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Week 3 (2020)

Week of January 20, 2020 through January 24, 2020

United States v. Bryant (Floyd 1/24/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that a conviction for assaulting with intent to rob, steal or purloin a postal employee and placing their life in jeopardy by use of a dangerous weapon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2114(a) constitutes a “crime of violence” under § 924(c)’s force clause. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court sentencing the defendant to 46 months on the § 2114(a) aggravated assault charge and 84 months on the § 924(c) charge for brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Full Opinion

Atemnkeng v. William P. Barr, Attorney General (Gregory 1/24/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that a Cameroon citizen’s due process rights were violated when a Baltimore Immigration Judge deprived the citizen of the opportunity to explain inconsistencies within her asylum application. However, because the citizen was denied the opportunity to explain those inconsistencies, the Court declined to address whether the denial of the citizen’s applications for withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture Act were erroneous. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Baltimore Immigration Judge’s ruling denying the citizen’s applications for asylum and remanded for further proceedings.  Full Opinion

Gunvor Sa v. Arman Kayablian, Lawrence Kayabliam, Amira Company, LLC (Motz 1/22/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiff’s claim was proper because the Plaintiff failed to join another foreign entity as a Defendant who was necessary and indispensable to the action. The Court reasoned that the Defendant was necessary and indispensable because the core of the named parties’ agreement was to purchase oil from Iraq which the Plaintiff was going to do through the unnamed Defendant. Furthermore, the contracts in question were between the Plaintiff and the unnamed Defendant, not the named Defendants. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the complaint without prejudice. Full Opinion

Calloway v. Lokey et al. (Niemeyer 1/21/2020): The Fourth Circuit held that corrections officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a strip search of a prison visitor who was visiting an inmate because: (a) the corrections officers knew the prisoner in question had recently been transferred to their prison because the prisoner had been caught smuggling contraband into his previous prison; (b) before the visit in question, officers received a tip that the prisoner was “moving,” which meant he was smuggling contraband; and (c) during the visit an officer assigned to watch the encounter appeared to observe the visitor unbutton her pants on the video feed. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the corrections officers. Full Opinion

Highlight Case

Ray v. Roane

Decided: January 22, 2020

The Fourth Circuit held that the Plaintiff’s complaint plausibly stated a claim for an unconstitutional seizure of her property, and the police officer whose conduct was in question was not entitled to qualified immunity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court held the claim was plausible because the complaint stated that the officer shot the Plaintiff’s dog, Jax, while it was in the Plaintiff’s yard, was tethered, and was therefore incapable of “reaching or harming” the officer. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiff’s claim and remanded.

Officers arrived at Plaintiff’s house to execute an arrest warrant on Plaintiff for domestic abuse. Plaintiff’s 150-pound German Shephard was attached to two trees in the yard via a lead that allowed for limited movement within the dog’s “play area.” The officer in question parked his vehicle within Jax’s “play area” and exited his vehicle at which point Jax began to bark and approach the officer. Jax very quickly reached the end of his lead while Plaintiff ran to grab the lead while calling Jax’s name. The officer then “observed that the dog could not reach him, and further observed [Plaintiff] was now holding onto Jax’s fully extended lead.” The officer then stopped backing away from Jax before taking one step forward and firing his weapon killing Jax. 

The Court stated that it could only affirm the district court’s decision dismissing the claim if the shooting of Jax was constitutional. Furthermore, the Court stated that the shooting could only be constitutional if it was reasonable under the circumstances alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint. In holding the shooting to be unconstitutional, the Court pointed out that it must draw all inferences in favor of the Plaintiff because of the motion to dismiss. Therefore, the allegation in the complaint that Jax had reached the end of his tether and was incapable of reaching the officer had to be taken at face value. This meant that the officer could not have held a reasonable belief that he was in danger, and therefore the shooting was an unconstitutional seizure. The Court distinguished this case from the cases cited and relied on by the district court because in those cases, all the dogs were unleashed and unrestrained.

Additionally, the Court held that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity because, due to the motion to dismiss, the Court had to draw all inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. Therefore, at least for purposes of the motion, the officer shot Jax “at a time when he could not have held a reasonable belief that the dog posed a threat to himself or others.” Therefore, a reasonable officer would have understood that killing Jax under those circumstances would constitute an unreasonable seizure.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of the officer’s motion to dismiss and remanded the case for further proceedings. 

Full Opinion

William S. Anderson