March 25, 2013 4th Circuit published opinions

McCauley v Home Loan Investment Bank, F.S. B.

McCauley obtained a mortgage form a savings and loan association (which Home Loan eventually succeeded in interest) to refinance her trailer home. After she declared bankruptcy, she sued home Loan for fraud and unconcionability. The district court held the actions were preempted and dismissed. The panel affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. It held that the unconscionability claim was preempted as each alleged act- hurried closing, inflated appraisal, loan higher than the value of the trailer and the variable interest rate- were all preempted by 12 CFR 560.2. The fraud claim, however, was not preempted as state tort remedies which only incidentally affect lending are permitted fewer than 560.2. Additionally, preemption would allow covered savings and loan associations to engage in deceptive conduct and allowing the fraud suit assists regulatory goals. Turning to the facts, the panel held that McCauley stated a claim because the complaint alleges she was told the value of her property, relied on that in accepting the loan and was driven to bankruptcy as a result. The complaint met the specificity requirement Federal Rule of Civil procedure 9(b) as it adequately notified Home Loan what the alleged misrepresentation was, who made it, when it was made and what actions were taken in reliance on the alleged misrepresentation.

Washington Gas Light Company v Prince George’s County Council

Washington sought zoning permission to build a liquefied natural gas facility on the grounds of an existing substation. County denied the application. After state appeals were concluded, Washington sued in federal court for declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed one count and abstained on it as well. After two rounds of amended pleadings and motions, the district court entered judgment for County. The panel affirmed. It held the district court properly abstained under Burford v Sun Oil as the question of whether a Maryland statute allowing utility companies to bypass local zoning was a difficult one and federal intervention could interfere with Maryland’s efforts to create and use its own system of land use regulation. The panel also held that the zoning ordinances were not preempted because the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act is limited to safety regulations and the zoning ordinances were adopted to facilitate development not regulate pipeline or station safety. Additionally, the Act specifically bars regulation of facility locating by the United States Department of Transportation and Washington had alternative locations which demonstrated there is not conflict between state and federal law. Finally, as a local distributor, Washington is subject to the regulatory authority of the County as the Natural Gas Act does not vest exclusive authority on location issues to the state public utilities commission.

Hardwick v Heyward

Hardwick was discipline several times for wearing Confederate flag t-shirts to middle and high school. She sued the district alleging violation of her free speech, due process and equal protection rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the district. The panel affirmed. It held the issue was governed by the Tinker standard and not any of the exceptions announced by the United States Supreme Court. Applying the standard, the panel held that the district was justified in banning the Confederate flag shirts given the history of racially charged incidents in the middle and high schools allowed a reasonable forecast of disruption. Neither the smaller number of incidents over time, the lack of actual disruptions or Hardwick’s intent in wearing the shirts changed the analysis. As to a shirt which displayed the United States flag and a message that it flew over slave states for 90 years, the panel held that the district could also reasonably forecast this shirt would cause disruption. Turning to an overbreadth challenge, the panel held that the dress codes tracked Supreme Court precedent and the clothing actually found to violate the code were clearly unprotected under Tinker. Nor were the codes vague as they tracked recent and Hardwick was told repeatedly her shirts violated the policy. Finally, the panel held the dress codes were viewpoint neutral both facially and in practice as students wearing Malcolm X shirts were also required to remove them.

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