Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

by
This litigation arose from a decision by the City of Chula Vista (the City) to reject applications by CV Amalgamated LLC, dba Caligrown (CVA) for licenses to operate retail cannabis stores in the City. In 2018, the City enacted an ordinance regulating commercial cannabis businesses (the Cannabis Ordinance). Among other things, the Cannabis Ordinance allowed for a maximum of eight storefront retail cannabis business licenses, with up to two licenses in each of the City’s four council districts (the Council Districts). CVA submitted applications for storefront retail cannabis business licenses in each of the City’s four Council Districts. CVA filed an appeal with the City Manager, in which it challenged the City’s rejections of its applications for licenses in Council Districts One, Three and Four. After a hearing, CVA's applications were again denied, and it initiated this litigation in September 2020. On January 29, 2021, the trial court issued an order denying CVA’s motion for a writ of mandate. The trial court made no factual findings and failed to explain why it concluded that CVA had failed to meet its burden. The Court of Appeal concluded the City failed to follow its ministerial and mandatory duty to follow its own procedures when it rejected CVA's applications in the initial assessments of the applications. The trial court's judgment was reversed with instructions to issue a writ of mandate directing the City to reassess CVA's applications in districts One, Three and Four. View "CV Amalgamated LLC v. City of Chula Vista" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the court of special appeals affirming the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Montgomery County in this workers' compensation case, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.In 2007, Petitioner, a firefighter in Montgomery County, experienced a service-related back injury, which led to his retirement three years later. Petitioner subsequently developed a compensable degree of occupational hearing loss related to his employment and sought workers' compensation benefits. Although the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded Petitioner compensation for his hearing loss the Commission determined that the entirety fo the award be offset under Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. (LE) 9-610. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Petitioner's service-connected total disability retirement benefits arising from his back injury were "similar" to his permanent partial disability benefits, and the benefits related to his occupational hearing were offset under LE 9-610. View "Spevak v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the probate court denying Petitioner's petition to issue the predicate findings he needed to support an application to the federal government for special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) status, holding that the probate court applied an incorrect legal framework in ruling on Petitioner's petition.Petitioner, who left his native El Salvador at the age of sixteen to escape gang violence, filed an SIJ petition the day after he turned eighteen. The probate court denied the petition, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with direction that the case be remanded to the probate court for issuance of SIJ predicate findings, holding that returning Petitioner to live in El Salvador would be detrimental to his best interest under California law. View "In re Guardianship of Saul H." on Justia Law

by
A DEA task force investigated Jacobs, a Kentucky drug dealer. Jacobs sold drugs to a couple who allegedly were “good friends” with the local Commonwealth Attorney (CA). After Jacobs' arrest on state drug-trafficking charges, the couple had extensive conversations with the CA. After one conversation, an assistant state prosecutor requested Jacobs’s cell phone records from the task force, alerting the DEA to the CA’s relationship with Jacobs’s customers. The CA became involved in the case in other ways, impeding Jacobs’ use as a cooperating witness in other federal investigations by opposing a bond reduction and refusing to seek a state search warrant for an unrelated case if the DEA agent from the Jacobs investigation was involved. The DEA began investigating the CA’s conduct, “Operation Speakeasy.” Evidence was presented to the U.S. Attorney, who refused to bring obstruction charges against the CA.A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552 request with the DEA, seeking any document related to the Jacobs investigation or Operation Speakeasy. The DEA denied that request, citing an exception for “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes,” disclosure of which “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Enquirer’s suit. The documents “only minimally advance[d] a public interest in shedding light on the decision” to not prosecute the CA and “significant privacy interests outweigh[ed] the proffered public interest.” View "Cincinnati Enquirer v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

by
Alight provides recordkeeping services for employee healthcare and retirement benefit plans, some of which are governed by ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461 The Department of Labor investigated Alight, following a discovery that Alight processed unauthorized distributions of plan benefits due to cybersecurity breaches, and sent Alight an administrative subpoena duces tecum, seeking documents in response to 32 inquiries, including broad demands, such as “[a]ll documents and communications relating to services offered to ERISA plan clients.” Alight produced some documents but objected to several inquiries, citing its duty to keep certain information confidential. The Department petitioned for enforcement of the subpoena. Alight produced additional materials but redacted most of the documents to remove client identifying information, preventing the Department from discerning potential ERISA violations. Alight asked the court to quash or limit the subpoena and permit redactions. Alight’s legal consultant projected full compliance would require “thousands of hours of work.” The Department clarified or narrowed its requests.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting the Department’s petition to enforce the subpoena with some modifications. The court rejected Alight’s arguments that the subpoena is unenforceable because the Department lacks authority to investigate the company because it is not a fiduciary under ERISA, or cybersecurity incidents generally; that the subpoena’s demands are too indefinite and unduly burdensome, and that the district court abused its discretion by denying Alight’s request for a protective order to limit production of certain sensitive information. View "Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Years ago, Mynatt an IRS employee, “blew the whistle” to a member of Congress about a “wasteful IRS manager conference” and gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he was critical of his union president. Mynatt asserts that federal employees formed a plan to retaliate by framing Mynatt for stealing union funds: two separate employees reported his alleged theft to government agencies, triggering internal investigations. The Department of Justice “determined the alleged crimes did not occur,” and that the investigations “were political in nature,” and declined to prosecute. The co-conspirators then lobbied Tennessee district attorneys, presenting “false testimony and forged documents” to prosecutors, despite admitting that “the charges were political in nature and not based on provable facts.” Special agent Kemp testified before a state grand jury “using false testimony and altered documents,” which resulted in a two-count grand-jury indictment of Mynatt. The District Attorney ultimately dismissed the charges.Mynatt filed several lawsuits against the United States, his union, and their employees. In this suit, Mynatt claims that the United States is liable for malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy under Tennessee law via the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A federal employee’s use of false testimony and forged documents to secure an indictment from a state grand jury does not fall within the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1), 2680(a), so, the government is not entitled to sovereign immunity. View "Mynatt v. United States" on Justia Law

by
When Plaintiff-appellant Linda Smith purchased a prescribed continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM) and its necessary supplies between 2016 and 2018, she sought reimbursement through Medicare Part B. Medicare administrators denied her claims. Relying on a 2017 ruling issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare concluded Smith’s CGM was not “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose” and therefore was not covered by Part B. Smith appealed the denial of her reimbursement claims through the multistage Medicare claims review process. At each stage, her claims were denied. Smith then sued the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in federal court, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. Contending that her CGM and supplies satisfied the requirements for Medicare coverage. Instead of asking the court to uphold the denial of Smith’s claims, the Secretary admitted that Smith’s claims should have been covered and that the agency erred by denying her claims. Rather than accept the Secretary’s admission, Smith argued that the Secretary only admitted error to avoid judicial review of the legality of the 2017 ruling. During Smith’s litigation, CMS changed its Medicare coverage policy for CGMs. Prompted by several adverse district court rulings, CMS promulgated a formal rule in December 2021 classifying CGMs as durable medical equipment covered by Part B. But the rule applied only to claims for equipment received after February 28, 2022, so pending claims for equipment received prior to that date were not covered by the new rule. Considering the new rule and the Secretary’s confession of error, the district court in January 2022 remanded the case to the Secretary with instructions to pay Smith’s claims. The district court did not rule on Smith’s pending motions regarding her equitable relief claims; instead, the court denied them as moot. Smith appealed, arguing her equitable claims were justiciable because the 2017 ruling had not been fully rescinded. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the Secretary that Smith’s claims were moot: taken together, the December 2021 final rule and the 2022 CMS ruling that pending and future claims for CGMs would be covered by Medicare deprived the Tenth Circuit jurisdiction for further review. View "Smith v. Becerra" on Justia Law

by
A nonprofit entity representing commercial fishers sued the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game, alleging that the State’s fishery management practices in Cook Inlet were unjustified and violated federal law and national standards. The nonprofit sought to depose two current Fish and Game employees but the State opposed, arguing that all material facts necessary for a decision of the case were in the administrative record. The superior court agreed with the State and quashed the nonprofit’s deposition notices. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of the State, deciding that the Cook Inlet fishery was not governed by federal standards and that none of the nonprofit’s disagreements with the State’s fishery management practices stated a violation of statute or regulation. The nonprofit appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court judgment. View "Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Alaska Legislature passed a bill in 2018 that appropriated money for public education spending for both FY2019, and FY2020. The second appropriation had a 2019 effective date. Governor Mike Dunleavy took office in December 2018, and disputed the constitutionality of the second year’s appropriation — and the general practice known as forward funding — asserting that it violated the annual appropriations model established by the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Legislative Council, acting on behalf of the legislature, sued the governor, seeking a declaratory judgment that the governor violated his constitutional duties by failing to execute the appropriations and an injunction requiring him to do so. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the superior court decided that the appropriations were consistent with the legislature’s duty to fund public education, that they did not violate any specific constitutional provision, and that the governor’s refusal to disburse funds pursuant to the appropriations violated his duty to faithfully execute the laws. The court awarded attorney’s fees to the Legislative Council and the advocacy group as prevailing parties. The governor appeals the court’s grant of summary judgment and the award of attorney’s fees to the advocacy group. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its holding, and because neither the Legislative Council nor the advocacy group was prevailing party, the superior court’s attorney’s fees awards were vacated. View "Dunleavy, et al. v. Alaska Legislative Council, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Fairbanks North Star Borough partially revoked a local ministry’s charitable property tax exemption after learning that the ministry was renting lodging to the general public. The ministry appealed the Borough’s decision to the superior court. The court remanded the issue to the Borough’s assessor for more detailed findings, instructed the ministry that any appeal following remand should be made to the Board of Equalization rather than superior court, and closed the case. The assessor issued new findings justifying the partial revocation of the tax exemption, and the ministry appealed to both the Board and the superior court (in a different case). The ministry also filed a motion in the first appeal asking the superior court to enforce its order instructing that appeals be made to the Board. The superior court issued a sua sponte order granting the ministry’s first appeal on the merits, finding “that the assessor [did not] rely on sufficient evidence to revoke [the ministry’s] tax exempt status.” The Borough appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that following remand, supplemental Board findings, and a new appeal from those findings, the superior court lacked the subject matter jurisdiction to decide the ministry’s first appeal on the merits. The Supreme Court therefore vacate its decision granting Victory’s appeal. View "Fairbanks North Star Borough v. Victory Ministries of Alaska, Inc., et al." on Justia Law