Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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A tax-sharing agreement between the County of San Benito and the City of Hollister requires the city to pay the county a fixed fee (Additional Amount) per residential unit constructed on land annexed into the city from the county during the period covered by that agreement. Plaintiff’s predecessor entered into an annexation agreement with the city, agreeing to comply with “all applicable provisions” of that tax sharing agreement. When the plaintiff purchased the annexed land and sought to develop it into subdivisions, the city informed the plaintiff that it was liable for the Additional Amount fees. Plaintiff paid the fees under protest, then sued, seeking a declaration of its rights and duties under various written instruments.The court of appeal affirmed a defense judgment. Plaintiff is contractually liable for the Additional Amount by the terms of the annexation agreement. Any challenge to the calculation of the Additional Amount is beyond the scope of a declaratory relief action and time-barred. The court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that neither the annexation agreement nor the tax sharing agreement requires the plaintiff to pay the Additional Amount and that the fees violate the Mitigation Fee Act and federal constitutional constraints on development fees as monetary exactions. View "BMC Promise Way, LLC v. County of San Benito" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted the Texas Attorney General a stay pending appeal of the permanent injunction that bars him from enforcing Texas Governor Greg Abbott's Executive Order GA-38, which prohibits local governmental entities from imposing mask mandates.After determining that plaintiffs have likely failed to demonstrate standing, the court concluded that the Attorney General has demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits as a matter of law. In this case, the district court lacked jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims where plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Furthermore, even if a failure to exhaust remedies does not bar plaintiffs' claims, plaintiffs likely failed to make out a prima facie case under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act. The court explained that, given the availability of vaccines, voluntary masking, and other possible accommodations, the record before the court likely does not support the conclusion that a mask mandate would be both necessary and obvious under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The court also held that it was likely erroneous for the district court to hold that GA-38 was preempted by either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. To the extent that it is even properly before the court, the court did not read the American Rescue Plan Act to preempt GA-38's prohibition of local mask mandates, as the district court did. The court further concluded that, assuming plaintiffs' claims are otherwise viable, at a minimum, the district court's blanket injunction prohibiting the enforcement of GA-38 in all public schools across the State of Texas is overbroad. Finally, the court concluded that the Attorney General has demonstrated the prospect of irreparable injury absent a stay; has shown that maintaining the status quo ante pending appeal will not risk substantial injury to plaintiffs; and that the public interest favors a stay. View "E.T. v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged a surcharge that Long Beach imposes on its water and sewer customers by embedding the surcharge in the rates the Water Department charges for service. The surcharge funds are transferred from the Water Department to the city’s general fund, to be used for unrestricted general revenue purposes. The surcharge was approved by a majority of the city’s voters under California Constitution article XIII C. The plaintiffs argued that notwithstanding majority voter approval, the surcharge violates article XIII D, which prohibits a local agency from assessing a fee or charge “upon any parcel of property or upon any person as an incident of property ownership” unless the fee or charge satisfies enumerated requirements the city acknowledges were not met.The trial court found the surcharge unconstitutional and invalid. The court of appeal affirmed the judgment and an award of attorney fees. Because the surcharge qualifies as a “levy other than an ad valorem tax, a special tax, or an assessment, imposed by an agency upon a parcel or upon a person as an incident of property ownership, including a user fee or charge for a property related service,” it satisfies the definition of “fee” or “charge” in article XIII D and must comply with article XIII D, section 6(b)’s requirements regardless of voter approval. View "Lejins v. City of Long Beach" on Justia Law

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An Angel Brothers construction crew was installing a drainage pipe alongside a road. For two days, the crew had adequate protection from cave-ins. On day three, the work was too close to the street to continue with “benching” the walls of the excavation. Angel’s safety manager told foreman Vidal to use a trench box, which is placed in the ditch and has walls that guard against cave-ins. Vidal did not follow those instructions. Vidal admitted that he allowed Fonseca to work without the trench box because Fonseca would only need to spend 10-15 minutes inside the excavation; installing the trench box would have blocked the adjoining intersection and taken more time. Vidal and another employee stood by while Fonseca worked in the trench.An OSHA Compliance Officer happened to visit the worksite and issued a citation for violating the requirement that “[e]ach employee in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system,” 29 C.F.R. 1926.652(a)(1). An ALJ assessed a $35,000 penalty. The Commission affirmed, reasoning that Vidal’s knowledge as a supervisor flowed to the company, that the company did not prove that it effectively enforced safety rules or disciplined employees for safety violations, and that the conduct was willful. The Fifth Circuit upheld the findings. Imputing the supervisor’s knowledge of the safety violation to the employer is appropriate in this situation under basic agency principles. View "Angel Brothers Enterprises, Ltd. v. Walsh" on Justia Law

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Chavez-Cortez filed a representative cause of action under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA, Lab. Code 2698), seeking civil penalties for wage-and-hour violations. The suit was dismissed for failure to satisfy the requirement of notice to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). Relying on precedent (Khan), the defendants argued that the notice provided did not inform the LWDA “of the claims of any other alleged similarly situated but unidentified individuals” or that Chavez-Cortez “intended to pursue this matter on behalf of these unnamed individuals.”The court of appeal reversed. The notice at issue in Khan differs substantially from plaintiffs’ notice; here, the plaintiffs’ notice alerted the agency and defendants to ongoing Labor Code violations that were not by nature isolated or unique to plaintiffs. The notice was not deficient for failing to reference other aggrieved employees implicated by the representative action. Plaintiffs’ letter provided fair notice to the agency of representative claims for meal breaks, rest breaks, and overtime violations. View "Santos v. El Guapos Tacos, LLC" on Justia Law

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Clendening sued the government for her husband’s wrongful death allegedly caused by his exposure to contaminated water and environmental toxins while stationed at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Her complaint also asserted claims for subsequent fraudulent concealment and failure to warn relevant personnel of the severity, scope, and impact of said exposure.The district court dismissed all claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The wrongful death claims are barred under the “Feres” doctrine and the failure-to-warn claims are barred under the Federal Torts Claims Act’s “discretionary function” exception, 28 U.S.C. 2680(a). The exposure cited as the cause of Clendening’s death stemmed from the relationship between Clendening and his military service; the military’s provision of water and accommodations to its troops is clearly activity incident to service. While the failure-to-warn claim is not barred by Feres, the government had no mandatory duty to warn Clendening of his exposure after the fact. The “challenged conduct is the product of judgment or choice,” and involved a decision “based on considerations of public policy.” View "Clendening v. United States" on Justia Law

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Appellants John Tos et al. (Tos parties) appealed a trial court's a judgment that section 2704.78 of the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Train Bond Act for the 21st Century (Bond Act) (Sts. & Hy. Code, section 2704 et seq.) did not violate the state debt provision of the California Constitution set forth in article XVI, section 1. Subdivision (d) of section 2704.08 of the Bond Act, approved by the voters in 2008 as Proposition 1A, required an independent financial report indicating, among other things, that each corridor or segment of a corridor of the high-speed train system, if completed according to a “detailed funding plan,” would be “suitable and ready for high-speed train operation.” The Tos parties contended the meaning of “suitable and ready for high-speed train operation” set forth in section 2704.78 (a), constituted an implied partial repeal of the Bond Act in violation of section 1 of article XVI of the California Constitution. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: "The 'single object or work' of the Bond Act was (1) the initial planning and construction of a high-speed train system under (2) a 'mandatory multistep process to ensure the financial viability of the project,' which we described in California High- Speed Rail Authority v. Superior Court (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 676 (Rail Authority). ... The multistep planning and review process in section 2704.08, subdivision (d), remained intact." The judgment was thus, affirmed. View "Tos, et al. v. California" on Justia Law

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In this case involving the method for determining an apartment tenant's utility bill, the Court of Appeals held that the approval requirements stated in Md. Code Pub. Util. (PU) 7-304 are applicable to all energy allocation systems in apartment houses, regardless of the construction date of the building.A federal district court issued a certified question of law in the context of a putative class action lawsuit brought by Plaintiff, on behalf of residential apartment tenants, against a residential utility billing services company working on behalf of Maryland landlords. The federal district court asked the Court of Appeals to determine whether, for apartment houses built prior to 1978, methods of energy allocation determining the billable amount of electricity or gas by means other that by the actual measurement of consumption of the individual unit are subject to the approval of the Public Service Commission, as set forth in PU 7-304. The Court of Appeals held that allocation of energy costs solely computed on the basis of square footage computations and pro rata assessments, as well as added rental components, are exempt from the approval requirements set forth PU 7-304. View "Moore v. RealPage Utility Management" on Justia Law

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BuzzFeed, a media outlet, sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, seeking disclosure of an unredacted version of the report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The district court permitted most of DOJ’s redactions. BuzzFeed challenged the decision only with respect to information redacted pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C), and relating to individuals investigated but not charged. Exemption 7(C) permits the withholding of law enforcement records which, if disclosed, “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”The D.C. Circuit affirmed with respect to redacted passages containing personally-identifying facts about individuals that are not disclosed elsewhere in the Report and would be highly stigmatizing to the individuals’ reputations. The court reversed with respect to redacted passages that primarily show how Special Counsel interpreted relevant law and applied it to already public facts available elsewhere in the Report in reaching individual declination decisions. After in camera review of the Report, the court concluded that those passages show only how the government reached its declination decisions and do not contain new facts or stigmatizing material. Matters of substantive law enforcement policy are properly the subject of public concern” and are “a sufficient reason for disclosure independent of any impropriety.” View "Electronic Privacy Information Center v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Verisign, Inc. claimed large net operating loss deductions on its 2015 and 2016 Delaware income tax returns, which reduced its bill to zero in both years. The Division of Revenue reviewed the returns and found that Verisign’s use of net operating losses violated a longstanding, but non-statutory, Division policy. Under the policy, a corporate taxpayer that filed its federal tax returns with a consolidated group was prohibited from claiming a net operating loss deduction in Delaware that exceeded the consolidated net operating loss deduction on the federal return in which it participated. The Division applied the policy, determined that Verisign had underreported its income, and assessed the company $1.7 million in unpaid taxes and fees. After Verisign’s administrative protest of the assessment was denied, it appealed to the Superior Court. The Superior Court held that the policy violated the Uniformity Clause of Article VIII, section 1 of the Delaware Constitution. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that the Division’s policy was invalid, but it affirmed on alternate grounds: the policy exceeded the authority granted to the Division by the General Assembly in 30 Del. C. sections 1901– 1903. As a result, the Court declined to reach Verisign’s constitutional claims. View "Director of Revenue v. Verisign, Inc." on Justia Law