January 27, 2014 4th Circuit published opinions

Cobra Natural resources, LLC v Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission

Commission affirmed an order requiring Cobra to temporarily reinstate a mine worker who alleged retaliation for reporting safety concerns. The panel, 2-1, dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The majority held that the temporary reinstatement was not a collateral order because it could be changed on reconsideration or as a result of mass layoffs, involved the same facts and law as the final decision will and the interest asserted by Cobra (economic loss) is not the same magnitude as those the Supreme Court has recognized as sufficient such as presidential immunity or state dignity. The dissent argued the temporary reinstatement is a final order as the commission has no further steps to take on the issue, Cobra has no administrative means to challenge the order, Cobra has no method to recoup any wrongly paid wages and in the future miners will lack any means to obtain review of a denial of reinstatement. The dissent argued the order is also a collateral order as it finally decided the temporary reinstatement issue, temporary reinstatement has no bearing on the final decision in the retaliation case and both the economic interests of Cobra and the systemic interests in encouraging reports of safety concerns are sufficient to justify jurisdiction. The dissent noted the majority decision creates a circuit split on the issue. The dissent would have remanded as the commission created a new rule about the layoff standard and did not allow Cobra to present evidence and argument under the new standard.

Montgomery County, Maryland v Federal National Mortgage Association

County and South Carolina independently sued Association arguing it was subject to transfer taxes and fees when it sold real property. The district courts in Maryland and South Carolina rejected these arguments and granted judgment to Association. The panel affirmed. It held that under United States Supreme Court precedent, transfer taxes are different than real estate property taxes. Thus, as Association was exempt from all state and county taxes except real property taxes, Association was not required to pay the transfer fees and taxes. The panel also held this exemption was valid under the Commerce Clause as Congress could rationally conclude exempting Association would advance its mission to promote the mortgage market, make a uniform market for its decision-making and increase the monies available for mortgage support.

United States v Bridges

Bridges pled conditionally guilty to failing to maintain his sex registration and argued on appeal his nolo contendre plea to a Florida charge was not a conviction for federal law purposes. The panel rejected his argument and affirmed. It held that Congress delegated responsibility to define “conviction” to the Attorney General who included all cases where the defendant is subjected to penal consequences regardless of how the state labels the situation. Here, Brides was placed on probation, probation is a penal consequence and Bridges thus was required to register and keep the registration up to date.

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