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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
by
In 2007, Crawley and two codefendants invaded a home and attacked and robbed a man they believed to be a drug dealer. A woman and two children were also in the home. Crawley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951 and using, carrying, and brandishing firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence and a drug trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 924(c). Other counts were dismissed, including for attempting to possess with intent to distribute a Schedule II Controlled Substance, 21 U.S.C. 846. The court sentenced Crawley to 150 months on Count One and 84 months on Count Three, to run consecutively. Crawley later unsuccessfully moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255.The Fourth Circuit subsequently permitted Crawley to file a second 2255 motion challenging his 924(c) conviction and sentence in light of the Supreme Court’s 2015 holding that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), is unconstitutionally vague. While Crawley’s motion was pending, the Fourth Circuit concluded that conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence under section 924(c)’s force clause and the crime of violence definition in section 924(c)’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague. The Fourth Circuit affirmed that Crawley’s 924(c) conviction remained valid because it was predicated on the use, carrying, and brandishing of firearms during the charged drug trafficking crime. View "United States v. Crawley" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a former inmate at Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail, filed suit against defendant, a doctor for the jail, alleging an Eighth Amendment violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and violations of state law, based on the doctor's purported failure to properly treat his diabetes.As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court's order sufficiently addressed all permutations of plaintiff's deliberate indifference claims and is therefore final. On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the doctor. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the doctor's alternative treatment plan was "so grossly incompetent" as to permit a finding of deliberate indifference. Likewise, plaintiff's gross negligence claim of medical malpractice failed for substantially the same reasons. In this case, the doctor was not grossly negligent where he placed plaintiff on a diabetic diet, ordered daily and then twice daily blood sugar tests, and reviewed plaintiff's blood sugar levels on a weekly basis. View "Hixson v. Moran" 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
Plaintiff, a former student at Oakton High School, filed suit under Title IX against the school board, alleging that her school’s administrators acted with deliberate indifference to reports that she had been sexually harassed by another Oakton student, "Jack Smith." The jury ruled against plaintiff and the district court subsequently denied her motion for a new trial.The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that a school's receipt of a report that can objectively be taken to allege sexual harassment is sufficient to establish actual notice or knowledge under Title IX—regardless of whether school officials subjectively understood the report to allege sexual harassment or whether they believed the alleged harassment actually occurred. The court further concluded that under this standard, no evidence in the record supports the jury's conclusion that the school board lacked actual notice of Smith's alleged sexual harassment of plaintiff. Accordingly, the court remanded for a new trial. View "Doe v. Fairfax County School Board" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs alleged a First Amendment challenge to section 1-201 of the Criminal Procedure Article of the Maryland Code, insofar as that statute prohibits and punishes the broadcasting of the official court recordings of state criminal proceedings. In January 2020, the district court dismissed the entire action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, concluding that the Broadcast Ban constitutes a content-neutral regulation of the time, place, and manner of speech that survives intermediate scrutiny.The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the First Amendment claim, concluding that the Broadcast Ban is properly assessed as a penal sanction for publishing information released to the public in official court records and is therefore subject to strict scrutiny under the Supreme Court's decisions in Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975), and Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97 (1979). The court explained that, at bottom, the district court was wrong to apply intermediate scrutiny, rather than strict scrutiny, to the Broadcast Ban. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Soderberg v. Carrion" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit concluded that Maryland's Governor and Attorney General have no control over the potential enforcement actions that could be brought against plaintiff. In this case, plaintiff, a professional counselor seeking to provide talk therapy to reduce his minor clients' same-sex attractions, filed suit against the Governor and the Attorney General of Maryland, alleging that Maryland has infringed his First Amendment rights by preventing him from engaging in the type of counseling he wants to do.Plaintiff argues that he can sue the Governor and the Attorney General under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), which provides an exception to their immunity from being sued in federal court. However, the court explained that neither the Governor nor the Attorney General have the necessary connection to enforcing Md. Code Ann., Health Occ. 1-212.1 that permits plaintiff's suit against them. Therefore, because of plaintiff's choice of defendants, the court may not consider the First Amendment issues he raises. While plaintiff requests leave to amend his complaint, the court left that question to the district court. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's decision as to the Governor and Attorney General's immunity from suit in federal court and vacated the remainder of its rulings. View "Christopher Doyle, LPC v. Hogan" on Justia Law

by
Appellants filed suit against Dorchester County, seeking compensation pursuant to the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment for the death of their bees. Appellants contend that the bees died after the County sprayed pesticide in an effort to kill mosquitos, and the bees' death amounted to a taking of appellants' private property.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the County's motion for summary judgment, holding that there was no taking because the loss of appellants' bees was only an incidental consequence of the County's action. The court noted that the death of appellants' bees is undoubtedly a tragedy, but the court cannot conclude that it was the foreseeable or probable result of the County's action when it is a clear outlier in terms of collateral damage arising out of the County's mosquito abatement effort. Therefore, because the death of the bees was neither intended nor foreseeable, the Takings Clause does not require compensation. View "Yawn v. Dorchester County" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit held that "job sharing" a single full-time position with a willing partner does not qualify as a reasonable accommodation that an employer must provide under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court explained that, if the job share in question did not exist at the time it was proposed as an accommodation, the ADA does not require the employer to create the new position to accommodate a disabled employee.In this case, the court concluded that providing plaintiff with the job share position with another employee was not a reasonable accommodation required by the ADA—not because the position was not "vacant" but because the position she sought did not exist. Therefore, summary judgment should have been granted to Sanofi on plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim on this ground. Furthermore, because plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of a reasonable accommodation, Sanofi cannot separately be liable for failing to engage in the interactive process. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Sanofi. View "Perdue v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S., 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

by
While plaintiff was incarcerated in a prison medical unit, his doctor reminded him within earshot of others that he had not taken his HIV medication. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the doctor's conduct violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, rejecting plaintiff's clam that the doctor's statement violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Rather, the court concluded that when the doctor disclosed plaintiff's HIV status, plaintiff was in prison, a place where individuals have a curtailed expectation of privacy. Furthermore, whatever expectations remain fail to include the diagnosis of or medication for HIV, a communicable disease. The court also rejected plaintiff's HIPAA claim because HIPAA does not create a private right of action that plaintiff may avail himself of. View "Payne v. Taslimi" on Justia Law