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

State Not Liable for Using Film of Sunken Pirate Ship

A federal appeals court rejected a filmmaker's complaint that North Carolina pirated his footage of Blackbeard's sunken ship.

In Allen v. Cooper, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the state was immune from liability for using the film of Queen Anne's Revenge. It ran aground in 1718 near Beaufort, North Carolina, where the plaintiff's crew filmed the underwater wreckage.

The state used some images of the pirate ship for tourism and educational purposes, a fair use under copyright law. Besides, not even Blackbeard's ghost claimed it.

A panel of judges for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the sentencing appeal in a rather controversial case. Lee Boyd Malvo, at the age of 17, participated in the murder of 10 random individuals in Virginia, Maryland and DC in 2002.

Malvo was spared the death penalty, but was sentenced to life without parole. However, after the recent Supreme Court decision holding that sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders required meeting a higher threshold than previously considered, Malvo's case was raised to the federal district courts in both Maryland and Virginia for resentencing.

Court: Civil Rights Case to Proceed Against White Supremacists

James Fields Jr. drove into a crowd in Virginia a year ago, killing one woman and injuring 10 other people protesting a rally of white supremacists.

Heather Heyer died that day, and criminal cases proceeded against Fields. Now a federal judge has ruled Charlottesville plaintiffs may proceed with a civil rights lawsuit against dozens of defendants involved in the violence.

In Sines v. Kessler, the judge said there is enough evidence that the defendants came to the city to "implement and then celebrate racially-motivated violence against African-Americans, Jews, and their supporters."

The prayers of the Rowan County commissioners have not been answered. After losing their appeal before an en banc Fourth Circuit, the county commissioners petitioned the Supreme Court for review. Last week, the High Court rejected the petition. Curiously, a dissent was authored by Justice Thomas and signed on by Justice Gorsuch.

The Fourth Circuit ruled that the county commissioners had favored one religion over others, and found that the big problem was that the commissioners would lead prayers themselves, as opposed to inviting local faith leaders and community members to do so. The High Court did not provide an explanation as to why it rejected the matter, and reviewing Justice Thomas's dissent doesn't provide one either.

Fourth Circuit Nominees Sail Through Judiciary Committee

Being in the right place at the right time does not usually describe a judicial nominee's position before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But it might apply for two nominees to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. and Jay Richardson "breezed" through their Senate hearings.

If not the right place at the right time, it was good place for a short time. The nominees might make it to the bench before the summer break.

Court Revives 'Ag Gag' Lawsuit in North Carolina

For all the attention on North Carolina's ag-gag law, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals saw the challengers' case as straightforward.

They have standing to sue, the appeals court said in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Stein. Basically, the plaintiffs alleged sufficient injury to proceed in their pre-emptive strike against the statute.

PETA and others had sued before the state enforced the law, which was designed to protect businesses from private undercover investigations. In an unpublished decision, the Fourth Circuit said it's enough that the plaintiffs feared the potential penalties.

Court Affirms $150,000 in Sanctions Against Lawyers

A federal appears court affirmed $150,000 in sanctions against three lawyers for egregious behavior in misleading a court.

In Six v. Generations Federal Credit Union, the U.S Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the attorneys' actions formed a "mosaic of half-truths, inconsistencies, mischaracterizations, exaggerations, omissions, evasions and misimpressions created by their own conduct."

The attorneys' conduct evinced "lack of candor," "affirmative misrepresentation," and "disrespect for the judicial process," the appeals panel said. Did we mention "egregious"?

Veterans Appeal Burn Pits Cases Against Military Contractor

If hell is war, then it looks like the smoldering pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And more than 800 American service members are suing a company that dumped tires, batteries, medical waste and other materials into burn pits there and released toxins into the air. The survivors allege the smoke caused stomach illnesses, neurological problems, cancers and other health issues; twelve died.

A trial judge dismissed their cases last year, but their lawyers told the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the war is not over. The question, in some quarters, is whether they have a chance at all.

Judges Knock Permit in Pipeline Controversy

A federal appeals court pushed back construction of an Atlantic Coast pipeline, but that's not stopping the main contractor on the project.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said a permit for the project was inadequate to protect environmental concerns. Plaintiffs' lawyers say all work must stop, but the lead developer is pushing forward.

In the meantime, the appeals court said it will address the particulars of the construction soon. For now, the permit and the order are problems.

Controversial Gas Pipeline Cases Heard by 4th Circuit

The Sierra Club filed two lawsuits to stop a gas pipeline, and they converged in arguments at the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In one case, the club says the 303-mile pipeline will violate the Clean Water Act. In the other, the plaintiff argues that construction will harm forest aminals.

But the arguments flowed together over a basic consequence of river water -- sedimentation.