Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The 1972 Shakman Decree enjoined the City of Chicago and county officials from governmental employment practices based in politics. A 1983 Decree enjoined those officials from conditioning hiring or promotions on any political considerations. After the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment’s prohibition against patronage-based firings extends to promotion, transfer, recall, or hiring decisions involving public employment for which party affiliation is not an appropriate requirement, the Clerk of Cook County entered a separate consent decree. In 1992 the Voters Organization joined the Shakman complaint. The court has dismissed some entities and officials, including Chicago and its Park District, as showing substantial compliance. In 2010 the Clerk and other defendants consented to a magistrate judge conducting further proceedings. A new magistrate and a new district judge were assigned in 2020.In 2019, plaintiffs moved for supplemental relief. The magistrate found that the Clerk violated the 1991 Decree, that the evidence strongly suggested that the Clerk’s policy of rotating employees was “instituted for the purpose" of evading the 1972 Decree, appointed a special master to oversee compliance within the Clerk’s Office, and refused the Clerk’s request to vacate the Decrees. The Seventh Circuit, noting that it lacked authority to review the appointment of the special master, affirmed the denial of the request to vacate. Sounding a “federalism concern,” the court noted the permitting a consent decree over an arm of state or local government to remain on a federal docket for decades is inconsistent with our federal structure. View "Shakman v. Clerk of Cook County" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees in this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) action against the DOJ. The panel concluded that plaintiff obtained relief through a judicial order that changed the legal relationship between the parties, and thus he is eligible for a fee award under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(E)(ii)(I). In this case, plaintiff initially submitted a FOIA request for records related to the alleged electronic surveillance of President Trump and his advisors during the 2016 election. The DOJ responded with a Glomar response. After plaintiff filed suit, President Trump declassified a memorandum that divulged the existence of responsive records and the DOJ then agreed to turn over any newly revealed, non-exempt documents by a specific date.The panel explained that Congress passed the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which provided that a plaintiff may establish eligibility for FOIA attorneys' fees in one of two ways: (1) where the relief sought resulted from a judicial order or consent decree and (2) where a voluntary change in position afforded the plaintiff relief. The panel remanded to the district court to determine whether plaintiff is entitled to fees given the unique circumstances underlying the government's change of position. View "Poulsen v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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An Alaska State Commission for Human Rights (State) employee with preexisting medical conditions was involved in a work-related motor vehicle accident in January 2017. The employee consulted with Dr. Teresa Bormann two days after the accident; Dr. Bormann referred the employee to chiropractic treatment. After several month of treatment, Dr. Bormann referred the employee to physical therapy at United Physical Therapy (UPT) for chronic neck pain and headache. After an evaluation UPT recommended eight weeks of twice weekly physical therapy. Dr. Bormann endorsed the treatment plan, and the employee’s symptoms improved enough that she reduced her physical therapy visits to once a week beginning in mid-January. She saw UPT three times in February 2018. Payment for these February visits became the main dispute before the Board. The State arranged an employer’s medical evaluation (EME) with a neurologist and an orthopedist. The EME doctors diagnosed the employee with a cervical strain caused by the accident as well as several conditions they considered preexisting or unrelated to the work injury. After the State filed a retroactive controversion of medical treatment, the employee’s healthcare provider filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking payment for services it provided before the controversion was filed. The State disputed its liability for payment, and after several prehearing conferences, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board set a hearing on the merits of the provider’s claim. The Board ordered the State to pay the provider approximately $510.00 for the services. The State appealed, disputing several procedural aspects of the decision, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. View "Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services v. Thomas et al." on Justia Law

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The Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 1437g, provides funds for public housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocates amounts in the fund to eligible public housing agencies (PHAs). Each of the 553 plaintiff-PHAs executed an Annual Contributions Contract (ACC) with HUD, which requires HUD to “provide annual contributions to the [PHA] in accordance with all applicable statutes, executive orders, regulations, and this ACC” and requires the PHA to develop and operate covered projects in compliance with the ACC and all applicable statutes, executive orders, and regulations. The standard form ACC incorporates 24 C.F.R. 990.210(c), which provides HUD with “discretion to revise, on a pro-rata basis, the amounts of operating subsidy to be paid to PHAs” where “insufficient funds are available.”In 2012, Congress funded only 80% of the total operating subsidies and directed HUD to “take into account" PHA excess operating fund reserves in determining their 2012 operating subsidy. HUD considered the excess reserves and did not prorate the available funding under 24 C.F.R. 990.210(c) and the ACCs. Some PHAs received more funding than they would have if HUD prorated the available funding. The plaintiffs received less than they would have and brought suit under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the PHAs. Their claim was contract-based and the “strings-attached” nature of the operating subsidy did not preclude the court from exercising Tucker Act jurisdiction over the claim. The PHAs sought compensatory damages for their losses from the government’s failure to meet a past-due obligation and not equitable relief to enforce a regulatory obligation; their claim is based on a breach of contract and not a statute. View "Boaz Housing Authority v. United States" on Justia Law

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Wilton Rancheria, a Sacramento area Indian tribe, was federally recognized in 1927. The 1958 Rancheria Act disestablished Wilton and 40 other reservations. In 1979, several California rancherias, including Wilton, sued. The government agreed to restore Indian status. Wilton was erroneously excluded from the settlement. In 2009, the Department of the Interior restored Wilton’s federal recognition and agreed to “accept in trust certain lands formerly belonging to” Wilton. Wilton petitioned to acquire 282 acres near Galt for a casino. A draft environmental impact statement (EIS), under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321–4347, identified alternatives, including a 30-acre Elk Grove parcel. Wilton changed its preference and requested that the Department acquire the Elk Grove location. Objectors responded that acquiring the Elk Grove location would moot pending state-court suits.The Department’s final EIS identified the Elk Grove location as the preferred alternative. The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs, Roberts, signed the Record of Decision (ROD) pursuant to delegated authority. Roberts had served as Acting Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs (AS–IA), but after his acting status lapsed under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Roberts continued to exercise the non-exclusive AS–IA functions. Black, who became Acting AS–IA in the new administration, signed off on the acquisition.Objectors filed suit before the issuance of the Department’s ROD and unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order. The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Department, rejecting claims that the Department impermissibly delegated the authority to make a final agency action to acquire the land to an official who could not wield this authority, was barred from acquiring land in trust on behalf of Wilton’s members, and failed to comply with NEPA. View "Stand Up For California! v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. 301, sets forth separate and detailed regimes for the regulation of medical products classified as drugs or devices. Since 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has exercised its claimed discretion to classify Genus’s “Vanilla SilQ” line of diagnostic contrast agents as drugs, notwithstanding the FDA’s recognition that the products “appear” to satisfy the statutory definition for devices. Contrast agents are used in medical imaging to improve the visualization of tissues, organs and physiological processes. The FDA claims that, if a medical product satisfies the statutory definitions of both a “drug” and a “device,” the Act’s overlapping definitions grant by implication the FDA broad discretion to regulate the product under either regime. Genus challenged the FDA’s classification decision as inconsistent with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2), and the FDCA.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Genus. The FDCA unambiguously forecloses the FDA’s interpretation. “It would make little sense, then, for the Congress to have constructed such elaborate regulatory regimes—carefully calibrated to products’ relative risk levels—only for the FDA to possess the authority to upend the statutory scheme by reclassifying any device as a drug, no matter its relative risk level.” View "Genus Medical Technologies LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law

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T-Mobile's call centers employ customer service representatives (CSRs). Since 2009, the union, CWA, has attempted to organize T-Mobile CSRs but has not filed a representation petition. In 2015, T-Mobile launched T-Voice to “Enhance Customers and Frontline experience by identifying, discussing, and communicating solutions for roadblocks for internal and external customers. Provide a vehicle for Frontline feedback and create a closed-loop communication with T-Mobile Sr. Leadership,” with T-Voice representatives at each call center. T-Mobile emailed all CSRs: You can raise issues by reaching out to your T-Voice representatives. Prospective T-Voice representatives were told that they would be “responsible for gathering pain points from your peers.”CWA alleged that T-Voice was a labor organization under the National Labor Relations Act (Section 2(5)), T-Mobile supported T-Voice (Section 8(a)(2)), and its operation of T-Voice constituted solicitation of grievances during an ongoing organizing campaign and an implied promise to remedy those grievances (Section 8(a)(1)). The Board concluded that T-Voice did not “deal with” T-Mobile as required for it to be a “labor organization” and its operation did not violate Section 8(a)(2); given the duration of CWA’s organizing campaign, there was no inference that T-Voice would tend to erode employee support for union organizing.The D.C. Circuit upheld the Board’s finding that the creation of T-Voice was not aimed at interfering with union organizing but remanded with respect to whether T-Voice constitutes a labor organization. The Board has two lines of precedent: one holding an organization is not engaged in “dealing with” an employer unless the organization makes “group proposals,” the other has no such requirement. The Board needs to identify what standard it has adopted for separating “group proposals” from proposals of employee representatives. View "Communications Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Webb, a disabled veteran, was referred to U.S. Vets, which administered the Supportive Housing Program, for participants to live with a roommate in multiple-occupancy units, and Shelter Plus Care, for chronically homeless veterans with disabilities to live in one-bedroom units without roommates or two-bedroom units with a roommate. Webb alleges that he qualified for a one-bedroom unit through Shelter Plus. Vets allegedly told him that no one-bedroom unit was available and placed him temporarily in a multiple-occupancy unit. . A few months later, Vets placed a female applicant in its Shelter Plus Care program although she had indicated on her application that she was not chronically homeless. Webb alleges that she was “given preferential treatment because she is a female” in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(a).The district court dismissed Webb's suit, concluding that because Webb had paid no rent, he had “no legally protected interest.” The D.C. Circuit reversed. Under the Act, it is unlawful to “make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Any person who . . . claims to have been injured by” conduct prohibited by section 3604 is an “aggrieved person.” Webb alleged that housing was made “unavailable” based on his sex, regardless of whether he paid rent. View "Webb v. United States Veterans Initiative and Community Partnership" on Justia Law

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Developer Chelsea Solar LLC sought a certificate of public good (CPG) to construct and operate a 2.0-megawatt (MW) solar electric generation facility off of Willow Road in Bennington, Vermont. The Public Utility Commission (PUC) denied developer’s petition, concluding that the Willow Road Facility and an adjoining facility proposed by developer, “Apple Hill Solar,” were a single 4.0-MW “plant” under the applicable definition of this term. In its decision, the PUC also considered and rejected arguments by intervenors Apple Hill Homeowners Association (AHHA) and Mt. Anthony Country Club (MACC) regarding various CPG factors. It concluded, among other things, that the project would not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region under 30 V.S.A. section 248(b)(1) or have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics under section 248(b)(5). Developer appealed, challenging the PUC’s single-plant determination and its orders granting permissive intervention to AHHA and MACC. Intervenors cross-appealed, arguing the PUC erred in concluding the CPG factors were satisfied. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the PUC’s decision to deny the CPG based on its conclusion that the Willow Road and Apple Hill Facilities were a single plant. Given this conclusion, the Court did not reach the PUC’s evaluation of the CPG factors. The Court found no error in the PUC’s permissive-intervention decision. View "In re Petition of Chelsea Solar LLC" on Justia Law

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John and Deborah Rouwenhorst, on behalf of Desert Foothills Wet, LLC, and Desert Foothills Dry, LLC, submitted a rezoning application seeking to reclassify 696 acres in Gem County (the Property) from A-1, Prime Agriculture to A-2, Rural Transitional Agriculture. Although the Gem County Zoning Commission recommended approval of the rezone, the Board of County Commissioners denied the application. After unsuccessfully moving for reconsideration, the Rouwenhorsts petitioned for judicial review. The district court reversed the Board’s denial of the rezoning application and awarded attorney fees and costs to the Rouwenhorsts. Gem County appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed, finding the Board's decision was not arbitrary or capricious because it applied the standards set forth in the Gem County Code for rezoning applications, and was supported by substantial evidence. The district court's decision was reversed, and the attorney fee award vacated. View "Rouwenhorst v. Gem County" on Justia Law