Justia International Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The case involves a group of Ghanaian investors who placed their funds with a Ghanaian private investment firm, Gold Coast, owned by the Nduom family, who are domiciled in Virginia. The Nduom family allegedly used a network of shell companies in Ghana and the United States to illicitly transfer the investors' funds out of their reach. The investors sued in a federal district court in Virginia, invoking a provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) that authorizes a private cause of action for any person injured in his business or property by a violation of RICO’s substantive prohibitions.The district court dismissed the action, ruling that the plaintiffs had not alleged a domestic injury, which is a requirement for a private RICO plaintiff. The court considered the residency of the plaintiffs and the location of the money when it was misappropriated, both of which were in Ghana. The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ state law claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, as there was no diversity jurisdiction over the claims and the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims after dismissing the only federal claim in the case.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court agreed that the plaintiffs had not alleged a domestic injury, which is a requirement for a private RICO plaintiff. The court noted that the case involved Ghanaian victims who entrusted Ghanaian funds to a Ghanaian entity, with no expectation that their money would end up in the United States. The defendants’ unilateral use of American entities to complete their scheme did not domesticate an otherwise foreign injury. View "Percival Partners Limited v. Paa Nduom" on Justia Law

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Carlos Gomez-Ruotolo, a native citizen of Venezuela, was brought to the United States in 2001 and became a lawful permanent resident. He was convicted twice in Virginia for crimes involving minors: once for attempted sexual battery and another for electronic solicitation of a minor. Based on these convictions, he was found removable as a noncitizen convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude and was denied relief by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Gomez-Ruotolo appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, arguing that his crimes were not morally turpitudinous and that he should receive protection against removal under the Convention Against Torture.The court disagreed. It held that attempted sexual battery and electronic solicitation of a minor both involved moral turpitude, thus making Gomez-Ruotolo deportable under immigration law. The court also affirmed the agency's decision to deny Gomez-Ruotolo protection under the Convention Against Torture, agreeing that he had not shown he was more likely than not to face torture in Venezuela. Therefore, the court denied Gomez-Ruotolo's petition for review. View "Gomez-Ruotolo v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania, challenged the district court’s denial of his request for a preliminary injunction (the “Injunction Denial”). Petitioner sought— in connection with his petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. Section 2241 — to prevent the defendant government officials from carrying out his extradition to Lithuania. The district court denied Petitioner’s request for injunctive relief, deeming him unlikely to succeed on the merits of his claim that his extradition to Lithuania would contravene the extradition treaty between that country and the United States. More specifically, Petitioner maintained that Lithuania’s 2015 extradition request fails to comply with the treaty’s mandate that Lithuania produce what is called “the charging document” (the “charging document contention”). The Injunction Denial ruled, however, that the documents produced by Lithuania comply with the extradition treaty, and that Petitioner is therefore not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief.   The Fourth Circuit reversed. The court explained that it is satisfied that Petitioner is likely to succeed on the merits of his claim that Lithuania’s 2015 extradition request does not satisfy the charging document mandate of the extradition treaty. The court wrote that Petitioner has demonstrated that Lithuania’s 2015 extradition request to return him to that country does not satisfy the Treaty’s requirements. And the public’s interest in the Secretary of State recognizing and fulfilling Treaty obligations outweighs any detrimental impact that the denial of an improper extradition request could have. View "Darius Vitkus v. Antony Blinken" on Justia Law

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While living in Japan, Defendant sexually abused a young girl. The government brought charges under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. The government’s theory was that Defendant was employed by the Armed Forces because he worked for a Department of Veterans Affairs subcontractor. Or, the government argued, he was accompanying a member of the Armed Forces because he lived with his wife, who worked at the Kadena Air Base in Japan. Defendant pleaded guilty to two charges in exchange for the government’s dropping the rest. As part of the deal, he also agreed to waive any right to appeal. The district court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Defendant to 420 months imprisonment. But, despite his waiver, Defendant appealed.   The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal. The court explained that Defendant attempted to get around his appeal waiver by arguing that jurisdiction cannot be waived, and thus he has every right to proceed. The court reasoned that Defendant confuses a crime’s jurisdictional element with federal courts’ subject-matter jurisdiction. Here, Defendant is not challenging the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. He’s challenging the sufficiency of the evidence on his crimes’ jurisdictional element. Sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge falls under his appeal waiver, and thus the court dismissed his appeal. View "US v. Emilio Moran" on Justia Law

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Defendant a citizen and resident of New Zealand, carried on an online relationship with a thirteen-year-old girl in Virginia that involved several sexually explicit video calls. A federal grand jury charged him with nine counts of producing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 2251(a). He entered a conditional guilty plea to one of the counts and was sentenced to twenty-one years in prison. Defendant challenged both his conviction and sentence on appeal. He first argued that his conviction involves an impermissible extraterritorial application of Section 2251(a) because he was in New Zealand when the unlawful images and videos were produced. Second, he contends that his conviction violates the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause because he lacked adequate notice that the victim was underage. Third, and finally, he challenges his sentence on the grounds that the district court improperly applied a two-level enhancement for offenses involving “sexual contact.”   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court held that Defendant’s conviction stands as a permissible domestic application of Section 2251(a) because the conduct relevant to the statute’s focus occurred in Virginia, where the visual depiction that forms the basis of Defendant’s conviction was produced and transmitted. Further, the court held that although Defendant argued otherwise, the fact that a violation of Section 2251(a) carries a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence does not give him a due process right to a reasonable-mistake-of-age defense. Finally, the court held that because Defendant admitted to masturbating during the video calls,it was appropriate for the sentencing court to apply the two-level enhancement. View "US v. Troy Skinner" on Justia Law

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At issue is whether the Commonwealth of Virginia would recognize a divorce granted by a foreign nation to its own citizens when neither spouse was domiciled in that nation at the time of the divorce. The question arises from Petitioner’s marriage to a woman after the woman and another man — both Ghanaian citizens — divorced pursuant to Ghanaian customary law. At the time of the divorce, the woman and man were lawful permanent residents of the United States, and neither was present or domiciled in Ghana. Based on his marriage to the woman, Petitioner became a lawful permanent resident of the United States. But when Petitioner applied to become a naturalized citizen, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determined that he and the woman were not validly married. USCIS reasoned that under controlling Virginia law, the Commonwealth would not recognize a divorce granted by a nation where neither spouse was domiciled at the time of the divorce. Petitioner sought a review of the decision in the district court, which granted summary judgment to USCIS. Petitioner then brought this appeal.   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant Petitioner’s naturalization application. The court concluded as a matter of comity, Virginia would recognize this otherwise valid divorce granted by a foreign nation to its own citizens, regardless of the citizens’ domicile at the time. The court explained it rejected only USCIS’s argument that pursuant to present Virginia law, the Commonwealth would refuse to recognize a divorce granted by a foreign nation to its own citizens simply because neither was domiciled in the foreign nation at the time of the divorce. View "Michael Adjei v. Alejandro Mayorkas" on Justia Law

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Four years into Defendant’s prison term for a felony drug offense, the government transferred him to Mexico to serve the rest of his sentence. But after Mexican authorities released him from prison, Defendant returned to the United States in violation of his conditions of supervised release. The district court revoked his supervised release and sentenced him to another two years in prison. On appeal, Defendant claimed that a 1976 U.S.-Mexico treaty stripped the district court of its subject-matter jurisdiction to revoke his supervised release. And even if the district court did have jurisdiction, he argues, it erred in considering his “early” release from Mexican custody in imposing an upward variance.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court declined to vacate Defendant’s sentence finding that the Treaty doesn’t strip U.S. courts of their jurisdiction—and particularly not for transferees like Defendant, who return to the country before completing their original sentences. Further, the court explained that Defendant is incorrect in his claim that the district court based the sentence on its “disapproval of the transfer decisions and Mexico’s incarceration term.” Rather, the court disapproved of Defendant’s behavior after he was released. Defendant’s sentence wasn’t procedurally or substantively unreasonable, much less plainly so. View "US v. Escovio Rios" on Justia Law

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Appellants sought to develop thousands of acres of land in Belize, which they marketed as a luxury resort called “Sanctuary Belize.” In their sales pitch to U.S. consumers, many promises were made but not kept. In 2018, the FTC shut this down, calling Sanctuary Belize Enterprise (SBE) a “scam,” and alleging violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule for making misrepresentations to consumers. The FTC also brought contempt charges against Appellant stemming from past judgments against him. After an extensive bench trial, the district court found ample evidence of violative and contumacious conduct, ultimately ruling in the FTC’s favor.   Appellants appealed and the Fourth Circuit affirmed in large part, the one exception being vacating the equitable monetary judgments in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission. The court explained that the various permanent injunctions—including the prohibition of SBE individuals and entities from engaging in further misrepresentations—are appropriately tailored to prevent similar scams in the future. Further, the court held that the district court in Maryland was within its discretion to keep the case because the FTC’s allegations in the Sanctuary Belize case rested on the same facts as the telemarketing contempt charges stemming from AmeriDebt, which was litigated in Maryland and which no party had asked to transfer. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Andris Pukke" on Justia Law

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Defendant operated a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme out of Israel which targeted unsophisticated victims worldwide. Defendant was ultimately convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and substantive wire fraud, and sentenced to 22 years in prison.On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, Defendant raised several challenges, including that she did not commit a crime under United States law because the wire-fraud statute does not apply to hee conduct that occurred out of the county. The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's position, finding that, although the wire-fraud statute does not apply extraterritorially, the focus of the statute is on the misuse of American wires. Because Defendant's conduct involved the misuse of American wires, the statute applied to her.The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's remaining challenges, with the exception of her challenge to the district court's restitution order that went beyond victims of domestic wire fraud. View "US v. Lee Elbaz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a citizen and resident of Vietnam, initiated arbitration proceedings in Singapore against Defendant, then a citizen and resident of North Carolina regarding a dispute related to a sale of property in the Philippines. Plaintiff obtained a $1.55 million award against Defendant, and then brought this case asking the court to enforce the award. The district court rejected Defendant's jurisdictional challenges and granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to Plaintiff. In so holding, the court rejected Defendant's claim that the district court lacked subject matter and personal jurisdiction, and that the court erred in finding no disputed issues of material fact. View "Rachan Reddy v. Rashid Buttar" on Justia Law