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The plaintiff, who arbitrated a claim that arose under a federal statute, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (known as the Stored Communications Act), 18 U.S.C. 2701, sought to vacate or modify the arbitration award. The plaintiff filed a motion in the district court; for jurisdiction, he invoked 28 U.S.C. 1331 (federal-question jurisdiction) and 1332 (diversity jurisdiction). The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 10-11, which provides for the enforceability of arbitration agreements and specifies procedures for conducting arbitrations and enforcing arbitration awards, does not provide an independent jurisdictional basis for disputes under the Act. The Fourth Circuit vacated the dismissal of the action, stating that the better approach for determining subject-matter jurisdiction over section 10 and 11 motions is to look to the nature of the underlying claim in dispute, as is done with respect to section 4 petitions to compel arbitration. If the underlying claim is one that otherwise could be litigated in federal court, the motion can likewise be resolved in federal court. The district court had federal-question jurisdiction because the plaintiff’s underlying claim arose under federal law. View "McCormick v. America Online, Inc." on Justia Law

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Allen pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of firearms by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). His PSR reported that, in 2009, Allen was convicted of using a communication facility to facilitate the crime of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, 21 U.S.C. 843(b), and, in 2007, Allen was convicted of two North Carolina misdemeanors--possession of marijuana in an amount less than or equal to one-half ounce, and second-degree trespass. Those misdemeanor convictions were consolidated into one judgment for sentencing. The district court increased Allen’s base offense level under USSG 2K2.1(a)(2), based on his two prior felony convictions of “controlled substance offenses,” including his Section 843(b) conviction; added one point to Allen's criminal history score under USSG 4A1.1(c) based on the North Carolina consolidated judgment; determined that Allen’s Guidelines range was 84-105 months, varied downward, and imposed a sentence of 77 months’ imprisonment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The Section 843(b) commentary states that a Section 843(b) conviction is a “controlled substance offense” if the “underlying offense” is a “controlled substance offense.” Allen’s 2009 judgment shows that he used a communication facility to facilitate the underlying offense of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, which is a “controlled substance offense.” The district court properly added one criminal history point for the North Carolina consolidated judgment. View "United States v. Allen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Ott worked for Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS). In 2010, she learned that a pediatrician had molested her daughter, causing Ott to develop PTSD and severe anxiety. She took medical leave and transferred to a different location. Ott says that her co-worker harassed Ott about her daughter and Ott’s mental health for a year and that DPSCS ignored the harassment. Ott’s performance deteriorated. DPSCS forced her to resign in March 2014. While still employed, Ott filed an EEOC discrimination charge, which proceeded slowly; eventually, the agency found reasonable cause for Ott’s claims and referred them to the Department of Justice, which issued a right to sue notice in July 2016. Ott filed suit in October 2016, asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her Rehabilitation Act claims as untimely. Because the Rehabilitation Act does not contain a limitations period, courts borrow the time limit from the most analogous state law claim and have previously applied Maryland’s three-year general civil case limitation. After the Fourth Circuit last addressed the issue, Maryland amended its Fair Employment Practices Act (MFEPA) to align more closely with the Rehabilitation Act so that the MFEPA qualifies as the most analogous Maryland law. The MFEPA’s two-year statute of limitations applies and bars Ott’s claims. Ott did not meet the exacting standard for invoking the doctrine of equitable tolling. View "Ott v. Maryland Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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IPC hired Ray in 2002. McDowell was Ray’s supervisor. In 2013, Ray was transferred to the shipping department where she reported to Owens and to McDowell when Owens was not present. In 2003, McDowell started acting inappropriately toward Ray, including asking Ray to engage in sexual activity with him. On one occasion, McDowell grabbed Ray’s thigh. In 2013, Ray reported McDowell’s behavior to Owens and to supervisor, Smith. Both offered to report Ray’s allegations. Ray declined out of fear of retaliation, but frequently called Owens requesting to leave work because of McDowell’s conduct. Under IPC’s policy, when a supervisor is notified of potential harassment, the supervisor is required to report that allegation. Neither supervisor formally reported any of Ray’s complaints. In 2014, McDowell learned that Ray had complained and confronted Ray, who denied making any complaints. Around the same time, McDowell informed Ray that she could no longer perform voluntary overtime work, which represented a significant portion of her income. Other operators still were allowed to work voluntary overtime. Ray reported McDowell’s conduct to IPC’s human resources department. Investigators obtained evidence of the harassment from other employees and concluded that McDowell was lying but IPC did not discipline McDowell. Ray complained about McDowell twice more; IPC did not discipline McDowell, but instructed him to stop “manually adjust[ing] the line.” Ray sued, alleging hostile work environment and retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The Fourth Circuit vacated summary judgment that had been entered in favor of IPC, finding genuine issues of material fact on both claims. View "Ray v. International Paper Co." on Justia Law

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Lawlor worked at a Fairfax County apartment complex and had access to keys to each apartment. On September 24, 2008, Lawlor consumed alcohol and a large amount of crack cocaine and sexually assaulted, bludgeoned, and killed a tenant in that complex, Genevieve Orange. A Virginia state court sentenced Lawlor to death; the sentencing jury found that there was a probability Lawlor “would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society,” Va. Code 19.2–264.4.C. Lawlor exhausted state court direct appeal and post-conviction remedies then sought review of his death sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The district court dismissed his petition. The Fourth Circuit reversed. The state court excluded specialized and relevant testimony of a qualified witness who would have explained that Lawlor “represents a very low risk for committing acts of violence while incarcerated,” where the jury’s only choices were life in prison without parole or death. That ruling was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent that “evidence that the defendant would not pose a danger if spared (but incarcerated) must be considered potentially mitigating,” and “such evidence may not be excluded from the sentencer’s consideration.” The error had a substantial and injurious effect. View "Lawlor v. Zook" on Justia Law

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The 42-inch diameter natural gas Mountain Valley Pipeline proposes to run 304 miles through Virginia and West Virginia, In the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Huntington District, the Pipeline and related roads will cross 591 federal water bodies, including four major rivers three of which are navigable-in-fact rivers regulated by the Rivers and Harbors Act, 33 U.S.C. 403. Because construction will involve the discharge of fill material into federal waters, the Clean Water Act requires clearance from the Corps, 33 U.S.C. 1344(a). The Act provides for individual permits or “interested parties can try to fit their proposed activity within the scope of an existing general permit,” in this case Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12, “which acts as a standing authorization for developers to undertake an entire category of activities deemed to create only minimal environmental impact.” The Corps verified that the Pipeline can proceed under NWP 12 rather than an individual permit. The Fourth Circuit vacated, holding that the Corps lacked statutory authority to substitute its own special condition for a different special condition imposed by West Virginia as part of its certification of NWP 12. Without completion of the notice-and-comment procedures required by the Act, a state cannot waive a special condition previously imposed as part of its certification of a nationwide permit. West Virginia did not follow federally-mandated notice-and-comment procedures in waiving another special condition imposed as part of its certification of NWP 12. View "Sierra Club v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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AirFacts appealed the district court's judgment for defendant on AirFacts' breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets claims. Determining that it had jurisdiction, the court held that AirFacts did not abandon its claim under Paragraph 4.2 of the Employment Agreement and vacated as to this issue. In regard to the breach of contract claim, the court held that there was no legal error in the district court's conclusion that defendant did not misappropriate the Proration Documents in emailing them to himself for continued AirFacts business. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "AirFacts, Inc. v. De Amezaga" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's order requiring the bankruptcy trustee to return debtor's post-petition Chapter 13 payments to him. The court held that the plain language of 11 U.S.C. 1326(a)(2) required the trustee to return the post-petition payments to debtor. The court explained that section 1326(a)(2) prevents the Division from levying upon the trustee when he is in possession of the post-petition payments. In this case, once the trustee returned the funds to debtor, the Division or any other creditor was free to levy upon debtor or others who possess his property. View "Commonwealth of Virginia v. Webb" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer in an action alleging that the unauthorized review and disclosure of plaintiff's confidential personnel files to support her racial and religious discrimination claims constituted protected activity under Title VII. The court held that, under the opposition clause, unauthorized disclosures of confidential information to third parties are generally unreasonable. In this case, plaintiff's unauthorized review and duplication of confidential personnel files did not constitute protected opposition or participation activity. The court also held that section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect a violation of valid state law that poses no conflict with Title VII. The court explained that, like in plaintiff's opposition claim, she failed to meet her burden of proving that the sheriff terminated her employment because she engaged in protected activity. View "Netter v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendants Zelaya, Ordonez-Vega, Sosa, and Gavidia's convictions of participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO); Zelaya, Ordonez-Vega, and Sosa's conviction of committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering (VICAR) and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence; and Gavidia's sentence. The court held that the district court did not err by denying defendants' motions for acquittal under Rule 29; the district court correctly defined the "purpose" element in its jury instructions regarding the VICAR offense; there was no error in the admission of testimony from two New York police officers; the district court did not err by refusing to sever Sosa and Gavidia's trials from the trials of Zelaya and Ordonez-Vega; Sosa and Gavidia were not entitled to mistrials; and Gavidia's sentence was substantively and procedurally reasonable. View "United States v. Zelaya" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law