Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of his mother's estate against WellDyne and Exactus, asserting claims for negligence, negligence per se and breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose against both defendants. Plaintiff also alleged Exactus was vicariously liable for the actions of WellDyne under agency and joint venture theories. In this case, plaintiff's mother died shortly after a hospital stay stemming from her ingestion of prescription medications that were erroneously mailed to her by WellDyne. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of WellDyne and Exactus as to all counts, finding that plaintiff's mother was contributorily negligent as a matter of law which completely barred her recovery in North Carolina. The court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it granted summary judgment on the basis of contributory negligence and causation, remanding for the district judge to conduct a Daubert analysis of the expert opinions proffered by plaintiff to determine whether taking some of the misdirected medications was the cause of the mother's injuries and death. The court affirmed summary judgment to Exactus; affirmed summary judgment to WellDyne as to the claim for implied warranty of a particular purpose; and remanded. View "Small v. Welldyne, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured while replacing railroad crossties on a bridge spanning navigable waters, he filed a negligence claim against his employer under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the employer's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court held that plaintiff's injury did not occur "upon navigable waters," as required by the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, and thus the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's FELA claim. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Muhammad v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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In the underlying action, a customer purchased a headlamp on Amazon's website from a third party seller and then gave it to friends as a gift. After the headlamp's batteries malfunctioned and ignited the friends' house on fire and caused over $300,000 in damages, the insurer of the house paid the loss and, as subrogee, filed suit against Amazon alleging claims of negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability tort. The insurer argued that Amazon was liable under Maryland law because it was the "seller" of the headlamp. The district court granted summary judgment to Amazon and held that Amazon was immune from suit. The Fourth Circuit held that, although Amazon was not immune from suit under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230(c)(1), Amazon was not the "seller" of the headlamp and therefore did not have liability under Maryland law for products liability claims asserted by reason of the product's defective condition. The court explained that insofar as liability in Maryland for defective products falls on "sellers" and manufacturers (who are also sellers), it is imposed on owners of personal property who transfer title to purchasers of that property for a price. In this case, there was no evidence to dispute that when Dream Light shipped its headlamp to Amazon's warehouse in Virginia, it was the owner of the headlamp. Furthermore, when Dream Light transferred possession of the headlamp to Amazon, without Amazon's payment of the headlamp's price or an agreement transferring title to it, Amazon did not, by that simple transfer, receive title. There was also no action or agreement that amounted to the consummation of the sale of the headlamp by Dream Light to Amazon. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Erie Insurance Co. v. Amazon.com" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that negligent advice from their financial advisor and his employer, Morgan Stanley, resulted in less favorable tax distribution options on their annuities inherited from the estate of Claire Blumberg. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in awarding defendants summary judgment based on plaintiffs' alleged contributory negligence. The court held that Maryland had a high bar for taking questions of contributory negligence from a factfinder and plaintiffs' evidence offered a basis for a reasonable factfinder to determine that they justifiably relied on defendants' advice. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Berkenfeld v. Lenet" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in denying plaintiffs' motion to remand their case to state court and deciding Bayer's motion to dismiss in an action seeking damages for violations of North Carolina tort and products liability law. The court held that plaintiffs' action did not fall within the small class of cases in which state law claims may be deemed to arise under federal law for purposes of conferring federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1331. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgments and remanded with instructions that the action be remanded to North Carolina state court. View "Burrell v. Bayer Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment after a jury found defendant civilly liable to plaintiff under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Plaintiff filed suit against defendant for her role in the sexual abuse that plaintiff suffered at the hands of defendant's husband when plaintiff worked as their housekeeper in housing provided by the Embassy of the United States in Yemen. The court held, in light of RJR Nabisco, Inc. v. European Cmty., 136 S. Ct. 2090 (2016), that the TVPA's civil remedy provision applied to defendant's conduct in Yemen in 2007. The court confined its analysis to the text of 18 U.S.C. 1595 and held that section 1595 applied extraterritorially to defendant's conduct. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting another housekeeper's evidence concerning sexual abuse she suffered while working for defendant and her husband. View "Roe v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, aggrieved at their portrayal in a documentary on gun violence called Under the Gun, filed suit alleging defamation by the film's creators. The crux of plaintiffs' defamation claims was that an edited interview manufactured a false exchange that made them look ridiculous, incompetent, and ignorant about firearm ownership and sales, including the policies surrounding background checks. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that the edited footage did not arise to the level of defamation under Virginia law. The court held that plaintiffs' defamation per se claims failed, and that the edited footage was not reasonably capable of suggesting that the Virginia Citizens Defense League and its members were "ignorant and incompetent on the subject to which they have dedicated their organizational mission." Finally, regardless of how certain media outlets covered the short-lived frenzy surrounding this incident, the Supreme Court of Virginia has consistently stressed that it is the province of courts to perform the gatekeeping role of distinguishing defamatory speech from mere insults. In this case, the district court properly performed its independent gatekeeping role and the district court reached the correct result on the merits. View "VA Citizens Defense League v. Couric" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against defendant and Johns Hopkins for defendant's actions as an expert witness in administrative hearings for the Federal Black Lung Program. The court held that the Witness Litigation Privilege protected witnesses, such as defendant, who testify in judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings from later civil liability. In this case, the allegations made against defendant and his associates at Johns Hopkins fell squarely within the scope of the privilege. Furthermore, plaintiffs' claims were under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and RICO's civil cause of action manifests no intention to displace the privilege. View "Day v. Johns Hopkins Health System Corp." on Justia Law

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Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law after a jury returned verdicts awarding compensatory and punitive damages for each plaintiff in three wrongful death nursing home malpractice claims. Defendants argued that plaintiffs failed to produce evidence of an aggravating factor necessary to support an award of punitive damages under North Carolina law and failed to produce evidence necessary to support a verdict regarding Plaintiff Jones. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court correctly found plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence that defendants' negligence proximately caused the death of Elizabeth Jones but erred in finding plaintiffs failed to present evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to award punitive damages. The court affirmed the district court's denial of the motion for judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff Jones' award of compensatory damages; reversed as to plaintiffs' award of punitive damages; and remanded with instructions to enter judgment for plaintiffs consistent with North Carolina's statutory limits on punitive damages. View "VanDevender v. Blue Ridge of Raleigh, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of WTVR's motion for a directed verdict in a defamation action. Plaintiff filed suit against WTVR after it aired a news story about a county school system hiring a felon, in this case plaintiff, that lied about a prior criminal conviction on a job application. The court held that plaintiff was a public official, the allegedly defamatory statements related to her official conduct, and thus she was required to prove that WTVR acted with actual malice to succeed on her claim. Furthermore, the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiff presented insufficient evidence that WTVR made the defamatory statements with actual malice. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's pre-trial motion to compel WTVR to disclose the identity of its confidential source where she did not provide a sufficiently compelling interest in the identity of the source to overcome competing First Amendment concerns. View "Horne v. WTVR, LLC" on Justia Law