Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kathleen Carroll sued her former employer, defendant California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission), for terminating her employment in retaliation for her reporting Commission mismanagement to the state auditor. Prior to bringing this action, plaintiff appealed her termination to the State Personnel Board (Board), claiming the Commission fired her in retaliation for her whistleblower activities. She also filed a separate whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Board. The Board denied her claims. After the Commission removed the matter to federal court, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claim and remanded the matter to state court. A jury found for plaintiff and awarded her substantial damages. The Commission appealed, contending: (1) the district court’s judgment was res judicata as to this action; (2) the Board’s decisions collaterally estopped this action; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in evidentiary matters by (a) permitting plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and asking the jury to draw negative inferences from the Commission’s exercise of the attorney-client privilege, (b) denying the admission of the Board’s findings and decisions, (c) denying the admission of after-acquired evidence, and (d) denying the admission of evidence mitigating plaintiff’s emotional distress; and (4) the damages award was unlawful in numerous respects. Although the district court’s judgment was not res judicata and the Board’s decisions did not collaterally estop this action, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the trial court committed prejudicial error when it allowed plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and ask the jury to draw negative inferences from the defendants’ exercise of the attorney-client privilege and did not timely instruct the jury with the mandatory curative instruction provided in Evidence Code section 913. Because judgment was reversed on this ground, the Court did not address the Commission’s other claims of error. View "Carroll v. Commission on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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The Jefferson County, Alabama Board of Education ("the Board") and several of its employees sought to avoid the application of an occupational tax imposed by the City of Irondale ("City"). The Board and its employees argued that public-school employees were exempt from the occupational tax because, they contended they provided an essential government service. "But the importance of a state employee's role, even a role as important as a public-school employee, does not remove that employee's obligation to pay a duly owed occupational tax." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City. View "Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale" on Justia Law

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Epstein, an optometrist, entered into a VSP “Network Doctor Agreement.” VSP audited of Epstein’s claims for reimbursement, concluded he was knowingly purchasing lenses from an unapproved supplier, and terminated the provider agreement. The agreement included a two-step dispute resolution procedure: the “Fair Hearing” step provided for an internal “VSP Peer Review.” If the dispute remained unresolved, the agreement required binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), under procedures set forth in the policy. A “Fair Hearing” panel upheld the termination.Instead of invoking the arbitration provision, Epstein filed an administrative mandamus proceeding, alleging the second step of the process was contrary to California law requiring certain network provider contracts to include a procedure for prompt resolution of disputes and expressly stating arbitration “shall not be deemed” such a mechanism. (28 Cal. Code Regs 1300.71.38.) He claimed that state law was not preempted by the FAA, citing the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which generally exempts from federal law, state laws enacted to regulate the business of insurance.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those challenges. State regulatory law requiring certain network provider agreements to include a dispute resolution process that is not arbitration pertains only to the first step of the dispute resolution process and does not foreclose the parties from agreeing to arbitration in lieu of subsequent judicial review. While the arbitration provision is procedurally unconscionable in minor respects, Epstein failed to establish that it is substantively unconscionable. View "Epstein v. Vision Service Plan" on Justia Law

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The U.S. EPA promulgated new landfill emissions guidelines in 2016. Each state was required to submit a plan for implementing the new guidelines. The EPA was to approve or disapprove each state plan. For states that failed to submit a plan, the EPA had to promulgate a federal plan that would govern implementation in those states. The deadline for EPA issue the federal plan was set by regulation for November 2017. The EPA missed the deadline. Several states sued to force EPA to promulgate its federal plan. EPA responded to the suit and also began the rulemaking process to extend its regulatory deadline. While that rulemaking was underway, the district court entered an injunction requiring EPA to promulgate the federal plan within six months (November 2019). Months later, the EPA finalized the rulemaking process, extending its regulatory deadline by two years to August 2021. The district court declined to modify the injunction.The Ninth Circuit reversed. The district court abused its discretion in denying the EPA’s request for relief because the new regulations constituted a change in law, and removed the legal basis for the court’s deadline. A shift in the legal landscape that removed the basis for an order warranted modification of the injunction. The court rejected an argument that courts must look beyond the new regulations and conduct a broad, fact-specific inquiry into whether modification prevented inequity. View "California v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Washington ballot initiative 1501 prohibits public access to certain government-controlled information, including the personal information of in-home care providers, but permits that information to be disclosed to the providers’ certified exclusive bargaining representatives. The law was challenged under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by in-home providers, required by Washington law to participate in statewide collective bargaining, who are not members of their respective unions and do not pay agency fees. They wanted to inform other individual in-home providers of their right to not pay union agency fees and were unable to obtain the necessary contact information.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The First Amendment does not guarantee a general right of access to government-controlled information. Whether to disclose government-controlled information is generally left to the political processes but the First Amendment forbids a state from discriminating invidiously among viewpoints. A state does not engage in viewpoint discrimination by disclosing the personal information of public or quasi-public employees to the employees’ certified bargaining representative while denying equal access to the public. Initiative 1501 does not implicate the plaintiffs’ associational freedom; the plaintiffs lack standing to assert the rights of other in-home care providers. Initiative 1501 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause; the challenged provisions satisfy rational-basis review. The state has a legitimate interest in protecting seniors and other vulnerable individuals from identity theft and other financial crimes. There was no evidence that those who voted in favor of Initiative 1501 were motivated by an irrational prejudice or desire to harm the plaintiffs or their message. View "Boardman v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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PDX is a last-mile shipper of wholesale auto parts in New Jersey and other states. Depending on the volume and timing of its customers’ shipping needs, PDX hires “independent owner-operators” on an “as-needed” basis. PDX long classified these drivers as independent contractors. In 2012, after completing an audit of PDX for 2006-2009, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development determined that PDX had misclassified its drivers, finding they were employees, not independent contractors. The Department reached the same conclusion in two subsequent audits and sought payment of unemployment compensation taxesPDX filed suit, contending New Jersey’s statutory scheme for classifying workers was preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 and was unconstitutional under the Interstate Commerce Clause. An action before the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (OAL) was stayed at PDX’s request. SLS, also a last-mile shipper, was audited by the Department and was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit. The Department’s audit against SLS remains pending.The trial court dismissed the entire case as barred by the Younger abstention doctrine. The Third Circuit held that the trial court correctly dismissed PDX, but erred in dismissing SLS. PDX’s OAL action is an ongoing judicial proceeding in which New Jersey has a strong interest and PDX may raise any constitutional claims while SLS is not subject to an ongoing state judicial proceeding. View "PDX North Inc v. Commissioner New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sued to have the Thurston County Superior Court order the removal of one allegedly defamatory line in the voters’ guide pamphlet from challenger Maia Espinoza’s candidate statement. The superior court agreed that there was a substantial likelihood Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit based on Espinoza’s statement. Using a supervisory power conferred by RCW 29A.32.090(3)(b), the superior court ordered the secretary of state to edit out the offending line. Espinoza sought accelerated direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Because Reykdal was a public figure, he had to show “actual malice” to succeed in a defamation suit. The Supreme Court found the superior court made no findings regarding actual malice, and thus granted Reykdal’s request in error. Because there was no likelihood that Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its application of the statute. View "Reykdal v. Espinoza" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two young Oregonians, concerned about the effects of climate change and their guardians, filed suit against the Governor and the State of Oregon (collectively, the State), contending the State was required to act as a trustee under the public trust doctrine to protect various natural resources in Oregon from substantial impairment due to greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change and ocean acidification. Among other things, plaintiffs asked the circuit court to specify the natural resources protected by the public trust doctrine and to declare that the State had a fiduciary duty, which it breached, to prevent substantial impairment of those resources caused by emissions of greenhouse gases. Plaintiffs also asked for an injunction ordering the State to: (1) prepare an annual accounting of Oregon’s carbon dioxide emissions; and (2) implement a carbon reduction plan protecting the natural resources, which the court would supervise to ensure enforcement. The circuit court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, concluding the public trust doctrine did not encompass most of the natural resources that plaintiffs identified, and did not require the State to take the protective measures that plaintiffs sought. In 2015, the circuit court entered a general judgment dismissing the action, and the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded for the circuit court to enter a judgment, consistent the Court of Appeals opinion, declaring the parties’ rights. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that as a matter of common law, the public trust doctrine was not fixed and, that it must evolve to address the undisputed circumstances presented, namely, that climate change was damaging Oregon’s natural resources. They argued the doctrine was not limited to the natural resources that the circuit court identified and, the doctrine should cover other natural resources beyond those that have been traditionally protected. The Oregon Supreme Court held the public trust doctrine currently encompassed navigable waters and the submerged and submersible lands underlying those waters. "Although the public trust is capable of expanding to include more natural resources, we do not extend the doctrine to encompass other natural resources at this time." The Supreme Court also declined to adopt plaintiffs’ position that, under the doctrine, the State had the same fiduciary duties that a trustee of a common-law private trust would have, such as a duty to prevent substantial impairment of trust resources. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, which vacated the judgment of the circuit court. The matter was remanded the circuit court to enter a judgment consistent with Supreme Court's judgment. View "Chernaik v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Cook County Sheriff Dart instituted disciplinary proceedings against several Sheriff’s officers (plaintiffs) by filing charges with the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board under Counties Code, 55 ILCS 5/3-7011. The plaintiffs filed motions with the Board to dismiss the charges. While the administrative proceedings were pending, the plaintiffs filed suit, seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief against the Sheriff, Cook County, the Board, and the Cook County Board of Commissioners, asserting that the Board was not legally constituted because several of its members were appointed to or served terms that did not comply with the Code section 3-7002 requirements.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of the suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Because the plaintiffs challenged the authority of the Board to address the charges, the “authority” exception to the exhaustion requirement applied. The circuit court can adjudicate the requests for back pay and other claims, which do not fall within the particular expertise of the Board. The plaintiffs raised the issue before the Board, which refused to hear them until after the disciplinary proceedings were complete. Given that the Board had not taken any substantive action regarding the disciplinary charges before the filing of the lawsuit, the “de facto officer doctrine” does not apply. View "Goral v. Dart" on Justia Law