April 1, 2013 4th Circuit published opinions

Muriithi v Shuttle Express, Inc.

Muriithi signed a franchise agreement with Shuttle which included an arbitration clause with a one year limitation period. He sued alleging violations of the agreement and federal and state law. Shuttle moved to compel arbitration which the district court denied on the basis that the clause was unconscionable. The panel reversed. It held that the class action prohibition was not unconscionable as the United States Supreme Court held that such clauses are lawful. A requirement to split the arbitration fees 50/50 was not unconscionable because Muriithi failed to provide any evidence of the value of his claim or of the likely fees charged by the arbitrator. Additionally, Shuttle agreed to pay all the fees during appellate oral argument. Finally, the one year limitation period issues are for the arbitrator to decide and the district court erred in ruling on them.

United States v Fisher

Fisher pled guilty to drug and firearms charges. Later, it was discovered that the arresting officer had lied in the warrant application and in several other cases which resulted in the officer pleading guilty to criminal charges. Fisher filed a motion to vacate his guilty plea. The district court denied the motion on the grounds that neither party knew about the illegality and Fisher swore he was guilty of the crimes charged. The panel, 2-1, reversed. The majority held that the lies in the warrant application went to the heart of the case against fisher and that the misrepresentation induced his guilty plea as his trial attorney’s approach to the case was significantly different than it would have been if she knew of the lies and the other criminal conduct of the officer. Thus, it was reasonably likely fisher would have chosen to go to trial rather than plead guilty if the lies were known at the time of the plea hearing. Thus, the plea was involuntary and allowing its withdrawal serves the interests of deterring police misconduct and maintaining public confidence in the court system. The dissent argued that there was no existing precedent which justified the majority’s decision as withholding impeachment evidence cannot be the basis for withdrawing a guilty plea, the lies in the application related to the identity of the informant not to the actual existence of the facts recited in the application, there is no claim of actual innocence and the lies were not made as part of the plea negotiation process.

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