Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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After a boiler exploded at a refinery, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the refinery’s owner, Wynnewood Refining Co., LLC, for violating 29 C.F.R. section 1910.119, which set forth requirements for the management of highly hazardous chemicals. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (the Commission) upheld the violations, noting that the refinery had previously violated section 1910.119, but the prior violations occurred before Wynnewood LLC owned the refinery, and therefore occurred under a different employer. Accordingly, the Commission did not classify the violations as “repeat[] violations” under 29 U.S.C. 666(a), which permitted increased penalties for “employer[s] who willfully or repeatedly violate[]” the regulation. Wynnewood appealed the Commission’s order, arguing that section 1910.119 did not apply to the boiler that exploded. The Tenth Circuit found section 1910.119’s plain text unambiguously applied to the boiler, and affirmed that portion of the Commission’s order upholding the violations. The U.S. Secretary of Labor also appealed the Commission's order, arguing the Commission erred by failing to characterize the violations as repeat violations. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed Wynnewood was not the same employer as the refinery's previous owner, thus affirming that portion of the Commission's order relating to the repeat violations. View "Scalia v. Wynnewood Refining" on Justia Law

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SFM owns the federal registration for SPROUTS for use in connection with grocery store services. The SPROUTS mark was first used in commerce not later than April 2002. Corcamore owns a federal trademark registration for SPROUT for use in connection with vending machine services, claiming a first use date of May 2008. Corcamore’s SPROUT mark is used on a cashless payment card, an associated customer loyalty program, and a website for customers.SFM filed a petition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel Corcamore’s registration. Corcamore argued that SFM lacked standing. The Board determined that the Supreme Court’s Lexmark decision was not applicable; Lexmark was limited to civil actions for false advertising (15 U.S.C. 1125(a)) and does not extend to cancellation of registered marks (section 1064). The court concluded that SFM had standing because it sufficiently alleged a real interest in the proceeding and a reasonable belief of damage. Corcamore informed SFM’s counsel that it would bring “procedural maneuvers,” then proceeded to file motions in violation of Board orders, to refuse to cooperate with discovery, and to disregard Board-imposed sanctions.The Board granted SFM default judgment, citing 37 C.F.R. 2.120(h) and its inherent authority to control its docket. The Board concluded that a lesser sanction would be inappropriate because Corcamore had already violated sanctions and had engaged in willful, bad-faith tactics, consistent with its “procedural maneuvers” letter, taxing Board resources. The Federal Circuit affirmed. SFM was entitled to maintain a petition for cancellation of trademark registrations. The Board did not abuse its discretion in imposing default judgment. View "Corcamore, LLC v. SFM, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to force the government to abide by procedural protections before debarring plaintiffs under 22 C.F.R. 127.7 from engaging in their business. Plaintiffs are exporters and resellers of United States armaments. Specifically, plaintiffs claim that they have been completely prohibited from engaging in all International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and Arms Export Control Act (AECA) activities without being afforded the requisite procedural protections.The panel held that plaintiffs have insufficiently pleaded facts and submitted evidence to support their assertion that they have been de facto debarred. In this case, the entirety of plaintiffs' action, including its request for a preliminary injunction, rests on two presuppositions—that they have been de facto debarred and that the DDTC has improperly imposed a presumption of denial on their license applications. However, plaintiffs have not sufficiently established that either of these things happened. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. View "Thorne v. United States Department of State" on Justia Law

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In this workers' compensation action, the Court of Appeals held that the Workers' Compensation Commission did not err in calculating the deduction of decibels from Claimants' total average hearing losses under Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. (LE) 9-650(b)(3) by counting the number of years between each firefighter's fiftieth birthday and the dates that they each retired from employment with Montgomery County, Maryland.Anthony Cochran and Andrew Bowen, former firefighters, developed hearing loss, and Bowen also developed tinnitus. Both men filed a claim under LE 9-505. The Commission awarded compensation to both claimants, finding that each had sustained hearing loss arising in and out of the course of their employment and that Bowen had sustained tinnitus arising in and out of the course of his employment. The Court of Special Appeals held that the Commission correctly calculated the deduction set forth in LE 9-650(b)(3) but erred in awarding permanent partial disability benefits to Bowen for tinnitus. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the Commission properly calculated the deduction set forth in LE 9-650(b)(3) by counting the number of years between each man's fiftieth birthday and the date of retirement; and (2) the Court of Special Appeals erred in reversing the Commission's decision as to tinnitus. View "Montgomery County v. Cochran & Bowen" on Justia Law

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kathleen Carroll sued her former employer, defendant California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission), for terminating her employment in retaliation for her reporting Commission mismanagement to the state auditor. Prior to bringing this action, plaintiff appealed her termination to the State Personnel Board (Board), claiming the Commission fired her in retaliation for her whistleblower activities. She also filed a separate whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Board. The Board denied her claims. After the Commission removed the matter to federal court, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claim and remanded the matter to state court. A jury found for plaintiff and awarded her substantial damages. The Commission appealed, contending: (1) the district court’s judgment was res judicata as to this action; (2) the Board’s decisions collaterally estopped this action; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in evidentiary matters by (a) permitting plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and asking the jury to draw negative inferences from the Commission’s exercise of the attorney-client privilege, (b) denying the admission of the Board’s findings and decisions, (c) denying the admission of after-acquired evidence, and (d) denying the admission of evidence mitigating plaintiff’s emotional distress; and (4) the damages award was unlawful in numerous respects. Although the district court’s judgment was not res judicata and the Board’s decisions did not collaterally estop this action, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the trial court committed prejudicial error when it allowed plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and ask the jury to draw negative inferences from the defendants’ exercise of the attorney-client privilege and did not timely instruct the jury with the mandatory curative instruction provided in Evidence Code section 913. Because judgment was reversed on this ground, the Court did not address the Commission’s other claims of error. View "Carroll v. Commission on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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The Jefferson County, Alabama Board of Education ("the Board") and several of its employees sought to avoid the application of an occupational tax imposed by the City of Irondale ("City"). The Board and its employees argued that public-school employees were exempt from the occupational tax because, they contended they provided an essential government service. "But the importance of a state employee's role, even a role as important as a public-school employee, does not remove that employee's obligation to pay a duly owed occupational tax." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City. View "Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court dismissing an employee's gross negligence claim against a coemployee, holding that settlement documents submitted to and approved by the workers' compensation commissioner extinguished the employee's gross negligence claim.Plaintiff, an employee of Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI) was attacked by one of LSI's clients, causing injuries. Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim against LSI and its workers' compensation carrier. The parties settled, and the two settlement documents were approved by the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently filed a petition in district court seeking to recover damages from Defendant, Plaintiff's supervisor when he worked at LSI, on a theory of gross negligence. Defendant moved to dismiss the action, relying on release language in the settlement documents. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant on both contract and statutory grounds. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that a settlement with the commissioner did not release a common law claim of gross negligence against a coemployee. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' judgment and affirmed the district court's summary judgment, holding that the district court properly ruled that, as a matter of contract, the language in the terms of settlement extinguished Plaintiff's gross negligence claim. View "Terry v. Dorothy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus to order the Dakota County Sheriff to issue Defendant a permit to carry a firearm, holding that Appellant satisfied all the requirements for a writ of mandamus.In 1998, Appellant was adjudicated delinquent for theft of a motor vehicle. In 2014, the Legislature removed that offense from the definition of "crime of violence" in Minn. Stat. 624.712, subd. 5. In 2017, Appellant applied to the Dakota County Sheriff's Office for a permit to carry a firearm. The Sheriff issued Appellant a permit. When the Sheriff learned of Appellant's 1998 juvenile adjudication, however, he voided Appellant's permit. Appellant petitioned for a writ of mandamus directing the sheriff to issue a permit. The district court denied the petition. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and issued a writ of prohibition, holding that the 2014 amendment applied to Defendant, and therefore, Defendant was entitled to a permit. View "Tapia v. Leslie" on Justia Law

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Epstein, an optometrist, entered into a VSP “Network Doctor Agreement.” VSP audited of Epstein’s claims for reimbursement, concluded he was knowingly purchasing lenses from an unapproved supplier, and terminated the provider agreement. The agreement included a two-step dispute resolution procedure: the “Fair Hearing” step provided for an internal “VSP Peer Review.” If the dispute remained unresolved, the agreement required binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), under procedures set forth in the policy. A “Fair Hearing” panel upheld the termination.Instead of invoking the arbitration provision, Epstein filed an administrative mandamus proceeding, alleging the second step of the process was contrary to California law requiring certain network provider contracts to include a procedure for prompt resolution of disputes and expressly stating arbitration “shall not be deemed” such a mechanism. (28 Cal. Code Regs 1300.71.38.) He claimed that state law was not preempted by the FAA, citing the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which generally exempts from federal law, state laws enacted to regulate the business of insurance.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those challenges. State regulatory law requiring certain network provider agreements to include a dispute resolution process that is not arbitration pertains only to the first step of the dispute resolution process and does not foreclose the parties from agreeing to arbitration in lieu of subsequent judicial review. While the arbitration provision is procedurally unconscionable in minor respects, Epstein failed to establish that it is substantively unconscionable. View "Epstein v. Vision Service Plan" on Justia Law