Week Six

Week of February 6, 2017 through February 10, 2017

Richard Beck v. Robert McDonald (Diaz 2/6/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that a plaintiff does not have Article III standing for incurring costs to protect from a merely speculative and not impending future harm. The Court also found that the plaintiffs did not have standing for injunctive relief under the APA because the plaintiff seeking to enjoin a future action was not in immediate danger of sustaining a direct injury. The Court affirmed the United States District Court of South Carolina. Full Opinion

Calvin Gray v. David Ballard (Floyd 2/8/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiff did not exercise due diligence in discovering his blood type and the facts contained in a serology report. Thus, his petition for a writ of habeas corpus was considered untimely under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(D). The Court affirmed the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, which was consistent with the decision of a Magistrate’s Proposed Findings and Recommendation. Full Opinion

Jacob Abilt v. CIA (Floyd 2/8/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiff’s claim of employment discrimination based on his narcolepsy must be dismissed because the information related to plaintiff’s job was privileged under the state secrets doctrine and the litigation of the case would present an unjustifiable risk of disclosure of that information. The Court upheld the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s decision in finding the information related to plaintiff’s employment was privileged under the state secrets doctrine due to matters related to national security. Full Opinion

VeriSign, Inc. v. XYZ.COM LLC (Harris 2/8/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that VeriSign could not establish the elements of a Lanham Act claim of false advertising. The Court determined that VeriSign failed to produce the required evidence that it suffered an actual injury as a result of XYZ’s statements related to the lack of availability of suitable .com names nor could VeriSign establish that those comments were false or misleading statements of fact, as required for Lanham Act liability. The Court affirmed the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s granting of summary judgment for XYZ. Full Opinion

Nancy Loftus v. David Bobzien (Agee 2/8/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiff’s dismissal from her job as an assistant county attorney following her election to city council did not violate the First Amendment, Virginia law, or local ordinances because the plaintiff employee’s termination was related to a conflict of interest which is not covered under First Amendment protection instead of the plaintiff employee being terminated for any positions she advocated while seeking political office and the state and local laws did not create a private cause of action for the plaintiff to bring a claim. The Court affirmed the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s dismissal of the case for failure to state a claim. Full Opinion

US v. Todd Spencer (Wilkinson 2/9/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that Spencer’s 45-month sentence was not procedurally and substantively unreasonable despite it deviating upward from the advisory sentencing Guidelines. The Court determined the sentence was reasonable based on Spencer’s mailing of a threatening letter effects on the victim. The Court affirmed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in upholding the upward sentence of 45-months as procedurally and substantively reasonable. Full Opinion

 

Highlight Case:

Richard Beck v. Robert McDonald, No. 15-1395 and Watson v. McDonald, No. 15-1715

Decided: February 6, 2017

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina’s ruling.

These consolidated cases came from veterans who received medical treatment and care at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center (“Dorn VAMC”) in Columbia, South Carolina. After two data breaches in which plaintiffs along with 7,400 and 2,000 other patients information was stolen, plaintiffs brought separate actions against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Dorn VAMC officials alleging the defendants violated the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a) and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) (5 U.S.C. § 701). In both cases, plaintiffs sought to establish Article III standing based on harm from increased risk of future identity theft and the cost of measures to protect against it. The district court dismissed the actions for lack of a subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the plaintiffs had failed to show a non-speculative, imminent injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing. This appeal followed asking the Fourth Circuit to overturn the district court’s motion of summary judgment for the defendant and for injunctive relief under the APA.

The Fourth Circuit focused its analysis on the first element of Article III standing: injury-in-fact. The Court relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013) where the Supreme Court reaffirmed its requirement that in order for a threatened injury to be considered an injury-in-fact, the threatened injury must be impending. The Fourth Circuit used this standard to look at the consolidated plaintiffs two claims for standing under the Privacy Act: (1) increased risk of future identity theft, and (2) the costs of protecting against future identity theft. The increased risk of future identity theft was determined to be too speculative since the data breaches occurred in February 2013 and July 2014, respectively and the plaintiffs were not able to discover any evidence that information stolen during the data breaches had been used or if the hackers had even committed the data breaches for the intention of stealing the plaintiffs private information. The Court noted the farther remove the actual data breaches from any harm occurring the more speculative the risk of future harm, thus the Court found this risk of future harm was not impending under the meaning of Article III standing. The Court also determined that the defendants’ actions to provide the plaintiffs with free credit monitoring was insufficient to establish a substantial risk of harm that would require the plaintiffs to incur costs for the future identity theft. The Court stated that a plaintiff would not be able to acquire Article III standing for incurring costs to protect from a merely speculative and not impending future harm. The Court also found that the plaintiffs did not have standing for injunctive relief under the APA because the previous two data breaches were insufficient to establish a current case or controversy. A plaintiff seeking to enjoin a future action must be in immediate danger of sustaining a direct injury. The plaintiffs were not able to meet this burden.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgments of the district court that the consolidated plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to bring their claims.

Full Opinion

Ryan Jones

Additional Outside Reactions:

Reuters Article

Law 360 Article