Docket – February 22, 2019

4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Rangarajan v. Johns Hopkins Univ. (P), 4th Cir. (Niemeyer) from DMD at Baltimore (Nickerson).

In dismissing three of four actions initiated by the plaintiff as a sanction for “flagrant and unremitting” violations of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the district court did not abuse its discretion. The plaintiff’s conduct was inept and abusive to a degree that rendered virtually useless five years of proceedings before the district court, and such abuse would likely have continued in any future proceedings.

The totality of the record in this case reveals a totally dysfunctional performance by the plaintiff and her counsel, but mostly by her. She commenced four actions when only one was proper, repeatedly reasserting claims that the district court had dismissed. After the district court denied her motion to replead qui tam claims in the first action, she nonetheless repleaded them in the third action. When the district court dismissed the third action, she refiled the same claims in the fourth action.

In discovery, the plaintiff flagrantly failed to produce thousands of documents, several of which were core to her claims. After giving a daylong deposition, she sought to undermine and recant her testimony in a 54-page declaration that rendered her deposition essentially useless. Further, she challenged the transcription of her deposition, claiming it was deliberately altered and recreated by the court reporter, a conclusion that the district court found to be conclusively false. In short, she rendered virtually useless the entire discovery process, in which the parties had invested substantial time and money.

It was also apparent throughout the entire proceedings that the plaintiff refused to follow counsel’s advice and engaged in inappropriate actions, such as communicating arguments directly to the court ex parte and including substantive matters in her errata sheet.

In light of the plaintiff’s conduct, the court had little confidence that her counsel would be able to ensure her compliance with the rules of discovery. When a party abuses the process at a level that is utterly inconsistent with the orderly administration of justice or undermines the integrity of the process — as the plaintiff did here — she forfeits her right to use the process.


Thomas v. Berryhill (P), 4th Cir. (Floyd) from WDNC at Charlotte (Cogburn).

In this claim for supplemental social security, the administrative law judge failed to sufficiently explain the reasoning underlying her evaluation of the claimant’s residual functional capacity. The ALJ also failed to identify and resolve an apparent conflict between the testimony of a vocational expert and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

First, the ALJ drew no explicit conclusions about how the claimant’s mental limitations affect her ability to perform job-related tasks for a full workday — a benchmark established by the Administration’s own regulations. Second, the ALJ didn’t sufficiently explain how she weighed significant evidence related to Thomas’s mental-health treatment. Third, the ALJ expressed the claimant’s residual functional capacity first and only then concluded that the her limitations were consistent with it. Fourth, the ALJ stated that the claimant could not perform work “requiring a production rate or demand pace” but she didn’t give this court enough information to understand what those terms mean.

In addition, there is an apparent conflict between a limitation to “short, simple instructions” (as found in the claimant’s residual functional capacity) and a need to carry out “detailed but uninvolved . . . instructions” (as found in jobs requiring Level 2 reasoning).

Vacated and remanded. Judged King concurred in the judgment.

Virginia Circuit Courts

Commonwealth v. Gregg, Fairfax (Oblon).

Under Code § 19.2-243, a tolled speedy-trial clock resumes running once a defendant is subsequently taken into custody and incarcerated in Virginia, regardless the reason for the detention.

Here, the defendant failed to appear in court, a bench warrant for her arrest issued, the defendant was later taken into custody in Virginia for unrelated reasons and continuously held but was not timely served with the bench warrant or brought to trial. These circumstances require reconciliation of a split of authority in the commonwealth represented by Knott v. Commonwealth and McCray v. Commonwealth.

Because the defendant was held in a Virginia correctional institution well after the five or nine months during which the Commonwealth was obligated to try her, the indictments against her must be dismissed.


Categories: Daily Dockets

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