Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
CAI filed suit against state prosecutors, seeking to enjoin the enforcement of state unauthorized practice of law (UPL) statutes against it. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, holding that the UPL statutes did not unconstitutionally restrict CAI's associational rights. In this case, like the solicitation statute in Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Ass'n, 436 U.S. 447 (1978), North Carolina's UPL statutes only marginally affected First Amendment concerns and did not substantially impair the associational rights of CAI. The court also held that the UPL statutes did not unlawfully burden CAI's freedom of speech. Determining that intermediate scrutiny was the appropriate standard for reviewing conduct regulations that incidentally impact speech, the court held that barring corporations from practicing law was sufficiently drawn to protect clients. The court also held that the UPL statutes did not deny CAI due process, were not unconstitutionally vague, and did not violate the state constitution's Monopoly Clause. Finally, CAI's commercial speech claim was not an independent basis for granting relief and the state may forbid CAI from advertising legal services barred by law. View "Capital Associated Industries v. Stein" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that North Carolina prison officials imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise by refusing his request to celebrate four annual Rastafarian holy days, in violation of his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment for defendants based on different reasons than the ones given by the district court. The court held that plaintiff failed to show that defendants' policies caused a substantial burden on his exercise of religion. In this case, plaintiff failed to identify any Rastafarian inmate in the North Carolina prison system who would attend his proposed gatherings. View "Wright v. Lassiter" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiffs were arrested and detained by ICE under 8 U.S.C. 1226(a), pending removal for being in the United States without inspection or admission, they filed suit against ICE and DHS, challenging their transfer or anticipated transfer from ICE's detention facility to an out of state facility. Plaintiffs alleged a violation of their substantive due process right to family unity and procedural due process right to notice and an opportunity to be heard, because such transfers separated them from their children and made it impossible for children to have access to their parents or to visit them. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the government's motion to dismiss and held that plaintiffs did not have a due process right to family unity in the context of immigration detention pending removal. Furthermore, the court did not have the authority to create a new substantive due process right in view of Supreme Court decisions cautioning courts from innovating in this area. Likewise, the court held that, because plaintiffs right to family unity did not exist, their procedural due process claim failed. View "Reyna v. Hott" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying Citizens' motion for attorney's fees, expert fees, and costs stemming from a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action that successfully challenged a 2015 state law that redrew Greensboro City Council districts. The court held that civil rights fee-shifting statutes, such as those at issue here, are not meant to punish defendants for a lack of innocence or good faith but rather to "compensate civil rights attorneys who bring civil rights cases and win them." The court explained that "innocence" or a "lack of responsibility" for the enactment of an unconstitutional law was therefore not an appropriate criterion to justify denying a fee award against the party responsible for and enjoined from enforcing the unconstitutional law. View "Brandon v. Guilford County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

by
Respondents, Mississippi death row inmates, filed suit challenging the state's lethal injection procedures under the Eighth Amendment. Respondents sought discovery by serving a subpoena on the VDOC. The VDOC provided some documents and then moved to quash the subpoena in district court. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the VDOC's motion to quash the subpoena on the merits, holding that the district court reasonably found that respondents did not have a need for further discovery from the VDOC, a nonparty, that outweighed the burdens the discovery would impose. Accordingly, the court need not reach the state sovereign immunity issue. View "Virginia Department of Corrections v. Jordan" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint alleging that the sheriff's failure to reappoint plaintiff for his political disloyalty violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of political association and speech. The court held that the Elrod-Branti exception, which permits public officials to fire certain employees for their support of a political opponent, was applicable in this instance and that the sheriff's decision not to reappoint plaintiff did not violate his First Amendment rights of freedom of political association. The court also held that the sheriff's decision did not violate plaintiff's First Amendment right to freedom of speech under the Pickering-Connick doctrine because the balancing test weighs in favor of the sheriff. View "McCaffrey v. Chapman" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner filed suit challenging the Director's repeated denial of parole to petitioner. The district court granted the Director's motion to dismiss, holding that juvenile-specific Eighth Amendment protections do not apply to petitioner because he was sentenced to life with parole, and that the Parole Board procedures satisfied procedural due process requirements under the Fourteenth Amendment. Reading petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition as a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, the Fourth Circuit declined to extend the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence to juvenile parole proceedings and find that it is cruel and unusual punishment for a parole board to deny juvenile offenders parole without specifically considering age-related mitigating characteristics as a separate factor in the decisionmaking process. In regard to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the court held that, although there was no constitutional or inherent right to parole proceedings, Virginia law gives rise to an expectation of parole proceedings that has created a liberty interest in parole consideration. The court held that, nevertheless, to satisfy the due process requirements triggered by this liberty interest, a parole board need only provide an offender an opportunity to be heard and a statement of reasons indicating why parole has been denied. In this case, petitioner's parole proceedings satisfied those requirements. View "Bowling v. Director, Virginia Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims against numerous government officials for alleged illegal intrusions into plaintiffs' electronic devices to conduct unlawful surveillance, and against certain corporate entities for allegedly facilitating those intrusions. The court affirmed the dismissals of Defendant Holder and Donahoe with prejudice for failure to present a cognizable claim under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents. The court held that plaintiffs' claims did not present a new Bivens context, because Holder and Donahue held much higher ranks than the line-level FBI agents sued in Bivens; a claim based on unlawful electronic surveillance presents wildly different facts and a vastly different statutory framework from a warrantless search and arrest; and plaintiffs sought to hold high-level officials accountable for what they themselves frame as policy-level decisions to target internal leaks to the media. Moreover, various special factors identified in Ziglar v. Abbasi did not support recognizing a Bivens claim here. In regard to plaintiffs' Electronic Communications Privacy Act claim, the court held that, to the extent Holder and Donahoe procured any wrongful interception, use, or disclosure of plaintiffs' electronic communications, they did not violate a clearly established right. Finally, the court affirmed the dismissal of the amended complaint and the parties named therein with prejudice, as well as the dismissal of the unnamed John Doe agents without prejudice. View "Attkisson v. Holder" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the University in an action brought by a sociology professor, alleging claims under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. The court held that, although plaintiff established a pay disparity between her and two former administrators, she failed to present evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact that the administrators were appropriate comparators. The court also held that, in any event, the University based the administrators' higher pay on their prior service as University administrators, not their sex. View "Spencer v. Virginia State University" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Officers Strickland and Heroux, alleging that the officers violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights by using deadly force while arresting him. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the officers' motions for summary judgment, holding that the officers started or continued to fire on plaintiff after they were no longer in the trajectory of plaintiff's car and thus violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to freedom from excessive force. The court also held that it was clearly established that using deadly force against plaintiff after the officers were no longer in the car's trajectory would violate plaintiff's right to freedom from excessive force. View "Williams v. Strickland" on Justia Law