Established in 1891, the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit is located in Richmond, Virginia.
Its appellate jurisdiction is the mid-Atlantic South, including Maryland,
the Carolinas, and the Virginias.
The court regularly tours to various law schools giving students and the public
opportunity to see its process.
“Court is actually being held here at the law school. For
today, we are the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit,” says Associate
Dean for Faculty Research and Development and Professor of Law, Anne Marie
Lofaso. She says this is the court’s fourth visit to WVU since about 2000.
“We have the opportunity to bring one of the branches of
government here to the law school for the students to actually observe. Actual
citizens, officers of the court, lawyers are interacting with judicial officers.
This is our democracy, this is our brand: United
States democracy, American democracy. It’s
not just hypothetical and not just something esoteric and legal philosophy, but
this is how it’s actually done.”
The 3-judge panel includes two WVU alumni, Judge Robert
Bruce King and Judge Stephanie Thacker. They heard arguments for three cases. Second
year law student Evan Johns sat in and heard the first arbitration case of
Great American Insurance Company v. Hinkle Contracting Company.
“We heard oral arguments today,” Johns says. “So the court
has already been briefed by the parties—they have written accounts of the
parties’ arguments that they’ve read ahead of time—and today was just a chance
to get council in and ask them some questions about their briefs and have them
present their case orally before the court.”
In the first case, the court considered whether a party can
be compelled to arbitrate under a performance bond subcontract that was
incorporated by reference.
“It just had to do with a contract and subcontract to build
a road down in Mingo County
and whether or not the parties were required to go through arbitration before they
took any disputes before the courts,” Johns explains. “The second case I know
had to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act and disputes over how you
define a disability under that act.”
In Benjamin Reynolds v. American National Red Cross, an
employment discrimination case, the court considered whether the plaintiff was
disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and whether
the Red Cross chapter is an employer under agency theory.
The final argument the court heard was the criminal case United
States v. Ryan Holness. The judges considered
whether the defendant's cell mate acted as a state agent in eliciting
incriminating statements, and whether conduct by state actors can be considered
in subsequent federal prosecution.
Katie Wilson is also a law student who attended some of the
“Almost all the law students I think were present. We had
the overflow room, too, because it was such a packed event. Practitioners,
professors, I think there are members of the public, certainly, who would come—people
who are going to be affected by this case potentially. We have quite a few
practitioners from Morgantown, and from
Charleston people have driven up to
come see this.”
“Here at West Virginia we’re really lucky to have the state Supreme
Court, the West Virginia Supreme Court, visit us from time to time,” says Johns,
“but it’s really momentous to have the 4th Circuit here. They create
binding precedents in several states and are persuasive across the country. So
this is a big event and we’re really happy to have them here.”
Professor of Law Anne Marie Lofaso adds that WVU has just
started a Supreme Court clinic. She says students were able to talk directly
with the judges about their experiences making their visit that much more of a
valuable educational tool.