U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to hold oral arguments at WFU Law School on Friday

A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hold oral arguments in three cases at the Wake Forest University School of Law on Friday, March 27.

The arguments will be heard in the Large Courtroom, Room 1312, in the Worrell Professional Center beginning at 9 a.m. Each argument will take approximately 40 minutes (20 minutes per side). The panel generally takes questions from the audience at the conclusion of all three cases.

"Because the Fourth Circuit usually sits in Richmond, the Court’s appearance at Wake Forest presents a rare opportunity to observe and learn about federal appellate practice,” said Law Professor John Korzen.

Following is a short description of each case:

The first case, U.S. v. Kingrea, involves criminal law and statutory interpretation, and is from the Western District of Virginia.

The defendant was convicted of participating in cockfighting in rural Page County, Virginia, and sentenced to six months imprisonment and six months of home confinement. He raises several challenges to his conviction and sentence. One of the federal statutes at issue requires an underlying violation of state law. The defendant argues that cockfighting is not illegal under a Virginia statute allowing betting on animals, including “fowl,” so long as the activity was a game of “skill” and not a game of “chance.” He argues that cockfighting requires “skill” (tell that to the roosters). Another Virginia statute outlaws cockfighting. The defendant argues that the “rule of lenity” applies to prevent him from being convicted under the second statute. The government responds that cockfighting has been held to be a game of “chance” in the few jurisdictions to reach the issue and alternatively offers an argument that harmonizes the two statutes.

The defendant also argues that the government failed to prove the interstate commerce requirement of another of the federal statutes at issue. That statute took effect on March 3, 2007, which was only two days before the defendant was arrested, and makes it a crime to sell certain cockfighting equipment “in commerce.” The defendant argues that the present tense “in commerce” language is construed differently than the present perfect tense “has been in commerce” used in other statutes. Yes, an issue that turns on grammar! The government’s response is that the defendant was only convicted of conspiring to violate that statute, which he was aware of, and that therefore the government did not have to prove the cockfighting equipment had actually been in interstate commerce during the two days between the effective date of the statute and the defendant’s arrest.

Finally, the defendant argues that he should have received a lower sentence due to “acceptance of responsibility,” because he made legal challenges and not factual challenges to the charges against him. The government counters that the denial of “acceptance of responsibility” was justified because, among other reasons, the defendant put the government to the burden of proving its case and showed no remorse. The defendant apparently stated that he had a “right” to participate in cockfighting and that it is a “sport of gallantry.”

The next case, Independence News, Inc. v. City of Charlotte, involves the First Amendment and property law, specifically the zoning of adult bookstores and adult live entertainment establishments, and is from the Western District of North Carolina.

An adult bookstore and an adult entertainment business both challenge a Charlotte adult zoning ordinance, or AZO, that required such businesses to be certain distances away from other such businesses and from residential zoning districts, schools, churches, child care centers, parks, and playgrounds. The AZO also contained an “amortization provision” requiring such businesses to either close or relocate to a conforming location within eight years. The AZO contained findings that the ordinance was necessary to promote property values, crime reduction, and the integrity of protected areas. The district court ruled in favor of the City of Charlotte, dismissing some of the plaintiffs’ claims based on the pleadings and the rest at summary judgment.

On appeal, the businesses argue that they should have been allowed to present evidence that the secondary effects that the AZO was meant to combat (lower property values, etc.) would not have occurred at their particular locations, that is, that the AZO violates the First Amendment “as applied” to them. The City of Charlotte responds, with analogous case law support, that it was not required to show the ill effects from each adult establishment it regulates. Charlotte contends that a city’s general restriction on adult establishments is reasonable even if a particular establishment could show that its conduct did not threaten the harms the city sought to avoid. The parties agree that the issue has not arisen in the context of adult establishments.

The third and final case, EEOC v. Central Wholesalers, Inc., involves employment discrimination and is from the Southern District of Maryland.

The EEOC sued the defendant for a “hostile work environment” that allegedly included sexual discrimination and race discrimination and led to the constructive discharge of an employee. The complaining employee alleged that co-employees frequently used the “N-word” and other racial epithets, called women the “B” word on a daily basis, and displayed pornography or played it audibly on their computers in workplace cubicles adjoining female employees’ cubicles.

The district court allowed the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the EEOC ignoring information, such as evidence that the “N-word” had not been used, and relying on unsupported allegations. But the district court denied the defendant’s motion for attorney fees. So both sides have appealed, the EEOC from the summary judgment dismissing its complaint, and the defendant from the denial of its motion for attorney’s fees.

The EEOC argues that it presented enough evidence to survive summary judgment, if the evidence is construed in the light most favorable to it and it is given the benefit of all reasonable inferences arising from the evidence. The defendant argues that it is entitled to attorney’s fees because the EEOC’s claim was “frivolous, unreasonable, and without foundation,” the case law test interpreting the applicable statute.