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Week 18 (2019)

Week of April 29, 2019 through May 3, 2019

Schwartz v. J.J.F. Mgmt. Serv., Inc. (Duncan 4/29/2019): The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of appellant’s third party claim to funds in certain deposit accounts, concluding that Maryland law allows a trial court to require that a third party movant establish a bona fide claim to ownership in such accounts. Upon determining that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the appellant lacked a bona fide third party interest in the accounts, the court affirmed the denial of appellant’s (Md. Rule 2-643(e)) motion to release property under levy. Full opinion.

Wards Corner Beauty Acad. v. Nat’l. Accrediting Comm’n of Career Arts And Sci. (Duncan 4/30/2019): The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of appellant barbering and cosmetology academy’s request for relief following a bench trial, finding that the academy’s due process rights were not violated by the appellee’s decision to withdraw the academy’s accreditation. Specifically, the court agreed with the district court’s determination that a commissioner’s speculative pecuniary interest in a competing academy did not warrant his disqualification for the purposes of a common law due process claim. Full opinion.

Highlight Case

Porter v. Clarke, No. 18-6257

Decided May 3, 2019

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that conditions of confinement on death row at Virginia’s Sussex I State Prison violated the Eighth Amendment and affirmed an order enjoining the reinstatement of those conditions. Specifically, the court held that appellants’ practice of subjecting death row inmates to long-term detention in conditions amounting to solitary confinement created a “substantial risk” of psychological and emotional harm and that appellants were “deliberately indifferent” to that risk. 

Appellees in this case are death row inmates housed at Sussex Prison. Pursuant to Virginia Department of Corrections Operating Procedure and Sussex Prison’s own institutional rules, appellees were separately housed in cells roughly one-half the size of a parking space, allowed one hour of outdoor recreation five days a week, and allowed a ten-minute shower three days a week. Aside from limited opportunities for out-of-cell interaction with other individuals, appellees generally spent between 23 and 24 hours per day alone in their cells. 

In reaching its conclusion that the confinement appellees were subjected to constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and warranted injunctive relief, the court focused on the psychological impact of the confinement on inmates. The court found that the appellees met their burden of showing an objective basis for their Eighth Amendment claims by detailing the substantial risk of harm that resulted from exposure to the conditions. Further, the court was satisfied that appellants were “deliberately indifferent” to the conditions appellees complained of, as appellees presented appellants with a number of reports demonstrating the psychological and emotional harm presented by long bouts of solitary confinement. 

Further, the court concluded that injunctive relief was appropriate in this case because appellants had merely professed an intent not to return to the challenged practices, without showing the requisite “repentance” to preclude the district court from awarding injunctive relief. Also, the court found that the Prison Litigation Reform Act did not bar the award of injunctive relief, as that statute does not require that a court award injunctive relief only when there is a “current and ongoing” constitutional violation. 

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the district court. 

Full Opinion

Frederick N. Hanna