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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that prison officials ignored his repeated medical complaints and denied him meaningful treatment, leading to his collapse and major surgery. Plaintiff alleged a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim against the United States for medical negligence, as well as a Bivens claim against certain individuals involved in his care for deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court erroneously dismissed the FTCA claim because plaintiff did not secure a certification from a medical expert before filing suit, as required by West Virginia law. As two of its sister circuits have concluded, state-law certification requirements like West Virginia's are inconsistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and thus displaced by those rules in federal court. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the FTCA claim.The court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to individual defendants on plaintiff's Bivens claims. The district court reasoned that plaintiff could not establish deliberate indifference as a matter of law. However, the court concluded that the district court did not first provide plaintiff, who proceeded pro se, with proper notice of his obligation to support his claims or an opportunity to seek discovery. Accordingly, the court vacated this portion of the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings on the Bivens claims. View "Pledger v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of the motion to dismiss plaintiffs' action seeking an injunction and a declaratory judgment that several federal laws and regulations that prevent federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to any 18, 19, or 20 year olds violate the Second Amendment.The court rejected the government and amici's argument that the challenged laws fall into two categories on the presumptively valid list in Dist. of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 592–95, 628 (2008): conditions on commercial sales and longstanding regulations.The court found that 18 year olds possess Second Amendment rights, concluding that the Constitution's text, structure, and history makes clear that 18 to 20 year olds were understood to fall under the Second Amendment's protections. The court explained that those over 18 were universally required to be part of the militia near the ratification, proving that they were considered part of "the people" who enjoyed Second Amendment rights, and that most other constitutional rights apply to this age group.The court also concluded that the laws do not pass intermediate scrutiny. The court acknowledged that the government's interest in preventing crime, enhancing public safety, and reducing gun violence are not only substantial, but compelling. However, the court explained that, to justify this restriction, Congress used disproportionate crime rates to craft over-inclusive laws that restrict the rights of overwhelmingly law-abiding citizens. And in doing so, Congress focused on purchases from licensed dealers without establishing those dealers as the source of the guns 18 to 20 year olds use to commit crimes. The court reasoned that Congress may not restrict the rights of an entire group of law-abiding adults because a minuscule portion of that group commits a disproportionate amount of gun violence. The court stated that Congress's failure to connect handgun purchases from licensed dealers to youth gun violence only serves to highlight the law's unduly tenuous fit with the government's substantial interests. Therefore, 18 to 20 year olds have Second Amendment rights and the challenged laws impermissibly burden such rights. The court reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hirschfeld v. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco & Explosives" 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, finding petitioner's ineffective-assistance claim procedurally barred and his other claims without merit. In this case, a jury found petitioner guilty on two counts of first degree murder and two counts of discharging a firearm into an occupied building resulting in serious bodily injury. Defendant was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murder convictions, as well as consecutive terms for the firearm convictions.The court concluded that the state court's determination that the trial court was not disproportionate or arbitrary in excluding expert testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Because petitioner has not established that an exception applies to excuse his procedural default, the court declined to reach the merits of his ineffective-assistance claim. In doing so, the court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion by not granting petitioner an evidentiary hearing on this claim. The court rejected petitioner's claim, pursuant to Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 855 (2017), that the jury's verdict resulted from racial animus. The court first determined that no clearly established law when the state post-conviction court rejected petitioner's claim provided a racial-animus exception to the no-impeachment rule. The court then determined that the state court's resolution of petitioner's claim reasonably applied the law that was clearly established at that time. Furthermore, Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 310 (1989), provides an independent barrier to petitioner's claims. View "Richardson v. Kornegay" on Justia Law

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A week after a gunman opened fire inside a Parkland, Florida school with an AR-15-style assault rifle, a 911 call reported a man with an assault rifle walking along Route 33 in Putnam County. Corporal Donahoe and Deputy Pauley were dispatched, knowing that a k-12 school was less than a mile ahead of the armed man (Walker), who was wearing military-style clothing. Seeing Walker, the officers believed that he could be under the age of 18. It is generally legal in West Virginia for persons over the age of 18 to openly carry firearms. Walker challenged the officers’ authority to stop and detain him and initially declined to produce identification, He relented but refused to provide information about his gun and his reason for carrying it. Donahoe did not restrain Walker, pat him down, or otherwise touch him. Donahoe called for a criminal history check, telling Walker “I have the absolute legal right to see whether you’re legal to carry that gun,” indicating that Walker could not leave. Learning that Walker was 24 and only had a misdemeanor conviction, Donahoe returned Walker’s identification papers and told him that he was free to go. The encounter lasted less than nine minutes.The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Donahoe in Walker’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. There was reasonable suspicion supporting Donahoe’s investigatory detention of Walker. Lawful conduct can contribute to reasonable suspicion; the circumstances of Walker’s firearm possession were unusual and alarming enough to engender reasonable suspicion. View "Walker v. Donahoe" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a declaratory judgment holding that the clerks from two Virginia courts, that failed to make newly filed civil complaints timely available to the press and public, violated the First Amendment right of access to such documents.As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that this case is not moot where, absent the relief Courthouse News sought, nothing bars the clerks from reverting to the allegedly unconstitutional rates of access in the future; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the clerks' motion to abstain; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the clerks' motion to dismiss for misjoinder.On the merits, the court applied the experience and logic test to Courthouse News' First Amendment right of access claim, concluding that the experience prong supports a First Amendment right of access to civil complaints, even before any judicial action in the case, and that public access to complaints logically plays a positive role in the functioning of the judicial process. Therefore, the press and public enjoy a First Amendment right of access to newly filed civil complaints. The court agreed with the district court's determination that the clerks violated Courthouse News' right of access to newly filed civil complaints. View "Courthouse News Service v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs moved to enjoin implementation of the Aerial Investigation Research (AIR) program, a first-of-its-kind aerial surveillance program operated by the Baltimore Police Department and Commissioner Michael Harrison. While appeal was pending, the program completed its pilot run and the program was not renewed. After deleting the bulk of the AIR data, defendants moved to dismiss the appeal as moot.On rehearing en banc, the court concluded that the appeal presents a live controversy and is not moot. Plaintiffs sought to enjoin defendants' access to any data collected by the AIR program, and defendants retain the data that proved fruitful. In this case, plaintiffs have a concrete, legally cognizable interest in freezing the police department's access to images, which were obtained only by recording plaintiffs' movements and in which they may still appear.On the merits, the court concluded that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Fourth Amendment claim and the remaining Winter factors counsel in favor of preliminary relief. The court applied Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018), concluding that the AIR program enables police to deduce from the whole of individuals' movements, and thus accessing its data is a search, and its warrantless operation violates the Fourth Amendment. The court reversed the denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings. View "Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department" on Justia Law

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Five former employees of national security agencies who, during their employment, had clearances for access to classified and sensitive information, filed suit against the CIA, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. They facially challenged the agencies’ requirements that current and former employees give the agencies prepublication review of certain materials that they intend to publish to allow the agencies to redact information that is classified or otherwise sensitive to national security. They alleged that the agencies’ regimes “fail to provide former government employees with fair notice of what they must submit,” “invest executive officers with sweeping discretion to suppress speech[,] and fail to include procedural safeguards designed to avoid the dangers of a censorship system.”The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, holding that the prepublication review regimes were “reasonable” measures to protect sensitive information and did not violate the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. The regimes were not unduly vague under the Fifth Amendment; they adequately informed authors of the types of materials they must submit and established for agency reviewers the kinds of information that can be redacted. View "Edgar v. Haines" on Justia Law

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Puma, a pharmaceutical company, created an investor presentation during a proxy contest with Eshelman, a Puma shareholder and the founder of PPD, another pharmaceutical company. Puma invited its shareholders to visit a link on its website where it had published the presentation, which indicated that, a decade earlier, while Eshelman was CEO of PPD, a clinical investigator falsified documents. The presentation was published at least 198 times. Puma also filed the presentation with the SEC, which made it permanently accessible on its website.Eshelman, a resident of North Carolina, initiated a diversity action with state-law claims of defamation. Puma is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in California; Auerbach, Puma’s CEO, resides in California. The court found defamatory per se Puma’s statements that Eshelman was “involved in clinical trial fraud” and that Eshelman was replaced as CEO after being forced to testify regarding fraud in 2008. A jury awarded Eshelman $15.85 million in compensatory damages and $6.5 million in punitive damages.The Fourth Circuit affirmed as to liability but vacated the award after finding that Puma waived its personal jurisdiction claim. Each of the statements at issue is capable of a singular, defamatory interpretation but “there is no evidence justifying such an enormous award.” View "Eshelman v. Puma Biotechnology, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2019, the television program CBS This Morning broadcast interviews with two women who accused Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, of sexual assault. Fairfax had previously denied the allegations. Although he admitted that both sexual encounters occurred, he claimed they were entirely consensual. The CBS interviewer, Gayle King read from a statement Fairfax had given CBS denying the allegations. King directed viewers to Fairfax’s full statement on CBS’s website. Fairfax later issued a public letter to a North Carolina district attorney, alleging for the first time the existence of an eyewitness. Fairfax demanded that CBS retract the interviews, and CBS refused. Fairfax sued CBS for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court dismissed the complaint in its entirety but denied CBS’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs finding that CBS established its entitlement to statutory immunity under Virginia’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Fairfax’s complaint fails to plausibly allege that CBS made the allegedly defamatory statements with knowledge or reckless disregard of their falsity, as required to state a claim for defamation of a public official. The fee-shifting statute is discretionary, not mandatory or presumptive. Fairfax’s allegations did not plausibly allege that CBS broadcast its This Morning programs despite entertaining “serious doubts as to the truth” of those broadcasts. View "Fairfax v. CBS Corp." on Justia Law

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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