Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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In 2003, Taylor and a co-conspirator went to rob Taylor’s marijuana customer, Sylvester. The co-conspirator carried a semiautomatic pistol, which discharged during the attempt. Sylvester sustained a fatal gunshot wound. An indictment alleged Taylor conspired to commit Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951; attempted Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951; and used a firearm in furtherance of a “crime of violence,” 18 U.S.C. 924(c), citing as predicate crimes of violence the conspiracy and the attempted Hobbs Act robbery. Taylor pled guilty to the conspiracy and section 924(c) counts and was sentenced to 240 months’ incarceration for the conspiracy and 120 consecutive months for the 924(c) conviction.Taylor’s first motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 was denied. Taylor obtained permission to file a second section 2255 motion in light of the Supreme Court’s "Johnson" decision, which substantially narrowed the definition of “violent felony” in the Armed Career Criminal Act. In the meantime, the Fourth Circuit invalidated section 924(c)(3)(B), one of two clauses defining “crime of violence,” and held that conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under either clause. The Supreme Court similarly invalidated section 924(c)(3)(B) as unconstitutionally vague.The Fourth Circuit vacated Taylor’s 924(c) conviction. The elements of attempted Hobbs Act robbery do not invariably require “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force,” so the offense does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under 924(c). View "United States v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977), which applies a burden-shifting framework, provides the appropriate framework for reviewing inmates' First Amendment retaliation claims. However, the court held that the district court improperly resolved genuine disputes of material fact in defendant's favor. In this case, the district court erred in crediting defendant's reasons for segregating plaintiff because, at the summary judgment stage, a court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Doing so here, a reasonable juror could find that defendant placed plaintiff in segregation and kept him segregated for impermissible reasons. The court took the opportunity to reemphasize the well-settled principle that an action motivated by retaliation for the exercise of a constitutionally protected right is actionable, even if the act, when taken for a different reason, might have been legitimate. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Martin v. Duffy" on Justia Law

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Anderson County, South Carolina Deputy McKinney was on patrol when Deputy Lollis requested assistance with a traffic stop. Supervisor Hamby issued a “Code 3” emergency response; Code 3 is the only time officers are permitted to exceed posted speed limits or otherwise disregard traffic regulations. McKinney activated his lights and siren and proceeded to Lollis’ location. Seconds later, Lollis radioed that units could “back down on emergency response but continue to him ‘priority.’” Hamby canceled Code 3. McKinney acknowledged the cancellation, “cut back to normal run,” deactivated his lights and siren, and “began to reduce" his speed. Approximately two minutes after Hamby canceled the Code 3, McKinney lost control of his vehicle on a curved, unlit section of the road, crossed the center line, and struck Harkness’s sedan nearly head-on. Harkness sustained extensive, severe orthopedic and neurological injuries. An accident reconstruction determined that McKinney was traveling at least 83 miles per hour when he began to skid, in a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit zone. McKinney had previously received remedial counseling following his involvement in incidents involving his operation of police vehicles.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that McKinney violated Harkness’s substantive due process rights by exhibiting “conscience-shocking deliberate indifference” to Harkness’s life and safety, McKinney moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of McKinney’s motion. A reasonable jury could conclude that McKinney violated Harkness’s clearly established substantive due process right. View "Dean v. McKinney" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Virginia state law against two Arlington County police officers and a mental health examiner, alleging that the Arlington County defendants unlawfully seized and detained her for a mental health evaluation in violation of the Fourth Amendment and falsely imprisoned her in violation of Virginia state law. Plaintiff also filed suit against her employer, PAE, and three of PAE's employees, alleging that the PAE defendants conspired with the Arlington County defendants to unlawfully seize her and falsely imprison her, also in violation of section 1983 and Virginia state law.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Arlington County defendants on plaintiff's section 1983 claims where the Arlington County defendants had probable cause to detain plaintiff for an emergency mental health evaluation. Even assuming that they did not have probable cause to detain plaintiff, the Arlington County defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of their conduct was not clearly established at the time. Even if plaintiff had properly raised her challenge, the court also affirmed the dismissal of the state law conspiracy claims against the Arlington County defendants where the officers had the requisite legal justification to detain plaintiff for the evaluation, and they followed the legal process provided by Virginia law in doing so.The court further affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's section 1983 claim against the PAE defendants where plaintiff's allegations that the officers conspired with the PAE defendants to illegally seize her and remove her from the workplace for a psychological evaluation is comprised of nothing more than conclusory assertions and rank speculation. Furthermore, plaintiff's state law conspiracy claims rest upon the same conclusory and speculative allegation that the PAE employees and the police officers conspired to violate her civil rights and to falsely imprison her, regardless of how she acted or what she said to the police. The court affirmed the dismissal of this claim as well. View "Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Baltimore filed suit against the Government, alleging that HHS's Final Rule, prohibiting physicians and other providers in Title X programs from referring patients for an abortion, even if that is the patient's wish, violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Final Rule, instead, requires them to refer the patient for prenatal care. Furthermore, the Final Rule requires entities receiving Title X funds, but offering abortion-related services pursuant to another source of funds, to physically separate their abortion-related services from the Title X services. After the district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the Government from implementing or enforcing the Final Rule because the Final Rule is likely not in accordance with law, the Government appealed. While the appeal of the preliminary injunction was pending and after discovery, the district court issued a permanent injunction on different grounds.The Fourth Circuit consolidated the appeals and a majority of the full court voted to hear both cases en banc. The court upheld the district court's grant of the permanent injunction on two grounds: first, the Final Rule was promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious manner because it failed to recognize and address the ethical concerns of literally every major medical organization in the country, and it arbitrarily estimated the cost of the physical separation of abortion services; and second, the Final Rule contravenes statutory provisions requiring nondirective counseling in Title X programs and prohibiting interference with physician/patient communications. Accordingly, because the court affirmed the permanent injunction in Case No. 20-1215, the appeal of the preliminary injunction in Case No. 19-1614 is moot and the court dismissed it. View "Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Azar" on Justia Law

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MSI, a non-profit organization dedicated to gun owner rights, individuals, and Atlantic, a family-owned, federally licensed firearms dealer that operates Maryland commercial gun stores, challenged Maryland Senate Bill 707 banning "rapid-fire trigger activators," which when attached to a firearm, increase its rate of fire or trigger activation, citing the Takings Clause and alleging that the statute was void for vagueness. The Fourth Circuit initially affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of standing.In an amended opinion, the court reversed in part. Atlantic has standing to pursue the Second Amendment claim. Uncontroverted testimony plus Maryland State Police records and Atlantic's year-over-year sales records are sufficient to establish an injury in fact for purposes of Article III standing. The extent of Atlantic's economic injury—including its ability to identify lost customers as well as the scope of the purported decline in handguns sold and lost revenue— are material issues of fact to be resolved in the Second Amendment analysis on the merits. Atlantic also has third-party standing to challenge the handgun qualification license requirement on behalf of potential customers like the individual plaintiffs and other similarly situated persons. The court otherwise affirmed the dismissal. MSI lacked organizational standing; it failed to prove the law hindered its ability to pursue its mission. The individual plaintiffs had not sought licenses. View "Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Hogan" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2241 habeas application, rejecting his claim that he is entitled to habeas relief based on United States v. Chamberlain, 868 F.3d 290, 295 (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc), and the Sixth Amendment. In Chamberlain, the court held that the criminal forfeiture statute permits freezing only those assets traceable to the charged offense.The court held that petitioner failed to show that section 2255 would be "inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." In this case, the court's existing "savings clause" jurisprudence makes abundantly clear that a section 2255 motion is fully adequate to address alleged Sixth Amendment violations. Furthermore, petitioner's statutory claim still fails the court's "savings clause" tests. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed the section 2241 application for lack of jurisdiction. View "Farkas v. Warden" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2254 motion for habeas relief, raising Sixth Amendment claims. Petitioner was convicted of beating, shooting, and robbing a prostitute in a hotel room.The court held that the state court's adjudication of petitioner's claims on the merits was neither unreasonable nor inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent. In this case, petitioner alleged that his lawyer should have sought forensic testing of various items in the hotel room to bolster his story. The court held that the state court reasonably determined that counsel's performance was not deficient as to the items found in the hotel room, and the state court reasonably determined that the failure to test petitioner's sock did not cause prejudice. View "Valentino v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 can protect transgender students from school bathroom policies that prohibit them from affirming their gender.Plaintiff, a transgender male, filed suit alleging that the school board's bathroom policy, which excluded him from the boys bathrooms, violated the Equal Protection Clause and constituted discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX. Plaintiff subsequently amended his complaint to add that the school board's refusal to amend his school records similarly violates both equal protection and Title IX.After rejecting the school board's threshold challenges, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff. The court held that the school board's restroom policy constitutes sex-based discrimination and, independently, that transgender persons constitute a quasi-suspect class. Applying heightened scrutiny, the court held that the school board's policy is not substantially related to its important interest in protecting students' privacy. The court also held that the school board's continued refusal to update plaintiff's school records similarly violates his equal protection rights where the school board's decision is not substantially related to its important interest in maintaining accurate records because his legal gender in the state of Virginia is male, not female. In regard to the Title IX claims, the court held that the bathroom policy discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of sex and that plaintiff suffered legally cognizable harm based on the unlawful discrimination. Likewise, the school board's failure to amend plaintiff's school records violated Title IX.Finally, the court noted that the proudest moments of the federal judiciary have been when it affirms the burgeoning values of our bright youth, rather than preserves the prejudices of the past. View "Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board" on Justia Law

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Defendants conditionally pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States with the substantive offense being a violation of the Anti-Riot Act. Defendants' charges arose from their violent participation in three white supremacist rallies during 2017.The Fourth Circuit held that, while the category of speech that lies at the core of the Anti-Riot Act's prohibition, called "incitement," has never enjoyed First Amendment protection, the statute sweeps up a substantial amount of speech that remains protected advocacy under the modern incitement test of Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) (per curiam), insofar as it encompasses speech tending to "encourage" or "promote" a riot under 18 U.S.C. 2101(a)(2), as well as speech "urging" others to riot or "involving" mere advocacy of violence under section 2102(b).However, the court held that, in all other respects, the statute comports with the First Amendment. Because the discrete instances of overbreadth are severable from the remainder of the statute, the court held that the appropriate remedy is to invalidate the statute only to the extent that it reaches too far, while leaving the remainder intact. Finally, the court held that defendants' convictions stand because the factual basis of defendants' guilty pleas conclusively establish that their own substantive offense conduct—which involves no First Amendment activity—falls under the Anti-Riot Act's surviving applications. View "United States v. Miselis" on Justia Law