Week Twenty-Two

Week of May 29, 2017 through June 2, 2017

Stacy Lewis v. Nancy Berryhill (Agee 6/2/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that Appellant’s application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income was erroneously denied by the Social Security Administration and the administrative law judge. The court reasoned that the administrative law judge “did not give appropriate weight to the opinions of Appellant’s treating physicians and failed to adequately explain his decision to deny her benefits.” The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. Full Opinion

US v. Harold Hall, Jr. (Wynn 6/1/2017): The Fourth Circuit overturned Appellant’s convictions for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime by holding that evidence of Appellant’s prior convictions was erroneously admitted by the district court. Citing to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), wherein evidence of a crime is inadmissible to prove a person’s character and that the person acted in conformity with that character, the court found that evidence of appellant’s prior convictions had an unfairly prejudicial effect on the outcome of the trial. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to admit Appellant’s prior convictions, vacated Appellant’s convictions, and remanded to the district court for proceedings consistent with the opinion. Full Opinion

US v. Edward Jones (Thacker 6/1/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on double jeopardy barred prosecution of Appellant’s successive charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Even though Appellant faced two separate charges for two separate conspiracies, the court found that both charges alleged a common large-scale drug conspiracy with the same time span, same geographic area, same co-conspirators, and with similarity in nature and scope. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s indictment for the second conspiracy charge and remanded. Full Opinion

In re: James Allen Irby, III (Shedd 6/1/2017): The Fourth Circuit denied Appellant’s successive motion to challenge his conviction of causing death with a firearm. Appellant’s motion was based on 28 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging that a new rule of constitutional law in Johnson v. United States applied retroactively to bar Appellant’s conviction since the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal act was found unconstitutionally vague in Johnson, but the court found that Appellant here did not make a plausible claim for relief since the residual clause was inapplicable to the conviction at hand. The Fourth Circuit denied appellant’s successive § 2255 motion to appeal his conviction, thus denying his request for authorization. Full Opinion

Anthony Martin v. Susan Duffy (Wynn 6/1/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that a prison captain violated an inmate Appellant’s First Amendment rights by placing Appellant in administrative segregation after he filed a grievance against a sergeant for inappropriate touching. The court also reviewed appeal of the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s equal protection and due process claims, but upheld dismissal of those arguments by finding the equal protection allegation was a restatement of the First Amendment argument and the due process argument was not supported by specific facts about the hardship placed on Appellant by the segregation. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s equal protection and due process claims but reversed and remanded the dismissal of the First Amendment retaliation claim. Full Opinion

Int’l Refugee Assistance v. Donald Trump (Gregory 5/25/2017, amended 5/31/2017): The Fourth Circuit amended the caption of its order decided May 25, 2017 where the court upheld a preliminary injunction of Executive Order No. 13780, which suspended the entry of certain nationals from entering the country, by adding the words “and its clients” to the end of the party text for the first Plaintiff-Appellee. In its majority opinion, the court determined that the plaintiffs had standing, that Mandel did not preclude analyzing the Order for constitutional issues, and that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits in their Establishment Clause challenge. Additionally, the court found no error in the district court’s decision to make the injunction a nationwide one. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction. Full Opinion

US v. Timothy Ritchie (Diaz 5/30/2017): The Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s order of restitution against Appellant on account of his conviction for making a false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the federal government. Appellant falsely stated on a Housing and Urban Development loan application form that he contributed cash toward the purchase of land before defaulting on the loan, and the court held that the district court did not err in ordering Appellant to pay restitution to the lender. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision in its entirety. Full Opinion

 

Highlight Case

Anthony Martin v. Susan Duffy, No. 16-6132 (Wynn)

Decided: June 1, 2017

The Fourth Circuit held that a prison captain violated an inmate Appellant’s First Amendment rights by placing Appellant in administrative segregation after he filed a grievance against a sergeant for inappropriate touching. The court also reviewed appeal of the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s equal protection and due process claims, but upheld dismissal of those arguments since the equal protection allegation was a restatement of the First Amendment argument and the due process argument was not supported by specific facts about the hardship placed on Appellant by the segregation. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s equal protection and due process claims but reversed and remanded the dismissal of the First Amendment retaliation claim.

Anthony Martin (“Appellant”) was an inmate at Perry Correctional Institution. On September 11, 2014, Appellant used a kiosk at the prison to file a complaint against a prison sergeant, claiming that the sergeant inappropriately touched him during a shakedown. The next day, Captain Susan Duffy (“Appellee”) placed Appellant in a holding cell within the administrative building. According to Appellant, Appellee “questioned [him] relentlessly about an informal resolution attempt of [his grievance alleging] inappropriate an[d] unwanted touching ‘battery’ against [the sergeant that Appellant] had filed the day before.” After questioning, Appellee put Appellant into segregation. According to Appellant’s complaint, Appellee did so to “maintain the integrity of the investigation.”

Two months later, Appellant sent a request to Appellee, claiming that the segregation was unjustifiable, mentioning the lack of communication about an investigation, and accusing Appellee of retaliation. A month after that, Appellee replied to Appellant, telling him that the investigation had concluded and that he would be returning to the general population. On December 31, 2014, prison officials attempted to transfer Appellant back into the general population. At that point, Martin had been in segregation for 110 days. Appellant refused to enter the general population, requesting instead to be transferred to another prison. Eventually, his request was granted. Nearly a year later, Appellant brought suit against Appellee. Filing pro se, he alleged that Appellee (1) violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him, (2) violated his right to equal protection, and (3) denied him procedural due process. A federal magistrate judge recommended dismissal of Appellant’s complaint for failure to state a claim. In response to the magistrate’s report, Appellant filed an objection and an “Amended Complaint.” On January 20, 2016, the district court, adopting the magistrate’s report, dismissed Appellant’s complaint without prejudice.

On appeal, Appellee argued that Appellant had not preserved his right to appeal because he had not specifically objected to the magistrate’s report. The Fourth Circuit noted that when a pro se litigant appears before the court, the complaint must be liberally construed. In response to the magistrate’s recommendation, Appellant filed an “Amended Complaint,” in which he “presented to the district court anew…his claims of First Amendment retaliation, equal protection, and due process relating to his segregation.” However, Appellant made no mention of his due process claim involving the “loss of opportunity to earn good time credits.” As a result, the court found that he had not preserved this claim but he had preserved the others.

Appellee also argued that the district court’s order was not appealable because a dismissal without prejudice is not a final, appealable order. However, such an order is appealable if “the grounds for dismissal clearly indicate that ‘no amendment [to the complaint] could cure the defects in the plaintiff’s case.’” Here, the court found that Appellant could not “save his action by merely amending his complaint.” Thus, the order was appealable.

As to the First Amendment retaliation claim, the court found that by liberally construing Martin’s complaint, he had in fact presented a prima facie claim. A Section 1983 colorable retaliation claim requires that a plaintiff “must allege that (1) []he engaged in protected First Amendment activity, (2) the defendant[] took some action that adversely affected [his] First Amendment rights, and (3) there was a causal relationship between [his] protected activity and the defendant[’s] conduct.” For the first element, the court found that “petition[ing] the [g]overnment for a redress of grievances” was Appellant’s protected First Amendment activity. As to the second element, the court found that Martin adequately pleaded it because Appellee’s conduct was likely to deter Appellant from exercising his First Amendment rights. The final element was satisfied by finding that Appellant’s placement in administrative segregation was a result of filing a grievance since segregation occurred one day after the grievance was filed.
By holding that Appellant pled a prima facie claim of retaliation, the court dismissed Appellee’s qualified immunity claim. The court held in Booker v. S.C. Dep’t of Corr., 855 F.3d 533, 546 (4th Cir. 2017) that an inmate’s “right to file a prison grievance free from retaliation was clearly established under the First Amendment” in 2010. Since Appellee’s alleged conduct occurred in 2014, the right was clearly established at that time. Therefore, Appellee was not entitled to qualified immunity.

The court upheld the dismissal of Appellant’s equal protection claim, finding that it was simply a rephrasing of his First Amendment claim. Finally, the court upheld the dismissal of Appellant’s due process claim. In order to successfully plead this claim, “a prisoner…must show: (1) that there is a “state statute, regulation, or policy [that] creates such a liberty interest,” and (2) that “the denial of such an interest ‘imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Martin succeeded on the first element but failed on the second because he pled that he had no hearing during his 110 days in segregation but failed to plead any specific facts about the “atypical and significant” hardship it placed on him.

Ultimately, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s equal protection and due process claims but reversed and remanded the dismissal of the retaliation claim.

Full Opinion

Sarah Tate Chambers