Docket – March 25, 2019

4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Belville v. Ford Motor Co. (P), 4th Cir. (Agee) from SDWV at Huntington (Chambers).

In this products-liability suit arising from an alleged manufacturing defect in Ford vehicles, the district court properly dismissed the claims of certain plaintiffs, excluded plaintiffs’ three experts’ opinions, and granted summary judgment to Ford on all claims.

The district court properly considered appropriate factors and did not abuse its discretion in excluding the experts’ opinions based on their lack of relevance and reliability. Contrary to the plaintiffs’ assertions, the district court thoroughly reviewed the record, including the experts’ reports and the depositions of these experts, to understand their testing, theories, and methodologies. The court then provided a well-reasoned analysis of the experts’ theories and testing based on its consideration of relevant Daubert factors such as general acceptance of a theory within a relevant field, peer review, and the scientific validity of their underlying methodologies.

The Plaintiffs point to unverified reports of unintended acceleration from Ford vehicle drivers, but, unintended acceleration alone doesn’t prove the existence of a defect. Similarly, the availability of an alternative vehicle design with a failsafe system doesn’t substantiate the plaintiffs’ theory of defect because the alternative design’s mere availability does not prove that the existing design is defective or could lead to an unintended acceleration.

The plaintiffs couldn’t prove their theory of defect and thus fail to meet the essential element of causation.


R.F. v. Cecil Cty. Pub. Schs. (P), 4th Cir. (Duncan) from DMD at Baltimore (Copperthite).

Although a school system violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in some procedural respects as to plaintiff R.F., it did not deny R.F. a free appropriate public education.

A school must follow procedures specified in the IDEA before changing the child’s placement as identified in her Individualized Education Plan. Here, the school system increased her hours in a specialized classroom without giving notice to her parents – a procedural violation.

But the education that R.F. actually received during the 2016–2017 school year reinforces the lower tribunals’ decision that the school system provided her with a free appropriate public education. An Individualized Education Plan set out 13 goals addressing all of R.F.’s special needs, using an intensive communication support classroom to target her issues with focus and stress, while its efforts to include her in a general educational setting aimed to avoid unduly isolating her from her peers at school.

An administrative law judge found that R.F. did make progress toward some of the goals on her IEP during the 2016/2017 school year, though not all of them. The IEP didn’t aim for grade-level advancement through the general curriculum or for standard letter grades because these weren’t considered a reasonable prospect for R.F. But this approach doesn’t indicate a failure to set challenging objectives for R.F. The combination of reasonably ambitious goals that were focused on R.F.’s particular circumstances and that were pursued through the careful and attentive instruction of specialized professionals provided the education that R.F. is entitled to under the statute.


U.S. District Court – Virginia Eastern

Koontz v. Jording, EDVA at Richmond (Lauck).

The plaintiff alleges that two of her former supervisors at Home Depot defamed her and tortiously interfered with her employment by falsely stating multiple times that the plaintiff was separated from her employment at Home Depot due to her arrest for a felony.

The defamation claim survives as to all named defendants. The plaintiff sufficiently alleges a defamatory, provably untrue statement that was published to colleagues, vendors, friends, and customers with the requisite intent. In addition to the individual defendants, Home Depot could be liable for the defamation under a theory of respondent superior.

However, the plaintiff fails to plausibly allege tortious interference with her employment because she doesn’t identify an interfering third party. She also fails to identify two separate conspirators to support a conspiracy claim, since the supervisors she names were acting within the scope of their employment with the corporate defendant.

Motion to dismiss granted in part and denied in part; motion to strike sur-reply granted.

Categories: Daily Dockets

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