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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Nine parents of students with disabilities who attend South Carolina public schools and two disability advocacy organizations filed suit challenging a South Carolina provision in the South Carolina state budget that prohibits school districts from using appropriated funds to impose mask mandates. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the parents and the disability advocacy organizations lack standing to sue the governor and the attorney general, and thus vacated the district court's order granting the preliminary injunction as to those defendants. In this case, although plaintiffs have alleged a nexus between their claimed injuries and the Proviso, they have not established that such injuries are fairly traceable to defendants' conduct or would be redressed by a favorable ruling against defendants. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss defendants from this case. View "Disability Rights South Carolina v. McMaster" on Justia Law

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Nadendla, a physician, is of Indian origin. Nadendla was a member of WakeMed’s hospital's medical staff where she was granted clinical privileges in 2010, In 2017, citing “clinical concerns,” WakeMed informed Nadendla that she would not be reappointed clinical privileges; her appointment on the medical staff would expire. Nadendla requested a hearing, pursuant to the Bylaws. She alleges that WakeMed’s actions during the hearing process “exhibited an abject lack of fairness” and deprived her of adequate process in contravention of the Bylaws.Nadendla sued the hospital under 42 U.S.C. 1981, which guarantees to all persons in the United States “the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.’” The district court initially ruled that Nadendla sufficiently stated a section 1981 claim and state-law claims for breach of contract and for arbitrary and capricious conduct, but subsequently dismissed Nadendla’s section 1981 claim. The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part. The district court had the discretion to revisit its prior order and did not abuse its discretion in doing so. The complaint contained extensive, specific allegations regarding WakeMed’s failure to abide by the Bylaws but details regarding race are conspicuously absent. The court reversed the dismissal of Nadendla’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. View "Nadendla v. WakeMed" on Justia Law

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North Carolina inmate Moskos asked Officer Hardee for permission to cross the prison yard to get cold water. Hardee denied this request. Shortly thereafter, Moskos encountered Officer Butler, who allowed him to use a nearby cooler. Returning, Moskos encountered Hardee again. According to Butler and Hardee, Moskos attacked Hardee. Officer Horne ran to the scene and used pepper spray when Moskos refused to stop. According to Moskos, he had threatened to file a grievance against Hardee and Hardee struck him in the head without warning. Moskos complained that his eyes were burning, and according to an officer, he was given a shower within 30-45 minutes, subjected to a full medical assessment, then transferred to a medical center. Moskos disputes the timing and claims that when he returned from the hospital, he was placed in a segregation unit with horrible conditions and not allowed to shower or shave for about 20 days. Moskos was found guilty of assault on an officer, profane language, and disobeying an order. He lost 15 good-credit days, was sentenced to 60 days in segregation, and was transferred to a maximum-level security facility,Moskos unsuccessfully submitted a prison grievance then filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Fourth Circuit affirmed judgment as a matter of law for the defendants on his deliberate indifference and due process claims and a defense jury verdict on the remaining claims. View "Moskos v. Hardee" on Justia Law

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Porter was convicted of capital murder in Virginia state court for killing a police officer in 2005. He was sentenced to death. After unsuccessfully pursuing direct and collateral review of his conviction and sentence in state court, Porter filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas petition in 2012, asserting claims of actual juror bias and that juror Treakle failed to disclose in response to voir dire questioning that his brother, Pernell was a law enforcement officer. The district court dismissed the petition without an evidentiary hearing or any further discovery. The Fourth Circuit remanded. The district court again dismissed without an evidentiary hearing or any discovery. The Fourth Circuit again remanded. Discovery following remand revealed that Juror Treakle also withheld information in response to other voir dire questions about being the victim of a violent crime and about whether relatives had ever been arrested or prosecuted.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, deferring to the district court’s finding that the juror was credible when he testified that he did not intentionally withhold information in response to those questions. Porter did not establish that Juror Treakle would have been dismissed for cause if he had not withheld any information in response to the voir dire questions. View "Porter v. White" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254, seeking to apply retroactively a federal procedural rule first announced in 2019 to overturn the result of his state disciplinary proceedings that took place in 2015. At issue is whether the principles articulated in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), prohibiting the retroactive application of procedural rules on federal collateral review, apply to bar the inmate's effort in the circumstances of this case.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the retroactivity principles stated in Teague do indeed apply and that they preclude retroactive application of Lennear v. Wilson, 937 F.3d 257, 273–74 (4th Cir. 2019), to this case. The court concluded that Virginia made judicial relief available, even though no Virginia court addressed the relief claimed, and thus petitioner's assertion that the district court was his only "opportunity" for judicial review is a misstatement. Furthermore, defendant's argument that federal habeas review in this case is "direct review" in which new procedural rules apply is also not legally supportable. In regard to petitioner's alternative argument, the court concluded that, at bottom, petitioner's section 2254 petition is a federal collateral proceeding, not direct review of a state administrative proceeding, and therefore Teague's principle that a new procedural rule does not apply retroactively on federal collateral review governs. In this case, the court concluded that all the requirements of Teague have been met. The court rejected petitioner's remaining arguments and affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief. View "Wall v. Kiser" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief and petitioner's accompanying request for supplemental expert funding. The court granted a Certificate of Appealability (COA) on five issues.The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying petitioner's supplemental expert funding request. In regard to petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC), the court concluded that petitioner's jury sentencing claim was without merit and there is no flaw in the district court's conclusion that the record establishes that petitioner was fully advised of his rights to a jury trial and sentencing, as well as the possibility that a jury could sentence him to life; the district court did not err in denying relief on petitioner's mitigation evidence claim where petitioner could not overcome the procedural bar for his defaulted subclaims and the evidence does not fundamentally alter his claim; counsel's performance in investigating and presenting mitigation evidence was not deficient and petitioner failed to establish prejudice; the record leaves no doubt that petitioner admitted to two aggravating circumstances in his guilty plea and knowingly and voluntarily waived any challenge to judicial factfinding by the trial court and that challenge would have been futile; and petitioner procedurally defaulted his guilty plea claim. View "Mahdi v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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Lighthouse Church filed suit challenging the legality of executive orders the Governor of Virginia issued to combat the spread of COVID-19. The specific executive orders that Lighthouse Church challenged expired in June of 2020, and the state of emergency in Virginia upon which they were predicated ended on July 1, 2021. Furthermore, the end of the state of emergency terminated all outstanding COVID-19-related executive orders.The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal of the action as moot, concluding that the executive orders that Lighthouse Church challenges are no longer in effect and no exception to mootness is applicable. Therefore, there is no live controversy between the parties in these proceedings. Because the action is moot, the court also vacated the district court's judgment without reaching or addressing the issue concerning Governor Northam's entitlement to sovereign immunity. View "Lighthouse Fellowship Church v. Northam" on Justia Law

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After an explosion at Massey’s West Virginia coal mine killed 29 miners, Blankenship, then Massey’s Chairman of the Board and CEO, was convicted of conspiring to willfully violate federal mine safety and health standards, 30 U.S.C. 820(d) and 18 U.S.C. 371. The evidence indicated that Blankenship had willfully failed to address numerous notices of mine safety violations that Massey had received, favoring production and profits over safety. Following the trial and in response to Blankenship’s ongoing requests, the government produced documents to Blankenship that it had not produced before trial and that it should have produced under applicable Department of Justice policies. The suppressed documents fell broadly into two categories: memoranda of interviews conducted of seven Massey employees and internal emails and documents of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) showing, among other things, some MSHA employees’ hostility to Massey and Blankenship.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Blankenship’s 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his conviction. While the documents were improperly suppressed, they were not material in that there was not a reasonable probability that they would have produced a different result had they been disclosed before trial. The verdict that Blankenship conspired to willfully violate mandatory mine standards was supported by ample evidence. View "United States v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Davison began to publicly criticize Louden school policies, alleging violations of federal law, misleading budget information, and flouting Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Act. Davison frequently chastised school board members in many forums and during board meetings. He routinely emailed individual board members and made multiple social media posts about his complaints. Davison also commented on board members’ social media platforms. Davison mentioned weapons; there were concerns about the welfare of his children. Board members voiced personal safety concerns, which led to the 2015 no-trespass letters that prohibited his presence on school property and attendance at any school-sponsored activities unless authorized. Davidson’s previous state-court challenge has been dismissed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Davison’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, citing res judicata. Davison agreed to dismiss his state petition, which included federal claims, with prejudice, despite having the opportunity to withdraw his petition. The board’s policy, which prohibits all personal attacks, regardless of viewpoint, because they cause “unnecessary delay or disruption to a meeting,” is a constitutional policy for a limited public forum because it is viewpoint neutral, and the restriction is reasonable in light of the purpose of the board. The district court correctly determined that Davison did not experience retaliation. With respect to claims against individuals and claims based on reports to protective services concerning Davison’s children, the court cited qualified immunity. Davison was not deprived of procedural due process. View "Davison v. Rose" on Justia Law

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Moss filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that while he was a pretrial detainee, jail officials put him in disciplinary confinement without a hearing, in violation of his procedural due process rights, and that they delayed his access to urgent medical care, again violating his due process rights. Moss claims that he informed the intake officer that he was taking a medication for a thyroid condition, Vyvanse for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Zoloft for PTSD and alleges delays in providing him with those medications while he was detained.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that Moss failed to exhaust available administrative remedies for his procedural due process claim and that any delay in the provision of medical treatment did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Moss argued that jail officials made administrative remedies unavailable by denying him access to the grievance system while he was in disciplinary confinement but undisputed record evidence establishes that Moss was able to use the grievance system during that time, compelling the conclusion that administrative remedies were available to him. There is no evidence that the defendants knew of but deliberately ignored a substantial risk to Moss’s health. View "Moss v. Harwood" on Justia Law