Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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Environmental groups challenged the constitutionality of Public Resources Code section 25531, which limits judicial review of decisions by the Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission on the siting of thermal power plants. Section 25531(a) provides that an Energy Commission siting decision is “subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court of California.” The plaintiffs contend this provision abridges the original jurisdiction of the superior courts and courts of appeal over mandate petitions, as conferred by California Constitution Article VI, section 10. Section 25531(b) provides that findings of fact in support of a Commission siting determination “are final,” allegedly violating the separation of powers doctrine by depriving courts of their essential power to review administrative agency findings (Cal. Const., Art. III, section 3; Art. VI, section 1).The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The Article VI grant of original jurisdiction includes the superior courts and courts of appeal and may not be circumscribed by statute, absent some other constitutional provision. Legislative amendments to section 25531 have broken the once-tight link between the regulatory authority of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Energy Commission power plant siting decisions, such that the plenary power Article XII grants the Legislature over PUC activities no longer authorizes section 25531(a). Section 25531(b) violates the judicial powers clause by preventing courts from reviewing whether substantial evidence supports the Commission’s factual findings. View "Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission" on Justia Law

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Makhsous owned three Wisconsin residential care facilities. In 2015, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) found that two of Makhsous’s facilities did not comply with Wisconsin law. Daye is the supervisor of the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Marinette County, which makes recommendations to individuals who inquire about residential care facilities. It does not place individuals in care facilities, monitor care facilities, or issue citations or sanctions to care facilities. In 2016, the ADRC began publishing a “facility directory” for potential residents. Under Wisconsin’s ADRC Operational Practice Guidelines, the directory cannot include facilities that have been found in violation of law.Makhsous filed suit, alleging that Daye violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses by failing to include Makhsous’s facilities in the ADRC directory and refusing to refer individuals to her facilities. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Daye. Makhsous did not show that Daye harmed a constitutionally protected property interest or discriminated against her. The ADRC directory did not include Makhsous’s facilities because they were found deficient by DHS and because Makhsous failed to ask the ADRC to include them. Makhsous had no rebuttal evidence showing that Daye failed to include her facilities in the directory because of her race. View "Makhsous v. Daye" on Justia Law

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While plaintiffs sought judicial review in federal district court of their denial of Social Security disability benefits, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, 138 S. Ct. 2044 (2018), which elucidated a possible constitutional objection to administrative proceedings pursuant to the Appointments Clause. At issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs may raise an Appointments Clause challenge in federal court that they did not preserve before the agency.The Fourth Circuit held that claimants for Social Security disability benefits do not forfeit Appointments Clause challenges by failing to raise them during their administrative proceedings. Balancing the individual and institutional interests at play, including considering the nature of the claim presented and the characteristics of the ALJ proceedings, the court declined to impose an exhaustion requirement. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgments of the district courts remanding these cases for new administrative hearings before different, constitutionally appointed ALJs. View "Probst v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, generally required local governments obtain voter approval prior to imposing taxes. Plaintiffs Jess Willard Mahon, Jr. and Allan Randall brought this certified class action against the City of San Diego (City) claiming that the City violated Proposition 218 by imposing an illegal tax to fund the City’s undergrounding program. Specifically, plaintiffs contended the City violated Proposition 218 through the adoption of an ordinance that amended a franchise agreement between the City and the San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E). The ordinance, together with a related memorandum of understanding, further specifies that part of the money to fund the undergrounding budget will be collected by SDG&E through a 3.53 percent surcharge on ratepayers in the City that will be remitted to the City for use on undergrounding (Undergrounding Surcharge). Plaintiffs claim that the surcharge is a tax. Plaintiffs further claim that the surcharge violates Proposition 218 because it was never approved by the electorate. Plaintiffs note that the City has imposed more than 200 million dollars in charges pursuant to the Undergrounding Surcharge during the class period. Through this action, plaintiffs seek a refund of those amounts, among other forms of relief. The City moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted on two grounds: (1) the Undergrounding Surcharge constituted compensation for franchise rights and thus was not a tax; alternatively, (2) the Undergrounding Surcharge was a valid regulatory fee and not a tax. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly granted the City’s motion for summary on the ground that the Undergrounding Surcharge was compensation validly given in exchange for franchise rights and thus, was not a tax subject to voter approval. View "Mahon v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Idaho Supreme Court in this case was whether the Public Records Act authorized the Idaho Department of Correction (“Department”) to withhold certain records in response to a public records request. In 2017, Aliza Cover requested records relating to the use of the death penalty in Idaho. The Department provided some records in response, but withheld or redacted others, claiming these records were exempt from disclosure in whole or in part under Board of Correction Rule 135.06 (“Rule 135”). The Department argued Rule 135 was promulgated pursuant to a provision of the Public Records Act that allowed the Board of Correction (“Board”) to identify records as exempt from disclosure through rulemaking. Because there was no evidence that the Board promulgated Rule 135 as a public records exemption, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's judgment permitting the Department to withhold records from Cover on this basis, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cover v. ID Board of Correction" on Justia Law

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A regulation promulgated under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 30101, requires a tire dealer to help customers register their new tires with the manufacturer. The regulation prescribes three methods for tire dealers to help register a buyer’s tires. According to Thorne, Pep Boys failed to pursue any of the three when, or after, it sold her the tires. She sued on behalf of a class of Pep Boys customers who similarly received no tire registration assistance.The district court dismissed her complaint without leave to amend, holding that a dealer’s failure to help register a buyer’s tires in one of the three prescribed ways does not, by itself, create an injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal without prejudice. A district court has no jurisdiction to rule on the merits when a plaintiff lacks standing. Thorne’s benefit-of-the-bargain allegations do not support a viable theory of economic injury, and her product-defect argument ignores the statute’s defined terms. Unregistered tires are not worth less than Thorne paid and are not defective. Congress did not intend to give private attorneys general standing to redress the “injury” of unregistered tires. View "Thorne v. Pep Boys Manny Moe & Jack" on Justia Law

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Kyle Christianson appealed a district court’s judgment affirming the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s suspension of his driving privileges based on his conviction in Canada for a driving under the influence offense. Christianson argued the Department lacked jurisdiction because the Canadian statute did not define an equivalent offense, and that the hearing officer failed to provide a fair and impartial hearing. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the Department’s suspension and disqualification of Christianson’s noncommercial and commercial driving privileges. View "Christianson v. NDDOT" on Justia Law

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Chris Oden appealed a judgment entered against him in a collection action after the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the State, through Workforce Safety and Insurance, (“WSI”). In May 2010, Oden was injured in Missouri while employed by Minot Builders Supply Associates as a truck driver. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Oden’s motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process, and did not err in granting summary judgment to WSI. View "WSI v. Oden" on Justia Law

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Corey Jundt appealed a district court judgment affirming an administrative hearing officer’s decision to suspend Jundt’s driving privileges for 180 days for driving under the influence. Jundt argued the hearing officer erred in suspending his driving privileges because the arresting officer failed to read him the implied consent advisory. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the implied consent requirements of N.D.C.C. 39-20-01 did not apply when an individual consented to a chemical test. View "Jundt v. NDDOT" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS) sought to terminate involuntarily the parental rights of Jack Bynum, the putative father of a child in MDCPS' custody. The chancery court determined Bynum was both indigent and entitled to counsel. The chancellor appointed Bynum counsel and ordered MDCPS to pay his attorney's fees. MDCPS appealed. The agency argued Covington County should have paid for Bynum’s representation, just as it would if Bynum were an indigent criminal defendant. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found this was not a criminal case. "And the statutory scheme that directs the initiating county in criminal prosecutions to pay for indigent representation is expressly limited. It only applies to those 'charged with a felony, misdemeanor punishable by confinement for ninety (90) days or more, or commission of an act of delinquency.'” Thus, absent a legislative directive to assess an indigent parent’s attorney’s fees to Covington County, the chancery court did not abuse its legislatively conferred discretion by ordering MDCPS to pay Bynum’s attorney’s fees. View "Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services v. Bynum" on Justia Law