U.S. Fourth Circuit - FindLaw

U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


An en banc Fourth Circuit upheld Maryland's 2013 Firearm Safety Act on Tuesday. That law, passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that left 20 first graders dead, banned assault weapons and high capacity magazines -- the very type of weapons common in mass shootings.

But the Fourth didn't just rule that the law withstood scrutiny under the Second Amendment. It ruled that the targeted weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment at all.

Ford Design Defect Verdict Overturned

Reversing a $3 million verdict for a driver who was injured when his car's accelerator jammed and smashed into a brick wall, a federal appeals court said the plaintiff's expert was not qualified to testify about the accelerator.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the expert should not have been allowed to testify because he had not published or given scholarly support for his opinion. The appellate panel said the trial judge had "abandoned his gatekeeping duties" and should have excluded the expert's testimony.

"The fact that an expert witness was 'subject to a thorough and extensive examination' does not ensure the reliability of the expert's testimony; such testimony must still be assessed before it is presented to the jury," the court said.

The Fourth Circuit ruled on Monday, in an en banc decision, that police are justified in frisking individuals with concealed firearms, regardless of whether that individual could have a concealed carry permit or not. The fact that someone may have a concealed carry permit does not make it unreasonable for an officer to search them, "for the officer's protection and the safety of everyone at the scene," the Fourth ruled.

The decision, U.S. v. Robinson, is in tension with a Sixth Circuit opinion from 2015 and could result in the Supreme Court taking up this developing circuit split.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday acted to stay an order that would have required North Carolina to redraw its state legislative districts by March 15th and hold special elections in the fall. That order, issued by a three-judge federal district court in November, came after the panel found that the state's legislative districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

But that's not the only North Carolina redistricting issue before the Court right now. Just a few weeks earlier, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case challenging two federal districts that have been described by a district court as a "textbook example of racial gerrymandering."

Free Police Speech on Facebook

Cops are Facebook people, too. And according to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, police have a right to gripe about their jobs on Facebook and elsewhere. There are concerns, of course.

"We do not deny that officers' social media use might present some potential for division within the ranks, particularly given the broad audience on Facebook," the court said. "But the speculative ills targeted by the social networking policy are not sufficient to justify such sweeping restrictions on officers' freedom to debate matters of public concern."

In other words, sergeant, step away from the Facebook.

A prosecutor's reliance on 'racially coded references' during sentencing entitled a South Carolina death row inmate to a new sentencing trial, the Fourth Circuit ruled on Monday. The prosecutor's comments during sentencing, including likening the defendant to King Kong and calling him "caveman" and "beast," so imbued the proceedings with racial bias that the defendant was denied a fair proceeding, the Fourth found.

The Fourth's decision upholds a district court ruling tossing the sentencing of Johnny Bennett for murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery, highlighting the way indirect racist appeals can undermine the legal process.

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North Carolina Vows to Appeal Voter ID Ruling -- Without AG Cooper

North Carolina is going to appeal the last week's predictable ruling that overturned the state's photo ID law, and it's going at it alone without its attorney general.

Yes, it's dissent within the ranks. North Carolina AG Roy Cooper has said that the state tried its hardest to defend the controversial photo ID law -- but it lost. Now his involvement in the suit has come to an end. Governor Pat McCrory almost immediately denounced Cooper (who will challenge him for his position in November) by painting the latter as a turncoat.

The Fourth Circuit overturned North Carolina's voter identification law this morning -- and it didn't pull any punches in doing so. In a blistering, strongly-worded opinion, the court found that the North Carolina legislature enacted the voter ID requirement and ended same-day voter registration and preregistration "with discriminatory intent."

It apparently didn't take the Fourth Circuit too long to reach these conclusions, either. The ruling comes just three months after a federal district court upheld the voting law and little over a month following oral arguments.

Insurance Won't Cover Injury Due to 'Playing Around' With Gun

In a decision that probably won't surprise many, the Fourth Circuit found that an employer-insurer was under no duty to indemnify a gunshot wound to a third party after the employee "play[ed] around" with his gun. The decision is important because it gives a little bit more clarity to both employers and employees as to what actions are covered under the "work related" language of insurance policies.

Practitioners should note, however, that the ruling is unpublished and does not yet have precedential effect. Nonetheless, the cases cited within appear to be strong and good law for those within the Fourth Circuit. And it appears that shooting your friend in your apartment is not work related.