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

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Defendant pled guilty to Continuing a Criminal Enterprise (“CCE”) and Money Laundering. During his sentencing, and under the 1994 Sentencing Guidelines, the district court sentenced Defendant to 420 months’ incarceration on the CCE offense and 240 months’ incarceration for money laundering, to be served concurrently. Defendant later filed a pro se motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018 (“FSA”), which the district court denied on grounds that Defendant’s convictions were not covered offenses. On appeal, Defendant argued that his CCE offense is a covered offense under the FSA because Congress amended the crack cocaine drug weight required to trigger a mandatory life sentence under Section 848(b).   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision finding that Defendant’s conviction under Sections 848 (a) and (c) and pursuant to Terry is not a covered offense under the First Step Act of 2018. The court reasoned that though the Act did modify the penalties for Defendant’s predicate violations under 841(a)(1) and 846, Defendant’s statutory penalty range for violating 848(a) and (c) remained the same before and after the FSA. Thus, because Defendant is serving a sentence for violating 848(a) and (c), his offense is not a covered offense under the FSA. View "US v. Jerrell Thomas" on Justia Law

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After suffering a retroperitoneal bleed following a diagnostic cardiac catheterization, Patient's estate ("Plaintiff") filed a medical malpractice wrongful death claim against various medical providers ("Defendants"). The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, finding that Plaintiff failed to prove causation. More specifically, the court held that West Virginia Code Sec. 55-7B-3(b) requires a plaintiff to prove "that following the accepted standard of care would have resulted in a greater than twenty-five percent chance that the patient . . . would have survived."The Fourth Circuit reversed. The district court's interpretation of Sec. 55-7B-3(b) to require a 25% change in outcome between the chance of survival had the standard of care been followed and the chance of survival experienced due to the breach of the standard of care was in error. The court held that the correct standard requires Plaintiff to establish a greater than twenty-five percent chance of survival had Defendants followed the applicable standard of care. The court noted that, although the Supreme Court of West Virginia has not addressed this particular statute, a plain reading of the statutory language does not a 25% change in outcome. View "Janet Graham v. Sunil Dhar" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the Acting Secretary of the Navy (the “Navy”) on her employment retaliation claims under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. Sec 621, (“ADEA”). The district court awarded judgment after concluding that Plaintiff failed to exhaust certain claims because they were not raised in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charge. It also rejected her remaining retaliation claims.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the Acting Secretary of the Navy (“the Navy”). The court first reasoned that Plaintiff’s claims are without merit because she is procedurally barred from pursuing her claims of exclusion from the CPI Team and the Navy’s alleged failure to promote her because she did not raise them at the administrative level.   Further, even if Plaintiff had administratively exhausted her CPI Team and failure-to-promote claims, the court held it would reach the same result because she failed to plead them in her Amended Complaint.  Third, the district court also correctly determined that Plaintiff’s remaining retaliation claim was unsustainable because there is no direct evidence of retaliation as part of her lateral realignment.  Finally, Plaintiff points to only one alleged comment over six years, which did not amount to evidence of “recurring retaliatory animus.” View "Cathy Walton v. Thomas Harker" on Justia Law

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The jury found Defendant guilty of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, brandishing a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, and witness tampering. On appeal, Defendant asserted four evidentiary challenges. The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions holding that Defendant’s guilt was so overwhelming that the erroneously admitted evidence did not affect the trial’s outcome.   The court agreed with Defendant that the district court erred when it allowed the victim store employees to testify about how the robberies affected their lives and when it allowed a law enforcement agent to interpret the recorded phone calls. However, the court held that the district court properly permitted the victim store employees to testify that Defendant was the decoy guy and was trying to act like he was afraid during a previous robbery. Further, the court held that the district court appropriately allowed a co-conspirator to testify that Defendant was dangerous and admitted the screenshots that the co-conspirator received of the photographs of the letters saying that he was an informant. View "US v. Charles Walker, Jr." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiffs, two West Virginia attorneys and a client, contended that West Virginia’s statute regulating legal advertisements that solicit clients in litigation involving medications or medical devices violates the First Amendment by prohibiting attorneys from using certain terms or images in their advertisements and by requiring such advertisements to include certain disclosures. The district court agreed, granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and upheld the statute concluding that its prohibitions survive constitutional scrutiny because the prohibitions target misleading speech. Further, West Virginia has substantial interests in protecting public health and in preventing deception, and the statute advances these interests in a narrowly tailored and reasonable way. Thus, the statute’s prohibitions and disclosures work together to protect the health of West Virginia citizens who may be misled into thinking that attorneys are reliable sources of medical advice. View "Steven Recht v. Patrick Morrisey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff prevailed before the district court on his Section 1983 claim that North Carolina’s sex-offender registration system deprived him of procedural due process. That judgment was vacated and his case dismissed as moot after the legislature, because of the district court’s ruling, amended its statute to provide procedural protections to offenders like Plaintiff. When Plaintiff sought attorney’s fees, Defendant, state officials, argued that Plaintiff could not be a “prevailing party” under Section 1988 because the judgment in his favor had been vacated. The district court held that Plaintiff was entitled to attorney’s fees.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that under 42 U.S.C. Section 1988, Plaintiff is a prevailing party entitled to attorney’s fees because the legislative change mooting his case came both after and in response to an award of judicial relief. The court reasoned that Plaintiff was a “prevailing party” under Section 1988 because he won a final judgment on the merits in the district court. He also obtained substantial judicial relief on his claim, including entry of a final injunction requiring that class members be removed from the registry and prohibiting their prosecution for offenses relating only to registered sex offenders. Further, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s calculation of the fee award because the court properly concluded that Plaintiff was “fully successful,” and thus entitled to all the injunctive relief he requested. View "Kenneth Grabarczyk v. Joshua Stein" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights
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Plaintiff, a former Federal Public Defender, was subject to sexual harassment by a supervisor. After attempting to pursue her administrative remedies, Plaintiff claimed she was constructively discharged and resigned. Plaintiff then filed claims under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, as well as under 42 U.S.C. Sections 1985(3) and 1986, against various executive and judicial officers. The district court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims based on her failure to state a claim and Defendant's sovereign immunity.The panel held that Plaintiff's Due Process claim sufficiently plead a deprivation of her property interests, but failed to plead a deprivation of her liberty interest. The panel also held Plaintiff's Equal Protection claim adequately plead sex discrimination; however, her claims under 42 U.S.C. Sections 1985(3) and 1986 failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finally, the court determined that Plaintiff could only pursue back-pay benefits from all Defendant's named in their official capacity and that all Defendant's named in their individual capacity were entitled to dismissal under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Thus, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Caryn Strickland v. US" on Justia Law

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Former employees of Nationwide Motor Sales Corporation sued the company and its owners (collectively, Nationwide) in district court, alleging fraudulent payment practices that reduced employees’ sales commissions and final paychecks. Nationwide produced its Employee Handbook’s provision requiring arbitration. The employees contended that the arbitration agreement is invalid because Nationwide retains the right to change, delete, or modify the policies. The district court denied Nationwide’s motion to compel arbitration, finding the Arbitration Agreement illusory due to the Modification Clause   Applying Maryland law, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, reasoning that the promise to arbitrate was illusory because, on the agreement’s signature page, the employer retained the right to amend or abolish the agreement without notice to the employees. Further, in reviewing the plain meaning of the Acknowledgement Receipt “as a whole,” it is clear that the Modification Clause applies to the Arbitration Agreement. View "Michael Coady v. Nationwide Motor Sales Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued his former employer, the Maryland Military Department, and related entities, alleging that they discriminated against him on the basis of race in violation of Title VII 42 U.S.C. Sections 2000e to 2000e-17. The district court dismissed Holloway’s complaint for failure to state a claim.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim and reversed the dismissal of his unlawful termination and retaliation claims. The court reasoned that to state a claim for unlawful termination, a Title VII plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to raise a plausible inference that his employer discharged him because of his race. Here, Plaintiff alleged facts crucial to raise the inference of a Title VII violation “above a speculative level.”   Next, Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee “because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII], or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing” under Title VII. The court held that Plaintiff’s claim passes muster at the pleading stage.   However, the court held that Plaintiff failed to state a claim that he was subject to an abusive or hostile work environment based on his race or protected activity. The court rejected Plaintiff’s contention that one episode of yelling and pounding the table is sufficiently severe or pervasive to establish an abusive environment. View "Charles Holloway v. State of Maryland" on Justia Law

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Following a data breach targeting servers owned by Defendant, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant violated federal securities laws by omitting material information about data vulnerabilities in their public statements.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the complaint, finding that the investors did not adequately allege that any of Defendant’s statements were false or misleading when made.The court explained that to state a claim under Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 10b-5, a plaintiff must first allege a “material misrepresentation or omission by the defendant.” However, not all material omissions give rise to a cause of action. Here, Plaintiffs focus on statements about the importance of protecting customer data; privacy statements on Defendant's website; and cybersecurity-related risk disclosures. The court found that Plaintiffs failed to allege that any of the challenged statements were false or rendered Defendant's public statement misleading. Although Defendant could have disseminated more information to the public about its vulnerability to cyberattacks, federal securities law does not require it to do so. View "Construction Laborers Pension Trust Southern CA v. Marriott International, Inc." on Justia Law