Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus directing vacatur of the district court's issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against executive order GA-09 as applied to abortion procedures. In order to preserve critical medical resources during the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of Texas issued GA-09, which postpones non-essential surgeries and procedures until 11:59 p.m. on April 21, 2020. The court held that the drastic and extraordinary remedy of mandamus was warranted in this case because the district court ignored the framework governing emergency public health measures, like GA-09, in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905); the district court wrongly declared GA-09 an "outright ban" on previability abortions and exempted all abortion procedures from its scope, rather than apply the Jacobson framework to decide whether GA-09 lacks a "real or substantial relation" to the public health crisis or whether it is "beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion" of the right to abortion; the district court failed to apply the undue-burden analysis in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 857 (1992), and thus failed to balance GA-09's temporary burdens on abortion against its benefits in thwarting a public health crisis; and the district court usurped the state's authority to craft emergency health measures, substituting instead its own view of the efficacy of applying GA-09 to abortion. Therefore, the court found that the requirements for a writ of mandamus are satisfied in light of the extraordinary nature of these errors, the escalating spread of COVID-19, and the state's critical interest in protecting the public health. View "In re: Gregg Abbott" on Justia Law

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Sonia and Hector Ruiz's (together Ruiz) home flooded because their privately owned underground storm drain pipe rusted out after 50 years of use. They sued the County of San Diego (County) for inverse condemnation, and after a bench trial the court entered judgment in their favor (essentially the cost of replacing their metal pipe (the Ruiz pipe)) with a reinforced concrete pipe. The primary issue on appeal was whether a privately owned storm drain pipe located on private property, for which a public entity had rejected an offer of dedication, nevertheless became a public improvement because "public water" drained through it. After review of the trial court record, the Court of Appeal agreed with the County that under settled law, the answer is no. The County also contended the trial court's alternative basis for imposing liability, that the County acted unreasonably in discharging water through a public drainage system that connects to the Ruiz pipe, also failed. "Even viewing the evidence most favorably to Ruiz, the evidence is insufficient to sustain the judgment on this theory." Accordingly, judgment was reversed with directions to enter judgment for the County. View "Ruiz v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Claiming insolvency, taxpayer Vincent Hamilton sought to exclude nearly $160,000 in student loans that were forgiven from his taxable income. During the same tax year, however, he had received a non-taxable partnership distribution worth more than $300,000. His wife transferred those funds into a previously-unused savings account held nominally by their adult son. Using login credentials provided by their son, Mrs. Hamilton incrementally transferred almost $120,000 back to the joint checking account she shared with her husband. The Hamiltons used these funds to support their living expenses. In a late-filed joint tax return, they excluded the discharged student-loan debt on the theory that Mr. Hamilton was insolvent. In calculating his assets and liabilities, however, the Hamiltons did not include the funds transferred into the savings account. Had they done so, Mr. Hamilton would not have met the criteria for insolvency; and the couple would have owed federal income tax on the student-loan discharge. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue eventually filed a Notice of Deficiency, reasoning that the partnership distribution rendered Mr. Hamilton solvent, such that the Hamiltons were required to pay income tax on the cancelled student loan debt. debt. The Hamiltons petitioned for review from the Tax Court, which sustained both the deficiency and a significant late-filing penalty. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court's judgment. View "Hamilton v. CIR" on Justia Law

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The IRS conducted a civil audit of Peter Hermes, Kevin Desilet, Samantha Murphy, and John Murphy (collectively, the “Taxpayers”) to verify their tax liabilities for their medical- marijuana dispensary, Standing Akimbo, LLC. The IRS was investigating whether the Taxpayers had taken improper deductions for business expenses arising from a “trade or business” that “consists of trafficking in controlled substances.” Claiming to fear criminal prosecution, the Taxpayers declined to provide the audit information to the IRS. This left the IRS to seek the information elsewhere—it issued four summonses for plant reports, gross-sales reports and license information to the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (the “Enforcement Division”), which is the state entity responsible for regulating licensed marijuana sales. In Colorado federal district court, the Taxpayers filed a petition to quash the summonses. The government moved to dismiss the petition and to enforce the summonses. The district court granted the motion to dismiss and ordered the summonses enforced. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the Taxpayers failed to overcome the IRS' showing of good faith, and failed to establish that enforcing the summonses would constitute an abuse of process. View "Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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An Illinois municipality may join the Municipal League, an unincorporated, nonprofit, nonpolitical association, and may pay annual membership dues and fees; member municipalities may act through the League to provide and disseminate information and research services and do other acts for improving local government, 65 ILCS 5/1-8-1. Lincolnshire is one of more than a thousand dues-paying League members and uses tax revenue to pay the dues from the Village’s General Fund. From 2013-2018, Lincolnshire paid at least $5,051 in voluntary dues and fees to the League. Individual residents and the Unions sued, claiming First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause violations. They claimed that Lincolnshire compelled them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern because the League sent emails promoting a particular political agenda, including the adoption of “right to work” zones. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Lincolnshire itself has the right to speak for itself and a right to associate; it voluntarily joined the League as it is authorized to do. Local governments must be allowed to discuss, either directly or through a surrogate, ideas related to municipal government, regardless of where those ideas originated. View "O'Brien v. Village of Lincolnshire" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit dismissed Sierra Club's petition for review of the EPA's "Guidance on Significant Impact Levels for Ozone and Fine Particles in the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permitting Program" (SILs Guidance). The court held that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Clean Air Act, because the SILs Guidance is not final agency action. The court explained that the SILs Guidance does not determine rights or obligations and does not effectuate direct or appreciable legal consequences as understood by the finality inquiry. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit granted the petitions for review of the EPA's 2018 Rule, which suspended the prior listing of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as unsafe substitutes in its entirety. Consequently, even current users of ozone-depleting substances can now shift to HFCs. As a preliminary matter, the court held that it had jurisdiction to consider the petitions for review, because NRDC, like New York, has established its standing to proceed. Furthermore, the 2018 Rule meets both prongs of the Bennett test for finality. On the merits, the court held that the 2018 Rule was a legislative rule and was thus improperly promulgated without the required notice-and-comment procedures. Accordingly, the court vacated the 2018 Rule, remanding to the EPA for further proceedings. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of the Department's determination that Hagerstown Airport was not eligible for federally subsidized air service because it did not meet the statutory "enplanement" requirement. In this case, petitioners argue that it was arbitrary and capricious for the Department to refuse to grant the airport a waiver as it had done four times previously. After determining that the Department's decision was subject to judicial review, the court deferred to the Department's decision not to waive the airport's failure to meet the enplanement requirement. The court was unconvinced by petitioners' contention that the Department acted arbitrarily because it had been so forgiving in the past. The court explained that the Department was entitled to credit Hagerstown's explanations and predictions less after another year of noncompliance. The court also concluded that the Department's view -- that Hagerstown's history of noncompliance and its location are superior predictors of future enplanement numbers -- is reasonable and therefore is entitled to deference. Finally, it was reasonable for the Department to rely on certain factors to distinguish another community from Hagerstown. View "Board of County Commissioners of Washington County v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court suspending a bonding company for violating a local rule of court requiring an agent of the bonding company to be present at court appearances of defendants for whom the bonding company serves as surety, holding that the local rule is valid and enforceable. The bonding company in this case conceded that it violated the local rule but asserted that the local rule was inconsistent with Tennessee statutes and was arbitrary and capricious. The court of criminal appeals concluded that the part of the local rule requiring an agent of the bonding company to attend all court appearances was arbitrary, capricious, and illegal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the local rule does not conflict with state statutes and is not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; and (2) the trial court did not err by suspending the bonding company for violating the local rule. View "In re Cumberland Bail Bonding" on Justia Law

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Kyle Christianson appealed a district court’s judgment affirming the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s suspension of his driving privileges. Christianson claimed the Department’s hearing file, which was admitted at the adjudication hearing, was improperly certified as a true copy of the Department’s official records. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Christianson rebutted the presumption that the individual whose signature certified the record had authority to do so. Therefore, the Court reversed the hearing officer’s decision to admit the hearing file and vacated the Department’s suspension of Christianson’s driving privileges. View "Christianson v. NDDOT" on Justia Law