Fourth Circuit Survey

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Week of August 27, 2018 through August 31, 2018

Henderson for Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. v. Bluefield Hosp. Co., LLC (Niemeyer 8/28/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that under the Winter test, a party seeking preliminary injunctive relief did not make a sufficient showing under § 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to warrant such relief. Thus, the Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ petition for injunctive relief, concluding that the district judge (Faber) did not abuse his discretion in determining that the National Labor Relations Board failed to sufficiently demonstrate that there was likelihood of irreparable harm to the effectiveness of its remedial power, an essential element necessary to obtain preliminary injunctive relief under § 10(j) of the NLRA. Full Opinion

United States v. Bell (Niemeyer 8/28/2018): The Fourth Circuit found that an officer’s questioning of a suspect’s common-law spouse did not constitute “interrogation” as to the suspect for the purpose of triggering his rights under Miranda. The Fourth Circuit also held that evidence showing the suspect’s possession of firearms was admissible under FRE 404(b), as it tended to show the suspect’s knowledge of drug activity. The Court thus affirmed the district court’s sentencing of Defendant Bell to a mandatory minimum of 480 months’ imprisonment. Full Opinion

Vandevender v. Blue Ridge of Raleigh, LLC (Gergel 8/2/2018) (amended 8/27/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that punitive damages may be assessed against health care providers under North Carolina law where wanton or willful conduct is shown in: 1) managerial staffing and supplies decisions, 2) corporate policy that encourages staff cuts, or 3) managerial approval of employee conduct. For these reasons, the Court affirmed the denial of the motion for judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff Jones’ award of compensatory damages, reversed as to Plaintiffs’ award of punitive damages, and remanded with instructions to enter judgment for Plaintiffs consistent with North Carolina’s statutory limits on punitive damages. Full Opinion


Highlight Case

Lisa Henderson v. Bluefield Hospital Co., LLC, No. 16-2331

Decided on Remand: August 28, 2018

The Fourth Circuit held that, under the four-part test articulated by the Supreme Court in Winter v. National Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008), a party seeking preliminary injunctive relief did not make a sufficient showing under § 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to warrant such relief where it did not show a likelihood of irreparable harm in absence of the sought relief.

Defendants Bluefield Regional Medical Center and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center are acute-care hospitals in West Virginia that employ 290 registered nurses. In 2012, registered nurses from both hospitals voted to be represented by the National Nurses Organization Committee (“the Union”) for the purposes of collective bargaining. Both hospitals challenged the certifications and refused to participate in bargaining negotiations with the Union. In response, the Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (the Board), which, after mandated negotiations broke down, filed petitions against each hospital in the district court under § 10(j) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 160(j), requesting preliminary injunctions that would direct the hospitals to bargain with the Union in good faith.

The district court declined to grant the Board preliminary injunctive relief, concluding that the Board failed to demonstrate, as one of the requirements necessary to obtain preliminary injunctive relief, that there was a likelihood of irreparable injury to the Board’s ability to remedy the alleged unfair labor practices in the absence of an injunction. From that order, the Board appealed.

In considering the arguments of the Board, the Fourth Circuit analyzed the Winter test, which holds that, to obtain an injunction under § 10(j), a party “must establish (1) a likelihood of success on the merits, (2) a likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities tips in the Board’s favor, and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter, 555 U.S. at 22. The Board advanced a number of arguments on appeal, including that the district court erred by analyzing only the irreparable-harm factor. The Court rejected this argument, holding that the four prongs of the Winter test were mandatory elements rather than quantitative factors. Thus, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court did not err in solely relying on the irreparable harm element in its denial of injunctive relief.

The Board alternatively argued that the irreparable harm factor was satisfied, because irreparable harm is inherent in bad-faith bargaining cases. The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument as speculative and concluded that bad-faith bargaining on the part of the hospitals did nothing to harm the ultimate remedial power of the Board. Finally, in response to the Board’s third and final argument, the Fourth Circuit found that the evidence failed to show a threat to the Board’s remedial power that would necessitate injunctive relief.

Thus, the Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ petition for injunctive relief, concluding that the district judge (Faber) did not abuse his discretion in determining that the National Labor Relations Board failed to sufficiently demonstrate that it would suffer irreparable harm without the sought relief, an essential element necessary to obtain preliminary injunctive relief under § 10(j) of the NLRA.

Full Opinion

Wilson Daniel