Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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When the Indiana Department of Child Services identifies a situation that involves the apparent neglect or abuse of a child, it files a “CHINS” (Children in Need of Services) petition that may request the child’s placement with foster parents. The litigation ends only when the court determines that the child’s parents can resume unsupervised custody, the child is adopted, or the child turns 18. Minors who are or were subject to CHINS proceedings sought an injunction covering how the Department investigates child welfare before CHINS proceedings, when it may or must initiate CHINS proceedings, and what relief the Department may or must pursue. The district court denied a request to abstain and declined to dismiss the suit.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Only two plaintiffs still have live claims; all of their claims may be resolved in CHINS proceedings, so “Younger” abstention applies. Short of ordering the state to produce more money, "it is hard to see what options are open to a federal court but closed to a CHINS court." It is improper for a federal court to issue an injunction requiring a state official to comply with existing state law. Questions that lie outside the scope of CHINS proceedings, such as how the Department handles investigations before filing a CHINS petition, do not affect the status of the remaining plaintiffs. Any contentions that rest on state law also are outside the province of the federal court. View "Ashley W. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

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In Case No. 02CW403, and Case No. 10CW306, the Colorado Water Court Division 1 determined, among other things, that the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (“FRICO”) did not have a decreed right to use seepage water accruing to a ditch known as the Beebe Seep Canal. FRICO nonetheless continued to utilize the seepage water outside the priority system to make additional water available to its shareholders for irrigation. In 2016, FRICO sought a decree confirming absolute and conditional water rights to use unappropriated: (1) water seeping from Barr Lake; and (2) natural runoff, drainage, waste, return flows, and seepage water arising in, flowing into, and accruing to the Beebe Seep Canal (the “Subject Water Rights”) to supplement water deliveries to its shareholders for irrigation. Following the culmination of stipulations with most of the twenty initial objectors and a five-day trial, the water court issued its final judgment confirming, adjudicating, approving, and decreeing FRICO’s use of the Subject Water Rights contingent upon certain terms and conditions outlined within the water court’s Amended Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Judgment and Decree of the Court (“Amended Decree”). The issues raised by FRICO in this appeal concerned three of the specific terms and conditions that the water court placed upon FRICO’s use of the Subject Water Rights. The issue raised by three of the objectors in their cross-appeal concerned the water court’s authority to grant certain of these new rights. The Colorado Supreme Court found the water court's findings and its imposition of the challenged terms and conditions in the Amended Decree were supported by the record and did not violate FRICO's right to appropriate unappropriated water. Further, the Supreme Court held the water court was within its authority to grant FRICO the absolute rights challenged by the three objectors in their cross-appeal. View "Farmers Reservoir v. Arapahoe County" on Justia Law

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USN4U brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, alleging that Wolf Creek and its employees submitted falsely inflated project estimates to NASA for facilities maintenance, resulting in the negotiation of fraudulently induced, exorbitant contract prices. USN4U alleged that “[t]he Government paid Wolf Creek and its union employees for labor not actually performed,” described specific projects, and alleged that when Wolf Creek performed NASA projects, workgroup leads instructed “participating union employee[s]” to falsely report their labor hours to “justify the inflated [labor] estimate.” USN4U identified several Wolf Creek employees who were allegedly active members of the fraudulent schemeCiting NASA’s subsequent decision to pay the invoices and continue to contract with Wolf Creek, and the government’s decision not to intervene in USN4U’s claim, the district court dismissed the suit.The Sixth Circuit reversed. USN4U adequately alleged fraud. NASA asked Wolf Creek for estimates and always awarded the contracts for the quoted amount, which could indicate that NASA trusted and relied upon the purported accuracy of Wolf Creek’s estimates. NASA plausibly would not have agreed to pay Wolf Creek the quoted amount if NASA knew that it was being grossly overcharged. View "USN4U, LLC v. Wolf Creek Federal Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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This putative class action against California and San Diego County officials challenged California Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency orders and related public health directives restricting business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs, owners of affected restaurants and gyms (Owners), primarily contended the orders were procedurally invalid because they were adopted without complying with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Furthermore, Owners contended that the business restrictions were substantively invalid because they effected a taking without compensation, violating the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rejecting these claims, the superior court sustained demurrers to the third amended complaint without leave to amend and dismissed the action. While the Court of Appeal sympathized with the position some Owners find themselves in and the significant financial losses they alleged, the unambiguous terms of the Emergency Services Act and controlling United States Supreme Court regulatory takings caselaw required that the judgment be affirmed. View "640 Tenth, LP v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Appellant Raymond Dapo filed suit against his adoptive mother for sexual abuse that allegedly occurred 13 years earlier. He then agreed to release the adoptive mother from liability in exchange for her filing a third-party equitable apportionment claim against the Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and assigning the claim to him. OCS challenged the validity of this assignment. The superior court agreed with OCS that the assignment of the adoptive mother’s apportionment claim was void; it invalidated the assignment, dismissed the claim with prejudice, and awarded OCS attorney’s fees. Dapo appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court found that because a defendant prosecuting a third-party equitable apportionment claim possessed nothing in the claim itself that could be assigned, such claims are not assignable, and the Court affirmed the superior court’s invalidation of the assignment in this case. But the Supreme Court also concluded that it was error to dismiss the apportionment claim with prejudice; the Court thus vacated the order of dismissal and remanded for the court to provide the adoptive mother a reasonable time to decide whether to pursue the claim herself. View "Dapo v. Dept. of Health & Soc. Svcs" on Justia Law

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In this consolidated workers compensation appeal arising from disputes between EagleMed, LLC, a critical care transportation service, and Travelers Insurance, a workers compensation insurance carrier, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment directing the Workers Compensation Appeals Board to dismiss this proceeding, holding that remand was required.49 U.S.C. 41713(b)(1) prohibits states from enacting or enforcing any law related to a service of an air carrier providing air transportation. Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-510i(c)(2) requires the Director of the Division of Workers Compensation to oversee health care provider services to ensure charges are "fair, reasonable, and necessary." At issue was the phrase "usual and customary charges." The Board decided it lacked jurisdiction to determine the reasonableness of air ambulance charges that would reduce the amount owed, made no factual determination whether the disputed billings were "usual and customary charges," and ordered Travelers to pay in full. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court vacated the panel's decision and the Board's order that Travelers pay EagleMed in full and remanded the case for the Board to decide whether the charges were "usual and customary," holding that the Board will need to interpret this term in a manner reflecting both federal law and the state's legislative purposes. View "EagleMed v. Travelers Insurance" on Justia Law

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The 1938 Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act prioritized purchasing products from suppliers that employed blind individuals; 41 U.S.C. 8501–06, establishes a procurement system in which the government procures certain commodities and services from nonprofit agencies that employ the blind or otherwise severely disabled. The “AbilityOne Program” regulations govern the procurement system. 41 C.F.R. 51 and reiterate the Program's mandatory nature. The DLA, within the Defense Department, issued a Solicitation that contemplated awards for a Rifleman Set with Tactical Assault Panel (TAP) and Advanced TAP (ATAP). Before an ATAP award was made, SEKRI, a nonprofit agency qualified as a mandatory source of ATAP under the AbilityOne Program, sought an injunction prohibiting the federal government from procuring ATAP from any other source.The Claims Court dismissed for lack of standing, reasoning that SEKRI cannot claim to be a prospective bidder because the solicitation period had ended and the only action SEKRI took before filing its complaint was contacting DLA, through a third party, to inform DLA that SEKRI was a mandatory ATAP source. SEKRI did not submit a bid before the deadline despite DLA’s invitation. The Federal Circuit reversed. SEKRI qualifies as a prospective bidder for standing purposes under the Tucker Act. Given DLA’s awareness during the bidding process that SEKRI is the mandatory ATAP source, SEKRI has not waived its right to bring its bid protest action under the “Blue & Gold” standard. View "SEKRI, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Martha owns the largest undeveloped parcel of property in the vicinity of Tiburon, 110 acres on top of a mountain, overlooking much of the town and commanding a stunning view of San Francisco Bay. For decades, Martha has sought approval from the County of Marin to develop the property. Local opposition has been intense, including federal court litigation, starting in 1975 and resulting in stipulated judgments in 1976 and 2007. The county twice publicly agreed to approve Martha building no fewer than 43 units on the property. In 2017, the county certified an environmental impact report and conditionally approved Martha’s master plan for 43 single-family residences. The county believed its actions were compelled by the stipulated judgments.The town and residents sued, claiming that the county effectively agreed it would not follow or enforce state law, specifically, the California Environmental Quality Act, to prevent the development of an anticipated project. The court of appeal upheld the approvals. Governmental powers are indefeasible and inalienable; they cannot be surrendered, suspended, contracted away, waived, or otherwise divested. Government cannot bind the hands of its successors. In this case, the county did not abdicate its authority or otherwise undertake not to comply with CEQA. “With its eyes wide open,” the county complied with a binding, final judgment; that judgment in no way anticipated or legitimated ignoring CEQA. View "Tiburon Open Space Committee v. County of Marin" on Justia Law

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Crystal Geyser Water Company bought a closed water bottling facility and sought to revive it. Both the County and the City ultimately granted the necessary permits. This appeal concerned one of two lawsuits challenging these approvals, brought pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In one suit, Appellants We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review and Winnehem Wintu Tribe alleged that the County’s environmental review for the bottling facility was inadequate under CEQA. In another, they alleged that the City’s decision to issue the wastewater permit for the bottling plant was also improper under CEQA. In this case, the County served as the lead agency and considered the potential environmental impacts of permitting the bottling facility before it or any other public agency issued a permit for the facility. But in Appellants’ view, the County’s analysis was inadequate. Appellants alleged the County: (1) provided a misleading description of the project; (2) defined the project’s objectives in an impermissibly narrow manner; (3) improperly evaluated the project’s impacts to aesthetics, air quality, climate change, noise, and hydrology; and (4) approved the project even though it would result in violations of the County’s and the City’s general plans. The trial court rejected all Appellants’ arguments. But the Court of Appeal found two contentions had merit: (1) the County defined the project’s objectives in an overly narrow manner; and (2) the process for evaluating the project’s impacts to climate change was flawed. Relevant to this point, the County initially informed the public that the bottling project would result in greenhouse gas emissions of one amount, but, after the period for public comments had ended, the County disclosed that the project would actually result in emissions nearly double what it initially estimated. Under the circumstances of this case, the appellate court found the County should have allowed the public further opportunity to comment on the project after this late disclosure. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "We Advocate Through etc. v. County of Siskiyou" on Justia Law

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The Transgender Law Center (collectively “TLC”), acting on behalf of the family and estate of an asylum-seeker, submitted two FOIA requests. The first FOIA request was directed to the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), and the second was directed to the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. TLC filed suit in district court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court granted TLC’s request for declaratory judgment holding that the agencies had failed to timely respond to their FOIA requests, but ruled for the agencies in all other respects.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s partial summary judgment; vacated the district court’s mootness determination; and remanded. The court held that the government’s belated disclosure was not “adequate” under FOIA. The court reasoned that the Government failed to carry its burden because the agencies did not appropriately respond to positive indications of overlooked materials provided by TLC and did not hew to their duty to follow obvious leads.The court further held that the agencies’ Vaughn indices were filled with boilerplate or conclusory statements; and this high-level, summary approach resulted in an unacceptable lack of specificity and tailoring that undermined TLC’s ability to contest the agencies’ withholdings. The court also held that the Government failed to come forward with clear, precise, and easily reviewable explanations for why the information was not segregable. View "TRANSGENDER LAW CENTER V. ICE" on Justia Law