Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

by
In 2016, the FRA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing a national minimum requirement of two crew members for trains. In 2019, the FRA issued an order purporting to adopt a nationwide maximum one-person crew rule and to preempt "any state laws concerning that subject matter." Two Unions and three states petitioned for review of the Order under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Unions' petition because venue was not proper under 28 U.S.C. 2343. The panel explained that the Unions' principal officers were not in the Ninth Circuit. The panel concluded that it had jurisdiction over the States' petitions because they were sufficiently aggrieved to invoke jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 2344. On the merits, the panel held that the FRA's Order does not implicitly preempt state safety rules, that the FRA failed to comply with the APA's notice-and-comment provisions in issuing the Order, and that the order is arbitrary and capricious. The panel explained that the Order's basis for its action did not withstand scrutiny, and the FRA's contemporaneous explanation was lacking. In this case, the States met their burden of showing that the issuance of the Order violated the APA. Accordingly, the panel dismissed the petition for review but granted the States' petitions, vacating the Order. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit vacated the order of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirming the determination of an immigration judge (IJ) that Petitioners, a husband and wife who were natives and citizens of Brazil, were not eligible for an adjustment of status pursuant to the "grandfathering" provisions of section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), holding that the BIA and IJ did not appropriately focus their inquiry.On appeal, Petitioners argued that the BIA applied incorrect standards in determining that a labor certification application (LCA) filed on behalf of the petitioner husband was not "approvable when filed" and erred in denying their motion to remand. The First Circuit held (1) determining whether an LCA is approvable when filed requires a holistic inquiry that is not a license to deny grandfathering based on any perceived shortcoming in an LCA; and (2) the IJ and BIA did not keep their focus on that inquiry in the course of their evaluation of the petitioner's LCA. View "Oliveira v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law

by
Sweeney bought the 39-acre Point Buckler Site, located in Suisun Marsh in the San Francisco Bay's Grizzly Bay, which apparently was previously operated as a managed wetland for duck hunting. Sweeney undertook unpermitted construction and development, including restoring an exterior levee and opening a private recreational area for kiteboarding. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) inspected the Site, noting the unauthorized work and multiple violations; the levee construction work had removed tidal flow to the Site’s interior and dried out tidal marsh areas. BCDC concluded the Site never functioned as a managed wetland and had long reverted to a tidal marsh. Sweeney was directed to stop work and informed that a marsh development permit was required to develop the Site; BCDC indicated that any work that could not be retroactively approved would need to be removed.The Regional Water Quality Control Board commenced separate proceedings, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. BCDC staff observed that additional work had been performed since the earlier inspection. The Board issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO), imposed administrative civil liabilities and required payment of approximately $2.8 million in penalties. The superior court set aside those orders.The court of appeal reversed. In issuing the CAO, the Board did not violate the requirements of Water Code section 13627; the CAO satisfied the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act criteria for enforcement actions and did not conflict with the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act. The court rejected arguments that the definition of waste cannot include earthen material, that the activities did not constitute “discharges,” and that any discharges were not into “waters of the state.” View "Sweeney v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented was one of first impression for the Court of Appeal: whether a licensee can rebut an Evidence Code presumption that chemical blood tests were properly conducted, and the results are thus reliable. Plaintiff William Lee Gerwig crashed into the back of another vehicle at an intersection. He was thrown from his motorcycle and landed on the asphalt. California Highway Patrol Officer Jacob Rebelo responded to the scene and spoke with Gerwig while he was receiving medical attention. Based on his lethargic responses, the smell of alcohol, and his inability to recall the collision details, Rebelo suspected Gerwig was intoxicated. Rebelo arrested Gerwig for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), and watched while state-certified phlebotomist Francisco Moreno collected two vials of blood using a nonalcoholic swab to clean the site. Rebelo took the vials himself and entered them into evidence. Test results from Gerwig’s blood draw showed a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .25 percent. At the Department of Motor Vehicle hearing, Gerwig’s counsel called an employee of Specimen Specialists of America, Inc. (SSI), the company that dispatched phlebotomist Moreno to draw Gerwig’s blood. Through the employee’s testimony, counsel demonstrated that certain SSI procedures were out of compliance with state regulations that govern blood test procedures. In particular, Moreno was functionally unsupervised and the manual that SSI provided for phlebotomists had not been approved by a physician and surgeon. After eliciting testimony to demonstrate these procedural failings, counsel argued that the test results could not be relied on due to SSI’s regulatory violations. The Court of Appeal concluded that licensees rebut the Evidence Code presumption only when they cast doubt on the integrity of the test. "It is not enough to show a violation of governing regulations that has only a tenuous connection to the accuracy of the results. Here, because plaintiff proved a regulatory violation with only an indirect and speculative relationship to the manner in which the blood test was conducted, and thus the reliability of the test results," the Court affirmed the order denying mandamus relief. View "Gerwig v. Gordon" on Justia Law

by
Chris and Suzanne Moore, as parents and next friends of Sydney Moore, a minor, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Pamela Tyson and Jennifer Douthit, two employees of the Huntsville City Board of Education ("the Board"), with regard to negligence and wantonness claims asserted against Tyson and Douthit by the Moores arising from injuries suffered by Sydney at her elementary school. Tyson was employed by the Board as a teacher at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary School. Douthit was employed as the principal of the school. Sydney was enrolled at the school as a third-grade student in Tyson's class. Tyson left the students unsupervised in the classroom while she went to the restroom. During that time, Sydney and another student in the class left their seats, and, according to Sydney, the other student caused her to fall and hit her head and face on a counter in the classroom. Sydney suffered injuries from her fall, including fractures of her left orbital bone, her eye socket, and her nose and entrapment of her eye. Sydney was admitted for treatment at a hospital and underwent surgery as a result of the injuries. THe Alabama Supreme Court determined the Moores did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Tyson and Douthit based on immunity. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Moore v. Tyson" on Justia Law

by
The DC Circuit denied a petition for review brought by three electrical transmission companies (Transcos), subsidiaries of the same parent company, challenging FERC's decision to reduce the enhanced return on equity FERC had previously authorized them to collect from ratepayers due to their status as standalone transmission companies.The court rejected ITC's contention that FERC arbitrarily and capriciously departed from precedent establishing a particular methodology to assess Transco independence. The court explained that FERC, consistent with its stated intent in Order No. 679, never established any definitive methodology, let alone the one ITC claims it did. In this case, FERC has consistently applied a case-by-case approach to determining Transco independence, considering ownership and business structure as part of that inquiry since it first granted a Transco adder in 2003. When the adder was codified in 2006, Order No. 679 built on prior practice by identifying certain criteria that ITC now mistakenly claims constitute "a new corporate-structure test." The court also rejected ITC's contention that FERC exceeded its statutory authority by reducing ITC's Transco adders without first finding the adders to be unjust and unreasonable. Rather, the court concluded that there was substantial evidence to support FERC’s finding that the merger had reduced ITC's independence, thereby rendering the existing adders unjust and unreasonable. View "International Transmission Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from an Idaho Industrial Commission determination denying an application for unemployment benefits. William Wittkopf appealed pro se the Commission’s determination that he was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he voluntarily quit his job without good cause and he willfully made a false statement or willfully failed to report a material fact in his unemployment application. On appeal, Wittkopf challenged the factual findings made by the Commission and argued it violated his right to due process by taking into consideration the fact that he voluntarily terminated his employment approximately two and a half years prior to applying for unemployment benefits. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded: (1) Wittkopf failed to provide a cogent argument on appeal regarding whether his right to due process was violated; (2) the Commission’s determination that Wittkopf voluntarily terminated his employment at Stewart’s Firefighter without good cause and without exhausting all reasonable alternatives was supported by substantial and competent evidence; and (3) the Commission’s determination that Wittkopf willfully made a false statement or willfully failed to report a material fact in order to obtain benefits was supported by substantial and competent evidence. Accordingly, the Commission’s decision and order denying Wittkopf’s application for unemployment benefits was affirmed. View "Wittkopf v. Stewart's Firefighter Food Catering, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellants' motion to intervene in the underlying suit involving a challenge to the U.S. Department of Education's recent promulgation of a challenged regulation, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion to intervene.The regulation at issue sets the standard for actionable sexual harassment for administrative enforcement of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and provides additional procedural protections to students who have been accused of sexual harassment. Appellants - the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Independent Women's Law Center, and Speech First, Inc. - moved to intervene. The district court denied the motion, finding that Appellants had failed to show that the government would not adequately protect their rights. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying intervention. View "Victim Rights Law Center v. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education" on Justia Law

by
Chris Oden appealed a district court order vacating a transcribed Missouri foreign judgment. Oden argued: (1) vacating the transcribed Missouri judgment violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution; (2) the court erred in relying on a decision issued between the parties in prior litigation because that decision was barred by administrative res judicata as the result of Oden’s Missouri workers compensation claim; and (3) the court erred by affording a prior judgment res judicata effect while that case was pending on appeal. In May 2010, Oden was injured in Missouri while employed by Minot Builders Supply. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) accepted the claim and awarded benefits for Oden’s injuries. In May 2013, Oden filed a claim for compensation in Missouri for the same work-related injury. In October 2013, WSI suspended payment of further benefits on Oden’s claim after Oden claimed benefits Missouri. Subsequent to Oden settling his Missouri workers compensation claim, WSI sent Oden notice that the prior North Dakota workers compensation award was being reversed because Oden’s receipt of benefits in Missouri. WSI provided notice to Oden his workers compensation benefits were being denied, informed Oden he would need to reimburse WSI, and informed Oden he had thirty days to request reconsideration. Oden did not request reconsideration of WSI’s decision. In July 2018, WSI commenced an action in North Dakota against Oden seeking reimbursement for previous payments made to Oden. The district court in the Burleigh County case granted summary judgment in favor of WSI and awarded WSI the full amount paid to Oden, plus accruing interest, costs, and disbursements. Oden argued in the North Dakota case that WSI was bound by the Missouri workers compensation settlement because the settlement agreement included a signature of an attorney purportedly acting on behalf of WSI. The court determined WSI could not be bound by the Missouri agreement because WSI was not a party to the settlement, and there was no evidence to support a finding that the attorney who purportedly signed on behalf of WSI had any authority to represent WSI or act as WSI’s agent. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Oden v. Minot Builders Supply, et al." on Justia Law

by
At a Michigan gun show, Turaani attempted to buy a gun. When the dealer ran Turaani’s name through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, he received a “delay” response, requiring the dealer to wait three days before completing the sale. The next day, FBI agent Chambers visited the dealer to see what information Turaani had provided and explained that “we have a problem with the company” Turaani “keeps.”. He showed photographs of Turaani with another person of apparent Middle Eastern descent, whom the dealer did not recognize. Days later, Turaani contacted the dealer, who reported the visit from the FBI. While he “technically could sell the gun,” the dealer stated that he was “no longer comfortable doing so.” Turaani sued the FBI's Director, Chambers, and the director of the Terrorist Screening Database, citing the Privacy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the stigma-plus doctrine, and 42 U.S.C. 1981.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case for lack of standing. Turaani focused on his “right to obtain a weapon” and the direct and indirect injuries that flowed from the dealer’s decision not to sell him one but the dealer’s decision not to sell the gun was an independent choice that the government did not require. Turaani failed to show that his injury was traceable to the FBI’s actions. There was no coercion; making an inquiry, and passing along ambiguous information, “is a distant cry from forcing action.” View "Turaani v. Wray" on Justia Law