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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
by
Marshall, while under the age of 21, wished to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer and sued to challenge the constitutionality of the federal laws and regulations that prohibited her from doing so while she was 18–20 years old. A divided panel of the Fourth Circuit found those laws violated the text, structure, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment. After the opinion was issued but before the mandate, Marshall turned 21, rendering her claims moot. She attempted to add parties and reframe her claimed injuries.The Fourth Circuit concluded that it is too late to revive the case and that it must be dismissed as moot. The court vacated the opinions and remanded with direction to dismiss. View "Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco & Firearms" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit considered for the second time the Wikimedia Foundation's contentions that the government is spying on its communications using Upstream, an electronic surveillance program run by the NHS. In the first appeal, the court found that Wikimedia's allegations of Article III standing sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss and vacated the district court's judgment to the contrary. The district court dismissed the case on remand, holding that Wikimedia did not establish a genuine issue of material fact as to standing and that further litigation would unjustifiably risk the disclosure of state secrets.The court concluded that the record evidence is sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to Wikimedia's standing, and thus the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the government on this basis. However, the court concluded that the state secrets privilege prevents further litigation of this suit. Furthermore, Wikimedia's other alleged injuries do not support standing. View "Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency/Central Security Service" on Justia Law

by
Doe, a student at a public school in Virginia, had recently undergone a gender transition. Vlaming, Doe’s French teacher, refused to use male pronouns to refer to Doe. Vlaming argued that using male pronouns to refer to someone who was born a female violated his religious beliefs. Eventually, the superintendent placed Vlaming on administrative leave and recommended his dismissal. After a hearing, the School Board dismissed Vlaming for failure to comply with his superiors’ directives and violations of policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment. Vlaming sued, alleging statutory and constitutional violations and breach of contract. The Board removed the case to federal court, arguing the district court had removal jurisdiction because it had federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1441(c), over whether Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The Board also argued that because Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681, was a “law providing for equal rights,” section 1443(2), the civil rights removal statute, authorized removal.The district court granted Vlaming’s motion for remand. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Because none of Vlaming’s state law claims necessarily raises a federal issue, federal question jurisdiction is lacking, and section 1441(c) does not provide a basis for removal. The Supreme Court has limited the meaning of a “law providing for equal rights” in section 1443 to only those concerning racial equality. View "Vlaming v. West Point School Board" on Justia Law

by
Sardis was attempting to adjust a container containing a garage door hood on a forklift when the wood slat constituting the container’s handhold broke off, causing him to fall off a ladder rack and hit his head on the pavement nine feet below. He died two weeks later. His estate sued, alleging that ODC was negligent in designing the container’s handholds, and had a duty to warn foreseeable users of the container to not rely on the handholds for pulling it. The estate offered Sher Singh, Ph.D., a packaging design engineer, as its sole expert on design defects and Michael Wogalter, Ph.D., who described himself as an expert on “human factors,” as the sole expert on failure to warn. The court rejected “Daubert” challenges to both experts. The jury rendered a $4.84 million verdict.The Fourth Circuit reversed. The district court abdicated its critical gatekeeping role to the jury and admitted Singh’s and Wogalter’s “irrelevant and unreliable” testimony without engaging in the required Rule 702 analysis. Without that testimony, the estate offered insufficient admissible evidence as a matter of law to prevail on any of the claims. Even if an expert provides relevant testimony as to how an allegedly defective product breached a governing industry standard (which Singh did not), that says nothing about whether the expert reliably opined that said breach caused a plaintiff’s harm. Wogalter’s testimony was incompatible with the governing Virginia “reason to know” standard. View "Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Montgomery County Council established the Emergency Assistance Relief Payment Program (EARP) in March 2020 to provide emergency cash assistance to County residents with incomes equal to or less than 50% of the federal poverty benchmark who were not eligible for federal or state pandemic relief. Although eligibility for EARP aid is not dependent on a person’s status as an undocumented immigrant, such individuals are eligible to receive EARP payments. To fund EARP, the County appropriated $10,000,000 from reserve funds to the County’s Department of Health and Human Services. Taxpayers filed suit in Maryland state court, asserting that EARP violated 8 U.S.C. 1621(a), which, with few exceptions, generally prohibits undocumented persons from receiving state and local benefits. Recognizing that Section 1621 does not authorize private enforcement, the plaintiffs cited the Maryland common law doctrine of taxpayer standing, which “permits taxpayers to seek the aid of courts, exercising equity powers, to enjoin illegal and ultra vires acts of [Maryland] public officials where those acts are reasonably likely to result in pecuniary loss to the taxpayer.” The case was removed to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1331. The court granted the County summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Congress has declined to authorize private parties to enforce Section 1621, a legislative decision that cannot be circumvented by invocation of a state’s law of taxpayer standing. View "Bauer v. Elrich" on Justia Law

by
North Carolina filed suit in state court seeking recovery of an unpaid civil penalty against the Marine Corps for failing an air quality compliance test. After the federal government defendants removed to federal court, the district court dismissed the case.The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the Clean Air Act does not preclude removal but does waive sovereign immunity as to the penalty at issue here. The court concluded that the United States properly removed this suit under the federal officer removal statute and rejected North Carolina's contention that the Clean Air Act's state suit provision, 42 U.S.C. 7604(e), implicitly carves out a narrow exception to removal that precludes federal adjudication of this federal immunity defense. Rather, these two statutes are capable of coexistence and, contrary to North Carolina's argument, section 7604(e) does not require actions brought in state court to remain there. The court also concluded that the Clean Air Act unambiguously and unequivocally waives the United States' sovereign immunity as to all civil penalties assessed pursuant to state air pollution law, including punitive penalties like the one at issue here. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "North Carolina v. United States" on Justia Law

by
North Carolina abortion providers filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the State's criminalization of previability abortions. The State contends that the Providers do not have standing to bring suit because they do not face a credible threat of prosecution for violation of the challenged statutes, N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-44 and 14-45, and the exceptions thereto, section 14-45.1(a)–(b).The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Providers have established a credible threat of prosecution and therefore have standing to bring this suit. In this case, amidst a wave of similar state action across the country, North Carolina has enacted legislation to restrict the availability of abortions and impose heightened requirements on abortion providers and women seeking abortions. The court explained that, given these facts, the court cannot reasonably assume that the abortion ban that North Carolina keeps on its books is "largely symbolic." Where North Carolina's continued interest in regulating abortion remains vividly apparent, the court cannot dismiss the threat of prosecution as "not remotely possible." Furthermore, informal statements by two of the defendants that they do not presently intend to enforce the challenged statutes do not alter the court's analysis. View "Bryant v. Woodall" on Justia Law

by
Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this appeal is whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over an interpleader action commenced by a liability insurance company, whose policy was exposed to conflicting and excess claims. In this case, AmGuard, a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania, commenced this action in the nature of an interpleader and for a declaratory judgment against its insured and the claimants to the proceeds of its policy, all of whom were South Carolina citizens.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the action based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court explained that, because AmGuard disputed the amount that the claimants maintained was available under AmGuard's policy, having acknowledged coverage for only a lesser amount, it was a "claimant" adverse to the other claimants to the proceeds of the policy. Therefore, the diverse citizenship between AmGuard and the South Carolina claimants provided the district court with the minimal diversity needed for jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1335. Furthermore, 28 U.S.C. 1332 also provided the district court with jurisdiction to resolve AmGuard's declaratory judgment claim, yet the district court dismissed the entire action without addressing why it did not have jurisdiction under section 1332. The court concluded that this error also required reversal. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "AmGuard Insurance Co. v. SG Patel and Sons II LLC" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this appeal is whether the leaders of the North Carolina House and Senate are entitled to intervene, on behalf of the State of North Carolina, in litigation over the constitutionality of the State's voter-ID law. North Carolina's Attorney General, appearing for the State Board of Elections, already is representing the State's interest in the validity of that law, actively defending its constitutionality in both state and federal court. Legislative Leaders moved twice to intervene so that they also can speak for the State.The en banc court affirmed the district court's denial of the Leaders' renewed request for intervention. The en banc court explained that, at this point in the proceedings, the legislative leaders may assert only one interest in support of intervention: that of the State of North Carolina in defending its voter-ID law. The en banc court further explained that it follows that they have a right to intervene under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) only if a federal court first finds that the Attorney General is inadequately representing that same interest, in dereliction of his statutory duties – a finding that would be "extraordinary." In this case, after reviewing the district court's careful evaluation of the Attorney General's litigation conduct, the en banc court is convinced that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to make that extraordinary finding here. The en banc court concluded that this is enough to preclude intervention as of right under Rule 24(a)(2). The en banc court similarly deferred to the district court's judgment denying permissive intervention under Rule 24(b). View "North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger" on Justia Law