Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Doe v. Sidar
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, filed an appeal against two orders from the district court. The first order denied her request to compel the defendant, Cenk Sidar, to provide a DNA sample for a sexual assault case. The second order demanded that Doe disclose her real name in the proceedings following a default judgment against Sidar.The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal regarding the DNA sample for lack of jurisdiction, ruling that orders denying requests for physical or mental examinations are not immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine.However, the court did rule on the anonymity issue. The court found that the district court committed legal error in its order demanding Doe to disclose her real name. The district court had understated Doe's interest in anonymity, announced a general rule that fairness considerations invariably cut against allowing a plaintiff to be anonymous at trial unless the defendant is also anonymous, and failed to recognize the significance of its default judgment on liability. The Court of Appeals thus vacated the non-anonymity order and remanded for further proceedings, instructing the district court to reconsider its order in light of the appeals court's opinion. The court emphasized the importance of Doe's privacy interests, particularly given that the case involved allegations of sexual assault. View "Doe v. Sidar" on Justia Law
Yagi v. Hilgartner
The case concerns the dischargeability of debts under the Bankruptcy Code. The debtor, Lee Andrew Hilgartner, physically assaulted Yasuko Yagi, resulting in two settlement agreements. When Hilgartner failed to pay the agreed amount, Yagi sued to enforce the agreement. Hilgartner filed for bankruptcy, arguing that the debts were dischargeable since they arose from a breach of the settlement agreement, not the underlying tort of assault. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, however, ruled that the debts were non-dischargeable under section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code, which excepts from discharge debts “for willful and malicious injury” to another. The court held that the debt from the settlement agreement, which arose from a willful and malicious injury, retained the character of the underlying tort. Therefore, the debt, including the principal amount owed, interest on late payments, and attorney's fees incurred in enforcing the agreement and contesting the bankruptcy proceedings, was non-dischargeable. The court reasoned that the entire settlement arose from the same willful and malicious injuries and that the settlement agreement didn't disrupt the causal chain. View "Yagi v. Hilgartner" on Justia Law
Kappel v. LL Flooring, Inc.
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, plaintiff Carla J. Kappel, acting on behalf of her deceased ex-husband's estate and as mother to their minor children, sued LL Flooring, Inc., alleging that the company's Chinese-manufactured laminate flooring caused her ex-husband's death due to exposure to formaldehyde.The district court dismissed Kappel's wrongful death lawsuit, arguing that her claim was barred by a settlement agreement that had been reached in connection with two multidistrict litigation (MDL) actions related to LL Flooring's products. The court maintained that the deceased, Mr. Tarabus, was a class member subject to that settlement agreement and thus his claims, including any claims involving bodily injuries or death caused by the subject flooring, had been settled.On appeal, Kappel argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to make the dismissal order and that the MDL settlement agreement did not bar her wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the children. The Court of Appeals agreed with Kappel's latter argument and held that the settlement agreement failed to resolve Kappel’s wrongful death lawsuit.The Court found that the claims in Kappel's lawsuit, which concerned the bodily injuries Mr. Tarabus experienced and the alleged causal connection between the laminate flooring and his cancer diagnosis, were materially distinct from the claims in the MDL proceedings. Notably, the settlement class representatives had twice made clear that they were not pursuing personal injury claims on a class-wide basis, and at no point did any class representative ever allege or pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.Therefore, the Court vacated the lower court's dismissal of Kappel's lawsuit and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Kappel v. LL Flooring, Inc." on Justia Law
John Doe v. Jane Doe
John Doe (“Appellant”) filed this civil action alleging claims for defamation, abuse of process, tortious interference with contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy against Jane Doe (“Appellee”) after Appellee accused Appellant of sexual assault. When Appellant filed his complaint, he also filed an ex parte motion to proceed using the pseudonym “John Doe” rather than his real name. The district court denied the motion. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that in considering the district court’s entire analysis of the James factors, it concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion because it did not rely on incorrect factual or legal premises, nor did it give any indication that it was acting by general rule. Instead, the district court conducted a thorough, case-specific analysis when it exercised its discretion. The court wrote that the district court considered each of Appellant’s arguments, and it carefully balanced Appellant’s stated interests against the public’s interest in the openness of judicial proceedings as required by Public Citizen. It did not abuse its discretion in doing so. View "John Doe v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law
Brian Bowen, II v. Adidas America Inc.
Plaintiff was a high-level high-school basketball player who wanted to play in the NBA. After graduating high school, Plaintiff committed to the University of Louisville. However, subsequently, Plaintiff's father accepted a bribe in relation to Plaintiff's decision to play for Louisville. As a result, Plaintiff lost his NCAA eligibility. Plaintiff filed RICO claims against the parties who were central to the bribery scheme. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, finding that Plaintiff did not demonstrate an injury to his business or property, as required for a private civil RICO claim.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Congress made the civil RICO cause of action for treble damages available only to plaintiffs “injured in [their] business or property” by a defendant’s RICO violation. Without such an injury, even a plaintiff who can prove he suffered some injury as a result of a RICO violation lacks a cause of action under the statute. The Fourth Circuit rejected Plaintiff's claims that the loss of benefits secured by his scholarship agreement with Louisville; the loss of his NCAA eligibility; and the loss of money spent on attorney’s fees attempting to regain his eligibility constituted a cognizable business or property injury. View "Brian Bowen, II v. Adidas America Inc." on Justia Law
Anthony Mathis v. Terra Renewal Services, Inc.
Plaintiff sued Terra Renewal Services, Inc. and its parent company Darling Ingredients, Inc. after an accident atop a pressurized tanker left him a paraplegic. He alleged that their negligence led to the accident that injured him. The case went to trial, where the jury found that, though Terra and Darling were negligent, Plaintiff was contributorily negligent, thus barring his recovery. Plaintiff appealed, alleging that the district court committed several reversible errors. His main contention is that the district court erroneously rejected his “sudden emergency” contention and his claim for gross negligence as a matter of law. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to admit under the business records exception to hearsay the full report that the North Carolina Department of Labor investigator developed during her investigation. The court reasoned that the report is chock full of statements from LJC employees and others, which the district court reasonably anticipated might pose problems of admissibility. The report repeatedly says that such-and-such says one thing, and someone else says another. Many of these statements themselves were hearsay, and the district court rightly refused to accord them a significant role in the trial. View "Anthony Mathis v. Terra Renewal Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Shelly Stevens v. Dawn Holler
Appellant, as personal representative of the estate of Decedent, filed a second amended complaint alleging Decedent suffered deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs while in custody at the Alleghany County, Maryland Detention Center (“ACDC”), which led to his death. Appellant asserted claims against various individuals (the “Individual Medical Defendants”) and against the company contracted to provide medical care services to inmates at ACDC, Wellpath, LLC, (collectively “Appellees”). The district court dismissed Appellant’s second amended complaint. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court concluded that the complaint sufficiently alleged a Fourteenth Amendment violation for deliberate indifference to Decedent’s serious medical needs. The court disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that Appellant failed to plead actual knowledge when she alleged that none of the Individual Medical Defendants “thought it necessary to take Decedent to the hospital.” In so holding, the district court failed to consider the context of the allegation and disregarded the obvious sarcasm in the full allegation. Appellant actually alleged that none of the Individual Medical Defendants “thought it necessary to take Decedent to the hospital despite an obvious ongoing medical emergency.” Further, the court held that Appellant sufficiently alleged that the Individual Medical Defendants’ treatment and/or attempts at treatment were not “adequate to address Decedent’s serious medical needs,” that Decedent’s deterioration was persistent and obvious, and that the factual allegations allege more than mere disagreements regarding Decedent’s medical care. As such, Appellant has plausibly alleged a Fourteenth Amendment violation. View "Shelly Stevens v. Dawn Holler" on Justia Law
Ashley Albert v. Global TelLink Corp.
Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s dismissal, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), of their Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) claims. The district court held that Plaintiffs failed to allege that Defendants Global Tel*Link Corp. (“GTL”); Securus Technologies, LLC; and 3Cinteractive Corp. (“3Ci”) proximately caused Plaintiffs’ injuries. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s ruling and held that Plaintiffs have pleaded facts that satisfy RICO’s proximate-causation requirement, as explained in Bridge v. Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co., 553 U.S. 639 (2008). The court explained that RICO proximate causation is lacking when (1) there is a “more direct victim” from whom (or intervening factor from which) the plaintiff’s injuries derive, or (2) the alleged RICO predicate violation is “too distinct” or logically unrelated from the cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Plaintiffs’ complaint suffers from neither deficiency. As Plaintiffs point out, the governments’ injuries could be cured if Defendants paid higher site commissions—even if Plaintiffs paid the same inflated price. So Plaintiffs’ injuries aren’t derivative of those suffered by the governments. Rather, Plaintiffs and the governments are both direct victims. View "Ashley Albert v. Global TelLink Corp." on Justia Law
Reba Myers v. Alejandro Mayorkas
Plaintiffs, residents of West Virginia, formerly owned Demcorp, LLC, which did business as “Dollar Stretcher,” a convenience store in nearby Winchester, Virginia. That store sold large quantities of cigarettes, which law enforcement agents of the Department of Homeland Security had evidence to believe was being resold in New York to avoid New York’s higher excise taxes, in violation of the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act. During their criminal investigation, agents, armed with warrants, seized 1,560 cartons of cigarettes from the Dollar Stretcher store, and the Department of Homeland Security then held them for several years, during which time the cigarettes passed their shelf life of one year. When the Department ultimately offered to return the cigarettes, Plaintiff refused them as they could no longer be sold and thus had no value. Plaintiffs commenced this action against the Department of Homeland Security and the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, seeking compensatory damages. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the criminal warrant served a range of obvious and stated criminal investigative purposes. Any damages action against the United States for the improper seizure and detention under such a warrant is barred by sovereign immunity. Even though the seizure of cigarettes, in this case, was authorized by both a warrant issued for criminal investigative purposes and a warrant issued for civil forfeiture — dual purposes — the court concluded that the United States is immune from suit. View "Reba Myers v. Alejandro Mayorkas" on Justia Law
Erin Osmon v. US
Plaintiff sued the federal government under the FTCA, alleging one count of battery. A magistrate judge recommended dismissing Plaintiff’s suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in a detailed memorandum devoted solely to whether the FTCA waives sovereign immunity for the type of claim Plaintiff brought. The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendation. The district court concluded it need not review the recommendation de novo because Plaintiff failed to object with sufficient specificity and, in any event, “the Magistrate Judge’s proposed conclusions of law are correct and are consistent with current case law. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the district court erred in concluding Plaintiff did not adequately preserve her claim for review. The court explained that a party wishing to avail itself of its right to de novo review must be “sufficiently specific to focus the district court’s attention on the factual and legal issues that are truly in dispute.” The court concluded that Plaintiff cleared that bar. Further, the court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court held that the FTCA permits people who allege they were assaulted by TSA screeners to sue the federal government. View "Erin Osmon v. US" on Justia Law