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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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While plaintiffs sought judicial review in federal district court of their denial of Social Security disability benefits, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, 138 S. Ct. 2044 (2018), which elucidated a possible constitutional objection to administrative proceedings pursuant to the Appointments Clause. At issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs may raise an Appointments Clause challenge in federal court that they did not preserve before the agency.The Fourth Circuit held that claimants for Social Security disability benefits do not forfeit Appointments Clause challenges by failing to raise them during their administrative proceedings. Balancing the individual and institutional interests at play, including considering the nature of the claim presented and the characteristics of the ALJ proceedings, the court declined to impose an exhaustion requirement. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgments of the district courts remanding these cases for new administrative hearings before different, constitutionally appointed ALJs. View "Probst v. Saul" on Justia Law

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District of Maryland Local Rule 109 requires that any motion requesting attorneys’ fees be filed within 14 days of “entry of judgment,” parroting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54.The district court granted the plaintiff’s contested motion for voluntary dismissal of its complaint under Rule 41(a)(2), entering an order of dismissal, with direction to the Clerk “to close this case.” No “separate document” set out the order as a “judgment,” as required by Rule 58(a). The defendant filed a Rule 59(e) post-judgment motion three days later. The court denied that motion. The defendant filed a motion for attorney fees, 18 days after the entry of the dismissal order but 13 days after the court disposed of the Rule 59(e) motion. The court found the motion untimely, rejecting arguments that the Rule 59(e) motion extended the judgment date and that in disregarding the extension, the court rendered its Local Rule in conflict with Rule 54.The Fourth Circuit vacated. Rule 58(a)’s separate-document requirement was not satisfied, so the “entry of judgment” did not occur on the date that the court entered its dismissal order, which did not trigger the time for filing motions for attorneys fees under either Local Rule 109 or Federal Rule 54. The district court’s interpretation of its Local Rule with respect to a Rule 59(e) motion’s effect on the date of judgment was inconsistent with Rule 54, in violation of Rule 83 (requiring local rules to be “consistent with . . . federal statutes and rules”). View "CX Reinsurance Co. Limited v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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A jury awarded plaintiff $1 million on his claims against Sparrows Point for nonpayment of a commission on the sale of a large parcel of industrial property located on the Sparrows Point peninsula. Defendants contend that the evidence is insufficient to support the jury's verdict as to all claims. In the alternative, they seek a new trial, contending that the district court erred in admitting evidence of an alleged effort to compromise plaintiff's claim to a commission and in granting plaintiff a jury trial.The Fourth Circuit held that the evidence of defendants' effort to compromise plaintiff's claim was not admissible for any purpose under Federal Rule of Evidence 408 and the error was not harmless. The court explained that, even assuming that the evidence is sufficient as a matter of law to support the jury's verdict, the court cannot be confident that the jury was not substantially swayed by the evidentiary error. Therefore, the court held that defendants are entitled to a new trial. Finally, the court found that the district court enjoyed ample discretion to grant plaintiff's untimely request for a jury trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 39(b), and thus the new trial may remain before a jury. View "Macsherry v. Sparrows Point, LLC" on Justia Law

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MSI, a non-profit organization dedicated to gun owner rights, individuals, and Atlantic, a family-owned, federally licensed firearms dealer that operates Maryland commercial gun stores, challenged Maryland Senate Bill 707 banning "rapid-fire trigger activators," which when attached to a firearm, increase its rate of fire or trigger activation, citing the Takings Clause and alleging that the statute was void for vagueness. The Fourth Circuit initially affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of standing.In an amended opinion, the court reversed in part. Atlantic has standing to pursue the Second Amendment claim. Uncontroverted testimony plus Maryland State Police records and Atlantic's year-over-year sales records are sufficient to establish an injury in fact for purposes of Article III standing. The extent of Atlantic's economic injury—including its ability to identify lost customers as well as the scope of the purported decline in handguns sold and lost revenue— are material issues of fact to be resolved in the Second Amendment analysis on the merits. Atlantic also has third-party standing to challenge the handgun qualification license requirement on behalf of potential customers like the individual plaintiffs and other similarly situated persons. The court otherwise affirmed the dismissal. MSI lacked organizational standing; it failed to prove the law hindered its ability to pursue its mission. The individual plaintiffs had not sought licenses. View "Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Hogan" on Justia Law

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In this action arising from a contract dispute between the parties, Navy Federal Credit Union filed suit in federal district court against Advantage Assets, asserting only state law claims and invoking diversity jurisdiction. For establishing diversity jurisdiction, Congress provides that, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332(c)(1), a corporation "shall be deemed a citizen of every State and foreign state by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business."The Fourth Circuit held that Navy Federal, a federally chartered credit union, is a citizen of its principal place of business, Virginia. The court explained that 28 U.S.C. 1332(c)(1)'s text, structure, and context support Navy Federal's contention that a corporation shall be deemed a citizen of the state or foreign state where it has its principal place of business. In this case, section 1332(c)(1) requires the court to interpret and to give effect to the second clause of the statute even when the first clause does not specify a citizenship; the district court's and defendants' understanding of "and" conflicts with circuit precedent; and this approach to section 1332(c)(2) is supported by the Supreme Court's holding in Bankers Trust Co. v. Texas & Pacific Railway Co., 241 U.S. 295 (1916). View "Navy Federal Credit Union v. LTD Financial Services, LP" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Proposed Intervenors' renewed motion to intervene in an action brought by the NAACP challenging the validity of Senate Bill 824. S.B. 824 established, inter alia, photographic voter identification requirements for elections in North Carolina.After determining that it has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291, the court held that the Proposed Intervenors have Article III standing to intervene for the purposes of intervention before the district court based on N.C. Gen Stat. 1-72.2 and Supreme Court precedent. The court rejected the arguments of the NAACP and the State Defendants that section 1-72.2 infringes on the powers of the Executive Branch in violation of the North Carolina Constitution's separation of powers provisions.In regard to intervention as a matter of right, the court held that the district court erred in determining that the Proposed Intervenors lacked a sufficient interest in the S.B. 824 litigation without careful consideration of section 1-72.2(a). Therefore, the court remanded for the district court to more fully consider the North Carolina statute in the analysis of the Proposed Intervenors' interest in the litigation. Because the Proposed Intervenors may have interests which may be practically impaired if not permitted to intervene in the action before the district court, the court remanded as to this issue as well. The court further stated that, although it was appropriate for the district court to apply the Westinghouse presumption since the Proposed Intervenors and the State Defendants appear to seek the same ultimate objective, the district court erred in demanding that the Proposed Intervenors overcome that presumption by the heightened standard of a "strong showing." In regard to permissive intervention, the court held that the district court failed to address sections 1-72.2(a) and (b) and 120-32.6. Given the import of those statutes, the court remanded for consideration of the permissive intervention request. View "North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, twelve record companies, filed suit against defendant alleging claims for five separate violations of the Copyright Act. Plaintiffs are Delaware corporations, with eight having their principal place of business in New York, three in California, and one in Florida. Defendant, born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, is a Russian citizen who still resides in Rostov-on-Don. Defendant owns and operates websites that offer visitors a stream-ripping service through which audio tracks may be extracted from videos available on various platforms and converted into a downloadable format.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss, holding that defendant's contacts sufficiently show he purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in Virginia. Therefore, the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(1) is appropriate if it is constitutionally reasonable. Because the district court did not perform a reasonability analysis in the first instance, the court remanded for the district court to do so. View "UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Kurbanov" on Justia Law

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After the Boards of Directors filed lawsuits raising claims related to a residential community, a resident filed a derivative action alleging similar claims against nearly identical defendants. The district court dismissed the derivative action and the Boards settled the lawsuits in the meantime.The Fourth Circuit held that the settlements mooted the resident's claims insofar as they were related to the ones asserted by the Boards. Therefore, the court dismissed his appeal as to those claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. To the extent the resident asserted claims falling outside the scope of those asserted by the Boards' complaints, the court concluded that those claims were either also rendered moot by the settlement agreements or were otherwise properly dismissed by the district court. View "Star v. TI Oldfield Development, LLC" on Justia Law

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The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland sued the President in his official capacity, alleging violations of the Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. The district court granted a motion to amend the complaint to add the President as a defendant in his individual capacity. The President, in that capacity, moved to dismiss the action, asserting absolute immunity. Approximately seven months passed without a ruling on that motion. The President in his individual capacity filed an interlocutory appeal. A Fourth Circuit panel concluded that the district court had effectively denied immunity to the President in his individual capacity so that the panel had jurisdiction to consider the interlocutory appeal. “[E]xercising that jurisdiction,” the panel held that Plaintiffs lacked Article III standing and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss.Acting en banc, the Fourth Circuit vacated the panel opinion and dismissed the interlocutory appeal. The district court neither expressly nor implicitly refused to rule on immunity but stated in writing that it intended to rule on the President’s individual capacity motion. A district court has wide discretion to prioritize its docket and the deferral did not result in a delay “beyond reasonable limits.” During the seven months, the district court managed the many other aspects of this litigation and issued opinions on the President’s motion to dismiss in his official capacity and a motion to certify an interlocutory appeal of the court’s rulings. View "District of Columbia v. Trump" on Justia Law

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The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland sued the President in his official capacity, alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. The district court dismissed claims concerning Trump Organization operations outside the District, for lack of standing, but denied the President’s motion with respect to alleged violations at the Washington, D.C. Trump International Hotel. After the denial of a motion for certification to take an interlocutory appeal (28 U.S.C. 1292(b)), the President petitioned for mandamus relief. A Fourth Circuit panel reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint.The Fourth Circuit, en banc, vacated the panel opinion. The court accorded the President “great deference,” but stated that Congress and the Supreme Court have severely limited its ability to grant the extraordinary relief sought. The President has not established a right to a writ of mandamus. The district court promptly ruled on the request for certification in a detailed opinion that applied the correct legal standards. The court’s action was not arbitrary nor based on passion or prejudice; it “was in its nature a judicial act.” The President does not contend that the court denied certification for nonlegal reasons or in bad faith. Reasonable jurists can disagree in good faith on the merits of the claims. Rejecting a separation of powers argument, the court stated that the President has not explained how requests pertaining to spending at a private restaurant and hotel threaten any Executive Branch prerogative. Even if obeying the law were an official executive duty, such a duty would not be “discretionary,” but a “ministerial” act. View "In re: Donald Trump" on Justia Law