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Posts Tagged ‘Maryland’

A dispute arising out of an inability to obtain a mortgage for the construction of a new million-dollar home in Maryland has resulted in a Fourth Circuit decision holding an arbitration provision unenforceable for lack of consideration. Judge Davis wrote the opinion for the court in Noohi v. Toll Bros, Inc., in which Judge King and Judge Shedd joined. Among other things, the opinion contains a discussion of appellate jurisdiction under the Federal Arbitration Act, issues of contract interpretation under Maryland law, and the Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011).

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A couple paragraphs from an AP news story about same-sex civil marriages in Maryland show an inversion of the traditional understanding of church and state, whereby the church superintends the sacred and the state superintends the secular. Titled “Weddings abound as gay marriage becomes legal in Maryland,” the story describes wedding ceremonies between same-sex couples after explaining that Governor O’Malley pushed for legal recognition of same-sex civil marriage “against leaders of his Catholic faith” and the mayor of Baltimore opined on the relative sacredness of the resulting legal relationship:

The ceremonies follow a legislative fight that pitted Gov. Martin O’Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.

“There is no human institution more sacred than that of the one that you are about to form,” Rawlings-Blake said during the brief ceremony. “True marriage, true marriage, is the dearest of all earthly relationships.”

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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 Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion today in United States v. Donnell reversing a sentencing determination that treated a Maryland conviction for second-degree assault as a violent felony based on facts set forth in a statement of probable cause not expressly incorporated into the statement of charges. The opinion was unanimous. Judge Davis authored the opinion, which was joined in by Judges King and Keenan.

The panel that issued this opinion is the same panel that heard oral argument in the U.S.S. Nicholas piracy case. That was the second case argued that morning; Donnell was the first. I recall from the argument that federal public defender arguing on behalf of Donnell, Paresh S. Patel, was a particularly effective oral advocate.

One of the key issues in the appeal is whether a statement of charges incorporated a statement of probable cause. That deceptively simple formulation of the issue masks some unclarity in Fourth Circuit precedent about what constitutes incorporation, some of which is addressed in the Donnell opinion. The difficulty facing the Donnell court, it appears, is that prior panels had finessed (or neglected) an important distinction in describing the manner in which statements of probable cause are or are not incorporated into a statement of charges under Maryland law. To see how the Donnell opinion resolves the issue, read the whole thing and decide what you think.

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