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4th Circuit Court of Appeals to Hear Arguments at W&L School of Law

On Friday, March 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit will hear a day of oral arguments at Washington and Lee University School of Law. A panel of judges will hear three cases during the two-hour court session.

Arguments will begin promptly at 9:30 a.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall. Computers and backpacks are not allowed in the Moot Court Room during the Court’s visit. Photography and recording devices are also prohibited. This event is open to the public. Seating is limited.

The cases scheduled to be heard by the court are South Carolina Department of Education v. United States Secretary of Education, Lamont Wilson v. Dollar General Corps, and Demetrius Hill v. C.O. Crum. These cases are summarized below.

Harkening back to the days when transportation challenges required judges to “ride circuit” from city to city, the 4th Circuit leaves its home Richmond several times each year to hear cases at law schools and other locations. The Court last visited W&L in March of 2011. During the session, the Court heard a federal black lung benefits case being handled by the School’s own Black Lung Clinic. A student, John Eller ’11L, argued the case on behalf of the clinic.

In South Carolina Department of Education v. United States Secretary of Education, the South Carolina education department is disputing the federal government’s decision to cut funding for certain programs. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the federal government provides funding to states for their special education programs.  Federal funding is contingent on states funding their special education programs at the same level from one year to the next.  However, if a state fails to maintain the same amount of funding, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required to reduce IDEA funding in the following fiscal year. The Secretary is empowered to waive the reduction of payment under extraordinary circumstances.

In 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 South Carolina failed to maintain the funding of the state’s special education program.  The U.S. Secretary of Education chose to waive the funding shortfall from 2008-2009 and partially waived the reduction of funding in 2009-2010. The state sought to appeal the Secretary’s  decision before an administrative law judge or before the circuit court. The U.S. Department of Education claims there is no direct right of appeal to those courts. The case involves first, whether South Carolina has brought its suit in the proper court, and second,  whether the Secretary’s decision to reduce the state’s IDEA funding was proper.

In Lamont Wilson v. Dollar General Corps, Lamont Wilson sued the Dollar General Corporation for an alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mr. Wilson is blind in one eye and began to have medical problems with his healthy eye while he worked at Dollar General. After being on medical leave for a period of time, Mr. Wilson’s supervisor at Dollar General told him he had to return to work or lose his job. Mr. Wilson had just been to the emergency room because his good eye was again causing him discomfort. According to Mr. Wilson, the emergency room doctor told him not to go to work. Mr. Wilson did not return to work and was fired. The District Court dismissed Mr. Wilson’s lawsuit. Mr. Wilson has appealed that decision.

In Demetrius Hill v. C.O. Crum, Demetrius Hill sued Officer Crum for excessive use of force. Mr. Hill claimed that while he was a prisoner in a correctional facility Officer Crum handcuffed him and then beat him. A jury found in favor of Mr. Hill and awarded him $25,000. After the trial, Officer Crum brought two motions. The first motion was to dismiss the lawsuit because he was entitled to qualified immunity. The first motion was denied. The second motion was for a new trial, which was granted.  Officer Crum appealed the decision denying him immunity, claiming that even if he assaulted Mr. Hill, which he denies, he is entitled to qualified immunity because Mr. Hill’s injuries were de minimis. Mr. Hill has argued Officer Crum is not entitled to qualified immunity because his actions were malicious and intentional.

Case summaries provided by Prof. Tim MacDonnell