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By Tristan Meagher & Nick McCauslin

United States v. Mills

In this criminal case, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the sentencing of Darryl Mills for possession of a firearm by a felon, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). After pleading guilty to the violation, Mills was sentenced to 70 months in prison based on a finding that his prior conviction of assault with a deadly weapon was a “crime of violence.” Mills argued that his prior conviction was not for a crime of violence, and thus his sentence should be reduced to 37 to 46 months, consistent with sentencing guidelines. The Fourth Circuit held because the district court noted that it would have imposed the 70 month prison sentence regardless of whether the prior conviction was a crime of violence and that the sentencing was substantively reasonable.

Williams v. Strickland

In this civil case, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Williams brought suit against police officers in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina for using deadly force when arresting him, in violation of his Fourth Amendment Rights. As the officers attempted a traffic stop, Williams drove his car in the direction of one of the officers, prompting them to shoot Williams. The officers filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion finding that a reasonable jury could have determined that the car was not going to pass or had already passed the officer, in which case the use of deadly force would have been excessive. The Fourth Circuit agreed.

United States v. Simmons

In this criminal case, the district court revoked the defendant’s supervised release and sentenced him to 36 months in prison after he was found to have committed assault with a deadly weapon on a government official in violation of his release. The district court held that because assault with a deadly weapon on a government official is categorically a “crime of violence,” they were free to revoke his supervised release and implement the 36 month prison sentence. The Fourth Circuit vacated the revocation holding that assault with a deadly weapon on a government official is not categorically a crime of violence, because the offense can be committed without the requisitemens rea to qualify as a crime of violence. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the district court for resentencing. 

Robinson v. United States Department of Education

In this civil case, plaintiff Anthony Robinson appealed the dismissal of his case against the Department of Education. The district court dismissed his case because it lacked jurisdiction over the claim due to the lack of waiver of sovereign immunity for suits under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The issue on appeal was whether Congress waived sovereign immunity for suits under the FCRA. The Fourth Circuit ultimately focused on the term “person” in 15 U.S.C. § 1681(n) and § 1681(o). The Fourth Circuit ultimately refuses to read the word “sovereign” into the word “person, and thus affirmed the dismissal by the district court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. 

Equinor USA Onshore Properties v. Pine Resources, LLC

The issue this civil case was what exactly the contractual requirements are in a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA). Specifically, what the clause that required Equinor USA to “spud” three wells meant. The district court finding, that the term “spud” required Equinor to drill, but not complete, the wells, was appealed by Pine Resources. Pine Resources contended that the parties clearly intended “spud” to mean complete the wells such that they can be used. The Fourth Circuit decided that the district court was correct in their finding. To come to that decision, the Fourth Circuit considered the record as a whole and whether or not it supported the district court’s conclusion as to the intent of the parties. They found that while there was some evidence that Pine Resources believed the PSA required product, the record—considered as a whole—showed that the PSA merely contemplated, but did not require, the completion of the wells. Thus, the decision by the district court was affirmed. 

Hately v. Watts

In this civil case, plaintiff David Watts appealed the dismissal of his suit that Watts violated the Virginia Computer Crimes Act and  the Federal Stored Communications Act. There were two issues on appeal.  The first was whether the district court’s finding that Hately failed to show necessary injury under his state law claim. The second was the district court’s finding that emails stored by a web-based email service were not considered “electronic storage” under federal law.  Regarding the first issue, the Fourth Circuit found both that the district court improperly applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel and that Watts had adequately alleged injury to his person or property. Regarding the second issue, the Fourth Circuit found that “previously opened and delivered emails” stored “in a web-based email client” were considered “electronic storage” under the federal Stored Communications Act. Therefore, they reversed the district court on both the state and federal claims and remanded it for trial.