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Posts Tagged ‘Hamilton’

A divided three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit held today that three of President Obama’s appointments to the NLRB were invalid because they did not take place during an intersession recess of the Senate. Senior Judge Hamilton wrote the opinion for the majority in NLRB v. Enterprise Leasing Co. SE, LLC (the lead case on the caption). Judge Duncan joined in full and wrote a separate concurrence. Judge Diaz dissented from the constitutional holding (but concurred in other matters).

Although Judge Hamilton and Judge Duncan were appointed by Presidents Bush 41 and Bush 43, respectively, while Judge Diaz was appointed by President Obama, the best explanation for the differing outcomes tracks methodological rather than partisan political differences. The majority and dissenting opinions exhibit vastly different approaches to constitutional interpretation. The majority emphasizes text and history while the dissent is avowedly pragmatic and functional (indeed the most explicitly functionalist opinion by Judge Diaz that I can recall).

The Fourth Circuit’s decision bodes poorly for the Administration when the Supreme Court addresses these issues next Term in NLRB v. Noel Canning. This assessment is based not simply on the bottom-line conclusion reached by the Fourth Circuit, but on how the opinions were reasoned. On issues like these, the majority of the Supreme Court is methodologically closer to Judge Hamilton than Judge Diaz. It is difficult to see a majority of the Court hewing to the reasoning and conclusions reached by Judge Diaz in this case.

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The Fourth Circuit today partially reversed a district court decision that had granted broad protection to Google against trademark infringement claims arising out of its use of trademarked terms in keywords and advertisement text. Chief Judge Traxler wrote the opinion for the court in Rosetta Stone v. Google, in which Judge Keenan and Senior Judge Hamilton joined.

The language software company Rosetta Stone sued Google in 2009 asserting claims of: (1) direct trademark infringement; (2) contributory infringement; (3) vicarious infringement; (4) trademark dilution; and (5) unjust enrichment (under Virginia law). The district court granted summary judgment to Google on all five counts (see here for district court’s trademark claims analysis). Today’s decision affirms the win for Google on vicarious infringement and unjust enrichment, but vacates and remands with respect to direct infringement, contributory infringement, and trademark dilution.

With respect to direct infringement, the appeals court rejected Rosetta Stone’s argument that it is reversible error for a district court to decline to address all factors in the Fourth Circuit’s nine-factor, non-exclusive, totality-of-the-circumstances test for likelihood of confusion. The opinion suggests, however, that “[i]n the future . . . a district court opting not to address a given factor or group of factors should provide at least a brief explanation of its reasons.” The appellate court did, however, fault the district court for applying a too-demanding standard to Rosetta Stone’s evidence of intent to cause confusion, actual confusion, and consumer sophistication. This portion of the opinion contains a discussion of anecdotal and survey evidence, including in-house studies on confusion performed by Google. The Fourth Circuit also criticized the district court’s functionality analysis for focusing on whether Rosetta Stone’s mark made Google’s product more useful, rather than considering whether the mark was functional as Rosetta Stone used it. The appellate disposition of this functionality affirmative defense precludes Google’s further use of it in the litigation, but the remainder of the disposition simply leaves open the path for future litigation over the facts.

On contributory infringement, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court relied too heavily on the Second Circuit’s decision in Tiffany (NJ) Inc. v. eBay Inc., 600 F.3d 93 (2d Cir. 2010), which was an appeal from a jury verdict rather than a decision at the summary judgment stage.

Finally (with respect to the claims that the Fourth Circuit vacated), the court held that the district court impermissibly collapsed good faith and nominative fair use into a single question in assessing trademark dilution. The appeals court further held that the district court mistakenly read Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. v. Haute Diggity Dog, L.L.C., 507 F.3d 252 (4th Cir. 2007) to require proof of actual economic loss or reputational injury, rather than a likelihood of dilution.

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From Federalist No. 78:

To avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts, it is indispensable that they should be bound down by strict rules and precedents, which serve to define and point out their duty in every particular case that comes before them; and it will readily be conceived from the variety of controversies which grow out of the folly and wickedness of mankind, that the records of those precedents must unavoidably swell to a very considerable bulk, and must demand long and laborious study to acquire a competent knowledge of them. Hence it is, that there can be but few men in the society who will have sufficient skill in the laws to qualify them for the stations of judges.

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A Fourth Circuit panel ruled unanimously today that the government must prove a reasonable fit between the ban on firearm possession by an unlawful user of a controlled substance and the objective of reducing gun violence. Judge Niemeyer wrote the opinion in United States v. Carter, which was joined in by Judge Diaz and Senior Judge Hamilton.

According to the opinion, every other circuit to address the issue has held that the ban in 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) satisfies intermediate scrutiny. But the Fourth Circuit could not go along with this because the government had not borne its “burden of showing that § 922(g)(3)’s limited imposition on Second Amendment rights proportionately advances the goal of preventing gun violence”:

Without pointing to any study, empirical data, or legislative findings, [the government] merely argued to the district court that the fit was a matter of common sense. In view of our decisions in Chester and Staten [which require "tangible evidence" rather than "unsupported intuitions"], we therefore remand this issue to the district court to allow the government to develop a record sufficient to justify its argument that drug users and addicts possessing firearms are sufficiently dangerous to require disarming them.

The opinion goes on to note that “[t]his burden should not be difficult to satisfy in this case, as the government has already asserted in argument several risks of danger from mixing drugs and guns.”

Another feature worth noting about the decision is that it assumes, without deciding, that unlawful drug users have the same Second Amendment rights as law-abiding citizens. The following paragraphs of the opinion set forth the current state of the law on this issue in the Fourth Circuit:

We first applied Heller in United States v. Chester, 628 F.3d 673 (4th Cir. 2010), where we adopted—as had been adopted by two other circuits, United States v. Marzzarella, 614 F.3d 85 (3d Cir. 2010), and United States v. Skoien, 587 F.3d 803 (7th Cir. 2009), rev’d 614 F.3d 638 (7th Cir. 2010) (en banc)—a two-step approach for evaluating a statute under the Second Amendment. First, we inquire whether the statute in question “imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee. This historical inquiry seeks to determine whether the conduct at issue was understood to be within the scope of the right at the time of ratification.” 628 F.3d at 680. And second, if the statute burdens such protected conduct, we apply “an appropriate form of means-end scrutiny.” Id. Following this approach, we now proceed to evaluate Carter’s constitutional challenge to § 922(g)(3).

Under the first step, we have three times deferred reaching any conclusion about the scope of the Second Amendment’s protection. In Chester, the government did not attempt to argue that domestic violence misdemeanants, who were prohibited by § 922(g)(9) from possessing a firearm, categorically fell outside the historical scope of the Second Amendment. Accordingly, we assumed, without deciding, that the misdemeanants there were entitled to some measure of constitutional protection and proceeded to the second step of applying an appropriate form of means-end scrutiny. See Chester, 628 F.3d at 680-82. In Masciandaro, the government did argue that possession of firearms in a national park should receive no Second Amendment protection whatsoever. See Masciandaro, 638 F.3d at 471. Nonetheless, we again did not decide the question because even if the defendant there had rights protected by the Second Amendment, the government would prevail under the intermediate scrutiny test that we applied. See id. at 473. And most recently in United States v. Staten, ___ F.3d ___, 2011 WL 6016976 (4th Cir. Dec. 5, 2011), we assumed but did not decide that the defendant had rights under the Second Amendment and rejected his constitutional challenge under the second step, applying intermediate scrutiny. Id. at *5.

In this case, as in Masciandaro, the government contends that dangerous and non-law-abiding citizens are categorically excluded from the historical scope of the Anglo-American right to bear arms. But again we will assume that Carter’s circumstances implicate the Second Amendment because all courts that have addressed the constitutionality of § 922(g)(3) have upheld the statute, see, e.g., United States v. Dugan, 657 F.3d 998 (9th Cir. 2011); United States v. Yancey, 621 F.3d 681 (7th Cir. 2010) (per curiam); United States v. Seay, 620 F.3d 919 (8th Cir. 2010); United States v. Patterson, 431 F.3d 832 (5th Cir. 2005); United States v. Richard, 350 F. App’x 252 (10th Cir. 2009), and our remand in this case is to afford the government the opportunity to substantiate the record and Carter the opportunity to respond. If we ultimately conclude that step two cannot be satisfied, we will need to address the government’s argument under step one.

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The Fourth Circuit issued published opinions in five cases today. That is a large number of opinions in argued cases for a single day. Two of the cases were argued in September. Both were split decisions. Two of the cases were argued in October. Both were unanimous as to outcome, but one featured an unusual concurring opinion joined by a panel majority. The fifth decision, from a case argued in December, was unanimous. I hope to have more to say about at least some of these opinions in the future, but here is a capsule summary for now.

Fortier v. Principal Life Ins. Co.  is a dispute over disability insurance. A split panel affirms the interpretation of an ERISA plan administrator that resulted in a denial of benefits. Judge Niemeyer wrote the opinion, which was joined in by Judge Wilkinson. Judge Floyd dissented. 

Lee-Thomas v. Prince George’s County is a dispute over sovereign immunity for a county board of education. A split panel affirms the district court’s decision that a statutory waiver of immunity, as interpreted by Maryland’s Court of Appeals, preserved claims against a county board’s of education for $100,000 or less. Judge King wrote the opinion, which was joined by Judge Davis. Judge Keenan dissented. 

Peabody Holding v. United Mine Workers presents a dispute about who decides arbitrability. A Fourth Circuit panel unanimously holds that the court rather than arbitrator must decide arbitrability, because the agreement contains no language unmistakably designating arbitrability for arbitration. Addressing arbitrability in an exercise of its independent judgment, the appellate court concludes that the dispute is arbitrable. Judge Diaz wrote the opinion, which was joined in by Judge Niemeyer and Judge Wynn. 

Zelaya v. Holder is an immigration case. The Fourth Circuit denies the petition for review with respect to an asylum claim and a withholding of removal claim, but grants the petition for review with respect to a Convention Against Torture claim. Senior Judge Hamilton wrote the opinion for the court, which was joined in by Judge Davis and Judge Floyd. Judge Floyd wrote a separate concurrence, in which Judge Davis joined. (One lesson? When Judge Floyd writes a separate concurrence, turnabout is fair play. See here for this panel’s similar voting in a different case. One question: What is going on with this panel?)

Warren v. Sessoms & Rogers is a case about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The Fourth Circuit holds that the district court, based on the defendant’s characterizations of its Rule 68 offer of judgment, incorrectly dismissed the FDCPA complaint. Judge Motz wrote the opinion, in which Judge Gregory and Judge Floyd joined. (Judge Floyd did not write a separate concurrence.)

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The police in Raleigh, NC pulled over a Crown Victoria and found a firearm in the console between the passenger and driver. The vehicle had broken some traffic laws, but the real reason that the policed pulled it over was because Officer Greenwood had relayed to the stopping officers information from a confidential informant about the presence of a man with a gun in the vehicle. The vehicle’s passenger first denied but later admitted that the gun was his. He stated that he had fired the gun earlier in the day to scare Chill Will, a man with whom he was having a dispute. At trial, the district court admitted Officer Greenwood’s testimony about what the confidential informant told him, not for the truth of the matter but for the purpose of explaining why the police acted as they did.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the resulting conviction today in an unpublished opinion in United States v. Washington. Judge Wynn authored the opinion, in which Judge Keenan and Senior Judge Hamilton concurred. The panel rejected Confrontation Clause and Rule 403 challenges.

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The Fourth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Staten, issued last month, contains several observations about the use of social science reports. The government relied on a number of studies to establish the rate of domestic violence, the rate of recidivism among domestic violence offenders, and the use of firearms by domestic violence offenders. The government did not, however, introduce paper copies of these reports in the district court, asserting that they were freely available over the Internet. The Fourth Circuit found this approach to be generally okay (though not the best practice), with one exception:

We believe the far better practice is for the government to offer copies of whatever reports/articles upon which it seeks to rely in attempting to carry its burden under intermediate scrutiny for inclusion in the record at the district court level. However, with respect to the reports upon which the government relies in the present case, because Staten has never disputed the accuracy of either the government’s representations as to their ready availability via the Internet or the accuracy of the government’s representations as to their content, we reject Staten’s argument that the government cannot rely upon the reports to meet its burden under intermediate scrutiny in this case. We also note that, with one exception which we will address later in this opinion, we had no trouble viewing such reports via the Internet using the websites included in the addendum to the government’s appellate brief.

The one exception was an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, which required a paid subscription for access to the full text. Senior Judge Hamilton, writing for the Fourth Circuit panel, wrote:

The online citation provided by the government for the full-text version of this report requires a paid subscription to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Fortunately for the government, we were able to confirm the accuracy of the government’s citation to our full satisfaction by viewing an abstract of the report on the Internet website for the Journal of the American Medical Association and by observing that the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc, cited the same report for the same statistic in Skoien II, 614 F.3d at 643. Nonetheless, we are hereby putting the government on notice that, while it caught a break under the circumstances this time, if a social science report, article, or raw data upon which it relies is not readily available free of charge on the Internet, the government must offer a paper copy in the district court for the record in order for it to be considered.

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