Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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Plaintiff pro se filed suit against defendant, a prison official, alleging that plaintiff's placement in segregation violated his constitutional rights to freedom from retaliation for filing a grievance, equal protection, and due process. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. The court held, however, that plaintiff pleaded sufficient facts to state a claim that defendant violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights by placing him in segregation as retaliation for filing a grievance. Furthermore, it was clearly established at the time that defendant placed plaintiff in segregation that retaliating against an inmate for filing a grievance violates the inmate's rights under the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Martin v. Duffy" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed in substantial part the district court's issuance of a nationwide injunction as to Section 2(c) of the challenged Second Executive Order (EO-2), holding that the reasonable observer would likely conclude EO-2's primary purpose was to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs. Section 2(c) reinstated the ninety-day suspension of entry for nationals from six countries, eliminating Iraq from the list, but retaining Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Determining that the case was justiciable, the Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs have more than plausibly alleged that EO-2's stated national security interest was provided in bad faith, as a pretext for its religious purpose. Because the facially legitimate reason offered by the government was not bona fide, the court no longer deferred to that reason and instead may look behind the challenged action. Applying the test in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court held that the evidence in the record, viewed from the standpoint of the reasonable observer, created a compelling case that EO-2's primary purpose was religious. Then-candidate Trump's campaign statements revealed that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States. President Trump and his aides have made statements that suggest EO-2's purpose was to effectuate the promised Muslim ban, and that its changes from the first executive order reflect an effort to help it survive judicial scrutiny, rather than to avoid targeting Muslims for exclusion from the United States. These statements, taken together, provide direct, specific evidence of what motivated both executive orders: President Trump's desire to exclude Muslims from the United States and his intent to effectuate the ban by targeting majority-Muslim nations instead of Muslims explicitly. Because EO-2 likely fails Lemon's purpose prong in violation of the Establishment Clause, the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim. The court also held that plaintiffs will likely suffer irreparable harm; the Government's asserted national security interests do not outweigh the harm to plaintiffs; and the public interest counsels in favor of upholding the preliminary injunction. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a nationwide injunction was necessary to provide complete relief, but erred in issuing an injunction against the President himself. View "International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition, alleging that his guilty plea to attempted murder and a related firearm offense resulted from his trial counsel's disabling conflict of interest. Determining that the appeal was not moot, the Fourth Circuit held that the petition was timely. In this case, petitioner's limitations period commenced on December 12, 2008, when the judgment entered upon his November 2008 resentencing became final. Because his postconviction proceedings statutorily tolled the limitations period from at least January 20, 2009 through October 21, 2013, his petition was timely. Furthermore, under the exceptional circumstances presented by petitioner's case, neither procedural bar at issue was adequate to preclude federal review of petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim; the Court of Special Appeals' application of Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. 7-106(b)(1)(i)(6) was inadequate to bar federal review of petitioner's claim; and the circuit court's reliance on section 7-106(b)(1)(i)(4) was inadequate to bar consideration of his ineffective assistance claim on federal habeas review. The court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Woodfolk v. Maynard" on Justia Law

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Wikimedia and eight other organizations filed suit challenging Upstream surveillance, an electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA. First, Wikimedia alleged that the sheer volume of its communications makes it virtually certain that the NSA has intercepted, copied, and reviewed at least some of its communications (Wikimedia Allegation). Second, all plaintiffs alleged that in the course of conducting Upstream surveillance the NSA was intercepting, copying, and reviewing substantially all text-based communications entering and leaving the United States, including their own (Dragnet Allegation). The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of Article III standing. The Fourth Circuit held that the analysis of speculative injury in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013), was not controlling in this case because the central allegations were not speculative. As to Wikimedia, the court vacated and remanded because Wikimedia made allegations sufficient to survive a facial challenge to standing. As to the other plaintiffs, the court affirmed because the complaint did not contain enough well-pleaded facts entitled to the presumption of truth to establish their standing. View "Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA/CSS" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the denial of his habeas corpus petition, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request an alibi instruction. The Fifth Circuit held that the post-conviction relief court's decision was a reasonable application of Strickland v. Washington. Although the parties accept for purposes of appeal that trial counsel's performance was deficient, even if the instruction had been given, there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. Therefore, because petitioner was not prejudiced by the error, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Maurice Hope v. Warden Cartledge" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, Sotera, alleging that the company violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Sotera, holding that the district court correctly rejected plaintiff's legal contention that Sotera interfered with plaintiff's FMLA rights by not restoring him to his pre-leave position; no reasonable factfinder could conclude that Sotera failed to place plaintiff in "an equivalent position" or that the differences between the two jobs at issue were more than merely de minimis; and plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to his termination-related claims. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that Sotera was entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that Sotera interfered with his FMLA rights by reinstating him to a sham position and then firing him at the first opportunity. Finally, plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact such that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the adverse employment action was taken for an impermissible reason, such as retaliation. View "Waag v. Sotera Defense Solutions" on Justia Law

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After BNT, a minority-owned television network, was granted and then denied an economic development loan from the City, BNT filed suit alleging, among other things, claims for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court concluded that BNT's factual allegations were so insubstantial as to render its claim implausible, and therefore dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court misinterpreted and misapplied the controlling pleading standard. In this case, the key issue was not whether the City would contract with a minority-owned business, but whether the City would contract with BNT on the same conditions and under substantially the same circumstances as it would with a nonminority-owned business. BNT has plausibly pled that the conditions under which the City was willing to grant it a loan were more stringent than those the City applied to similarly situated white-owned applicants. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing BNT's claim of discrimination at the pleading stage. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Woods v. City of Greensboro" on Justia Law

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The court vacated the grant of qualified immunity to prison officials and summary judgment, concluding that a reasonable prison official had fair warning that retaliating against an inmate who filed a prison grievance was unlawful and an inmate's First Amendment right to be free from retaliation for filing a grievance was clearly established at the time. Plaintiff, an inmate at SCDC, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that he received a disciplinary charge in retaliation for filing a prison grievance. Although the court agreed with the district court's conclusion that no published decision squarely addressed whether filing a grievance was protected First Amendment conduct, the court concluded that the district court failed to consider whether the right was clearly established based on general constitutional principles or a consensus of persuasive authority. In this case, the inmate's right was clearly established based on a robust consensus of persuasive authority where the Second, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits have all recognized in published decisions that inmates possess a right, grounded in the First Amendment's Petition Clause, to be free from retaliation in response to filing a prison grievance. View "Booker v. South Carolina Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, convicted of murder and sentenced to death, sought post-conviction relief in state court under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act (RJA), N.C. Gen. Stat. 15A-2010 to 2012. The state trial court awarded relief under the RJA and reduced petitioners' sentences to life imprisonment. The State appealed and the North Carolina Supreme Court vacated, remanding for additional RJA proceedings. Petitioners filed suit under 28 U.S.C. 2241 in federal court, arguing that a second RJA proceeding would violate their rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The district court abstained from exercising federal jurisdiction pursuant to Younger v. Harris, and alternatively held that petitioners failed to exhaust their state remedies. The court affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by deciding to abstain because the basic requirements for Younger abstention were present in this case and petitioners failed to make a showing of extraordinary circumstances. The court rejected petitioners' claims to the contrary and affirmed the judgment. View "Robinson v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The court issued a certificate of appealability (COA) to allow federal prisoner, Lamar Richard Lee, to challenge the denial of his motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The court held this case in abeyance pending the Supreme Court's decision in Beckles v. United States. In Beckles, the Supreme Court concluded that the Guidelines are not subject to a vagueness challenge under the Due Process Clause. The court explained that, in short, Johnson v. United States' vagueness holding does not apply to the residual clause in USSG 4B1.2(a)(2). In this case, the court concluded that the district court did not err by determining that Lee's unlawful wounding conviction qualified as a crime of violence under the residual clause. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law