Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part in an action brought by parents and a student challenging the State of California's extended prohibition on in-person schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic. The panel concluded that, despite recent changes to the State's Covid-related regulations, this case is not moot.On the merits, the panel held that the district court properly rejected the substantive due process claims of those plaintiffs who challenge California's decision to temporarily provide public education in an almost exclusively online format. The panel explained that both it and the Supreme Court have repeatedly declined to recognize a federal constitutional right to have the State affirmatively provide an education in any particular manner, and plaintiffs have not made a sufficient showing that the panel can or should recognize such a right in this case.However, in regard to the State's interference in the in-person provision of private education to the children of five of the plaintiffs in this case, the panel concluded that the State's forced closure of their private schools implicates a right that has long been considered fundamental under the applicable caselaw—the right of parents to control their children's education and to choose their children's educational forum. The panel explained that California's ban on in-person schooling abridges a fundamental liberty of these five plaintiffs that is protected by the Due Process Clause, and thus that prohibition can be upheld only if it withstands strict scrutiny. Given the State's closure order's lack of narrow tailoring, the panel cannot say that, as a matter of law, it survives such scrutiny. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to these five plaintiffs and remanded for further proceedings.In regard to plaintiffs' claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the panel concluded that the public-school plaintiffs have failed to make a sufficient showing of a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The panel explained that the challenged distinctions that the State has drawn between public schools and other facilities are subject only to rational-basis scrutiny, and these distinctions readily survive that lenient review. In regard to the private-school plaintiffs, the panel vacated the district court's judgment rejecting their Equal Protection claims and remanded for further consideration in light of the conclusion that the State's actions implicate a fundamental right of those plaintiffs. View "Brach v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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After initially disputing that a corrections officer was permanently and totally disabled from injuries suffered at work, the State conceded his disability status. The parties did not enter into a written settlement or stipulation because they disagreed about the amount of attorney’s fees the State should pay the officer’s attorney. After a hearing the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board awarded attorney’s fees under AS 23.30.145(a) in two parts: it awarded a specific amount of fees for work up to the time of the hearing and statutory minimum fees of 10% of ongoing benefits as long as the officer received permanent total disability benefits. The State appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which affirmed the Board’s decision because in the Commission’s view the award was not manifestly unreasonable. The State then appealed the Commission’s decision to us. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission. View "Alaska Department of Corrections v. Wozniak" on Justia Law

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A member of the Metlakatla Indian Community was convicted of several commercial fishing violations in State waters and fined $20,000. He appealed his conviction and sentence to the court of appeals, which asked the Alaska Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal because of the importance of the primary issue involved: whether the defendant’s aboriginal and treaty-based fishing rights exempted him from State commercial fishing regulations. The defendant also challenged several evidentiary rulings and the fairness of his sentence. Because the Supreme Court held the State had authority to regulate fishing in State waters in the interests of conservation regardless of the defendant’s claimed fishing rights, and because the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its procedural rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The Court also affirmed the sentence as not clearly mistaken, except for one detail on which the parties agreed: the district court was mistaken to include a probationary term in the sentence. The case was remanded for modification of the judgments to correct that mistake. View "Scudero Jr. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff Donald Shooter's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, Javan Mesnard, and the Arizona Governor's Chief of Staff, Kirk Adams, wrongfully engineered Shooter's expulsion as a representative from the Arizona House. In early 2018, Shooter was expelled from the Arizona House by a 56-3 vote after a legislative investigation into sexual harassment allegations concluded that he had created a hostile work environment. After the cause of action was removed to federal court, the district court dismissed the federal claim and remanded the state-law claims back to state court.The panel agreed that Shooter's federal cause of action under section 1983 was properly dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Because the complaint's allegations do not raise a plausible inference of sex discrimination, the panel concluded that Shooter's equal protection claim based on such a theory was properly dismissed. Furthermore, Shooter's two distinct due process theories are barred by qualified immunity. In this case, Shooter has failed to demonstrate a clearly established right to any due process protections beyond those already afforded to him by the Arizona House of Representatives. The panel concluded that the district court correctly held that Mesnard and Adams were entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing sua sponte to grant Shooter leave to amend. View "Shooter v. Arizona" on Justia Law

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Disabled children are entitled to benefits from the Social Security Administration, 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(C). While benefits for an adult depend on a work history plus current inability to perform a job, administrative officials ask whether the child’s limitations meet one of the many listed categories of disability or are functionally equivalent to one of them. When determining whether a child’s impairment is functionally equivalent to a listing, the issue is whether it produces a marked limitation in at least two—or an extreme limitation in one—of six “domains of functioning.”McCavic argued that his son, N., is disabled by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual limitations (an IQ near 70), oppositional defiant disorder, and nocturnal enuresis. He claimed that these conditions meet, or are functionally equivalent to certain listings. An ALJ found that N. did not meet any of the listings and has a marked limitation in only one functional category, “acquiring and using information.” A district judge affirmed. The ALJ was entitled to credit the views of a special-education teacher, who knew N well and had a good grasp of gradations among children with intellectual shortcomings. While N. may have met the standards of the old version of the regulations, but not the new one, the change applies “to claims that are pending on or after the effective date.” View "McCavitt v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Appellant, the City of Johnstown ("Johnstown"), contended that a party asserting a firefighter cancer claim had to satisfy the requirements of both Section 301(c)(2) and Section 301(f) of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act to establish a viable claim. Michael Sevanick was a firefighter for Johnstown for twenty-nine years. After retirement, he worked a a car dealership. Nine years after he retired, Sevanick was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In 2016, he filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, alleging that his cancer was caused by exposure to a carcinogen recognized as a Group 1 carcinogen by IARC during his time as a firefighter. The Workers' Compensation Judge found in Sevanick's favor, and Johnstown appealed. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board found that Section 301(c)(2) did not apply, but rather that the limitations of Sevanick's claim were governed by Section 301(f). The Board reasoned that Section 301(f) created a new timeframe for cancer-related occupational disease claims made by firefighters. Because Sevanick raised his claim well within 600 weeks from his last date of employment as a firefighter, the Board concluded the claim was timely. The Commonwealth Court agreed with that determination. Johnstown petitioned for Allowance of Appeal for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether a firefighter making a claim under Section 108(r) of the Act had to comply with the timing requirements of Section 301(c)(2). The Supreme Court concluded that the time for filing a Section 108(r) firefighter cancer claim was governed by Section 301(f) alone. Therefore, the Commonwealth Court's ruling was affirmed. View "City of Johnstown v. WCAB (Sevanick)" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the Commonwealth Court reversed determinations of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”), holding that Section 1301.1(a) required public utilities to revise their DSIC calculations to include income tax deductions and credits to reduce rates charged to consumers. Several public utilities sought to add or adjust DSICs to recover expenses related to repairing, improving, or replacing their distribution system infrastructure, and the Office of Consumer Advocate (“OCA”), through Acting Consumer Advocate Tanya McCloskey, raised challenges to these DSIC computations seeking to add calculations to account for income tax deductions and credits and thereby reduce the rates charged to consumers. The parties disputed whether and, if so, how the addition of Section 1301.1(a) into Subchapter A of Chapter 13 of the Code, requiring inclusion of “income tax deductions and credits” in rate calculations, should apply to the DSIC rate adjustment mechanism of Subchapter B of Chapter 13, 66 Pa.C.S. sections 1350- 1360. Broadly, the PUC and the public utilities argued: (1) ambiguity existed as to whether the General Assembly intended Section 1301.1 to apply to the DSIC mechanism; and, assuming for argument that it did apply; (2) that the Commonwealth Court’s application of Section 1301.1(a) improperly created conflicts with the statutory provisions governing the DSIC calculation; and/or (3) that certain existing DSIC statutory provisions could be read to satisfy the requirements of Section 1301.1(a). Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court differed in its reasoning, it affirmed the outcome of the Commonwealth Court's judgment. View "McCloskey v. PUC" on Justia Law

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U.S. Venture, Inc. (“Venture”) appealed a Commonwealth Court decision affirming the determination of the Pennsylvania Board of Claims (“Board”) that its dispute with the Commonwealth involving two grant agreements was not within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Board and that its claim was barred by sovereign immunity. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that any ambiguity within the relevant statutory provisions had to be resolved in favor of preserving sovereign immunity. Alternatively, the Court found these written grant agreements were in fact “grants,” which were not subject to the limited waiver of sovereign immunity. View "U.S. Venture Inc. v. Dep of Comm & Econo Dev" on Justia Law

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In May 2017, a PennLive reporter, PennLive, and the Patriot-News (collectively, “Appellees”) requested disclosure of all of the medical marijuana business permit applications in Pennsylvania pursuant to the Right- to-Know Law (“RTKL”). The Medical Marijuana Act, as well as the Department of Health’s temporary regulations, explicitly provided that permit applications were public records subject to disclosure under the RTKL. The applications for the issuance of permits required extensive information pertaining to various facets of the applicant’s intended business, including, inter alia, financial and operational capabilities; community impact plans; site and facility plans; the verification of an applicant’s principals, operators, financial backers, and employees; a description of the business activities in which the applicant intended to engage; and a statement that the applicant was able to maintain effective security and prevent diversion or other illegal conduct related to their medical marijuana business. The Department denied Appellees’ RTKL request, in part, referring Appellees to redacted copies of applications posted on its website. Access to the certain other applications, which had not yet been posted, were denied. The Department did not independently review the applicants’ redactions, but accepted all applicants’ redactions that applicants deemed confidential or proprietary, or otherwise subject to redaction under the RTKL. This resulted in a disparity in redactions across the various applications. Appellees appealed to the Office of Open Records, claiming the Department lacked a legal basis for its redactions. The Department and Applicants filed petitions for review with the Commonwealth Court, asserting various claims of error with respect to the OOR’s ultimate application of the exemptions under the RTKL to their respective applications. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court in two aspects: (1) rejecting the Department’s request to be relieved of its obligations to review all requests and determine what parts of a record are subject to disclosure and what parts are subject to redaction; and (2) rejecting Applicant Harvest’s contention that, its entire application should be deemed to be exempt from disclosure. The Court vacated parts of the Commonwealth Court's decision regarding Applicant Terrapin's claim its application was exempt from disclosure. The matter was remanded the Commonwealth Court for reconsideration of Terrapin's arguments for exemption. View "PennLive v. Dept of Health, Aplt." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“PEDF”) challenged amendments the Pennsylvania General Assembly made to the state Fiscal Code that diverted to the General Fund revenues generated from oil and gas leases on state forest and game lands. PEDF claimed the legislation was unconstitutional, violating the Environmental Rights Amendment (the “ERA”). When this case returned to the Commonwealth Court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the ERA created a constitutional public trust subject to private trust principles. Applying trust law, the Supreme Court determined that royalty revenue streams generated by the sale of gas extracted from Commonwealth lands represented the sale of trust assets and had to be returned to the corpus of the trust. To the extent that 72 P.S. sections 1602-E and 1603-E diverted royalties to the General Fund, the Court found the provisions violated the ERA. The Court lacked sufficient advocacy to determine if the remaining three revenue streams, consisting of large upfront bonus payments, yearly rental fees, and interest penalties for late payments that were allocated to the General Fund under Sections 1604-E and 1605-E, as well as Section 1912 of the Supplemental General Appropriations Act of 2009, also constituted the sale of trust assets. Thus the case was remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. On remand, the Commonwealth Court, sitting en banc, determined that the three revenue streams did not constitute the sale of trust assets. On return to the Supreme Court, it was determined the Commonwealth Court's holding was at odds with the Supreme Court's holding before remand. Another remand was unnecessary; the Supreme Court determined the record was sufficiently developed, and based upon that record it held the incomes generated under these oil and gas leases had to be returned to the corpus. As a result, the decision of the Commonwealth Court was reversed. View "PA. Environ. Defense Fd. v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law