Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff, a former alien detainee, filed suit alleging that CoreCivic's work programs are not voluntary. Plaintiff claimed that CoreCivic forced her to clean detention facilities, cook meals for company events, engage in clerical work, provide barber services for fellow detainees, maintain landscaping, and other labors. Furthermore, if she refused, CoreCivic would impose more severe living conditions, physical restraints, and deprivation of basic human needs.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of CoreCivic's motion to dismiss under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), 18 U.S.C. 1589(a). The court concluded that sections 1589(a) and 1595 impose civil liability on "[w]hoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of" four coercive methods. The court rejected CoreCivic's contention that this language does not capture labor performed in work programs in a federal immigration detention setting. The court explained that nothing in the text supports this claim; CoreCivic is clearly an entity covered by the term "whoever;" and it has clearly "obtain[ed]" the labor of these alien detainees. The court rejected CoreCivic's remaining claims to the contrary and declined to apply the rule of lenity. Because on its face section 1589 unambiguously protects labor performed in work programs in federal immigration detention facilities, the court concluded that the "judicial inquiry is complete." View "Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this matter to determine whether the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) was precluded from suspending an individual’s driving privileges based on a DUI conviction, where there was a lengthy delay between the conviction and the time the driver was notified of the suspension. Under the facts of this case, the Court concluded the trial court’s finding – that Appellee would suffer prejudice if the suspension were to be imposed at this juncture – was supported by competent evidence of record, and moreover, it demonstrated that prejudice would follow from the fact of the delay itself. Additionally, there was no dispute that Appellee did not accrue any additional Vehicle Code violations after his predicate DUI conviction. The Court therefore agreed with the Commonwealth Court majority that a suspension at this late date will have lost much of its effectiveness with regard to its underlying legislative purposes, result in prejudice which can be attributed to the delay, and ultimately deny fundamental fairness. View "PennDOT Bureau of Driver Lic. v. Middaugh" on Justia Law

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Two taxing districts undertook parallel challenges to a property’s partial tax exemption. Appellee Huston Properties, Inc. (“Taxpayer”), owned the subject property (the “Property”). In 2013, Taxpayer, claiming to be a charitable institution, sought tax-exempt status for the Property for the 2014 tax year. After a hearing, the Chester County Board of Assessment Appeals granted a partial exemption, reasoning that that portion of the Property was used for charitable purposes. The City of Coatesville appealed that decision to the Court of Common Pleas. Six days later, the Coatesville Area School District, another taxing authority encompassing the Property, lodged its own appeal, also challenging the Property’s partially-tax-exempt status. The School District also intervened in the City's case. Ultimately, the trial court affirmed the Board's grant of a partial exemption. Both the City and the School District appealed to the Commonwealth Court, and Taxpayer cross-appealed as to each, seeking fully-exempt status for the Property. In a memorandum decision, the Commonwealth Court vacated and remanded to the trial court for more specific findings to support the partial tax exemption. On remand, the trial court set forth particularized findings and conclusions, and re-affirmed its earlier decision assessing the Property. At this juncture, the City elected not to appeal to the Commonwealth Court. The School District appealed the ruling in its own case, but it did not appeal the identical, simultaneous ruling which contained the City’s docket number. Taxpayer moved to quash the School District’s appeal. The Commonwealth Court granted the motion and dismissed the appeal observing that the common pleas court’s ruling in the City’s case became final after no party appealed it. Because the School District had intervened in that matter, it was a party to those proceedings. With that premise, the court found that res judicata and collateral estoppel barred it from reaching the merits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that issue preclusion under the rubric of collateral estoppel should not have been applied to defeat the School District’s ability to obtain merits review of its substantive arguments in the intermediate court. The Commonwealth Court's judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for a merits disposition of the consolidated cross-appeals. View "In Re: Appeal of Coatesville Area Sch Dist" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”)’s petition seeking review of a Commonwealth Court holding that a de facto taking of an unmined coal estate, owned by Penn Pocahontas and leased to PBS Coals, Inc. (collectively “the Coal Companies”), occurred under the Eminent Domain Code, 26 Pa.C.S. sections 101-1106 (“Code”), when PennDOT’s construction of Highway 219 on an adjoining parcel destroyed options for constructing rights-of-ways to the coal estate’s surface. In reaching that conclusion, the Commonwealth Court held that the feasibility of mining the coal, as measured by the probability of obtaining a legally required permit from the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), was relevant only to damages. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision, agreeing with PennDOT that the legality of extracting the coal went directly to the trial court’s duty to determine whether a taking occurred. Furthermore, the Court held the Commonwealth Court erred by failing to remand the case for consideration of whether consequential damages are available to the Coal Companies. The matter was remanded to the Commonwealth Court with instructions to remand to the trial court with respect to the Coal Companies’ consequential damages claim. View "PBS Coals, et al v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

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For many years, Lamar Advantage GP Co. displayed an electronic advertisement on a billboard perched atop Mount Washington, which overlooked downtown Pittsburgh. In 2016, Lamar ratcheted a static, vinyl sign over the electronic advertisement and the underlying structure. Believing that this action “enlarged” or “replaced” the sign, the City of Pittsburgh cited Lamar for breaching the City’s Zoning Code. Pittsburgh’s Zoning Board of Adjustment upheld the citation, agreeing with the City that Lamar’s actions enlarged or replaced the sign. On appeal, the Court of Common Pleas reversed the Board. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the lower court. Both courts held that the Board’s conclusion was unsupported by the record. After its review of the case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concurred with the common pleas and Commonwealth courts: the record here did not support the Board's legal conclusion that by draping the vinyl static sign over the existing electronic sign and sign structure, Lamar violated the zoning code. View "Lamar Advantage v. City of Pgh ZBA, et al." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim. Plaintiffs, employees of a nonprofit, suspected that their employer was committing fraud and alleged that they were terminated based on their attempt to uncover the fraud. However, in this case, the employees never had reason to believe that their employer made any false claims to the federal government. Therefore, without any reason to believe that their employer had filed a false claim against the government, they did not have any reason to believe that they were investigating a FCA violation, rather than a garden-variety fraud. The court explained that the employees may well have acted in good faith to attempt to uncover what they feared were shady practices, but the FCA is not a general anti-fraud statute. View "Hickman v. Spirit of Athens, Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

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After VA Medical Center selected Metro Health's bid on the condition that Metro Health could obtain a permit from the City to operate emergency medical services (EMS) vehicles, the City refused to grant Metro Health a permit. Metro Health then filed suit against the City and RAA, alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case with prejudice, agreeing with the district court that defendants were entitled to immunity from federal antitrust liability where they acted pursuant to a clearly articulated state policy. Furthermore, federal law does not preempt their actions. The court rejected Metro Health's contention that by thwarting the VA Medical Center's competitive bidding process, the City and RAA have violated the Supremacy Clause. The court explained that, where, as here, a federal agency, of its own volition, imposes a contract condition consistent with federal law, the Supremacy Clause is not implicated. View "Western Star Hospital Authority, Inc. v. City of Richmond" on Justia Law

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Mouton-Miller worked for the Postal Service as an Audit Manager. Her position was classified as GG-0511-14, step 8, with a salary of $128,081. In 2017, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General hired Mouton-Miller for the position of Supervisory Auditor, classified as GS-0511-14, step 8, with an initial pay rate of $142,367. There was no break between her Postal Service employment and her Homeland Security employment. Mouton-Miller’s Homeland Security position was subject to a one-year supervisory probationary period before becoming final. In March 2018, less than one year after beginning her position, Mouton-Miller received notice that she had “performed unsatisfactorily.” She was reassigned to the nonsupervisory position of Communications Analyst, GS-0301-14, step 7, with a $129,937 salary.The Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed Mouton-Miller’s appeal, determining that it lacked jurisdiction because the challenged agency action was excluded from the Board’s jurisdiction by 5 U.S.C. 7512(C). The Federal Circuit affirmed. For Mouton-Miller’s demotion to be an agency action subject to Board review, she must have completed the probationary period referred to in 5 U.S.C. 3312(a)(2). Mouton-Miller spent less than one year in her supervisory position at Homeland Security and her previous role at the Postal Service was in the excepted service; she has not satisfied the required supervisory probationary period. View "Mouton-Miller v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE Rule), 84 Fed. Reg. 32,520, repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan as a means of regulating power plants’ emissions of greenhouse gases. The Clean Power Plan was an Obama-era standard that set the first limits for climate change pollution from existing power plants. The EPA considered its authority under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7401, 7411 to be confined to physical changes to the power plants themselves. The ACE Rule determined a new system of emission reduction for coal-fired power plants only and left unaddressed greenhouse gas emissions from other types of fossil-fuel-fired power plants, such as those fired by natural gas or oil. Several groups challenged the action.The D.C. Circuit vacated the ACE Rule, which expressly rests on the incorrect conclusion that the plain statutory text foreclosed the Clean Power Plan so that complete repeal was “the only permissible interpretation of the scope of the EPA’s authority” under section 7411. The error prevented full consideration of the statutory question and of measures other than those that apply at and to the individual source. The ACE Rule’s amendment of the regulatory framework to slow the process for the reduction of emissions is arbitrary and capricious. View "American Lung Association v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Elmer Branch brought a putative class action against his employer, defendant Cream-O-Land Dairy, on behalf of himself and similarly situated truck drivers employed by defendant, for payment of overtime wages pursuant to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL). The WHL created an exemption from an overtime compensation requirement for employees of a “trucking industry employer.” In response to plaintiff’s argument that defendant failed to pay truck drivers as mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(b)(1), defendant argued that it was exempt from that provision as a trucking industry employer under N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f). Defendant also asserted that it was entitled to invoke the absolute defense set forth in N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2 because it had relied in good faith on three matters in which the Department had investigated its operations and concluded that it was a “trucking industry employer.” The trial court viewed those decisions to satisfy N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2’s standard for the good-faith defense and granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that none of the determinations on which defendant relied met the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Appellate Division also rejected defendant’s invocation of a 2006 Opinion Letter by the Director of the Division that for certain employees of trucking industry employers, N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 “establishes their overtime rate at 1 1/2 times the minimum wage” because defendant did not represent that it had relied on that letter when it determined its overtime compensation. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that none of the decisions identified by defendant satisfied the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Court acknowledged, however, the dilemma faced by an employer such as defendant, which repeatedly prevailed in overtime disputes before subordinate Department employees but was unable to seek a ruling from the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (Commissioner) because each of those disputes was resolved without further review. This matter was remanded to the trial court for consideration of defendant’s argument that it was a trucking-industry employer within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f), and for determination of whether defendant complied with the applicable WHL overtime standards in compensating its employees. View "Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy" on Justia Law