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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Plaintiff, a former special agent with the Virginia State Police, filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against the Commonwealth, seeking relief that includes compensatory damages, reinstatement, and back pay. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the ADA claim, because the Commonwealth has not waived its sovereign immunity from that claim. However, the court reversed the district court's decision that claim preclusion barred the Title VII claims, because the initial forum did not have the power to award the full measure of relief sought in this litigation. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Passaro v. Commonwealth of Virginia" on Justia Law

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After entering a settlement that released certain tort claims, plaintiff filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. When her debts were discharged and the bankruptcy proceedings closed, she filed suit seeking to rescind her settlement agreement as fraudulently induced and to pursue a tort action. The district court entered judgment in favor of defendants. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court's standing determination conflates Article III requirements with the distinct real-party-in-interest analysis. Rather, plaintiff has both Article III standing and the legal entitlement to pursue tort claims on her own behalf. In regard to judicial estoppel, the court also held that the district court relied on an improper presumption of bad faith, and therefore reached its conclusion without fully engaging in the necessary inquiry. Therefore, the court remanded to the district court for it to evaluate the appropriateness of judicial estoppel in light of all facts and circumstances without recourse to a presumption of bad faith. View "Martineau v. Wier" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from the wrongful conviction of two brothers, teenage boys with severe intellectual disabilities, for the rape and murder of an 11 year old girl in 1983. The brothers spent 31 years in prison and on death row before they were exonerated based on DNA evidence linking another individual to the crime. The brothers filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the state and county law enforcement officers investigating the crime violated their Fourth Amendment and due process rights. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not improperly apply the test for qualified immunity by waiting to parse the liability of each individual defendant as it relates to each claim until the facts were determined; defendants did not have probable cause to arrest the brothers as a matter of law; and the brothers' right not to be arrested without probable cause based on a coerced and fabricated confession was clearly established. Therefore, the district court did not err by denying summary judgment to defendants on the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims based on qualified immunity. The court also held that the district court properly denied summary judgment as to the due process claims where it was beyond debate at the time that the brothers' constitutional rights not to be imprisoned and convicted based on coerced, falsified, and fabricated evidence or confessions, or to have material exculpatory evidence suppressed, were clearly established. View "Gilliam v. Sealey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, her minor son, and her father-in-law filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against a state trooper, asserting various violations of the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff's claims arose from her arrest for obstruction when she attempted to stop the trooper from shooting her family's dog. The district court granted summary judgment for the trooper. The Fourth Circuit held that there were genuine disputes of fact underlying the false arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution claims. The court also held that the district court properly denied plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the search and seizure claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order denying plaintiff partial summary judgment and reversed the order granting summary judgment to the trooper. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hupp v. Cook" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241 and remanded with instructions to grant the writ. The court held that petitioner's current sentence stems from faulty arithmetic based on a now-obsolete scheme of statutory interpretation, and thus his petition met the requirements of section 2255(e), the savings clause. In this case, petitioner's conviction on Count IV—the second of his 18 U.S.C. 924(c) convictions—could not stand because it was not supported by an independent firearm possession under recent Tenth Circuit precedent. View "Hahn v. Moseley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the former Chief of Police and a Virginia State Police Superintendent were directly liable for violation of his substantive due process rights based on the police department's failure to protect him from violent protesters at a rally. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established at the time of the rally that failing to intervene in violence among the protesters would violate any particular protester's due process rights. View "Turner v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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After Cleaven Williams stabbed and killed his pregnant wife and the unborn child outside of a courthouse where she had just obtained a protective order against him, plaintiffs filed suit against defendant, alleging that he was responsible for Mrs. Williams' death because defendant enabled him to postpone his self-surrender on a misdemeanor arrest warrant, which provided Williams the opportunity to murder his wife. The Fourth Circuit previously affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss the claims based on qualified immunity. Plaintiffs then amended the complaint to add another defendant, and the district court granted summary judgment to both defendants. Plaintiffs appealed. The court affirmed the district court's judgment and held that plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence that reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence for her. In this case, plaintiffs' version of the events was not supported by sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that defendants undertook any affirmative acts that would support liability for a state-created danger substantive due process claim. View "Graves v. Lioi" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, homeless alcoholics, filed suit challenging a Virginia statutory scheme that makes it a criminal offense for those whom the Commonwealth has labelled "habitual drunkards" to possess, consume, or purchase alcohol. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. On rehearing, the en banc court reversed. The en banc court held that the challenged scheme is unconstitutionally vague, because the term "habitual drunkard" specifies no standard of conduct. The en banc court also held that, even if it could be narrowed to apply only to similarly situated alcoholics, plaintiffs have stated a claim that it violates the Eighth Amendment as applied to them. In this case, plaintiffs have alleged that they are addicted to alcohol and that this addiction, like narcotics addiction, is an illness. Plaintiffs therefore alleged that the Virginia scheme targets them for special punishment for conduct that is both compelled by their illness and is otherwise lawful for all those of legal drinking age View "Manning v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging section 3-506 of Maryland's Election Law, which regulates access to Maryland’s list of registered voters. Section 3-506 provides, inter alia, that the State Board of Elections shall provide copies of the list only to registered Maryland voters, and confines use of the list to purposes related to the electoral process. The district court dismissed the complaint and denied injunctive relief based on the ground that plaintiff had no First Amendment right to access the list. The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiff has alleged a cognizable First Amendment challenge to the conditions that section 3-506 placed on distribution of the list; section 3-506 did not merit strict scrutiny analysis; and thus plaintiff's free speech claims must be remanded for the district court to conduct the balancing of interests test required by the Anderson-Burdick framework. Finally, the court vacated the dismissal of plaintiff's vagueness challenge and the denial of injunctive relief, remanding for further consideration. View "Fusaro v. Cogan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a police misconduct claimant in a settled civil rights action, spoke about the case publicly and claimed that Baltimore violated her First Amendment rights when it enforced the non-disparagement clause against her. Separately, a local news website, the Baltimore Brew, claimed that Baltimore's alleged practice of including non-disparagement clauses in virtually all settlement agreements with police misconduct claimants violates the First Amendment on its face. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City on the First Amendment claim, holding that the non-disparagement clause in plaintiff's settlement agreement amounts to a waiver of her First Amendment rights and that strong public interests rooted in the First Amendment make it unenforceable and void. The court held that the Baltimore Brew had sufficiently pleaded an ongoing or imminent injury in fact that is both traceable to the City's challenged conduct and redressable by the court. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City on the website's claim and remanded to give the parties and the district court an opportunity to develop the evidentiary record. View "Overbey v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore" on Justia Law