Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2018, the EPA approved conditional registrations for three dicamba-based herbicides for an additional two years. Petitioners sought review of the 2018 decision, alleging that it violates both the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Ninth Circuit held that the EPA's 2018 decision, and the conditional new-use registrations of XtendiMax, Engenia, and FeXapan for use on DT soybean and cotton that are premised on that decision, violate FIFRA. The panel explained that it need not decide whether substantial evidence supports a finding that the applicants submitted satisfactory data, because the panel held that the EPA substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks. In this case, among other things, the EPA substantially understated the amount of DT seed acreage that had been planted in 2018, and, correspondingly, the amount of dicamba herbicide that had been sprayed on post-emergent crops; the EPA purported to be agnostic as to whether formal complaints of dicamba damage under-reported or overreported the actual damage, when record evidence clearly showed that dicamba damage was substantially under-reported; and the EPA refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as "potential" and "alleged," when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage. Therefore, the panel vacated the EPA's 2018 decision and the three registrations premised on that decision. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated an air permit granted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a proposed natural gas compression station set to be built in Weymouth, Massachusetts as part of Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC's Atlantic Bridge Project, holding that the DEP did not follow its own established procedures for assessing whether an electric motor was the Best Available Control Technology (BACT). The Atlantic Bridge Project is a natural gas pipeline connecting the Northeastern United States and Canada. The DEP approved Algonquin's non-major comprehensive plan application for the station and granted the station's air permit, certifying its compliance with the Massachusetts Clean Air Act (CAA), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111, 142A-142F. Petitioners, nearby municipalities and two citizen-petition groups, argued that DEP violated the CAA and related laws and regulations. The First Circuit (1) vacated the air permit and remanded to DEP for it to conduct further proceedings, holding that the DEP's final decision excluding an electric motor was arbitrary and capricious; and (2) resolved the remaining issues in favor of DEP. View "Town of Weymouth v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's order affirming the ALJ's denial of plaintiff's application for disability benefits. The court held that the ALJ's error in failing to provide good reason for giving plaintiff's treating psychiatrist's opinion limited weight was not harmless error. In this case, the failure to comply with SSA regulations is more than a drafting issue, it is legal error. Furthermore, the court cannot determine whether the ALJ would have reached the same decision denying benefits, even if the ALJ had followed the proper procedure for considering and explaining the value of the psychiatrist's opinion. Accordingly, the court remanded for further administrative proceedings and for reconsideration of plaintiff's claims. View "Lucus v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Vehicle Code section 13365(a) directs the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend a person’s driver’s license “[u]pon receipt of notification of a violation of" section 40508(a) (the Misdemeanor Statute), which makes it a misdemeanor for a traffic offender to “willfully violat[e]” his written promise to appear in court. Plaintiffs challenged the DMV policy of suspending driver’s licenses upon notification of a failure to appear even without notification that this failure violated the Misdemeanor Statute. The DMV provides courts with electronic and paper methods to notify it of a person’s failure to appear; both require the court to indicate the “sections violated.” The DMV will suspend a driver’s license regardless of whether the form indicates that the Misdemeanor Statute is one of the sections violated. The trial court denied the petition. The court of appeal reversed, rejecting DMV’s argument that it is authorized under section 13365(a) to suspend a license upon receiving notification pursuant to the Notification Statutes. Notification of a violation of the Misdemeanor Statute is required before the DMV suspends a license pursuant to section 13365(a). The Notification Statute is broader and authorizes permissive notification upon violation of a “written promise to appear . . . , or . . . an order to appear in court." An order to appear in court is not equivalent to a written promise to appear. The Misdemeanor Statute also requires that the failure to appear be willful.” View "Hernandez v. Department of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) holding that The Kansas City Chiefs Football Club, Inc. (the team) was the "purchaser" of certain items used in the renovation of Arrowhead Stadium and its related facilities and was, therefore, liable for sales and use tax on those items, holding that the AHC erred in determining that the team was the purchaser of the items. After the renovation was complete, the Director of Revenue conducted a sales and use tax audit and determined that the team was liable for sales and use tax on seven categories of contested items purchased from the nine vendors at issue in this appeal. The team appealed to the AHC, which found the team liable for sales tax and use tax on the items. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the team was not the source of the consideration for the contested items and, therefore, was not the purchaser of the items, as that term is used in Missouri's sales and use tax statutes. View "Kansas City Chiefs Football Club, Inc. v. Director of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In a consolidated putative class action based on the Flint Water Crisis, the defendants include government officials from the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, state agencies, and private engineering companies. While government officials like former Governor Snyder and former Treasurer Dillon have been litigating the issue of qualified immunity, discovery against private parties has proceeded. In 2019, the district court granted the government officials’ motions to dismiss claims alleging 42 U.S.C. 1983 equal-protection violations, section 1985(3) conspiracy, Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, section 1983 state-created danger, and gross negligence. The court denied motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ section 1983 bodily-integrity claim on the bases of qualified and absolute immunity,. The court entered a comprehensive case management order. Snyder and Dillon claimed that they cannot be deposed as non-party fact witnesses with respect to other defendants, arguing that they are immune from all discovery until they have exhausted every opportunity for appeal from the denial of their motions to dismiss based on qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit denied Snyder’s and Dillon’s request for a stay of non-party depositions pending resolution of their appeal from the order denying their request for a protective order, and dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, their appeal from the denial of a protective order. View "Waid v. Earley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against UTSMC, seeking recovery for UTSMC's alleged discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of UTSMC's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss because UTSMC is an arm of the State of Texas and is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court applied the Clark factors and held that UTSMC is entitled to arm-of-the-state status where statutes and legal authorities favor treating UTSMC as an arm of Texas; Texas law authorizes state treasury funds to be allocated to UTSMC from the permanent health fund for higher education and a judgment against UTSMC would interfere with Texas's fiscal autonomy; UTSMC does not operate with a level of local autonomy to consider it independent from Texas; because of UT System's statewide presence, components of the UT System shall not be confined to specific geographical areas; and the UT System has the power of eminent domain, and the land it acquires becomes property of the state. View "Daniel v. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, a district court decided that Defendants RaPower-3, LLC, International Automated Systems, Inc. (IAS), LTB1, LLC, Neldon Johnson, and R. Gregory Shepard had promoted an unlawful tax scheme. Defendants’ scheme was based on a supposed project to utilize a purportedly new, commercially viable way of converting solar radiation into electricity. There was no “third party verification of any of Johnson’s designs.” Nor did he have any “record that his system ha[d] produced energy,” and “[t]here [were] no witnesses to his production of a useful product from solar energy,” a fact that he attributed to his decision to do his testing “on the weekends when no one was around because he didn’t want people to see what he was doing.” Defendants never secured a purchase agreement for the sale of electricity to an end user. The district court found that Johnson’s purported solar energy technology was not a commercial-grade solar energy system that converts sunlight into electrical power or other useful energy. Despite this, Defendants’ project generated tens of millions of dollars between 2005 and 2018. Beginning in 2006, buyers would purchase lenses from IAS or RaPower-3 for a down payment of about one-third of the purchase price. The entity would “finance” the remaining two-thirds of the purchase price with a zero- or nominal- interest, nonrecourse loan. No further payments would be due from the customer until the system had been generating revenue from electricity sales for five years. The customer would agree to lease the lens back to LTB1 for installation at a “Power Plant”; but LTB1 would not be obligated to make any rental payments until the system had begun generating revenue. The district court found that each plastic sheet for the lenses was sold to Defendants for between $52 and $70, yet the purchase price of a lens was between $3,500 and $30,000. Although Defendants sold between 45,000 and 50,000 lenses, fewer than 5% of them were ever installed. Customers were told that buying a lens would have very favorable income-tax consequences. Johnson and Shepard sold the lenses by advertising that customers could “zero out” federal income-tax liability by taking advantage of depreciation deductions and solar-energy tax credits. To remedy Defendants' misconduct, the district court enjoined Defendants from continuing to promote their scheme and ordered disgorgement of their gross receipts from the scheme. Defendants appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. RaPower-3" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from Volkswagen's installation of defeat devices in new cars for the purpose of evading compliance with federally mandated emission standards, and subsequent updating of the software in those cars so the defeat devices would do a better job of avoiding and preventing compliance. After Volkswagen settled EPA's criminal and civil actions for over $20 billion dollars, two counties sought to impose additional penalties for violation of their laws prohibiting tampering with emission control systems. The district court concluded that the claims were preempted by the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Ninth Circuit held that, although the CAA expressly preempts state and local government efforts to apply anti-tampering laws to pre-sale vehicles, the CAA does not prevent the two counties here from enforcing their regulations against Volkswagen for tampering with post-sale vehicles. Furthermore, the panel rejected Volkswagen's assertions that the counties' anti-tampering rules were preempted under ordinary preemption principles. In this case, the panel saw no indication that Congress intended to preempt state and local authority to enforce anti-tampering rules on a model-wide basis. Furthermore, the CAA's cooperative federalism scheme, its express preservation of state and local police powers post sale, and the complete absence of a congressional intent to vest in the EPA the exclusive authority to regulate every incident of post-sale tampering raised the strong inference that Congress did not intend to deprive the EPA of effective aid from local officers to combat tampering with emission control systems. View "The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Congress invoked its Article IV power to enact the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). PROMESA created a Financial Oversight and Management Board, whose seven voting members are to be appointed by the President without the Senate’s advice and consent. Congress authorized the Board to file for bankruptcy, to supervise and modify Puerto Rico’s laws and budget, and to conduct related investigations. President Obama selected the Board’s members. The Board filed bankruptcy petitions on behalf of the Commonwealth and five of its entities. Creditors moved to dismiss the proceedings, arguing that the Board members’ selection violated the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, under which the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . all . . . Officers of the United States.” The First Circuit held that the Board members’ selection violated the Appointments Clause. The Supreme Court reversed. Congress’ longstanding practice of requiring the Senate’s advice and consent for territorial Governors with important federal duties supports the inference that Congress expected the Appointments Clause to apply to at least some officials with supervisory authority over the Territories. A federal law’s creation of an office, however, does not automatically make its holder an officer of the United States. The Appointments Clause does not restrict the appointment of local officers that Congress vests with primarily local duties. Congress has long legislated for (non-state) entities by making local law directly and creating local government structures, staffed by local officials, who make and enforce local law. The history of Puerto Rico—whose officials with local responsibilities have been selected in ways inconsistent with the Appointments Clause—is consistent with the history of other entities that fall under Article IV and with the District of Columbia's history. The Board members here have primarily local powers and duties. PROMESA says that the Board “shall not be considered a department, agency, establishment, or instrumentality of the Federal Government.” Congress gave the Board a structure, duties, and related powers consistent with this statement. View "Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Aurelius Investment, LLC" on Justia Law