Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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For decades, the U.S. Virgin Islands Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) experienced annual deficits between its assets and projected liabilities to participants. Its aggregate shortfall is now about three billion dollars. The Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) has sometimes failed to remit to GERS all the employer contributions it is statutorily mandated to make. GERS sued GVI for these contributions, first in 1981, resulting in a consent judgment, and most recently in 2016, when GERS sought to enforce that judgment. GERS claimed that, as far back as 1991, GVI had contributed tens of millions of dollars less than required by the statutory percentages of employee compensation. GERS also claimed that independent of these fixed-percentage contributions, GVI must fund GERS to the point of actuarial soundness.The district court awarded GERS an amount calculated to reflect GVI’s historical percentage-based under-contributions. The Third Circuit affirmed that award of principal but vacated an enhancement of the award that applied late-arriving interest and penalty statutes, enacted in 2005, retroactively. The consent judgment does not require GVI to fund GERS for the gap between its assets and liabilities. Virgin Islands law apparently fails to obligate anyone to fund GERS when employee-compensation-based contributions and associated investment returns fall short of the assets required, based on actuarial assessments, to meet future pension commitments. The citizens of the Virgin Islands (population 106,4052) simply cannot pay the necessary billions. The cure for GERS’s chronic underfunding is legislative. View "Government Employees Retirement System of the Virgin Islands v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Homer, Alaska's Advisory Planning Commission (the Commission) approved a conditional use permit for the owners of a bicycle shop seeking to expand their entryway and install a covered porch. An objecting Homer resident appealed a superior court’s decision to affirm the permit approval, raising numerous procedural, legal, and factual issues. His main contentions were grouped into five general categories: (1) the Commission should have used a variance and not a conditional use permit; (2) the approval process violated various constitutional rights; (3) the Commission erred in its findings supporting the project; (4) the City Planner’s participation in the appeal was inappropriate; and (5) the judge was biased against him. The Alaska Supreme Court determined none of his arguments had merit. The Supreme Court concluded the Homer City Council, in an appropriate use of its legislative discretion, chose the conditional permitted use process to grant certain setback reductions. The Commission’s approval process and findings complied with applicable city code requirements and adequately protected the objecting resident’s rights. The City Planner’s participation in the appeals process was appropriate, and the judge displayed no disqualifying bias. Therefore, the decision to uphold the Commission’s approval of the conditional use permit was affirmed. View "Griswold v. Homer Advisory Planning Commission" on Justia Law

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The Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, and the President of the Oregon State Senate, on behalf of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, informed the Oregon Supreme Court that the federal government would not meet its statutory deadline to produce federal decennial census data and, therefore, that neither the Legislative Assembly nor the Oregon Secretary of State (Secretary) would be able to meet the deadlines for decennial reapportionment of state legislative districts set out in Article IV, section 6, of the Oregon Constitution. Relators asked the Supreme Court to exercise its authority under Article VII (Amended), section 2, of the Oregon Constitution and issue a writ of mandamus requiring the Secretary to fulfill her constitutionally specified duties, and to do so on dates ordered by the court. Relators served their petition for writ of mandamus on the Secretary, and she appeared in opposition. The Court elected to exercise that authority to compel compliance with Article IV, section 6, according to a revised schedule set out in an appendix to its opinion in this case. The Court thus issued a peremptory writ to direct the Secretary to abide by that schedule. View "Oregon ex rel Kotek v. Fagan" on Justia Law

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CREW filed a citizen complaint with the Federal Election Commission against New Models, a now-defunct non-profit entity, alleging violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (FECA) registration and reporting requirements for “political committees,” 52 U.S.C. 30109(a)(1). After an initial investigation, the Commission deadlocked 2–2 on whether to proceed; an affirmative vote of four commissioners is required to initiate enforcement proceedings. With only two votes in favor of an enforcement action against New Models, the Commission dismissed CREW’s complaint. Two Commissioners explained that New Models did not qualify as a “political committee” under FECA but stated they were also declining to proceed with enforcement in an "exercise of ... prosecutorial discretion,” given the age of the activity and the fact that the organization appears no longer active.The district court granted the Commission summary judgment, reasoning that a nonenforcement decision is not subject to judicial review if the Commissioners who voted against enforcement “place[] their judgment squarely on the ground of prosecutorial discretion.” The Commission’s “legal analyses are reviewable only if they are the sole reason for the dismissal of an administrative complaint.” The D.C. Circuit affirmed. While FECA allows a private party to challenge a nonenforcement decision by the Commission if it is “contrary to law,” this decision was based in part on prosecutorial discretion and is not reviewable. View "Citizens for Responsibility v. Federal Election Committee" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the ruling of the district court denying Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction in this case, holding that record lacked necessary findings and that remand was required.This case arose from a decision by the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives to enforce a House rule precluding any representative from participating in proceedings involving the full House, including House matters, other than in person. Plaintiffs, including seven members of the House who claimed to suffer from medical conditions making them vulnerable to COVID-19, brought this action arguing that the Speaker was required to allow them to participate remotely under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12132, and section 504 of the Rehabiliation Act, 29 U.S. 794. The district court denied Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. The First Circuit vacated the district court's decision, holding that the court erred in finding that the doctrine of legislative immunity shielded the Speaker from having to comply with the ADA and/or Section 504. View "Cushing v. Packard" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was required to conduct an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it re-opened an area that it had temporarily closed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs) pursuant to its authority under 43 C.F.R. section 8341.2(a). In 2006, the BLM closed a portion of the Factory Butte area in Utah to OHVs due to their adverse effects on the endangered Wright fishhook cactus. The BLM lifted that closure order in 2019 and re-opened the area to OHV use, but did not perform any kind of environmental analysis under NEPA before doing so. Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, alleging violations of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The district court disagreed with Plaintiffs' contention and dismissed their complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Natural Resources Defense v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs were indigent defendants represented in criminal actions by attorneys provided through Idaho’s public defense system. They alleged that numerous inadequacies in Idaho’s public defense system, as administered by the State and the Idaho Public Defense Commission (“PDC” or together “Respondents”), violated the rights of the named plaintiffs, as well as those of similarly situated criminal defendants across Idaho, under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the Idaho Constitution. In 2019, the district court denied cross motions for summary judgment, citing a lack of precedent as to the controlling legal standard to be applied, and requested this appeal. The Idaho Supreme Court granted the district court’s request for permissive appeal to determine the standard of review. The central issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on how to properly evaluate the deficiencies in Idaho’s public defense systems alleged by Appellants. In sum, Appellants insisted that a broader view was sufficient, while Respondents demanded the district court examine this issue closely. The Supreme Court held that both views were necessary: "a close up view, which allows for greater specificity, must be applied to the individual claims of at least one of the named plaintiffs whose allegations formed the basis of standing; however, a more distant view, which allows for greater overall perspective, is permissible for the examination of the systemic constitutional shortcomings alleged by Appellants." View "Tucker v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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In these cases concerning property tax abatement requests the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed two decisions of the superior court vacating a decision denying requests for abatement and granting a petition for judicial review of an adverse decision concerning another request for a tax abatement, holding that the superior court did not err.This consolidated appeal concerned property tax abatement requests made by the Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corporation (RIGHC). The superior court vacated a decision of the Board of Appeals (BOA) of the Town of Jonesport denying RIGHC's requests for abatement concerning three tax years and remanded the matter for the BOA to make an independent determination of the property's fair market value. The court also granted judicial review as to the State Board of Property Tax Review's adverse decision concerning RIGHC's request for another tax year abatement and directed the Town to grant the abatement request. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed both decisions, holding that the superior court did not err. View "Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corp. v. Town of Jonesport" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals denying U.S. Tubular Products, Inc.'s complaint in mandamus ordering the Industrial Commission to vacate its decision requesting John Roush's request for an award of additional compensation, holding that the Commission's decision was supported by evidence in the record.Under Ohio Const. art. II, 35, a worker who sustains injuries as a result of her employer's violation of a specific safety requirement (VSSR) may seek an award of additional compensation. Roush sustained injuries while working at U.S. Tubular, and his workers' compensation claim was allowed for numerous conditions. Roush later filed an application for a VSSR award, claiming that U.S. Tubular had violated specific safety requirements set forth in the Ohio Administrative Code. The Commission granted a VSSR award of an additional twenty-five percent in compensation. U.S. Tubular filed a mandamus complaint seeking a writ compelling the Commission to vacate the VSSR award. The court of appeals denied the writ. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission's determinations were supported by evidence in the record. View "State ex rel. U.S. Tubular Products, Inc. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio" on Justia Law

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Pavlicek, age 49. applied for Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. He suffers from anxiety, depression, severe tremors, and pseudoseizures that resemble epileptic seizures but stem from psychological causes. A truck driver, he has a high-school education. Two non-examining agency consultants determined that he could function with some limitations. Pavlicek testified that he had constant tremors and had seven pseudoseizures in the past 16 months when he lost consciousness; in seven other episodes, he remained conscious. A vocational expert testified about employers’ tolerance for absenteeism and about a hypothetical employee with various restrictions. The treating psychiatrist reported that Pavlicek could not work.The ALJ determined that Pavlicek retained the residual functional capacity to perform medium work with exceptions and could perform work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. The ALJ largely dismissed the report by the treating psychiatrist, who had not justified how his findings could apply “as far back as 2013,” having not treated Pavlicek until 2015 and who relied heavily on Pavlicek’s subjective reporting. The ALJ noted the “infrequent” nature of the treatment relationship and that the report’s assessment of severe functional limitations was unsupported by the clinical records. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The decision was supported by substantial evidence. The court rejected claims that the ALJ gave inadequate reasons for rejecting the treating psychiatrist's opinion, afforded too much weight to the opinions of non-examining agency physicians, and posed hypothetical questions to the vocational expert that failed to account for his limitations. View "Pavlicek v. Saul" on Justia Law