Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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After Anderson complained that a fellow inmate, Rilee, had threatened him, Anderson was moved to another cell block in Virginia’s Gloucester County Jail. Jail personnel did not put Rilee on the jail’s “enemies” list. Two days later, Rilee attacked Anderson in the hall, causing him serious injury. Anderson filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against two deputies, alleging that they acted with deliberate indifference to his health and safety, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments.” The district court instructed the jury that “[d]eliberate indifference is established only if the defendants . . . had actual knowledge of a substantial risk that Anderson would be injured . . . and if the defendants recklessly disregarded that risk by intentionally refusing or failing to take reasonable measures to deal with the risk.” Anderson objected to the inclusion of the word “intentionally.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed a verdict for the defendants, holding that the district court’s instruction adequately and fairly stated the controlling law. Deliberate indifference is the intentional taking of a risk that the defendant knows might cause harm while lacking any intent to cause such harm. View "Anderson v. Kingsley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his in forma pauperis, 42 U.S.C. 1983 action for failure to state a claim and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Plaintiff, an adherent of the Rastafarian faith, challenged the discontinuation of the Rastafarian worship services in prison. The Fourth Circuit held that failure to exhaust plaintiff's administrative remedies was not a proper basis for dismissal and plaintiff's pro se complaint sufficiently alleged that defendants' refusal to allow the group Rastafarian service substantially burdened his religious practices. However, the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's complaint, except to the extent that the district court dismissed as to Chaplain Menhinick for failure to state a claim. In this case, plaintiff failed to allege involvement by Menhinick necessary to impose liability. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Wilcox v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the administrator of detective David E. Abbott's estate under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the search of his person violated his Fourth Amendment right of privacy or, alternatively, his right of substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also brought a claim under 18 U.S.C. 2255(a), alleging that, as a result of the search, he was the victim of manufactured child pornography. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment with respect to the section 1983 claim alleging a Fourth Amendment violation, holding that a reasonable police officer would have known that attempting to obtain a photograph of a minor child's erect penis, by ordering the child to masturbate in the presence of others, would unlawfully invade the child's right of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the remaining claims. View "Sims v. Labowitz" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action alleging that plaintiff's suspension, investigation, and recommendation of dismissal from his job as a high school teacher were in retaliation for his political speech. The court held that the school board was not subject to municipal liability and defendant was unable to present a prima facie case against the remaining defendants. In this case, the school and its administrators were investigating and taking disciplinary action for the legitimately inappropriate behavior to which plaintiff has admitted. View "Penley v. McDowell County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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After Melvin Lawhorn was fatally shot by police, his personal representative filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and various state laws against the county, the sheriff's office, and others. In this case, an officer leaned inside the passenger-side window to grab Lawhorn when Lawhorn successfully shifted the truck into drive and the truck began moving forward. The officer shot Lawhorn. The court affirmed the district court's grant of qualified immunity to defendants, holding that existing law did not clearly establish that an officer leaning into the window of a moving truck violated the Fourth Amendment by using deadly force. The court also affirmed the district court's fee sanction award that was imposed for defendants' discovery misconduct. View "Brown v. Elliot" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was arrested for flying his glider plane over a nuclear plant, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that defendants had violated his civil rights under color of state law, denying him the "freedom of movement, freedom from arrest and detention, and freedom to conduct a lawful activity," in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff also alleged state law claims of false imprisonment, false arrest, negligence, and civil conspiracy. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment, holding that the district court did not err in determining that the release-dismissal agreement was enforceable and thus plaintiff waived his right to sue the Darlington County Sheriff's Office, the Sheriff, and the deputies; that Duke Energy and its vice president were private actors not operating "under color of" state law as required for liability under section 1983; and plaintiff's state law claims were preempted by federal law's exclusive regulation of nuclear safety. View "Cox v. Duke Energy" on Justia Law

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After deputies shot and killed David Hensley outside of his home, plaintiffs filed suit against the deputies in their individual and official capacities under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and North Carolina law. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment to the deputies based on qualified immunity and state defenses. The court held that a jury could conclude that Hensley never raised his gun, never threatened the deputies, and never received a warning command. Under these circumstances, the deputies were not in any immediate danger and were not entitled to shoot Hensley. Therefore, the deputies were not entitled to qualified immunity. In regard to plaintiffs' state law claims, the district court correctly concluded that plaintiffs' assault claim could proceed as a matter of law. Furthermore, the deputies were not entitled to public official immunity under North Carolina law on plaintiffs' negligent infliction of emotional distress claim because they acted contrary to their duty to use deadly force only when reasonably necessary. View "Hensley v. Price" on Justia Law

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A local government violated the Establishment Clause when it displays and maintains on public property a 40-foot tall Latin cross, established in memory of soldiers who died in World War I. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court's judgment and held that the monument has the effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion. The court explained that the Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity. In this case, the cross is 40 feet tall; prominently displayed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Prince George's County, Maryland; and maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds. The court held that the purported war memorial breaches the "wall of separation between Church and State." View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Maryland-National Capital Park" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant fired her for supporting defendant's political rival, and thus violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that, as an Assistant State's Attorney, plaintiff was a policymaker exempt from the First Amendment's protection against patronage dismissals. The court reasoned that to hold otherwise would undermine the public mandate bestowed upon the victor of a hard-fought election and would needlessly interfere with a state official's managerial prerogative. View "Borzilleri v. Mosby" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was arrested for failing to confine his leafleting to an area designated for protest activities, as set forth in a protocol formulated by Baltimore's legal department in 2004, he filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the protocol. The Fourth Circuit addressed a challenge to the same protocol previously, Ross v. Early, 746 F.3d 546 (4th Cir. 2014), where the court affirmed the district court's decision to uphold the protocol. In this case, the district court dismissed the complaint because the court had already considered the constitutional claim in Ross. The court vacated, holding that, in Ross, the parties entered into a stipulation that dictated the level of constitutional scrutiny, but the parties to the instant case did not. Furthermore, the district court in the instant case did not consider an intervening relevant Supreme Court decision, McCullen v. Coakley, 134 S. Ct. 2518 (2014), and did not have the benefit of another, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Lucero v. Early" on Justia Law