October 2020 Fourth Circuit Torts and Insurance Cases of Interest


Marc Manos, of the TIPS Council, monitors the Fourth Circuit Advance sheets and selects cases that might be of interest to tort or insurance practitioners.

Below are short summaries of the cases selected from October of 2020

Dean on behalf of Harkness v. McKinney

Case No. 19-1383 (4th Cir. Oct. 2, 2020) (Published). GOVERNMENTAL TORT/CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATION 42 U.S.C. § 1983 deliberate indifference and S.C. Tort Claims Act  negligence and gross negligence in the operation of a police vehicle. Denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity affirmed. Deputy Sheriff in Anderson County began responding to a Code Three incident to aid another deputy allowing law enforcement to exceed speed limits and ignore certain traffic laws so long as siren and emergency lights are activated (there are some exceptions to use of lights and siren, not applicable to this case). Shift supervisor canceled Code Three and ordered a "normal run" response where officers must abide by all traffic laws. Responding deputy turned off emergency lights and siren and two minutes later lost control of the vehicle, crossed the center line, and while traveling at least 83 MPH in a 45 MPH speed limit area hit Plaintiff's ward nearly head on causing severe orthopedic and neurological injuries. Under these facts, the deliberate indifference standard guides whether the officer is entitled to qualified immunity. County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998). The cancellation of the emergency two minutes and fifteen seconds before the collision, the Defendant's acknowledgement that the Code Three was now a non-emergency Code One, and turning off the emergency warning lights and siren established that the District Court properly selected the deliberate indifference standard, rather than intent-to-harm. As a reasonable jury could conclude under the facts that Defendant operated the police vehicle in a dangerous and reckless manner with knowledge of the risks involved. The facts included that Defendant received remedial training for earlier vehicle operations violations of policy. Thus summary judgment should have been denied on qualified immunity for the due process violation claims. The requirement to non-recklessly operate a police vehicle is well established the District Court property denied summary judgment on that ground as well. Finally, the Parratt-Hudson doctrine only applies to procedural due process claims where state law provided post-deprivation remedies, not to substantive due process claims like this one. See Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981), overruled in part on other grounds, Daniel v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330 (1986); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984).

View case here.

Martin v. Duffy

Case No. 18-722 (4th Cir. Oct. 13, 2020) (Published). GOVERNMENTAL TORT/CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATION/RETALIATION. Prisoner filed First Amendment retaliation claim against prison officials who placed prisoner in isolation pending investigation of his claim a guard sexually assaulted him. District Court found prisoner stated a claim, but granted prison official summary judgment because prison officials established they would have made the same decision absent the protected conduct for reasons related to a legitimate prison interest. The Court of Appeals held, in a case of first impression in the Fourth Circuit that the employment law same-decision test of Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977) applied to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 prison First Amendment retaliation claims. There is a split in the circuits on this issue. The Court went on to reverse, however, because a material question of fact existed as to whether the prison official would have placed the Plaintiff in segregation absent a retaliatory motive.

View case here.

John Doe 2 v. The Fairfax County School Board

Case No. 19-1702 (4th Cir. Oct. 21, 2020) (Unpublished). GOVERNMENTAL TORT/CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATION/GENDER DISCRIMINATION. Male high school student accused by three female students of inappropriate sexual comments and touching suspended then transferred sued for gender discrimination under Title IX and free speech violations under First Amendment and Virginia Constitution. Summary judgment for defendants affirmed.  Under erroneous outcome theory, Plaintiff could not prevail because his admissions on record prevented a material issue of fact as to his actual innocence. Under selective enforcement, Plaintiff came forward with no evidence of record to create a material issue of fact that anti-male bias animated the proceedings.  Further, he received the due process required for school disciplinary action. The school setting grants school officials broader, but not unlimited, power over speech. Speech disruptive to the work of the school or vulgar and offensive speech that contradicts the teaching fundamental values of civility, may be disciplined.

View case here.

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