Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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North Carolina filed suit in state court seeking recovery of an unpaid civil penalty against the Marine Corps for failing an air quality compliance test. After the federal government defendants removed to federal court, the district court dismissed the case.The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the Clean Air Act does not preclude removal but does waive sovereign immunity as to the penalty at issue here. The court concluded that the United States properly removed this suit under the federal officer removal statute and rejected North Carolina's contention that the Clean Air Act's state suit provision, 42 U.S.C. 7604(e), implicitly carves out a narrow exception to removal that precludes federal adjudication of this federal immunity defense. Rather, these two statutes are capable of coexistence and, contrary to North Carolina's argument, section 7604(e) does not require actions brought in state court to remain there. The court also concluded that the Clean Air Act unambiguously and unequivocally waives the United States' sovereign immunity as to all civil penalties assessed pursuant to state air pollution law, including punitive penalties like the one at issue here. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "North Carolina v. United States" on Justia Law

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North Carolina abortion providers filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the State's criminalization of previability abortions. The State contends that the Providers do not have standing to bring suit because they do not face a credible threat of prosecution for violation of the challenged statutes, N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-44 and 14-45, and the exceptions thereto, section 14-45.1(a)–(b).The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Providers have established a credible threat of prosecution and therefore have standing to bring this suit. In this case, amidst a wave of similar state action across the country, North Carolina has enacted legislation to restrict the availability of abortions and impose heightened requirements on abortion providers and women seeking abortions. The court explained that, given these facts, the court cannot reasonably assume that the abortion ban that North Carolina keeps on its books is "largely symbolic." Where North Carolina's continued interest in regulating abortion remains vividly apparent, the court cannot dismiss the threat of prosecution as "not remotely possible." Furthermore, informal statements by two of the defendants that they do not presently intend to enforce the challenged statutes do not alter the court's analysis. View "Bryant v. Woodall" on Justia Law

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Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal is whether the leaders of the North Carolina House and Senate are entitled to intervene, on behalf of the State of North Carolina, in litigation over the constitutionality of the State's voter-ID law. North Carolina's Attorney General, appearing for the State Board of Elections, already is representing the State's interest in the validity of that law, actively defending its constitutionality in both state and federal court. Legislative Leaders moved twice to intervene so that they also can speak for the State.The en banc court affirmed the district court's denial of the Leaders' renewed request for intervention. The en banc court explained that, at this point in the proceedings, the legislative leaders may assert only one interest in support of intervention: that of the State of North Carolina in defending its voter-ID law. The en banc court further explained that it follows that they have a right to intervene under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) only if a federal court first finds that the Attorney General is inadequately representing that same interest, in dereliction of his statutory duties – a finding that would be "extraordinary." In this case, after reviewing the district court's careful evaluation of the Attorney General's litigation conduct, the en banc court is convinced that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to make that extraordinary finding here. The en banc court concluded that this is enough to preclude intervention as of right under Rule 24(a)(2). The en banc court similarly deferred to the district court's judgment denying permissive intervention under Rule 24(b). View "North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal is whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over an interpleader action commenced by a liability insurance company, whose policy was exposed to conflicting and excess claims. In this case, AmGuard, a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania, commenced this action in the nature of an interpleader and for a declaratory judgment against its insured and the claimants to the proceeds of its policy, all of whom were South Carolina citizens.The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the action based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court explained that, because AmGuard disputed the amount that the claimants maintained was available under AmGuard's policy, having acknowledged coverage for only a lesser amount, it was a "claimant" adverse to the other claimants to the proceeds of the policy. Therefore, the diverse citizenship between AmGuard and the South Carolina claimants provided the district court with the minimal diversity needed for jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1335. Furthermore, 28 U.S.C. 1332 also provided the district court with jurisdiction to resolve AmGuard's declaratory judgment claim, yet the district court dismissed the entire action without addressing why it did not have jurisdiction under section 1332. The court concluded that this error also required reversal. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "AmGuard Insurance Co. v. SG Patel and Sons II LLC" on Justia Law

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Arlington filed suit against opioid manufacturers, distributers, and pharmacies, including the ESI Defendants, in state court for causing, or contributing to, the opioid epidemic in Arlington County. The ESI Defendants removed to federal court pursuant to the federal officer removal statute, claiming that their operation of the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy (TMOP) as a subcontractor to a contract between their corporate affiliate and the Department of Defense (DOD) satisfied each of the statute's requirements. The district court granted Arlington's motion to remand back to state court.The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the ESI defendants satisfied the requirements of the federal officer removal statute. The court concluded that the ESI Defendants met their burden of showing that they were "acting under" DOD in operating the TMOP in accordance with the DOD contract. Although the district court did not address the other two requirements of the federal officer removal statute—possession of a colorable federal defense and a causal relationship between the government-directed conduct and the plaintiffs' claims—the court found that judicial economy favors resolution of those questions without a time-consuming and costly remand. On the merits, the court concluded that the ESI Defendants also satisfied these two requirements. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "The County Board of Arlington County v. Express Scripts Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a trial before a three-member land commission, the district court awarded compensation to Landowners after the government took an easement on their land. The district court awarded Landowners $4.4 million, apportioned attorney's fees and litigation costs, and split the cost of the commission.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of just compensation and the splitting of the commission costs. The court concluded that the district court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence and to determine that the Landowners had shown a non-speculative demand for industrial and residential development in the reasonably near future. Therefore, the court could not say that the district court clearly erred in calculating its award of just compensation. The court also concluded that the district court has broad discretion in apportioning commission costs, and upheld its decision to do so. However, the court concluded that identifying the "prevailing party" for purposes of the attorney's fee award is a legal question that the court reviewed de novo. The court found that the district court erred in making that determination, concluding that because the government's $937,800 value is closer to the district court's final award of $4.4 million, the government, not the Landowners, is the "prevailing party" in this litigation. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "United States v. 269 Acres Located in Beaufort County" on Justia Law

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The waiver language in 15 U.S.C. 1071 relates only to the choice of review options for the decision appealed from. The Fourth Circuit held that a party seeking review of a subsequent Trademark Board decision may seek review in either the Federal Circuit or the district court, even if the Trademark Board's initial decision was reviewed by the Federal Circuit.In this case, the parties' dispute concerns the registration of the mark "PRETZEL CRISPS." Plaintiff sought to register the mark in 2004, but the trademark examiner denied registration. Plaintiffs reapplied for registration in 2009, but Frito-Lay opposed the registration and argued that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic for pretzel crackers and not registrable. The Trademark Board sided with Frito-Lay in 2014. Plaintiffs opted for the section 1071(a) route and appealed the Trademark Board's 2014 decision to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit agreed with plaintiffs in 2015, remanding to the Trademark Board. On remand in 2017, the Trademark Board again concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" was generic, and alternatively concluded that "PRETZEL CRISPS" lacked distinctiveness. Plaintiffs sought review of the Trademark Board's 2017 decision, but the district court dismissed the case without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remanded for further proceedings. The court explained that the statutory text of the Lanham Act, while ambiguous, favors plaintiffs' argument in favor of jurisdiction. Furthermore, this conclusion is bolstered by legislative history, the court's sister circuits' holdings in similar cases, and policy considerations. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Snyder's-Lance, Inc. v. Frito-Lay North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Various statutory provisions and regulations require the DOD to maintain a publicly accessible website containing all decisions rendered by its Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records. When the DOD was alerted in 2019 that some posted decisions contained personally identifiable information, it temporarily removed all decisions from the website. Since then, the DOD has slowly been redacting and restoring the decisions to the site.NVLSP filed suit against the DOD and the Secretaries of the military departments to require them to fulfill the statutory mandate of publishing all decisions and to do so promptly. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss, ruling that NVLSP lacked Article III standing to bring the action and that the DoD's conduct was not judicially reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that although NVLSP has standing to bring this action, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. In this case, NVLSP challenges defendants' ongoing actions in maintaining and managing the website, not any final agency action understood as a discrete agency determination of rights and obligations, as necessary to give a court subject matter jurisdiction under the APA. View "National Veterans Legal Services Program v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit joined the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits in holding that an amended complaint does not divest an earlier verified complaint of its evidentiary value as an affidavit at the summary judgment stage. In this case, the court concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to law enforcement officers without considering plaintiff's verified complaints and abused its discretion in granting summary judgment before resolving plaintiff's repeated discovery requests. On remand, the district court should determine what, if any, additional discovery is appropriate. The district court should then consider afresh the officers' summary judgment motion on the full record, including plaintiff's verified complaints. View "Goodman v. Z. Diggs" on Justia Law