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Plaintiff Dr. Robert Paxton reviewed claims for disability benefits for the Department of Social Services, where he worked. This dispute arose after the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) determined that compensation Paxton received as part of a bonus program would not be considered when calculating his future pension benefit. He appealed a judgment denying his petition for writ of administrative mandamus challenging a decision by the Board of Administration of CalPERS upholding this interpretation. The trial court’s conclusion that the bonuses Paxton earned were for performing additional services outside his regular duties, and thus not appropriate for consideration when calculating his pension benefit, was supported by substantial evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Paxton v. Bd. of Admin., CalPERS" on Justia Law

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An 1868 treaty between the United States and the Crow Tribe promised that in exchange for the Tribe’s territory in modern-day Montana and Wyoming, its members would “have the right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon . . . and peace subsists,” 15 Stat. 650. In 2014, Wyoming charged Herrera with off-season hunting in Bighorn National Forest. The state court held that the treaty right expired upon Wyoming’s statehood and that, in any event, the national forest became categorically "occupied" when it was created. The Supreme Court vacated. Hunting rights under the Treaty did not expire upon Wyoming’s statehood. The crucial inquiry is whether Congress “clearly express[ed]” an intent to abrogate an Indian treaty right or whether a termination point identified in the treaty has been satisfied, The Wyoming Statehood Act does not clearly express an intent to end the Treaty's hunting right. There is no evidence in the Treaty that Congress intended the hunting right to expire at statehood, or that the Tribe would have understood it to do so. Bighorn National Forest did not become categorically “occupied” within the meaning of the Treaty when the national forest was created. Construing the treaty’s terms as “they would naturally be understood by the Indians,” the word “unoccupied” denoted an area free of residence or settlement by non-Indians. Nor would mining and logging of the forest lands before 1897 have caused the Tribe to view the Bighorn Mountains as occupied. The Court clarified that Bighorn National Forest is not categorically occupied, but that not all areas within the forest are necessarily unoccupied and did not address whether Wyoming could regulate the Treaty right “in the interest of conservation.” View "Herrera v. Wyoming" on Justia Law

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Merck’s drug Fosamax treats and prevents osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. When the FDA approved Fosamax in 1995 (21 U.S.C. 355(d)), its label did not warn of the then-speculative risk of atypical femoral fractures associated with the drug. Stronger evidence connecting Fosamax to such fractures developed later. The FDA ordered Merck to add a warning to the Fosamax label in 2011. Individuals who took Fosamax and suffered atypical femoral fractures sued, claiming that state law imposed upon Merck a legal duty to warn. Merck asserted that the FDA would have rejected any attempt to change the label. The district court agreed with Merck’s pre-emption argument and granted Merck summary judgment. The Third Circuit vacated. The Supreme Court remanded. The Third Circuit incorrectly treated the pre-emption question as one of fact. A state-law failure-to-warn claim is pre-empted where there is “clear evidence” that the FDA would not have approved a change to the label. “Clear evidence” shows the court that the manufacturer fully informed the FDA of the justifications for the warning and that the FDA would not approve a label change to include that warning. FDA regulations permit drug manufacturers to change a label to “reflect newly acquired information” if the changes “add or strengthen a . . . warning” for which there is “evidence of a causal association.” The pre-emption question can only be determined by agency actions taken pursuant to the FDA’s congressionally delegated authority. The question of agency disapproval is primarily one of law for a judge to decide. Judges, rather than juries, are better equipped to evaluate an agency’s determination and to understand and interpret agency decisions in the statutory and regulatory context. While contested facts will sometimes prove relevant, they are subsumed within a tightly-circumscribed legal analysis and do not warrant submission to a jury. View "Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the State has waived sovereign immunity under the Georgia Torts Claims Act (“GTCA”), for Thomas McConnell’s tort action; and, (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that McConnell’s complaint failed to state a claim. In September 2012, the Georgia Department of Labor created a spreadsheet containing the name, social security number, home telephone number, email address, and age of 4,757 individuals over the age of 55 in Cherokee, Cobb, and Fulton counties who had applied for unemployment benefits or other services administered by the Department, including McConnell. Almost a year later, a Department employee inadvertently sent an email with the spreadsheet attached to approximately 1,000 recipients without the permission of the individuals whose information was included in the spreadsheet. 2014, McConnell filed a complaint against the Department on behalf of himself and a proposed class of all individuals whose information was contained in the spreadsheet, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts. The complaint alleged that, as a result of the Department’s negligent disclosure of McConnell’s and the other proposed class members’ personal information, they were required to place freezes and alerts with credit reporting agencies, close or modify financial accounts, and closely review and monitor their credit reports and accounts for unauthorized activity. The complaint further alleged that McConnell and others whose information had been disclosed incurred out-of-pocket costs related to credit monitoring and identity protection services and suffered adverse impacts to their credit scores related to the closure of credit accounts. The Department moved to dismiss, ruling that sovereign immunity barred the lawsuit because the GTCA did not waive the State’s immunity for the type of “loss” that McConnell alleged. McConnell appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, pretermitting a decision on sovereign immunity and addressing only the trial court’s ruling that each count of the complaint failed to state a claim. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and affirmed. View "Georgia Department of Labor v. McConnell" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (“EPD”) properly issued a permit to the City of Guyton to build and operate a land application system (“LAS”) that would apply treated wastewater to a tract of land through spray irrigation. Craig Barrow III challenged the issuance of that permit, arguing that, among other things, EPD issued the permit in violation of a water quality standard, Ga. Comp. R. & Regs., r. 391-3-6-.03 (2) (b) (ii) (the “antidegradation rule”), because it failed to determine whether any resulting degradation of water quality in the State waters surrounding the proposed LAS was necessary to accommodate important economic or social development in the area. An administrative law judge rejected Barrow’s argument, finding that the rule required an antidegradation analysis only for point source discharges of pollutants and the LAS at issue was a nonpoint source discharge. The superior court affirmed the administrative ruling. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the plain language of the antidegradation rule required EPD to perform the antidegradation analysis for nonpoint source discharges, and that EPD’s internal guidelines to the contrary did not warrant deference. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this matter to consider what level of deference courts should afford EPD's interpretation of the antidegradation rule, and whether that regulation required an antidegradation analysis for nonpint source discharges. The Court concluded the Court of Appeals was correct that the antidegradation rule was unambiguous: the text and legal context of the regulation showed that an antidegradation analysis was required only for point sources, not nonpoint sources. Therefore, the Court reversed. View "City of Guyton v. Barrow" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Patrick Barber's second appeal in this case raised an issue of first impression for the Court of Appeal's review. Upon remand from Barber’s first appeal (Barber I), defendant-respondent, the California State Personnel Board (SPB), awarded Barber a lump sum back pay award, which resulted in Barber incurring increased income tax liability. SPB denied Barber’s motion for recovery for increased tax liability. The trial court upheld SPB’s decision and denied Barber’s petition for writ of mandamus. Barber appealed the denial of his writ petition and motion for increased tax liability recovery, contending he was entitled to recover damages for incurring increased tax liability because his increased tax liability was caused by real party in interest and respondent, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) improperly terminating his employment. Barber argued awarding him such relief was consistent with the remedial statutory purpose of Government Code section 19584,2 of making an improperly terminated employee whole by restoring the employee to the financial position he or she would otherwise have occupied had employment not been wrongfully interrupted. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding Barber was not entitled to increased tax liability recovery under section 19584 or to such recovery as equitable relief, because such relief was not statutorily authorized. View "Barber v. CA State Personnel Bd." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that the government's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy (and its changes to policies governing the use of information provided by DACA applicants) violates the Fifth Amendment, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and common law principles of estoppel. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiffs' challenges were subject to judicial review and that the government's decision to rescind DACA did not require notice and comment under the APA. However, the court held that the decision violated the APA because—on the administrative record before the court—it was not adequately explained and thus was arbitrary and capricious. The court also held that the district court erred in ordering the government to comply with its policies promulgated in 2012 on the use of information provided by DACA applicants and enjoining it from altering those policies. The court declined, under the doctrine of constitutional avoidance, to decide whether plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment rights were violated. The court also declined to address plaintiffs' remaining arguments. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, dismissed in part, and remanded. View "Casa De Maryland v. DHS" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court affirming the conclusions of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that CPS Energy violated both Tex. Util. Code 54.204(c)'s uniform-charge requirement and section 54.204(b)'s prohibition of discrimination, holding that the PUC could reasonably have concluded, as it did, that CPS Energy violated the plain terms of section 54.204(b). The PUC concluded that a utility that invoices different telecommunications providers a uniform rate nevertheless violates section 54.204(b) if it fails to take timely action to ensure that all pole attachers actually pay the uniform rate it invoices. The court of appeals reversed, holding that if a telecommunications provider does not pay the rate the utility uniformly charges, any discriminatory effect is the telecommunication provider's fault, not the utility's. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the PUC's finding that CPS Energy failed to make any serious or meaningful effort to collect from AT&T Texas was supported by substantial evidence, and the effect on Time Warner Cable was clearly discriminatory. View "Time Warner Cable Texas LLC v. CPS Energy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court upholding the decision of the City of Omaha Zoning Board of Appeals denying Appellants' request for a variance from the requirements of Omaha's zoning code based on a claim of unnecessary hardship, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in upholding the Board's decision. Appellants owned a 4.66-acre parcel of land that was zoned for agricultural use. After the City of Omaha Planning Department concluded that the property was being used for activities not permitted by ordinance in an agricultural district Appellants applied for a variance requesting waiver that would allow them to deviate from zoning requirements. The Board denied Appellants' request for a variance. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that competent evidence supported the district court's findings and its conclusion that Appellants' situation did not warrant a variance under Neb. Rev. Stat. 14-411. View "Bruning v. City of Omaha Zoning Board of Appeals" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing this action filed by a public employee union seeking to enforce a collective bargaining agreement entered into with the Iowa Board of Regents, holding that the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) acted within its statutory authority in promulgating Iowa Admin. Code R. 621-6.5(3), which has the force of law, and that the district court correctly applied rule 621-6.5(3) to hold the parties had no enforceable collective bargaining agreement (CBA) without the Board's vote to ratify it. The Board moved for summary judgment on the union's action to enforce the CBA, relying on rule 621-6.5, which requires the Board to meet to vote to accept a tentative voluntary agreement ratified by the union before the contract becomes effective. The union argued that the agency rule was invalid because it imposed a ratification requirement not included in Iowa Code 20.17(4). The district court upheld the validity of the agency rule and dismissed the union's enforcement action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) rule 621-6.5(3) is valid; and (2) therefore, no enforceable agreement was reached without the requisite vote by the Board to approve the CBA. View "Service Employees International Union, Local 199 v. State" on Justia Law