Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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OSHA found that Echo violated 29 C.F.R. 1926.964(b)(1), the tension-stringing regulation, when two employees were electrocuted while rehanging a line. After the ALJ upheld the citation, Echo petitioned for review. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the tension-stringing provision is sufficiently precise to repel Echo's vagueness challenge. In this case, the express language of the provision afforded Echo "sufficiently definite warning" of the conduct required. The court also held that the evidence of industry custom was unnecessary to establish Echo's violation where the provision is not unconstitutionally vague and instructs the employer about specific methods to use in order to comply. Therefore, the provision is not a performance standard and the ALJ did not err by declining to consider evidence that Echo's method complied with industry custom. View "Echo Powerline, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

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A federal agency may not create an "aquaculture," or fish farming, regime in the Gulf of Mexico pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the Fisheries' challenged aquaculture rule exceeds the agency's statutory authority. The court explained that the Act neither says nor suggests that the agency may regulate aquaculture; the court rejected the agency's interpretation of Congress's silence on the matter as an invitation; explained that Congress does not delegate authority merely by not withholding it; and the court rejected the agency's argument that the Act's definition of "fishing" gives it authority to regulate aquaculture. The court noted that if anyone is to expand the forty-year-old Magnuson-Stevens Act to reach aquaculture for the first time, it must be Congress. View "Gulf Fishermens Ass'n v. National Marine Fisheries Service" on Justia Law

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The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Two counties sued Sherwin-Williams in state court, seeking abatement of the public nuisance caused by lead-based paint. Anticipating suits by other counties, Sherwin-Williams sued in federal court under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Sherwin-Williams claimed that “[i]t is likely that the fee agreement between [Delaware County] and the outside trial lawyers [is] or will be substantively similar to an agreement struck by the same attorneys and Lehigh County to pursue what appears to be identical litigation” and that “the Count[y] ha[s] effectively and impermissibly delegated [its] exercise of police power to the private trial attorneys” by vesting the prosecutorial function in someone who has a financial interest in using the government’s police power to hold a defendant liable. The complaint pleaded a First Amendment violation, citing the company’s membership in trade associations, Sherwin-Williams’ purported petitioning of federal, state, and local governments, and its commercial speech. The complaint also argued that the public nuisance theory would seek to impose liability “that is grossly disproportionate,” arbitrary, retroactive, vague, and “after an unexplainable, prejudicial, and extraordinarily long delay, in violation of the Due Process Clause.” The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sherwin-Williams failed to plead an injury in fact or a ripe case or controversy because the alleged harms hinged on the County actually filing suit. View "Sherwin Williams Co. v. County of Delaware" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of HHS's motion for summary judgment in an action where HHS concluded that Dominion must return approximately $1.3 million in Medicare payments. The Secretary argues that a physician certification statement is necessary but not sufficient to establish that nonemergency, scheduled, repetitive ambulance transportation is covered by Medicare, as the contrary interpretation would render the phrase "medically necessary" in 42 C.F.R. 410.40(d)(2) superfluous. The court held that the Secretary's interpretation is neither plainly erroneous nor inconsistent with the regulation, and Dominion's arguments to the contrary are unavailing. Furthermore, HHS's statement in 2012 when it amended the regulation supports its position that HHS did not consider a physician certification statement conclusive. Therefore, the district court properly deferred to the agency's reasonable interpretation. Finally, the court assumed, without deciding, that the district court had jurisdiction to review the timeliness of the decision to reopen the initial determination, and held that the decision to reopen was timely. View "Dominion Ambulance, LLC v. Azar" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Labor Commission awarding Appellant permanent partial disability under the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), Utah Code 34A-2-101 to -1005, holding that the Commission's process for determining permanent partial disability benefits is constitutional and that the administrative law judge (ALJ) was not permitted to increase the amount of the award based on Appellant's subjective pain. Based on Commission guidelines, the ALJ based the amount of Appellant's award on a report provided by an assigned medical panel. Appellant argued on appeal that the process for determining permanent partial disability benefits was unconstitutional and that the ALJ erred in failing to augment the medical panel's impairment rating by three percent, resulting in an increased compensation award. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the adjudicative authority of ALJs has not been unconstitutionally delegated to medical panels; and (2) the Commission expressly precludes ALJs from augmenting an impairment rating based on a claimant's subjective pain. View "Ramos v. Cobblestone Centre" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Everett Johnson, a citizen of the Bahamas, became a United States permanent resident in 1977. But in 2016, he pleaded guilty to possessing a schedule II controlled substance in violation of Colorado law. Soon after, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charged Johnson as removable from the United States based on the state drug conviction. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) then ordered Johnson’s removal from the United States back to the Bahamas. He appealed, challenging that the state drug conviction subjected him to deportation from the United States. The Tenth Circuit determined Colorado Revised Statute section 18-18-403.5(1), (2)(a) was overbroad and indivisible as to the identity of a particular controlled substance. Therefore, Johnson’s conviction could not subject him to removal from the United States. The Court therefore granted Johnson’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s order, and remanded to the BIA for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Petitioners California Disability Services Association; Horrigan Cole Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Cole Vocational Services; Unlimited Quest, Inc.; Loyd’s Liberty Homes, Inc.; and First Step Independent Living Program, Inc. petitioned for mandamus relief and damages, and sought a declaration against the California Department of Developmental Services (Department) and its director, Nancy Bargmann (collectively respondents). Petitioners challenged the Department’s denial of their requests for a rate adjustment due to the increase of the minimum wage, which, in turn, impacted the salaries of their exempt program directors, who had to be paid twice the minimum wage. The trial court denied petitioners’ petition and complaint for declaratory relief finding providers’ classification of the program directors as exempt employees was not mandated by law, thus “there is no ministerial duty imposed on the Department to grant a wage increase request in order to accommodate continued entitlement to the exemption.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California Disability Services Assn. v. Bargmann" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of Article III standing, a petition for review of the TCEQ's decision granting air permits to Rio Grande LNG. Petitioners, two membership organizations, ask the court to vacate the agency's decision and order either a contested-case hearing before the SOAH or the denial of the permits. The court held that petitioners have not satisfied their burden to show their members' injuries in fact. In this case, petitioners' claims -- that their individual members who live, work, and drive within a roughly fourteen-mile radius of the proposed facility will suffer an increased risk of harm that those living further away will not suffer -- are too generalized and petitioners have not produced enough evidence to show an actual or imminent harm. The court also held that, even if petitioners' members did identify specific risks, there is no evidence of the extent to which those risks would be increased for those members by the expected emissions. Furthermore, petitioners' claim that the proposed facility would cause ozone levels to be very close to violating the federally mandated levels failed to identify what specific health risks their members expect to suffer. Finally, to the extent petitioners argue that the denial of a contested-case hearing is a procedural harm separate and distinct from the harms they expect to be caused by the proposed facility, the court rejected that alleged injury as a basis for standing. View "Shrimpers and Fishermen of the RGV v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The States filed suit raising constitutional challenges to Section 9010 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the Certification Rule. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the States had standing to raise their Certification Rule claims; reversed the district court's ruling that the States' Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claims were not time-barred; and dismissed those claims for lack of jurisdiction. On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's judgment on the Section 9010 claims, holding that the Provider Fee is a constitutional tax that does not violate the Spending Clause and that Section 9010 satisfies both the requirements under the Tenth Amendment doctrine of intergovernmental tax immunity. In this case, the Provider Fee does not discriminate against states or those with whom they deal because it is imposed on any entity that provides health insurance (with certain exclusions). Furthermore, the legal incidence of the Provider Fee does not fall on the states because Congress expressly excluded states from paying the fee. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment that the Certification Rule violated the nondelegation doctrine, holding that HHS did not unlawfully delegate to a third party its authority to approve state managed-care organization (MCO) contracts. Accordingly, the court rendered judgment in favor of the United States. Because neither the Certification Rule nor Section 9010 are unlawful, the court vacated the district court's grant of equitable disgorgement to the States. View "Texas v. Rettig" on Justia Law