Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs-appellants, Craig Immel, Terry Young, Herb Beattie, and Ray Pearcey (collectively, "Taxpayers"), sought a declaratory judgment that Defendants-appellees, Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) and the City of Tulsa (City), could not sell 8.8 acres of park land to a private developer for the construction of a commercial shopping center because the land was held in a public trust expressly as a park for the people. All parties moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the TPFA and the City's joint motion for summary judgment as to all claims. Taxpayers appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) Taxpayers had standing; (2) the TPFA and the City could not sell the 8.8 acres of park land to a private developer for construction of a commercial shopping center because the land was indeed held in a public trust for the people, unless it was abandoned and/or was no longer fit for its intended use as a public park; (3) there were disputed material facts as to whether the TPFA and the City lawfully abandoned the 8.8 acres of park land; and (4) there were disputed material facts as to whether the expenditure met the public purpose requirement under the Oklahoma Constitution. The trial court's order granting the TPFA and the City's joint motion for summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Immel et al. v. Tulsa Public Facilities Authority" on Justia Law

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In December 2014, Steve Tenny sustained a right-sided lumbar disc herniation injury during the course of his employment with Loomis Armored US (Loomis). He immediately began treatment, receiving a series of right-sided steroid injections in his back. At some point shortly after the second injection, Tenny began to complain of increasing left hip and groin pain and underwent testing and treatment for these symptoms. However, the worker’s compensation insurance surety, Ace American Insurance Co., ultimately denied payment for treatment related to the left-side groin pain. Following the matter going to hearing, the Referee recommended that the Industrial Commission find that the left-sided symptoms were causally related to Tenny’s December 2014 industrial accident. The Industrial Commission adopted the Referee’s findings, and after unsuccessfully moving for reconsideration, the employer and surety (collectively, "Defendants") appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. At issue before the Supreme Court was the question of causation: Was the left-side groin pain experienced by Tenny causally related to his industrial accident? Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the Industrial Commission's decision. View "Tenny v. Loomis Armored US, LLC" on Justia Law

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Spire planned to build a St. Louis-area pipeline and unsuccessfully solicited natural gas “shippers” to enter into preconstruction “precedent agreements.” Spire later entered into a precedent agreement with its affiliate, Spire Missouri, for 87.5 percent of the pipeline’s projected capacity. Spire applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A)), conceding that the proposed pipeline was not needed to serve new load but claiming other benefits. As evidence of need, Spire relied on its precedent agreement with Spire Missouri. FERC released an Environmental Assessment, finding no significant environmental impact. EDF challenged Spire’s application, arguing that the precedent agreement should have limited probative value because the companies were corporate affiliates. The Order approving the new pipeline principally focused on the precedent agreement.The D.C. Circuit vacated the approval. FERC may issue a Certificate only if it finds that construction of a new pipeline “is or will be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity.” Under FERC’s “Certificate Policy Statement,” if there is a need for the pipeline, FERC determines whether there will be adverse impacts on existing customers, existing pipelines, or landowners and communities. If adverse stakeholder impacts will result, FERC balances the public benefits against the adverse effects. FERC’s refusal to address nonfrivolous arguments challenging the probative weight of the affiliated precedent agreement did not evince reasoned and principled decision-making. FERC ignored evidence of self-dealing and failed to thoroughly conduct the interest-balancing inquiry. View "Environmental Defense Fund v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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Administrative Patent Judges (APJs) conduct adversarial proceedings for challenging the validity of an existing patent before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), 35 U.S.C. 6(a), (c). The Secretary of Commerce appoints PTAB members, including APJs, except the Director, who is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. APJs concluded that Arthrex’s patent was invalid. The Federal Circuit concluded that the APJs were principal officers who must be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate; their appointment was unconstitutional. To remedy this violation, the court invalidated the APJs’ tenure protections, making them removable at will by the Secretary.The Supreme Court vacated. The unreviewable authority wielded by APJs during patent review is incompatible with their appointment by the Secretary to an inferior office. Inferior officers must be “directed and supervised at some level by others who were appointed by Presidential nomination with the advice and consent of the Senate.” While the Director has administrative oversight, neither he nor any other superior executive officer can directly review APJ decisions. A decision by the APJs under his charge compels the Director to “issue and publish a certificate” canceling or confirming patent claims he previously allowed. Given the insulation of PTAB decisions from executive review, APJs exercise power that conflicts with the Appointments Clause’s purpose “to preserve political accountability.”Four justices concluded that section 6(c) cannot constitutionally be enforced to prevent the Director from reviewing final APJ decisions. The Director may review final PTAB decisions and may issue decisions on behalf of the Board. Section 6(c) otherwise remains operative. Because the source of the constitutional violation is the restraint on the Director’s review authority not the appointment of APJs, Arthrex is not entitled to a hearing before a new panel. View "United States v. Arthrex, Inc." on Justia Law

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The hospital, located in Philadelphia, received a reclassification into the New York City area, which would sizably increase the hospital’s Medicare reimbursements due to that area’s higher wage index, 42 U.S.C. 1395ww(d). Although a statute makes such reclassifications effective for three fiscal years, the agency updated the geographical boundaries for the New York City area before the close of that period and reassigned the hospital to an area in New Jersey with an appreciably lower wage index. The hospital successfully sued three agency officials in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal. The Medicare Act, 42 U.S.C. 1395oo(f)(1), channels reimbursement disputes through administrative adjudication as a near-absolute prerequisite to judicial review. The hospital did not pursue its claim through administrative adjudication before suing in federal court. By not following the statutory channeling requirement, the hospital has no valid basis for subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Temple University Hospital, Inc. v. Secretary United States Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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In 1958, the Northern Pacific Railroad physically abandoned the 20-mile segment outside of Noxon, Montana. Part of that segment runs through the Finnigan property, which is entirely within the boundaries of the Kanisku National Forest. Several landowners along the right of way sought a judicial decree of abandonment and ultimately gained title to their respective segments of the abandoned railway. The Finnigan property’s then-owner did not seek a judicial decree of abandonment. In 2018, the Finnigan Estate brought suit to quiet its title to the right of way across its property. The district court rejected the action on summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Northern Pacific stopped using the segment in 1958, but the railway was not formally declared abandoned before the 1988 enactment of the Rails-to-Trails Act, 6 U.S.C. 1248(c), so the United States retained its reversionary interest in the land. The Act provides that title “shall remain” with the U.S. for railroad rights-of-way abandoned after October 4, 1988, except to the extent that the right of way was converted to a public highway. To transfer rights-of-way to neighboring landowners, abandonment requires both physical abandonment and a judicial decree of abandonment. The judicial-decree requirement was not met when another parcel in the segment obtained a judicial decree of abandonment that did not cover the Finnigan property. View "Estate of Finnigan v. United States" on Justia Law

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Following two fires at its steel plant, U.S. Steel polluted the air. Because that pollution violated its Clean Air Act permits and regulations, it reported the incidents to the local officials who enforce that Act, the Allegheny County Health Department. The Clean Air Council, an environmental watchdog, sued, arguing that under CERCLA, U.S. Steel should have reported the pollution to the federal government too. CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) exempts from reporting any “federally permitted” emissions, 42 U.S.C. 9603, including emissions “subject to” certain Clean Air Act permits and regulations. The Council argued that “subject to” means “obedient to” so that an emission cannot be “subject to” a permit or regulation that it violates.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. In context, “subject to” means “governed or affected by.” Since U.S. Steel’s emissions were governed by a Clean Air Act permit, that means they were “federally permitted” under CERCLA and exempt from federal reporting. View "Clean Air Council v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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Michael and Katherine Gatto filed suit against the City of Statesboro and City Clerk Sue Starling, alleging negligence and maintenance of a nuisance, after their son, Michael, died following an altercation at a bar in the University Plaza area of the City. The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants, based in part on sovereign immunity. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to the City, solely on the ground of sovereign immunity. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to address municipal immunity in the context of a nuisance claim. The Court held that the Citywasis immune from liability for the conduct alleged here, because municipalities never faced liability for a nuisance claim based on alleged conduct related to property they neither owned nor controlled, and "nothing in our Constitution alters that principle." Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Gatto et al. v. City of Statesboro et al." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied Huawei's petition for review challenging an FCC rule barring the use of government subsidies to buy equipment from companies designated security risks to communications networks. As a preliminary matter, the court dismissed Huawei's claims related to the initial designation for lack of jurisdiction based on ripeness grounds.The court concluded that the FCC reasonably interpreted its authority under the Communications Act in formulating the rule. The court found that the agency reasonably interpreted the Act's "public interest" provisions (47 U.S.C. 254(c)(1)(D), in coordination with section 201(b)), to authorize allocation of universal service funds based on the agency's exercise of limited national security judgment. Furthermore, the agency reasonably interpreted the "quality services" provision in section 254(b)(1) to support that exercise. Therefore, the court deferred to the agency's interpretation under Chevron review and rejected Huawei's argument that the agency lacked statutory authority for the rule. The court also considered the companies' other challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, finding that claims regarding adequacy of notice, arbitrary and capricious review, vagueness, and due process are unavailing. View "Huawei Technologies USA, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals holding that the City of Waconia's ordinance was subject to the procedural requirements of Minn. Stat. 462.357 for municipal zoning, including notice and a public hearing.After Appellants began building a dock extending from their lakeshore property into the lake the City adopted an ordinance that prohibited the construction of the dock. When the construction was nearly complete the City filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction under the new ordinance to halt further construction and require the dock's removal. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Appellants' appeal was timely; (2) the City's ordinance was subject to the procedural requirements of section 462.357; and (3) because the City failed to comply with the procedural requirements of section 462.357, the ordinance was void, and the permanent injunction against Appellants was also void. View "City of Waconia v. Dock" on Justia Law