Week 33 (2019)
Week of August 12, 2019 through August 16, 2019
United States v. McCall (Richardson 8/12/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in sentencing a defendant to ten years in prison for distributing methamphetamine when the Federal Sentencing Guidelines recommended a sentence of 30 to 37 months. The Fourth Circuit reasoned that the district court should not have considered the “interstate” nature of the offense in varying the sentence upward, where no evidence suggested that the drugs were imported into West Virginia. Therefore, the Court vacated the district court’s sentence and remanded the matter for a new sentencing hearing by a different judge. Full opinion.
W.C. English, Inc. v. Rummel, Klepper, & Kahl, LLP (Niemeyer 8/14/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants on the plaintiff’s breach of contract and indemnity claims. Specifically, the Court concluded that the district court improperly construed ambiguous contractual language and resolved factual disputes against the non-moving party. Therefore, the Court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings consistent with its decision. Full opinion.
Hawkins v. I-TV Digitalis Tavkozlesi Zrt. (Richardson 8/15/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in setting aside a default judgment on the grounds that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute. The Fourth Circuit concluded, however, that, while sufficient subject matter jurisdiction existed, the defendants did not have sufficient minimum contacts with the forum for personal jurisdiction to exist. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit remanded the matter with instructions that the defendants be dismissed from the proceeding for a lack of personal jurisdiction. Full opinion.
United States v. Norman (Motz 8/15/2019): The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that (1) evidence found during a search of the defendant’s car was not fruit of an unlawful search and (2) a six-level sentencing guidelines enhancement was proper. Specifically, the Fourth Circuit held that the search was not unlawful because officers had a reasonable basis for believing that additional contraband could be found in the defendant’s car. The Fourth Circuit also held that the district court’s reliance on a past conviction for increasing the defendant’s sentence was not “plain error.” Therefore, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conviction and sentencing decisions. Full opinion.
Passaro v. Commonwealth of Virginia (Richardson 8/16/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that the district court properly dismissed the plaintiff’s employment claims under the ADA, concluding that the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred those claims. However, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in granting Virginia summary judgment on the plaintiff’s Title VII claims, concluding that those claims were not barred by the claim-preclusive effect of a state-court judgment upholding the outcome of an administrative grievance the plaintiff had filed. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in part, and reversed and remanded the district court’s decision in part. Full opinion.
Martineau v. Wier,
Decided: August 12, 2019
The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants on the plaintiff’s motion to rescind a settlement agreement, concluding that the plaintiff had standing to bring the action and that a new determination should be made as to whether judicial estoppel barred the plaintiff’s action. The Fourth Circuit concluded that, despite the fact that a bankruptcy trustee possessed the right to pursue the cause of action at issue at the time the plaintiff commenced her suit, the plaintiff had standing because the plaintiff was the real party in interest and was legally entitled to bring her suit. The Fourth Circuit further held that, to determine whether judicial estoppel bars a plaintiff’s suit, a court must make a full inquiry in accordance with the New Hampshire precedent.
The plaintiff in this case sought to rescind a settlement agreement she entered into that released all claims against a man who brutally stabbed her in exchange for $20,000. That settlement also released all claims against the man’s landlord, who, at the time, the plaintiff believed had no knowledge of the man’s mental illness or violent propensities. After learning that the landlord did in fact know of the danger his tenant presented to others, the plaintiff filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and failed to list a potential claim against the landlord as an “asset” of her bankruptcy estate. When the plaintiff filed suit seeking to rescind her settlement agreement, the district court held that she had no standing because only the bankruptcy trustee could pursue the cause of action, and that the claim was barred by judicial estoppel because she did not list it as an asset of her bankruptcy estate.
The Fourth Circuit found that the plaintiff had standing to bring her action against the landlord. The Court held that the district court conflated Article III standing with the distinct issue of whether the plaintiff or her bankruptcy trustee was the real party in interest legally entitled to pursue her claims. The Court found that the plaintiff had clear Article III standing to pursue her claim because her complaint alleged a distinct injury, traceable to the defendant’s conduct, and redressable by a favorable decision. The Court also found that the plaintiff was the real party in interest because, while the claims belonged to the bankruptcy trustee at the time the suit was filed, the date of filing does not control that analysis.
Additionally, the Fourth Circuit determined that the district court did not fully resolve the judicial estoppel issue, and that the issue should be remanded for a more comprehensive determination. The Court noted that judicial estoppel applies only when the party who is alleged to be estopped intentionallymisled the court to gain unfair advantage, and not when a party’s prior position was based on inadvertence or mistake. The Court concluded that the district court erred in presuming that the plaintiff intentionally failed to disclose her potential suit against the landlord.
Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.