Week 20 (2020)
Week of May 11 through May 15, 2020
Fessler v. IBM Corp. (Gregory 5/14/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the facts alleged in an employee’s complaint, asserting fraudulent misrepresentation, constructive fraud, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and punitive damages, against his employer for unpaid commissions are sufficient to state a claim of relief that is plausible on its face. The court reasoned that Incentive Plan Letters that the employer presented to the employee did not foreclose any reasonable expectation that the employee would receive additional commissions when the employer also made multiple representations that commissions would be uncapped. The court vacated the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s order granting dismissal in favor of the employer and remanded the case for further proceedings. Full Opinion
In re Trump, 958 F.3d 274 (4th Cir. 2020) (Motz 5/14/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the President had not shown that he is entitled to a writ of mandamus compelling the District Court of Maryland to certify an interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1292(b). The court also denied the President’s alternative petition for mandamus directing the district court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint. Despite affording him great deference as the head of the Executive Branch, the court reasoned that the Supreme Court has severely limited its ability to grant such extraordinary relief. Hearing the case en banc, the court vacated its prior panel opinion reversing and remanding the district court’s orders. Full Opinion
District of Columbia v. Trump, No. 18-2488
- Majority Opinion: Motz
- Argued: December 12, 2019
- Decided: May 14, 2020
The Fourth Circuit held that the District Court of Maryland did not yet make a final decision on the President’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ individual capacity claims on the grounds of absolute immunity. Therefore, the court held that it does not have jurisdiction to issue an interlocutory order. The court reasoned that although a district court’s refusal to rule on immunity is treated as a denial of immunity and is immediately appealable, the district court made it clear that it intends to rule on the President’s motion and it has not unreasonably delayed doing so.
The Plaintiffs, the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, brought suit against the President in his official capacity, alleging violation of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. Thereafter, the Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add the President as a defendant in his individual capacity. The President in his individual capacity moved to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ action alleging absolute immunity. When approximately seven months passed and the district court had not yet made a decision on the President’s motion to dismiss, the President filed an interlocutory appeal with the Fourth Circuit.
In seeking an interlocutory appeal, the President conceded that the district court did not explicitly deny immunity by issuing an actual order. However, he claimed that the district court implicitly did so because (1) the delay in ruling on his motion to dismiss constituted an immediately appealable “sub silentio refusal” to rule and (2) the district court’s scheduling order authorizing discovery for the official capacity claims subjected the President, in his individual capacity, to litigation, violating his absolute immunity.
In its dismissal of the President’s appeal, the court reasoned that although a district court’s explicit or implicit refusal is immediately appealable, an implicit refusal must be clear, establishing that it is the district court’s final decision. Further, the court reasoned that whenever it is evident that a district court does intend to rule on a motion asserting immunity and the district court has not unreasonably delayed doing so, then the district court has not explicitly or implicitly denied immunity.
First, the court determined that the district court made it clear that it intends to rule on the President’s motion because it stated so in writing. Second, the court determined that although the district court deferred its ruling on the motion, it did not result in a delay that is “beyond reasonable limits.” The court reasoned that district courts have wide discretion to prioritize matters among its dockets, and a seven-month delay does not justify intruding into the district court’s docket.
Therefore, because denial of the immunity claim provided the only jurisdictional basis for the interlocutory appeal, the court vacated its prior panel opinion and dismissed the interlocutory appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Suha S. Najjar