Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The Defendants, Ohana Military Communities, LLC and Forest City Residential Management, began a major housing construction project on Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) in 2006. MCBH was widely contaminated with pesticides potentially impacting human health. Defendants developed and implemented a Pesticide Soil Management Plan but allegedly never informed residential tenants of the Plan, the decade-long remediation efforts, or known pesticide contamination. Plaintiffs, military servicemember families, filed suit in Hawaii state court alleging 11 different claims under state law. Defendants removed the case to federal court.The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of the Plaintiffs’ motion to remand. Federal jurisdiction did not exist because, under the Hawaii Admission Act, 73 Stat. 4 (1959), Hawaii had concurrent legislative or political jurisdiction over MCBH, so state law had not been assimilated into federal law. The court rejected an argument that, regardless of any concurrent state jurisdiction, federal jurisdiction exists where federally owned or controlled land is involved, and a substantial federal interest exists. There was no federal officer or agency jurisdiction because there was no causal nexus between the Navy and Ohana under 28 U.S.C. 1442, and Ohana was not a federal agency for purposes of federal jurisdiction. Under the Gunn test, no federal issue was “necessarily raised.” View "Lake v. Ohana Military Communities, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) suit against the United States after Steve Smith and his daughter, Sydney, were killed when their car struck two mailboxes. Plaintiffs claim that the Postal Service is liable because it failed to warn the mailboxes' owners that the mailboxes did not comply with various safety regulations.The court concluded that, even assuming plaintiffs are correct—about both the regulatory infractions and the Postal Service's duty to provide warnings about those infractions—the United States cannot be held liable. The court explained that the FTCA waives sovereign immunity for the acts or omissions of a federal employee only when a private person would be liable under state tort law for those same acts or omissions. In this case, plaintiffs pointed to no state law duty where the duty plaintiffs allege, negligence per se based on the Postal Service's requirement to notify homeowners if their mailboxes did not conform to various safety standards, would spring only from federal guidance—the Postal Operations Manual. View "Smith v. United States" on Justia Law

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Something Extra Publishing, Inc., d/b/a Lagniappe Weekly ("Lagniappe") appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack, and two members of the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office, Colonel Anthony Lowery and Lieutenant Michael Gaull ("the Sheriffs"), in this action alleging that the Sheriffs improperly denied Lagniappe's request for public records in violation of the Alabama Open Records Act ("the ORA"). Lagniappe made a request for records relating to the fatal shooting of Jonathan Victor in 2017. A grand jury declined to indict the deputy involved in the shooting. Lagniappe contended that under the balancing test announced by Stone v. Consolidated Publishing Co, 404 So. 2d 678 (Ala. 1981), "the public's interest in disclosure [in this case] far outweighs any interest surrounding the carrying out of government business." The Alabama Supreme Court found the balancing test in Stone was a Court-created exception to the ORA and was not an exception to section 12-21-3.1(b), which was enacted after Stone was decided. Accordingly, the Court found the trial court did not err in entering summary judgment in favor of the Sherrifs on investigative-privilege grounds. View "Something Extra Publishing, Inc., d/b/a Lagniappe Weekly v. Mack et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are commercial truck drivers who received citations for violating state vehicle safety laws. State officials reported these citations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for inclusion in the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), 49 U.S.C. 31106(a)(3)(B). After state courts dismissed misdemeanor charges arising from the citations, the drivers asked the Administration to remove them from the MCMIS. The Administration forwarded the requests to the relevant state agencies, which declined to remove the citations. The drivers later authorized the release of their PreEmployment Screening Program (PSP) reports to prospective employers.The drivers allege harm from the inclusion of their citations in the PSP reports and sought damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681e. The drivers alleged that the Administration violated FCRA by not following reasonable procedures to ensure that their PSP reports were as accurate as possible, by failing to investigate the accuracy of their PSP reports upon request, and by refusing to add a statement of dispute to their PSP reports. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Administration, in releasing MCMIS records as required by the SAFE Transportation Act, is not a “consumer reporting agency” under FCRA. View "Mowrer v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Alliance alleged that County and City policies and inaction have created a dangerous environment in the Skid Row area, claiming that the County violated its mandatory duty to provide medically necessary care and that the municipalities have facilitated public nuisance violations by failing to clear encampments, violated disability access laws by failing to clear sidewalks of encampments, and violated constitutional rights by providing disparate services to those within the Skid Row area and by enacting policies resulting in a state-created danger to area residents and businesses. The district court issued a preliminary injunction, ordering the escrow of $1 billion to address homelessness, offers of shelter to all unhoused individuals in Skid Row within 180 days, and numerous reports. The court found that structural racism was behind Los Angeles’s homelessness crisis and its disproportionate impact on the Black community.The Ninth Circuit vacated. The plaintiffs lacked standing on all but their ADA claim; no claims were based on racial discrimination. The district court impermissibly resorted to independent research and extra-record evidence. There was no allegation that any individual plaintiff was Black nor that there was a special relationship between the City and unhoused residents nor that any individual plaintiff was deprived of medically necessary care or general assistance. Two plaintiffs who use wheelchairs and cannot traverse Skid Row sidewalks because of homeless encampments had standing to bring ADA claims but had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits. View "LA Alliance for Human Rights v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant County of Sacramento (County) appealed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant-respondent Department of Water Resources (DWR). In 2019, the County sought injunctive relief alleging that DWR failed to obtain county permits before conducting geotechnical exploration activities related to a state water infrastructure project in the Delta region of Sacramento County. The County noted that its ordinance required all persons, including the state, to obtain county permits before conducting activities including drilling exploratory holes and borings. The County contended that it adopted its ordinance pursuant to division 7, chapter 10 of the California Water Code, and the Legislature had expressly waived the state’s sovereign immunity with respect to the chapter’s provisions. DWR, in moving for summary judgment, asserted that, as a state agency acting within its governmental capacity, it was immune from local regulations except where the Legislature expressly waived that immunity. DWR further contended that its activities did not fall within the scope of chapter 10, which is a limited statute governing “wells,” “water wells,” “cathodic protection wells,” and “geothermal heat exchange wells” as those terms are defined in the chapter. The trial court granted the motion, concluding DWR’s exploration activities did not fall within the scope of chapter 10, and the County was not authorized to expand its regulatory authority over the state beyond that which was expressly authorized by the Legislature. The County appealed the trial court’s ruling, contending the scope of the Legislature’s waiver of sovereign immunity extended beyond activities expressly defined in chapter 10 to include activities governed by an administrative bulletin establishing drilling and boring standards that the Legislature referenced in chapter 10. Alternatively, the County argued various statements made by DWR created a triable issue of fact as to whether DWR’s exploration activities fell within the scope of activities expressly defined by chapter 10. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded the scope of the Legislature’s waiver of the state’s immunity extended only to the activities expressly defined in chapter 10. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court agreed with DWR that the County failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether DWR’s exploration activities fall within the scope of chapter 10 as the Court construed it, and also concluded that the County failed to demonstrate prejudice from the trial court’s evidentiary rulings. View "Dept. of Water Resources Cases" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Seven Hills LLC began developing a cannabis production and processing business in Chelan County, Washington. After Seven Hills procured the relevant permits and began building on its property, Chelan County (County) passed Resolution 2015-94, which placed a moratorium on siting new cannabis-related businesses. While the moratorium was in place, Seven Hills received the necessary state licenses and began operating its cannabis production and processing business. Shortly thereafter, the County passed Resolution 2016-14, which changed the relevant ordinances resulting in the barring of new cannabis-related businesses. Seven Hills received a notice and order to abate zoning from the County Department of Community Development, containing four allegations: that Seven Hills had (1) produced and processed cannabis in violation of Resolution 2016-14; (2) constructed and operated unpermitted structures; (3) operated unpermitted propane tanks; and (4) created a public nuisance. A hearing examiner found Seven Hills committed all four violations; the trial court and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court held the County’s resolution declaring a moratorium on siting new cannabis production and processing activities did not amend or replace existing zoning ordinances, and that Seven Hills established a nonconforming use prior to adoption of Resolution 2016-14. Further, the Court held that Resolution 2016-14 did amend the County’s ordinances defining agricultural use, but did not retroactively extinguish vested rights. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was reversed in part and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Seven Hills, LLC v. Chelan County" on Justia Law

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The School Board sought equitable relief from Crest Hill ordinances creating a real property tax increment financing (TIF) district and attendant redevelopment plan and project, pursuant to the Tax Increment Allocation Redevelopment Act (65 ILCS 5/11-74.4-1). The Board complained that Crest Hill violated the TIF Act by including parcels of realty in the redevelopment project area that were not contiguous. An excluded parcel is owned by the utility company, is located outside the incorporated boundaries of the municipality and the boundaries of the redevelopment project area, and physically separates the parcels the municipality found to be contiguous for purposes of including them in the redevelopment project area.The circuit court granted Crest Hill summary judgment. The Appellate Court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the reversal. A public-utility-right-of-way exception to the contiguity requirement for annexation, found in the Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/7-1-1), does not apply as an exception to contiguity required by the TIF Act. This case does not involve contiguous properties running parallel and adjacent to each other in a reasonably substantial physical sense, wherein a public utility owns a right-of-way, or easement, to pass through one or both of the physically adjacent properties. View "Board of Education of Richland School District No. 88A v. City of Crest Hill" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied as moot the writ of mandamus sought by Malcolm and Mary Wood seeking to compel Rocky River Board of Zoning and Building Appeals and its members (collectively, the zoning board) to stay their approval of a development plan and hear their appeals, holding that subsequent events had rendered the case moot.After the planning commission approved a proposed real estate development in Rocky River the Woods, who lived next to the site, filed an appeal. The zoning board declared the notice of appeal void on the grounds that the appeal was not completed or perfected within a timely fashion. The Woods subsequently filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus as moot because the construction of the project was substantially underway. View "State ex rel. Wood v. Rocky River" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Placer County, California (the County) approved a project to develop a resort on about 94 acres near Lake Tahoe. Sierra Watch challenged the County’s approval in two lawsuits, both of which were appealed. In this case, Sierra Watch challenged the County’s environmental review for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In particular, Sierra Watch contended the County: (1) failed to sufficiently consider Lake Tahoe in its analysis; (2) insufficiently evaluated the project’s impacts on fire evacuation plans for the region; (3) inadequately evaluated and mitigated the project’s noise impacts; (4) failed to allow for sufficient public review of the project’s climate change impacts; (5) failed to consider appropriate mitigation for the project’s climate change impacts; (6) overlooked feasible mitigation options for the project’s traffic impacts; and (7) wrongly relied on deferred mitigation to address the project’s impacts on regional transit. The trial court rejected all Sierra Watch’s arguments. But because the Court of Appeal found some of Sierra Watch’s claims had merit, judgment was reversed. View "Sierra Watch v. County of Placer" on Justia Law