United States v. Rodriguez-Soriano (Gregory 7/24/19): The Fourth Circuit held the administration of criminal justice requires a criminal conviction to rest upon firmer ground than an uncorroborated admission or confession of the accused. The Court reversed the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s judgment of conviction and remanded for the entry of a judgment of acquittal. Full Opinion
Dawson-Murdock v. National Counseling Group, Inc. (King 7/24/19): The Fourth Circuit held that a plan administrator under the Employee retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) acts in a fiduciary capacity when the plan administrator is responsible for verifying employee eligibility for participation in an employee benefit plan. The Court vacated and remanded the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s ERISA fiduciary claims. Full Opinion
Life Technologies Corporation v. Govindaraj (Keenan 7/24/19): The Fourth Circuit held that a corporate executive may not be held personally liable for a judgment against a corporation when he/she was not named as a party or otherwise brought into the case by service of process, including cases where the executive is held in contempt of court. The court affirmed the executive being in contempt of court but vacated and remanded the District Court for the District of Maryland’s judgment against the executive personally. Full Opinion
United States v. Silva (Niemeyer 7/25/19): The Fourth Circuit held that when an expedited removal in an immigration proceeding is alleged to be an element in a criminal prosecution, the defendant in that prosecution must be able to challenge the element, even though the expedited removal statute explicitly states that federal courts do not have jurisdiction to review such claims. However, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia because the defendant failed to show prejudice as required to demonstrate that his removal was fundamentally unfair. Full Opinion
Hupp v. Cook (Gregory 7/25/19): The Fourth Circuit held that the doctrine of qualified immunity shields government officials from liability for civil damages when their conduct does not violate clearly established constitutional or other rights that a reasonable officer would have known. The Court reversed and remanded the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the State Trooper on the false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and unlawful entry and seizure claims. However, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s denial of appellant’s summary judgment on the unlawful entry and seizure-of-devices claims. Full Opinion
Hahn v. Moseley
Decided July 24, 2019:
The Fourth Circuit held in the context of firearm convictions based on predicate offenses when the charges or counts exceed the number of acts, those extra charges or counts cannot form the basis of additional liability. The Court, applying Tenth Circuit substantive law, concluded that U.S. v. Rentz constituted a substantive change in the law that renders the defendant’s firearm possession no longer sufficient to support two convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
Petitioner-Appellant Marcus Hahn appealed the final order of the district court denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In 1999, law enforcement executed a search warrant for Hahn’s home where they found marijuana plants and firearms throughout his home. Following a jury trial in the District Court for the District of New Mexico, a jury convicted Hahn of the following four counts: (1) intentionally manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants; (2) opening and maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, and using marijuana; (3) possessing firearms in furtherance of the opening and maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, and using marijuana; and (4) possessing a firearm in furtherance of the opening and maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, and using marijuana. The third and fourth counts were based on the same gun collection, which included 21 firearms found throughout the house.
In 2015, correctional officials transferred Hahn to a facility in South Carolina. Hahn filed the habeas corpus petition in the District Court for the District of South Carolina pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, which requires habeas petitions to be filed in the jurisdiction where the federal inmate is detained. The Fourth Circuit applied a three-prong standard from In re Jones to determine whether to grant habeas relief under the savings clause. In re Jones questions: (1) whether the conviction was proper under the settled law of this circuit or the Supreme Court at the time; (2) if the law of the conviction changed after the prisoner’s direct appeal and first 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion; and (3) if the prisoner cannot meet the traditional § 2255 standard because the change is not one of constitutional law.
The Fourth Circuit focused its analysis on the second prong, dealing with whether the law of the conviction changed after the prisoner’s direct appeal. Before defendant’s conviction, charges under § 924(c) were proper as long as they did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. Subsequently, the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Rentz clarified that multiple charges must also comply with a unit-of-prosecution statutory analysis that examines how many distinct instances of conduct existed. Specifically, when charges exceed the number of acts, those extra charges or counts cannot form the basis of additional criminal liability. Because two of defendant’s possession of firearm convictions were based on the same collection of firearms seized, the Fourth Circuit held that the second of his § 924(c) convictions cannot stand because it is not supported by an independent firearm possession.