Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) the Foundation's complaint against the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (the Board), alleging a violation of the disclosure provision in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The Foundation sought disclosure of broad categories of documents related to the identification of North Carolina voter registrants whom the Board had identified as potentially failing to satisfy the statutory citizenship requirement.The court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded, concluding that the district court erred in holding that the Foundation failed to state a claim under the NVRA's disclosure provision simply because the request implicated potential criminal conduct of registrants. The court explained that the disclosure provision does not contain such a blanket exemption and requires a more exacting and tailored analysis than what occurred in this case. Because discovery was not conducted, the court cannot discern on this record whether the Foundation may be entitled to disclosure of some of the documents requested. Therefore, the court remanded to the district court for further consideration of the documents subject to four restrictions excluding from disclosure: (1) information precluded from disclosure by the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994; (2) information obtained from confidential federal databases under the United States Department of Homeland Security's Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlements system (the SAVE system) that is otherwise protected from disclosure by statute or by the Board's agreement with the Department regarding confidentiality; (3) any requested voter registration applications, or the names affiliated with those applications, that are subject to protection as part of any prior or current criminal investigation; and (4) the identities and personal information of individuals who potentially committed criminal offenses, including those who later were determined to be United States citizens, which must be redacted from any documents ultimately released as sensitive information vulnerable to abuse. View "Public Interest Legal Foundation v. North Carolina State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) vacating factual findings made by the workers' compensation judge regarding the reasonableness and necessity of an employee's medical treatment for work-related injuries, holding that the WCCA erred.Respondent received a Gillette-style injury to her neck and upper spine. Respondent was later notified by her former employer, Appellant, that it would no longer approve reimbursement for certain injections. A compensation judge determined that the injections were neither necessary nor reasonable. The WCCA reversed, concluding that the decision of the compensation judge was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the WCCA erred in (1) vacating the workers' compensation judge's factual findings; and (2) directing the compensation judge to consider whether Respondent's case presented rare circumstances warranting an exception from the treatment parameters. View "Leuthard v. Independent School District 912" on Justia Law

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Real party in interest Poseidon Resources (Surfside) LLC (Poseidon) planned to establish a desalination plant at a site in Huntington Beach, California. In 2010, nonparty City of Huntington Beach (Huntington Beach), serving as lead agency performing environmental review of the proposed project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), certified a subsequent environmental impact report (the 2010 subsequent EIR).However, the project did not move forward. Following changes in circumstances (including significant regulatory changes), Poseidon proposed modifications to the project, which it addressed in a proposed lease modification with defendant California’s State Lands Commission (Lands Commission). The Lands Commission determined that it needed to prepare a supplemental EIR to supplement Huntington Beach’s 2010 subsequent EIR. In 2017, the Lands Commission certified its final supplemental EIR. Plaintiffs petitioned for mandamus relief, claiming, among other things, that the Lands Commission failed to comply with the requirements of CEQA. The trial court denied the petition. On appeal, Plaintiffs asserted the Lands Commission prejudicially abused its discretion; the Lands Commission and Poseidon argued that the true issues on appeal were whether the Lands Commission properly proceeded with supplemental review and the results of that review, factual matters subject to substantial evidence review. The Court of Appeal concluded the Lands Commission properly elected to prepare a supplemental EIR, did not err in refusing to assume lead agency status, and did not unlawfully piecemeal or segment environmental review. View "California Coastkeeper Alliance v. State Lands Commission" on Justia Law

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In the spring of 2015, a severe three-day storm deluged an eastern Colorado area with over six inches of rain. Two inches of water fell within thirty minutes on the first day, “a once-in-a-half-century occurrence.” During the storm, a mixture of wastewater and rainwater overflowed from one of the wastewater containment ponds in a cattle feedlot operated by 5 Star Feedlot, Inc. (“5 Star”). That water crossed several miles of land and ultimately found its way to the South Fork of the Republican River, killing an estimated 15,000 fish and giving rise to this litigation. Pursuant to section 33-6-110(1), C.R.S. (2020), the State initiated a civil action against 5 Star seeking to recover the value of the deceased fish based on 5 Star’s alleged violation of three predicate statutory provisions (“taking statutory provisions”) which, with some exceptions not pertinent here, made it unlawful for any person to “take” (i.e., to kill or otherwise acquire possession of or control over) certain wildlife. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The district court denied 5 Star’s motion, granted the State’s motion, and, following a bench trial on damages, ordered 5 Star to pay the State $625,755. 5 Star then appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the taking statutory provisions required the State to prove that 5 Star acted knowingly or, at minimum, performed an unlawful voluntary act. To this, the Colorado Supreme Court concurred, finding the district court erred both in entering summary judgment against 5 Star and in denying 5 Star’s cross- motion. “Since the State failed to formally allege, never mind present proof, that 5 Star’s lawful, years-long operation of wastewater containment ponds killed or otherwise acquired possession of or control over the fish, it could not satisfy the voluntary act or actus reus requirement of the taking statutory provisions.” View "Dep't of Nat. Res. v. 5 Star Feedlot, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the judgment of the Compensation Review Board finding that the City of Bridgeport was liable for the payment of Plaintiff's workers compensation benefits as his principal employer, holding that the City was in the "trade or business" of maintaining and repairing municipal buildings and facilities.The City hired Contractor do repair work on the roof of the City's transfer facility, and Contractor hired Subcontractor. Plaintiff, an employee of Subcontractor, was injured in the course and scope of his employment and sought workers' compensation benefits from the City, Contractor, and Subcontractor. The Workers' Compensation Commissioner concluded that, because Howie's Roofing was uninsured, the Second Injury Fund was required to pay Plaintiff benefits under Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-355. The Fund contested liability, arguing that the City was required to pay the benefits owed to Plaintiff as his principal employer. The Commissioner determined that the City was Plaintiff's principal employer and ordered the City to pay workers' compensation benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that roof repair was a part or process in the City's trade or business under Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-291. View "Barker v. All Roofs by Dominic" on Justia Law

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PCTC filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking release of USGS records relating to the agency's coal tar sealant studies. USGS produced 52,000 pages of records, but withheld the modeling data and personally identifiable information relevant to this appeal. USGS withheld the model runs under Exemption Five on the ground that the release of the exploratory analysis would inhibit the ability to freely explore and analyze data without concern for external criticism. USGS withheld the house dust study participants' personal information under Exemption Six because release would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and would not serve a public interest because the pertinent scientific data associated in this category of records is already released. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and the district court granted USGS's motion.The DC Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court PCTC's claims regarding the urban lakes model runs withheld under Exemption Five, concluding that USGS failed to carry its burden to show that the model runs are pre-decisional. Furthermore, USGS failed to prove beyond dispute that the model runs are deliberative. Therefore, the absence of evidence establishing that the requested model runs are protected from disclosure amounts to the agency's failure to establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. However, the court affirmed the district court's decision to withhold the house dust study location information under Exemption Six. The court explained that the study participants have a greater than de minimis privacy interest in their addresses, household compositions, smoking and cooking habits, and the extensive personal details included in the questionnaires. The court further explained that releasing their addresses serves no cognizable public interest. View "Pavement Coatings Technology Council v. United States Geological Survey" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from two cases filed in the Chancery Court of Madison County, Mississippi, consolidated by the chancery court on its own order. Petitioners from the community of Gluckstadt sought incorporation of approximately 10.8 square miles of incorporated territory in Madison County. The City of Canton petitioned for annexation of approximately 6.7 square miles of unincorporated territory in Madison County, consisting of five proposed areas (Areas 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). The chancery court entered a final decree, granting, in part, the Gluckstadt Incorporators’ petition. The decree granted Canton’s proposed annexation of Areas 1 and 2 but denied Canton’s proposed annexation of Areas 3, 4, and 5. Canton and Ron Hutchinson (Incorporation Objectors) appealed the chancery court’s grant of incorporation, claiming the chancery court lacked jurisdiction over the incorporation petition because it did not include two-thirds of the signatures of the qualified electors residing in the proposed incorporation area. Various citizens (Annexation Objectors) appealed the chancery court's grant of annexation of Areas 1 and 2. Canton cross-appealed the chancery court's denial of annexation as to Areas 3, 4 and 5. Finding no manifest error with the chancery court's final decree in both cases, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Enlarging, Extending and Defining the Corporate Limits and Boundaries of the City of Canton, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, cattle ranchers, filed suit in federal district court, claiming that the Service's decision to apply the 1995 Riparian Mitigation Measures to the Dry Cottonwood Allotment, instead of the allowable use levels in the 2009 Forest Plan, violated the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs and remanded with instructions to grant summary judgment to the Service. The panel concluded that the Service lawfully applied a particular set of standards for protecting stream habitats from the effects of cattle grazing, the 1995 Riparian Mitigation Measures, to plaintiffs' grazing permits. The panel also concluded that plaintiffs were not entitled to attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act for their administrative appeal. View "2-Bar Ranch Limited Partnership v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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In January 2020, the Energy Facility Siting Council adopted permanent rules addressing the process for amending site certificates and other procedural aspects of the council’s work. Petitioners challenged three of the council’s new rules on two grounds, contending the rules exceeded the council’s statutory authority. According to petitioners, two of the rules improperly limited party participation in contested case proceedings, and the third rule improperly authorized the expansion of site certificate boundaries without a site certificate amendment. The council disputed those arguments. The Oregon Supreme Court concurred with petitioners’ arguments and declared the three rules at issue invalid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff James De Young was a city councilor and resident of the City of Damascus, Oregon. Defendants were Kate Brown, in her official capacity as Governor, and the State of Oregon. In De Young I, the Court of Appeals considered the validity of an effort to disincorporate the City of Damascus: in a 2013 election, the residents of the city had voted on a referral from the city council to disincorporate the city. Although a majority of those participating in the election voted in favor of disincorporating, the number fell short of the absolute majority for disincorporation required by law. In 2015, the Oregon legislature passed House Bill (HB) 3085, which referred to the decision whether to disincorporate, and specifically provided that a majority of those voting, rather than an absolute majority of the city’s electors, would be sufficient to disincorporate. Prior to the 2016 election, plaintiff sought to enjoin the scheduled disincorporation vote, alleging HB 3085 violated the city charter, state statutes, and the Oregon Constitution. The trial court denied plaintiff’s request to enjoin the election, and the city residents voted to disincorporate. Following the election, the city paid its debts, transferred its assets to Clackamas County, surrendered its charter, terminated or transferred its employees, and, essentially, ceased to exist. Plaintiff continued his lawsuit, seeking a declaration that the vote had violated various statutory and constitutional requirements and, therefore, the city had not been validly disincorporated. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the State, declaring “Measure 93” valid. The Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with plaintiff on his statutory argument, holding that ORS 221.610 and ORS 221.621 (2013) provided the only means by which a city could disincorporate and that, because Measure 93 had not complied with those statutes, it was invalid. Shortly after the Court of Appeals decision was issued, the legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 226 (2019) “to cure any defect in the procedures, and to ratify the results” of the 2016 disincorporation vote. Following the Court of Appeals’ decision in De Young I but prior to the issuance of the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision in City of Damascus, plaintiff petitioned for an award of attorney fees and costs in De Young I. Applying the “substantial benefit” theory, the Court of Appeals allowed plaintiff’s petition for attorney fees, and remanded for a determination of fees and costs incurred in the circuit court. The State appealed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals did not err in awarding plaintiff fees under the substantial benefit theory. View "De Young v. Brown" on Justia Law