Docket – February 11, 2019

4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Wood v. Wood (P), 4th Cir. (Keenan) from DMD at Greenbelt (Hazel).

In this suit to vindicate a student’s First Amendment rights, two statements concerning Islamic beliefs, presented as part of a high school world history class, did not violate the student’s rights under either the Establishment Clause or the Free Speech Clause.

The record doesn’t support the student’s contention that school officials used the statements about Islam to endorse that religion over Christianity or that the officials compelled the student to profess a belief in Islam against her will. Contrary to the student’s contention, the court should analyze each statement in context, not apart from the subject matter of the class in which the statements appeared.

In a required world history class, the smallest unit focused on “The Muslim World” and contained material on “formation of Middle Eastern empires including the basic concepts of the Islamic faith and how it along with politics, culture, economics, and geography contributed to the development of those empires.” The student was required to complete a fill-in-the-blank worksheet that included the “Five Pillars” of Islam, including the statement that “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

The worksheet included a variety of factual information related to Islam and merely asked the students to demonstrate their understanding of the material by completing the partial sentences. This is precisely the sort of academic exercise that the Supreme Court has indicated would not run afoul of the Establishment Clause. A reasonable observer, aware of the world history curriculum being taught, would not view the challenged materials as communicating a message of endorsement. Because the challenged materials satisfy all three prongs of the Lemon test, the district court properly granted summary judgment to the defendants on the Establishment Clause claim.

As to the student’s Free Speech rights, a student’s right against compelled speech has limited application in a classroom setting in which a student is asked to study and discuss materials with which she disagrees. Here, the worksheet didn’t rise to the level of compelled speech prohibited by the constitution in schools.


U.S. District Court – Virginia Eastern

McFadden v. Williams, EDVA at Richmond (Payne).

In this RICO and usury action, the plaintiffs may depose the president of a corporate defendant about matters apart from his employment with the corporation.

Where the plaintiffs allege that the corporate defendants merged to avoid liability, and where the 4th Circuit is currently considering  the defendants’ claim to sovereign immunity, prudence dictates that the president should not be asked in deposition about his role at the company during the pendency of the appeal. If the 4th Circuit affirms the decision rejecting the claim to sovereign immunity, then discovery can be reopened to allow inquiry.

The motion to quash will generally be denied, because the case is now out of kilter due to problems with discovery and delay caused by the broad claims of immunity from discovery interposed by the corporate defendants. And the requested deposition is related to the merits of the claims in a related action. However, the deposition allowed here will not be scheduled until after a pending class certification is decided.

Motion to quash subpoena granted in part and denied in part.

Virginia Circuit Courts

Commonwealth v. Jordan, Norfolk (Lannetti).

Although the court previously suppressed an out-of-court “show-up” identification of a defendant charged with armed robbery, the court need not suppress subsequent in-court identifications, which have an independent basis.

Further, despite the unconstitutional show-up identification, probable cause existed to arrest the defendant. He matched the physical description provided by the victim, he was located near the scene of the crime shortly after it occurred, and he showed signs of nervousness. Therefore, neither a gunshot residue test of the defendant nor the contents of the defendant’s phone calls while in jail need be suppressed.

Motion to suppress denied.

Nassabeh v. Montazami, Fairfax (Bernhard).

In the sale of the marital residence in underlying divorce proceedings, a Special Commissioner will be held personally liable under Code § 8.01-105 for failure to comply with his fiduciary duties, in the amount of $79,452.

The Commissioner was to account for encumbrances but failed to quantify the judgment lien of the petitioner in the current action. The Commissioner also volunteered to the court that “everyone was in agreement as to the distribution,” despite not noticing the petitioner of the judicial sale. This error effectively caused the dishonor of the petitioner’s lien. Code § 8.01-105 contemplates imposing liability against a commissioner under such circumstances.

Categories: Daily Dockets

%d bloggers like this: