Week Twenty-Three

Week of June 5, 2017 through June 9, 2017

United States v. Rafael Chikvashvili (Wilkinson 6/9/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the execution of a fraudulent health care scheme—not merely the submission of a false claim—that results in death may give rise to liability and the imposition of a life sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 1347. The court affirmed the district court’s conviction of the defendant. Full Opinion

Eleuterio Payan Jaquez v. Jefferson Sessions III (Gregory 6/8/2017): The Fourth Circuit affirmed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ order denying an alien’s request for cancellation of removal since the alien’s criminal proceedings in state court qualified as a conviction pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(48)(A). The alien previously pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance and the state court deferred adjudication, vacated a finding of guilt, and sentenced him to probation. Consequently, the court denied the plaintiff’s petition for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ order affirming an Immigration Judge’s decision, finding the plaintiff ineligible for cancellation of removal. Full Opinion

Thomas Matherly v. J.F. Andrews (Diaz 6/8/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that requiring civil detainees to share a bunk, requiring them to wear the same uniforms as prisoner, limiting their purchases and television options to those of a prisoner, allowing for co-mingling with prisoners, treating prisoners and civil detainees the same when it comes to strip searches and mass shakedowns, and not allowing civil detainees to participate in some educational and vocational programs available to prisoners did not violate due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. A civilly committed detainee challenging a condition of confinement as impermissible punishment under the Fifth Amendment has to show that it was either “(1) imposed with an expressed intent to punish or (2) not reasonably related to a legitimate nonpunitive governmental objective.” Further, the court held that a civil detainee was not entitled to minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Additionally, the court modified the standard set out in Turner that allows impingement on inmates’ constitutional rights to apply to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ opening and inspection of a civil detainee’s incoming and outgoing non-legal mail by holding that it was reasonably related to legitimate nonpunitive governmental interests. The court affirmed the district court’s order. Full Opinion

US v. Lashaun Bolton (Thacker 6/7/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the imposition of a firearm enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1) and the denial of a safety valve reduction pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2(a)(2) was not erroneous when law enforcement found firearms alongside cash and drugs at the defendant’s residence after he was arrested on drug charges for conduct that ended two years prior. The court noted that even if “the district court erred by assuming it could not grant a safety valve reduction because of the firearm enhancement, any such error was harmless,” and the court held that the district court did not err in refusing a reduction for acceptance of responsibility when the defendant resumed criminal activity after his first arrest. Lastly, the court held that the district court’s sentence and upward variance were reasonable. The court affirmed the defendant’s sentence as prescribed by the district court. Full Opinion

US v. Master Giddins (Floyd 6/6/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that, for the purposes of the privilege against self-incrimination, defendant was in custody and he involuntarily waived his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1965) when he was questioned by police officers in the interrogation room and the door near him was locked, when the detective moved his phone away from him, when he believed he would not get his car back unless he signed the waiver, and when the police lied to him when he asked if he was in trouble. Additionally, the court found that the erroneous admission of his statements was not harmless error. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s conviction of the defendant, with Judge Agee dissenting. Full Opinion

Fadwa Safar v. Lisa Tingle (Wilkinson 6/7/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity and a prosecutor was entitled to absolute immunity in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim in spite of their failure to take steps to withdraw arrest warrants approved by a magistrate upon learning the charges were meritless. The court affirmed the district court’s decision in part and reversed in part, with Judge Floyd concurring. Full Opinion

Patricia Villa v. Cavamezze Grill, LLC (Traxler 6/7/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that summary judgment was properly granted by the district court against an employee’s Title VII retaliatory conduct action against her employer.  The plaintiff was fired after reporting sexual misconduct, the employer made a potentially erroneous determination that the employee made up the allegations, and there was evidence that a subordinate employee lied to the plaintiff when informing the plaintiff of the allegation. The court affirmed the decision of the district court to grant summary judgment against the plaintiff. Full Opinion

 

Highlight Case

Patricia Villa v. Cavamezze Grill, LLC, No. 15-2543 (Traxler)

Decided: June 7, 2017

The Fourth Circuit held that summary judgment was properly granted against an employee’s Title VII retaliatory conduct action against her employer when she was fired after reporting sexual misconduct, the employer made a potentially erroneous determination that the employee made up the allegations, and there was evidence that a subordinate employee lied to the plaintiff when informing the plaintiff of the allegation. Specifically, the court held that a Title VII action under the opposition clause could not be brought against an employer who had a good faith basis for believing the fired employee made up the underlying allegations. The court affirmed the decision of the district court to grant summary judgment.

Plaintiff Patricia Villa (“Plaintiff”) was a low-level manager at CavaMezze Grill Mosaic, LLC (“Mosaic”), a wholly owned subsidiary of CavaMezze Grill, LLC (“CMG”). On October 28, 2013, Plaintiff called Rob Gresham, CMG’s Director of Operations, and reported that Judy Bonilla, a former employee, had told Plaintiff that Marcelo Butron, the general manager, had offered to give Bonilla a raise in exchange for sex. Additionally, Plaintiff told Gresham that she suspected another former employee, Jessica Arias, had left because Butron made Arias a similar offer. Gresham reviewed the investigations and contacted Bonilla and Arias, who both denied the allegations. Accordingly, he concluded that Plaintiff made up the allegations and he terminated her for making a false report. Plaintiff filed a retaliation complaint with the Fairfax County, Virginia, Office of Human Rights, which was cross-filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed the instant suit alleging Title VII discrimination in federal district court. Significantly, in her deposition, Bonilla admitted that Plaintiff accurately reported her allegation of sexual harassment but that, unbeknownst to Plaintiff, the improper conduct never occurred. The district court granted summary judgment against Plaintiff’s Title VII retaliation claim, finding that Plaintiff had failed to establish a genuine factual dispute showing that retaliation was the but-for cause of her termination.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment against the Plaintiff. First, the court reasoned that “firing an employee for knowingly fabricating an allegation relating to a Title VII violation does not run afoul of the opposition clause.” Additionally, the court reasoned that, because CMG fired the Plaintiff after conducting an investigation into her allegations and making a good faith determination that Plaintiff fabricated the allegations, the termination was retaliatory. The court additionally reasoned that Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, 555 U.S. 271 (2009) and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) did not support taking away the statutory requirement of a retaliatory motive. Lastly, the reasonableness of CMG’s investigation did nothing to help Plaintiff’s case when she conceded that her termination was not pre-textual.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling to grant summary judgment against the Plaintiff.

Full Opinion

Eugene Gordon Hay VI

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