U.S. Fourth Circuit - FindLaw

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


In determining the constitutionality of President Trump's travel ban executive order, courts shouldn't look back to Trump's statements as a candidate, the Department of Justice says. District courts in Maryland and Hawaii blocked Trump's newest travel ban two weeks ago, finding it to be likely unconstitutional. Both judges relied significantly on the president's public statements when doing so.

In a brief filed with the Fourth Circuit last Friday, the DOJ argues that the travel ban does not discriminate on the basis of religion, despite Trump's calls for a "Muslim ban" during his presidential campaign. Considering such statements would be impermissible "second-guessing" of the president's stated purpose, the brief argues.

Game of War is one of the most popular, most addicting games this side of Farmville. A "freemium" mobile game, Game of War allows you to build a pixilated empire, constructing cities, building armies, raiding neighbors.

But it was also an unlawful "gaming device," according to one putative class action. The game allows users to spin a virtual wheel for virtual prizes in a virtual casino. That feature, the suit alleged, violated Maryland gambling laws. But the suit was recently tossed by the Fourth Circuit, which found that the plaintiff hadn't lost money playing the game, and thus had nothing to recover.

Probationer Waived Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege in Sex Offender Treatment

A federal appeals court ruled that a Virginia man waived the psychotherapist-patient privilege in a sex offender treatment program when he agreed to probation.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals also said the defendant voluntarily made statements in the program that waived his privilege against self-incrimination in the case, United States of America v. Lara. The appeals court affirmed rulings by a trial judge, who concluded Juan Elias Lara waived his privileges when he chose to participate in the program as part of his probation.

"Based on the record before us, we conclude that Lara knowingly agreed to disclosure of his treatment records when he signed the form in the state court proceedings acknowledging the terms of his supervised probation," Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote for the unanimous panel.

The Supreme Court this morning vacated and remanded a Fourth Circuit ruling in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender Virginia student who had sought to use the boy's room at his high school. The Fourth ruled last April that courts must defer to Department of Education guidance on the issue, guidance that interpreted Title IX as requiring transgender students to be treated in accordance to their gender identity, even when it came to bathrooms.

But the Trump administration has since rescinded that guidance, leading the Supreme Court to toss the Fourth's ruling and send the issue back to the lower courts.

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.