Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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In the spring of 2015, a severe three-day storm deluged an eastern Colorado area with over six inches of rain. Two inches of water fell within thirty minutes on the first day, “a once-in-a-half-century occurrence.” During the storm, a mixture of wastewater and rainwater overflowed from one of the wastewater containment ponds in a cattle feedlot operated by 5 Star Feedlot, Inc. (“5 Star”). That water crossed several miles of land and ultimately found its way to the South Fork of the Republican River, killing an estimated 15,000 fish and giving rise to this litigation. Pursuant to section 33-6-110(1), C.R.S. (2020), the State initiated a civil action against 5 Star seeking to recover the value of the deceased fish based on 5 Star’s alleged violation of three predicate statutory provisions (“taking statutory provisions”) which, with some exceptions not pertinent here, made it unlawful for any person to “take” (i.e., to kill or otherwise acquire possession of or control over) certain wildlife. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The district court denied 5 Star’s motion, granted the State’s motion, and, following a bench trial on damages, ordered 5 Star to pay the State $625,755. 5 Star then appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the taking statutory provisions required the State to prove that 5 Star acted knowingly or, at minimum, performed an unlawful voluntary act. To this, the Colorado Supreme Court concurred, finding the district court erred both in entering summary judgment against 5 Star and in denying 5 Star’s cross- motion. “Since the State failed to formally allege, never mind present proof, that 5 Star’s lawful, years-long operation of wastewater containment ponds killed or otherwise acquired possession of or control over the fish, it could not satisfy the voluntary act or actus reus requirement of the taking statutory provisions.” View "Dep't of Nat. Res. v. 5 Star Feedlot, Inc." on Justia Law

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PCTC filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking release of USGS records relating to the agency's coal tar sealant studies. USGS produced 52,000 pages of records, but withheld the modeling data and personally identifiable information relevant to this appeal. USGS withheld the model runs under Exemption Five on the ground that the release of the exploratory analysis would inhibit the ability to freely explore and analyze data without concern for external criticism. USGS withheld the house dust study participants' personal information under Exemption Six because release would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and would not serve a public interest because the pertinent scientific data associated in this category of records is already released. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and the district court granted USGS's motion.The DC Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court PCTC's claims regarding the urban lakes model runs withheld under Exemption Five, concluding that USGS failed to carry its burden to show that the model runs are pre-decisional. Furthermore, USGS failed to prove beyond dispute that the model runs are deliberative. Therefore, the absence of evidence establishing that the requested model runs are protected from disclosure amounts to the agency's failure to establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. However, the court affirmed the district court's decision to withhold the house dust study location information under Exemption Six. The court explained that the study participants have a greater than de minimis privacy interest in their addresses, household compositions, smoking and cooking habits, and the extensive personal details included in the questionnaires. The court further explained that releasing their addresses serves no cognizable public interest. View "Pavement Coatings Technology Council v. United States Geological Survey" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from two cases filed in the Chancery Court of Madison County, Mississippi, consolidated by the chancery court on its own order. Petitioners from the community of Gluckstadt sought incorporation of approximately 10.8 square miles of incorporated territory in Madison County. The City of Canton petitioned for annexation of approximately 6.7 square miles of unincorporated territory in Madison County, consisting of five proposed areas (Areas 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). The chancery court entered a final decree, granting, in part, the Gluckstadt Incorporators’ petition. The decree granted Canton’s proposed annexation of Areas 1 and 2 but denied Canton’s proposed annexation of Areas 3, 4, and 5. Canton and Ron Hutchinson (Incorporation Objectors) appealed the chancery court’s grant of incorporation, claiming the chancery court lacked jurisdiction over the incorporation petition because it did not include two-thirds of the signatures of the qualified electors residing in the proposed incorporation area. Various citizens (Annexation Objectors) appealed the chancery court's grant of annexation of Areas 1 and 2. Canton cross-appealed the chancery court's denial of annexation as to Areas 3, 4 and 5. Finding no manifest error with the chancery court's final decree in both cases, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Enlarging, Extending and Defining the Corporate Limits and Boundaries of the City of Canton, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, cattle ranchers, filed suit in federal district court, claiming that the Service's decision to apply the 1995 Riparian Mitigation Measures to the Dry Cottonwood Allotment, instead of the allowable use levels in the 2009 Forest Plan, violated the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs and remanded with instructions to grant summary judgment to the Service. The panel concluded that the Service lawfully applied a particular set of standards for protecting stream habitats from the effects of cattle grazing, the 1995 Riparian Mitigation Measures, to plaintiffs' grazing permits. The panel also concluded that plaintiffs were not entitled to attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act for their administrative appeal. View "2-Bar Ranch Limited Partnership v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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In January 2020, the Energy Facility Siting Council adopted permanent rules addressing the process for amending site certificates and other procedural aspects of the council’s work. Petitioners challenged three of the council’s new rules on two grounds, contending the rules exceeded the council’s statutory authority. According to petitioners, two of the rules improperly limited party participation in contested case proceedings, and the third rule improperly authorized the expansion of site certificate boundaries without a site certificate amendment. The council disputed those arguments. The Oregon Supreme Court concurred with petitioners’ arguments and declared the three rules at issue invalid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff James De Young was a city councilor and resident of the City of Damascus, Oregon. Defendants were Kate Brown, in her official capacity as Governor, and the State of Oregon. In De Young I, the Court of Appeals considered the validity of an effort to disincorporate the City of Damascus: in a 2013 election, the residents of the city had voted on a referral from the city council to disincorporate the city. Although a majority of those participating in the election voted in favor of disincorporating, the number fell short of the absolute majority for disincorporation required by law. In 2015, the Oregon legislature passed House Bill (HB) 3085, which referred to the decision whether to disincorporate, and specifically provided that a majority of those voting, rather than an absolute majority of the city’s electors, would be sufficient to disincorporate. Prior to the 2016 election, plaintiff sought to enjoin the scheduled disincorporation vote, alleging HB 3085 violated the city charter, state statutes, and the Oregon Constitution. The trial court denied plaintiff’s request to enjoin the election, and the city residents voted to disincorporate. Following the election, the city paid its debts, transferred its assets to Clackamas County, surrendered its charter, terminated or transferred its employees, and, essentially, ceased to exist. Plaintiff continued his lawsuit, seeking a declaration that the vote had violated various statutory and constitutional requirements and, therefore, the city had not been validly disincorporated. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the State, declaring “Measure 93” valid. The Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with plaintiff on his statutory argument, holding that ORS 221.610 and ORS 221.621 (2013) provided the only means by which a city could disincorporate and that, because Measure 93 had not complied with those statutes, it was invalid. Shortly after the Court of Appeals decision was issued, the legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 226 (2019) “to cure any defect in the procedures, and to ratify the results” of the 2016 disincorporation vote. Following the Court of Appeals’ decision in De Young I but prior to the issuance of the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision in City of Damascus, plaintiff petitioned for an award of attorney fees and costs in De Young I. Applying the “substantial benefit” theory, the Court of Appeals allowed plaintiff’s petition for attorney fees, and remanded for a determination of fees and costs incurred in the circuit court. The State appealed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals did not err in awarding plaintiff fees under the substantial benefit theory. View "De Young v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed on direct appeal the order of the circuit court denying in part Monsanto Company's motion for judgment on the pleadings and concluding that the Arkansas State Plant Board's Regulation 7 does not violate the Commerce Clause of the federal Constitution and is not invalid as being enacted by an unconstitutionally appointed board, holding that the circuit court did not err.The circuit court denied Monsanto's motion challenging the constitutionality of Regulation 7 and further granted judgment in favor of Monsanto on its claim that Ark. Code Ann. 2-16-206, the statute governing appointment of Board members, is an unconstitutional delegation of the appointment power. The Supreme Court dismissed on direct appeal and affirmed on cross-appeal, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in ruling that Regulation 7 does not violate the Commerce Clause or in rejecting Monsanto's argument that Regulation 7 was enacted by an unconstitutionally appointed board; and (2) the circuit court properly ruled that section 2-16-206(a)(5)-(13) is an invalid delegation of the appointment power. View "Monsanto Co. v. Arkansas State Plant Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court finding that Ark. Code Ann. 2-16-206(a), which sets forth the appointment process for members of the Arkansas State Plant Board (ASPB), was constitutional, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling that the statute is constitutional.Appellant filed a complaint generally challenging the ASPB's dicamba cutoff rule and the denial of a petition for rule making submitted by Appellants and also sought a declaration that section 2-16-206(a) is unconstitutional. The circuit court concluded that the challenged rule was void ab initio and null and void as to Appellant. On remand from the Supreme Court the circuit court found that section 2-16-206(a) was constitutional. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 2-16-206(a) is unconstitutional. View "McCarty v. Arkansas State Plant Board" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, the chairs of the California Assembly and Senate committees that consider election-related matters, prepared a formal letter to the Governor indicating they were working on legislation to ensure Californians could vote by mail in light of the emergency occasioned by COVID-19. The committee chairs encouraged the Governor to issue an executive order allowing all Californians to vote by mail. On June 3, 2020, the Governor signed the order at issue here, Executive Order No. N-67-20. The Executive Order identified statutory provisions that were displaced pursuant to its provisions. At the time the Governor issued the Executive Order, two bills pending in the Legislature addressed the substance of the Governor’s Executive Order: Assembly Bill No. 860 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.), which would ensure all California voters were provided ballots in advance of the election to vote by mail, and Senate Bill No. 423 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.), which would govern those remaining aspects of the election that were yet to occur. In June, real parties filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking a declaration that the Executive Order “is null and void as it is an unconstitutional exercise of legislative powers reserved only to the Legislature, nor is it a permitted action” under the Emergency Services Act and an injunction against the Governor implementing the Executive Order. The complaint also sought an injunction. In Newsom v. Superior Court, 51 Cal.App.5th 1093 (2020), the Court of Appeal granted the Governor’s petition challenging a temporary restraining order suspending the Executive Order that the superior court issued in an expedited, “ex parte” proceeding. The Court held that there was no basis for the superior court to grant real parties’ ex parte application at a hearing conducted one day after the action was filed, without proper notice to the Governor or his appearance, and without the substantive showing required for an ex parte proceeding. Following the earlier Newsom decision, the case was reassigned to a different judge who conducted a trial and entered a judgment granting declaratory relief that the Executive Order was void as unconstitutional, and that the California Emergency Services Act did not authorize the Governor to issue the Executive Order. In this case, the Court of Appeal granted the Governor’s petition and directed the superior court to dismiss as moot real parties’ claim for declaratory relief: the Executive Order was superseded by legislation and was directed only at the November 3, 2020 general election, which had occurred before the judgment was entered. However, the Court found the declaratory relief and accompanying permanent injunction regarding executive orders issued under the Emergency Services Act raised matters of great public concern regarding the Governor’s orders in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The Court ruled the superior court erred in interpreting the Emergency Services Act to prohibit the Governor from issuing quasi-legislative orders in an emergency. The Court concluded the issuance of such orders did not constitute an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. View "Newsom v. Superior Ct." on Justia Law

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In 2002, at the age of seven, Sanchez, a citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. without inspection. In 2012, he obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status; DHS periodically granted him renewals. In 2019, Sanchez was charged in New Jersey with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. USCIS revoked Sanchez’s DACA status. DHS took him into custody and charged him as being present without having been admitted or paroled, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(ii).Sanchez applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and for relief under the Convention Against Torture. The IJ denied asylum, finding that Sanchez failed to meet the one-year filing deadline or show extraordinary circumstances; denied withholding of removal, finding the proposed social group was not cognizable; and denied his CAT claim, finding he did not demonstrate at least a 50 percent chance he would be tortured upon his return to Mexico. Two weeks after the IJ ordered Sanchez’s removal, his state criminal charges were dismissed.The BIA denied remand, citing then-Attorney General Sessions’ 2018 Castro-Tum holding that, under the regulations governing the Executive Office of Immigration Review, IJs and the BIA do not have the general authority to indefinitely suspend immigration proceedings by administrative closure unless a regulation or a previous judicially approved settlement expressly authorizes such an action. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The relevant regulations confer the general authority to administratively close cases to IJs and the BIA. View "Sanchez v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law