Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Fidrych v. Marriott International, Inc.
Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against Marriott after he was injured in an affiliated hotel in Milan, Italy. After Marriott failed to timely answer, the district court entered an entry of default. Five days after receiving notice of default, Marriott filed a motion to set aside the default, challenging the district court's personal jurisdiction over Marriott. The district court then set aside the default and subsequently granted Marriott's motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction, holding that Marriott's contacts with South Carolina were not sufficient to render it "at home" in South Carolina, and thus the requirements for the exercise of contact-based general jurisdiction were not satisfied. Furthermore, the district court properly concluded that Marriott did not consent to the exercise of general jurisdiction when it obtained a Certificate of Authority to conduct business in the state. Finally, the court held that Marriott's case-related contacts with South Carolina were too tenuous and too insubstantial to constitutionally permit the exercise of specific jurisdiction over Marriott. However, the court vacated the district court's denial of sanctions, remanding the issue for reconsideration. View "Fidrych v. Marriott International, Inc." on Justia Law
Sanders v. United States
Plaintiffs filed suit seeking to hold the United States liable for negligently performing a background check on Dylann Roof, the person who entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire, killing nine worshippers. No one disputes that if the background check had been performed properly, it would have prevented Roof from purchasing the firearm he used. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit reversed and held that neither the discretionary function exception of the Federal Tort Claims Act nor the Brady Act's immunity provision in 18 U.S.C. 922(t)(6) affords the Government immunity in this case. In regard to the FTCA, the court held that this case turns on the NICS Examiner's alleged negligence in failing to follow a clear directive and the government could not claim immunity under these circumstances. The court held that the district court did not err by concluding that the government could not be held liable under the FTCA for declining to give Examiners access to the N-DEx, and the court rejected plaintiffs' claim that the government contravened a mandatory directive by failing to maintain data integrity during the NICS background check. In regard to the Brady Act, the court held that the district court erred in construing 18 U.S.C. 992(t)(6) to bar plaintiffs' claims where plaintiffs sued the government rather than any federal employee, and the federal employees whose conduct forms the basis of this suit were not responsible for providing information to the NICS system. View "Sanders v. United States" on Justia Law
Martineau v. Wier
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
In re: Carlos Brown
This case arose from a car accident between petitioner and another driver, who caused the accident while she was driving under the influence of alcohol. Petitioner sought a writ of mandamus after the district court denied restitution as a condition of the driver's probation. The Fourth Circuit held that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the petition pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3771(d)(3). The court also held that the district court abused its discretion by failing to state why the burden of complexity or delay in sentencing outweighed petitioner's need for restitution, and this error harmed him because he received none of the requested restitution to which he may be entitled under the Victim and Witness Protection Act. The court also exercised its discretion to address certain issues that were likely to recur upon remand: United States v. Fountain should not be a guiding star for the lower court's balancing analysis on remand; in considering and balancing the statutory factors under section 3663(a)(1)(B)(ii), the district court may consider, among other factors, the availability of alternative civil remedies for petitioner's past lost earnings; and, in performing its section 3663(a)(1)(B)(ii) balancing analysis, the district court should confine its review to what petitioner requested—past lost earnings. View "In re: Carlos Brown" on Justia Law
Butts v. United States
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that her baby's brain damage was caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. The district court agreed and awarded defendant over $7 million dollars in damages. The Fourth Circuit reversed and held that the district court clearly erred by finding that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to establish that the doctor violated the applicable standard of care. In this case, the district court's finding on breach was not supported by plaintiff's own expert testimony. Therefore, the district court erred in finding that the doctor was liable for malpractice. View "Butts v. United States" on Justia Law
Doe v. Meron
Plaintiff filed suit against Navy officers and employees, alleging intentional torts under state law and constitutional violations under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Plaintiff claimed that defendants conspired to seize, interrogate and batter his three minor children and to seize and batter him. The allegations arose from a 2015 investigation at NSA Bahrain into complaints that plaintiff abused and neglected his three minor children. The Fourth Circuit rejected plaintiff's argument that the application of Maryland law to the scope of employment analysis would lead to a different result, and held that plaintiff failed to satisfy his burden in challenging employment certification. In this case, the evidence submitted by defendants only reinforced the conclusion that defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect. The court also held that the government was properly substituted for defendants and that conduct occurring on an American military base in a foreign country falls within the foreign country exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in dismissing the constitutional claims under Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017). Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment for defendants. View "Doe v. Meron" on Justia Law
Small v. Welldyne, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of his mother's estate against WellDyne and Exactus, asserting claims for negligence, negligence per se and breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose against both defendants. Plaintiff also alleged Exactus was vicariously liable for the actions of WellDyne under agency and joint venture theories. In this case, plaintiff's mother died shortly after a hospital stay stemming from her ingestion of prescription medications that were erroneously mailed to her by WellDyne. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of WellDyne and Exactus as to all counts, finding that plaintiff's mother was contributorily negligent as a matter of law which completely barred her recovery in North Carolina. The court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it granted summary judgment on the basis of contributory negligence and causation, remanding for the district judge to conduct a Daubert analysis of the expert opinions proffered by plaintiff to determine whether taking some of the misdirected medications was the cause of the mother's injuries and death. The court affirmed summary judgment to Exactus; affirmed summary judgment to WellDyne as to the claim for implied warranty of a particular purpose; and remanded. View "Small v. Welldyne, Inc." on Justia Law
Muhammad v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
After plaintiff was injured while replacing railroad crossties on a bridge spanning navigable waters, he filed a negligence claim against his employer under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the employer's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court held that plaintiff's injury did not occur "upon navigable waters," as required by the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, and thus the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's FELA claim. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Muhammad v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law
Erie Insurance Co. v. Amazon.com
In the underlying action, a customer purchased a headlamp on Amazon's website from a third party seller and then gave it to friends as a gift. After the headlamp's batteries malfunctioned and ignited the friends' house on fire and caused over $300,000 in damages, the insurer of the house paid the loss and, as subrogee, filed suit against Amazon alleging claims of negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability tort. The insurer argued that Amazon was liable under Maryland law because it was the "seller" of the headlamp. The district court granted summary judgment to Amazon and held that Amazon was immune from suit. The Fourth Circuit held that, although Amazon was not immune from suit under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230(c)(1), Amazon was not the "seller" of the headlamp and therefore did not have liability under Maryland law for products liability claims asserted by reason of the product's defective condition. The court explained that insofar as liability in Maryland for defective products falls on "sellers" and manufacturers (who are also sellers), it is imposed on owners of personal property who transfer title to purchasers of that property for a price. In this case, there was no evidence to dispute that when Dream Light shipped its headlamp to Amazon's warehouse in Virginia, it was the owner of the headlamp. Furthermore, when Dream Light transferred possession of the headlamp to Amazon, without Amazon's payment of the headlamp's price or an agreement transferring title to it, Amazon did not, by that simple transfer, receive title. There was also no action or agreement that amounted to the consummation of the sale of the headlamp by Dream Light to Amazon. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Erie Insurance Co. v. Amazon.com" on Justia Law
Berkenfeld v. Lenet
Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that negligent advice from their financial advisor and his employer, Morgan Stanley, resulted in less favorable tax distribution options on their annuities inherited from the estate of Claire Blumberg. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in awarding defendants summary judgment based on plaintiffs' alleged contributory negligence. The court held that Maryland had a high bar for taking questions of contributory negligence from a factfinder and plaintiffs' evidence offered a basis for a reasonable factfinder to determine that they justifiably relied on defendants' advice. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Berkenfeld v. Lenet" on Justia Law
Posted in: Personal Injury