May 15, 2013 4th Circuit published opinions

Williams v Ozmint

Williams was observed receiving something from a visitor during visitation at a South Carolina state prison. No contraband was discovered. Ozmint suspended Williams’ visitation for two years based on receiving contraband. He sued for monetary and injunctive relief. The district court denied the relief and a jury rejected Williams’ excessive force claim. The panel, with one judge concurring separately, affirmed. The majority held there was no clearly established right to visitation noting the United States Supreme Court had affirmed two year suspensions of visitation for drug violations and the 4th Circuit had held no right to visitation exists. The majority dismissed the appeal of the injunction denial on mootness grounds as Williams’ visitation rights were restored and any future deprivation would be speculative. The majority summarily affirmed the excessive force verdict. The concurrence argued that the outcome was correct, but, the judge felt the decision to suspend visitation was counterproductive and eventually the term of suspension would be so great that constitutional violation will have occurred.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Inc. v U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Corps approved a Clean Water Act permit for a mining operation without issuing an environmental impact statement. Coalition sued to require a statement be issued which was denied by the district court. The panel, with one judge adding a concurrence, affirmed. It held that the Corps appropriately considered the various aspects of the quality of the river and watershed which will be impacted by the mining and thus did not misapprehend the baseline quality as Coalition argued. The panel also held that Corps did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in not issuing a statement as it considered the relevant data on the watershed and changed the requirements of the permit in the course of its review and its final decision that there was no need for a statement was reasonable under the circumstances. The concurring judge stated that because there was extensive dialog between the Corps, the mining company and the Environmental Protection Agency, requiring a statement here would create bad incentives for agencies to share information. As enough of a hard look was done, the concurring judge joined the panel opinion.

 

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