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Week 31 (2018)

Week of July 30, 2018 through August 3, 2018

Thomas Porter v. David Zook (Thacker 8/3/2018): The Fourth Circuit affirmed a dismissal of a petition appealing sentencing and remanded the case for determination of a potential juror bias. In this death penalty case, a juror failed to disclose a possible bias until after sentencing. As much testimonial evidence came out after the case revealing the extent of the juror’s potential prejudice, the case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine any prejudicial effect of the bias. Full Opinion

Sierra Club v. State Water Control Board (Traxler 8/1/2018): The Fourth Circuit denied the petition of many environmental organizations for review of the natural gas pipeline the state intended to construct. This issue came on behalf of many environmental agencies because the planned pipeline crossed many water sources, but the Court denied the petition by concluding the State Agencies did not act arbitrarily in allowing the pipeline. Full Opinion

Scott Griffin v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. (Niemeyer 7/31/2018): The Fourth Circuit affirmed the granting of summary judgment in termination of insurance case because the company determined the insured to no longer be disabled. As part of the plan provided that the insured would only receive disability insurance if he continued to be disabled, the District Court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company.  Full Opinion

Highlight Case

U.S. Tobacco Cooperative Inc. v. Big South Wholesale of VA Inc., No. 17-2070

Decided: August 3, 2018

The Fourth Circuit held that a District Court Judge abused his discretion by reconsidering and then denying a previously granted substitution of defendants.

Carpenter and Small, both well-established businessmen in the tobacco industry, assisted the government in undercover operations into corruption and violations occurring in the tobacco industry. The men decided to sell portions of their business but continue their undercover work. The purchasing company and others filed this lawsuit against, among other, Carpenter and Smalls for taking advantage of their confidential status and breach of contract.

The Fourth Circuit defined both federal employee and work done in the course of official duties to determine if Carpenter and Smalls fell within the scope of the Westfall Act. In doing this, the Court looked to the language and other case law to conclude that nothing precludes confidential informants immunity under the Act.

The original District Judge allowed the Defendant’s motion to substitute party for the United States. The original District Court Judge retired, and the replacement made statements indicating his willingness to reconsider the allowance of substitution, so the Plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration. The second District Court Judge held that Carpenter and Smalls were not acting within the scope of their federal employment.

The Fourth Circuit found that the granting of substitution should not have been reexamined as the original decision was not clearly erroneous, thus it was an abuse of discretion to reconsider. Therefore, the original substitution of defendants for the United States was reinstated.

Full Opinion

Maura Ashton