Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Nursing Homes, on behalf of eleven residents, filed suit against the Secretaries, alleging that the Secretaries wrongfully denied the residents Medicaid benefits in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and several federal statutes. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The court held that the Eleventh Amendment barred the Nursing Homes' constitutional and Medicaid Act claims for damages or other relief based on past actions; the Nursing Homes' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were moot and required dismissal because the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction; and, because the Nursing Homes failed to state a viable Americans with Disabilities Act claim, they failed to state a cognizable Rehabilitation Act claim. View "Wicomico Nursing Home v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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In 2004, after pleading guilty to selling crack cocaine to a government informant, Lester was sentenced to almost 22 years in prison because he was designated a career offender under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. This enhancement depended on a past conviction for a “crime of violence,” Lester’s 1990 Georgia conviction for walkaway escape. In 2005, the Supreme Court stripped the Sentencing Guidelines of legal force and made them purely advisory; in 2009, the Court ruled that the generic crime of failing to report to a prison was not a crime of violence. Lester’s sentence should have been up to 11 years shorter. Lester sought habeas corpus relief. The district court denied his petition. The Fourth Circuit vacated, noting that its 2018 decision in United States v. Wheeler permits Lester’s challenge although Lester had already filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255. In limited circumstances, courts, including the Fourth Circuit, allow a prisoner otherwise unable to file a second or successive section 2255 petition to seek relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. A sentencing error “need not result in a sentence that exceeds statutory limits in order to be a fundamental defect.” Lester’s case must be considered on the merits. View "Lester v. Flournoy" on Justia Law

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MDENT, a Charleston drug task force, investigated Terry after an officer found remnants of drugs in trash outside of a residence associated with Terry. An MDENT agent acquired a search warrant for Terry’s residence. Agents followed Terry to a store. Once Terry had parked, Corporal Johnson approached the car and smelled marijuana. Terry turned over a small amount of marijuana. Johnson searched the car. Nothing more was found. Meanwhile, another MDENT agent surreptitiously placed a GPS tracker onto the car. No contraband or incriminating evidence was found in the residence. Afterwards, Johnson obtained a warrant to “ping” Terry’s cell phone and to place a GPS tracker on the car. Two days later, agents relied solely on the GPS data to track the car to Ohio, where they suspected Terry obtained drugs. After the car returned, the officers followed it and determined that it was speeding at five miles above the posted speed limit of 45 MPH. Officers pulled the car over. Tamara, the car’s owner, was driving. Terry was a passenger. Johnson wrote Tamara a warning citation while another officer spoke with Terry and informed Johnson that he smelled marijuana, Johnson ordered Terry out of the car and performed a pat-down. Officers discovered 195.5 grams of methamphetamine and 2.9 grams of marijuana. Although the district court found that MDENT’s conduct constituted a flagrant constitutional violation, it denied Terry’s motion to suppress on the basis of standing. The Fourth Circuit vacated. Terry had standing and the discovery of the evidence seized during the traffic stop was not sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful GPS search to purge the taint. View "United States v. Terry" on Justia Law

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In 2004-2006, Pulte purchased 540 acres of Clarksburg land, then governed by the 1994 Master Plan, which divided development into four stages. In the fourth stage, the area containing Pulte’s land was to be developed into residential communities. Pulte’s land was designated as a receiving property for Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) and was zoned for one-acre lots. Pulte could increase the allowable density to two units per acre by purchasing TDRs from agricultural properties in other Montgomery County areas, which would restrict future development of the agricultural property. Pulte invested 12 million dollars in TDRs. Under the Plan, there were prerequisites to Stage 4 development. All had occurred by 2009. The Plan stated that Stage 4 developments can proceed once public agencies and the developer have complied with all “implementing mechanisms,” which included Water and Sewer Plan amendments. Pulte submitted its Water and Sewer Request to the County and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 2009, with a $10,000 filing fee. The County never acted on Pulte’s application. In 2012, Pulte submitted a Pre-Application Concept Plan to the Commission, which rejected the plan. The agencies refused to meet and stopped responding to Pulte’s communications but reopened the Plan to study the watershed in which Pulte’s land is located and ultimately imposed regulatory changes that severely reduced the number of dwellings Pulte could build and imposed additional costly burdens. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Pulte’s due process, equal protection, and regulatory taking claims, stating that federal courts are not the appropriate forum to challenge local land use determinations. Pulte had no constitutional property interest in developing its land as it had contemplated, and local authorities had a plausible, rational basis for their actions. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

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Lawlor worked at a Fairfax County apartment complex and had access to keys to each apartment. On September 24, 2008, Lawlor consumed alcohol and a large amount of crack cocaine and sexually assaulted, bludgeoned, and killed a tenant in that complex, Genevieve Orange. A Virginia state court sentenced Lawlor to death; the sentencing jury found that there was a probability Lawlor “would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society,” Va. Code 19.2–264.4.C. Lawlor exhausted state court direct appeal and post-conviction remedies then sought review of his death sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The district court dismissed his petition. The Fourth Circuit reversed. The state court excluded specialized and relevant testimony of a qualified witness who would have explained that Lawlor “represents a very low risk for committing acts of violence while incarcerated,” where the jury’s only choices were life in prison without parole or death. That ruling was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent that “evidence that the defendant would not pose a danger if spared (but incarcerated) must be considered potentially mitigating,” and “such evidence may not be excluded from the sentencer’s consideration.” The error had a substantial and injurious effect. View "Lawlor v. Zook" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer in an action alleging that the unauthorized review and disclosure of plaintiff's confidential personnel files to support her racial and religious discrimination claims constituted protected activity under Title VII. The court held that, under the opposition clause, unauthorized disclosures of confidential information to third parties are generally unreasonable. In this case, plaintiff's unauthorized review and duplication of confidential personnel files did not constitute protected opposition or participation activity. The court also held that section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect a violation of valid state law that poses no conflict with Title VII. The court explained that, like in plaintiff's opposition claim, she failed to meet her burden of proving that the sheriff terminated her employment because she engaged in protected activity. View "Netter v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought relief from the district court's gag order imposing stringent restrictions on participants and potential participants in a series of nuisance suits brought against the hog industry in North Carolina. Determining that a mandamus petition was the appropriate mechanism for challenging the gag order and that the mandamus petition was not moot, the Fourth Circuit held that petitioner met its burden of showing a clear and indisputable right to the requested relief. Applying strict scrutiny, the court held that the gag order breached basic First Amendment principles in both meaningful and material ways. In this case, the gag order harmed petitioner, farmers, and plaintiffs. Accordingly, the court vacated the gag order and allowed the parties to begin anew under the guidelines the court set forth. View "In re: Murphy-Brown, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying the EEOC's request under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) for retroactive monetary relief from the county. The court held that retroactive monetary awards, such as the back pay sought here, were mandatory legal remedies under the ADEA upon a finding of liability. The court's conclusion was not altered by the county's contention that the EEOC unduly delayed in the investigation. Accordingly, the court remanded for a determination of the amount of back pay to which the affected employees were entitled under the ADEA. View "EEOC v. Baltimore County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a mobile home park's policy requiring all occupants to provide documentation evidencing legal status in the United States to renew their leases as violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment for the mobile home park, holding that plaintiffs have made a prima facie case that the policy disparately impacted Latinos in violation of the FHA, satisfying step one of the disparate impact analysis, and that the district court therefore erred in concluding otherwise. The court also held that the district court seriously misconstrued the robust causality requirement described in Tex. Dep't of Housing & Cmty. Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2507, 2513 (2015), and erroneously rejected plaintiffs' prima facie claim that the policy disparately impacted Latinos. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Giron de Reyes v. Waples Mobile Home Park LP" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions for possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine based and possession of a firearm, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress statements he made to officers during the execution of a search warrant for his residence; (2) did not abuse its discretion in admitting “other acts” evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b); (3) did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to disclose the identity of a confidential informant who provided information used to obtain the search warrant; and (4) did not err in enhancing Defendant’s sentence on the basis of his prior Maryland convictions. View "United States v. Bell" on Justia Law