U.S. Fourth Circuit - FindLaw

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


Dianne Russell owned $501 for an unpaid hospital debt. The hospital sicced Absolute Debt Collection Services on her. They sent a threatening letter. She paid the hospital directly. ADC continued to bug her, even after she told them about her payment to the hospital.

She, predictably, sued under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as well as state law. ADC argued that the FDCPA didn't apply, as she never disputed the debt under § 1692g.

The problem is, § 1692g (debt validation) is an optional tool for debtors, not a prerequisite to protection against abusive debt collection practices.

The circus that is the McDonnell Corruption Trial continued on Monday, this time with former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on the stand facing intense cross-examination by both the government and his co-defendant wife's counsel.

After Bob McDonnell spent days last week testifying as his own star witness, telling jurors that he couldn't have conspired with his wife because their marriage was estranged, that his wife was on medication for her frequent emotional outbursts, and that she was the one who sought out gifts from Jonnie Williams without his knowledge, the cross-examination, which could last for days, commenced.

One thing was clear after the first day of cross-examination: Bob McDonnell, the former prosecutor and state attorney general, was ready. "I've been preparing every day since you indicted me," he testified on the stand.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in United States v. Jones that GPS tracking of a suspect's car amounted to a search under the Fourth Amendment. Before that decision, however, the law was unclear at best (and may have even supported the notion that GPS tracking wasn't a search). That's the point of today's Fourth Circuit, Fourth Amendment opinion: The exclusionary rule won't bar evidence obtained through a search that was performed by an officer who was relying on binding precedent.

Binding? Sort of. There was a lot of case law stating that these weren't searches, all of which pointed to a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case that dealt with beepers -- the predecessor to the modern GPS tracker. Judge Stephanie Thacker, in dissent, argued that the precedent wasn't binding, and that officers shouldn't rush to use emerging technology without first seeking legal guidance.

There may not be another court to turn to for relief, but two-time Pulitzer Prize winner James Risen still won't back down in a fight to force him to turn over his confidential sources for his 2006 book, "State of War," which contained confidential CIA secrets regarding Iran's nuclear program.

The Fourth Circuit ruled against Risen last year, holding that Branzburg v. Hayes controlled and that there was no reporter's privilege that would keep a reporter off the stand during grand jury proceedings. It was a terrible outcome for press freedom, but as we noted before, it was a precedent required by precedent: The Supreme Court stated in Branzburg it could not "seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects a newsman's agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof ..."

Only the Supreme Court could have changed that precedent, and it declined to take the case earlier this year. Legally, the battle ended there, but Risen, and his supporters, are still not backing down.

The big news of the week in the Mid-Atlantic region is that the Fourth Circuit has declined to issue a stay pending appeal in Bostic, the same-sex marriage case out of Virginia. For those who were comatose over the past few weeks, a three-judge panel ruled against the state's ban on gay marriages.

The county clerks who are defending the law have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court and want the panel's decision put on hold pending that appeal. Even Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who declined to defend the law, asked for a stay, as even a brief period of legalized gay marriage, as we saw in Utah, leads to confusion regarding the status of those marriages and the extension of benefits to same-sex spouses.

The high-powered world of international espionage can lead to laser beams, women who can kill you with their thighs, and henchmen with metal teeth.

Or it can lead you to the Fourth Circuit Court Appeals, arguing over jurisdiction. Albert R. Broccoli presents ... "Dual Proceedings."

The Bob and Maureen McDonnell indictment was fun reading, but so far, the trial is even more entertaining. Why? A novel defense theory. A passed-up plea bargain. And a major public spectacle that could last for weeks.

So goes the trial of the former Virginia governor and his wife, accused of taking gifts from Johnnie Williams, a nutritional supplement manufacturer, in exchange for favors and "official acts."

Here are three of the highlights, so far:

The Bostic same-sex marriage decision was huge, and not just for Virginians. All across the Fourth Circuit, cases were on hold pending the resolution of that case. And now, with a decision in, states are reacting differently, with some promising to fight on and others declining to fight what they see as a losing battle.

And even in Virginia itself, the decision isn't completely final. Local county clerks, who are defending the state's ban, are pressing forward with their defense of the ban, adding another gay marriage case to the U.S. Supreme Court's cert. pool.

It was barely a few months' time before a nominee was put forward to fill Senior Judge Andre Davis' seat. At the time, we were shocked; considering the number of vacancies nationwide, some of which were many years old, a vacancy being filled this quickly was basically a modern miracle.

Pamela Harris was the nominee. And only a few months later, she is now confirmed. Welcome to the Fourth Circuit, Judge Harris!

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Gay marriage is now 24-0, undefeated in courts since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Windsor barely more than a year ago. The Fourth Circuit, applying strict scrutiny, held today that none of Virginia's arguments could justify discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples.

"We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws," Judge Henry Floyd wrote for the majority of the Fourth Circuit panel in Bostic v. Schaefer.

"The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance."

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