Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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Three independent contractors of Eastman Chemical Company were severely injured, one of them fatally, when a pump exploded during maintenance. Eastman moved to dismiss their state-law personal injury suits, contending that the contractors qualified as Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law – which would mean that workers’ compensation was their exclusive remedy and that the courts lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.   The district court agreed that Plaintiffs were Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the workers’ compensation law and dismissed their actions. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held their cases in abeyance pending the decision of South Carolina’s Supreme Court in Keene v. CNA Holdings, LLC, 870 S.E.2d 156 (2021).   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling. The court explained that in Keene, when an employer makes a “legitimate business decision” to outsource a portion of its work, the contractors it hires to perform that work are not “statutory employees” for workers’ compensation purposes. 870 S.E.2d at 163. No party here contests that Eastman’s outsourcing of its maintenance and repair work was a “legitimate business decision.” It follows that the plaintiffs, independent contractors performing maintenance at the time of the 2016 pump explosion, were not statutory employees and may bring personal injury actions. View "Sallie Zeigler v. Eastman Chemical Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were injured in unspecified accidents and treated by South Carolina health care providers. Seeking to pursue personal injury lawsuits, Plaintiffs requested their medical records from the relevant providers. Those records—and accompanying invoices—were supplied by defendants Ciox Health, LLC and ScanSTAT Technologies LLC, “information management companies” that retrieve medical records from health care providers and transmit them to requesting patients or patient representatives. Claiming the invoiced fees were too high or otherwise illegal, Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Ciox and ScanSTAT in federal district court.   The district court dismissed the complaint and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that South Carolina law gives patients a right to obtain copies of their medical records, while capping the fees “a physician, or other owner” may bill for providing them. However, the statutory obligations at issue apply only to physicians and other owners of medical records, not medical records companies. View "Tammie Thompson v. Ciox Health, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s dismissal of his amended complaint filed against Cable News Network (“CNN”) alleging defamation and false light invasion of privacy. Plaintiff challenges the district court’s finding that his amended complaint failed to cure deficiencies identified in his initial pleading. He and his counsel also appealed the court’s award of fees, expenses, and costs and the court’s inherent authority based on a finding that the amended complaint “unreasonably multiplied the proceedings.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that Plaintiff’s amended complaint failed to state a claim of either defamation or false light invasion of privacy. But the court vacated the district court’s award of sanctions, finding that the court abused its discretion in awarding them where the record does not support a finding that Plaintiff or his counsel filed the amended complaint in bad faith.   The court explained that CNN reiterated that the proceedings were multiplied by the filing of a nearly-identical Amended Complaint that did nothing to cure the deficiencies, and this bad faith conduct warranted sanctions. Thus, the district court, having received a written argument on both the procedural and substantive issues, ruled on the request without further briefing or a hearing. In light of these facts, and where there were ample opportunities to object, the court wrote it cannot conclude that it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to consider the sanctions request without a formal motion. Further, the record does not support a finding that Plaintiff and his counsel undertook the effort to amend the complaint and to survive CNN’s motion to dismiss in bad faith. View "Derek Harvey v. CNN" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is an inmate at United States Penitentiary (“USP”) Hazelton who filed a pro se civil action in United States district court alleging violations under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) for denied and delayed medical care of his chronic illnesses. Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). Following the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation, the district court denied Plaintiff’s IFP motion on the grounds that he did not meet the “imminent danger of serious physical injury” exception. Plaintiff now appealed to the Fourth Circuit.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded. The court explained that a plain reading of the statute requires that litigants allege sufficient specific facts to demonstrate a nexus between the claims presented and the imminent danger alleged. Here, both parties agree that it is a “commonsense requirement that a prisoner’s allegation of imminent danger must relate to their underlying claims.” Moreover, the Government concedes that “a fairly traceable relationship exists between Plaintiff’s alleged imminent danger and the claims set forth in his FTCA complaint, as they both arise from his allegations of delay and denial of medical treatment.” Plaintiff has passed this threshold because he alleged that the prison’s continued denial and delay in providing medical treatment are directly causing his worsening physical and medical conditions which present an imminent danger of serious physical injury.   Finally, the court remanded writing that the district court did not have access to Defendant’s medical records and, thus, did not have a complete record to determine whether Defendant satisfied the “imminent danger” exception based on the court's clarified standard. View "Marc Hall v. US" on Justia Law

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The United States Government seized $69,940.50 in cash from Plaintiff’s car. Plaintiff and his girlfriend challenged the seizure, claiming that the cash was not subject to forfeiture. To forfeit the seized cash, the Government bore the burden of establishing a connection between the cash and the illegal activity—in this case, illegal drug trafficking. The district court, in granting summary judgment, found that the facts painted a picture that definitively established that the cash was drug money.   The Fourth Circuit reversed finding that the record is unclear regarding whether a reasonable jury might well decide that the painting of these facts shows the cash came from drug trafficking. The court explained that summary judgment in a forfeiture proceeding is like summary judgment in any other civil case. Applying those standards correctly ensures that the Government must prove its case before depriving citizens of their private property based on an allegation of wrongdoing. Here, the Government has the burden of proof. The Government lacks any direct evidence of a drug transaction or involvement in the drug trade beyond Plaintiff’s possession of a single marijuana blunt and medical marijuana cards. The Government would have the court rely on its own inferences from its circumstantial evidence, which the court may not do. View "US v. Dereck McClellan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were fired from their Department of Public Safety positions with the Village of Bald Head Island (“the Village”), a municipality located in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Following their departures, Village employees published Plaintiffs’ termination letters and department separation affidavits which accused Plaintiffs of violating certain employee policy provisions. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging numerous claims. As relevant here, they brought defamation claims under North Carolina state law against the Village;.the Village Town Manager (“Manager”) ; and the Village Director of Public Safety (“Director”). The district court dismissed the defamation claims against the Village but found the Manager and Director liable for defamation for publishing the termination letters and separation affidavits, respectively. Defendants appealed and Plaintiffs cross-appealed as to the dismissal of the Village.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s (1) judgment against the Manager for libel per se arising from publication of the separation affidavits; (2) dismissal of all defamation claims against the Village; (3) denial of leave to amend to add the August 28, 2014 email as a third publication; (4) exclusion of the August 28 email for other purposes; (5) exclusion of Facebook posts; and (6) denial of Plaintiffs’ untimely Rule 59(e) motion seeking prejudgment interest. The court reversed the district court’s judgment against the Manager on all libel claims stemming from the publication of the termination letters for lack of actual malice. Finally, the court denied Plaintiffs’ pending motion, purportedly filed under Rule 60, “for corrections based on clerical mistakes, oversights, and omissions.” View "Thomas Cannon v. Calvin R. Peck, Jr." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Iredell-Statesville School District Board of Education (“ISSD”) and several individual defendants, alleging federal constitutional and statutory claims, as well as state law claims for negligence and negligent inflection of emotional distress arising from school officials’ mistreatment of her son.  Some of the defendants timely moved to dismiss, asserting that the state law negligence claims against them in their individual capacities were barred by public official immunity under North Carolina law.   The district court granted their motion in part and dismissed all federal claims against the appellants. But as for the state law negligence claims, it denied the school officials’ motion to dismiss. It concluded that the school officials were not entitled to public official immunity for a breach of a ministerial duty to report child abuse.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s negligence claims. The court reasoned that the school officials’ actions at issue here were discretionary. What to do when faced with allegations of a teacher mistreating her student is not a decision that can be made automatically, without regard to the administrator’s judgment.  Further, Plaintiff’s claim was against public officials, in their individual capacities, for state law negligence. For such claims, North Carolina law dictates that the plaintiff may only pierce public official immunity by “showing that the defendant-official’s tortious conduct falls within one of the immunity exceptions. Plaintiff has not satisfied this obligation because she did not allege malice, or any other piercing exception, in the amended complaint. View "R.A. v. Brady Johnson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of drivers, sued Defendants, a group of personal injury lawyers, after Defendants sought and obtained car accident reports from North Carolina law enforcement agencies and private data brokers and then sent Plaintiffs unsolicited attorney advertising material. Plaintiffs' claims were brought under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”).The district court held that, although Plaintiffs have standing to bring their claims, the claim failed on the merits.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs have a legally recognizable privacy interest in the accident reports. However, Defendant's conduct in obtaining the records did not constitute a violation of DPPA. Defendants obtained Plaintiffs’ personal information from the accident reports; however, Plaintiffs failed to preserve the argument that those accident reports are“motor vehicle records under DPPA. View "William Garey v. James S. Farrin, P.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs in this civil action served process on several of Defendants roughly a year after filing their complaint, in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m)’s 90-day time requirement for service. The district court found insufficient Plaintiffs’ efforts to establish “good cause” for the delay, and because the court understood that a showing of good cause was a condition for any extension, it dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims against these Defendants.   The Fourth Circuit concluded that the record amply supports the district court’s ruling that Plaintiffs failed to show good cause for their failure to serve Defendants within the time period provided by Rule 4(m). Nonetheless, the court vacated the district court’s order of dismissal concluding that Rule 4(m) confers discretion on district courts to extend the time period for service even when good cause has not been shown.   The court explained that it does not fault the district court for its ruling in conformance with Mendez. But in light of the court’s holding, it was necessary to vacate the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ claims against the five health care provider Defendants and remand to allow the court to consider in the first instance the parties’ arguments as to whether the court should exercise its discretion to extend the time for serving those defendants in the circumstances of this case, even though good cause was not shown. View "Edward Gelin v. Kyle Shuman" on Justia Law

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After suffering a retroperitoneal bleed following a diagnostic cardiac catheterization, Patient's estate ("Plaintiff") filed a medical malpractice wrongful death claim against various medical providers ("Defendants"). The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants, finding that Plaintiff failed to prove causation. More specifically, the court held that West Virginia Code Sec. 55-7B-3(b) requires a plaintiff to prove "that following the accepted standard of care would have resulted in a greater than twenty-five percent chance that the patient . . . would have survived."The Fourth Circuit reversed. The district court's interpretation of Sec. 55-7B-3(b) to require a 25% change in outcome between the chance of survival had the standard of care been followed and the chance of survival experienced due to the breach of the standard of care was in error. The court held that the correct standard requires Plaintiff to establish a greater than twenty-five percent chance of survival had Defendants followed the applicable standard of care. The court noted that, although the Supreme Court of West Virginia has not addressed this particular statute, a plain reading of the statutory language does not a 25% change in outcome. View "Janet Graham v. Sunil Dhar" on Justia Law