Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

by
A district court order denying a government motion to dismiss a False Claims Act case under 31 U.S.C. 3730(c)(2)(A) is not an immediately appealable collateral order. In this case, the Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of jurisdiction, the government's appeal from the district court's order denying a government motion to dismiss a FCA case. The panel noted that this issue was not before the Supreme Court in United States ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York, 556 U.S. 928 (2009). The panel held that the collateral order doctrine did not apply because the district court's order did not resolve important questions separate from the merits. Because the interests implicated by an erroneous denial of a government motion to dismiss a FCA case in which it has not intervened are insufficiently important to justify an immediate appeal, the panel held that they fall outside of the collateral order doctrine's scope. View "United States v. United States ex rel. Thrower" on Justia Law

by
Zen Magnets, LLC's small rare-earth magnets were shiny and smooth, resembling candies that commonly garnish cookies and desserts. The appearance sometimes leads young children to put the magnets in their mouths. Older children also sometimes put the magnets in their mouths to magnetize braces or mimic facial piercings. When put in children’s mouths, the magnets were sometimes swallowed, lodging in the digestive system and causing serious injury or death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission tried to address this danger through both rulemaking and adjudication. The Commission conducted two proceedings involving the making of small rare-earth magnets: (1) a rulemaking affecting all manufacturers of these magnets; and (2) an adjudication affecting only one manufacturer: Zen Magnets, LLC. For the adjudication, the Commission needed to provide Zen with a fair proceeding under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Zen contended the adjudication was unfair for two reasons: (1) the Commissioners conducted the adjudication after engaging in a rulemaking on closely related issues; and (2) three Commissioners participated in the adjudication after making public statements showing bias. The district court found: (1) the Commission had not denied due process by simultaneously conducting the adjudication after the related rulemaking; (2) two of the Commissioners had not shown bias through their public statements; but (3) one Commissioner did show bias through a public statement specifically about Zen. Both parties appealed: the Commission appealed the district court's decision as to the third Commissioner's statements; Zen cross-appealed, arguing a due process violation, and that the district court issued an advisory opinion on the merits. After its review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the Commissioners’ participation in the rulemaking and their statements did not result in a denial of due process, so the district court's judgment as to Commissioners Robinson and Kaye were affirmed. The Court reversed, however, as to Commissioner Adler. The Court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to decide whether the district court rendered an advisory opinion. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety" on Justia Law

by
Reniery Adalberto Galeano-Romero sought review of a Board of Immigration Appeals decision that denied both his application for cancellation of removal under 8 U.S.C.1229b(b)(1) and his motion to remand and reopen his case to raise a Convention Against Torture (CAT) claim. The Board acknowledged his removal would result in hardship to his citizen spouse but concluded that the hardship would not be “exceptional and extremely unusual,” leaving him ineligible for cancellation of removal. Furthermore, the Board denied his motion to remand to present his CAT claim to an Immigration Judge (IJ) after finding Galeano-Romero had referenced no previously unavailable and material evidence, a prerequisite to any such motion to reopen. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider Galeano-Romero's challenge to the Board's discretionary hardship decision, so that portion of his petition was dismissed. With regard to Galeano-Romero's request for remand, the Court found the Board did not abuse its discretion in concluding how he could proffer material evidence that was not previously available or could have been discovered at the original hearing. View "Galeano-Romero v. Barr" on Justia Law

by
The Communications Act of 1934 restricts the rates that telecommunications carriers may charge for transmitting calls across their networks, 47 U.S.C. 201(b). Iowa-based Aureon is a joint venture through which local carriers connect to long-distance carriers such as AT&T and has “subtending” agreements with participating local carriers. AT&T alleged that Aureon imposed interstate and intrastate access charges that violated the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transitional pricing rules; improperly engaged in access stimulation (enticing high call volumes to generate increased access charges); committed an unreasonable practice by agreeing with subtending carriers to connect calls involving access stimulation; and billed for service not covered by its 2013 interstate tariff. The FCC found that Aureon violated the transitional rule. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The transitional rule applies to all “competitive local exchange carriers,” and Aureon falls into that category but the rule applies to intrastate rates so Aureon’s 2013 increase of its interstate rate was not covered. The court remanded the question of whether Aureon’s subtending agreements qualify as access revenue sharing agreements. The court affirmed the FCC’s determination that Aureon’s interstate tariffs apply to traffic involving any local carriers engaged in access stimulation. The FCC erred in refusing to adjudicate AT&T’s unreasonable-practices claim. View "AT&T Corp. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

by
The Department of Health and Human Services disallowed roughly $30 million in Medicaid reimbursements for payments Virginia made to two state hospitals. HHS determined that Virginia had materially altered its payment methodology without notifying HHS or obtaining approval and that the new methodology resulted in payments that overstepped applicable federal limits. Virginia had allocated disproportionate share hospitals (DSH) payments for the two hospitals to fiscal years other than “the actual year in which [related] DSH costs were incurred” by those hospitals for purposes of complying with the annual statewide DSH allotment and hospital-specific limit. The district court and D.C. affirmed. A comparison between Virginia’s previous operation of its plan—as manifested in the state’s prior representations about the plan’s operation—and its later operation of the same plan shows that there was a “[m]aterial change” in “the State’s operation of the Medicaid program,” so that the state was required to amend its plan and present the amendment for approval, 42 C.F.R. 430.12(c)(1)(ii). View "Department of Medical Assistant Services of the Commonwealth of Virginia v. United States Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

by
OSHA found that Echo violated 29 C.F.R. 1926.964(b)(1), the tension-stringing regulation, when two employees were electrocuted while rehanging a line. After the ALJ upheld the citation, Echo petitioned for review. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the tension-stringing provision is sufficiently precise to repel Echo's vagueness challenge. In this case, the express language of the provision afforded Echo "sufficiently definite warning" of the conduct required. The court also held that the evidence of industry custom was unnecessary to establish Echo's violation where the provision is not unconstitutionally vague and instructs the employer about specific methods to use in order to comply. Therefore, the provision is not a performance standard and the ALJ did not err by declining to consider evidence that Echo's method complied with industry custom. View "Echo Powerline, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

by
A federal agency may not create an "aquaculture," or fish farming, regime in the Gulf of Mexico pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the Fisheries' challenged aquaculture rule exceeds the agency's statutory authority. The court explained that the Act neither says nor suggests that the agency may regulate aquaculture; the court rejected the agency's interpretation of Congress's silence on the matter as an invitation; explained that Congress does not delegate authority merely by not withholding it; and the court rejected the agency's argument that the Act's definition of "fishing" gives it authority to regulate aquaculture. The court noted that if anyone is to expand the forty-year-old Magnuson-Stevens Act to reach aquaculture for the first time, it must be Congress. View "Gulf Fishermens Ass'n v. National Marine Fisheries Service" on Justia Law

by
The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Two counties sued Sherwin-Williams in state court, seeking abatement of the public nuisance caused by lead-based paint. Anticipating suits by other counties, Sherwin-Williams sued in federal court under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Sherwin-Williams claimed that “[i]t is likely that the fee agreement between [Delaware County] and the outside trial lawyers [is] or will be substantively similar to an agreement struck by the same attorneys and Lehigh County to pursue what appears to be identical litigation” and that “the Count[y] ha[s] effectively and impermissibly delegated [its] exercise of police power to the private trial attorneys” by vesting the prosecutorial function in someone who has a financial interest in using the government’s police power to hold a defendant liable. The complaint pleaded a First Amendment violation, citing the company’s membership in trade associations, Sherwin-Williams’ purported petitioning of federal, state, and local governments, and its commercial speech. The complaint also argued that the public nuisance theory would seek to impose liability “that is grossly disproportionate,” arbitrary, retroactive, vague, and “after an unexplainable, prejudicial, and extraordinarily long delay, in violation of the Due Process Clause.” The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sherwin-Williams failed to plead an injury in fact or a ripe case or controversy because the alleged harms hinged on the County actually filing suit. View "Sherwin Williams Co. v. County of Delaware" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of HHS's motion for summary judgment in an action where HHS concluded that Dominion must return approximately $1.3 million in Medicare payments. The Secretary argues that a physician certification statement is necessary but not sufficient to establish that nonemergency, scheduled, repetitive ambulance transportation is covered by Medicare, as the contrary interpretation would render the phrase "medically necessary" in 42 C.F.R. 410.40(d)(2) superfluous. The court held that the Secretary's interpretation is neither plainly erroneous nor inconsistent with the regulation, and Dominion's arguments to the contrary are unavailing. Furthermore, HHS's statement in 2012 when it amended the regulation supports its position that HHS did not consider a physician certification statement conclusive. Therefore, the district court properly deferred to the agency's reasonable interpretation. Finally, the court assumed, without deciding, that the district court had jurisdiction to review the timeliness of the decision to reopen the initial determination, and held that the decision to reopen was timely. View "Dominion Ambulance, LLC v. Azar" on Justia Law