Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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After deputies shot and killed David Hensley outside of his home, plaintiffs filed suit against the deputies in their individual and official capacities under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and North Carolina law. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment to the deputies based on qualified immunity and state defenses. The court held that a jury could conclude that Hensley never raised his gun, never threatened the deputies, and never received a warning command. Under these circumstances, the deputies were not in any immediate danger and were not entitled to shoot Hensley. Therefore, the deputies were not entitled to qualified immunity. In regard to plaintiffs' state law claims, the district court correctly concluded that plaintiffs' assault claim could proceed as a matter of law. Furthermore, the deputies were not entitled to public official immunity under North Carolina law on plaintiffs' negligent infliction of emotional distress claim because they acted contrary to their duty to use deadly force only when reasonably necessary. View "Hensley v. Price" on Justia Law

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A local government violated the Establishment Clause when it displays and maintains on public property a 40-foot tall Latin cross, established in memory of soldiers who died in World War I. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court's judgment and held that the monument has the effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion. The court explained that the Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity. In this case, the cross is 40 feet tall; prominently displayed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Prince George's County, Maryland; and maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds. The court held that the purported war memorial breaches the "wall of separation between Church and State." View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Maryland-National Capital Park" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant fired her for supporting defendant's political rival, and thus violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that, as an Assistant State's Attorney, plaintiff was a policymaker exempt from the First Amendment's protection against patronage dismissals. The court reasoned that to hold otherwise would undermine the public mandate bestowed upon the victor of a hard-fought election and would needlessly interfere with a state official's managerial prerogative. View "Borzilleri v. Mosby" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a suit challenging Rockville's zoning ordinance that prohibited the construction of self-storage facilities within 250 feet of property on which a public school is located. Plaintiffs argued that the enactment amounted to a denial of their due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court held that Siena did not have a constitutionally protected property interest in using its property to develop a storage facility. The court explained that the very nature of Siena's conditional site plan approval defeated any claim that Siena had a nondiscretionary entitlement to a building permit. Because Siena never satisfied the conditions of obtaining a requisite site plan approval, it was not eligible for a building permit. Even if Siena had a protected property interest here, the enactment of the zoning text amendment would still fall short of a substantive due process violation. In this case, the enactment represented nothing more than the ordinary exercise of a state's residual police power in land use and zoning, in which the state has long maintained a primary and sovereign interest. The court rejected Siena's remaining claims, including the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim, and affirmed the judgment in all respects. View "Siena Corp. v. Mayor and City Council of Rockville" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was arrested for failing to confine his leafleting to an area designated for protest activities, as set forth in a protocol formulated by Baltimore's legal department in 2004, he filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the protocol. The Fourth Circuit addressed a challenge to the same protocol previously, Ross v. Early, 746 F.3d 546 (4th Cir. 2014), where the court affirmed the district court's decision to uphold the protocol. In this case, the district court dismissed the complaint because the court had already considered the constitutional claim in Ross. The court vacated, holding that, in Ross, the parties entered into a stipulation that dictated the level of constitutional scrutiny, but the parties to the instant case did not. Furthermore, the district court in the instant case did not consider an intervening relevant Supreme Court decision, McCullen v. Coakley, 134 S. Ct. 2518 (2014), and did not have the benefit of another, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lucero v. Early" on Justia 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