Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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Zellweger applied for disability benefits in 2013, claiming a per se disabling spinal condition equivalent to Listing 1.04. His amended onset date was August 28, 2013. His last-insured status expired on September 30, 2013, so the application presented a narrow question: whether he was disabled during the one-month period from August 28 to September 30 (42 U.S.C. 416(i)(3)(B)). The primary medical basis for his application was cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease.An ALJ denied his claim, concluding that the medical evidence did not meet the criteria for Listing 1.04 and that Zellweger could perform light work. A magistrate reversed, ruling that the ALJ’s discussion was too cursory at step three of the sequential analysis prescribed in the agency regulations: assessing whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the Listings. Although the ALJ explained his reasoning more thoroughly later in his decision, the magistrate refused to consider that discussion.The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The sequential process is not so rigidly compartmentalized. Nothing prohibits a reviewing court from reading an ALJ’s decision holistically. The ALJ thoroughly analyzed the medical evidence at the step in the sequential analysis that addresses the claimant’s residual functional capacity. That analysis elaborated on the more cursory discussion at step three and was easily adequate to support the ALJ’s rejection of a per se disability under Listing 1.04. View "Zellweger v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, aliens unlawfully in the United States seeking U-Visas, filed suit alleging that DHS unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed adjudication of their U-Visa petitions and their applications for work authorization pending U-Visa approval.The Fourth Circuit held that it lacked the power to review plaintiffs' work-authorization claims here because the agency is not required to adjudicate plaintiffs' requests. The court explained that, under the Administrative Procedure Act and All Writs Act, it can only compel faster agency action if the agency is required to act. In this case, neither congressional statutes nor agency regulations compel the agency to adjudicate these requested pre-waiting-list work authorizations. However, the court may review plaintiffs' claim that DHS unreasonably delayed adjudicating their U-Visa petitions. Furthermore, plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to avoid dismissal of their claim for unreasonable delay in placing them on the waiting list. Accordingly, the court dismissed plaintiffs' claims relating to their requests for pre-waiting-list work authorization and remanded plaintiffs' claim relating to U-Visa adjudications. View "Fernandez Gonzalez v. Cuccinelli" on Justia Law

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After employees of M.D. Anderson lost patients' data, HHS fined M.D. Anderson $4,348,000. M.D. Anderson petitioned for review, and HHS conceded that it could not defend a fine in excess of $450,000. HHS then sought a reduction of the penalty by a factor of 10.The Fifth Circuit granted M.D. Anderson's petition for review and held that the civil monetary penalty (CMP) violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law. In this case, HHS steadfastly refused to interpret the statutes at issue; the ALJ likewise refused to consider whether the multi-million-dollar CMP was arbitrary or capricious; and HHS's Departmental Appeals Board agreed with the ALJ. Reviewing de novo, the court concluded that the CMP order was arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise unlawful for at least four independent reasons: 1) based on the Encryption Rule; 2) based on the Disclosure Rule; 3) the ALJ erroneously insisted that the Government can arbitrarily and capriciously enforce the CMP rules against some covered entities and not others; and 4) based on the penalty amounts. Because the Government has offered no lawful basis for its civil monetary penalties against M.D. Anderson, the court vacated the CMP order and remanded for further proceedings. View "University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center v. United States Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Saint Francis Memorial Hospital sought a writ of administrative mandate after being fined $50,000 by the California Department of Public Health. The trial court dismissed, based on the statute of limitations. The court appeal affirmed in 2018, finding that the petition was not timely and that Saint Francis was not entitled to the benefit of either equitable tolling or equitable estoppel.The state Supreme Court held that the 30-day limitations period under Government Code section 11523 for filing a petition for a writ of administrative mandate may be equitably tolled and that the first two elements of equitable tolling, timely notice and lack of prejudice, were satisfied, and remanded the question of whether Saint Francis satisfied the third element of reasonable and good faith conduct. The Department conceded that Saint Francis acted in good faith. The court of appeal again affirmed the dismissal. Saint Francis’s actions were not objectively reasonable. It is not objectively reasonable for an attorney to miss a deadline to file a petition due to a failure to appreciate easily ascertainable legal principles concerning whether reconsideration was an available remedy. View "Saint Francis Memorial Hospital v. State Department of Public Health" on Justia Law

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Laron Young appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Burleigh Morton Detention Center (“BMDC”). Young was an inmate at BMDC. Reliance Telephone of Grand Forks, Inc. (“Reliance”) contracted with BMDC to operate its inmate telephone system. Every call that was not listed as “private” within the Reliance system was automatically recorded. It was undisputed that the telephone number for Young’s attorney was not on the list of private numbers and various calls between himself and his attorney were recorded. Young sued BMDC and Reliance arguing his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated and that BMDC had not complied with N.D.C.C. 12- 44.1-14(1), which required correctional facilities to ensure inmates have confidential access to their attorneys. The district court dismissed the claims against Reliance for lack of jurisdiction, and granted summary judgment in favor of BMDC, concluding Young had not alleged facts to support a finding that he was prejudiced by the recordings and therefore his right to counsel was not violated. The court also concluded Young had not alleged facts to support a finding that BMDC violated N.D.C.C. 12-44.1-14(1). The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, that to the extent relief might be available for Young’s claim, he did not allege facts to support a finding that BMDC knowingly intruded into the communications he had with his attorney or that prejudice or a substantial threat of prejudice existed. Therefore, the district court did not err when it granted BMDC summary judgment on Young’s Sixth Amendment claim. With respect to Young's statutory claim, the Court found the plain language of the statute did not require correctional facilities to affirmatively identify an inmate's attorney's telephone number as Young argued. Rather, by its own language, N.D.C.C. 12-44.1-14 was “subject to reasonable . . . correctional facility administration requirements.” The Court thus concluded BMDC’s policy allowing inmates or their attorneys to register attorney telephone numbers as confidential numbers not to be monitored did not constitute a violation of N.D.C.C. 12- 44.1-14(1). View "Young v. Burleigh Morton Detention Center, et al." on Justia Law

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Brendel Construction appealed a district court judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) decision to hold Brendel Construction liable for unpaid workers compensation premiums and penalties attributed to a subcontractor’s account, and determining Randy Brendel was personally liable for unpaid workers compensation premiums. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) cross-appealed the district court’s order dismissing WSI’s cross-appeal from the decision of the ALJ as untimely filed. WSI identified Brendel Construction as the general contractor for a roofing project in Bismarck where crew members were reported to be working without fall protection. WSI’s investigation of the report regarding the lack of fall protection expanded into an investigation of workers compensation coverage. WSI ultimately concluded that two of Brendel Construction’s subcontractors, Alfredo Frias and Daniel Alvidrez, were uninsured and not providing North Dakota workers compensation coverage for their employees. WSI requested, but did not receive, information from Brendel Construction regarding the subcontractors’ income. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the imposition of liability against Brendel Construction for unpaid workers compensation premiums and penalties, and affirmed the imposition of liability against Randy Brendel. The Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of WSI’s cross-appeal as untimely filed. View "Brendel Construction v. WSI" on Justia Law

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Wilmington Trust financed construction projects. Extensions were commonplace. Wilmington’s loan documents reserved its right to “renew or extend (repeatedly and for any length of time) this loan . . . without the consent of or notice to anyone.” Wilmington’s internal policy did not classify all mature loans with unpaid principals as past due if the loans were in the process of renewal and interest payments were current, Following the 2008 "Great Recession," Wilmington excluded some of the loans from those it reported as “past due” to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve. Wilmington’s executives maintained that, under a reasonable interpretation of the reporting requirements, the exclusion of the loans from the “past due” classification was proper. The district court denied their requests to introduce evidence concerning or instruct the jury about that alternative interpretation. The jury found the reporting constituted “false statements” under 18 U.S.C. 1001 and 15 U.S.C. 78m, and convicted the executives.The Third Circuit reversed in part. To prove falsity beyond a reasonable doubt in this situation, the government must prove either that its interpretation of the reporting requirement is the only objectively reasonable interpretation or that the defendant’s statement was also false under the alternative, objectively reasonable interpretation. The court vacated and remanded the conspiracy and securities fraud convictions, which were charged in the alternative on an independent theory of liability, View "United States v. Harra" on Justia Law

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A Compact between Pennsylvania and New Jersey created the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which is authorized to “acquire, own, use, lease, operate, and dispose of real property and interest in real property, and to make improvements,” and to "exercise all other powers . . . reasonably necessary or incidental to the effectuation of its authorized purposes . . . except the power to levy taxes or assessments.” The Commission undertook to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge, purchased land near the bridge in Pennsylvania, and broke ground on a building to house the Commission’s staff in a single location. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry inspectors observed the construction; the Commission never applied for a building permit as required under the Department’s regulations. The Commission asserted that it was exempt from Pennsylvania’s regulatory authority. The Department threatened the Commission’s elevator subcontractor with regulatory sanctions for its involvement in the project. The Commission sought declaratory and injunctive relief.After rejecting an Eleventh Amendment argument, the Third Circuit upheld an injunction prohibiting the Department from seeking to inspect or approve the elevators and from further impeding, interfering, or delaying the contractors. Pennsylvania unambiguously ceded some of its sovereign authority through the Compact. The fact that both states expressly reserved their taxing power—but not other powers—indicates that they did not intend to retain the authority to enforce building safety regulations. View "Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated and remanded the ruling of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denying Petitioner's claims for asylum and withholding of removal, holding that substantial evidence did not support the BIA's finding that Petitioner lacked a reasonable basis for his fear of being harmed on account of his membership in a particular social group.Petitioner, an Iraqi citizen, sought relief from removal on the grounds of asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). Petitioner asserted that he feared he would be subjected to harm in Iraq at the hands of members of Iraq's military or civilian insurgents in Iraq on account of his work as a paid contractor for the United States Army during the war in Iraq. The BIA denied all claims. The First Circuit vacated the BIA's decision in part, holding (1) the record evidence failed to support the BIA's affirmance of the immigration judge's finding that Petitioner did not sufficiently show that he had an objectively reasonable basis for fearing that he would face harm in Iraq; and (2) the BIA properly denied Petitioner's claim for relief under the CAT. View "Al Amiri v. Rosen" on Justia Law

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The VA sought to procure cable gun locks with information about its suicide prevention line imprinted on the lock body, on a label attached to the cable, and an accompanying wallet card. VA submitted a requisition form to the Government Publishing Office (GPO), which issued an invitation for bids, with unrestricted competition. In a bid protest, the Government Accountability Office found that the Veterans Benefits Act (VBA), 38 U.S.C. 8127(i), applied. VA submitted a revised requisition. VA maintains a database of all verified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs). The GPO’s contracting officer concluded that the GPO was obligated to employ unrestricted competitive bidding without a Rule of Two analysis. The Rule of Two requires that when two or more verified and capable SDVOSBs are identified, the acquisition must be set-aside for SDVOSBs, provided the contracting officer has a reasonable expectation that two or more verified SDVSOBs will submit offers and that the award can be made at a reasonable price. The contracting officer stated that the GPO would “leverage the VA database" to ensure that verified firms received an opportunity to bid.The Claims Court dismissed a pre-award bid protest, reasoning that the solicitation fell within the printing mandate, 44 U.S.C. 501, which requires that governmental "printing, binding, and blank-book work” be done at the GPO; that the VA adequately explained its decision to employ the GPO; and that the VA had met its obligation to secure GPO compliance “to the maximum extent feasible” with the Rule of Two. The Federal Circuit reversed. The printing mandate applies only to the production of written or graphic published materials; the solicitation at issue does not involve “printing.” View "Veterans4You, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law