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

Articles Posted in Military Law
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Plaintiff, presently incarcerated due to his conviction after trial for federal crimes of terrorism, and his mother, sued for legal and equitable relief based on plaintiff's prior military detention as an "enemy combatant." Plaintiff sought a declaration that defendants' policies were unconstitutional, an order enjoining his future designation as an enemy combatant, and nominal damages of one dollar from each defendant. The court affirmed the district court's refusal to imply a new cause of action for money damages against top Defense Department officials for a range of policy judgments pertaining to the designation and treatment of enemy combatants. The court also held that defendants have asserted a valid qualified immunity defense to defendant's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq., claim. The court further held that the district court did not err in concluding that defendant lacked standing to seek an order enjoining the government from designating him as an enemy combatant. Therefore, finding plaintiff's claims to be without merit, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Lebron, et al. v. Rumsfeld, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the district court's decision to abstain, on the basis of Schlesinger v. Councilman, and dismiss without prejudice his petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging the U.S. Army's exercise of court-martial jurisdiction over him. The court held that the district court was well within its discretion in applying Councilman abstention and dismissing without prejudice petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court remanded, however, for correction of an error in the judgment because, although the district court applied Councilman abstention and dismissed the petition without prejudice, the judgment erroneously indicated that the district court granted the Army's summary judgment motion on the merits. View "Hennis v. Hemlick, et al." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a contract entered into by Iraq's Ministry of Defense (IMOD) and Wye Oak for the refurbishment and disposal of Iraqi military equipment. At issue was whether, for purposes of analyzing subject matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1602-11, a foreign state and its armed forces were separate legal persons. The court concluded that, for jurisdictional purposes, they were not. Therefore, the court held that Wye Oak's claim against Iraq alleging breach of contract entered into by IMOD fell within the FSIA's commercial activities exception. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Iraq's motion to dismiss Wye Oak's claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Wye Oak Technology, Inc. v. Republic of Iraq" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, 72 Iraqis who were seized in Iraq by the U.S. military and detained at various locations throughout Iraq, commenced this action against L-3 Services, a military contractor, alleging that L-3 Services' employees and military personnel conspired among themselves and with others to torture and abuse them while they were detained and to cover up that conduct. L-3 Services filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on numerous grounds and the district court denied the motion. The court reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss this case for the reasons given in Al-Shimari v. CACI International. The court held that plaintiffs' state law claims were preempted by federal law and displaced by it, as articulated in Saleh v. Titan Corp.

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Plaintiffs, four Iraqi citizens, who were seized by the U.S. military in the Iraq war zone and detained by the military in Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad, commenced this tort action against a civilian contractor retained by the military to assist it at the prison in conducting interrogations for the purpose of obtaining intelligence. Plaintiffs alleged that while they were detained, the contractor's employees and military personnel conspired among themselves and with others to torture and abuse them and to cover up that conduct. The contractor filed a motion to dismiss on numerous grounds and the district court denied the motion. On appeal, the court reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case. The court held that the plaintiffs' state law claims were preempted by federal law and displaced by it, as articulated in Saleh v. Titan Corp.

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court's dismissal of his negligence action against defendant where plaintiff alleged that his injuries were proximately caused by the negligence of defendant, a private contractor of the Army. The district court dismissed plaintiff's negligence claim because it was barred by the political question doctrine, or in the alternative, preempted by the combat activities exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671 et seq. The court affirmed the judgment on the basis that an adjudication of plaintiff's claim against defendant would necessarily implicate a political question, where the court would be obliged to evaluate military decisions in a combat theatre, which the federal courts lacked jurisdiction to decide. Accordingly, the court did not reach the FTCA preemption issue and vacated that aspect of the district court's opinion.

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Plaintiff, formerly a colonel in the North Carolina Army National Guard, commenced this action against his former colleagues alleging that they violated his Fourth Amendment rights by wrongfully intercepting, reading, and forwarding his e-mails while he was deployed in Kuwait. Plaintiff appealed the district court's order denying his motion for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). The court held that the district court reasonably found that plaintiff had not demonstrated "extraordinary circumstances" to justify granting a Rule 60(b)(6) motion. The court also rejected plaintiff's alternative argument that the district court should have treated plaintiff's Rule 60(b)(6) motion as a new complaint. Accordingly, under the circumstances of the case, the court could not conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying plaintiff's March 31, 2008 motion to reopen the September 14, 2007 judgment under Rule 60(b)(6).

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Appellee, as personal representative for her son's estate, brought a wrongful death suit against a tugboat owner, appellant, and sought contribution from the United States as co-tortfeasor, when her son was killed during a Navy training exercise where his rigid-hull inflatable boat collided with the tug boat when it was pushing an eight-barge flotilla up the James River. At issue was whether the district court properly determined that appellant was negligent for failing to post a proper lookout on the night of the accident and whether the district court properly dismissed appellant's third-party claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court declined to disturb the district court's findings as to liability for the collision and apportionment of fault where the district court understood and properly applied the appropriate legal standard pursuant to Inland Navigation Rule 5 and where appellant's additional arguments were unavailing. The court affirmed the district court's order granting the government's motion to dismiss appellant's third-party claim where the district court found that the Feres-Stencel Aero doctrine applied to appellant's action and barred its attempt to obtain contribution from the United States for damages when the government had not waived its sovereign immunity.