Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the district court concluding that the county board of adjustment legally granted an area variance to certain property owners, holding that the board of adjustment acted illegally in granting the variance from the county zoning ordinance.The Board of Adjustment of Cerro Gordo County granted the application for a variance filed by Gregory and Lea Ann Saul that allowed them to construct a pergola twenty-one inches from the property line. The local ordinance required a six-foot setback. The district court concluded that the board acted legally in granting the variance. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the court of appeals and reversed the district court, holding that the Sauls did not meet their burden to establish unnecessary hardship. View "Earley v. Board of Adjustment of Cerro Gordo County" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the order of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirming the order of the immigration judge (IJ) denying Petitioner's application for withholding of removal, holding that the IJ and BIA made legal errors.Petitioner, a native and citizen of Honduras, twice entered the United States without authorization. After the government ordered Petitioner removed to Honduras, Petitioner filed an application for withholding of removal. The IJ denied the motion. The BIA affirmed and denied Petitioner's motion to reopen and remand. The First Circuit vacated the removal order and remanded the case to the BIA for further proceedings, holding (1) the BIA erred in dismissing Petitioner's appeal based on her failure to corroborate; and (2) the BIA erred in finding that Petitioner did not adequately apply for relief under the Convention Against Torture. View "Molina-Diaz v. Rosen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's dismissal of this complaint brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) alleging that the San Juan County Commission violated SUWA's rights under Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act, Utah Code 52-4-101 to 52-4-305, holding that SUWA's complaint was sufficient to survive dismissal.The district court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that SUWA failed to allege that the participants in the disputed meetings had discussed a matter over which the Commission had jurisdiction or advisory power. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) SUWA had standing to bring a challenge under the Act; and (2) the district court erred in dismissing SUWA's claims because the pleadings in SUWA's complaint were sufficient even if this Court were to adopt a proposed interpretation of the Act proffered by the Commission. View "Southern Utah Wilderness v. San Juan County Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing this complaint brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) alleging that the Kane and Garfield County Commissions violated Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act (the Act), Utah Code 52-4-101 to 52-4-305, holding that the district court erred.The dispute leading to this litigation was whether the Commissions violated the Act when they failed to provide public notice or allow attendance at certain Commission members had with the United States Secretary of the Interior. The district court dismissed SUWA's complaint for lack of standing and concluded that the Act did not apply to the meetings at issue. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) SUWA had standing to bring these claims; and (2) the court erred in concluding that the Act did not apply because, even under the district court's interpretation of the Act, the allegations in SUWA's complaint were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. View "Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Kane County Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court struck in its entirety an amendment to the Hillsborough County Charter adopted in an initiative election that approved a transportation surtax and directives for allocating the tax proceeds, holding that the spending directives were unconstitutional.The charter amendment at issue enacted a one percent transportation sales surtax and included various provisions governing the use and distribution of the tax's proceeds. Here, the Supreme Court reviewed the circuit court's judgment validating the Hillsborough County Commission's authorization of the issuance of bonds to be funded by a portion of the proceeds of the surtax. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court to the extent that it upheld the validity of any portion of the amendment, holding that core provisions of the amendment were inconsistent with the surtax statute and because the invalid provisions and the remaining provisions of the amendment form an interlocking plan, the amendment was unconstitutional in its entirety. View "Emerson v. Hillsborough County" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command installed copyrighted graphics-rendering software created by German company Bitmanagement onto all computers in the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. No express contract or license agreement authorized the Navy’s actions. In 2016, Bitmanagement filed suit, alleging copyright infringement, 28 U.S.C. 1498(b). The Claims Court found that, while Bitmanagement had established a prima facie case of copyright infringement, the Navy was not liable because it was authorized to make copies by an implied license, arising from the Navy’s purchase of individual licenses to test the software and various agreements between the Navy and the vendor.The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded for the calculation of damages. The Claims Court ended its analysis prematurely by failing to consider whether the Navy complied with the terms of the implied license, which can readily be understood from the parties’ entire course of dealings. The implied license was conditioned on the Navy using a license-tracking software, Flexera, to “FlexWrap” the program and monitor the number of simultaneous users. The Navy failed to effectively FlexWrap the copies it made; Flexera tracking did not occur as contemplated by the implied license. That failure to comply creates liability for infringement. View "Bitmanagement Software GMBH v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows a plaintiff to bring certain state-law tort claims against the United States for torts committed by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment if the plaintiff alleges six statutory elements of an actionable claim, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b). The judgment in an action under section 1346(b) bars “any action by the claimant” involving the same subject matter against the federal employee whose act gave rise to the claim. King sued the government under the FTCA after a violent encounter with federal task force members and sued the officers individually under “Bivens.” The district court dismissed his FTCA claims, holding that the government was immune because the officers were entitled to qualified immunity under Michigan law, then dismissed King’s Bivens claims. The Sixth Circuit found that the dismissal of King’s FTCA claims did not trigger the judgment bar to block his Bivens claims.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The dismissal was a judgment on the merits of the FTCA claims that can trigger the judgment bar, similar to common-law claim preclusion. Whether the undisputed facts established all the elements of King’s FTCA claims is a quintessential merits decision. The court also determined that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because, in the unique context of the FTCA, all elements of a meritorious claim are also jurisdictional. Generally, a court may not issue a ruling on the merits when it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, but when pleading a claim and pleading jurisdiction entirely overlap, a ruling that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction may simultaneously be a judgment on the merits. View "Brownback v. King" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' motion for summary judgment, holding that Petitioners were immune from Respondent's lawsuit pursuant to the litigation privilege and the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.Petitioners executed an oil and gas lease to a company that assigned 2,300 acres of Petitioners' tract to Respondent for a storage project. Respondent then applied to FERC for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to construct and operate a storage field. Petitioners intervened in the FERC proceeding. FERC eventually granted Respondent's request. When Respondent did not complete construction of the storage facility within the required amount of time it sought a three-year extension. Petitioners opposed the extension, and FERC denied Respondent's request to extend the timeframe. Thereafter, Petitioners filed suit against Respondent alleging breach of contract and seeking declaratory judgment. Respondent filed a counterclaim alleging, inter alia, breach of contract. Petitioners filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that they were immune from suit pursuant to the litigation privilege and the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the litigation privilege and Noerr-Pennington doctrine provided Petitioners with immunity from all of Respondent's counterclaims. View "Smith v. Chestnut Ridge Storage, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order granting a partial stay under Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), of three state law claims, in an action brought by the United States alleging that the California State Water Resources Board violated various provisions of the California Environmental Quality Control Act.The panel held that the district court abused its discretion in granting a partial Colorado River stay. The panel explained that partial stays pursuant to Colorado River are permissible only in very limited circumstances, namely when there is strong evidence of forum shopping. In this case, there is little evidence of forum shopping. The panel also concluded that it could not affirm the district court on the basis of Pullman abstention where the Board, which did not cross-appeal, cannot ask the court to affirm on Pullman grounds. The panel reasoned that it would necessarily have to stay the intergovernmental immunity claim, which the district court allowed to proceed. On remand, the panel instructed the district court to allow the United States' claims to proceed, subject to regular issues of justiciability. View "United States v. State Water Resources Control Board" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the FRA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing a national minimum requirement of two crew members for trains. In 2019, the FRA issued an order purporting to adopt a nationwide maximum one-person crew rule and to preempt "any state laws concerning that subject matter." Two Unions and three states petitioned for review of the Order under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Unions' petition because venue was not proper under 28 U.S.C. 2343. The panel explained that the Unions' principal officers were not in the Ninth Circuit. The panel concluded that it had jurisdiction over the States' petitions because they were sufficiently aggrieved to invoke jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 2344. On the merits, the panel held that the FRA's Order does not implicitly preempt state safety rules, that the FRA failed to comply with the APA's notice-and-comment provisions in issuing the Order, and that the order is arbitrary and capricious. The panel explained that the Order's basis for its action did not withstand scrutiny, and the FRA's contemporaneous explanation was lacking. In this case, the States met their burden of showing that the issuance of the Order violated the APA. Accordingly, the panel dismissed the petition for review but granted the States' petitions, vacating the Order. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law