Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

by
Virginia's regulation of the consumption, purchase, manufacture, and sale of alcohol through a series of interconnecting provisions found in Title 4.1 of the Virginia Code did not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment because it criminalizes plaintiffs' status as homeless alcoholics and did not violate Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962). Robinson held that, although states may not criminalize status, they may criminalize actual behavior even when the individual alleges that addiction created a strong urge to engage in a particular act. In this case, it is the act of possessing alcohol—not the status of being an alcoholic—that gave rise to criminal sanctions. The interdiction statute was a preventative tool and the state could use this sort of prophylactic device to identify those at the highest risk of alcohol problems and put them on notice that subsequent behavior could be subject to punishment. The Fourth Circuit also held that the interdiction provision did not violate plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to due process where interdiction carried no threat of imprisonment and therefore did not result in a loss of liberty. Finally, the interdiction provision did not violate plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. The court applied rational basis review and held that the law was rationally related to Virginia's legitimate interest in discouraging alcohol abuse and its attendant risks to public safety and wellbeing. View "Manning v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal, on remand, of petitioner's juror bias claim. The court held that the district court failed to recognize the applicability of Supreme Court precedent requiring a hearing in these circumstances; erected inappropriate legal barriers and faulted petitioner for not overcoming them; and ignored judicially-recognized factors in determining whether a hearing was necessary. The court also concluded that the district court erred in Porter I by dismissing petitioner's separate but related juror bias claim pursuant to McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984). Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions for the district court to allow discovery and hold an evidentiary hearing on petitioner's two separate juror bias claims. View "Porter v. Zook" on Justia Law

by
This appeal stemmed from and action brought by three police officers against the Town, alleging claims related to the officers' termination. On appeal, the officers challenged the district court's post trial rulings. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred when it concluded that each plaintiff's claim arose out of the "same" wrongful act and, in the alternative, the meaning of "interrelated" was unambiguous, and that under that unambiguous meaning, plaintiffs' claims arose out of "interrelated" acts. Therefore, the Town waived its governmental immunity for up to $1 million per plaintiff for damages resulting from the three wrongful terminations of plaintiffs, subject to the $3 million Annual Aggregate Limit of the Town's insurance policy. The panel also held that although the police chief was not a final policymaker of the Town regarding plaintiffs' terminations, the town manager was a final policymaker. Therefore, Bralley's unconstitutional actions may fairly be characterized as actions of the Town such that the Town may be held liable to plaintiffs for damages under section 1983. The panel reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment claims against the Town and remanded with instructions to enter judgment for plaintiffs. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Plaintiff Medlin 1.75 years of front pay. View "Hunter v. Town of Mocksville" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against State's Attorney Oglesby for violations of his civil rights, and the State of Maryland under Title VII, asserting a vicarious liability claim against Maryland. The Fourth Circuit held that prosecutorial immunity barred plaintiff's claims against Oglesby where the reviewing and evaluating evidence in preparation for trial, making judgments about witness credibility, and deciding which witnesses to call and which cases may be prosecuted all were directly connected to the judicial phase of the criminal process, protected by absolute immunity. The court held, however, that no reasonable employee could believe that Oglesby violated Title VII at the trial-preparation meeting to which plaintiff objected, and thus plaintiff's allegations failed to state a claim under Title VII and should be dismissed. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, and remanded. View "Savage v. Maryland" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a habeas petition based on a claim under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994). Under Simmons, a defendant is entitled to inform the jury when the alternative to a death sentence is life in prison without parole, but only if the prosecutor puts at issue the risk that he will be a danger to society if released from prison. The court held that the state court reasonably applied Simmons to petitioner's sentence when it held that the prosecutor in his case had not argued future dangerousness in support of the death penalty. View "Warren v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court held that plaintiff engaged in protected activity under Title VII when she complained about what she reasonably believed to be a hostile environment and that her engagement in protected activity caused the City to fire her. In this case, a reasonable jury could find that the City knew or should have known that plaintiff was complaining about a Title VII violation and that her complaints caused her termination. Therefore, plaintiff has established a prima facie case of retaliation, and the district court's grant of summary judgment was improper. View "Strothers v. City of Laurel, Maryland" on Justia Law

by
During seven weeks in 2002, Malvo (then 17 years old) and Muhammad, the “D.C. Snipers,” murdered 12 individuals, inflicted grievous injuries on six others, and terrorized the area with a shooting spree. The two were apprehended while sleeping in a car. A loaded rifle was found in the car; a hole had been “cut into the lid of the trunk, just above the license plate, through which a rifle barrel could be projected.” At the time, a Virginia defendant convicted of capital murder, who was at least 16 years old at the time of his crime, would be punished by either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A jury convicted Malvo of two counts of capital murder but declined to recommend the death penalty. He was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without parole. Malvo later pleaded guilty in another Virginia jurisdiction to capital murder and attempted capital murder and received two additional terms of life imprisonment without parole. The Supreme Court subsequently held that defendants who committed crimes when under the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death; cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole unless they committed a homicide that reflected their permanent incorrigibility; and that these rules were to be applied retroactively. The Fourth Circuit concluded that Malvo’s sentences must be vacated because the retroactive constitutional rules for sentencing juveniles were not satisfied. The court remanded for resentencing to determine whether Malvo qualifies as a rare juvenile offender who may, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility” or whether those crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” so that he must receive a lesser sentence. View "Malvo v. Mathena" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against defendants, alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, holding that, although the district court erred in determining a law enforcement officer did not violate plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights, the officer was entitled to qualified immunity because the constitutional violation was not clearly established when the incident occurred. In this case, plaintiff was shot by the officer because he was suspected of breaking and entering and battery, and the officer was aware of these crimes before interacting with plaintiff; plaintiff was standing about 20 feet from the officer holding a knife, inflicting harm on himself and stumbling, but not threatening others or making sudden movements; and plaintiff was refusing to obey the officer's repeated commands to drop the knife at the time he was shot. The court also affirmed the court's judgment on the common law intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against the officer and on the respondeat superior claim asserted against the County. View "Wilson v. Prince George's County" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to defendants, the town manager and its director of public safety, regarding plaintiffs' alleged due process violations after plaintiffs were terminated from their employment with the Department of Public Safety based on the content of private text messages. The court held that defendants deprived plaintiffs of constitutionally cognizable liberty interests under clearly established law, and plaintiffs were not afforded due process of law. The court held, however, that the district court erred in holding that defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity as to plaintiffs' First Amendment claims. In this case, plaintiffs' evidence did not establish beyond debate that their interest in speaking freely outweighed the Department's interest in maintaining order and discipline. Therefore, the court reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cannon v. Village of Bald Head Island" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the City's motion to dismiss an action filed by Rockville Cars, alleging a violation of its procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when the City suspended its building permit. The court held that a property right failed to vest in Rockville Cars' building permit when its application contained material misrepresentations. Furthermore, even if Rockville Cars did have a property interest, it failed to take advantage of the sufficient process afforded to it by the state. View "Rockville Cars, LLC v. City of Rockville" on Justia Law