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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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
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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