Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Berkenfeld v. Lenet
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
Burrell v. Bayer Corp.
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
Roe v. Howard
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
VA Citizens Defense League v. Couric
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
Day v. Johns Hopkins Health System Corp.
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
VanDevender v. Blue Ridge of Raleigh, LLC
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
Horne v. WTVR, LLC
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
Hutton v. National Board of Examiners in Optometry, Inc.
Optometrists across the country noticed that Chase Amazon Visa credit card accounts had been fraudulently opened in their names, using correct social security numbers and birthdates. The victims discussed the thefts in Facebook groups dedicated to optometrists and determined that the only common source to which they had given their personal information was NBEO, where every graduating optometry student submits personal information to sit for board-certifying exams. NBEO released a Facebook statement that its “information systems [had] NOT been compromised.” Two days later, NBEO stated that it had decided to further investigate. Three weeks later, NBEO posted “a cryptic message stating its internal review was still ongoing.” NBEO advised the victims to “remain vigilant in checking their credit.” Victims filed suit under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(2). The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Fourth Circuit vacated. These plaintiffs allege that they have already suffered actual harm in the form of identity theft and credit card fraud; they have been concretely injured by the use or attempted use of their personal information to open credit card accounts without their knowledge or approval. There is no need to speculate on whether substantial harm will occur. The complaints contain allegations demonstrating that it is both plausible and likely that a breach of NBEO’s database resulted in the fraudulent use of the plaintiffs’ personal information. View "Hutton v. National Board of Examiners in Optometry, Inc." on Justia Law
Plaintiffs Appealing Case Management Order 100 v. Pfizer, Inc.
Lipitor, a pharmaceutical drug, is prescribed to lower patients’ “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. Plaintiffs, more than 3,000 women, claim that they developed diabetes as a result of taking Lipitor. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the lawsuits for pretrial proceedings. The parties agreed on four bellwether cases. Plaintiffs enlisted general experts, to testify that there was a causal association between Lipitor and diabetes; specific experts, to testify that Lipitor proximately caused the onset of diabetes in the bellwether plaintiffs; and an expert biostatistician, who concluded that taking Lipitor led to a statistically significant increased risk of diabetes. Plaintiffs also sought to introduce internal Pfizer emails, information from Lipitor's labeling, a statement in Lipitor's FDA New Drug Application, and information from the Lipitor website. Citing Federal Rule of Evidence 702, the court excluded the opinions of the statistician; the general causation expert, except relating to a specific dosage; and the specific causation opinions. The rulings left the plaintiffs without their bellwether cases, limited to a subset of patients who had taken an 80 mg dose. The court issued show-cause orders asking whether any plaintiff could submit evidence that would enable her claim to survive summary judgment given prior rulings. Some plaintiffs submitted evidence showing only that they were not diabetic before taking Lipitor, that they were diagnosed with diabetes after taking Lipitor, and that they lacked certain risk factors that might make them especially likely to develop the disease. After the court rejected the evidence, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that the cases ought to be returned to their transferor district courts for individual resolution on the issue of specific causation. The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. View "Plaintiffs Appealing Case Management Order 100 v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law
Garnett v. Remedi SeniorCare of Virginia
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's defamation suit against her employer, Remedi, in an action alleging that a coworker engaged in crude, baseless, and ignorant speculation about the reasons for plaintiff's absence from work to undergo a medical procedure. The court held that the coworker's statement, while offensive and odious, would not support an action against Remedi under Virginia law because a company cannot be held liable for employee statements made outside the scope of employment. View "Garnett v. Remedi SeniorCare of Virginia" on Justia Law