Week 8 (2019)

Week of January 28, 2019 through February 1, 2019

Hannah P. v. Coats (Thacker 2/19/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that a former employee of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was not unlawfully discriminated against under the Rehabilitation Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) where she failed to satisfy her burden of establishing those claims. However, the Court also found that a genuine issue of material fact existed in the former employee’s FMLA interference claim regarding notice of her condition and desire to take a leave of absence. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgement for the discrimination claims, but vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the FMLA interference claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. Full Opinion

United States v. Young (Agee 2/21/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that in defendant’s conviction for materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization, evidence of Nazi and White Supremacist affiliations was properly admitted and not obtained in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, where the evidence tended to show the defendant’s predisposition to support a foreign terrorist organization. However, the Court also found that the evidence was insufficient to prove the nexus and foreseeability requirements of the obstruction statute. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the material support conviction, vacated the obstruction conviction, and remanded the case for resentencing. Full Opinion

ACA Fin. Guar. Corp. v. City of Buena Vista, Virginia (Quattlebaum 2/21/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that a city had no obligation to make rent payments on issued bonds where that obligation was expressly subject to the city’s annual decision to appropriate funds. The Court, therefore, affirmed the district court’s order dismissing ACA Financial Guaranty’s complaint against the City of Buena Vista, Virginia. Full Opinion

Thomas v. Berryhill (amended 2/22/2019): The Fourth Circuit held that an administrative law judge who effectuated the denial of an application or supplemental security income erred in failing to sufficiently explaining the reasoning underlying her evaluation of the applicant’s residual functional capacity and failing to identify and resolve a conflict between the testimony of a vocational expert and an authoritative written source. Thus, the Court remanded the action to the district court with direction to further remand the action to commissioner of Social Security. Full Opinion

United States ex rel. Rangarajan v. Johns Hopkins Health Sys. Corp. (Niemeyer 2/22/2019): The Fourth Circuit found that “flagrant and unremitting” violations of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure justified the dismissal of four separate actions that arose from the constructive discharge of a nurse practitioner where the plaintiffs conduct rendered “virtually useless” five years of litigation and was likely to continue in further proceedings. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff Rangarajan’s actions against Defendant Johns Hopkins University. Full Opinion


Highlight Case

United States v. Seerden, No. 18-4124

Amended: February 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit held that, with respect to the conviction of a military person for possession of child pornography, the good faith exception applied to evidence obtained as the result of a defective Command Authorization for Search and Seizure (CASS). Despite the district court’s reliance on the Military Rules of Evidence, the Fourth Circuit found that the Fourth Amendment, and not the Military Rules, governs whether evidence is admissible in federal proceedings. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit found that despite the initial warrant’s non-compliance with the Military Rules, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule precluded the suppression of the evidence.

Defendant was a member of the United States Navy’s Sea, Air, and Land Team. While Defendant was training for a week at Virginia’s Little Creek base, he had a sexual encounter with a woman who was too intoxicated to give consent. As a result of this incident, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) began an investigation into the incident, which ultimately included obtaining a CASS, or military search warrant, for Defendant’s phone. In line with that plan, Defendant’s commanding officer signed the CASS sanctioning the search of Defendant’s phone. The subsequent searches revealed child pornography on the Defendant’s phone. However, the CASS obtained by NCIS did not satisfy the “authorization” requirement of Military Rule of Evidence 315, because it was not authorized by an individual given such authorization by the Military Rules.

Although the district court relied on the Military Rules of Evidence in evaluating the admissibility of the evidence at issue, the Fourth Circuit found that the Fourth Amendment governs the admissibility of evidence in federal criminal proceedings. The Military Rules of Evidence, the Court reasoned, cannot usurp the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the Court applied Fourth Amendment precedent to find that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule precluded the suppression of the evidence obtained from the unauthorized searches. Thus, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Full Opinion

Wilson Daniel