be governed by a definition of “patient” that, Genesis maintained, was illegal and harmful to it. Therefore, there remained a live controversy between the parties. View "Genesis HealthCare, Inc. v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Defendant operated a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme out of Israel which targeted unsophisticated victims worldwide. Defendant was ultimately convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and substantive wire fraud, and sentenced to 22 years in prison.On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, Defendant raised several challenges, including that she did not commit a crime under United States law because the wire-fraud statute does not apply to hee conduct that occurred out of the county. The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's position, finding that, although the wire-fraud statute does not apply extraterritorially, the focus of the statute is on the misuse of American wires. Because Defendant's conduct involved the misuse of American wires, the statute applied to her.The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's remaining challenges, with the exception of her challenge to the district court's restitution order that went beyond victims of domestic wire fraud. View "US v. Lee Elbaz" on Justia Law

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A former coal miner s filed a claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge (ALJ) and the Benefits Review Board both determined that Petitioner, Edd Potter Coal Company, would be responsible in the event that the coal miner was entitled to benefits. Once the Board remanded the case to determine if benefits were in fact appropriate, Edd Potter decided to raise an Appointments Clause challenge. Both the ALJ and the Board concluded that Edd Potter had forfeited this issue by failing to timely raise it.    Given Edd Potter’s double forfeiture, the Fourth Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that the Department of Labor’s regulations requires issue exhaustion both before the ALJ and before the Board. The court wrote that it is firmly established that, before an agency, parties must raise all issues they seek to maintain on appeal “at the time appropriate under its practice.” United States v. L.A. Tucker Truck Lines, Inc., 344 U.S. 33 (1952). The court explained the Department’s regulations, the Board’s consistent practice, and the mandate rule’s application all point in the same direction as logic. On remand, parties may not raise whatever new issues they would like if they have previously failed to bring those issues to the attention of the ALJ and the Board. The mere fact of a remand does not wipe the whole slate clean. Further, the court found that Edd Potter forfeited its Appointments Clause claim not once but twice. View "Edd Potter Coal Company, Inc. v. DOWCP" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a Cuban alien, petitioned for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals decision denying his application for asylum, withholding of removal, and Convention Against Torture (“CAT”) protection. But the government first argued that the Fourth Circuit should not hear this case, as venue lies in the Fifth Circuit. Interpreting the venue statute, the Fourth Circuit found that venue is proper in the circuit court because the Immigration Judge (“IJ”) completed the proceedings in Virginia, which is within the court’s judicial circuit.   The court rejected Petitioner’s petition, explaining that it defers to the Immigration Judge’s factual findings because they are supported by substantial evidence. The court wrote that the IJ’s adverse credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence. The court explained even a minor inconsistency can support an adverse credibility finding. Here, the IJ noted that Petitioner’s credible-fear interview omitted several important police encounters, in November 2017, October 2018, and November 2018, which he later mentioned at the immigration hearing. The interviewer warned him to include everything by asking about any “other incidents that he wanted to tell anybody about.”   Further, the court explained that the IJ noted Petitioner presented no direct evidence that he would be tortured upon his return, and his testimony that he will be tortured upon his return is speculative. Thus, because the IJ’s opinion was sound, the BIA did not abuse its discretion by affirming it. View "Oscar Herrera-Alcala v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Defendants were convicted of honest services fraud and federal funds bribery in connection with a series of payments and offers of payment, in the form of campaign contributions, made to the elected Insurance Commissioner for North Carolina. The jury found that these payments were made in exchange for the official assigning a different Deputy Commissioner to oversee the affairs of Defendant’s insurance companies. Defendants now challenge the district court’s jury instructions and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their convictions.   The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s judgment sentencing Defendants for honest services fraud and federal funds bribery. The court held that the district court erred by instructing the jury that an “official act”—an element of the crime of honest services fraud—was present as a matter of law. Further, the court found that the error was not harmless and, therefore, vacated Defendants’ convictions on Count One. The court also vacated Defendants’ convictions on Count Two because we find that the verdicts were improperly infected by the instructional error on Count One. The case is, therefore, remanded for a new trial. The court, however, did not find that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury that an official act is an element of federal funds bribery. View "US v. Greg Lindberg" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff brought a False Claims Act challenge against two doctors, five medical companies, and an accounting firm, collectively referred to hereinafter as Defendants. She alleged that Defendants (1) knowingly submitted false claims to Medicare following the dissolution of one company’s corporate charter and the revocation of its certificate of corporate authorization and (2) engaged in a fraudulent medical upcoding scheme.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the finding that Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the falsity of statements made by one of the defendants. And she failed to adequately allege scienter, materiality, and the presentment of false claims regarding the remaining seven Defendants.   The court explained that the False Claims Act prohibits the knowing presentment of a “false or fraudulent claim” or a “false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.” 31 U.S.C. Section 3729(a)(1)(A), (B). At common law, a false statement encompassed any “words or conduct” that “amount[] to an assertion not in accordance with the truth.” But even under the broad, common-law definition of falsity, Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding the allegedly false statement made by one of the defendants. Further, the court wrote that it doesn’t help that Plaintiff inconsistently describes what that false statement was. View "United States ex rel. Taylor v. Michael Boyko" on Justia Law

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Petitioner asserted several constitutional and procedural claims related to his inclusion in the Terrorism Screening Database and its subclassification, the No Fly List. These are two governmental, interagency tools used to share information about suspected terrorists. The district court determined that Petitioner’s as-applied claims fell within 49 U.S.C. Section 46110’s grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the federal appellate courts over challenges to final Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) orders. So it transferred those claims to us under 28 U.S.C. Section 1631.   Petitioner moved to remand his claims to the district court, arguing it erred in finding that the Fourth Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction under Section 46110. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the government that a portion of Petitioner’s claims—those challenging his status on the No Fly List—is moot. But the court wrote it thinks it’s unclear which of Petitioner’s claims the district court intended to transfer under Section 1631. Thus the court vacated the transfer order and remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss as moot Petitioner’s challenges to his status on the No Fly List; decide whether it has jurisdiction over the rest of Petitioner’s claims; and, if not, transfer them to the proper Circuit. View "Saadiq Long v. David Pekoske" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was transferred from a class where she instructed emotionally disturbed (“ED”) children to a class where Plaintiff worked with children with moderate intellectual disabilities. Plaintiff alleged that one of her students sexually harassed her between fall 2018 through mid-March 2019. This student, S.M., was an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). Although the teacher in the classroom recorded the incidents in her notes, or “point sheets,” where she detailed each student’s daily behavior, Plaintiff claims the teacher was generally dismissive of her concerns. After exhausting her remedies with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed suit against the Chesterfield County School Board (“the School Board”) alleging that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.   The district court granted the School Board’s motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim on summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that the record does not support a prima facie case for hostile work environment sexual harassment. The court explained that Plaintiff cannot primarily rely upon her own statements to argue that S.M.’s conduct surpassed what could be expected of an eight-year-old child with his disabilities after two special education experts testified that it did not—instead, she is required by law to demonstrate it. Further, even if Plaintiff established that S.M. targeted her because of sex, she would still be unable to meet the third required element—that is, show that S.M.’s conduct rose to the level of severe or pervasive. View "Regina Webster v. Chesterfield County School Board" on Justia Law

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This fee dispute arises from a putative class-action challenge to a now-repealed Virginia statute that triggered the automatic suspension of the driver’s licenses of “Appellants”, and numerous other Virginia residents for nonpayment of court costs and fines. After Appellants obtained a preliminary injunction, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law repealing the challenged statute. Appellants stipulated that dismissal of the underlying lawsuit was therefore appropriate but claimed that they were nonetheless entitled to attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1988 because they secured the preliminary injunction.   The district court denied Appellants’ petition for attorney’s fees, citing our decision in Smyth ex rel. Smyth v. Rivero, 282 F.3d 268 (4th Cir. 2002), wherein we held that preliminary injunctions do not confer the requisite “prevailing party” status required for an award of fees pursuant to Section 1988. On appeal, Appellants contend that Smyth is not controlling because it is untenable with subsequent Supreme Court decisions.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial Appellants' petition for attorney’s fees and litigation expenses. The court held that Smyth remains the law of the Fourth Circuit. And, pursuant to Smyth, Appellants are not prevailing parties. The court explained that it is bound by Smyth because it is directly on point and is neither distinguishable from nor untenable with any Supreme Court decision. The court wrote its decision in Smyth primarily turned on the nature of preliminary injunctions, not the standard for obtaining a preliminary injunction. Thus, Appellants’ argument that Smyth is untenable considering the changed merits standard following Winter is unpersuasive. View "Damian Stinnie v. Richard Holcomb" on Justia Law