Wake Forest Law Review

By: Adam McCoy and Shawn Namet

Kenny v. Wilson

In this civil case, plaintiff-appellants, Kenny, argued the district court incorrectly dismissed their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for lack of standing for failure to state an injury in fact.  The plaintiff-appellants challenge two South Carolina statutes as unconstitutionally vague that criminalize any person, including students, from disturbing any school or college.  The district court found fear of future arrest and prosecution under the vague statutes was not an injury sufficient to provide standing.  The Fourth Circuit overturned the district court decision and found the plaintiffs did have standing to challenge vagueness where they had been previously charged under the statute and did not know what future actions would be interpreted as violations.  The Fourth Circuit also found standing for claims that the statutes chill First Amendment speech because they were too vague to constitute what may be considered a violation.

Hodgin v. UTC Fire & Security Americas Corp., Inc.

In this civil case, the plaintiff-appellants, Hodgin, sued UTC Fire & Security Americas Corp., Inc., and Honeywell International, Inc., claiming they were vicariously liable for illegal calls made by telemarketers in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.  The district court granted summary judgment to UTC and Honeywell after denying plaintiffs’ motion to postpone the ruling on summary judgment until after the close of discovery.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion to postpone because the plaintiffs failed to show the discovery allowed was not sufficient to allow them to find evidence to oppose summary judgment.  The plaintiffs had sufficient opportunity to depose the defendants and failed to identify what information they could have discovered to defeat summary judgment.

Sims v. Labowitz

In this civil case, the plaintiff-appellants, Sims, sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging police detective Abbot’s search of his person violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by trying to force seventeen-year-old Sims to recreate a sexual explicit image he had sent a fifteen-year-old girl.  The district court dismissed the complaint based on Abbot’s qualified immunity.  The Fourth Circuit overturned the district court because a reasonable officer would have known that attempting to force a minor to recreate the sexually explicit image would invade the minor’s right to privacy.  Abbot would not be entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer should have known the that action violated the constitution.

Sky Angel U.S., LLC v. Discovery Communications, LLC

This case involved a contract dispute between television distributor Sky Angel U.S. and media company Discovery Communications.  Discovery terminated its contract granting distribution rights to Sky Angel upon discovering that Sky Angel’s IPTV distribution system delivered content to consumers over the “public internet” without using a closed dedicated pathway.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court of Maryland’s finding that the contract was ambiguous on this point, and found that the District Court therefore properly considered extrinsic evidence.  The Fourth Circuit further agreed with the District Court that the extrinsic evidence established that Sky Angel had no reasonable expectation that it could distribute Discovery programming over the public internet because Discovery made its internal policy disallowing the distribution model clear to Sky Angel.

Int’l Brotherhood Local 639 v. Airgas, Inc.

In this labor dispute, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court of Maryland’s issuance of a preliminary injunction preventing Airgas, Inc. from relocating some operations to nonunion facilities until the arbitrator in the case had issued a final decision regarding whether the relocation violated the collective bargaining agreement.  On appeal, however, the Fourth Circuit found the case to be moot because the arbitrator made a final decision in favor of the Union while Airgas’s appeal was pending.  The Fourth Circuit rejected Airgas’s argument that the case was still “live” because it would be entitled to damages in the event that the Fourth Circuit held the District Court had no jurisdiction to issue the injunction. Instead, the Fourth Circuit held that Airgas would not be entitled to damages because it had only been prevented from taking action it had no legal right to take under the collective bargaining agreement.  The Fourth Circuit added that while federal courts generally lack jurisdiction to issue injunctions in labor disputes, the case fell within the exception for cases in which the arbitrator would otherwise be unable to restore the status quo ante.

The dissent argued that the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction dangerously broadened a narrow exception.  According to the dissent, the case would set a precedent allowing courts to unduly interfere with labor disputes, noting that the extensive litigation surrounding the injunctive relief in this case was contrary to the purpose of the parties submitting to mandatory arbitration in the first place.  Further, the dissent argued that the case was not moot, as the district court’s lack of jurisdiction should have at least entitled Airgas to the $5,000 injunction bond paid by the Union.

U.S. v. Savage

In this criminal case, Defendant Savage appealed his convictions for banking fraud and identity theft on the basis that the district court did not conduct an in camera review of the prosecutor’s notes to determine whether information was being withheld that could impeach his accomplice’s testimony against him.  Savage enlisted an accomplice employed by the targeted bank to provide him with identifying information in customer’s accounts.  The accomplice agreed to testify against Savage.  Before the court is required to conduct in camera inspection under the Jencks Act, a defendant must establish a foundation for the request by stating with reasonable particularity a basis for his belief that material subject to required disclosure under the act exists.  Under the rule set forth in Brady v. Maryland, a defendant must show that “the non-disclosed evidence was favorable to the defendant, material, and that the prosecution had the evidence and failed to disclose it.”  373 U.S. 83 (1963).  The Fourth Circuit rejected Savage’s argument that the existence of some inconsistent statements properly disclosed by the prosecution required the district court to conduct in camera review of the prosecutor’s personal notes to determine if additional inconsistent statements were made.  Similarly, the existence of the disclosed inconsistent statements was insufficient to establish that the prosecution had additional material information it failed to disclose.

The Fourth Circuit rejected Savage’s argument that the district court erred in denying his requested jury instruction that would have instructed the jury to closely scrutinize accomplice testimony.  The jury found no error in refusing to distinguish accomplice witnesses from all witnesses and that the district court properly instructed the jury to closely scrutinize all witness testimony when determining credibility.

Savage also argued that the district court erred in permitting the jury to receive written jury instructions regarding aiding and abetting after declining to provide written copies of all jury instructions.  The Fourth Circuit rejected Savage’s argument, citing the strong deference afforded to trial courts in the use of jury instructions, finding no abuse of discretion.

U.S. v. Bell

This appeal arose from the district court’s order finding Respondent Kaylan Bell to be a “sexually dangerous person” under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, thereby civilly committing him to the custody of the Attorney General upon his release from prison.  Bell had a long history of numerous sexual offenses involving children, beginning in 1999, which were predominantly for repeatedly exposing himself to minors.  He challenged the district court’s finding that he would have serious difficulty refraining from child molestation upon release because it had been eighteen years since his last “hands-on” child molestation offense.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s findings that, despite the time lapse, Bell’s repeated offenses established an inability to control his impulses.  The Fourth Circuit also found that the district court properly credited an expert who had twice prior declined to reach the conclusion that Bell was a sexually dangerous person as defined by the act because she had changed her position only after Bell reoffended just two weeks after his last release.

By: Carson Smith

Today, in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. North Carolina, the Fourth Circuit overturned the district court by partially granting a preliminary injunction as to certain provisions of North Carolina’s controversial voting law. In reaching its decision, the Court followed the lead of the Sixth Circuit in applying Section Two of the Voting Rights Act to state voting restrictions.

The case centered on NC House Bill 589, which greatly restricts voting opportunities for North Carolina citizens. The bill, passed in August of 2013, added provisions (1) reducing early-voting days; (2) eliminating same-day registration; (3) prohibiting the counting of out-of-precinct ballots; (4) expanding the potential number of poll observers and voter challenges; (5) eliminating the necessity of keeping polls open an additional hour in “extraordinary circumstances”; and (6) eliminating pre-registration of sixteen and seventeen year olds. On the day of its passage, the plaintiffs filed suit in the Middle District of North Carolina alleging that the bill provisions violate the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. Soon thereafter, the plaintiffs moved for preliminary injunction. The district court determined that the plaintiffs failed to prove every preliminary injunction element as to the six challenged provisions and thus denied the motion.

In partially overturning the ruling, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion and misapplied the Voting Rights Act to the facts of the case. The Court granted the preliminary injunction as to (1) the elimination of same-day registration and (2) the prohibition on counting out-of-precinct ballots. Conversely, the Court affirmed the denial of preliminary injunction as to the other four provisions, including the reduction of early-voting days. The Court was quick to note that the affirmation was significantly predicated on the degree of hardship North Carolina would undergo if required to alter the voting infrastructure less than five weeks before statewide elections.

In granting the preliminary injunction for same day registration and counting out-of-precinct ballots, the Court applied Section Two of the Voting Rights Act. Section Two “forbids any ‘standard, practice or procedure’ that ‘results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.’” In applying this Section, courts look to the totality of circumstances to determine whether voting is “equally open to participation by citizens of protected races.” A plaintiff need not show discriminatory intent, discriminatory impact or burden alone is enough for a violation to exist.

Unlike the district court, the Fourth Circuit determined that the baseline for assessing discriminatory burden is the “preexisting voting standard, practice, or procedure.” Additionally, the restrictions must be evaluated as a whole, not separately, to determine whether a burden results. Finally, where a burden is found, it “must in part be caused by or linked to ‘social and historical conditions’ that have or currently produce discrimination against members of the protected class.”

In its analysis, the Court ruled that “[t]here can be no doubt that certain challenged measures in House Bill 589 disproportionately impact minority voters.” The Court cited the high percentage of African Americans who use same day registration versus the percentage of whites who use it. The Court also held that this difference is due to “social and historical conditions,” including “education, income, access to transportation, and residential stability.” Finally, the Court ruled that these restrictions cause irreparable injury to the plaintiffs and the hardship North Carolina will face in implementing the changes is not enough to tip the balance in its favor.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision in League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. North Carolina will likely have far reaching implications. Like the Sixth Circuit, the Fourth Circuit has made it clear that it will use Section Two of the Voting Rights Act to strike down racially burdensome voting restrictions. Prior to last year, Section Five of the Voting Rights Act was utilized primarily for this purpose; however, the Supreme Court ruled that section unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder. Also, as the dissent points out, a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy, especially in the case of a “duly enacted statute.” Given the Court’s interpretation of Section Two and its decision to overturn the lower court, even in the face of the high “abuse of discretion” standard, it is unlikely that the remaining provisions of the bill will survive at trial.