Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim. Plaintiffs, employees of a nonprofit, suspected that their employer was committing fraud and alleged that they were terminated based on their attempt to uncover the fraud. However, in this case, the employees never had reason to believe that their employer made any false claims to the federal government. Therefore, without any reason to believe that their employer had filed a false claim against the government, they did not have any reason to believe that they were investigating a FCA violation, rather than a garden-variety fraud. The court explained that the employees may well have acted in good faith to attempt to uncover what they feared were shady practices, but the FCA is not a general anti-fraud statute. View "Hickman v. Spirit of Athens, Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

by
After VA Medical Center selected Metro Health's bid on the condition that Metro Health could obtain a permit from the City to operate emergency medical services (EMS) vehicles, the City refused to grant Metro Health a permit. Metro Health then filed suit against the City and RAA, alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case with prejudice, agreeing with the district court that defendants were entitled to immunity from federal antitrust liability where they acted pursuant to a clearly articulated state policy. Furthermore, federal law does not preempt their actions. The court rejected Metro Health's contention that by thwarting the VA Medical Center's competitive bidding process, the City and RAA have violated the Supremacy Clause. The court explained that, where, as here, a federal agency, of its own volition, imposes a contract condition consistent with federal law, the Supremacy Clause is not implicated. View "Western Star Hospital Authority, Inc. v. City of Richmond" on Justia Law

by
Mouton-Miller worked for the Postal Service as an Audit Manager. Her position was classified as GG-0511-14, step 8, with a salary of $128,081. In 2017, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General hired Mouton-Miller for the position of Supervisory Auditor, classified as GS-0511-14, step 8, with an initial pay rate of $142,367. There was no break between her Postal Service employment and her Homeland Security employment. Mouton-Miller’s Homeland Security position was subject to a one-year supervisory probationary period before becoming final. In March 2018, less than one year after beginning her position, Mouton-Miller received notice that she had “performed unsatisfactorily.” She was reassigned to the nonsupervisory position of Communications Analyst, GS-0301-14, step 7, with a $129,937 salary.The Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed Mouton-Miller’s appeal, determining that it lacked jurisdiction because the challenged agency action was excluded from the Board’s jurisdiction by 5 U.S.C. 7512(C). The Federal Circuit affirmed. For Mouton-Miller’s demotion to be an agency action subject to Board review, she must have completed the probationary period referred to in 5 U.S.C. 3312(a)(2). Mouton-Miller spent less than one year in her supervisory position at Homeland Security and her previous role at the Postal Service was in the excepted service; she has not satisfied the required supervisory probationary period. View "Mouton-Miller v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

by
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule), 84 Fed. Reg. 32,520, repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan as a means of regulating power plants’ emissions of greenhouse gases. The Clean Power Plan was an Obama-era standard that set the first limits for climate change pollution from existing power plants. The EPA considered its authority under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, 7411 to be confined to physical changes to the power plants themselves. The ACE Rule determined a new system of emission reduction for coal-fired power plants only and left unaddressed greenhouse gas emissions from other types of fossil-fuel-fired power plants, such as those fired by natural gas or oil. Several groups challenged the action.The D.C. Circuit vacated the ACE Rule, which expressly rests on the incorrect conclusion that the plain statutory text foreclosed the Clean Power Plan so that complete repeal was “the only permissible interpretation of the scope of the EPA’s authority” under section 7411. The error prevented full consideration of the statutory question and of measures other than those that apply at and to the individual source. The ACE Rule’s amendment of the regulatory framework to slow the process for the reduction of emissions is arbitrary and capricious. View "American Lung Association v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Elmer Branch brought a putative class action against his employer, defendant Cream-O-Land Dairy, on behalf of himself and similarly situated truck drivers employed by defendant, for payment of overtime wages pursuant to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL). The WHL created an exemption from an overtime compensation requirement for employees of a “trucking industry employer.” In response to plaintiff’s argument that defendant failed to pay truck drivers as mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(b)(1), defendant argued that it was exempt from that provision as a trucking industry employer under N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f). Defendant also asserted that it was entitled to invoke the absolute defense set forth in N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2 because it had relied in good faith on three matters in which the Department had investigated its operations and concluded that it was a “trucking industry employer.” The trial court viewed those decisions to satisfy N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2’s standard for the good-faith defense and granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that none of the determinations on which defendant relied met the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Appellate Division also rejected defendant’s invocation of a 2006 Opinion Letter by the Director of the Division that for certain employees of trucking industry employers, N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 “establishes their overtime rate at 1 1/2 times the minimum wage” because defendant did not represent that it had relied on that letter when it determined its overtime compensation. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that none of the decisions identified by defendant satisfied the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Court acknowledged, however, the dilemma faced by an employer such as defendant, which repeatedly prevailed in overtime disputes before subordinate Department employees but was unable to seek a ruling from the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (Commissioner) because each of those disputes was resolved without further review. This matter was remanded to the trial court for consideration of defendant’s argument that it was a trucking-industry employer within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f), and for determination of whether defendant complied with the applicable WHL overtime standards in compensating its employees. View "Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy" on Justia Law

by
The People of the State of California, by and through the Santa Clara County Counsel, the Orange County District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Counsel, and the Oakland City Attorney, filed suit against various pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of prescription opioid medications. The People alleged the defendants made false and misleading statements as part of a deceptive marketing scheme designed to minimize the risks of opioid medications and inflate their benefits. The People alleged this scheme caused a public health crisis in California by dramatically increasing opioid prescriptions, opioid use, opioid abuse, and opioid-related deaths. In their suit, the People allege causes of action for violations of the False Advertising Law, and the public nuisance statutes. After several years of litigation, the defendants served business record subpoenas on four nonparty state agencies: the California State Board of Registered Nursing (Nursing Board), the California State Board of Pharmacy (Pharmacy Board), the Medical Board of California (Medical Board), and the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The Pharmacy Board, the Medical Board, and the DOJ served objections to the subpoenas. The Nursing Board filed a motion for a protective order seeking relief from the production obligations of its subpoena. After further litigation, which is recounted below, the trial court ordered the state agencies to produce documents in response to the subpoenas. In consolidated proceedings, the state agencies challenged the trial court's orders compelling production of documents. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the motions to compel against the Pharmacy Board and Medical Board were untimely, and the defendants were required to serve consumer notices on at least the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals whose identities would be disclosed in the administrative records, investigatory files, and coroner’s reports. Furthermore, the Court concluded the requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files, were overbroad and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. "The requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files also ran afoul of the constitutional right to privacy and the statutory official information and deliberative process privileges." The trial court was directed to vacate its orders compelling production of documents, and to enter new orders denying the motions to compel and, for the Nursing Board, granting its motion for a protective order. View "Board of Registered Nursing v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit denied petitions for review of the FMCSA's determination that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break rules (MRB rules), as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to the FMCSA's own rest break regulations.The panel held that the agency's decision reflects a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 and is not arbitrary or capricious. Applying Chevron deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute and the phrase "on commercial motor vehicle safety," the panel held that even assuming petitioners identified a potential ambiguity in the statute, the agency's reading was a permissible one. In this case, the FMCSA reasonably determined that a State law "on commercial motor vehicle safety" is one that "imposes requirements in an area of regulation that is already addressed by a regulation promulgated under [section] 31136." Furthermore, the FMCSA's 2018 preemption decision also reasonably relied on Congress's stated interest in uniformity of regulation.The panel concluded that the FMCSA permissibly determined that California's MRB rules were State regulations "on commercial motor vehicle safety," so that they were within the agency's preemption authority. The panel also concluded that the FMCSA faithfully interpreted California law in finding that California's rules were "additional to or more stringent than" federal regulations. Finally, the panel concluded that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding that enforcement of the MRB rules "would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce." View "International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law

by
Therese and Timothy Holmes appealed a Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) decision granting Acorn Energy Solar 2 a certificate of public good (CPG) to build and operate a solar net-metering system. The Holmeses argued the PUC erred in concluding that: (1) Acorn’s application was complete under the PUC Rules; (2) several proposed changes constituted minor amendments; (3) the project would be located on a preferred site; (4) the project would comply with setback requirements; and (5) the project would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, orderly development, wetlands, air pollution, greenhouse gases, and traffic. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the PUC's decision. View "In re Petition of Acorn Energy Solar 2, LLC (Therese & Timothy Holmes, Appellants)" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Milton Town School District and plaintiff, a high-school football player who sued the District after being assaulted by team members during an off-campus team dinner at the residence of one of the players, both appealed various trial court rulings and the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following a five-day trial. Plaintiff sued the District in 2017 claiming negligent supervision and a violation of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA) in connection with his assault at the hands of fellow football team members at an on off-campus dinner in the fall of 2012. At that time, Plaintiff was a freshman, and the District was aware that members of the football team had a history of harassment, including sexual assaults and hazing, against underclassmen team members. In October 2012, nine or ten members of the team, including plaintiff, attended a team dinner at one of the player’s parents’ home. At some point that evening, plaintiff was dragged down to the basement and thrown onto a couch, where one player held plaintiff down while another player forcibly inserted a pool cue into plaintiff’s rectum. The school principal spoke to plaintiff and another football player after learning that some incoming freshman did not want to play football because they had heard rumors of team members using broomsticks to initiate new team members. When the principal told plaintiff that she would shut down the football program if the rumors proved to be true, plaintiff denied the rumors because he feared retaliation from other students for causing the football program to be shut down. The principal then directed plaintiff to speak to the incoming freshman and tell him he had lied about the use of broomsticks during the initiation of new team members. When the principal informed the district superintendent about the rumors, the superintendent declined to do anything further. In April 2014, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) opened an investigation into allegations concerning the Milton High School football team. The Chittenden County State’s Attorney later filed criminal charges against five Milton High School football players, including plaintiff’s attackers, all of whom pled guilty to criminal offenses related to harassment, hazing, and assault. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al." on Justia Law

by
Appellant, a United States citizen working in Syria as a journalist, seeks a declaration that his alleged inclusion on the government's purported terrorist list is unconstitutional and an injunction barring the United States government from including him on the purported list without providing additional procedural protections. In this case, because five aerial bombings allegedly occurred in appellant's vicinity in Syria during the summer of 2016, he claims that he has mistakenly been placed on a purported list of individuals the United States has determined are terrorists who may be targeted and killed. The district court dismissed the complaint under the state secrets privilege.The DC Circuit held, however, that the complaint fails to allege plausibly that any of the five aerial bombings were attributable to the United States and specifically targeted appellant. Therefore, the court concluded that appellant's standing theory does not cross the line from conceivable to plausible. The court vacated the district court's dismissal and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint on the ground that appellant lacks Article III standing. View "Kareem v. Haspel" on Justia Law