Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

by
Petitioner Shaun Smith filed, as an indigent defendant representing himself in propria persona (pro. per.) in a pending criminal action, a petition for writ of mandate, prohibition, or other appropriate relief against respondent Sacramento County Superior Court, challenging respondent’s policies and procedures pertaining to pro. per. defendants then in effect. Central to petitioner’s grievance were the duties the court assigned to the pro. per. coordinator -- an individual hired and supervised by, and subject to the control and direction of, Sacramento County (the county). The court revised its policies and procedures pertaining to pro. per. defendants in response to a Court of Appeal order to show cause. The revisions did not quell petitioner’s concerns pertaining to the pro. per. coordinator’s role in the disposition of investigative and ancillary defense services requests and the review of subpoenas. Considering the nature of those duties delegated to the pro. per. coordinator, as provided in respondent’s revised policies and procedures, the Court of Appeal concluded respondent impermissibly delegated its judicial powers in contravention of the separation of powers clause of the California Constitution. The Court of Appeal thus issued a writ of mandate directing the respondent-trial-court to cease and desist from applying and implementing the pertinent portions of its revised pro. per. policies and procedures, and directed the trial court to revise those policies and procedures in a manner consistent with the Court of Appeal's opinion in this case. View "Smith v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
The DC Circuit granted a petition for review of the EPA's denial of New York's petition challenging the EPA's asserted failure to address cross-border pollution under the Clean Air Act's Good Neighbor Provision, 42 U.S.C. 7410(a)(2)(D)(i). New York petitioned the EPA to find that power-generating and other facilities in nine different States were violating the Good Neighbor Provision by producing emissions that contributed significantly to New York's difficulty attaining or maintaining compliance with the 2008 and 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone. The court held that the EPA offered insufficient reasoning for the convoluted and seemingly unworkable showing it demanded of New York's petition. The court also held that the EPA's finding that New York did not have an air quality problem under the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone relied on two faulty interpretations of the Clean Air Act that have since been invalidated. Accordingly, the court vacated the EPA's decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "New York v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Department of Workforce Services, Unemployment Insurance Commission denying Jesse Gerber unemployment benefits, holding that the Commission correctly determined that Gerber was not eligible for employment benefits. The Commission determined that Gerber had left work voluntarily without good cause and did not qualify for the "returning to approved training" exception in Wyo. Stat. Ann. 27-3-311(a)(i)(B). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Gerber did not meet the conditions of the statutory exception, and therefore, the Commission's decision denying Gerber unemployment benefits conformed with the law. View "Gerber v. State ex rel., Department of Workforce Services" on Justia Law

by
In 1996 Lee murdered an Arkansas family of three in pursuit of funds for a white supremacist organization. Lee was convicted of capital murder in aid of racketeering, 18 U.S.C. 1959(a)(1), and sentenced to death. His execution was scheduled for December 9, 2019, but was stayed by one district judge in connection with Lee’s 28 U.S.C. 2241 habeas petition, and another who was hearing a challenge to the federal execution protocol. In December 2019, the Seventh Circuit vacated the stay in the section 2241 proceeding. The D.C. Circuit vacated the injunction in the execution-protocol case in April 2020. Lee’s execution was rescheduled for July 13. On July 7, family members of the victims sought an injunction; they want to attend the execution although they oppose it. The Warden authorized them to be witnesses, but they object to carrying out the execution during the COVID-19 pandemic. They raise health concerns, citing age, underlying medical conditions, and the need to travel interstate to reach the Terre Haute prison. A district judge issued a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit vacated that injunction, finding the Administrative Procedures Act claim frivolous. The challenged action—setting an execution date—may not be judicially reviewable; the Bureau of Prisons observed the minimal regulatory requirements and has the unconstrained discretion to choose an execution date. In addition, the plaintiffs have no statutory or regulatory right to attend the execution and are not “adversely affected or aggrieved,” 5 U.S.C. 702. View "Peterson v. Barr" on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff was injured while performing work in the Adult Offender Work Program (AOWP), he filed suit against the county for its failure to accommodate his preexisting physical disability and failure to engage in the interactive process under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the county. The court held that an individual sentenced to perform work activities in lieu of incarceration in the absence of any financial remuneration, is precluded, as a matter of law, from being an "employee" within the meaning of the FEHA. The court explained that, while remuneration alone is not a sufficient condition to establish an individual is an employee under the statute, it is an essential one. Because plaintiff earned no sufficient financial remuneration as a result of participation in the AOWP, he could not be deemed an employee under the FEHA. The court did not reach plaintiff's remaining arguments. View "Talley v. County of Fresno" on Justia Law

by
In May 2020, the chairs of the California Assembly and Senate committees that consider election-related matters prepared a formal letter to Governor Gavin Newsom indicating they were working on legislation to ensure Californians could vote by mail in light of the emergency occasioned by COVID-19. The Governor issued Executive Order No. N-64-20 on May 8, 2020, which required all voters to be provided vote-by-mail ballots. That order affirmed, however, that the administration continued to work “in partnership with the Secretary of State and the Legislature on requirements for in-person voting opportunities and how other details of the November election will be implemented” and “[n]othing in this Order is intended, or shall be construed, to limit the enactment of legislation on that subject.” The order was signed on June 3, 2020. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review concerned an order of the Sutter County Superior Court, entered on June 12, 2020, granting a temporary restraining order against the Executive Order, finding it constituted “an impermissible use of legislative powers in violation of the California Constitution and the laws of the State of California.” The Court of Appeal determined there was no basis for the superior court to grant real parties in interest relief using ex parte procedures prescribed by California law. "The hearing on the ex parte application, conducted only one day after the underlying action was filed in superior court, was held without proper notice to the Governor or his appearance. Apart from these procedural deficiencies, real parties in interest also failed to make the requisite substantive showing for use of an ex parte proceeding. In short, the real parties in interest failed to present competent evidence establishing imminent harm from the Governor’s executive order requiring immediate action." View "Newsome v. Superior Court (Gallagher)" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Chancery quashed a subpoena the Department of Finance, acting on behalf of the State Escheator, used to AT&T Inc. in its current form, holding that the State Escheator had the authority to issue the subpoena but that AT&T met its burden to show that the scope of the subpoena was so expansive that enforcement would constitute an abuse. The Escheat Law authorizes the State Escheator to conduct examinations of companies' books and records to determine whether they had complied with statutory requirements of the Escheat Law, 12 Del. C. 1130-1190. When the Department began examining the books and records of AT&T and AT&T refused to produce two categories of information, the Department issued an administrative subpoena for the missing information. AT&T refused to comply and filed a federal action alleging that the State Escheator and two other state officials took actions that violated federal law and the Constitution. The Department responded by bringing this action to enforce the subpoena. AT&T responded with a motion to modify or quash the subpoena. The Court of Chancery quashed the subpoena in its current form, holding that enforcing the subpoena as written would be an abuse of the court's process. View "State, Department of Finance v. AT&T, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Allison Leigh broke her ankle when she slipped and fell in her employer’s icy parking lot. Following surgery she had a complicated recovery. Her employer began to controvert benefits related to the ankle about nine months after the injury. Three years after the injury, her employer requested that she sign a release allowing it to access all of her mental health records for the preceding 19 years because of her pain complaints. Leigh asked for a protective order from the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board. The Board’s designee granted the protective order, and the employer appealed that decision to the Board. A Board panel reversed the designee’s decision. Leigh petitioned the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission for review, but the Commission declined. The Alaska granted Leigh's petition for review and found that the statute permitted an employer to access the mental health records of employees when it was relevant to the claim, even if the employee did not make a claim related to a mental health condition. This matter was remanded back to the Board for further proceedings to consider reasonable limits on the release at issue here. View "Leigh v. Alaska Children's Services" on Justia Law

by
The Bachner Company leased office space to the State of Alaska. The lease stipulated that the State would occupy 15,730 square feet of space but would not have to pay rent on 1,400 square feet of that space during the lease’s initial ten-year term. The lease further specified that if it was extended beyond the initial term the parties would negotiate a rate for the free space and the State would pay for it. Toward the end of the initial term the State exercised its first renewal option and opened negotiations with the company over the free space’s value. The parties retained an expert to value the space, but the State questioned his methods and conclusions. The State also resisted the company’s claim that the State should begin paying rent for additional space, not identified in the lease, that the company contended the State had been occupying. The parties failed to reach agreement, and the State did not pay rent for any of the extra square footage. Eventually the State executed a unilateral amendment to the lease based on the expert’s valuation and, ten months after the end of the lease’s initial term, paid all past-due rent for the formerly free space identified in the lease. The company filed a claim with the Department of Administration, contending that the State had materially breached the lease, the lease was terminated, and the State owed additional rent. A contracting officer rejected the claim, and on appeal an administrative law judge found there was no material breach, the lease had been properly extended, and the company had waived any claim regarding space not identified in the lease. The Commissioner of the Department of Administration adopted the administrative law judge’s findings and conclusions. The superior court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision except with regard to the space not identified in the lease; it directed the company to pursue any such claim in a separate action. Both parties appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the administrative law judge's findings were supported by substantial evidence, and because the lease did not terminate under the Supreme Court's interpretation of it, the Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision except with regard to the company's claim to rent for space not identified in the lease. The Court concluded that, to the extent it sought rent after the end of the initial term, it was not waived by the document on which the administrative law judge relied to find waiver. Only that issue was remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration. View "Bachner Company, Inc. v. Alaska Department of Administration" on Justia Law

by
Office worker Sallyanne Butts (f/k/a Decastro) fell from her chair onto her hands and left knee. She initially suffered left knee symptoms and later developed right knee problems and lower back pain that she alleged arose from the fall. She argued the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board erred when it performed its presumption analysis and when it awarded compensation for her left knee and back for only a limited period of time following the accident. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded: the Board appropriately considered the knee injuries and the back injury as distinct injuries and applied the presumption analysis accordingly; that the Board properly relied on the conflicting medical evidence to make its own legal decision about which of Butts’s conditions were compensable; and that the Board was not required to award compensation for knee replacement surgeries performed five years after the accident. The Court therefore affirmed the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission’s decision affirming the Board. View "Butts v. Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development" on Justia Law