Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Although EQT's injection well was regulated by the state and authorized by a state-issued permit, the County sought to bar its operation by passing an ordinance that prohibited the disposal of wastewater anywhere within the County. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to EQT. The court held that the West Virginia legislature, in enacting its complex regulatory program for injection wells, did not leave counties with the authority to nullify permits issued by the state, and thus this central aspect of the ordinance was preempted by state law. The court also held that related aspects of the ordinance were preempted as well. View "EQT Production Co. v. Wender" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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After a charge of committing a heinous act of sexual assault was dropped against plaintiff, he filed suit against the officers who caused his arrest and the government officials he believed sanctioned the deprivation of his liberty. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's decision to strike the damages award, holding that the evidence reasonably supported the jury's verdict in favor of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 malicious prosecution claim; the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity; and because the district court wrongly held that the officers' conduct did not amount to a constitutional violation, the district court never confronted whether the municipal defendants violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Humbert v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the town after a police officer shot and wounded plaintiff as he was driving to escape a mob that had attacked him as he left a party. The district court granted the town's motion for summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that there remained genuine disputes of material fact as to whether plaintiff's car posed an imminent threat to the officers or bystanders, and whether deadly force was necessary to mitigate that threat. View "Lee v. Town of Seaboard" on Justia Law

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The full court granted rehearing en banc and held that Rowan County's practice of lawmaker-led prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The en banc court held that the prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion. Because the commissioners were the exclusive prayer-givers, Rowan County’s invocation practice fell well outside the more inclusive, minister-oriented practice of legislative prayer described in Town of Greece v. Galloway, 134 S. Ct. 1811 (2014). The en banc court explained that the solemn invocation of a single faith in so many meetings over so many years distanced adherents of other faiths from that representative government which affects the lives of all citizens and which Americans of every spiritual persuasion have every right to call their own. View "Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a landowner, filed suit challenging a comprehensive plan to extend sewer service to South Kent Island and a so-called Grandfather/Merger Provision designed to limit overdevelopment of the area. The Fourth Circuit rejected plaintiff's Fifth Amendment Takings Clause claim, holding that he failed to show that either the extension of sewer service or the Grandfather/Merger Provision goes too far in interfering with his property so as to require compensation. The court also held that there was no substantive due process violation as to the sewer service because plaintiff never had an entitlement to receive sewer service; there was no substantive due process violation as to the Grandfather/Merger Provision because it is a patently legitimate government action; and there was no violation of the Equal Protection Clause where plaintiff failed to show that any difference in treatment plaintiff suffered was rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in all respects. View "Quinn v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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The Free Speech Clause does not protect speech expressed in an admissions interview from admissions consequences in a competitive process. After he was denied admission in the Radiation Therapy Program (RTP) at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), plaintiff filed suit alleging that points were deducted from his application score and that he was denied admission because of the expression of his religious beliefs during his interview in violation of the Free Speech Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claim under the Free Speech Clause where plaintiff's speech was not protected. After applying the Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), test to plaintiff's Establishment Clause claim, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants because CCBC had a secular purpose in identifying the best qualified candidates; none of CCBC's actions inhibited religion; and there was no excessive government entanglement. View "Buxton v. Kurtinitis" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging North Carolina's Senate Bill 2, which allows state magistrates to recuse themselves from performing marriages on account of a religious objection. The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs, simply by virtue of their status as state taxpayers, have not alleged a personal, particularized injury for the purposes of Article III standing. The court explained that, given that the Supreme Court has expressly upheld taxpayer standing on just two occasions, the application of the doctrine has been narrowly circumscribed. In this case, the link between legislative action and the expenditures in S.B. 2 is attenuated, and plaintiffs have not alleged a classic spending injury under the Establishment Clause. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Ansley v. Warren" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254 after the district court granted a certificate of appealability on the narrow procedural question of whether a habeas petitioner's claims raised for the first time in objections to a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations must be heard by the district judge. The Fifth Circuit broadly answered in the affirmative, but found in this case that the district court did not commit reversible error. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Samples v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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The EEOC filed suit on behalf of a Consol Energy employee, alleging that Consol violated Title VII by constructively discharging the employee instead of accommodating his religious beliefs. In this case, the employee was forced to resign because his religious beliefs prevented him from using a biometric hand scanner. Consol provided an alternative to employees who could not use the hand scanner for non-religious reasons, but refused to accommodate the employee here for his religious objection. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the EEOC. The district court subsequently denied Consol's post-verdict motions. The Fourth Circuit held that Consol was not entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law where the evidence presented at trial allowed the jury to conclude that Consol failed to make available to a sincere religious objector the same reasonable accommodation it offered other employees, in clear violation of Title VII. Furthermore, the court found no error in the numerous evidentiary challenges raised by Consol nor in the district court's determinations regarding lost wages and punitive damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, who is civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person, filed suit against BOP employees challenging various conditions of his confinement at FCI Butner. The district court dismissed some of plaintiff's claims and then granted summary judgment as to the other claims. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court correctly dismissed BOP policies claims regarding double-bunking of civil detainees, forcing plaintiff to wear the same uniform as a prisoner, and limiting purchases at the commissary and his options on television to those of a prisoner; the commingling with prisoners claims where plaintiff was frequently in the presence of prisoners and that other prisoners taunted and harassed him; and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claim where plaintiff did not qualify as an employee. The court also held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment as to the strip searches and mass shakedowns claims, the mail claims, and the educational and vocational programs claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Matherly v. Andrews" on Justia Law