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

Court Splits on Government Prayer Debate

You may govern or you may pray, but not both at the same time.

That's about as much direction as the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals gave on government prayers in Rowan County, North Carolina. In Voelker v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the appeals court said county commissioners violated the Constitution by giving prayers and inviting audiences to join in.

On the other hand, the judges acknowledged the "more inclusive, ministered-oriented practice" was legal.

Circuit Court Affirms Immunity in False Arrest

Jan Eshow was driving his family along a Virginia road when police pulled him over for speeding.

Moments later, the police arrested Eshow on a warrant from a fraud case that had been filed against him. They handcuffed the man, placed him in the cop car and drove off while his family watched. It got even worse for his wife, Sadwa Safar.

The problem was, the fraud charges were not true. Safar and Eshow sued the officer and a prosecutor, but a federal appeals court said in Safar v. Tingle that they were immune from civil liability.

Wikimedia Wins Round Against NSA

Wikimedia may continue its case against the National Security Agency for allegedly spying on users' internet communications, a federal appeals court said.

Reversing a trial court decision in Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the non-profit organization has standing to sue the agency for violating Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful searches. The court rejected the government's argument that Wikimedia's claims were speculative and said the foundation had alleged enough damages.

"[T]here's nothing speculative about it -- the interception of Wikimedia's communications is an actual injury that has already occurred," Judge Albert Diaz wrote.

4th Circuit Rules Against Trump's 2nd Travel Ban

A federal appeals court rebuked President Trump's latest travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries, saying the executive order "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination."

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the First Amendment forbids government from establishing "any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another." In ruling on International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, the appeals court affirmed a federal judge's issuance of a nationwide preliminary injunction against the controversial executive order.

"Congress granted the President with broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute," Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the divided court. "It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the President wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across the nation."

Court: Anti-Gay Attacks Not Hate Crimes

The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that anti-gay attacks are not hate crimes under state law.

Affirming a lower court decision, the high court said the legislature did not include "sexual orientation" in defining people protected from hate crimes. In a 3-2 decision, the judges said the court would not re-write the definition of "sex" in the West Virginia Code.

"Through application of the presumption that the Legislature said in West Virginia Code § 61-6-21(b) what it meant and meant what it said, and based upon the common and plain meaning of the word 'sex,' as well as the Legislature's clear intent, we are left with the ineluctable conclusion that the word 'sex' does not include 'sexual orientation'," Chief Justice Allen Loughry II wrote in State of West Virginia v. Butler.

No Failure to Warn of Transvaginal Mesh Danger, 4th Circuit Rules

A federal appeals court affirmed a summary judgment against a woman who sued a manufacturer for failure to warn about the dangers of a transvaginal mesh implant.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said Martha Carlson provided no evidence that she or her doctor knew of the manufacturer's allegedly inadequate warning about the mesh. In Carlson v. Boston Scientific Corporation, the court said she did not even prove the doctor would have read it.

"Appellant woefully failed to meet her burden of production in opposition to summary judgment to establish a triable issue of fact as to proximate cause," the court said.

Trump Lawyers Try to Save 2nd Travel Ban

If politics and religion have anything to do with President Trump's travel ban, then his lawyers were facing a hostile crowd at the en banc panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nine of the 12 justices hearing the case are Democrats. Two Republican appointees recused themselves. That left only three from the president's party in the courtroom, not including his lawyers.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall did not get far in the argument before U.S. Circuit Judge Robert King jumped in. The judge challenged the government's position that Trump's anti-Muslim statements had nothing to do with the travel ban.

"That's the most important issue in the whole case," King said, making it clear that the president's campaign statements could doom his travel ban on people coming from six Muslim countries.

Deported Witness Didn't Matter in Green Card Sting and Conviction

A federal appeals court refused to set aside the convictions of a Chinese man who blamed the government for deporting his main witness in a green card sting.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal said the jury had enough evidence to convict him even though his witness hadn't testified. Moreover, the court said Kaixiang Zhu was responsible for his own predicament in United States of America v. Zhu.

"Indeed, Zhu is in this particular fix because of his own decision to flee arrest and live as a fugitive in another part of the country for more than two years," the court said in the per curiam opinion. "We doubt the government is required to keep a removable alien in the country indefinitely on the off chance that a fugitive from justice is discovered in the distant future and needs the alien as a trial witness."

President Trump's revised travel ban was blocked by federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii less than a month ago, when both courts ruled that the executive order, which halted travel and immigration from six majority-Muslim nations, likely violated the Establishment Clause.

Now, the Fourth Circuit has agreed to hear the initial appeal from the Maryland court's ruling en banc, bypassing the typical three-judge panel altogether.

Gavin Grimm just wanted to use the bathroom, but he ended up become the face of transgender civil rights. Grimm, a transgender student in Virginia, sued his school board after it refused to allow him to use the bathroom that matched his gender identity. He won a landmark victory in the Fourth Circuit and was on his way to the Supreme Court when the Trump administration repealed protections for students like Grimm, essentially ending his case.

Now Grimm's legal battle (and his high school years) are winding down. But even though his lawsuit didn't result in a conclusive victory, Grimm remains a civil rights hero, according to judges on the Fourth Circuit.