Articles Posted in U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Virginia Code sections 20-45.2 and 20-45.3; the Marshall/Newman Amendment, Va. Const. art. I, 15-A; and any other Virginia law that bars same sex-marriage or prohibits the State's recognition of otherwise-lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions (collectively, the Virginia Marriage Laws). Plaintiffs argued that these laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and enjoined Virginia from enforcing the laws. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that each of the plaintiffs had standing as to at least one defendant, and the court declined to view Baker v. Nelson as binding precedent. The court concluded that strict scrutiny analysis applied in this case where the Virginia Marriage Laws impede the right to marry by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and nullifying the legal import of their out-of-state marriages. Proponents contend that five interests support the laws: federalism-based interests, history and tradition, protecting the institution of marriage, encouraging responsible procreation, and promoting the optimal childrearing environment. The court concluded, however, that these interests are not compelling interests that justify the Virginia Marriage Laws. Therefore, all of the proponents' justifications for the laws fail and the laws cannot survive strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the court concluded that the Virginia Marriage Laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent that they prevent same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples' lawful out-of-state marriages. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Bostic v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and North Carolina law against police officers, alleging, inter alia, that they fabricated evidence that led to plaintiff's arrest, convictions, and nearly-twelve-year incarceration. The district court granted the officers' motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). The court concluded that plaintiff waived his right to appeal the judgment in Officer Ledford's favor. The court also concluded that plaintiff has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted in regards to Officers Ojaniit and Esposito. Further, plaintiff failed to plead any colorable state law claim as to these two officers. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal as to Officer Ledford and affirmed the judgment as to Officers Ojaniit and Esposito. View "Massey v. Ojaniit" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff successfully sued various Greenwood County Sheriff's Office officials for First Amendment violations. The court held that qualified immunity, the absence of a policy or custom of discrimination, and the nature of the relief granted here - whether considered individually or together through a "totality of the circumstances" lens - could not support the denial of attorneys' fees to plaintiff, a prevailing civil rights plaintiff; the district court abused its discretion by denying these fees and the court reversed the judgment; and the court remanded with instructions to allow plaintiff to make a fee application and for ensuing determination of the reasonable fee award for his successful prosecution of the civil rights matter, including the time spent defending entitlement to attorney's fees. View "Lefemine v. Wideman" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an assistant district attorney (ADA) for the county, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, against defendant, the elected district attorney (DA) during plaintiff's tenure, alleging that he was fired for exercising his free-speech rights in violation of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions. The district court granted summary judgment against defendants. The court reversed, concluding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendant on the First Amendment claim on the basis of qualified immunity. A reasonable DA in defendant's position would have known that he could not fire an ADA running for public office for speaking publicly in his capacity as a candidate on matters of public concern when the speech was critical of a program that substantially reduced the DA's office's caseload but there was no reason to believe the speech would negatively impact the DA's office's efficiency. The court reversed the summary judgment on the state-law claims as well. View "Smith v. Gilchrist, III" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer for racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. 1981. Plaintiff's claims were based on two conversations she had with a coworker where the coworker made racially derogatory and highly offensive comments. The court concluded that the district court did not err in excluding plaintiff's answers to interrogatories from consideration as part of the summary judgment record. The court also concluded that, while in the abstract, continued repetition of racial comments of the kind plaintiff's coworker made might have led to a hostile work environment, no allegation in the record suggested that a plan was in motion to create such an environment, let alone that such an environment was even likely to occur. Plaintiff had not presented evidence such that a reasonable juror could find that her workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment. The statements at issue were singular and isolated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment View "Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, Dal-Tile, alleging claims of racial and sexual hostile work environment, constructive discharge, and common law obstruction of justice. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Dal-Tile. The court reversed the grant of summary judgment on the hostile work environment claims and remanded for further consideration because a reasonable fact-finder could find that there was an objectively hostile work environment based on both race and sex and that Dal-Tile knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to adequately respond. The court affirmed, however, the grant of summary judgment on the claims of constructive discharge and common law obstruction of justice. View "Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp." on Justia Law

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The EEOC filed suit alleging that an employee retirement benefit plan maintained by the County discriminated against employees in the protected age group of 40 years of age and older, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. 621-634, by requiring them to pay high contribution rates than those paid by younger employees. In this interlocutory appeal, the court held that the district court correctly determined that the County's plan violated the ADEA, because the plan's employee contribution rates were determined by age, rather than by a permissible factor. The court also concluded that the ADEA's "safe harbor provision" applicable to early retirement benefit plans did not shield the County from liability for the alleged discrimination. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's award of summary judgment on the issue of liability and remanded for consideration of damages. View "EEOC v. Baltimore County, Maryland" on Justia Law

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Carnell, a "minority-owned" corporation, filed suit against the Housing Authority and Blaine based on claims of race discrimination, retaliation, and breach of contract. The court held that a corporation can acquire a racial identity and establish standing to seek a remedy for alleged race discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, but that the district court properly dismissed one of the defendants from liability on plaintiff's race discrimination claims; the district court abused its discretion in permitting the use of particular impeachment evidence, which should have been excluded as unfairly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403; and the district court properly reduced certain damages awarded to plaintiff on its contract claims, but decided that the strict notice requirements of the Virginia Public Procurement Act, Virginia Code 2.2-4300 through 4377, required the court to narrow further the scope of recoverable contract damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Carnell Construction Corp. v. Danville RHA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging his arrests for refusing to obey Officer Early's repeated orders to confine his leafleting to the area designated for protest activities outside the First Mariner Arena in Baltimore. The designated protest area was defined by a written policy of the City and the BCPD. The court held that the policy was facially valid under the First Amendment as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. The court found that the district court committed no reversible error as to plaintiff's remaining claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Ross v. Early" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against police officers, the County, and the City after officers assaulted them outside of a nightclub. The court affirmed the district court's post-trial determination that plaintiffs' complaint sufficiently stated a cause of action for bystander liability under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In doing so, however, the court vacated and remanded the district court's summary judgment ruling to the opposite effect. The only defendant that the reversal of this issue impacted was Officer Lowery because he was the only defendant against whom the section 1983 count survived dismissal. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Officer Adey on the excessive force and battery counts with respect to all plaintiffs and the grant of summary judgment to Officer Lowery in his alleged role as a principal actor on the section 1983 count with respect to Plaintiffs Howard and Barnett. Because Officer Adey was not liable for either the battery or the excessive force counts as to any of plaintiffs, the County was also not liable under the Maryland constitutional count on the theory of vicarious liability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying plaintiffs' Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the ruling on summary judgment. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Stevenson v. City of Seat Pleasant, MD" on Justia Law