August 19, 2014 4th Circuit published opinions

United States v Stephens

Stephens moved to suppress a firearm found during a search based on evidence gathered from a CPS device attached by the police. The district court ruled that the GPS attachment was illegal under a then new United States Supreme Court decision prohibiting warrantless attachment of GPS devices, but, the good faith exception applied and denied the motion. The panel, 2-1, affirmed. The majority held that as of the date the GPS device was attached, binding Supreme Court precedent allowing the attachment of tracking devices in containers established the legal rule that warrants for GPS devices were not necessary. The majority noted that the federal courts of appeal to reach the issue so ruled as did the highest court in Maryland where the attachment occurred. As reliance on binding appellate authority later overruled is per se good faith, the district court correctly denied the motion. The dissent argued the motion should be granted as there was no binding authority which specifically authorized the attachment, the state of the law was influx and the officers acted recklessly in relying on their own beliefs instead of obtaining advice from the US attorney’s office.

EQT Production Company v Adair
Adair and other putative class representatives brought class actions against EQT and another methane gas producer alleging underpayment of royalties. The district court certified several classes some based on ownership, some on underpayment and one n breach of contract. The panel concluded the certifications were premature, vacated and remanded. It held the ownership classes were premature as the class could not be ascertained given the many changes in the twenty year since the original list of owners was created and the lack of a common answer to the issues of ownership given the need for deed by deed analysis. Similarly, the underpayment classes were premature given the need for individualized analysis and the diverse acts of the two producers towards various owners. Finally, the breach of contract class is premature as the district court failed to analyze the need for course of performance evidence and allegations of fraudulent concealment which will also need individualized determination. While expressing sympathy for owners who have received little to nothing from EQT and the other producer, the panel noted that class certification requires rigorous analysis and the district court failed to do that here.

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