May 5, 2014 4th Circuit published opinions

Santos v Accenture Federal Services, LLC

Santos Sued Services for age discrimination and other claims. Services moved to compel arbitration under Santos’ employment agreement which the distract court granted. The panel affirmed. It held that the nonenforcability provision in 7 USC 26(n) applied only to whistleblower actions as shown by the text of the statute and the background of whistleblower suits being held to be subject to predispute arbitration clauses.

United States v Blackledge

Blackledge was found to be a sexually dangerous person. He appealed several issues including the denial of his attorney’s motions to withdraw. The panel, 2-1, reversed on the withdrawal issue and remanded for consideration of the motions. The majority held that the district court erred by not inquiring into the conflicts of interest, bar complaint, failure to do trail preparation and the admitted failure to meet an important discovery deadline when considering the motions to withdraw. The dissent argued that the magistrate judge thoroughly evaluated the motions to withdraw, correctly found there was no breakdown in communication and in any event there was no harm given the vigorous defense put on by the attorney in question. Additionally, given Blackledge’s deposition was in the record, there was no prejudice from attorney’s alleged failure to prepare him for trial testimony.

Barnes v Joyner

Barnes challenged his death sentence in his habeas case based in part on a juror talking to her pastor about whether she would be held accountable by god for voting for the death penalty as argued by a codefendant’s attorney at sentencing. The state court’s refused to give Barnes either a hearing or a presumption of prejudice. The district court denied relief. The panel, 2-1, reversed and remanded. The majority held that it was well established as of the time of the sate post conviction proceeding that Barnes was entitled to both the presumption and the hearing and it was unreasonable to not hold the hearing with the burden on the government. However, because it was unclear there was actual prejudice, the case was remanded for a hearing where Barnes would have the burden of proving actual prejudice. The dissent argued that there is no clear Supreme Court rule requiring a hearing or presumed prejudice here and in any event the state courts looked to see if the communications were prejudicial and were not unreasonable in holding they were not.

Wilkins v Montgomery

Wilkins sued for wrongful death and 1983 claims based on her son’s murder by an inadequately supervised fellow patient at the state mental hospital. The district court struck her expert witness, denied her motion to amend hr complaint and granted judgment to Montgomery and the other defendants. The panel affirmed. It held that the district court acted within its discretion in striking the expert witness as his identity was disclosed late and he failed to provide the required expert report. The panel affirmed on the motion to amend holding that the proposed new parties did not have actual or constructive notice of the complaint, the amendment would not relate back to the original complaint and thus the statute of limitations had run as to those proposed defendants. The panel affirmed judgment holding there was no evidence any of the defendants knew of the inadequate supervision much less approved it and the facts alleged fell far short of gross negligence under state law.

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