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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Fourth Circuit declined to enjoin the North Carolina State Board of Elections's extension of its deadline for the receipt of absentee ballots for the ongoing general election. The court explained that the only issue it must address now is plaintiffs' request for an emergency injunction pending appeal regarding a single aspect of the procedures that the district court below refused to enjoin: an extension of the deadline for the receipt of mail-in ballots. The court explained that the change is simply an extension from three to nine days after Election Day for a timely ballot to be received and counted.Because plaintiffs have not established a likelihood of success on the merits of their equal protection claim—and because, in any event, Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), and Andino v. Middleton, No. 20A55, 2020 WL 5887393 (U.S. Oct. 5, 2020), require that the court not intervene at this late stage—the court declined to enter an injunction pending appeal. The court also held that plaintiffs lack standing to raise their Elections Clause challenge. Even if they did not lack standing, the Pullman abstention doctrine strongly counsels the court against exercising jurisdiction over that claim. The court further held that all suggestions from the state courts point to the conclusion that the Board properly exercised its legislative delegation of authority, and there is no irreparable harm from a ballot extension. Finally, the balance of the equities is influenced heavily by Purcell and tilts against federal court intervention at this late stage, and Andino establishes that the appropriate status-quo framework is the status quo created by the state's actions, not by later federal court interventions. View "Wise v. Circosta" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Proposed Intervenors' renewed motion to intervene in an action brought by the NAACP challenging the validity of Senate Bill 824. S.B. 824 established, inter alia, photographic voter identification requirements for elections in North Carolina.After determining that it has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291, the court held that the Proposed Intervenors have Article III standing to intervene for the purposes of intervention before the district court based on N.C. Gen Stat. 1-72.2 and Supreme Court precedent. The court rejected the arguments of the NAACP and the State Defendants that section 1-72.2 infringes on the powers of the Executive Branch in violation of the North Carolina Constitution's separation of powers provisions.In regard to intervention as a matter of right, the court held that the district court erred in determining that the Proposed Intervenors lacked a sufficient interest in the S.B. 824 litigation without careful consideration of section 1-72.2(a). Therefore, the court remanded for the district court to more fully consider the North Carolina statute in the analysis of the Proposed Intervenors' interest in the litigation. Because the Proposed Intervenors may have interests which may be practically impaired if not permitted to intervene in the action before the district court, the court remanded as to this issue as well. The court further stated that, although it was appropriate for the district court to apply the Westinghouse presumption since the Proposed Intervenors and the State Defendants appear to seek the same ultimate objective, the district court erred in demanding that the Proposed Intervenors overcome that presumption by the heightened standard of a "strong showing." In regard to permissive intervention, the court held that the district court failed to address sections 1-72.2(a) and (b) and 120-32.6. Given the import of those statutes, the court remanded for consideration of the permissive intervention request. View "North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit dismissed the County's petition to vacate or set aside the FAA's modified air-traffic procedure, or series of flight routes, that governs westbound departing aircraft at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (TERPZ-6). The court agreed with the FAA that the petition is untimely under 49 U.S.C. 46110(a) because it was filed well over sixty days after the issuance of the agency's relevant order. In this case, the County unreasonably waited 110 days to demand voluntary relief from the FAA as a first resort, and six months for the agency to come to the table. Therefore, the County's belated effort to engage the FAA in a voluntary fix to the noise impacts associated with TERPZ-6, together with the FAA's belated offer to pursue such a fix, provides no grounds for not filing by the 60th day. View "Howard County v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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The Immigration and Nationality Act states that any alien who is “likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible,” 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(A) but has never defined “public charge.” The Department of Homeland Security sought to define “public charge,” via rulemaking, as an alien who was likely to receive certain public benefits, including many cash and noncash benefits, for more than 12 months in the aggregate over any 36-month period. The district court enjoined that Rule nationwide.The Fourth Circuit reversed. Invalidating the Rule “would visit palpable harm upon the Constitution’s structure and the circumscribed function of the federal courts that document prescribes” and would entail the disregard of the statute's plain text. The Constitution commands “special judicial deference” to the political branches in light of the intricacies and sensitivities inherent in immigration policy. Congress has charged the executive with defining and implementing a purposefully ambiguous term and has resisted giving the term the definite meaning that the plaintiffs seek. The court noted that, in cases addressing the identical issue, the Supreme Court granted the government’s emergency request to stay the preliminary injunctions, an action which would have been improbable if not impossible had the government, as the stay applicant, not made “a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits.” View "Casa De Maryland, Inc. v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that Proclamation 9645, which imposed certain restrictions on the entry of individuals from eight countries, violates their rights under the Establishment Clause, as well as under other clauses of the Constitution, because it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate national security concerns and is motivated solely by anti-Muslim animus.The government filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaints for failure to state a claim based mainly on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392 (2018), which reversed a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of Proclamation 9645 that had been issued on facts that are essentially the same as those alleged here. The Hawaii Court held that the government had "set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review" and thus plaintiffs had not demonstrated that they were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment and held that the district court misunderstood the import of the Supreme Court's decision in Hawaii and the legal principles it applied. The court held that Proclamation 9645 restricts the entry of foreign nationals from specified countries, giving reasons for doing so that are related to national security, and it makes no reference to religion. In this case, although the district court agreed that the Mandel standard is controlling, it failed to apply the standard of review properly, moving past the face of the Proclamation to consider in its analysis external statements made by President Trump. The court proceeded beyond consideration of only the facially stated purposes of Proclamation 9645 and determined whether plaintiffs have alleged plausible constitutional claims under the rational basis standard of review. Under the rational basis standard, plaintiffs' constitutional claims failed because the Proclamation was plausibly related to the Government's stated objective to protect the country and improve vetting processes. The court remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaints. View "International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump" on Justia Law

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The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland sued the President in his official capacity, alleging violations of the Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. The district court granted a motion to amend the complaint to add the President as a defendant in his individual capacity. The President, in that capacity, moved to dismiss the action, asserting absolute immunity. Approximately seven months passed without a ruling on that motion. The President in his individual capacity filed an interlocutory appeal. A Fourth Circuit panel concluded that the district court had effectively denied immunity to the President in his individual capacity so that the panel had jurisdiction to consider the interlocutory appeal. “[E]xercising that jurisdiction,” the panel held that Plaintiffs lacked Article III standing and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss.Acting en banc, the Fourth Circuit vacated the panel opinion and dismissed the interlocutory appeal. The district court neither expressly nor implicitly refused to rule on immunity but stated in writing that it intended to rule on the President’s individual capacity motion. A district court has wide discretion to prioritize its docket and the deferral did not result in a delay “beyond reasonable limits.” During the seven months, the district court managed the many other aspects of this litigation and issued opinions on the President’s motion to dismiss in his official capacity and a motion to certify an interlocutory appeal of the court’s rulings. View "District of Columbia v. Trump" on Justia Law

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The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland sued the President in his official capacity, alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. The district court dismissed claims concerning Trump Organization operations outside the District, for lack of standing, but denied the President’s motion with respect to alleged violations at the Washington, D.C. Trump International Hotel. After the denial of a motion for certification to take an interlocutory appeal (28 U.S.C. 1292(b)), the President petitioned for mandamus relief. A Fourth Circuit panel reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint.The Fourth Circuit, en banc, vacated the panel opinion. The court accorded the President “great deference,” but stated that Congress and the Supreme Court have severely limited its ability to grant the extraordinary relief sought. The President has not established a right to a writ of mandamus. The district court promptly ruled on the request for certification in a detailed opinion that applied the correct legal standards. The court’s action was not arbitrary nor based on passion or prejudice; it “was in its nature a judicial act.” The President does not contend that the court denied certification for nonlegal reasons or in bad faith. Reasonable jurists can disagree in good faith on the merits of the claims. Rejecting a separation of powers argument, the court stated that the President has not explained how requests pertaining to spending at a private restaurant and hotel threaten any Executive Branch prerogative. Even if obeying the law were an official executive duty, such a duty would not be “discretionary,” but a “ministerial” act. View "In re: Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment holding that FERC's action against financial trading entities and an individual trader was timely-filed within the five-year statute of limitations on civil penalty actions under 28 U.S.C. 2462. The court held that FERC did not have a complete and present cause of action to file suit in federal district court until 60 days elapsed after it had issued the penalty assessment order and appellants refused to pay the assessed penalty. Therefore, FERC's claim had not accrued until then and this action was timely filed. View "Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Powhatan Energy Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's qui tam action under the False Claims Act, because a pro se plaintiff cannot represent the Government's interest in a qui tam suit. Likewise, the court affirmed the district court's denial of appellant's motion for reconsideration of its dismissal order.In this case, appellant alleged that appellees violated the Act by filing false claims under the South Carolina Base Load Review Act in order to receive permission to increase electric energy rates to cover costs of construction of two nuclear units. After filing the complaint, appellant failed to retain counsel and to provide summonses necessary for service of the complaint on the United States Attorney General and United States Attorney for the District Court of South Carolina. View "Wojcicki v. SCANA Corporation" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the Board's award of a permit for construction of a compressor station on behalf of ACP in the historic community of Union Hill. The compression station is one of three stations planned to support the transmission of natural gas through ACP's 600-mile pipeline.The Fourth Circuit held that the Board erred in failing to consider electric turbines as zero-emission alternatives to gas-fired turbines in the compressor station. The court also held that the Board erred in failing to assess the compressor station's potential for disproportionate health impacts on the predominantly African-American community of Union Hill, and in failing to independently evaluate the suitability of that site. Accordingly, the court vacated the permit and remanded for the Board to make findings with regard to conflicting evidence in the record, the particular studies it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the compressor station. View "Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board" on Justia Law