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Week 23 (2019)

Week of June 3, 2019 through June 7, 2019

Muhammad v. Norfolk So. Ry. (Niemeyer 6/4/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that an injury occurring on a bridge over navigable waters does not satisfy the situs element of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”), which requires that the injury occur “upon the navigable waters of the United States.” The court explained that there was no case law supporting the proposition that working upon a bridge over navigable waters was equivalent to working upon navigable waters and, even under the more inclusive version of the situs requirement brought about by the 1972 amendments to the LCWCA, Plaintiff’s injuries were not covered because the bridge was not a facility contiguous to navigable waters that was customarily used for the loading, unloading, repairing, dismantling or building of a vessel. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the district court’s judgment granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction for further proceedings. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

United States v. Drummond

Decided: June 5, 2019 

The Fourth Circuit affirmed a criminal defendant’s conviction based on a finding of adequate probable cause to support a search warrant, and, additionally, affirmed defendant’s sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) as applied by the district court. The court reasoned that there was adequate probable cause to support the search warrant based on the totality of the circumstances test. Additionally, the court affirmed that Appellant’s previous felony convictions for third-offense criminal domestic violence (“CDV”) and criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature (“CDVHAN”) were categorically violent felonies for the purposes of the ACCA. Therefore, the court affirmed Appellant’s conviction and sentence.

In May 2017, officers went to room 131 of the Red Roof Inn in Greenville, South Carolina to investigate a tip from a known informant that a known convicted felon, Nicholas Finley, was selling drugs from the room. Upon arriving at the motel, the officers saw Finley in the doorway of the room, asked for consent to enter, and received his consent. The officers found seven people inside the room, one of whom was Appellant, and were told there was no one else present. The officers subsequently got consent from Finley to enter the bathroom and found a woman who could not be identified with a hypodermic needle cap near her feet. The officers subsequently issued a search warrant supported by an affidavit based on these facts. The search warrant resulted in the discovery of firearms, ammunition, multiple baggies with methamphetamine residue, and various items of drug paraphernalia. In a backpack found near Appellant’s feet, the officers found a fully loaded revolver, additional ammunition, and job-related paperwork in Appellant’s name. Appellant’s fingerprints were later found on the gun. Appellant was subsequently charged and convicted of felon-in-possession in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The district court imposed an enhancement on Appellant’s sentence under the ACCA, based upon Appellant’s three prior felony convictions. Appellant subsequently appealed.

First, Appellant appealed his §922(g)(1) conviction based on the claim that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized in the search, asserting that the search warrant was not supported by probable cause. The court emphasized that probable cause must be determined under the totality of circumstances, rather than a divide and conquer analysis. In applying this test to the facts relayed in the affidavit, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to suppress the evidence against him, and thus, affirmed Appellant’s conviction.

Next, Appellant challenged the district court’s enhancement of his sentence under the ACCA, arguing that a CDV conviction cannot categorically be deemed a violent felony because the Fourth Circuit has previously held that South Carolina’s common law offense of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature is not categorically a violent felony. The court disagreed, however, explaining that, while the threat of an offensive touching is a predicate for both a CDV conviction and an assault conviction in South Carolina, the threat of offensive touching alone would not be enough for a CDV conviction. Thus, the CDV requirement of physical harm-or-injury makes CDV the greater offense encompassing the lessor offense of assault, and brings CDV within the bounds of a violent felony under the ACCA.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Appellant’s conviction and sentence.

Full Opinion

Annie Day Bame