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

February 2014 Archives

Brief Schedule Set for Va. Gay Marriage Appeal; Intervention Sought

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.

SSM Litigation: Carolinas and the Effect of the Virginia Opinion

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?

Law Students Win Ramadan Prison Diet Appeal

Gary Wall is an inmate housed at Red Onion State Prison (ROSP) in Pound, Virginia. As a member of the Nation of Islam, he observed Ramadan in 2008 and 2009. Prison officials provide special meals to accommodate Muslims' sunrise-to-sunset fasting.

After half the prison population signed up for Ramadan in 2009, the prison adopted a special policy requiring those wishing to participate to prove the sincerity of their beliefs by providing physical evidence, such as a Quran, a prayer rug, or some other physical article of faith. Unfortunately for Wall, the Virginia Department of Corrections had lost all of his belongings when he was transferred to ROSP.

Despite producing a court judgment as proof of the lost items, documents showing that he was receiving religion-compliant meals throughout the year, and proof of his past participation in Ramadan, the prison refused to add him to the list.

5 Takeaways From Virginia's Same-Sex Marriage Decision

Last night, I got a tweet. And another. And another. It seemed that a judge in Virginia decided to give same-sex marriage advocates an early Valentine's Day present.

And so, in an eloquently-worded opinion, another state's ban on gay marriage falls. Here are five takeaways from another landmark case:

North Carolina Loses 'Choose Life' License Plate Speech Dispute

You may have heard about the rash of "Choose Life" license plate disputes clogging up the dockets in courts across this fine nation. States pass laws that allow special interest groups to have vanity plates created with their logo, charge a premium to drivers who wish to display the message, and split the revenue.

And then someone wants to say something that the majority doesn't like. In Virginia, it was a battle over a censored Confederate Flag logo. In South Carolina, it was a "Choose Life" plate, with no pro choice counterpart. Ditto for North Carolina, which made a bunch of unconvincing arguments that flopped in the face of binding circuit precedent, as well as the near-universal "Choose Life" opinions of other circuit courts.

Wolfe Asks SCOTUS to Bar Re-Prosecution Due to Misconduct

This is definitely one of the most egregious cases of prosecutorial misconduct that you'll ever see.

We last saw former death row inmate Justin Wolfe in May 2013, when the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's order preventing the state from re-prosecuting Wolfe for a murder-for-hire. The district court's order came after Brady violations in the original trial, a defied habeas judgment that ordered the state to retry or release Wolf within 120 days, and a wee bit of witness intimidation.

The Fourth Circuit, while sympathetic, held that federal district courts lack the power to bar state courts from re-prosecuting. Wolfe is hoping that the Supreme Court feels differently.

Fourth Circuit Reads FDCPA's Plain Text, Joins Circuit Split

Do consumers have to dispute debts in writing in order to avail themselves of the protections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)?

The Second, Ninth, and now Fourth Circuits all agree: the plain text of the FDCPA, even when the result is a wee bit odd, controls. Oral is okay, but written brings more protection. And then, there's the Third Circuit, which is willing to read things into the text that aren't there, for the sake of making the statute make sense.

What's got the circuits split? It's a question we see all too often: sloppy statutory drafting or intended as written?