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Week 24 (2020)

Week of June 8, 2020 through June, 12, 2020

Billups v. City of Charleston (King 6/11/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that Charleston’s Tour Guide Licensing Ordinance, with its mandatory licensing scheme for conducting guided tours, violated the First Amendment. The court read the Ordinance as a content-neutral restriction on speech and applied intermediate scrutiny. The court reasoned that the City has a significant interest in protecting its tourism industry, but that the Ordinance nevertheless failed intermediate scrutiny because it was not narrowly tailored to serve that interest. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court correctly declared the Ordinance unconstitutional, as the Ordinance could not survive intermediate scrutiny. Full Opinion

Star v. TI Oldfield Dev., LLC (Agee 6/10/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that “the settlements mooted [Rob Star’s (plaintiff-appellant)] claims insofar as they were related to the ones asserted by the Boards.” The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Star’s suit for failure to state a claim and to the extent Star asserted claims falling outside the scope of those asserted by the Boards’ Complaints, the court concluded those claims were rendered moot by the settlement agreements or otherwise properly dismissed in district court. The court relied on the business judgment rule to the extent the Boards could have asserted such claims but did not do so. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal as to those claims that were rendered moot by the settlements and affirmed the dismissal of the remaining claims. Full Opinion

Int’l Refugee Assistance v. Trump (Niemeyer 6/8/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the President’s Proclamation 9645—a directive that “restrict[s] . . . the entry of foreign nationals from specified countries”—holds a legitimate national security concern and that the plaintiffs’ complaint should be dismissed. The court found that the government set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review and thus did not violate the plaintiffs’ rights under the Establishment Clause or other clauses of the Constitution. Therefore, the court reversed the district court’s order—from May 2, 2019—which denied the government’s motion to dismiss the constitutional claims and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaints with prejudice. Full Opinion

United States v. Van Donk (Diaz 6/8/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that an offender’s supervised release requirement, which banned him from viewing any materials that sexually arouse him is permissible under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d). The court found that the requirement was enforced in a way that avoided vagueness concerns. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment, reasoning the supervised release requirement was consistent with § 3583(d), comported with due process and the First Amendment, and was not an improper delegation of the district court’s authority. Full Opinion

Haze v. Harrison (Motz 6/8/2020):  The Fourth Circuit held that prison officers who opened an inmate’s mail were protected by qualified immunity and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court utilized the Turner test, which requires an assessment of four factors, to determine if the prison’s policy or practice infringed the inmate’s rights by inspecting his mail. The court concluded that the prison officials “met their burden to show that their actions did not violate clearly established law for purposes of [the inmate’s] Fourth Amendment claim.” 2020 WL 3041986, at *5 (4th Cir. June 8, 2020). Therefore, the judgment below was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the case was remanded. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

Estate of Jones v. City of Martinsburg

  • Majority Opinion: Floyd
  • Submitted: March 26, 2020
  • Decided: June 9, 2020
  • Amended: June 10, 2020

The Fourth Circuit held that the City of Martinsburg was insulated from Monell liability, where liability was premised on one incident of excessive force. The court held that the Estate could not withdraw the admissions because it waived that right by failing to file a timely objection. Additionally, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment to the officers on qualified immunity grounds. 

In seeking this third appeal of the case, Petitioner Estate of Wayne A. Jones, alleged three § 1983 claims: (1) that the five named officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) that the officers violated the Fourteenth Amendment by killing Jones, thereby wrongfully depriving his family of a familial relationship with him; and (3) that the City of Martinsburg was liable under a variety of Monell theories, including failure to train and failure to discipline the police officers. 

In 2013, Wayne Jones, a black man experiencing homelessness, was stopped by law enforcement in Martinsburg, West Virginia for walking alongside, rather than on, the sidewalk. By the end of this encounter, Jones would be dead. Armed only with a knife tucked into his sleeve, he was tased four times, hit in the brachial plexus, kicked, and placed in a choke hold. In his final moments, he lay on the ground between a stone wall and a wall of five police officers, who collectively fired 22 bullets. Estate of Jones v. City of Martinsburg, 2020 WL 3053386, at *1 (4th Cir. June 9, 2020).

The Fourth Circuit included six facts admitted by the Estate due to their untimely objection. These facts included the following: (1) Jones advised an officer he had ‘something’ when asked if he had a weapon; (2) Jones failed to comply to stop resisting; (3) Jones was carrying a knife on his person; (4) officers gave verbal commands to drop the knife before firing; (5) Jones refused to drop his knife; (6) Jones stabbed an officer prior to any officer firing their service guns.  Despite these admissions, the court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the excessive force claims due to the error that the district court had improperly considered the facts in the light most favorable to the officers, rather than the Estate. 

The court stated that it was clearly established that officers may not shoot a secured or incapacitated person and still be protected by qualified immunity. The Fourth Circuit held that a reasonable jury viewing the videos could find that Jones was secured when he was pinned to the ground by five officers, or alternatively that a reasonable jury could find that he was incapacitated by the time of the shooting.

Additionally, the Fourth Circuit held, at least framed on appeal, Jones’s death was an isolated incident of excessive force that falls outside of the Canton exception to Monell liability because Martinsburg has an aggression policy, and the Estate failed to show how or why that policy is deficient–except by pointing to this single incident.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment below that the City was insulated from Monell liability. And the court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds and vacated the judgment, which dismissed on that claim.

Full Opinion

Zachary Turner