Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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Alight provides recordkeeping services for employee healthcare and retirement benefit plans, some of which are governed by ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461 The Department of Labor investigated Alight, following a discovery that Alight processed unauthorized distributions of plan benefits due to cybersecurity breaches, and sent Alight an administrative subpoena duces tecum, seeking documents in response to 32 inquiries, including broad demands, such as “[a]ll documents and communications relating to services offered to ERISA plan clients.” Alight produced some documents but objected to several inquiries, citing its duty to keep certain information confidential. The Department petitioned for enforcement of the subpoena. Alight produced additional materials but redacted most of the documents to remove client identifying information, preventing the Department from discerning potential ERISA violations. Alight asked the court to quash or limit the subpoena and permit redactions. Alight’s legal consultant projected full compliance would require “thousands of hours of work.” The Department clarified or narrowed its requests.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting the Department’s petition to enforce the subpoena with some modifications. The court rejected Alight’s arguments that the subpoena is unenforceable because the Department lacks authority to investigate the company because it is not a fiduciary under ERISA, or cybersecurity incidents generally; that the subpoena’s demands are too indefinite and unduly burdensome, and that the district court abused its discretion by denying Alight’s request for a protective order to limit production of certain sensitive information. View "Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Years ago, Mynatt an IRS employee, “blew the whistle” to a member of Congress about a “wasteful IRS manager conference” and gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he was critical of his union president. Mynatt asserts that federal employees formed a plan to retaliate by framing Mynatt for stealing union funds: two separate employees reported his alleged theft to government agencies, triggering internal investigations. The Department of Justice “determined the alleged crimes did not occur,” and that the investigations “were political in nature,” and declined to prosecute. The co-conspirators then lobbied Tennessee district attorneys, presenting “false testimony and forged documents” to prosecutors, despite admitting that “the charges were political in nature and not based on provable facts.” Special agent Kemp testified before a state grand jury “using false testimony and altered documents,” which resulted in a two-count grand-jury indictment of Mynatt. The District Attorney ultimately dismissed the charges.Mynatt filed several lawsuits against the United States, his union, and their employees. In this suit, Mynatt claims that the United States is liable for malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy under Tennessee law via the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A federal employee’s use of false testimony and forged documents to secure an indictment from a state grand jury does not fall within the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1), 2680(a), so, the government is not entitled to sovereign immunity. View "Mynatt v. United States" on Justia Law

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When Plaintiff-appellant Linda Smith purchased a prescribed continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM) and its necessary supplies between 2016 and 2018, she sought reimbursement through Medicare Part B. Medicare administrators denied her claims. Relying on a 2017 ruling issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare concluded Smith’s CGM was not “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose” and therefore was not covered by Part B. Smith appealed the denial of her reimbursement claims through the multistage Medicare claims review process. At each stage, her claims were denied. Smith then sued the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in federal court, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Contending that her CGM and supplies satisfied the requirements for Medicare coverage. Instead of asking the court to uphold the denial of Smith’s claims, the Secretary admitted that Smith’s claims should have been covered and that the agency erred by denying her claims. Rather than accept the Secretary’s admission, Smith argued that the Secretary only admitted error to avoid judicial review of the legality of the 2017 ruling. During Smith’s litigation, CMS changed its Medicare coverage policy for CGMs. Prompted by several adverse district court rulings, CMS promulgated a formal rule in December 2021 classifying CGMs as durable medical equipment covered by Part B. But the rule applied only to claims for equipment received after February 28, 2022, so pending claims for equipment received prior to that date were not covered by the new rule. Considering the new rule and the Secretary’s confession of error, the district court in January 2022 remanded the case to the Secretary with instructions to pay Smith’s claims. The district court did not rule on Smith’s pending motions regarding her equitable relief claims; instead, the court denied them as moot. Smith appealed, arguing her equitable claims were justiciable because the 2017 ruling had not been fully rescinded. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Secretary that Smith’s claims were moot: taken together, the December 2021 final rule and the 2022 CMS ruling that pending and future claims for CGMs would be covered by Medicare deprived the Tenth Circuit jurisdiction for further review. View "Smith v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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A nonprofit entity representing commercial fishers sued the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game, alleging that the State’s fishery management practices in Cook Inlet were unjustified and violated federal law and national standards. The nonprofit sought to depose two current Fish and Game employees but the State opposed, arguing that all material facts necessary for a decision of the case were in the administrative record. The superior court agreed with the State and quashed the nonprofit’s deposition notices. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of the State, deciding that the Cook Inlet fishery was not governed by federal standards and that none of the nonprofit’s disagreements with the State’s fishery management practices stated a violation of statute or regulation. The nonprofit appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court judgment. View "Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Legislature passed a bill in 2018 that appropriated money for public education spending for both FY2019, and FY2020. The second appropriation had a 2019 effective date. Governor Mike Dunleavy took office in December 2018, and disputed the constitutionality of the second year’s appropriation — and the general practice known as forward funding — asserting that it violated the annual appropriations model established by the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Legislative Council, acting on behalf of the legislature, sued the governor, seeking a declaratory judgment that the governor violated his constitutional duties by failing to execute the appropriations and an injunction requiring him to do so. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the superior court decided that the appropriations were consistent with the legislature’s duty to fund public education, that they did not violate any specific constitutional provision, and that the governor’s refusal to disburse funds pursuant to the appropriations violated his duty to faithfully execute the laws. The court awarded attorney’s fees to the Legislative Council and the advocacy group as prevailing parties. The governor appeals the court’s grant of summary judgment and the award of attorney’s fees to the advocacy group. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its holding, and because neither the Legislative Council nor the advocacy group was prevailing party, the superior court’s attorney’s fees awards were vacated. View "Dunleavy, et al. v. Alaska Legislative Council, et al." on Justia Law

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The Fairbanks North Star Borough partially revoked a local ministry’s charitable property tax exemption after learning that the ministry was renting lodging to the general public. The ministry appealed the Borough’s decision to the superior court. The court remanded the issue to the Borough’s assessor for more detailed findings, instructed the ministry that any appeal following remand should be made to the Board of Equalization rather than superior court, and closed the case. The assessor issued new findings justifying the partial revocation of the tax exemption, and the ministry appealed to both the Board and the superior court (in a different case). The ministry also filed a motion in the first appeal asking the superior court to enforce its order instructing that appeals be made to the Board. The superior court issued a sua sponte order granting the ministry’s first appeal on the merits, finding “that the assessor [did not] rely on sufficient evidence to revoke [the ministry’s] tax exempt status.” The Borough appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that following remand, supplemental Board findings, and a new appeal from those findings, the superior court lacked the subject matter jurisdiction to decide the ministry’s first appeal on the merits. The Supreme Court therefore vacate its decision granting Victory’s appeal. View "Fairbanks North Star Borough v. Victory Ministries of Alaska, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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A child was taken from his mother after she brought him to the hospital. Hospital staff found the child had serious injuries. The father, who lived separately from the mother, asked that the child be placed with him. The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Family recommended out-of-home placement, citing concern for the child’s safety. A court determined the child should have been placed with his godparents, based on the Department’s recommendation. The father moved for discretionary review of the shelter care order, arguing the court erred because the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent removal from a parent. The Court of Appeals denied review, and a panel of the court declined to modify its ruling. The father than moved for discretionary review by the Oregon Supreme Court, which was granted. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court became moot, as the father ultimately agreed to an order of dependency in a subsequent hearing. The Supreme Court still opined on what “reasonable efforts” the Department had to make before a child could be removed for a parent or guardian’s care. The Department argued (and the trial court agreed) that given the acute and emergent circumstances of the case, it did not violate the reasonable efforts requirement. The father argued there was no such exception for emergent circumstances. The Supreme Court provided additional guidance as to what constituted reasonable efforts, and here, held the trial court erred in excusing the Department from making reasonable efforts to place the child with the father. View "In re Dependency of L.C.S." on Justia Law

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In February 2016, three-month-old A.K., daughter of respondents Michelle Desmet and Sandro Kasco, was taken into protective custody after she suffered a spiral fracture to her left femur. When the parents could not explain the injury, A.K. was placed with her paternal aunt for six months while the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) initiated an investigation. By August, A.K. was returned to her parents and a dependency action was dismissed. In August 2018, the parents sued the DSHS (the State) for negligent investigation, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and invasion of privacy by false light (false light) based on the Department’s allegedly harmful investigation and issuance of a letter indicating that allegations of child abuse/neglect against Desmet were founded (the founded letter). The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing it was immune from suit under RCW 4.24.595(2) because its actions in A.K.’s dependency proceedings were taken pursuant to the juvenile court’s order to place A.K. with her aunt. The trial court denied summary judgment and entered a final order finding that no immunity applied. The Department appealed on the immunity issue, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Department claimed on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals’ decision rendered RCW 4.24.595(2) meaningless and that the court erroneously refused to consider the legislative history of RCW 4.24.595(2), which, in the Department’s view, was enacted to bar claims like those brought by the parents. The Supreme Court found the unambiguous text of RCW 4.24.595(2) did not grant the Department immunity for all actions in an investigation of child abuse/neglect that might coincide with a court order in related dependency proceedings. The Court of Appeals was affirmed and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Desmet v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Appellees hold a Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Based on that judgment, Appellees moved for a writ of execution against the assets of Kuwait Finance House (KFH) Malaysia in district court. The district court granted the writ before making any findings as to whether KFH Malaysia is an “agency or instrumentality” of Iran or whether the assets at issue are “blocked.” The primary issue on appeal is whether the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA) permits those assets to be executed prior to such findings.   The Second Circuit denied Appellees’ motion to dismiss the appeal, denied KFH Malaysia’s petition for a writ of mandamus, vacated the order granting the writ of execution, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. The court explained to be entitled to attachment or execution under the TRIA a plaintiff must first establish defendant’s status as an agency or instrumentality. Here, these procedures were not followed. Article 52 permits parties to commence turnover proceedings to enforce money judgments. Below, that turnover proceeding commenced, but the district court granted the relief sought in that proceeding—a writ of execution—before it considered the antecedent issue of whether KFH Malaysia is an agency or instrumentality of Iran or whether the assets at issue are “blocked.” Without such findings, there has been no showing that KFH Malaysia is in possession of property. Accordingly, Appellees failed to meet the statutory and, and consequently, they failed to establish that they were entitled to a writ of execution. View "Christine Levinson et al. v. Kuwait Finance House (Malaysia) Berhad" on Justia Law

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The United States Government seized $69,940.50 in cash from Plaintiff’s car. Plaintiff and his girlfriend challenged the seizure, claiming that the cash was not subject to forfeiture. To forfeit the seized cash, the Government bore the burden of establishing a connection between the cash and the illegal activity—in this case, illegal drug trafficking. The district court, in granting summary judgment, found that the facts painted a picture that definitively established that the cash was drug money.   The Fourth Circuit reversed finding that the record is unclear regarding whether a reasonable jury might well decide that the painting of these facts shows the cash came from drug trafficking. The court explained that summary judgment in a forfeiture proceeding is like summary judgment in any other civil case. Applying those standards correctly ensures that the Government must prove its case before depriving citizens of their private property based on an allegation of wrongdoing. Here, the Government has the burden of proof. The Government lacks any direct evidence of a drug transaction or involvement in the drug trade beyond Plaintiff’s possession of a single marijuana blunt and medical marijuana cards. The Government would have the court rely on its own inferences from its circumstantial evidence, which the court may not do. View "US v. Dereck McClellan" on Justia Law