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Week 32 (2017)

Week of August 7, 2017 through August 11, 2017

Minnieland Private Day School v. Applied Underwriters (Wynn 8/11/2017): The Fourth Circuit held that arbitration cannot be compelled between parties to an insurance agreement when state law renders void the “delegation provisions of putative insurance contracts,” and further held the doctrine of judicial estoppel is inapplicable when a party has taken consistent positions before trial or when the position taken regards an issue of law rather than fact.  The court affirmed the district court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration and reversed the court’s application of judicial estoppel.  Full Opinion

Sonia Calla Mejia v. Jefferson Sessions III (Diaz 8/9/2017): The Fourth Circuit held it does not have jurisdiction over an illegal immigration removal order and held “an alien subject to a reinstated removal order . . . is precluded from applying for asylum.”  The court dismissed the petitioner’s petition for review of the immigration judge’s order removing her to her native country in part and denied it in part.  Full Opinion

Vijaya Boggala v. Jefferson Sessions III (Floyd 8/9/2017): The Fourth Circuit held soliciting a sex act from a child is a crime of moral turpitude sufficient to support removal of a permanent alien convicted of such a crime.  The court denied the petitioner’s petition for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ order removing him to his native country.  Full Opinion

Marlow Humbert v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City (Gregory 8/7/2017): The Fourth Circuit held an accused’s rights are violated, and arresting officers are not entitled to qualified immunity, when the officers rely upon a questionable, and later recanted, reaction by a victim to support an arrest.  The court reversed the district court’s finding of qualified immunity and remanded with instructions to reinstate the jury verdict finding the accused’s rights were violated.  Full Opinion

Highlight Case

Marlow Humbert v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City, No. 15-1768

Decided: August 7, 2017

The Fourth Circuit held an arrest warrant is invalid when officers misrepresent a victim’s response to a photograph of the accused and fail to tell the magistrate judge the victim states she cannot positively identify the victim from the photograph provided to her.  Moreover, the court held probable cause does not exist sufficient to permit an arrest without a warrant when officers improperly impact the victim’s ability to identify her attacker by showing her a photograph and telling her the man depicted therein is the attacker.  The court further held the officers unreasonably violated the accused’s “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights” and the officers were therefore not entitled to qualified immunity.

This action was initiated after a man was wrongly accused of rape and incarcerated for fifteen months by the Baltimore City Police Department after a woman was brutally raped in her home by a black man.  The victim, an artist, created a sketch of her attacker, but the police said they could not use that sketch and used their own artist to create a sketch the victim described as generic.  They then identified Humbert, the wrongly accused, as a suspect, showed the victim Humbert’s photographs, and then used the victim’s disputed response to seeing his photograph as grounds to support an arrest warrant.  Humbert was then arrested and placed in solitary confinement.  The victim later asserted to police that she could not positively identify the victim, but agreed to testify against Humbert because she was assured the DNA evidence confirmed Humbert was the assailant, though the police had no such DNA evidence.  The DNA evidence actually conclusively proved Humbert was not the assailant.  Once word of these discrepancies finally reached the Assistant State’s Attorney, a nolle prosequi was entered as to Humbert’s charges and he was released.  He thereafter initiated a suit stating his constitutional rights were violated.   A jury awarded Humbert $2.3 million dollars in actual and punitive damages.  The district court, however, struck the award, finding the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that for the officers to be entitled to qualified immunity they needed to show that a reasonable officer would not have known he was violating the accused’s clearly established rights.  The court also reviewed the jury’s finding that a violation of Humbert’s rights occurred and stated the officers did not violate Humbert’s rights if there existed a valid search warrant or probable cause to arrest Humbert.

Regarding the search warrant, the court found the statement that the victim had positively identified Humbert as the attacker was false and that the officers had reason to doubt it before relying on that statement to obtain an arrest warrant.  By removing that statement from the petition for the warrant, the court found the warrant application would be insufficient to show probable cause and the warrant was, therefore, invalid.  Regarding probable cause, the court concluded the totality of the facts present did not support the conclusion that Humbert had committed a crime.  The court was unconvinced by the argument that Humbert matched the attacker’s description, for the description was vague and could implicate many people.  Therefore, the court concluded Humbert’s rights were violated by the police officers’ actions.

Lastly, the court reviewed the officers’ claim of qualified immunity.  The court plainly stated, “the officers had no reasonable basis to believe probable cause existed to seek the warrant or initiate criminal proceedings against Humbert based on the victim’s initial reaction to Humbert’s photo.”  The court further relied on the fact that the victim later stated she could not identify Humbert as her attacker, and cited the officers’ failure to react to that statement.  The court, therefore, held the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, for they could not have reasonably believed they had probable cause to arrest Humbert.

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s finding of qualified immunity and remanded with instructions to reinstate the jury verdict.  The court also remanded for further proceedings to determine if the municipal employees named in the suit also violated Humbert’s rights.

Full Opinion

James David George, Jr.