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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's remand order and held that the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442, does not provide a proper basis for removal in a climate-change lawsuit against oil and gas companies. The court first held that Noel v. McCain, 538 F.2d 633 (4th Cir. 1976), remains binding precedent in this circuit and dismissed this appeal for lack of jurisdiction, insofar as it seeks to challenge the district court's determination with respect to the propriety of removal based on federal-question, Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, admiralty, and bankruptcy jurisdiction. Although the court had jurisdiction to review the federal officer removal statute claim, the court agreed with Baltimore that none of the three contractual relationships defendants pointed to were sufficient to justify removal under the federal officer removal statute in this case, either because they failed to satisfy the acting-under prong or because they were insufficiently related to Baltimore's claims for purposes of the nexus prong. View "Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP P.L.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers, filed suit challenging the Army's decision to suspend him from his employment pending review of his security clearance. The district court awarded summary judgment to the Army on claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and dismissed the action in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988). The court held that review of any of plaintiff's claims requires review of the suspension of his security clearance — a review that necessarily goes to the very heart of the protection of classified information — and thus Egan deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction to review each of the claims. Therefore, the district court erred by failing to dismiss these claims outright for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Campbell v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against Marriott after he was injured in an affiliated hotel in Milan, Italy. After Marriott failed to timely answer, the district court entered an entry of default. Five days after receiving notice of default, Marriott filed a motion to set aside the default, challenging the district court's personal jurisdiction over Marriott. The district court then set aside the default and subsequently granted Marriott's motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction, holding that Marriott's contacts with South Carolina were not sufficient to render it "at home" in South Carolina, and thus the requirements for the exercise of contact-based general jurisdiction were not satisfied. Furthermore, the district court properly concluded that Marriott did not consent to the exercise of general jurisdiction when it obtained a Certificate of Authority to conduct business in the state. Finally, the court held that Marriott's case-related contacts with South Carolina were too tenuous and too insubstantial to constitutionally permit the exercise of specific jurisdiction over Marriott. However, the court vacated the district court's denial of sanctions, remanding the issue for reconsideration. View "Fidrych v. Marriott International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Gunvor, a Swiss corporate business entity, filed suit against United States citizen defendants and Amira Group in the Eastern District of Virginia. Gunvor invoked that court's alienage diversity jurisdiction and asserted various state law claims. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) because Gunvor failed to join Nemsss Petroleum, a British Virgin Islands corporation, which defendants asserted was necessary and indispensable to the action. The court held that Gunvor's own complaint places Nemsss at the heart of this case, and the district court’s factual findings follow inexorably from that account. Therefore, taking Gunvor at its word in its complaint, the court found no error in the district court's factual findings. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in deeming Nemsss a necessary party under Rule 19(a), and that Nemsss's absence would surely prejudice Nemsss. Therefore, Nemsss was an indispensable party and the district court did not err in dismissing the complaint. View "Gunvor SA v. Kayablian" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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The Fourth Circuit held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply in this instance to dismiss a federal action alleging misconduct by litigants in two lawsuits previously tried in state court. The court held that plaintiff was not a state court loser complaining of an injury caused by a state court judgment and specifically seeking district court review and rejection of that judgment. Therefore, plaintiff's claims were not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Accordingly, the court reverse and remanded, declining to resolve alternative arguments in the first instance. View "Hulsey v. Cisa" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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On remand from the district court, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to debtor in an action arising from the nonpayment of a promissory note. The court held that the district court did not give proper weight to the evidence before it; the evidence construed most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, the Foundation, was that debtor waited until after the entry of final judgment to assert an arbitration defense; and neither debtor nor the district court has pointed to a single case in which a party waited until after the entry of final judgment to raise the right to arbitration without defaulting that right. Rather, the court held that, in such circumstances, courts have typically found default of the right to arbitrate, even in cases involving domestic judgments. In this case, given the dueling deposition testimony, the court held that a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether debtor asserted his right to arbitrate during proceedings in the Iraqi trial court. View "Iraq Middle Market Development Foundation v. Mohammad Harmoosh" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's declaratory judgment in favor of the insurer, holding that the district court abused its discretion when it assumed jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act. In this case, without addressing the decision to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction, the district court reached the merits despite a thin and ambiguous record. The court held that the district court created both a substantial question about whether Article III jurisdiction existed and a serious potential to interfere with ongoing state proceedings. Therefore, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss the action without prejudice. View "Trustgard Insurance Co. v. Collins" on Justia Law

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A law firm challenged the government's use of a "Filter Team" — created ex parte by a magistrate judge in the District of Maryland and comprised of federal agents and prosecutors — to inspect privileged attorney-client materials. The district court denied the law firm's request to enjoin the Filter Team's review of seized materials. The Fourth Circuit held that the use of the Filter Team was improper because the Team's creation inappropriately assigned judicial functions to the executive branch, the Team was approved in ex parte proceedings prior to the search and seizures, and the use of the Team contravened foundational principles that protect attorney-client relationships. Therefore, the court held that injunctive relief was warranted and the district court abused its discretion by failing to enjoin the Filter Team's review of the materials. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Under Seal" on Justia Law

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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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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