Week of June 18, 2018 through June 22, 2018
Malvo v. Mathena (Niemeyer 6/21/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that Malvo’s four life-without-parole sentences, which were imposed for crimes Malvo committed while he was 17, must be vacated pursuant to the Supreme Court’s retroactive rulings dealing with defendants who commit serious crimes while under the age of 18. Defendants under the age of 18 shall not be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole unless they committed a homicide offense that reflected their permanent incorrigibility. Therefore, the court affirmed the Eastern District Court of Virginia’s order vacating Malvo’s sentences and remanding for resentencing to determine if Malvo qualifies as one of the rare youths who may be sentenced to life without parole because of his permanent incorrigibility. Full Opinion.
In re: KBR, Inc. (Floyd 6/20/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that the military’s control over KBR’s waste management and water services, which involved control over what must be done and how it must be accomplished, was actual and plenary; thus, plaintiffs’ suit was barred under the political question doctrine. Political questions are reserved for Congress and the President, not for courts. Consequently, the court affirmed in part and vacated in part the District Court of Maryland’s order holding that the suit was barred under the political question doctrine and that the Federal Tort Claims Act preempted plaintiffs’ claim. Full Opinion.
United States v. Kehoe (Motz 6/20/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that police officers’ reliance on a telephone tip from an identified caller provided them with reasonable suspicion that Kehoe was carrying a concealed handgun and drinking alcohol, thereby precluding a claim for an unreasonable search and seizure. However, a telephone tip from an anonymous caller, alone, would be insufficient to provide reasonable suspicion. Therefore, the court affirmed the Eastern District Court of Virginia’s order denying Kehoe’s motion to suppress. Full Opinion.
Horne v. WTVR, LLC (Floyd 6/18/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that the Director of Budget and Finance for a school board is a public official and is therefore required to show actual malice to recover damages for a defamatory falsehood. The court reasoned that plaintiff was a public official due to her substantial responsibility over the school system’s finances. Thus, the court affirmed the Eastern District Court of Virginia’s order granting defendant’s motion for a directed verdict. Full Opinion.
Wilson v. Prince George’s Cty., Maryland (Keenan 6/18/2018): The Fourth Circuit held that a police officer, who violated Wilson’s Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force, was nevertheless entitled to qualified immunity because the constitutional violation was not established when the incident in question occurred. Due to the existing Maryland case law, the police officer was not on notice that shooting an individual, who was suspected of having committed burglary and battery, was standing about 20 feet from the police officer holding a knife and inflicting harm on himself, and was refusing to obey demands to drop the knife, would be a constitutional violation. Consequently, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the District Court of Maryland’s order granting summary judgment for Wilson. Full Opinion.
Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal., Inc. v. Pruitt, No. 17-1430
Decided: June 20, 2018
The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs, who established that they suffered an injury-in-fact and that such injury was causally connected to the act complained of, had standing and that the constructive submission doctrine did not apply. The constructive submission doctrine does not apply where a state has produced at least some total maximum daily loads (TMDLS) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has a credible plan in place to produce others. West Virginia met both of these requirements, thereby defeating plaintiffs’ claims.
As part of its compliance with the Clean Water Act, West Virginia previously identified 573 of its waterways as biologically impaired. The EPA requires each state to produce TMDLs for its biologically impaired waters, which identify the maximum daily discharge of pollutants into the waters and enforceable permit limits. The EPA has 30 days to approve or disapprove of TMDLs and, upon disapproval create their own TMDLs for each state. West Virginia and the EPA had previously developed TMDLs for its impaired waters, but the state’s legislature subsequently enacted a law that mandated the development of a new tool to assess the impaired waters’ health. Therefore, West Virginia postponed development of TMDLs until it developed a new methodology. West Virginia has yet to develop a methodology or any TMDLs. Consequently, several environmental groups sued the EPA for breaching its nondiscretionary duty to promulgate a new methodology and develop TMDLs for West Virginia’s 573 biologically impaired waters.
The court reasoned that plaintiffs had stated a sufficient injury-in-fact and that such injury was causally connected to the act complained of. Therefore, plaintiffs had standing to bring suit. Moreover, the court found that the constructive submission doctrine did not apply. This doctrine provides that when a state fails to submit TMDLs, such failure is a constructive submission of no TMDLs and thus triggers the EPA’s nondiscretionary duty to act. However, such doctrine is inapplicable where a state has produced at least some TMDLs and has a credible plan in place to produce others. The court concluded that West Virginia has satisfied both by previously submitting TMDLs and by having a plan in place to develop and implement a new methodology and new TMDLs.
Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed the Southern District Court of West Virginia’s decision granting summary judgment for plaintiffs under the constructive submission doctrine.
Madison A. Smith