Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant in an action brought by plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a malicious prosecution claim. In this case, defendant arrested plaintiff and charged him with congregating on the sidewalk in violation of the City Code of Columbia, South Carolina. Defendant voluntarily dropped the charge over three years later. Plaintiff alleged that defendant arrested him without probable cause and ultimately dismissed the case because plaintiff was innocent.The court held that there is a genuine dispute of material fact concerning the termination of criminal proceedings against plaintiff. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court held that plaintiff has presented testimony that conflicts with defendant's explanation, as well as corroborating circumstantial evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that the nolle prosse was consistent with plaintiff's innocence. Therefore, in light of the evidence and the fact that the district court cannot weigh credibility at this stage, summary judgment was not appropriate. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Salley v. Myers" on Justia Law

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The Immigration and Nationality Act states that any alien who is “likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible,” 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(A) but has never defined “public charge.” The Department of Homeland Security sought to define “public charge,” via rulemaking, as an alien who was likely to receive certain public benefits, including many cash and noncash benefits, for more than 12 months in the aggregate over any 36-month period. The district court enjoined that Rule nationwide.The Fourth Circuit reversed. Invalidating the Rule “would visit palpable harm upon the Constitution’s structure and the circumscribed function of the federal courts that document prescribes” and would entail the disregard of the statute's plain text. The Constitution commands “special judicial deference” to the political branches in light of the intricacies and sensitivities inherent in immigration policy. Congress has charged the executive with defining and implementing a purposefully ambiguous term and has resisted giving the term the definite meaning that the plaintiffs seek. The court noted that, in cases addressing the identical issue, the Supreme Court granted the government’s emergency request to stay the preliminary injunctions, an action which would have been improbable if not impossible had the government, as the stay applicant, not made “a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits.” View "Casa De Maryland, Inc. v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the State Defendants, challenging the constitutionality of Maryland's handgun licensing law, which is part of the Maryland Firearm Safety Act of 2013 (FSA), for violating their Second Amendment rights. Plaintiffs also challenged other FSA regulations as vague and ambiguous in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment and separately attacked certain FSA regulations as ultra vires under Maryland law. The district court granted summary judgment to the State Defendants based on plaintiffs' lack of Article III standing.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in holding that Atlantic Guns lacks both independent and third-party standing to bring a Second Amendment claim. In this case, the district court erroneously weighed the evidence by focusing on the extent of the economic injury as opposed to the existence of one; Atlantic Guns' owner and presidents' uncontroverted testimony and declaration, as well as the pertinent Maryland State Police records and Atlantic Guns' year-over-year sales records, are sufficient to establish an injury in fact for purposes of Article III standing; Atlantic Guns' injuries are fairly traceable to the challenged statute; and the injuries are likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Furthermore, Atlantic Guns has standing to challenge the statute on behalf of potential customers like the Individual Plaintiffs and other similarly situated persons.The court also held that, because standing for one party on a given claim is sufficient to allow a case to proceed in its entirety on that issue, the court need not reach the question of whether the Individual Plaintiffs and MSI have standing to bring their Second Amendment claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Hogan" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals challenging the dismissal of petitioner's three habeas petitions, the Eleventh Circuit held that petitioner adequately alleged that his due process rights were violated by (1) inadequate notice of the basis for revoking his suspended sentence, (2) undue delay in seeking revocation based on the violation, and (3) incarceration when he was previously adjudged not guilty by reason of insanity and civilly committed to receive treatment in a mental health hospital. Accordingly, the court vacated the dismissals and remanded with instructions to the district court to consider the merits of petitioner's due process and ineffective assistance of counsel claims. View "Farabee v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of state officials on petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition for writ of habeas corpus. The court held that the state postconviction court reasonably denied petitioner's exhausted Strickland claims on the grounds that capital sentencing counsel thoroughly investigated and presented his available evidence in mitigation, and did not neglect a viable Confrontation Clause objection to his disciplinary record. The court also held that the district court properly denied petitioner's Strickland claim as insubstantial under Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012). View "Owens v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action challenging the "winner-take-all" aspect of South Carolina's process for appointing its nine Electors to the Electoral College.After determining that it has subject matter jurisdiction to address the merits of the appeal, the court held that the winner-take-all process does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because it does not treat any particular group of voters in the State differently; the winner-take-all process does not violate plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it does not burden plaintiffs' right to freedom of association; and the winner-take-all process does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In this case, while plaintiffs allege that Black voters in South Carolina are a minority group sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district, the court stated that they fail to address what this means in the context of a statewide election. View "Baten v. McMaster" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an inmate in custody of the VDOC, filed suit pro se alleging that the Director of the VDOC and three other VDOC officials violated his rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fourteenth Amendment when they did not allow him to resume his job after a short hospitalization.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's ADA claims for damages against the defendants in their official capacities, and in dismissing plaintiff's ADA and equal protection claims for injunctive relief against the Director in his official capacity. The court held that plaintiff's ADA and 42 U.S.C. 1983 equal protection claims were timely filed; plaintiff plausibly alleged a violation of Title II and an equal protection claim; and defendants are not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity at this juncture. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of these claims. The court otherwise affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Fauconier v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit for damages against federal officers, invoking the implied cause of action recognized in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The district court denied the officers' motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity.The Fourth Circuit held, contrary to the officers' suggestion, that the court's well-established forfeiture rules govern here, and those rules do not allow the officers to raise before the court a Bivens-related claim they never pressed in the district court. The court dismissed the portion of the officers' appeal contending that the district court misconstrued the record evidence, because, during this interlocutory posture, the court's jurisdiction is limited to issues of law and does not permit review of the district court's assessment of the factual record. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and dismissed in part the district court's order. View "Hicks v. Ferreyra" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against various correctional officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a violation of his procedural due process rights. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from the four years that he spent in solitary confinement in prison. The district court granted summary judgment to the officials on the ground that plaintiff had failed to establish a protected liberty interest.The Fourth Circuit vacated and held that plaintiff has presented evidence demonstrating that his confinement conditions were severe in comparison to those that exist in general population and that his segregation status may have had collateral consequences relating to the length of his sentence. Furthermore, although the duration of plaintiff's segregated confinement is not as long as the substantial periods of segregated confinement that this court has found sufficient to support a protected liberty interest in the past, prisoners need not languish in solitary confinement for decades on end in order to possess a cognizable liberty interest under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In this case, the four-plus years that plaintiff spent in administrative segregation is significant enough to tip the scales in his favor, particularly in light of the other evidence of indefiniteness that he relies upon in this case. Therefore, the court held that there is at least a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether plaintiff's conditions of confinement imposed a significant and atypical hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Smith v. Collins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two unaffiliated candidates and one voter seeking to cast votes for write-in candidates, filed suit alleging that North Carolina's qualification requirements for candidates not affiliated with a political party and for candidates whose names are not printed on the ballot violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the requirement that an unaffiliated candidate be a "qualified voter" and that a write-in candidate submit a certain number of signatures before votes cast for that write-in candidate will be counted. Furthermore, although two plaintiffs have standing to challenge North Carolina's signature requirements and filing deadline for unaffiliated candidates, the court agreed with the district court that these election laws impose only a modest burden that is justified by the state's interest in regulating elections. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims, relying in part on different reasons than those expressed by the district court. View "Buscemi v. Bell" on Justia Law