Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review involved an interpretation of an environmental regulation addressing the renewal of permits under Title V of the Clean Air Act. The statute and accompanying regulation allowed renewal of these permits only if they ensured “compliance with” all of the “applicable requirements.” The term “applicable requirements” was defined in the regulation, but not the statute. The Sierra Club interpreted the regulatory definition to require compliance with all existing statutory requirements; the EPA interpretd the regulatory definition more narrowly, arguing that the applicability of certain requirements was determined by the state permit issued under a separate part of the Clean Air Act (Title I). The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Sierra Club’s interpretation: the regulatory definition of “applicable requirements” included all requirements in the state’s implementation plan, and Utah’s implementation plan broadly required compliance with the Clean Air Act. So, the Court concluded, all of the Act’s requirements constituted “applicable requirements” under the regulation. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action alleging that the BLM's geld and release plan for wild horses violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The panel held that the BLM did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when it chose to geld and release some of the male horses that would otherwise be permanently removed. The panel also held that the BLM permissibly determined that the intensity factors, whether considered individually or collectively, did not show that the Gather Plan would have a significant effect on the environment; the BLM considered and addressed the relevant factor that the Gelding Study raised and explained why additional information was not available, which meets NEPA's "hard look" standard; the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act does not require the BLM to discuss explicitly all expert opinions submitted during the public-comment period; and by addressing the concerns and factors that the NAS Report raised, the BLM complied with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act's requirement that the BLM "consult" the National Academy of Sciences. View "American Wild Horse Campaign v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on a final order of the Oregon State Board of Nursing (the board) and the meaning of the term “time limitations” in ORS 183.645(1). That statute required the chief administrative law judge (ALJ) to assign a different ALJ to a contested case on written request from a party, subject to applicable “time limitations” that the chief ALJ has established by rule for submitting such requests. The chief ALJ established OAR 471-060-0005, under which the chief ALJ evaluated the timeliness of a request by determining whether a party had a “reasonable opportunity” to make an earlier request. Licensee Rebecca Pulito challenged a preliminary decision of the chief ALJ that denied her request for a different ALJ. In that decision, the chief ALJ determined that licensee had failed to take advantage of a “reasonable opportunity” to make an earlier request. The contested case proceeded on the merits, and the board issued a final order revoking licensee’s nursing license. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. Licensee then petitioned the Oregon Supreme court for review. Licensee argued OAR 471-060-0005 was invalid because it did not impose a “time limitation” as authorized by ORS 183.645(1). Alternatively, she contended the chief ALJ erred in applying OAR 471-060-0005 because her request for a different ALJ was made within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court concluded OAR 471-060-0005 was invalid as written and that the error in denying licensee’s request for a different ALJ required reversal. Because that ruling was dispositive, the Supreme Court did not reach licensee’s alternative argument that the chief ALJ erred in applying the rule. The final order was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Pulito v. Board of Nursing" on Justia Law

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By Legislative Referendum (LR) 401 (2020), the Oregon legislature asked voters to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would permit the legislature, local governments, and the people through the initiative process to pass laws regulating campaign finance and advertising. As provided in Oregon Laws 2019, chapter 674, section 1, a joint legislative committee drafted the ballot title and explanatory statement for LR 401. In consolidated cases, petitioners sought review of the ballot title and the explanatory statement. Petitioner Markley challenged all parts of the ballot title, contending that the caption, “yes” and “no” result statements, and the summary did not comply with the requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). Petitioner Buel challenged the ballot title summary and the explanatory statement. After the parties completed briefing on petitioners’ challenges, this court decided Multnomah County v. Mehrwein, 366 Or 295, 462 P3d 706 (2020), in which the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that a Multnomah County ordinance limiting campaign contributions was not subject to a facial challenge under Article I, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution. That decision overruled, in part, the court’s earlier decision in Vannatta v. Keisling, 931 P2d 770 (1997), which held that certain statutes that provided for, among other things, mandatory limits on contributions to state political campaigns, violated Article I, section 8. Because the ballot title “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement all briefly described the state of the law before the court’s issuance of the Mehrwein decision, the Court asked the parties to submit supplemental briefing concerning the effect, if any, that Mehrwein had on this matter. After review of the supplemental briefs of the parties, the Supreme Court concluded the the ballot title’s “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement had to be modified. The Court otherwise rejected petitioners’ arguments. The ballot title was referred back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Buel/Markley v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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On March 6, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency (“Proclamation”) pursuant to 35 Pa.C.S. 7301(c), a provision of the Emergency Management Services Code. This Proclamation activated many emergency resources. Days later, the Governor issued an order closing businesses that were not considered life-sustaining. Four Pennsylvania businesses and one individual challenged the Governor's Order, alleging that it violated the Emergency Management Services Code and various constitutional provisions. On April 13, 2020, in an exercise of its King’s Bench jurisdiction, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Governor’s order complied with both the statute and Commonwealth Constitution. On June 3, 2020, the Governor renewed the Proclamation for an additional ninety days. June 9, 2020, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted a concurrent resolution to order the Governor to terminate the disaster emergency. The matter reached a loggerhead and went again before the Supreme Court. The Court issued an opinion stating "we find it necessary to make clear what this Court is, and is not, deciding in this case. We express no opinion as to whether the Governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes wise or sound policy. Similarly, we do not opine as to whether the General Assembly, in seeking to limit or terminate the Governor’s exercise of emergency authority, presents a superior approach for advancing the welfare of our Commonwealth’s residents." Instead, the Court decided here a narrow legal question: whether the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Emergency Services Management Code permitted the General Assembly to terminate the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency by passing a concurrent resolution, without presenting that resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto. To this, the Supreme Court responded "no": "because the General Assembly intended that H.R. 836 terminate the Governor’s declaration of disaster emergency without the necessity of presenting that resolution to the Governor for his approval or veto, we hold, pursuant to our power under the Declaratory Judgments Act, that H.R. 836 is a legal nullity." View "Wolf v. Scarnati" on Justia Law

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A mortgage conveys an interest in real property as security. Lenders often require borrowers to maintain hazard insurance that protects the property. If the borrower fails to maintain adequate coverage, the lender may buy the insurance and force the borrower to cover the cost (force-placed coverage). States generally require insurers to file their rates with an administrative agency and may not charge rates other than the filed rates. The filed-rate is unassailable in judicial proceedings even if the insurance company defrauded an administrative agency to obtain approval of the rate. Borrowers alleged that their lender, Nationstar, colluded with an insurance company, Great American, and an insurance agent, Willis. Great American allegedly inflated the filed rate filed so it and Willis could return a portion of the profits to Nationstar to induce Nationstar’s continued business. The borrowers paid the filed rate but claimed that the practice violated their mortgages, New Jersey law concerning unjust enrichment, the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with business relationships; the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act; the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1601–1665; and RICO, 18 U.S.C. 1961–1968. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Once an insurance rate is filed with the appropriate regulatory body, courts have no ability to effectively reduce it by awarding damages for alleged overcharges: the filed-rate doctrine prevents courts from deciding whether the rate is unreasonable or fraudulently inflated. View "Leo v. Nationstar Mortgage LLC of Delaware" on Justia Law

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On March 10, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared a disaster emergency pursuant to the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Since that time, the Governor relied on his authority under the Act to issue a wide range of executive orders suspending certain statutes, rules, and regulations in an effort to prevent further escalation of the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Among these was Executive Order D 2020 065 (“EO 65”), which (1) suspended the operation of certain statutes governing the ballot initiative process that require signature collection to take place in person; and (2) authorized the Secretary of State to create temporary rules to permit signature gathering by mail and email. Petitioners filed this lawsuit against Governor Polis and Secretary of State Jena Griswold, seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of EO65 and a declaratory judgment finding the Order unconstitutional under the Colorado Constitution and unauthorized under the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act. After ordering expedited briefing, the district court held a remote hearing via WebEx on May 22. In its May 27 Order, the district court concluded that (1) petitioners had not established the necessary factors outlined in Rathke v. MacFarlane, 648 P.2d 648 (Colo. 1982), to obtain a preliminary injunction; and (2) petitioners had not established an entitlement to declaratory relief under C.R.C.P. 57. The court also found that the petitioners’ claims against the Secretary were not ripe because she had not yet promulgated the temporary rules that EO 65 had authorized. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Article V, section 1(6) of the Colorado Constitution required ballot initiative petitions be signed in the presence of the petition circulator. "That requirement cannot be suspended by executive order, even during a pandemic." Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ritchie v. Polis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus sought by Relators compelling Tuscarawas County Job and Family Services (TCJFS) to produce copies of, or permit Relators to inspect, records pertaining to their childhood history with TCJFS, holding that TCJFS did not have a clear legal duty to allow Relators to inspect or copy the records they sought. Relators were sisters who spent portions of their childhoods in the Tuscarawas County foster care system. Relators believed that they experienced trauma while in foster care and that access to their TCJFS records would help them move forward with their lives. Relators commenced this mandamus action seeking to compel TCJFS to produce copies of, or permit Relators' access to, TCJFS records pertaining to them. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding (1) the TCJFS director's good-cause finding did not create a legal duty requiring TCJFS to give Relators full access to all TCJFS records pertaining to them; (2) Ohio.Adm.Code 5101:2-33-21(H) did not impose a duty on TCJFS to disseminate any records to Relators; and (3) Relators failed to submit sufficient evidence supporting that there was good cause to override Ohio Rev. Code 5153.17's confidentiality requirement. View "State ex rel. Martin v. Tuscarawas County Job & Family Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus sought by a judge seeking to compel a county to pay for his outside legal counsel, holding that the judge was not entitled to compel the county to pay for his lawyer. In 2018, Greene County Probate Judge Thomas O'Diam issued two orders that sought to take control of a courtroom. The orders also sought to compel Greene County to pay for the legal expenses arising from the Greene County Board of Commissioners' failure to comply with the orders. After the Board filed a petition for a writ of prohibition attempting to stop Judge O'Diam's orders from taking effect Judge O'Diam filed the present mandamus action seeking to enforce his orders. The Supreme Court granted the writ of prohibition. At issue in this mandamus proceeding was whether Judge O'Diam was entitled to outside counsel at the County's expense when he did not use the process set forth in Ohio Rev. Code 309.09(A), 305.14(A), and 305.17. The Supreme Court denied the requested writ of mandamus, holding that Judge O'Diam did not follow the statutory process, and therefore, he was not entitled to have the County pay his attorney fees. View "State ex rel. O'Diam v. Greene County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law