Wake Forest Law Review

By Shawn Namet

On September 28, 2017, the Forth Circuit issued a published opinion in Di Biase v. SPX Corp.  Plaintiffs, retirees of SPX Corporation (“SPX”) as well as the International Union United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a motion for preliminary injunction in an action to enforce the terms of two prior settlement agreements.  Plaintiffs sought interlocutory appeal from the district court’s denial of its motion for preliminary injunction.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that Plaintiffs failed to satisfy the requirements for a preliminary injunction and remanded the action for further proceedings.

Facts and Procedural History

 In 2003, the parties to a class action suit against SPX signed settlement agreements that required SPX to provide lifetime health coverage to identified retirees and their families through specified group insurance plans or through “coverage which is substantially equivalent in benefits.”  SPX provided the coverage required by the settlement agreements from 2004 to 2015. SPX announced in 2014 that as of January 1, 2015, the group insurance plans would be cancelled and replaced with annual healthcare reimbursement accounts (“HRA”) that would provide funds to beneficiaries to purchase their own insurance plans.

In November 2014, Plaintiffs brought the underlying class action suit against SPX, alleging that the proposed HRA accounts did not constitute “coverage which is substantially equivalent in benefits” to the original group insurance plans and that SPX therefore intended to breach the settlement agreements.  Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction, seeking to prevent SPX from moving forward with the proposed coverage changes on the effective date.  Resolution of the motion was delayed, however, until after the HRA accounts were implemented.

The district court denied the motion for preliminary injunction in September, 2015 on the basis that the motion was moot, as the HRA accounts had already gone into effect.  Alternatively, the court found that Plaintiffs failed to meet the standard required to warrant a preliminary injunction.

Motion for Preliminary Injunction Not Moot When Status Quo May Be Restored

 Defendant argued that the motion for preliminary injunction was rendered moot when the HRA accounts were implemented.  The Fourth Circuit recognized that the purpose of a preliminary injunction is to maintain the status quo, as stated in Pashby v. Delia.  709 F.3d 307, 319 (4th Cir. 2013).  However, under Aggarao v. MOL Ship Mgmt. Co., a preliminary injunction may also act to restore the status quo even when the event sought to be prevented has already occurred.  675 F.3d 355.  The Fourth Circuit found that the district court erred in failing to consider, in light of the decisions in Pashby and Aggarao, whether Plaintiff’s motion was still moot even after the HRA accounts were implemented.  The Court further rejected SPX’s argument that cancelling the HRA accounts and reinstating the previous group insurance plans would be unduly burdensome, holding that difficulties in restoring the status quo were not sufficient to render the Plaintiffs’ motion moot.

Plaintiffs Failed to Meet Requirements for Preliminary Injunction

 In support of a motion for preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must establish that (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction, (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor and (4) that the injunction is in the public interest. Winter v. National Resource Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008).  The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that Plaintiffs failed to present evidence sufficient to establish that they were likely to ultimately succeed on the merits.  Plaintiffs argued that the words “plan” and “coverage” in the settlement agreements had clear meanings to which the HRA accounts did not conform.  The Court found the meanings of the words “plan” and “coverage” in the agreement to be ambiguous, and therefore declined to say it was likely the Plaintiffs’ argument would be successful.  The Court further found no irreparable harm to the Plaintiffs in absence of an injunction, as they presented no evidence that any beneficiaries of the HRA accounts were unable to acquire health insurance. Finally, the balance of equities and public interest were best served by proceeding to a decision on the merits, as an injunction requiring a change in insurance plans at the time, and another potential change later if the Plaintiffs did not prevail, would be a burden on both parties.

Conclusion

The Fourth Circuit found that the district court erred in finding the Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction moot, but affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion on the grounds that Plaintiffs failed to meet the standard requirements for a preliminary injunction.

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By Malorie Letcavage

Overview

In a published opinion of a civil case issued on April 28, 2015, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity in the case of Raub v. Campbell. The appellant, Brandon Raub, argued that his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures, and his First Amendment right to free speech were violated by the appellee, Michael Campbell. Raub also sought injunctive relief even if his constitutional claims failed. In reviewing the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the Fourth Circuit used a de novo standard. The Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity because it found that Raub’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated, he had not pled sufficient facts for a First Amendment claim and there was no abuse of discretion in the district court’s dismissal of his injunctive claim for relief.

Factual Background

In the summer of 2012, two Marine veterans that had served with Brandon Raub contacted the FBI about Raub’s Facebook posts. Raub posted threatening messages and employed extremist language in numerous posts. The FBI and local law enforcement visited Raub to question him about his Facebook activity. The agents reported that Raub’s behavior was unusual because during the interview he was preoccupied, could not maintain eye contact and displayed extreme mood swings.

The agents contacted Michael Campbell, a certified mental health “prescreener” affiliated with the local emergency services. Campbell recommended Raub be detained for evaluation, at which point the officers took Raub to the local jail. Campbell interviewed Raub and noted the same behavior the officers had described; Raub was distracted, and had trouble answering questions. Campbell concluded Raub might be paranoid and delusional.

Campbell petitioned and was granted a temporary detention from the magistrate because Raub was displaying signs of psychosis. Four days into the temporary detention, the court ordered that Raub be admitted to the hospital for thirty days. However, a few days later Raub was released because the court found that the petition had insufficient factual allegations. Raub then filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against Campbell. The district court granted Campbell’s motion for summary judgment due to qualified immunity and denied Raub’s request for injunctive relief.

42 U.S.C. 1983

This statute provides an avenue to pursue a civil action for a deprivation of constitutional rights. It lays out that any person acting under the color of state law (which, as in this case, can include a mental health professional associated with emergency services) who subjects anyone to a “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” will be liable to the party injured.

Appellant’s Fourth Amendment Rights Were Not Violated

The court explained that qualified immunity analysis has two prongs: 1. Whether the plaintiff has established the violation of a constitutional right and 2. Whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.

The court decided to start its evaluation with the second prong and held that Campbell’s conduct was not proscribed by clearly established law. The court noted that a seizure requires probable cause but there is a lack of clarity in the law concerning seizures for psychological evaluations. The court then went on to cite the major cases in the Fourth Circuit which all held that that seizures for psychological evaluation were upheld when the person was a threat to himself or others. The court held that due to the totality of the factors, including the content of Raub’s Facebook posts, the initial observations by the officers and Campbell’s observations of Raub, Campbell did not violate Raub’s Fourth Amendment rights because his petition to detain was reasonable based on existing precedent.

Appellant Failed to Allege Sufficient Facts for a First Amendment Claim

            Though Raub contended that Campbell only recommended detention based on Raub’s “unorthodox political statements,” the court found that Campbell had numerous other reasons for recommending detention. The court cited the content of the Facebook posts, Raub’s behavior during the interview, and the increasingly threatening nature of his posts. Even if the political statements were part of the decision, the court found Campbell had plenty of other reasons for Raub to be detained. Thus the court held that Raub did not sufficiently allege facts for a First Amendment violation and Campbell was entitled to qualified immunity.

Appellant’s Claim for Injunctive Relief Was Properly Rejected 

            The court reviewed the denial of injunctive relief for abuse of discretion, and it found none. Under §1983 when a plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief, he needs to demonstrate a real or immediate threat that he will be wronged again in a similar way. However, Raub only alleged that his political beliefs would subject him to seizures and retaliation in the future. The court found that this claim was too speculative and did not reach the level needed to grant equitable relief.

Conclusion

The court did not find that Raub’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated nor did it find that he had alleged sufficient facts for a First Amendment claim. It also found no abuse of discretion in the dismissal of the claim for injunctive relief. Therefore, the court affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.