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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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After the DEA terminated Darek and Lisa Kitlinski's employment based on their refusal to participate in an internal investigation into their own allegations of misconduct by the DEA, the Kitlinskis alleged that the DEA terminated Darek in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), and that the DEA terminated Lisa in retaliation for her support of Darek’s USERRA claims against the DEA. The Kitlinskis also claim that the DEA retaliated against them for their prior protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the DEA, concluding that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence that Darek's military service or his prior USERRA-protected activity was a motivating factor in his termination. Furthermore, even assuming that Armstrong v. Index Journal Co., 647 F.2d 441, 448 (4th Cir. 1981), applies here, the court has little difficulty concluding that the DEA's interest in ensuring its employees' full participation in internal investigations outweighs any interest Lisa had in promoting USERRA's nondiscriminatory purpose. The court also concluded that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the DEA terminated the Kitlinskis' employment in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The court explained that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence showing that the DEA terminated their employment for any reason other than their conduct during the OPR investigation. The court rejected the Kitlinskis' remaining claims. View "Kitlinski v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Title IX claim against the Visitors of Virginia State University and his Fourteenth Amendment claims against a university administrator. Plaintiff's claims arose from an altercation with a former girlfriend in a VSU dormitory.The court adopted the Seventh Circuit's approach, which closely tracks the text of Title IX, asking merely "do the alleged facts, if true, raise a plausible inference that the university discriminated against [the student] on the basis of sex?" By adopting this approach, the court merely emphasized that the text of Title IX prohibits all discrimination on the basis of sex. The court clarified that inherent in this approach is a requirement that a Title IX plaintiff adequately plead causation—that is, a causal link between the student’s sex and the university’s challenged disciplinary proceeding. The court concluded that plaintiff's Title IX claim was properly dismissed where there is no plausible inference that plaintiff's gender was the but-for cause of his treatment under VSU's disciplinary proceedings. Likewise, plaintiff's equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 fails for largely the same reasons. In regard to plaintiff's due process claim under section 1983, the court concluded that the administrator is entitled to qualified immunity because there was no clearly established right to continued enrollment in higher education. View "Sheppard v. Visitors of Virginia State University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, twenty-three individuals who allege they are in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), filed suit alleging that the TSDB program violates the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause by failing to include more procedural safeguards.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and concluded that plaintiffs have not demonstrated infringements of constitutional liberty interests under the Due Process Clause. The court explained that history and precedent reveal that the government possesses latitude in regulating travel, guarding the nation's borders, and protecting the aspirations of the populace for tranquility and safety. In this case, the typical delay pleaded by plaintiffs, which is around an hour or less at an airport, does not rise up to the level of constitutional concern. The court reasoned that these delays are not dissimilar from what many travelers routinely face, whether in standard or enhanced screenings, particularly at busy airports. Even if the court accepted plaintiffs' assertions that these inconveniences have actually deterred them from flying, the court stated that individuals do not have a protected liberty interest to travel via a particular mode of transportation. Furthermore, plaintiffs do not possess a protected liberty interest in being free from screening and delays at the border.The court also concluded that inclusion in the TSDB does not infringe on plaintiffs' constitutionally protected interest in their reputations. The court rejected plaintiffs' contention that inclusion in the TSDB stigmatizes them by associating them with terrorism. The court explained that plaintiffs have not shown adequate "public disclosure" by the government and the government does not publicly disclose TSDB status. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has explained that stigma or "reputation alone, apart from some more tangible interests such as employment," is not "liberty" within the meaning of the Due Process Clause. The court further explained that the government's act of including names in the TSDB does not mandate that private entities deny people rights and privileges. In this case, plaintiffs have not adequately demonstrated denials of employment, permits, licenses, or firearms. The court explained that speculation coupled with a few isolated incidents inadequately tethered to TSDB status is not enough. Finally, the court doubted plaintiffs' claims as to the adequacy of existing processes where the government's interest is extraordinarily significant in this case, the weight of the private interests at stake is comparatively weak, and the court would not casually second-guess Congress's specific judgment as to how much procedure was needed in this context. View "Elhady v. Kable" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action brought by plaintiff, who is serving a life sentence. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant violated his right to due process by failing to provide advance notice of a security detention hearing that led to more restrictive confinement.The court assumed without deciding that a due process violation occurred and conclude that, even so, the right to fair notice of a security detention hearing was not clearly established at the time such that a reasonable official would have known that plaintiff had the right to be notified prior to his security detention hearing. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to enter an order granting the motion. View "Halcomb v. Ravenell" on Justia Law

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After David Mays was arrested for public intoxication, he was placed in a cell at the county jail to sober up, and was later found dead. Mays' estate filed suit against the officers involved, alleging claims that stemmed from allegations that the officers were deliberately indifferent to Mays' medical needs. The district court granted the officers' motion to dismiss.The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the complaint plausibly alleges that Mays had an objectively serious medical condition requiring medical attention and that the officers subjectively knew of that need and the excessive risk of their inaction. Therefore, the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity. The court also concluded that plaintiff has alleged enough facts to make out a plausible claim for deliberate indifference to Mays' serious medical condition under the Fourteenth Amendment. View "Mays v. Sprinkle" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that the implied constitutional cause of action recognized by the Supreme Court in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), may not be extended to include a federal inmate's claim that prison officials violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for filing grievances. The court explained that such an extension of Bivens is not permissible after Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017), and Tun-Cos v. Perrotte, 922 F.3d 514 (4th Cir. 2019), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 2565 (2020). In this case, the court declined to expand the Bivens remedy to include the First Amendment retaliation claim asserted by plaintiff. Because plaintiff has no cause of action, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim. View "Earle v. Shreves" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two Maryland public school teachers, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims against the union defendants, a county school system, and various public officials, seeking relief for themselves and other non-union Maryland public school teachers who were compelled to pay "representation fees" to unions in order to be employed as Maryland public school teachers. Specifically, plaintiffs seek a refund of representation fees that they paid to the unions prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). In Janus, the Supreme Court decided that requiring non-union employees to pay representation fees to public-sector unions contravenes the First Amendment.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action based on failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Assuming without deciding that Janus is entitled to retroactive application, the court agreed with its six sister circuits and recognized that the good-faith defense is available to a private-party defendant under section 1983; union defendants are entitled to utilize the good-faith defense with respect to plaintiffs' Janus claim; and defendants are not required to refund the representation fees that plaintiffs paid to the union defendants prior to the Janus decision. In this case, because plaintiffs are unable to point to any identifiable fund in the union defendants' possession, the court followed the reasoning of the Sixth and Seventh Circuits and concluded that, in substance, plaintiffs' claim for relief is a claim for damages. Therefore, the union defendants are entitled to interpose the good-faith defense against that claim. Finally, the court rejected plaintiffs' contention that the good-faith defense is not available to the union defendants because it was not recognized as a defense to the most closely analogous tort — the tort of conversion — in 1871 when Congress enacted section 1983. Rather, abuse of process most closely corresponds to the union defendants' use of a Maryland statute to collect representation fees from non-union teachers, like plaintiffs. View "Akers v. Maryland State Education Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Appellant filed suit on behalf of herself and her minor child, alleging that Principal Foster infringed on the child's First Amendment right to free speech when Foster determined that the child's fourth grade essay regarding the topic of LGBTQ equality was not age-appropriate and should not be included in the class's essay booklet.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that Foster's conduct was a proper exercise of the authority possessed by school officials to regulate school-sponsored student speech, and affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The court explained that the allegations underlying appellant's amended complaint, even if true, do not substantiate a violation of the child's constitutional rights. Applying Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), the court concluded that Foster's regulation of the child's speech was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns because Foster's refusal to include the child's essay in the fourth grade class's essay booklet was actuated at least in part by her concern that the essay's topic was "not age-appropriate" for fourth graders. Furthermore, even assuming, without deciding, that school officials' restrictions on school-sponsored student speech must be viewpoint neutral, the court concluded that appellant has not plausibly alleged that Foster's restriction on the child's speech violated that principle. Finally, although the district court did not comply with procedural requirements before sua sponte dismissing appellant's constitutional claim against the school district, the court concluded that the district court's failure to give appellant these procedural protections does not necessitate reversal because she was not prejudiced by the result. In this case, appellant cannot plausibly demonstrate that a constitutional violation occurred. View "Robertson v. Anderson Mill Elementary School" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion seeking to recover reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses from Montgomery County, Maryland. This case arose from the County's failure to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's disability. The district court concluded that plaintiff is not eligible for such an award because she was not a prevailing party under 29 U.S.C. 794a(b).The court found this case similar to Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970), and concluded that plaintiff is even more of a prevailing party than the Parham plaintiff. The court explained that plaintiff is not a prevailing party because she catalyzed the County to change its behavior by filing a lawsuit; rather, she is a prevailing party because she proved her claim to a jury before the County capitulated by transferring her to another call center. Furthermore, the transfer was key to the district court's subsequent finding that the County reasonably accommodated plaintiff and thus the district court's ultimate denial of plaintiff's request for equitable relief. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was convicted in 1993 for misdemeanor assault and battery of a family member, he was prohibited for life under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9) from possessing a firearm unless he obtains a pardon or an expungement of his conviction. Plaintiff filed suit seeking a declaration that section 922(g)(9) is unconstitutional as applied to him.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, holding that section 922(g)(9) is constitutional as applied to plaintiff. The court applied a two-prong approach in considering as-applied Second Amendment challenges. First, the court assumed without deciding that domestic violence misdemeanants are entitled to some degree of Second Amendment protection. Second, the court applied intermediate scrutiny to consider plaintiff's challenge. Applying United States v. Staten, 666 F.3d 154 (4th Cir. 2011), which rejected an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to section 922(g)(9), the court concluded that the evidence showed "a reasonable fit" between the statute and the substantial governmental objective of reducing domestic gun violence. In reaching this conclusion, the court adopted the approach of its sister circuits and declined to read into the statute an exception for good behavior or for the passage of time. View "Harley v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law