Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The case involves a dispute over the award of black lung benefits to the surviving wife of the late Bruce E. Goode, who worked for American Energy as a coal miner and suffered from a severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disability. American Energy disputed the cause of his impairment, arguing that it was due to his long-term cigarette smoking, not his coal mine employment. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Mr. Goode’s disability arose from his coal mine employment and awarded black lung benefits. The Benefits Review Board affirmed the award.American Energy appealed, arguing that the ALJ applied an incorrect legal standard. The company contended that the Black Lung Benefits Act and its implementing regulations require a miner to prove that coal dust caused the lung disease or made it worse. American Energy argued that the ALJ reversed the burden of proof by finding that the company had not proven why Mr. Goode’s lung disease was not at least partially due to coal dust exposure.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed that the ALJ applied the wrong legal standard in determining that Mr. Goode had legal pneumoconiosis. However, the court noted that the ALJ also concluded that Mr. Goode’s clinical pneumoconiosis entitled him to benefits. The court granted American Energy’s petition and vacated and remanded the Board’s order for further proceedings. View "American Energy, LLC v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the murder of Sallie Copeland Evans by her grandson, Isaiah Evans Ceasar, a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corps. Sallie's son, Mitchell Garnet Evans, acting as the executor of her estate, filed a wrongful death claim against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that the Marine Corps was negligent in its handling of Ceasar, who had previously expressed suicidal intentions and violent tendencies. The district court dismissed the claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the district court had erred in dismissing the claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because the jurisdictional question and the merits of the case were inextricably intertwined. However, the court also found that Evans failed to state a wrongful death claim under North Carolina law. The court concluded that even if the Marine Corps had a duty to Sallie, her murder was not foreseeable under the circumstances. Therefore, while the district court's decision was procedurally incorrect, it was substantively proper. The court affirmed the district court's decision on alternative grounds and dismissed the case under Rule 12(b)(6). View "Evans v. US" on Justia Law

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The case involves three plaintiffs, Parker Wideman, Riley Draper, and William and Jessica Douglass, who were severely burned while cleaning a plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The plant, owned by Innovative Fibers LLC and Stein Fibers Ltd, converted recycled plastics into polyester fibers. The plaintiffs were employees of a third-party contractor, Advanced Environmental Options, hired to clean the plant. During the cleaning process, a fire broke out, causing severe injuries to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs sued the plant owners for negligence under state common law.The case was initially filed in state court but was removed to federal court by the defendants. The defendants then moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs were "statutory employees" covered by South Carolina's Workers' Compensation Law. This law prohibits statutory employees from suing in tort in state courts and instead requires them to submit their claims to South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Commission. The district court agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court held that while state law can define the substantive rights asserted in federal diversity jurisdiction, it cannot strip federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction over any category of claims. The court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, as the dispute satisfied all the requirements of diversity jurisdiction. View "Wideman v. Innovative Fibers LLC" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, filed an appeal against two orders from the district court. The first order denied her request to compel the defendant, Cenk Sidar, to provide a DNA sample for a sexual assault case. The second order demanded that Doe disclose her real name in the proceedings following a default judgment against Sidar.The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal regarding the DNA sample for lack of jurisdiction, ruling that orders denying requests for physical or mental examinations are not immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine.However, the court did rule on the anonymity issue. The court found that the district court committed legal error in its order demanding Doe to disclose her real name. The district court had understated Doe's interest in anonymity, announced a general rule that fairness considerations invariably cut against allowing a plaintiff to be anonymous at trial unless the defendant is also anonymous, and failed to recognize the significance of its default judgment on liability. The Court of Appeals thus vacated the non-anonymity order and remanded for further proceedings, instructing the district court to reconsider its order in light of the appeals court's opinion. The court emphasized the importance of Doe's privacy interests, particularly given that the case involved allegations of sexual assault. View "Doe v. Sidar" on Justia Law

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The case concerns the dischargeability of debts under the Bankruptcy Code. The debtor, Lee Andrew Hilgartner, physically assaulted Yasuko Yagi, resulting in two settlement agreements. When Hilgartner failed to pay the agreed amount, Yagi sued to enforce the agreement. Hilgartner filed for bankruptcy, arguing that the debts were dischargeable since they arose from a breach of the settlement agreement, not the underlying tort of assault. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, however, ruled that the debts were non-dischargeable under section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code, which excepts from discharge debts “for willful and malicious injury” to another. The court held that the debt from the settlement agreement, which arose from a willful and malicious injury, retained the character of the underlying tort. Therefore, the debt, including the principal amount owed, interest on late payments, and attorney's fees incurred in enforcing the agreement and contesting the bankruptcy proceedings, was non-dischargeable. The court reasoned that the entire settlement arose from the same willful and malicious injuries and that the settlement agreement didn't disrupt the causal chain. View "Yagi v. Hilgartner" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, plaintiff Carla J. Kappel, acting on behalf of her deceased ex-husband's estate and as mother to their minor children, sued LL Flooring, Inc., alleging that the company's Chinese-manufactured laminate flooring caused her ex-husband's death due to exposure to formaldehyde.The district court dismissed Kappel's wrongful death lawsuit, arguing that her claim was barred by a settlement agreement that had been reached in connection with two multidistrict litigation (MDL) actions related to LL Flooring's products. The court maintained that the deceased, Mr. Tarabus, was a class member subject to that settlement agreement and thus his claims, including any claims involving bodily injuries or death caused by the subject flooring, had been settled.On appeal, Kappel argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to make the dismissal order and that the MDL settlement agreement did not bar her wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the children. The Court of Appeals agreed with Kappel's latter argument and held that the settlement agreement failed to resolve Kappel’s wrongful death lawsuit.The Court found that the claims in Kappel's lawsuit, which concerned the bodily injuries Mr. Tarabus experienced and the alleged causal connection between the laminate flooring and his cancer diagnosis, were materially distinct from the claims in the MDL proceedings. Notably, the settlement class representatives had twice made clear that they were not pursuing personal injury claims on a class-wide basis, and at no point did any class representative ever allege or pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.Therefore, the Court vacated the lower court's dismissal of Kappel's lawsuit and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Kappel v. LL Flooring, Inc." on Justia Law

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John Doe (“Appellant”) filed this civil action alleging claims for defamation, abuse of process, tortious interference with contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy against Jane Doe (“Appellee”) after Appellee accused Appellant of sexual assault. When Appellant filed his complaint, he also filed an ex parte motion to proceed using the pseudonym “John Doe” rather than his real name. The district court denied the motion.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that in considering the district court’s entire analysis of the James factors, it concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion because it did not rely on incorrect factual or legal premises, nor did it give any indication that it was acting by general rule. Instead, the district court conducted a thorough, case-specific analysis when it exercised its discretion. The court wrote that the district court considered each of Appellant’s arguments, and it carefully balanced Appellant’s stated interests against the public’s interest in the openness of judicial proceedings as required by Public Citizen. It did not abuse its discretion in doing so. View "John Doe v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was a high-level high-school basketball player who wanted to play in the NBA. After graduating high school, Plaintiff committed to the University of Louisville. However, subsequently, Plaintiff's father accepted a bribe in relation to Plaintiff's decision to play for Louisville. As a result, Plaintiff lost his NCAA eligibility. Plaintiff filed RICO claims against the parties who were central to the bribery scheme. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, finding that Plaintiff did not demonstrate an injury to his business or property, as required for a private civil RICO claim.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Congress made the civil RICO cause of action for treble damages available only to plaintiffs “injured in [their] business or property” by a defendant’s RICO violation. Without such an injury, even a plaintiff who can prove he suffered some injury as a result of a RICO violation lacks a cause of action under the statute. The Fourth Circuit rejected Plaintiff's claims that the loss of benefits secured by his scholarship agreement with Louisville; the loss of his NCAA eligibility; and the loss of money spent on attorney’s fees attempting to regain his eligibility constituted a cognizable business or property injury. View "Brian Bowen, II v. Adidas America Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Terra Renewal Services, Inc. and its parent company Darling Ingredients, Inc. after an accident atop a pressurized tanker left him a paraplegic. He alleged that their negligence led to the accident that injured him. The case went to trial, where the jury found that, though Terra and Darling were negligent, Plaintiff was contributorily negligent, thus barring his recovery. Plaintiff appealed, alleging that the district court committed several reversible errors. His main contention is that the district court erroneously rejected his “sudden emergency” contention and his claim for gross negligence as a matter of law.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to admit under the business records exception to hearsay the full report that the North Carolina Department of Labor investigator developed during her investigation. The court reasoned that the report is chock full of statements from LJC employees and others, which the district court reasonably anticipated might pose problems of admissibility. The report repeatedly says that such-and-such says one thing, and someone else says another. Many of these statements themselves were hearsay, and the district court rightly refused to accord them a significant role in the trial. View "Anthony Mathis v. Terra Renewal Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, as personal representative of the estate of Decedent, filed a second amended complaint alleging Decedent suffered deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs while in custody at the Alleghany County, Maryland Detention Center (“ACDC”), which led to his death. Appellant asserted claims against various individuals (the “Individual Medical Defendants”) and against the company contracted to provide medical care services to inmates at ACDC, Wellpath, LLC, (collectively “Appellees”). The district court dismissed Appellant’s second amended complaint.   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court concluded that the complaint sufficiently alleged a Fourteenth Amendment violation for deliberate indifference to Decedent’s serious medical needs. The court disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that Appellant failed to plead actual knowledge when she alleged that none of the Individual Medical Defendants “thought it necessary to take Decedent to the hospital.” In so holding, the district court failed to consider the context of the allegation and disregarded the obvious sarcasm in the full allegation. Appellant actually alleged that none of the Individual Medical Defendants “thought it necessary to take Decedent to the hospital despite an obvious ongoing medical emergency.” Further, the court held that Appellant sufficiently alleged that the Individual Medical Defendants’ treatment and/or attempts at treatment were not “adequate to address Decedent’s serious medical needs,” that Decedent’s deterioration was persistent and obvious, and that the factual allegations allege more than mere disagreements regarding Decedent’s medical care. As such, Appellant has plausibly alleged a Fourteenth Amendment violation. View "Shelly Stevens v. Dawn Holler" on Justia Law