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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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
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Plaintiff, an indigent state prisoner, filed three pro se civil rights actions in the district court against various employees of the South Carolina Department of Corrections and the City of Allendale. The Fourth Circuit joined the Ninth and Tenth Circuits to reaffirm that a district court's dismissal of a prisoner's complaint does not, in an appeal of that dismissal, qualify as a "prior" dismissal. Accordingly, plaintiff's motions to proceed in forma pauperis under the Prison Litigation Reform Act are granted. View "Taylor v. Grubbs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed class actions arising from a merger agreement between Dominion and SCANA Corporation, a former utility company in which plaintiffs were stockholders. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants aided and abetted a breach of fiduciary duty in negotiating the merger agreement. After defendants removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA), the district court remanded to state court. Defendants challenged the district court's remand orders on appeal. The Fourth Circuit granted the petitions for permission to appeal and reversed the district court's judgment, holding that the the class action lawsuits were properly removed from the state courts and should, pursuant to CAFA, be litigated in the District of South Carolina. View "Dominion Energy, Inc. v. City of Warren Police & Fire Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The Department sought interlocutory review of the district court's decision that the state waived Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to claims under Maryland's Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA). The Fourth Circuit exercised its jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine and held that the state has not waived the protection of the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, the state did not waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity as to plaintiff's FEPA claims through a statutory consent to suit provision in Md. Code. Servs. 20-903. In the absence of the state's express consent to suit in federal court, the Department was entitled to the protection of the Eleventh Amendment with respect to the FEPA claims. View "Pense v. Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's conclusion that Alaska's award of damages to TKCA necessarily meant that debtor willfully and maliciously injured TKCA for purposes of section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code. The Supreme Court, in Kawaauhau v. Geiger, 523 U.S. 57, 61 (1998), held that section 523(a)(6) requires "a deliberate or intentional injury, not merely a deliberate or intentional act that leads to injury." The court held that, because neither the Alaska district court, nor the bankruptcy court, determined the precise issue of whether debtor intended to injure TKCA, collateral estoppel and summary judgment were inappropriate. Therefore, the court remanded to the district court with instructions to remand to the bankruptcy court for further proceedings. View "TKC Aerospace Inc. v. Muhs" on Justia Law

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In this defendant class action, the defendant class argued that the district court erred in certifying the class without simultaneously appointing counsel for the class and in failing to properly analyze the adequacy of class counsel. The Fourth Circuit agreed that the district court failed to follow Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 on both of these issues, but nevertheless affirmed the district court's judgment in light of the unusual circumstances of this case. The court held that Class Members waived the arguments they now assert regarding the untimely appointment of class counsel and the failure of the court to consider the Rule 23(g) factors, and the litigation has progressed to an extent that it would be difficult if not impossible to remedy the errors Class Members now raise. View "Bell v. Brockett" on Justia Law

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Respondents, Mississippi death row inmates, filed suit challenging the state's lethal injection procedures under the Eighth Amendment. Respondents sought discovery by serving a subpoena on the VDOC. The VDOC provided some documents and then moved to quash the subpoena in district court. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the VDOC's motion to quash the subpoena on the merits, holding that the district court reasonably found that respondents did not have a need for further discovery from the VDOC, a nonparty, that outweighed the burdens the discovery would impose. Accordingly, the court need not reach the state sovereign immunity issue. View "Virginia Department of Corrections v. Jordan" on Justia Law