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

Recently in Civil Rights Law Category

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard oral arguments in Loudoun County (Virginia) Chair Phyllis Randall's request to overturn the federal district court's ruling that her blocking constituent Brian Davison violated the First Amendment.

The case, like others that have been recently decided, raises many questions about whether and when social media becomes a public forum, and what limits government officials have when it comes to censoring constituents and others on various social media platforms.

Discrimination Suit Revived Against Mobile Home Park

A federal appeals court opened the door for Latino residents to sue their mobile home park for requiring them to prove they are legal residents.

In Reyes v. Waples Mobile Home Park, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged the park discriminated against Latinos. The appeals panel vacated a trial court decision to dismiss the case.

However, the battle is far from over. It's not quite an episode of "Trailer Park Wars," but there was a strong dissent.

When former Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner retired to pursue a higher calling of assisting pro se litigants, we all knew some judges would fear the Poz's larger-than-life persona. But the Fourth Circuit, as Above the Law suggests, seems to have just tucked its tail between its legs and scurried off, after eating Posner's steak dinner.

Not only did the panel of judges reject Posner's appeal, which on its face, seems to have quite a bit of merit, they did so rather cursorily, and without even hearing oral argument.

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.

Teenager's Privacy Rights Search Warrant Case Goes Back to Court

There is no happy ending to this story, but someday Trey Sims may find closure to his disturbing case.

In 2014, police forced the then-teenager to masturbate in front of them ostensibly as part of an alleged sex crime investigation. The boy had texted sexually explicit photos and video of himself to his 15-year-old girlfriend, and they wanted to see if his penis matched the photos.

Sims served probation, then sued the police for violating his privacy. Before his case got to trial, however, the lead detective committed suicide as police came to arrest him for molesting two other boys.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the Baltimore law targeting pregnancy centers. The law required these centers to post clear notices in their waiting rooms stating that actual abortion services, and referrals to abortion services, are not provided there.

In striking down the law, the appellate court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the government failed to show any actual harm resulted from delays allegedly caused by the pregnancy centers' allegedly deceptive advertising.

Despite the fact that a ruling on similar sets of facts is expected in the coming months from SCOTUS, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina's congressional voting map had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered by the state's Republican lawmakers. In issuing the ruling in the two consolidated cases, Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters v. Rucho, the court gave the state legislature a few weeks to fix it, lest the court step in to do so.

The appellate court found, in a nearly 200 page decision, that there was an attempt to "subordinate the interests of non-Republican voters and entrench Republican domination" via the gerrymandering. Additionally, the opinion notes that the state's Republicans were "motivated by invidious partisan intent" when redrawing the state's congressional map. Clearly, the court used some strong words to suggest that partisan gerrymandering can quickly cross lines.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to lift the preliminary injunction blocking President Trump's Executive Order seeking to prohibit transgender individuals from serving in the military. The Stone v. Trump matter is one of a few cases the administration is fighting out over the hastily demanded ban on transgender individuals in the military.

Back in November, a Maryland federal district court granted challengers of President Trump's anti-Transgender proclamation a preliminary injunction to block the executive order from going into effect until the litigation concluded. Similarly to the anti-Muslim travel bans that President Trump struggled with, every court to touch the transgender military ban has blocked it.

In the case of Sims v. Labowitz, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently overturned the lower court's dismissal of the Fourth Amendment 42 USC 1983 claim against the now deceased officer, David Abbott. However, several other claims that were also dismissed, including one against the prosecutor, were left undisturbed or unchallenged.

Qualified immunity is one of the strongest protections police officers have to defend themselves from alleged constitutional violations they commit. But when obvious lines are crossed, even the dead can be made to stand trial. The facts of this case are rather disturbing, but do provide a clear example of when an officer should absolutely know what an obvious constitutional violation looks like.