Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2018, Garfield County, Utah sought to chip-seal a 7.5-mile portion of the Burr Trail known as the Stratton Segment. Before the County could begin its chip-sealing project, it was legally required to consult with the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) about the project’s scope and impact and obtain BLM’s approval. After doing so, Garfield County completed the project. Soon after Garfield County chip-sealed the Stratton Segment, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other conservation groups sued BLM and the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”). Under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), SUWA alleged that BLM had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when approving the chip-sealing project. The district court disagreed and dismissed SUWA’s claims. SUWA raised the same issue on appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit held that BLM didn’t act arbitrarily and capriciously in informally determining that Garfield County had an R.S. 2477 right-of-way over the Stratton Segment. After reviewing the record, the Court disagreed with SUWA that BLM “purported to” rely on IM 2008-175 in its R.S. 2477 determination. "Instead, BLM properly relied on its authority under our caselaw to informally determine, for BLM’s own purposes, that Garfield County holds its asserted R.S. 2477 right-of-way. Thus, BLM’s decision was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." View "Southern Utah Wilderness, et al. v. DOI, et al." on Justia Law

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Charlestown Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, enacted a zoning ordinance that permitted outdoor billboards in a particular district. A statewide regulation concerning roadside billboards promulgated by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) had the practical effect of barring that use. Charlestown Outdoor, LLC, (“Outdoor”) sought nonetheless to erect a billboard on property it leased in that zoning district. In pursuit of that objective, Outdoor filed a substantive-validity challenge to Charlestown Township’s ordinance, asserting that it was de facto exclusionary. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found it wasn't the zoning ordinance, but rather the statewide regulation, that precluded the proposed use. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the challenged zoning ordinance was not de facto exclusionary. It therefore affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s rejection of Outdoor’s validity challenge. View "In Re Charlestown Outdoor, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Act 129 amended the Pennsylvania Electricity Generation Customer Choice and Competition Act for the purpose of promoting an energy efficiency and conservation (“EE&C”) program in Pennsylvania. This case centered around a provision in Act 129 that directed electric distribution companies (“EDCs”) in the Commonwealth to “furnish” smart electric technology to their customers. Several electric customers instituted legal action against the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) to prevent the installation of smart meters at their homes. They contended a customer had the ability to opt-out of the installation of smart meters by EDCs. They also claimed that smart meters caused health problems and their installation constituted unsafe or unreasonable service under Section 1501 of the Public Utility Code. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded Act 129 indeed mandated that EDCs furnish smart meters to all electric customers within an electric distribution service area and did not provide electric customers the ability to opt out of having a smart meter installed. An electric customer with concerns about smart meters may seek an accommodation from the PUC or EDC, but to obtain one ,the customer must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that installation of a smart meter violated Section 1501. In this case, the Court held the electric customers did not prove that installation of a smart meter at their premises violated Section 1501; therefore, the PUC was not required to prescribe any remedial action. Having so concluded, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s ruling that Act 129 did not mandate the installation of smart meters. Additionally, the Supreme Court clarified the use of the conclusive causal connection standard for proving a violation under Section 1501 and held that a preponderance of the evidence was the standard that applied to claims brought under Section 1501. View "Povacz, et al. v. PUC, et al." on Justia Law

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Centripetal filed an infringement complaint against PAN, which then filed an inter partes review (IPR) petition for one patent and a post-grant review (PGR) petition for another. While the petitions were pending, the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) updated its interim guidance, noting that the agency “does not accept requests for Director review of decisions on institution.” The Patent Trial and Appeal Board denied institution. PAN filed Requests for Director Rehearing. The agency responded that USPTO "does not accept requests for Director review of decisions on institution ... parties may only request Director review of final written decisions" issued in IPR and PGR and that PAN’s “rehearing requests will not revert to the Board panel and there will be no further review of the Board’s decision.”PAN sought mandamus relief. A newly-appointed Director updated the interim guidance to state that “the Office does not accept requests for Director review of institution decisions” but that “the Director has always retained and continues to retain the authority to review such decisions sua sponte.” The Director has since exercised that authority. PAN argues that the Director’s current policy was contrary to the Appointments Clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in “Arthrex,” (2021). The Federal Circuit denied the petition. That the Appointments Clause requires that a Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed officer have review authority does not mean that a principal officer, once bestowed with such authority, cannot delegate it to other agency officers. View "In Re Palo Alto Networks, Inc." on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act (“Act 140”) mandated the forfeiture of the pension of a public official or public employee when he or she was convicted of certain Pennsylvania crimes related to public office or public employment, or was convicted of federal offenses that were “substantially the same” as the forfeit-triggering state crimes. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether a federal conviction for false statements to a federal agent, 18 U.S.C. § 1001 was “substantially the same” as the Pennsylvania crime of false reports to law enforcement authorities, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4906, for purposes of Act 140. The Supreme Court concluded that the two offenses were not “substantially the same,” and, thus, the Commonwealth Court erred in affirming the forfeiture of the pension of Appellant, former Municipal Court of Philadelphia County Judge Joseph O’Neill. View "O'Neill v. SERS" on Justia Law

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Petitioner The Lawson Group, the third-party administrator for the self-insured petitioner, Summit Packaging Systems (the employer), appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) that upheld a decision by respondent, the State Special Fund for Second Injuries (Second Injury Fund), to decline to reimburse The Lawson Group for benefits paid to the claimant. The employer hired the claimant in 2005 as a laborer and machine operator. The claimant was injured at work in January 2016, when she tried to catch a 65-pound spool of tubing as it fell. The claimant was out of work following the surgery, but returned in December 2016 in a modified duty capacity. In 2017, the CAB found that the claimant’s “surgery and subsequent treatment were and are related to the work injury” she suffered in January 2016. In August 2018, The Lawson Group applied to the Second Injury Fund for reimbursement. In a February 2019 letter, the Second Injury Fund denied The Lawson Group’s application because The Lawson Group had failed to: (1) establish that the claimant’s surgery constituted a subsequent disability by injury; and (2) demonstrate that the employer knew that the claimant had any permanent impairment before her surgery. Following a March 2020 hearing, the CAB upheld the Second Injury Fund’s denial of reimbursement. After a review of the CAB hearing record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the denial of reimbursement. View "Appeal of The Lawson Group, et al." on Justia Law

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This litigation arose from a decision by the City of Chula Vista (the City) to reject applications by CV Amalgamated LLC, dba Caligrown (CVA) for licenses to operate retail cannabis stores in the City. In 2018, the City enacted an ordinance regulating commercial cannabis businesses (the Cannabis Ordinance). Among other things, the Cannabis Ordinance allowed for a maximum of eight storefront retail cannabis business licenses, with up to two licenses in each of the City’s four council districts (the Council Districts). CVA submitted applications for storefront retail cannabis business licenses in each of the City’s four Council Districts. CVA filed an appeal with the City Manager, in which it challenged the City’s rejections of its applications for licenses in Council Districts One, Three and Four. After a hearing, CVA's applications were again denied, and it initiated this litigation in September 2020. On January 29, 2021, the trial court issued an order denying CVA’s motion for a writ of mandate. The trial court made no factual findings and failed to explain why it concluded that CVA had failed to meet its burden. The Court of Appeal concluded the City failed to follow its ministerial and mandatory duty to follow its own procedures when it rejected CVA's applications in the initial assessments of the applications. The trial court's judgment was reversed with instructions to issue a writ of mandate directing the City to reassess CVA's applications in districts One, Three and Four. View "CV Amalgamated LLC v. City of Chula Vista" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the court of special appeals affirming the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Montgomery County in this workers' compensation case, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.In 2007, Petitioner, a firefighter in Montgomery County, experienced a service-related back injury, which led to his retirement three years later. Petitioner subsequently developed a compensable degree of occupational hearing loss related to his employment and sought workers' compensation benefits. Although the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded Petitioner compensation for his hearing loss the Commission determined that the entirety fo the award be offset under Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. (LE) 9-610. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Petitioner's service-connected total disability retirement benefits arising from his back injury were "similar" to his permanent partial disability benefits, and the benefits related to his occupational hearing were offset under LE 9-610. View "Spevak v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the probate court denying Petitioner's petition to issue the predicate findings he needed to support an application to the federal government for special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) status, holding that the probate court applied an incorrect legal framework in ruling on Petitioner's petition.Petitioner, who left his native El Salvador at the age of sixteen to escape gang violence, filed an SIJ petition the day after he turned eighteen. The probate court denied the petition, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with direction that the case be remanded to the probate court for issuance of SIJ predicate findings, holding that returning Petitioner to live in El Salvador would be detrimental to his best interest under California law. View "In re Guardianship of Saul H." on Justia Law

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A DEA task force investigated Jacobs, a Kentucky drug dealer. Jacobs sold drugs to a couple who allegedly were “good friends” with the local Commonwealth Attorney (CA). After Jacobs' arrest on state drug-trafficking charges, the couple had extensive conversations with the CA. After one conversation, an assistant state prosecutor requested Jacobs’s cell phone records from the task force, alerting the DEA to the CA’s relationship with Jacobs’s customers. The CA became involved in the case in other ways, impeding Jacobs’ use as a cooperating witness in other federal investigations by opposing a bond reduction and refusing to seek a state search warrant for an unrelated case if the DEA agent from the Jacobs investigation was involved. The DEA began investigating the CA’s conduct, “Operation Speakeasy.” Evidence was presented to the U.S. Attorney, who refused to bring obstruction charges against the CA.A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552 request with the DEA, seeking any document related to the Jacobs investigation or Operation Speakeasy. The DEA denied that request, citing an exception for “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes,” disclosure of which “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Enquirer’s suit. The documents “only minimally advance[d] a public interest in shedding light on the decision” to not prosecute the CA and “significant privacy interests outweigh[ed] the proffered public interest.” View "Cincinnati Enquirer v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law