Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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After plaintiff was injured while performing work in the Adult Offender Work Program (AOWP), he filed suit against the county for its failure to accommodate his preexisting physical disability and failure to engage in the interactive process under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the county. The court held that an individual sentenced to perform work activities in lieu of incarceration in the absence of any financial remuneration, is precluded, as a matter of law, from being an "employee" within the meaning of the FEHA. The court explained that, while remuneration alone is not a sufficient condition to establish an individual is an employee under the statute, it is an essential one. Because plaintiff earned no sufficient financial remuneration as a result of participation in the AOWP, he could not be deemed an employee under the FEHA. The court did not reach plaintiff's remaining arguments. View "Talley v. County of Fresno" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, the chairs of the California Assembly and Senate committees that consider election-related matters prepared a formal letter to Governor Gavin Newsom indicating they were working on legislation to ensure Californians could vote by mail in light of the emergency occasioned by COVID-19. The Governor issued Executive Order No. N-64-20 on May 8, 2020, which required all voters to be provided vote-by-mail ballots. That order affirmed, however, that the administration continued to work “in partnership with the Secretary of State and the Legislature on requirements for in-person voting opportunities and how other details of the November election will be implemented” and “[n]othing in this Order is intended, or shall be construed, to limit the enactment of legislation on that subject.” The order was signed on June 3, 2020. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned an order of the Sutter County Superior Court, entered on June 12, 2020, granting a temporary restraining order against the Executive Order, finding it constituted “an impermissible use of legislative powers in violation of the California Constitution and the laws of the State of California.” The Court of Appeal determined there was no basis for the superior court to grant real parties in interest relief using ex parte procedures prescribed by California law. "The hearing on the ex parte application, conducted only one day after the underlying action was filed in superior court, was held without proper notice to the Governor or his appearance. Apart from these procedural deficiencies, real parties in interest also failed to make the requisite substantive showing for use of an ex parte proceeding. In short, the real parties in interest failed to present competent evidence establishing imminent harm from the Governor’s executive order requiring immediate action." View "Newsome v. Superior Court (Gallagher)" on Justia Law

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Allison Leigh broke her ankle when she slipped and fell in her employer’s icy parking lot. Following surgery she had a complicated recovery. Her employer began to controvert benefits related to the ankle about nine months after the injury. Three years after the injury, her employer requested that she sign a release allowing it to access all of her mental health records for the preceding 19 years because of her pain complaints. Leigh asked for a protective order from the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board. The Board’s designee granted the protective order, and the employer appealed that decision to the Board. A Board panel reversed the designee’s decision. Leigh petitioned the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission for review, but the Commission declined. The Alaska granted Leigh's petition for review and found that the statute permitted an employer to access the mental health records of employees when it was relevant to the claim, even if the employee did not make a claim related to a mental health condition. This matter was remanded back to the Board for further proceedings to consider reasonable limits on the release at issue here. View "Leigh v. Alaska Children's Services" on Justia Law

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The Bachner Company leased office space to the State of Alaska. The lease stipulated that the State would occupy 15,730 square feet of space but would not have to pay rent on 1,400 square feet of that space during the lease’s initial ten-year term. The lease further specified that if it was extended beyond the initial term the parties would negotiate a rate for the free space and the State would pay for it. Toward the end of the initial term the State exercised its first renewal option and opened negotiations with the company over the free space’s value. The parties retained an expert to value the space, but the State questioned his methods and conclusions. The State also resisted the company’s claim that the State should begin paying rent for additional space, not identified in the lease, that the company contended the State had been occupying. The parties failed to reach agreement, and the State did not pay rent for any of the extra square footage. Eventually the State executed a unilateral amendment to the lease based on the expert’s valuation and, ten months after the end of the lease’s initial term, paid all past-due rent for the formerly free space identified in the lease. The company filed a claim with the Department of Administration, contending that the State had materially breached the lease, the lease was terminated, and the State owed additional rent. A contracting officer rejected the claim, and on appeal an administrative law judge found there was no material breach, the lease had been properly extended, and the company had waived any claim regarding space not identified in the lease. The Commissioner of the Department of Administration adopted the administrative law judge’s findings and conclusions. The superior court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision except with regard to the space not identified in the lease; it directed the company to pursue any such claim in a separate action. Both parties appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the administrative law judge's findings were supported by substantial evidence, and because the lease did not terminate under the Supreme Court's interpretation of it, the Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision except with regard to the company's claim to rent for space not identified in the lease. The Court concluded that, to the extent it sought rent after the end of the initial term, it was not waived by the document on which the administrative law judge relied to find waiver. Only that issue was remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration. View "Bachner Company, Inc. v. Alaska Department of Administration" on Justia Law

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Office worker Sallyanne Butts (f/k/a Decastro) fell from her chair onto her hands and left knee. She initially suffered left knee symptoms and later developed right knee problems and lower back pain that she alleged arose from the fall. She argued the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board erred when it performed its presumption analysis and when it awarded compensation for her left knee and back for only a limited period of time following the accident. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded: the Board appropriately considered the knee injuries and the back injury as distinct injuries and applied the presumption analysis accordingly; that the Board properly relied on the conflicting medical evidence to make its own legal decision about which of Butts’s conditions were compensable; and that the Board was not required to award compensation for knee replacement surgeries performed five years after the accident. The Court therefore affirmed the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission’s decision affirming the Board. View "Butts v. Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of orders related to FERC's efforts to remove existing barriers to the participation of electric storage resources (ESRs) in the Regional Transmission Organization and Independent System Operator markets (RTO/ISO markets), independent, nonprofit companies that manage segments of the federal grid. The court held that petitioners failed to show that Order Nos. 841 and 841-A run afoul of the Federal Power Act's jurisdictional bifurcation or that they are otherwise arbitrary and capricious. After determining that petitioners have standing to bring their claims and that the matters are ripe for review, the court held that because the challenged orders do nothing more than regulate matters concerning federal transactions – and reiterate ordinary principles of federal preemption – they do not facially exceed FERC's jurisdiction under the Act. The court also held that FERC's decision to reject a state opt-out was adequately explained. View "National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated petitions, petitioners challenged area designations promulgated by the EPA for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) applicable to ground-level ozone, i.e., smog. The court found that at least one petitioner has standing to challenge each of the designations at issue. In this case, Government Petitioners have adequately demonstrated standing based on direct injuries rather than parens patriae status. On the merits, the court granted Jefferson County's petition and held that EPA has, without explanation, treated similarly situated areas—Jefferson and Boles—differently and drawn conflicting conclusions from the same data. Therefore, such inconsistent treatment is the hallmark of arbitrary agency action and requires further explanation from the EPA. The court also granted petitions for review for Monroe County, Ottawa County, Weld County, Door County, and Sheboygan County. The court denied Lake County's petition for review and granted EPA's motion to remand. View "Clean Wisconsin v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a number of independent school districts, school boards, parents, students, and citizens, challenged the implementation of Act 46, as amended by Act 49, regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. The Vermont Legislature enacted those laws in 2015 and 2017, respectively, to improve educational outcomes and equity by designing more efficient school governance structures in response to long-term declining student enrollment and balkanized educational governance and delivery systems. In separate decisions, the civil division dismissed several counts of plaintiffs’ amended complaint and then later granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining counts. In two consolidated appeals, plaintiffs argued that: (1) the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education failed to carry out the plain-language mandate of Act 46; and (2) the Board’s implementation of the law, as manifested in its final order, violated other statutes in Title 16 and several provisions of the Vermont Constitution. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Agency’s and Board’s implementation of the law was consistent with the challenged Acts and other statutes in Title 16, did not result from an unlawful delegation of legislative authority, and did not violate any other constitutional provisions. Accordingly, the civil division’s decisions were affirmed. View "Athens School District et al. v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Huntington School District appealed the civil division’s order dismissing its complaint on motion of the two state defendants and granting defendant Mount Mansfield Modified Unified Union School District's motion for judgment on the pleadings. This case was one of several lawsuits challenging the implementation of Act 46 (as amended by Act 49) regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. Plaintiff raised four issues on appeal; three of those were resolved by the Vermont Supreme Court in a contemporaneously issued opinion concerning another challenge to the implementation of Acts 46 and 49, Athens Sch. Dist. et al. v. State Board of Education, 2020 VT 52. In this opinion, the Supreme Court set forth only the law and procedural history relevant to plaintiff’s single claim of error not decided in Athens School District: that the State Board of Education exceeded its delegated authority under Act 46 “by designating Huntington as a member of Mount Mansfield and purporting to subdelegate to Mount Mansfield the power to merge Huntington.” In relevant part, plaintiff alleged in its complaint that because Mount Mansfield was a union school district receiving incentives under Acts 153 and 156, the Board could not order Huntington to merge or otherwise alter its governance structure pursuant to Act 46, section 10(b). Plaintiff also alleged that the Board acted beyond its authority by calling for Mount Mansfield to vote on merger pursuant to 16 V.S.A. 721, while at the same time not allowing plaintiff to veto the merger by its own vote under the same statute. The state defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a viable claim for relief, and Mount Mansfield moved for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court found "unavailing" plaintiff's argument that Act 46 as amended did not authorize the Board to order Huntington to merge with Mount Mansfield, conditioned upon the consent of coters in Mount Mansfield's member districts. Nor did the Court found any merit to plaintiff's argument that the Board's authority was unlawfully subdelegated. As we stated with respect to the plaintiffs in Athens School District, plaintiff in this case did not demonstrate the Board failed to apply any Title 16 provisions in circumstances in which they were applicable. View "Huntington School District v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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Applicant Lewis Birt successfully completed Vermont’s Law Office Study (LOS) Program in April 2000. Thereafter, applicant sat for the Vermont bar exam four times between 2002 and 2004, failing each time. In July 2019, applicant filed an application with the Vermont Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) to sit for the February 2020 bar exam. Licensing Counsel reviewed the application and raised concerns about both the length of time between applicant’s completion of the LOS Program, the 2019 application, and the number of applicant’s prior unsuccessful examination attempts. In light of those concerns, Licensing Counsel asked applicant if he wished to go forward with the application. Applicant elected to do so, and, in November 2019, supplied additional information directed at the concerns Licensing Counsel raised. At its December 2019 meeting, the BBE decided to deny applicant’s request to sit for the 2020 bar examination. In doing so, it relied on Rule of Admission to the Bar of the Vermont Supreme Court 9(b)(1), which requires an applicant to sit for the bar exam within five years of completing the LOS Program unless the time is extended for good cause, and Rule 9(b)(4), which limits an applicant to four attempts to pass the examination unless the BBE waives the limitation upon a proper showing. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the BBE's finding that there was no cause to extend the five-year limit. Since his last exam in 2004, applicant worked as a musician, church residential real-estate manager, paralegal studies teacher for a for=profit school, and as a court reporter. Absent a waiver, applicant was deemed ineligible to sit for the 2020 bar examination because he did not meet the requirements of Rule 9(b)(1), and the Supreme Court concurred his application was properly denied. View "In re Lewis Y. Birt" on Justia Law