June 26, 2013 4th Circuit published opinions

Carpenter’s Pension Fund of Baltimore, Maryland v Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Fund obtained a garnishment order against department. Department moved to dismiss based on the Eleventh Amendment. The district court denied Department’s motion. The panel reversed. It held that the garnishment proceeding resembled a convention lawsuit in that it is initiated by a writ which must be answered and therefore subjects Maryland to the coercive power of the federal courts and that the demand is for funds from the Maryland state treasury thus making it substantive a suit against Maryland. Thus, sovereign immunity bars the garnishment claim.

United States v Harris

Harris pled guilty to felon in possession charges. The district court examined one of the handguns and found that the serial number was altered because the court was unable to readily read the serial number form 18 inches away. It therefore applied the altered or obliterated serial number guideline to enhanced Harris’ sentence. The panel affirmed. It held that the ordinary meaning of alter is to make different while obliterate means to make indecipherable and it joined the majority of circuit courts to rule on these issue in holding that a serial number that is made less readable is altered for guideline purposes. It also held the factual finding was supported by substantial evidence and that a police report concluding the number was readable was irrelevant as the district court was the fact finder.

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