Articles Posted in U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Plaintiffs, active and retired Baltimore police officers and firefighters who participate in a public pension plan, challenged the City's decision changing the manner in which annual increases to pension benefits are calculated. Plaintiffs claimed that the substitution of a cost-of-living adjustment for a "variable benefit" violates the members' rights under the Contract Clause and the Takings Clause. The court concluded that the members' rights under the Contract Clause were not impaired because the members retained a state law remedy for breach of contract. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment with respect to the City's elimination of the variable benefit. The court affirmed the district court's decision upholding the remaining portions of the ordinance at issue, and vacated the district court's order dismissing the Takings Clause claim. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Cherry, Jr. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Virginia Code sections 20-45.2 and 20-45.3; the Marshall/Newman Amendment, Va. Const. art. I, 15-A; and any other Virginia law that bars same sex-marriage or prohibits the State's recognition of otherwise-lawful same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions (collectively, the Virginia Marriage Laws). Plaintiffs argued that these laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and enjoined Virginia from enforcing the laws. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that each of the plaintiffs had standing as to at least one defendant, and the court declined to view Baker v. Nelson as binding precedent. The court concluded that strict scrutiny analysis applied in this case where the Virginia Marriage Laws impede the right to marry by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and nullifying the legal import of their out-of-state marriages. Proponents contend that five interests support the laws: federalism-based interests, history and tradition, protecting the institution of marriage, encouraging responsible procreation, and promoting the optimal childrearing environment. The court concluded, however, that these interests are not compelling interests that justify the Virginia Marriage Laws. Therefore, all of the proponents' justifications for the laws fail and the laws cannot survive strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the court concluded that the Virginia Marriage Laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent that they prevent same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples' lawful out-of-state marriages. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Bostic v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a Maryland program subsidizing the participation of a new power plant in the federal wholesale energy market. Maryland's plan was ultimately formalized in the Generation Order. The district court agreed with plaintiffs' contention that the Maryland scheme was preempted under the Federal Power Act's (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 824(b)(1), authorizing provisions, which grant exclusive authority over interstate rates to FERC. The court concluded that the Generation Order is field preempted because it seeks to regulate a field that the FPA has occupied. The court also concluded that the Generation Order is conflict preempted because it conflicts with the auction rates approved by FERC and conflicts with PJM's new entry price adjustment (NEPA). Accordingly, the court held that the Generation Order was preempted under federal law and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "PPL EnergyPlus, LLC v. Nazarian" on Justia Law

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Lavabit, a company that provided encrypted email service, and Ladar Levison, the company's sole and managing member, appealed the district court's order of contempt and imposition of monetary sanctions because Lavabit and Levison failed to comply with the Government's court orders under both the Pen/Trap Statute, 18 U.S.C. 3123-27, and the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701-12, requiring Lavabit to turn over particular information related to a target in a criminal investigation. The court concluded that the district court did not err in finding Lavabit and Levison in contempt once they admittedly violated the order. In view of Lavabit's waiver of its appellate arguments by failing to raise them in the district court, and its failure to raise the issue of fundamental or plain error review, there was no cognizable basis upon which to challenge the order. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Lavabit, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging his arrests for refusing to obey Officer Early's repeated orders to confine his leafleting to the area designated for protest activities outside the First Mariner Arena in Baltimore. The designated protest area was defined by a written policy of the City and the BCPD. The court held that the policy was facially valid under the First Amendment as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. The court found that the district court committed no reversible error as to plaintiff's remaining claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Ross v. Early" on Justia Law

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Relator filed a qui tam action under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729-3733, against Omnicare, alleging that defendants violated a series of FDA safety regulations requiring that penicillin and non-penicillin drugs be packaged in complete isolation from one another. The court concluded that the public disclosure bar did not divest the district court of jurisdiction over relator's FCA claims. The court concluded that once a new drug has been approved by the FDA and thus qualified for reimbursement under the Medicare and Medicaid statutes, the submission of a reimbursement request for that drug could not constitute a "false" claim under the FCA on the sole basis that the drug had been adulterated as a result of having been processed in violation of FDA safety regulations. The court affirmed the district court's grant of Omnicare's motion to dismiss, holding that relator's complaint failed to allege that defendants made a false statement or that they acted with the necessary scienter. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying relator's request to file a third amended complaint. View "United States ex rel. Rostholder v. Omnicare, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against police officers, the County, and the City after officers assaulted them outside of a nightclub. The court affirmed the district court's post-trial determination that plaintiffs' complaint sufficiently stated a cause of action for bystander liability under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In doing so, however, the court vacated and remanded the district court's summary judgment ruling to the opposite effect. The only defendant that the reversal of this issue impacted was Officer Lowery because he was the only defendant against whom the section 1983 count survived dismissal. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Officer Adey on the excessive force and battery counts with respect to all plaintiffs and the grant of summary judgment to Officer Lowery in his alleged role as a principal actor on the section 1983 count with respect to Plaintiffs Howard and Barnett. Because Officer Adey was not liable for either the battery or the excessive force counts as to any of plaintiffs, the County was also not liable under the Maryland constitutional count on the theory of vicarious liability. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying plaintiffs' Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the ruling on summary judgment. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Stevenson v. City of Seat Pleasant, MD" on Justia Law

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After the City initiated a "quick take" proceeding to take the property of Clear Sky Car Wash, Clear Sky filed suit to challenge the City's actions. Clear Sky alleged that the City's conduct violated the mandatory real property acquisition policies set forth in the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (URA), 42 U.S.C. 4651, which were applicable to state agencies when, as here, federal funds were involved. The district court granted the City's motion to dismiss. The court affirmed, concluding that section 4651 did not create enforceable rights. Therefore, Clear Sky lacked any basis for a private action to remedy violations under the URA. Further, 42 U.S.C. 1983 did not give Clear Sky enforceable rights to file suit. The court rejected Clear Sky's argument that it had an Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 551 et seq., claim against the USDOT to require it to enforce the policies of section 4651. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Clear Sky Car Wash LLC v. City of Chesapeake, VA" on Justia Law

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North Carolina's House Bill 289 authorized the state's Division of Motor Vehicles to issue, among other specialty license plates, a "Choose Life" plate. However, this law authorized no pro-choice specialty license plate. North Carolina vehicle owners who wanted a pro-choice specialty plate, along with the ACLU, filed suit challenging the statute. North Carolina argued that it could so discriminate because specialty plate messages constituted pure government speech free from First Amendment viewpoint-neutrality constraints. The court concluded that, because the specialty plate speech at issue implicated private speech rights and was not pure government speech, North Carolina's authorizing a "Choose Life" plate while refusing to authorize a pro-choice plate constituted viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and a permanent injunction in favor of the vehicle owners and the ACLU. View "American Civil Liberties Union v. Tata" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a state prisoner housed at Red Onion State Prison (ROSP), filed suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000 cc et seq., and 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging ROSP's 2010 Ramadan policy. ROSP had devised a new eligibility policy for 2010 where, in addition to signing up to participate in Ramadan, inmates had to provide some physical indicia of Islamic faith. The court vacated the district court's summary judgment order granting defendants qualified immunity on plaintiff's claims for monetary relief where defendants have failed to establish as a matter of law that the 2010 Ramadan policy, as applied to plaintiff, did not violate his First Amendment rights and where their alleged actions violated plaintiff's clearly established rights; vacated the district court's decision that the prison's abandonment of the policy mooted the claims for equitable relief where defendants failed to meet their "heavy burden" of establishing that it was "absolutely clear" that the 2010 Ramadan policy would not be reinstated; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wall v. Wade" on Justia Law