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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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K.I., a minor who lives in Durham, North Carolina, was diagnosed with a variety of learning and psycho-social disorders. Dissatisfied with her school’s response to her request for special education services, K.I. and her mother J.I. asked for and received a hearing under North Carolina’s administrative procedures. Because they disagreed with the hearing decision, K.I. and J.I. tried to appeal it administratively. But their appeal was not considered because K.I. and J.I. did not follow North Carolina’s rules for filing appeals. K.I. and J.I. sued in federal court under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”). The district court found that K.I. and J.I.’s failure to properly appeal under North Carolina’s administrative rules meant that they had not exhausted their administrative remedies. So, it dismissed the federal action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. K.I. and J.I.’s appeal of that decision.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court held that it agreed with the district court because K.I. and J.I. did not challenge the court’s ruling on the ADA and Section 504 claims; the issue is waived. Second, the court found that the district court correctly analyzed these claims. Both the ADA and Section 504 claims sought relief due to the alleged failure of Durham Public Schools and the State Board to provide a FAPE to K.I. Thus, under Fry, the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement applied to those claims. The court also affirmed the district court in dismissing the ADA and Section 504 claims. View "K.I. v. Durham Public Schools Board" on Justia Law

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Three independent contractors of Eastman Chemical Company were severely injured, one of them fatally, when a pump exploded during maintenance. Eastman moved to dismiss their state-law personal injury suits, contending that the contractors qualified as Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law – which would mean that workers’ compensation was their exclusive remedy and that the courts lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.   The district court agreed that Plaintiffs were Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the workers’ compensation law and dismissed their actions. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held their cases in abeyance pending the decision of South Carolina’s Supreme Court in Keene v. CNA Holdings, LLC, 870 S.E.2d 156 (2021).   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling. The court explained that in Keene, when an employer makes a “legitimate business decision” to outsource a portion of its work, the contractors it hires to perform that work are not “statutory employees” for workers’ compensation purposes. 870 S.E.2d at 163. No party here contests that Eastman’s outsourcing of its maintenance and repair work was a “legitimate business decision.” It follows that the plaintiffs, independent contractors performing maintenance at the time of the 2016 pump explosion, were not statutory employees and may bring personal injury actions. View "Sallie Zeigler v. Eastman Chemical Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff a commercial-real-estate broker specializing in tenant representation sued Newmark Southern Region, LLC (Newmark)—an international real-estate brokerage and advisory firm. Plaintiff alleged eight state law claims, including breach of contract. Newmark counterclaimed, alleging only breach of contract. The district court dismissed each of Plaintiff’s claims at the pleading stage, with the exception of his claim for breach of contract. Following the district court’s judgment against him, Plaintiff appealed. In addition to seeking reversal of the judgment, Plaintiff also sought reversal of the district court’s dismissal of his various claims at the pleading stage.   The Fourth Circuit concluded that this situation warrants vacatur and remand for dismissal without prejudice. The court reasoned that first Plaintiff and Newmark agree that complete diversity did not exist between them at the time of filing, given the North Carolina citizenship of at least one limited partner of Newmark Holdings, L.P.—a great-grandparent entity to Newmark. Consequently, the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims against Newmark pre-consolidation, so it lacked the power to consolidate the lawsuits in the first place.   Further, neither side of this dispute lacked the means to ascertain Newmark’s citizenship at any point. Whether mutual contentment with the federal forum or genuine obliviousness brought the parties to this unfortunate juncture, the court explained that it will not condone the exercise of jurisdiction where it did not truly exist. View "Timothy Capps v. Newmark Southern Region, LLC" on Justia Law

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Blenheim Capital Holdings Ltd. and Blenheim Capital Partners Ltd., Guernsey-based companies (collectively, “Blenheim”), commenced this action against Lockheed Martin Corporation, Airbus Defence and Space SAS, and the Republic of Korea and its Defense Acquisition Program Administration (the last two, collectively, “South Korea”), alleging that Defendants conspired to “cut it out” as the broker for a large, complex international military procurement transaction.   Blenheim alleged that the defendants (1) tortiously interfered with its brokerage arrangement and its prospective business expectations; (2) conspired to do so; (3) were unjustly enriched; and (4) conspired to violate federal and state antitrust laws. The district court granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). With respect to the tort claims, it concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction by reason of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because South Korea was presumptively immune from jurisdiction under the Act and had not been engaged in “commercial activity,”   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the offset transaction was not commercial activity as excepted from the immunity from jurisdiction conferred in the FSIA, accordingly the court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction over Blenheim’s tort claims. Further, because Blenheim felt adverse impacts immediately upon Lockheed’s October 2016 termination of the brokerage agreement, the date of the satellite launch is not relevant to the date when the cause of action accrued. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s ruling that Blenheim’s antitrust claims are barred by the applicable four-year statute of limitations. View "Blenheim Capital Holdings Ltd. v. Lockheed Martin Corporation" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and her minor daughter, natives and citizens of Guatemala, petition for review of the final order of the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissing their appeal from the immigration judge’s order denying Petitioner’s application for asylum and withholding of removal. Petitioners filed their petition for review with this Court one day after the deadline set by 8 U.S.C. Section 1252(b)(1). They contend that the Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 26(c) extends the filing period by three additional days because the Board served the order by mail.   The Fourth Circuit dismissed the petition concluding that Rule 26(c) does not apply to petitions for review governed by Section 1252(b)(1). The court explained that because Section 1252(b)(1) calculates the time to file a petition for review from “the date of the final order of removal,” and not from service of that order, Rule 26(c) does not apply. View "Ana Santos-De Jimenez v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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Defendant filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2255, challenging his conviction for using a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence. The district court denied his motion and Defendant appealed.The Fourth Circuit reversed, finding that the federal arson statute which served as the predicate for Defendant's Sec. 924(c) conviction is not categorically a crime of violence. Because the statute Defendant was convicted under criminalized the arson of property fully owned by the defendant, and not just that of the property “of another” as required by Sec. 924(c). View "US v. Cecil Davis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought Title VII and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) claims against the U.S. Attorney General because she failed an allegedly discriminatory physical-fitness test that was a condition of her federal employment and was told to either retake the test, resign, or be fired. She resigned. The district court dismissed her complaint for lack of Article III standing, finding that her resignation did not constitute an “adverse employment action” that could serve as the basis of either claim.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal and remand for further proceedings. The court held that the district court inappropriately intertwined its standing analysis with the merits. Plaintiff alleged that she suffered financial and job-related injuries in fact that are fairly traceable to the government’s action and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling. View "Jane DiCocco v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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The City of Charlotte appeals the district court’s order granting attorney’s fees and costs to Plaintiffs, an antiabortion organization and four of its members, following a consent judgment. The district court held that Plaintiffs were “prevailing parties” under 42 U.S.C. Section 1988. On appeal, Plaintiffs also urged the court to reconsider the district court’s fee award.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that “prevailing party” is a legal term of art that the court interprets consistently across all federal fee-shifting statutes. A civil-rights plaintiff “‘prevails’ when actual relief on the merits of his claim materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant’s behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff.” The court explained that here, the consent judgment easily passes the test. The City doesn’t dispute that the consent decree is enforceable by the court and that it alters the legal relationship between Plaintiffs and the City. As the district court explained, the City’s enforcement of the Picketing Ordinance previously “resulted in a complete ban” on “pedestrian vehicular approaches.” Thus, because the consent judgment conferred prevailing-party status on Plaintiffs, the district court was free to award them fees and costs. View "Cities4Life, Inc. v. City of Charlotte" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Plaintiffs in this class action are a class of all West Virginia citizens who refinanced a total of 2,769 mortgages with Defendant Quicken Loans Inc. (now Rocket Mortgage, LLC) from 2004 to 2009, for whom Quicken Loans obtained appraisals from Defendant appraisal management company Title Source, Inc. (now Amrock Inc.) using a request form that included an estimate of value of the subject property. The district court certified the proposed class and granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs on three claims: unconscionable inducement under West Virginia Code Section 46A-2-121(a)(1); breach of contract; and conspiracy.   Previously the Fourth Circuit concluded that Plaintiffs had standing because all of the class members had paid “for independent appraisals that . . . they never received”. Three months later, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, which addressed Article III standing in the context of a class-action case. Having considered the parties' submissions, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court should apply TransUnion to the facts of this case in the first instance. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Phillip Alig v. Rocket Mortgage, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant challenges the district court’s dismissal of his complaint -- which alleges whistleblower protection and discrimination claims relative to his employment at the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (the “DEA” or the “Agency”) -- for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court correctly held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the whistleblower protection claims, and the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of those claims. However, the court remanded the case to the district court so that it may consider in the first instance whether it possesses subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the merits of Appellant’s discrimination claims.   The court explained that Appellant points out that if an IRA appeal cannot serve as the basis for a mixed case, then an employee alleging both WPA claims and discrimination claims would be required to pursue those claims separately. But because the MSPB cannot consider an employee’s discrimination allegations as part of his IRA appeal, his WPA claims and his discrimination claims are, by necessity, already bifurcated.   Lastly, Appellant argues that even if he failed to allege a mixed case, the district court should still have considered his discrimination claims. However, the district court considered only whether Appellant’s discrimination claims were properly before it as part of a mixed case, not whether it could adjudicate the Title VII claims independently of the other claims. Accordingly, remand is necessary for the district court to decide in the first instance whether it may address the merits of Appellant’s Title VII claims. View "Robert Zachariasiewicz, Jr. v. DOJ" on Justia Law