Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Plaintiff, a student, filed suit alleging that school officials used statements about Islam to endorse that religion over Christianity and thus compelled plaintiff against her will to profess a belief in Islam. At issue in this appeal was whether two statements concerning Islamic beliefs, presented as part of a high school world history class, violated a student's First Amendment rights under either the Establishment Clause or the Free Speech Clause. The Fourth Circuit held that the challenged coursework materials, viewed in the context in which they were presented, did not violate the student's First Amendment rights, because they did not impermissibly endorse any religion and did not compel the student to profess any belief. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants. View "Wood v. Arnold" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain promotion can ever give rise to her employer's liability under Title VII for discrimination "because of sex." In this case, plaintiff was terminated after she complained of a hostile work environment stemming from the rumor. The Fourth Circuit held that the allegations of the employee's complaint, where the employer was charged with participating in the circulation of the rumor and acting on it by sanctioning the employee, did implicate such liability. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims alleging discrimination and retaliation for complaining about such a workplace condition. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the third claim because the employee failed to exhaust it before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. View "Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc" on Justia Law

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The Church and Reverend appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims against the county and board under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Free Exercise Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Article 36 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. This action stemmed from the board's dismissal of a second petition to approve the use of plaintiff's property as a church. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing plaintiffs' RLUIPA claim because plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the dismissal of the second petition imposed a substantial burden on their religious practice; the complaint plausibly alleged a prima facie claim of religious discrimination; and, while the county may have a significant interest in finality and economy that would ordinarily be served by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, the dismissal of the second petition was not narrowly tailored to serve that interest because the second petition did not seek to revisit the board's decision about the first petition. Accordingly, the court vacated these claims and remanded for further proceedings. The court also vacated the state constitutional claim. View "Jesus Christ is the Answer Ministries, Inc. v. Baltimore County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the union he represents filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment claims, seeking to reinstate privileges that granted them special access to restricted Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) property. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the transportation officials, holding that the MTA's actions against the union did not amount to unconstitutionally adverse behavior. In this case, plaintiff and the union's interest in maintaining access to restricted MTA property was slight when compared to the government's interest in regulating such access. Therefore, MTA's access policies were not sufficiently adverse to support a First Amendment retaliation claim. The court rejected the Fourth Amendment claims, holding that the police acted reasonably when it escorted plaintiff from MTA property. In this case, plaintiff's lawful purpose did not give him carte blanche to access restricted MTA offices, and the MTA had explicitly barred him from entering its restricted property without permission. Therefore, the police had probable cause to believe that plaintiff was violating the law. Finally, there was no reversible error in denying plaintiff and the union's discovery requests. View "McClure v. Ports" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of petitioner's federal habeas petition, claiming actual innocence of his first degree murder conviction. The court held that no reasonable juror would likely find petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt if it knew the high likelihood that he was misidentified both outside and inside the courtroom as a murder suspect because of impermissibly suggestive procedures. The court held that petitioner has overcome the exacting standard for actual innocence through sufficiently alleging and providing new evidence of a constitutional violation and through demonstrating that the totality of the evidence, both old and new, would likely fail to convince any reasonable juror of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Finch v. McKoy" on Justia Law

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Virginia's Incumbent Protection Act, Va. Code Ann. 24.2-509(B), violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. Subsection 24.2-509(B) limits the broad authority recognized by subsection A, which empowers the duly constituted authorities of the state and local parties to determine the method by which a party nomination shall be made. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to permanently enjoin enforcement of the entire Act. The court agreed with the district court's finding that the fourth sentence of the Act, which protects the nomination prerogatives of incumbent members of Congress among others, violated the First Amendment because it imposed a severe burden on the associational rights of Virginia's political parties and the Commonwealth has been unable to show that it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. The court also agreed with the district court's decision to enjoin the Act's second and third sentences, which protect the nomination prerogatives of incumbent members of the General Assembly. The court held that the Committee had standing to challenge these provisions and that they were, if anything, even more offensive to the First Amendment than the fourth sentence. View "6th Congressional District Republican Committee v. Alcorn" on Justia Law

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South Carolina filed suit to enjoin the United States and others from terminating the construction of a mixed-oxide fuel nuclear processing facility located in the state. The Fourth Circuit held that South Carolina failed to establish standing to pursue its claims and therefore vacated the preliminary injunction imposed by the district court. In this case, South Carolina's alleged injury -- becoming the permanent repository of weapons-grade plutonium -- was too speculative to give rise to a sufficient concrete injury in fact. The court also held that South Carolina's claims failed on ripeness grounds where numerous contingent future events must occur before South Carolina becomes the permanent repository of the nuclear material. View "South Carolina v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment holding that the statute of limitations barred plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. The court explained that Congress did not provide fixed timing rules in section 1983 or its companion provision, section 1988. Rather, Congress specified that gaps in section 1983 should be filled by state law, as long as that law is not inconsistent with federal law. Because Virginia lacks a generally applicable statute that pauses limitations to accommodate administrative exhaustion requirements, plaintiff sought to borrow a tolling provision in the Virginia Tort Claims Act (VTCA). The court held that the VTCA did not save plaintiff's claims because it operates on a tighter schedule than section 1983 and does not govern suits against state employees. Furthermore, plaintiff could not invoke equitable estoppel under Virginia law. However, the court held that, with no Virginia rule available to toll the limitations period, refusal to do so during a prisoner's mandatory exhaustion period is inconsistent with federal law and the court could not apply it here. Therefore, the court applied federal equitable tolling principles and held that plaintiff's section 1983 complaint was timely because it was filed within two years of the date he exhausted his administrative remedies required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. View "Battle v. Ledford" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that plaintiff was required to wait longer than 180 days to commence a civil action under Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act after amending his initial administrative complaint before the relevant agency. The court held that the text of Title VII, as well as the legislative context and purpose, plainly states that a claimant may commence a civil action 180 days from "the filing of the initial charge." Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Stewart v. Iancu" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment concluding that defendant, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, violated the First Amendment rights of one of her constituents, Brian Davison, when she banned Davison from the "Chair Phyllis J. Randall" Facebook page she administered. The court held that Davison had standing because she adduced facts establishing an injury in fact sufficient to justify the prospective declaratory relief awarded by the district court; considering the totality of these circumstances, the district court correctly held that defendant acted under color of state law in banning Davison from the Chair's Facebook Page; and the interactive component of the Chair's Facebook Page constituted a public forum, and defendant engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when she banned Davison's page from that forum. In regard to Davison's cross-appeal, the court rejected his assertion that the district court reversely erred by dismissing his claim against defendant in her official capacity and by denying his motion to amend. View "Davison v. Randall" on Justia Law