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

May 2015 Archives

Citizens of Wake County will be able to go ahead in their challenge to North Carolina's gerrymandered Board of Education election districts, following a ruling by the Fourth Circuit yesterday.

After a regular, time-based redistricting saw the County school board elections swept by a Democratic majority, the state's Republican legislature redrew the voting map, resulting in sizable population differences between districts, each of which elect a single board member. Thirteen Wake County citizens sued, arguing that the gerrymandering violated the principle of "one person, one vote."

The repeated use of a racial slur in an isolated incident can create a hostile work environment, the Fourth Circuit ruled en banc earlier this month. While the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that outlying incidents of discriminatory language or actions often do not create an hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; at the same time, the Court has emphasized that some instances, when sufficiently severe, can alone create such a violation.

The Fourth Circuit is one of the first courts of appeals to find that a single incidents of racially discriminatory language can create be sufficient enough to violate the Civil Rights Act. Further, the court found that employees who report those isolated incidents of harassment are protected from retaliation.

Medieval scholars, or fans of A Confederacy of Dunces, may be familiar with the concept of the rota Fortunae, the wheel of fortune which raises men up to prosperity and rapidly back down again, over and over. Amir Bajoghli should be familiar with the concept, in experience if not in name. A dermatologist, Bajoghli allegedly made millions off healthcare benefit programs -- the wheel spins up towards fortune! -- only to be indicted for fraud -- and down again!

Fate's wheel brought him back to good fortune when a sympathetic judge allowed his motions to exclude much of the evidence against him, two days before trial. It spun back down again this week, when the Fourth Circuit ruled that those exclusions unduly restricted the government's "latitude reasonably necessary" to meet its burden of proof.

4th Cir. Permits Class Certification for Workers at Nucor Plant

The ghost of Wal-Mart v. Dukes rides again in this class action case from the Fourth Circuit. The plaintiffs are black South Carolina steel workers alleging racial discrimination.

At this point in the litigation, the Fourth Circuit wasn't even dealing with the merits of the case. As with Wal-Mart, the operative question is whether the steel workers have formed a coherent class. Unlike the ultimate disposition of Wal-Mart, however, the Fourth Circuit held that the workers at Nucor Steel had formed a class.

Md. AG Files Response in Adnan Syed's Petition for New Trial

After the wild success of the "Serial" podcast, Adnan Syed, convicted in 2000 of the murder of former girlfriend and fellow high school student Hae Min Lee, was granted a new appeal by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Actually, the appeal was in progress before the podcast series began, but interviews conducted by reporters for "Serial" led to the discovery of more evidence on appeal that Syed contends his lawyer should have introduced.

Charles Harris worked on the sixth floor of the Black Bear Preparation Plant which, sadly, was a coal loading facility, not a bear manufacturing facility. One day, Norfolk Southern railroad, owners of the trains and track receiving coal, backed a train along a corroded section of track. The train derailed, with train cars crashing into the Black Bear loading facility's support beams and sending it, and Harris, crashing to the ground.

Harris sued, alleging that Norfolk Southern was, through its negligence, liable for its injuries. While the railroad had failed to inspect the track as required by federal regulations, that failure alone wasn't enough to establish proximate cause as a matter of law, the Fourth Circuit ruled last week.

4th Cir. Upholds Detention of Marine for Facebook Threats

Brandon Raub, a Marine, made some questionable Facebook posts in the summer of 2012. Some of his fellow Marines expressed concern and contacted the FBI. The FBI interviewed Raub, then local police obtained a temporary detention order to hospitalize him against his will. He remained in hospital for seven days.

Raub filed a civil rights complaint, which the district court dismissed due to qualified immunity. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.