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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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A jury convicted Defendant of conspiring to transmit national defense information to Chinese agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 794(c), and making materially false statements to FBI agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1001(a)(2). On appeal, Defendant challenges the district court’s application during trial of the “silent witness rule” — under which sensitive evidence is disclosed to the jury and the trial’s other participants but not to the public — contending that it violated his right to a public trial, in violation of the Sixth Amendment, and his right to present a complete defense, in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. He also mounted two distinct challenges to the district court’s instruction of the jury.   The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant’s challenges and affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court wrote it does not suggest that the use of the silent witness rule could never implicate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, as reliance on the silent witness rule has the potential to interfere meaningfully with the public’s ability to understand what is happening in the proceedings, despite their physical presence in the courtroom. But it doubts that the limited use of the silent witness rule as it was applied in this case amounted to a sanctionable closure of the courtroom.   Further, in response to Defendant’s argument that the district court “watered down” the mens rea requirement for the conspiracy offense, the court found Defendant’s reasoning unpersuasive, as he focuses too narrowly on one small segment of the instructions without context. View "US v. Kevin Mallory" on Justia Law

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Defendants led a violent street gang known as the Black Mob Gangstas, which was responsible for two murders. Several gang members were indicted, most of which entered guilty pleas and then testified against Defendants. Defendants were convicted of various offenses including murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana. Each defendant received multiple consecutive life sentences.Defendants appealed on several issues, each of which was rejected by the Fourth Circuit. The court determined that the evidence was sufficient to support each of Defendants' convictions. The court also rejected Defendants' claim that the Double Jeopardy Clause precludes their convictions for drug conspiracy, firearms murder, and VICAR murder because they constituted the "same offense." The Fourth Circuit also held that the district court did not err in severing Defendants' trials, finding that Defendants did not suffer a miscarriage of justice as a result of the joint trial. Finally, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court did not err in imposing consecutive life sentences.Thus, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions and sentences in full. View "US v. Demetrice Devine" on Justia Law

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A former coal miner s filed a claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge (ALJ) and the Benefits Review Board both determined that Petitioner, Edd Potter Coal Company, would be responsible in the event that the coal miner was entitled to benefits. Once the Board remanded the case to determine if benefits were in fact appropriate, Edd Potter decided to raise an Appointments Clause challenge. Both the ALJ and the Board concluded that Edd Potter had forfeited this issue by failing to timely raise it.    Given Edd Potter’s double forfeiture, the Fourth Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that the Department of Labor’s regulations requires issue exhaustion both before the ALJ and before the Board. The court wrote that it is firmly established that, before an agency, parties must raise all issues they seek to maintain on appeal “at the time appropriate under its practice.” United States v. L.A. Tucker Truck Lines, Inc., 344 U.S. 33 (1952). The court explained the Department’s regulations, the Board’s consistent practice, and the mandate rule’s application all point in the same direction as logic. On remand, parties may not raise whatever new issues they would like if they have previously failed to bring those issues to the attention of the ALJ and the Board. The mere fact of a remand does not wipe the whole slate clean. Further, the court found that Edd Potter forfeited its Appointments Clause claim not once but twice. View "Edd Potter Coal Company, Inc. v. DOWCP" on Justia Law

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Petitioner asserted several constitutional and procedural claims related to his inclusion in the Terrorism Screening Database and its subclassification, the No Fly List. These are two governmental, interagency tools used to share information about suspected terrorists. The district court determined that Petitioner’s as-applied claims fell within 49 U.S.C. Section 46110’s grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the federal appellate courts over challenges to final Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) orders. So it transferred those claims to us under 28 U.S.C. Section 1631.   Petitioner moved to remand his claims to the district court, arguing it erred in finding that the Fourth Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction under Section 46110. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the government that a portion of Petitioner’s claims—those challenging his status on the No Fly List—is moot. But the court wrote it thinks it’s unclear which of Petitioner’s claims the district court intended to transfer under Section 1631. Thus the court vacated the transfer order and remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss as moot Petitioner’s challenges to his status on the No Fly List; decide whether it has jurisdiction over the rest of Petitioner’s claims; and, if not, transfer them to the proper Circuit. View "Saadiq Long v. David Pekoske" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was transferred from a class where she instructed emotionally disturbed (“ED”) children to a class where Plaintiff worked with children with moderate intellectual disabilities. Plaintiff alleged that one of her students sexually harassed her between fall 2018 through mid-March 2019. This student, S.M., was an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). Although the teacher in the classroom recorded the incidents in her notes, or “point sheets,” where she detailed each student’s daily behavior, Plaintiff claims the teacher was generally dismissive of her concerns. After exhausting her remedies with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed suit against the Chesterfield County School Board (“the School Board”) alleging that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.   The district court granted the School Board’s motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim on summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that the record does not support a prima facie case for hostile work environment sexual harassment. The court explained that Plaintiff cannot primarily rely upon her own statements to argue that S.M.’s conduct surpassed what could be expected of an eight-year-old child with his disabilities after two special education experts testified that it did not—instead, she is required by law to demonstrate it. Further, even if Plaintiff established that S.M. targeted her because of sex, she would still be unable to meet the third required element—that is, show that S.M.’s conduct rose to the level of severe or pervasive. View "Regina Webster v. Chesterfield County School Board" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to two child pornography offenses and was sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment and ten years' supervised release. Subsequently, Defendant moved to challenge eight of his supervised-release conditions, claiming that six of the conditions restrict his liberty more than necessary and that intervening Supreme Court precedent rendered two other conditions limiting his internet use unconstitutional. The district court denied Defendant's motion, finding that it lacked jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's first claim pertaining to six of the challenged conditions because his arguments should have been raised at sentencing. By not doing so, he deprived the district court of jurisdiction to modify them. However, regarding Defendant's second claim, the court acknowledged that Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730 (2017), created “new, unforeseen, or changed legal . . . circumstances” relevant to Defendant's internet-use conditions. Thus, the district court had jurisdiction to consider Defendant's challenge. The court remanded the case for the district court to decide whether to modify those conditions. View "US v. Sebastian Morris" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and its foreign subsidiaries (collectively, “Eli Lilly”) applied to the district court under 28 U.S.C Section 1782 for an order requiring Novartis Pharma AG to provide discovery for use in ongoing patent litigation between the two companies. After Novartis intervened and objected to Eli Lilly’s application, the district court entered an order denying the application.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed and addressed two grounds. The district court held that Novartis was not “found” in the Eastern District of Virginia because it was not physically present there. Eli Lilly contends that the court erred in interpreting the word “found” so restrictively, arguing instead that a person is “found” within a district for purposes of Section 1782 when it is “within the personal jurisdiction” of the district court, extending to “the full reach of personal jurisdiction” under the Due Process Clause.   Here, in view of the definitions in legal dictionaries and Supreme Court opinions, the court presumed that when Congress similarly used “found” in Section 1782, it intended that the same meaning apply — that a corporation is found where it is physically present by its officers and agents carrying on the corporation’s business. Thus, the district court acted in conformance with the requirements of Section 1782 when it denied Eli Lilly’s application to issue a discovery order directed against Novartis on the ground that Novartis was not found in the Eastern District of Virginia. Further, the court wrote it is apparent that the factors addressed by the district court fall squarely within those factors identified by the Supreme Court in Intel as relevant. View "Eli Lilly and Company v. Novartis Pharma AG" on Justia Law

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In a putative class action, Plaintiffs allege that as prisoners at two of Virginia’s supermax facilities, they have suffered severe isolation in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs argue that the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) has not used its supermax facilities for any legitimate penological purposes. Instead, Plaintiffs claim, that Virginia and its officers have warehoused prisoners in solitary, without any meaningful path back to the general population, to justify the profligate costs of building and running those institutions.     The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion. The court explained that Defendants invoked qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss before any of the evidence is in. And on the facts Plaintiffs have pleaded, Defendants cannot succeed. Plaintiffs have adequately alleged that Defendants knew the harms long-term solitary confinement causes and disregarded them. But qualified immunity does not protect knowing violations of the law.   The court explained that its analysis of due process entails a two-part inquiry: (1) whether Plaintiffs had a protectable liberty interest in avoiding security detention; and (2) whether Defendants failed to afford minimally adequate process to protect that liberty interest. Plaintiffs allege Defendants failed to meet even the most basic due process requirements like notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard and that the criteria Defendants employ to assess solitary placements are entirely divorced from legitimate penological interests. On those allegations—and at this litigation stage—Defendants cannot claim immunity. View "William Thorpe v. Harold Clarke" on Justia Law

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Charter Day School (“CDS”) a public charter school in North Carolina, requires female students to wear skirts to school based on the view that girls are “fragile vessels” deserving of “gentle” treatment by boys. Plaintiffs argued that this sex-based classification grounded on gender stereotypes violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and subjects them to discrimination and denial of the full benefits of their education in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. Section 1681 et seq. (“Title IX”).  In response, despite CDS’ status as a public school under North Carolina law, CDS denied accountability under the Equal Protection Clause by maintaining that they are not state actors.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of summary judgment for Plaintiffs on their Equal Protection claim against CDS. The court also vacated the district court’s summary judgment award in favor of all Defendants on Plaintiffs’ Title IX claim and remanded for further proceedings on that claim.   The court held that CDS is a state actor for purposes of Section 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause. By implementing the skirts requirement based on blatant gender stereotypes about the “proper place” for girls and women in society, CDS has acted in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The court further held that sex-based dress codes like the skirts requirement, when imposed by covered entities, are subject to review under the anti-discrimination provisions of Title IX. View "Bonnie Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc." on Justia Law

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Air Evac EMS, Inc., is an emergency air ambulance provider. Because the company's services are expensive, it markets and sells what it characterizes as a "debt cancellation program." Under this program, West Virginia residents pay a sum of money annually and any amount due on their bill in excess of what is covered by insurance will be canceled by the company.Through a series of communications and actions taken by West Virginia, Air Evac determined that the state was favoring a competitor. Air Evac brought several suits in district court. This one alleges that the Airline Deregulation Act preempts the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner from taking any enforcement efforts. Following this case, Air Evac brought another case against the Commissioner that remains pending at the time of this appeal.The district court determined that the abstention doctrine applied, however, because the case presented "extraordinary circumstances," the court determined that abstention was not appropriate.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), federal courts should abstain from exercising jurisdiction to consider matters related to ongoing state criminal proceedings as well as quasi-criminal proceedings if the state proceeding is ongoing, implicates important state interests and provides an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges. The Fourth Circuit determined that the district court properly analyzed the abstention factors. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "Air Evac EMS, Inc. v. Allan McVey" on Justia Law