U.S. Fourth Circuit - FindLaw

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


We have a couple of updates on ongoing Fourth Circuit litigation for you today.

In the Virginia same-sex marriage battle, oral arguments have been extended to an hour, rather than the typical 30 minutes, to account for the intervening parties.

And last week, the Fourth Circuit denied relief to Lavabit, the private email service that was held in contempt for failing to comply with a court order. The secure email service chose to shut down rather than comply with an order that would have violated its users' privacy. Then the company turned its eyes toward the courts, hoping that the Fourth Circuit would nix the order. Unfortunately, procedural gaffes doomed the company's claims.

What do you think of when you hear the name GM? If you've been watching news, you're thinking faulty ignition switches and rolling death traps, even though only thirty-four cars, out of millions recalled, have actually crashed as a result of recalled switches.

Of course, that defect is real. In the case of Company Doe, the report of an allegedly unsafe product, which was linked to a child's death, was labeled "materially inaccurate" by a Maryland federal judge in 2012. He then sealed the case files, hoping to avoid unfairly damaging the company's reputation by releasing the report.

Noble intentions, but with constitutional implications, it seems. The Fourth Circuit yesterday reversed the trial court's ruling and ordered all case files unsealed and unredacted, though likely appeals mean that the public won't hear much about Company Doe or the allegedly defective product any time soon.

Last week, we reported that a parallel challenge to Virginia's gay marriage ban was being put on hold pending the Fourth Circuit's decision in Bostic v. Schaefer. The Bostic case was the first to be decided, and once the Fourth Circuit issues a ruling, will bind the rest of the state, as well as the rest of the circuit.

It's unsurprising news, then, that a district court in North Carolina appears to be holding a challenge to that state's barely three-year-old ban on gay marriage until after the Fourth Circuit rules. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, is suing to speed up the process, arguing that their clients' health issues make urgency a must.

Parallel challenges to Virginia's ban on gay marriage have, for all practical purposes, been consolidated, with Bostic v. Schaefer being the caption to watch over the next few months.

The last time we checked in on Virginia's same-sex marriage battle, the parties from a pending distirct court case, Harris v. Rainey, were seeking to intervene in the Bostic case, over the objections of the plaintiffs in that case. The request was granted, and the Harris plaintiffs will have their day at the Fourth Circuit a bit earlier than expected.

That also means that their day in district court will be delayed, per an order from Judge Michael Urbanski of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Meantime, the briefing in the Bostic case has already begun, with two county clerks submitting their opening briefs in defense of Virginia's law.

Hiring freeze? Budget crunch?

Hah! It seems that budget deal that ended the shutdown, and alleviated the effects of sequestration on the courts, has freed up some funds for a few staff positions at the Fourth Circuit. The Court of Appeals is looking for two librarians familiar with digital and electronic resources, and for an experienced attorney to lead the Office of Staff Counsel.

Sound intriguing? Read on for the official job descriptions, and click the links for the full vacancy announcements, including duties and required qualifications:

Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife's indictment was good reading, but the hilarity didn't stop with the initial pleadings. Thanks to a recent spate of filings, some with little to no basis in existing laws, the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge James Spencer, asked the prosecutors and defense attorneys to limit their filings "for the sanctity of the trees."

Judge Spencer also dismissed McDonell's request to allow a related civil case to move forward, in hopes that evidence favorable to the defense would emerge, stating that the defense was "dancing through fantasyland," reports The Washington Post.

Stay tuned folks. This is probably going to be one heck of a show.

Massey Mine Explosion: Gary May Asks 4th Cir. to Vacate Sentence

You may recall Gary May, the former Upper Big Branch mine superintendent sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for hindering U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigations into the massive Massey mine explosion back in 2010 that killed 29 miners.

He is now asking the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate his sentence. He wouldn't be the first Upper Big Branch exec to turn to the Fourth Circuit.

But what is he claiming?

As predicted late last year, Judge Andre Davis, after only a few years on the Fourth Circuit, took senior status as of February 28, 2014. He was eligible for the semi-retired status due to his prior service on the district court bench for nearly two decades.

His move to senior status opens up an extra seat on the bench, which due to tradition, must be filled with a Maryland appointee. Meanwhile, as a senior judge, he'll still hear cases. Think of this arrangement in baseball terms -- he's a pinch hitter when the docket is full. (For more on the Rule of 80 and what senior status really means, see our post from last year.)

While a combined expedited appeal is pending in the Tenth Circuit regarding Oklahoma and Utah's bans on gay marriage, the Fourth Circuit will be looking over opening briefs and the combined appendix. The briefing schedule for the appeal is out, and briefing will occur through April and May, with no hearing yet scheduled.

Meantime, Lambda Legal and a class action lawsuit challenging Virginia's gay marriage ban is also pushing its way thorough the lower court. Attorneys for the class are seeking to intervene in the present set of consolidated cases, as the outcome of the present case -- which involves four plaintiffs -- could bind the entire class of more than 14,000 same-sex couples.

Last week's decision, holding Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage to be undeclarationable unconstitutional, got a lot of attention, and rightfully so -- it was the first of its kind in the South, and followed similar decisions in two conservative Tenth Circuit states. But Virginia's battle isn't the only pending gay marriage litigation pending in the Fourth Circuit.

We've already talked abut West Virginia's lawsuit, which is in the early stages and is still gathering plaintiffs, but there are also parties challenging North and South Carolinas' bans. This raises an interesting question: how will the Virginia decision impact its fellow Fourth Circuit states?