The Fourth Circuit issued four published opinions yesterday.
Three of the opinions were from a single panel, consisting of Judge Niemeyer, Judge King, and Judge Shedd. This panel heard arguments in the appeals almost 11 months ago (October 26, 2010). All three appeals involve claims that arose in some way in out of activities of U.S. contractors in Iraq. Two cases involved claims by Iraqis against U.S. contractors, and one was a claim by a United States Marine against contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root. In each case, the Fourth Circuit held that the claimants are barred from recovering. (AP story on the Iraqi citizen suits here.)
In Al Shimari v. CACI International, the court held that state law tort claims brought by four Iraqi citizens against a U.S. contractor for damages from torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib are preempted by federal law. The court ruled similarly in Al-Quraishi v. L-3 Services, Incorporated, remanding with instructions to dismiss the claims of 72 Iraqis against a U.S. contractor for damages from torture and abuse at various detention sites in the Iraq war zone. In both cases, Judge Niemeyer wrote the majority opinion, which Judge Shedd joined. Judge King dissented, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, and that, if the court did have jurisdiction, it should have ruled that the claims were not preempted. The opinions in Al Shimari focus more on the preemption arguments, while the opinions in Al-Quraishi devote more attention to the appellate jurisdiction arguments. In Al Shimari, Judge Niemeyer wrote not only an opinion for the panel majority, but also a separate solo opinion “giving additional reasons for reversing and remanding.” Judge Niemeyer argued in this opinion that the plaintiffs’ claims were not only preempted, but also barred by the political question doctrine and derivative absolute immunity.
The third decision from this panel was Taylor v. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Incorporated. The court held that the negligence claim of a Marine against contractor KBR was barred by the political question doctrine and that the claim was also preempted. The path to these alternative holdings is an unusual one. The header for the opinion (if that’s the right term, not sure) describes the voting breakdown as follows: “Affirmed in part and vacated in part by published opinion. Judge King wrote the opinion, in which Judge Niemeyer joined. Judge Niemeyer wrote a concurring opinion. Judge Shedd wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Judge Niemeyer joined.” This description seems slightly off. Because Judge Niemeyer joined the opinions by Judge King and Judge Shedd, both of those opinions express the opinion of the court.
The fourth published opinion issued by the Fourth Circuit yesterday was United States v. Blair. The court unanimously affirmed convictions for money laundering, but by a 2-1 vote reversed a conviction for obstruction of justice. The panel consisted of Chief Judge Traxler, Judge Wilkinson, and Judge Wynn. The unanimous portions of the opinion were per curiam. Judge Wilkinson authored the portion of the opinion addressing obstruction of justice; Judge Wynn joined in that section, while Chief Judge Traxler dissented from it.
The opinions in all four of these appeals deserve more attention, which I hope to give them in later posts.