Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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After Cleaven Williams stabbed and killed his pregnant wife and the unborn child outside of a courthouse where she had just obtained a protective order against him, plaintiffs filed suit against defendant, alleging that he was responsible for Mrs. Williams' death because defendant enabled him to postpone his self-surrender on a misdemeanor arrest warrant, which provided Williams the opportunity to murder his wife. The Fourth Circuit previously affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss the claims based on qualified immunity. Plaintiffs then amended the complaint to add another defendant, and the district court granted summary judgment to both defendants. Plaintiffs appealed. The court affirmed the district court's judgment and held that plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence that reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence for her. In this case, plaintiffs' version of the events was not supported by sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that defendants undertook any affirmative acts that would support liability for a state-created danger substantive due process claim. View "Graves v. Lioi" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, homeless alcoholics, filed suit challenging a Virginia statutory scheme that makes it a criminal offense for those whom the Commonwealth has labelled "habitual drunkards" to possess, consume, or purchase alcohol. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. On rehearing, the en banc court reversed. The en banc court held that the challenged scheme is unconstitutionally vague, because the term "habitual drunkard" specifies no standard of conduct. The en banc court also held that, even if it could be narrowed to apply only to similarly situated alcoholics, plaintiffs have stated a claim that it violates the Eighth Amendment as applied to them. In this case, plaintiffs have alleged that they are addicted to alcohol and that this addiction, like narcotics addiction, is an illness. Plaintiffs therefore alleged that the Virginia scheme targets them for special punishment for conduct that is both compelled by their illness and is otherwise lawful for all those of legal drinking age View "Manning v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging section 3-506 of Maryland's Election Law, which regulates access to Maryland’s list of registered voters. Section 3-506 provides, inter alia, that the State Board of Elections shall provide copies of the list only to registered Maryland voters, and confines use of the list to purposes related to the electoral process. The district court dismissed the complaint and denied injunctive relief based on the ground that plaintiff had no First Amendment right to access the list. The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiff has alleged a cognizable First Amendment challenge to the conditions that section 3-506 placed on distribution of the list; section 3-506 did not merit strict scrutiny analysis; and thus plaintiff's free speech claims must be remanded for the district court to conduct the balancing of interests test required by the Anderson-Burdick framework. Finally, the court vacated the dismissal of plaintiff's vagueness challenge and the denial of injunctive relief, remanding for further consideration. View "Fusaro v. Cogan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a police misconduct claimant in a settled civil rights action, spoke about the case publicly and claimed that Baltimore violated her First Amendment rights when it enforced the non-disparagement clause against her. Separately, a local news website, the Baltimore Brew, claimed that Baltimore's alleged practice of including non-disparagement clauses in virtually all settlement agreements with police misconduct claimants violates the First Amendment on its face. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City on the First Amendment claim, holding that the non-disparagement clause in plaintiff's settlement agreement amounts to a waiver of her First Amendment rights and that strong public interests rooted in the First Amendment make it unenforceable and void. The court held that the Baltimore Brew had sufficiently pleaded an ongoing or imminent injury in fact that is both traceable to the City's challenged conduct and redressable by the court. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City on the website's claim and remanded to give the parties and the district court an opportunity to develop the evidentiary record. View "Overbey v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Navy officers and employees, alleging intentional torts under state law and constitutional violations under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Plaintiff claimed that defendants conspired to seize, interrogate and batter his three minor children and to seize and batter him. The allegations arose from a 2015 investigation at NSA Bahrain into complaints that plaintiff abused and neglected his three minor children. The Fourth Circuit rejected plaintiff's argument that the application of Maryland law to the scope of employment analysis would lead to a different result, and held that plaintiff failed to satisfy his burden in challenging employment certification. In this case, the evidence submitted by defendants only reinforced the conclusion that defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect. The court also held that the government was properly substituted for defendants and that conduct occurring on an American military base in a foreign country falls within the foreign country exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in dismissing the constitutional claims under Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017). Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment for defendants. View "Doe v. Meron" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of appellant's motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his conviction on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. In this case, appellant's attorney erroneously advised him that, if he pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, deportation was a mere possibility that he could fight in immigration court. Rather, conspiracy to distribute cocaine was an "aggravated felony" under the Immigration and Nationality Act and a noncitizen convicted of such a crime was subject to mandatory deportation. Therefore, counsel's performance was deficient. Furthermore, the court held that appellant was prejudice based on counsel's deficient performance, because the evidence demonstrated a reasonable probability that, had appellant known the true and certain extent of the consequences of his guilty plea, he would have refused it. View "United States v. Murillo" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. Petitioner argued that his rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment will be violated if the government retries him on murder charges in state court. Applying the strictest scrutiny review, the court held that the government failed to satisfy its high burden of showing manifest necessity for a mistrial. In this case, the record demonstrated that the government allowed the jury to be empaneled knowing that the crucial witness might not appear to testify, and the state trial court failed to consider possible alternatives to granting the government's mistrial motion. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to grant petitioner habeas relief. View "Seay v. Cannon" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that Chapter 313 of Title 18, and 18 U.S.C. 4248 in particular, did not authorize the district court to dismiss the section 4248 proceeding against respondent on the ground that he was found to be mentally incompetent. The court also held that section 4248 does not violate the Due Process Clause and that the risk of an erroneous deprivation of respondent's liberty interest is substantially and adequately mitigated by the broad array of procedures required for a section 4248 commitment, particularly as they apply to incompetent persons. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded with instructions that the district court promptly conduct a section 4248 hearing to determine whether respondent is sexually dangerous and therefore must be committed to the custody of the Attorney General. View "United States v. White" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that defendant, a police officer, used excessive force in arresting plaintiff after an intense hand-to-hand struggle between the men. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's holding on remand that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. The court held that the district court again based its qualified immunity holding on inferences drawn in favor of the officer, but it was obligated to construe the salient facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, as the party opposing summary judgment. On plaintiff's version of the disputed facts, construed in the light most favorable to him, the court held that a reasonable jury could find a violation of plaintiff's clearly established Fourth Amendment rights. Therefore, the district court erred in awarding summary judgment to the officer because there remained genuine disputes of fact regarding the officer's entitlement to qualified immunity. View "Harris v. Pittman" on Justia Law

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J.D., by his father and next friend, filed suit against the restaurant for violating the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Virginians with Disabilities Act. The restaurant refused to allow J.D., a child on a strict gluten-free diet, to eat his homemade gluten free meal inside the restaurant, making him eat his meal outside and apart from the rest of his classmates. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to the restaurant. The court held that, while the district court correctly determined that J.D. has raised a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, the district court erred in finding as a matter of law that J.D.'s proposed modification was not necessary to have an experience equal to that of his classmates. In this case, the district court incorrectly overlooked the testimony that J.D. repeatedly became sick after eating purportedly gluten-free meals prepared by commercial kitchens. Therefore, there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the restaurant's proposed accommodation (by making him a gluten-free meal) sufficiently accounts for his disability; whether J.D.'s requested modification was reasonable; and whether granting J.D.'s request would fundamentally alter the nature of the restaurant experience. View "J.D. v. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation" on Justia Law