Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Smith v. Schlage Lock Company, LLC
After Julian Jackson Smith was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he died the following year. Before his death, Mr. Smith and his wife filed suit alleging that Schlage Lock and dozens of other defendants may have exposed Mr. Smith to asbestos at some point in the past. Plaintiffs sued Schlage Lock on the theory that Mr. Smith inhaled asbestos fibers while working as a pipefitter during the construction of a Schlage Lock plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1972.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Schlage Lock, agreeing with the district court that there was a lack of evidence that Mr. Smith was exposed to asbestos at the Schlage Lock site which later caused his mesothelioma. In this case, Schlage Lock not only pointed to Mrs. Smith's lack of evidence of causation, but also put forth affirmative evidence that there had never been asbestos at the plant. The court explained that, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Mrs. Smith, it does not create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Smith was exposed to asbestos at the plant. Furthermore, even if Mr. Smith had been exposed to asbestos at the Schlage Lock site, Schlage Lock cannot be held liable for any related injuries because the exposure arose incident to his work for an independent contractor. Therefore, the independent-contractor exception to landowner liability would apply here. View "Smith v. Schlage Lock Company, LLC" on Justia Law
Blanco Ayala v. United States
Plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) against the United States for wrongful investigation, arrest, and detention. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his arrest, detention, transportation, and removal from the country by immigration officers based on an incorrect citizenship determination.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that the discretionary function exception to the FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity operated to defeat plaintiff's claims. The court explained that, in deciding whom to investigate, detain, and then remove, DHS officers must make all the kinds of classic judgment calls the discretionary function exception was meant to exempt from tort liability. Applying the Berkovitz analysis, the court concluded that the decisions to detain and remove are discretionary and DHS officers' decisions in investigating and responding to potential violations of immigration law are infused with public policy considerations. Because the discretionary function exception applies so plainly here, the court need not consider the government's other arguments. View "Blanco Ayala v. United States" on Justia Law
Adams v. American Optical Corp.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment for defendants, holding that plaintiff filed his personal injury suit outside the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff, a coal miner, alleged that the respirators given to him by defendants to protect himself from inhaling excessive amounts of harmful coal dust failed to protect him from the lung disease that he developed.Applying Virginia law, the court held that there is no genuine dispute of material fact that plaintiff's coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) first manifested itself before September 29, 2014. Furthermore, the fact that earlier doctors could not have known his eventual diagnosis when exploring other causes of plaintiff's poor lung function does not create a genuine dispute as to the consistent medical opinion delivered by the experts in this case: plaintiff had CWP prior to September 29, 2014. Therefore, the court is bound to affirm the district court's correct conclusion that the limitations period did not begin to run on October 2, 2014, the date plaintiff first discovered he had CWP.The court noted that it would be remiss in remaining silent about the manifest unfairness that the court's conclusion poses to plaintiffs, like the one here, who suffer from latent diseases that cause ambiguous symptoms for the first two years or successive harms that fall outside the limitations window. The court therefore joined other state and federal courts in recognizing that Virginia law essentially bars certain plaintiffs from recovery. View "Adams v. American Optical Corp." on Justia Law
Dean v. McKinney
Anderson County, South Carolina Deputy McKinney was on patrol when Deputy Lollis requested assistance with a traffic stop. Supervisor Hamby issued a “Code 3” emergency response; Code 3 is the only time officers are permitted to exceed posted speed limits or otherwise disregard traffic regulations. McKinney activated his lights and siren and proceeded to Lollis’ location. Seconds later, Lollis radioed that units could “back down on emergency response but continue to him ‘priority.’” Hamby canceled Code 3. McKinney acknowledged the cancellation, “cut back to normal run,” deactivated his lights and siren, and “began to reduce" his speed. Approximately two minutes after Hamby canceled the Code 3, McKinney lost control of his vehicle on a curved, unlit section of the road, crossed the center line, and struck Harkness’s sedan nearly head-on. Harkness sustained extensive, severe orthopedic and neurological injuries. An accident reconstruction determined that McKinney was traveling at least 83 miles per hour when he began to skid, in a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit zone. McKinney had previously received remedial counseling following his involvement in incidents involving his operation of police vehicles.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that McKinney violated Harkness’s substantive due process rights by exhibiting “conscience-shocking deliberate indifference” to Harkness’s life and safety, McKinney moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of McKinney’s motion. A reasonable jury could conclude that McKinney violated Harkness’s clearly established substantive due process right. View "Dean v. McKinney" on Justia Law
Finch v. Covil Corp.
Plaintiff filed a wrongful death action on behalf of herself and the estate of her late husband, alleging that defendants manufactured, installed, or supplied asbestos-containing products that caused his mesothelioma and resulting death. After the jury found Covil liable and awarded plaintiff $32.7 million in compensatory damages, Covil appealed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by instructing the jury as to proximate cause. In this case, the district court's detailed instruction on substantial factor causation gave proper guidance to the jury to determine whether Covil's insulation constituted a substantial factor in the husband's mesothelioma, and it embodies the "general principles of law" set forth by Lohrmann v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp., 782 F.2d 1156, 1162 (4th Cir. 1986). The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to reduce the award where Covil waived its federal law argument; the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the verdict was not excessive as a matter of law; and without evidence of passion or prejudice, the court cannot replace the jury's considered judgment with its own, or with an amount that Covil would prefer. View "Finch v. Covil Corp." on Justia Law
Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit against CBS after the CBS Evening News aired two reports on the opioid crisis in West Virginia that featured plaintiff and his pharmacy. Plaintiff alleged claims of defamation, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's rulings as to two allegedly defamatory statements in the report.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the two allegedly defamatory statements in the reports: (1) "Records show Tug Valley was filling more than 150 pain prescriptions a day from one clinic alone," and (2) plaintiff "admit[ted] to filling 150 pain pill prescriptions daily for one clinic alone." The court held that, because plaintiff failed to offer evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that the allegedly defamatory statements in the CBS reports were false, rather than minor inaccuracies, and he bears the burden of proof on this element of his defamation and false light invasion of privacy claims, summary judgment on both claims was appropriate. Finally, the court held that plaintiff's attempt to raise for the first time on appeal two new implications of the news reports is foreclosed. View "Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc." on Justia Law
Williams v. Dimensions Health Corp.
Plaintiff filed suit against the hospital, alleging that it violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) by failing to properly screen him and stabilize his condition.The Fourth Circuit adopted the requirement of a good faith admission and held that a party claiming an admission was not in good faith must present evidence that the hospital admitted the patient solely to satisfy its EMTALA standards with no intent to treat the patient once admitted and then immediately transferred the patient. The court held that plaintiff failed to point to evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact as to this high standard. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to point to any evidence in support of his theory that the hospital admitted plaintiff to improperly hoard him in order to garner his premium insurance benefits. View "Williams v. Dimensions Health Corp." on Justia Law
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