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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Arlington filed suit against opioid manufacturers, distributers, and pharmacies, including the ESI Defendants, in state court for causing, or contributing to, the opioid epidemic in Arlington County. The ESI Defendants removed to federal court pursuant to the federal officer removal statute, claiming that their operation of the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy (TMOP) as a subcontractor to a contract between their corporate affiliate and the Department of Defense (DOD) satisfied each of the statute's requirements. The district court granted Arlington's motion to remand back to state court.The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the ESI defendants satisfied the requirements of the federal officer removal statute. The court concluded that the ESI Defendants met their burden of showing that they were "acting under" DOD in operating the TMOP in accordance with the DOD contract. Although the district court did not address the other two requirements of the federal officer removal statute—possession of a colorable federal defense and a causal relationship between the government-directed conduct and the plaintiffs' claims—the court found that judicial economy favors resolution of those questions without a time-consuming and costly remand. On the merits, the court concluded that the ESI Defendants also satisfied these two requirements. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "The County Board of Arlington County v. Express Scripts Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a trial before a three-member land commission, the district court awarded compensation to Landowners after the government took an easement on their land. The district court awarded Landowners $4.4 million, apportioned attorney's fees and litigation costs, and split the cost of the commission.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of just compensation and the splitting of the commission costs. The court concluded that the district court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence and to determine that the Landowners had shown a non-speculative demand for industrial and residential development in the reasonably near future. Therefore, the court could not say that the district court clearly erred in calculating its award of just compensation. The court also concluded that the district court has broad discretion in apportioning commission costs, and upheld its decision to do so. However, the court concluded that identifying the "prevailing party" for purposes of the attorney's fee award is a legal question that the court reviewed de novo. The court found that the district court erred in making that determination, concluding that because the government's $937,800 value is closer to the district court's final award of $4.4 million, the government, not the Landowners, is the "prevailing party" in this litigation. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "United States v. 269 Acres Located in Beaufort County" on Justia Law

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The waiver language in 15 U.S.C. 1071 relates only to the choice of review options for the decision appealed from. The Fourth Circuit held that a party seeking review of a subsequent Trademark Board decision may seek review in either the Federal Circuit or the district court, even if the Trademark Board's initial decision was reviewed by the Federal Circuit.In this case, the parties' dispute concerns the registration of the mark "PRETZEL CRISPS." Plaintiff sought to register the mark in 2004, but the trademark examiner denied registration. Plaintiffs reapplied for registration in 2009, but Frito-Lay opposed the registration and argued that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic for pretzel crackers and not registrable. The Trademark Board sided with Frito-Lay in 2014. Plaintiffs opted for the section 1071(a) route and appealed the Trademark Board's 2014 decision to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit agreed with plaintiffs in 2015, remanding to the Trademark Board. On remand in 2017, the Trademark Board again concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic, and alternatively concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" lacked distinctiveness. Plaintiffs sought review of the Trademark Board's 2017 decision, but the district court dismissed the case without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that the statutory text of the Lanham Act, while ambiguous, favors plaintiffs' argument in favor of jurisdiction. Furthermore, this conclusion is bolstered by legislative history, the court's sister circuits' holdings in similar cases, and policy considerations. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Snyder's-Lance, Inc. v. Frito-Lay North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Various statutory provisions and regulations require the DOD to maintain a publicly accessible website containing all decisions rendered by its Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records. When the DOD was alerted in 2019 that some posted decisions contained personally identifiable information, it temporarily removed all decisions from the website. Since then, the DOD has slowly been redacting and restoring the decisions to the site.NVLSP filed suit against the DOD and the Secretaries of the military departments to require them to fulfill the statutory mandate of publishing all decisions and to do so promptly. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss, ruling that NVLSP lacked Article III standing to bring the action and that the DoD's conduct was not judicially reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that although NVLSP has standing to bring this action, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. In this case, NVLSP challenges defendants' ongoing actions in maintaining and managing the website, not any final agency action understood as a discrete agency determination of rights and obligations, as necessary to give a court subject matter jurisdiction under the APA. View "National Veterans Legal Services Program v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit joined the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits in holding that an amended complaint does not divest an earlier verified complaint of its evidentiary value as an affidavit at the summary judgment stage. In this case, the court concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to law enforcement officers without considering plaintiff's verified complaints and abused its discretion in granting summary judgment before resolving plaintiff's repeated discovery requests. On remand, the district court should determine what, if any, additional discovery is appropriate. The district court should then consider afresh the officers' summary judgment motion on the full record, including plaintiff's verified complaints. View "Goodman v. Z. Diggs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Defendant was a successful franchise operator of several tax preparation businesses under the umbrella of JTH Tax, Inc. and SiempreTax+ LLC (together, "Liberty Tax"). In this case, Liberty Tax requested that defendant assign it the leases for the franchise properties, as provided for by the Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA). However, the parties could not agree to terms for the assignment. Liberty Tax subsequently filed suit and defendant countersued. Defendant largely prevailed and was awarded a significant sum of damages. The Fourth Circuit vacated a substantial portion of the damages award but upheld the judgment in defendant's favor. On remand, the district court recalculated damages based on the Fourth Circuit's instructions and then, on defendant's motion, subsequently amended the judgment, increasing the damages based on purportedly new evidence. Both parties appealed again.The Fourth Circuit found no error in the district court's denial of defendant's arguments for reinstatement of much of the original damages. The court explained that the district court did not err in concluding that the Rule 59(e) standard and the mandate rule precluded defendant's disgorgement theory. However, the court found error in the district court's conclusion that defendant met the standard for relief based on newly discovered evidence and in the award of nominal damages. The court concluded that, in the declaration and now on appeal, defendant does not show he exercised reasonable due diligence during the three years of litigation to discover and present evidence of unpaid rent on the Burnside property. Furthermore, nominal damages were unavailable because defendant was awarded compensatory damages to remedy Liberty Tax's breach of contract, regardless of the finding that Liberty Tax also breached the contract by breaching the implied covenant. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed and vacated in part, and remanded with instructions to recalculae damages. View "JTH Tax, Inc. v. Aime" on Justia Law

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While plaintiffs sought judicial review in federal district court of their denial of Social Security disability benefits, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, 138 S. Ct. 2044 (2018), which elucidated a possible constitutional objection to administrative proceedings pursuant to the Appointments Clause. At issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs may raise an Appointments Clause challenge in federal court that they did not preserve before the agency.The Fourth Circuit held that claimants for Social Security disability benefits do not forfeit Appointments Clause challenges by failing to raise them during their administrative proceedings. Balancing the individual and institutional interests at play, including considering the nature of the claim presented and the characteristics of the ALJ proceedings, the court declined to impose an exhaustion requirement. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgments of the district courts remanding these cases for new administrative hearings before different, constitutionally appointed ALJs. View "Probst v. Saul" 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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A jury awarded plaintiff $1 million on his claims against Sparrows Point for nonpayment of a commission on the sale of a large parcel of industrial property located on the Sparrows Point peninsula. Defendants contend that the evidence is insufficient to support the jury's verdict as to all claims. In the alternative, they seek a new trial, contending that the district court erred in admitting evidence of an alleged effort to compromise plaintiff's claim to a commission and in granting plaintiff a jury trial.The Fourth Circuit held that the evidence of defendants' effort to compromise plaintiff's claim was not admissible for any purpose under Federal Rule of Evidence 408 and the error was not harmless. The court explained that, even assuming that the evidence is sufficient as a matter of law to support the jury's verdict, the court cannot be confident that the jury was not substantially swayed by the evidentiary error. Therefore, the court held that defendants are entitled to a new trial. Finally, the court found that the district court enjoyed ample discretion to grant plaintiff's untimely request for a jury trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 39(b), and thus the new trial may remain before a jury. View "Macsherry v. Sparrows Point, LLC" on Justia Law

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MSI, a non-profit organization dedicated to gun owner rights, individuals, and Atlantic, a family-owned, federally licensed firearms dealer that operates Maryland commercial gun stores, challenged Maryland Senate Bill 707 banning "rapid-fire trigger activators," which when attached to a firearm, increase its rate of fire or trigger activation, citing the Takings Clause and alleging that the statute was void for vagueness. The Fourth Circuit initially affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of standing.In an amended opinion, the court reversed in part. Atlantic has standing to pursue the Second Amendment claim. Uncontroverted testimony plus Maryland State Police records and Atlantic's year-over-year sales records are sufficient to establish an injury in fact for purposes of Article III standing. The extent of Atlantic's economic injury—including its ability to identify lost customers as well as the scope of the purported decline in handguns sold and lost revenue— are material issues of fact to be resolved in the Second Amendment analysis on the merits. Atlantic also has third-party standing to challenge the handgun qualification license requirement on behalf of potential customers like the individual plaintiffs and other similarly situated persons. The court otherwise affirmed the dismissal. MSI lacked organizational standing; it failed to prove the law hindered its ability to pursue its mission. The individual plaintiffs had not sought licenses. View "Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Hogan" on Justia Law