August 5, 2014 4th Circuit published opinions

Minter v Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

Minter brought a class action suit against Wells Fargo and some real estate brokers alleging violations of 12 USC 2607. The jury returned a verdict for defendants and the district court denied Minter’s motion for a new trial. The panel affirmed. It held that the district court did not abuse its discretion to deny the new trial motion because the alleged admission by the defendants of referral to specific mortgage lender was not raised in a motion for judgment at the time the admission was made and no party understood the alleged admission to be an admission at the time it was made. The panel also held that there was some evidence that defendants did not refer Minter or other class members to the mortgage company in question and thus the verdict had to be sustained given the “any evidence” standard. The panel held that the district court did not err in allowing limited testimony on the lack of financial loss as this was relevant to whether 2607 was violated and the court gave a limiting instruction to the jury. The panel finally held that there was no abuse of discretion in not striking certain comments in defense closing arguments as they were isolated and did not infect the proceedings.

Flame, S.A. v Freight Bulk Pte., LTD.

Freight Bulk appealed the attachment of one of its vessels by Flame arguing the underlying foreign judgment was not maritime. The panel, with one member adding a concurrence, affirmed. It held that the question of whether a judgment or contract is airtime in a matter of United States federal law not foreign law as it is jurisdictional and procedural and this rule best implements the Constitution’s grant of admiralty jurisdiction to insure uniform application of law. The panel noted its conclusion was consistent with United States Supreme Court precedent and a recent case in the Second Circuit. The panel also held the underlying contracts in this case, which hedged against future shipping rates, are maritime because the parties were shippers in maritime business, maritime contracts do not need to refer to specific shipments or vessels and may be performed through the delivery of cash. The concurrence argued that federal law should always control the jurisdictional issue as allowing foreign law to control would strip the authority of Congress to decide federal court jurisdiction, this approach is more administrable, keeps admiralty cases in federal courts rather than sending some cases to state courts and promotes comity.

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