Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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Appellants Bull Field, LLC, Barley, LLC and Colburn Hills Ranch, LLC (Appellants) appeal from a judgment denying their petition for a writ of mandate (Petition). Appellants sought an order compelling respondent Merced Irrigation District (District) to sell them surplus surface water for the 2019 water year. Appellants’ farmland is outside the District, but within the same groundwater basin as the District’s service area. The District authorized the sale of surplus water to out-of-district users for 2019 but denied Appellants’ application to purchase such water. The District claimed, and the trial court found, that the District’s general manager denied Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus surface water because the District had a history of difficult dealings with Appellants’ manager. Substantial evidence supports that finding.   The Second Appellate District affirmed, finding that District acted within its discretion in making its decision on this ground. The court explained that the court may not interfere with the District’s discretionary decision that denying Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus water was in its best interest. The court may not substitute its judgment for the District about how its interests would best be served. So long as the District actually exercised such discretion, this court may not issue a writ contravening the District’s decision. View "Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law

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The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (Department) revoked a nightclub’s liquor license after the club’s owner, GC Brothers Entertainment LLC dba The Palms (Petitioner), failed to respond to an accusation alleging several violations of California statutes and regulations. Petitioner appealed the Department’s decision to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board (Appeals Board), which affirmed it, and now seeks a writ of mandate directing the Department to vacate its decision.   The Second Appellate District granted the writ. The court held that the licensing scheme and strong state policy in favor of resolving cases on the merits grant an ALJ discretion to issue an OSC when he or she receives even an arguably deficient motion for relief from default. It thus runs contrary to the spirit of the licensing scheme to insist that a licensee present its complete and best case for relief within seven days of service of a notice of default. Here, the ALJ not only apparently believed he had no discretion to liberally construe Respondent’s motion for relief, but also found that Respondent’s failure to establish an irrelevant issue—proper service—constituted a failure to show good cause for relief. The ALJ’s failure to appreciate the scope of his discretion and application of an improper standard requires that we remand the matter to afford the ALJ an opportunity to exercise his discretion in the first instance and, applying the proper standard, determine whether Petitioner has shown good cause for relief from default. View "GC Brothers Entertainment v. Alcoholic Beverage Control etc." on Justia Law

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LAD-T, LLC, dba Toyota of Downtown Los Angeles (LAD-T), and its parent company Lithia Motors Inc. (Lithia; collectively, Defendants) appeal from an order denying their motion to compel arbitration of Plaintiff’s claims brought under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Defendants contend the trial court erred in finding Business and Professions Code section 17918 barred them from enforcing an arbitration agreement made in the name of an unregistered fictitious business, DT Los Angeles Toyota.   The Second Appellate District vacated the order denying Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration remanded for the trial court to address whether Defendants have waived their right to compel arbitration. The court ruled that if the trial court finds waiver, it should again deny the motion to compel arbitration; if it finds no waiver, it should grant the motion. The court explained that it agrees with Plaintiff that Defendants failed to act diligently in filing their fictitious business name statement. Accordingly, in the interests of justice the court vacated the court’s order denying the motion to compel arbitration and direct the court to again consider the motion to compel arbitration limited to the narrow issue of whether Defendants have waived their right to compel arbitration by their delay in filing the fictitious business name statement. View "Villareal v. LAD-T, LLC" on Justia Law

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Books-A-Million was a retail bookstore operating thirteen locations throughout South Carolina. For $25 per year, Books-A-Million customers could become members in the "Millionaire's Club" to receive retail discounts. In 2015, the South Carolina Department of Revenue audited three years of Books-A-Million's financial records and discovered that no sales tax was being charged on Millionaire's Club memberships. The Department thereafter issued a Notice of Proposed Assessment for $242,076.97 in unpaid sales tax. Taxpayer was granted a contested hearing before an ALC, which upheld the assessment because, under South Carolina law, the sales of intangible memberships can be taxable if their value originates from the sale of taxable goods. Taxpayer then appealed to the court of appeals which affirmed. Both courts held that the pertinent language of "value proceeding or accruing" from the definition of "gross proceeds of sales" was inclusive of Taxpayer's Millionaire's Club membership fees because the language included value related to sales, not merely the value of the sales themselves. Taxpayer argued on appeal that its sales of Millionaire's Club memberships were not taxable under South Carolina's sales tax because the language of the statute excluded it. The Department contended that the state tax code contemplated value not just from sales of tangible goods, but from related costs because of the language "proceeding or accruing" as well as the jurisprudence of the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with the Department, and affirmed the lower courts' judgments. View "Books-A-Million, Inc., v. South Carolina Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts in this appeal addressing mootness when a law challenged in the trial court is altered or amended after the trial court issued its final judgment and while the appeal is pending, holding that remand was required in this case.Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Metro) challenging an ordinance prohibiting them from having clients in their home-based businesses. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Metro. While Plaintiffs' appeal was pending, Metro repealed the ordinance at issue and enacted a new ordinance allowing limited client visits to home-based businesses. The court of appeals determined that Plaintiffs' case was moot. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments below and remanded the case to give the parties an opportunity to amend their pleadings to address any claims asserted under the new ordinance, holding that, based on the current record, it could not be determined whether Plaintiffs would suffer ongoing harm from the new ordinance, how the change could affect their claims, and whether they retained a residual claim under the new ordinance. View "Shaw v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville" on Justia Law

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The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (Department) suspended the license of real party in interest, Bogle Vineyards, Inc. (Bogle), for 10 days after finding that Bogle violated Business and Professions Code section 25502 (a)(2) by furnishing, giving, or lending a “thing of value”—a nonoperational pizza oven—to a Raley’s grocery store as part of a promotional display. The pizza oven was part of a Bogle point-of-sale promotional campaign highlighting pizza month, in which a customer would receive $4 off a pizza with the purchase of a bottle of Bogle wine. Bogle provided a guidance packet on the promotion for its employees and wholesaler which stated in part that “[i]f buyers are still w[]ary, FYI the ovens ‘don’t work’ without propane AND the regulators can be removed, if needed.” It also showed how the pizza ovens were to be set up in the displays. Bogle paid for the pizza oven promotional campaign. Raley's store #119 received an oven for use in the display, but did not fully assemble the oven per instructions. As a result, the oven was inoperative when placed in the display at the store. Later, an agent for Bogle returned to store #119 ti discuss the display; the display had been removed, and the oven parts not used in assembly, had disappeared. An ALJ determined that while Bogle did not intend to "gift" the ovens to retailers in exchange for prominent displays in their stores, the "net result" was an unlawful furnishing in violation of the statute. Bogle appealed the Department’s decision to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board (Board), and the Board reversed the suspension, calling the Department’s result “absurd.” It concluded that the Department’s decision that the pizza oven was a “thing of value” was inaccurate as a matter of law and was not supported by substantial evidence because there was no evidence presented that Raley’s reassembled the pizza oven or removed the pizza stone for use. It therefore found the Department’s result was based on speculation and conjecture and was not within the spirit or letter of the law. It accordingly reversed the Department’s decision. The Court of Appeal agreed with Bogle that the Department erred in finding the inoperative pizza oven, used solely for the purposes of a temporary promotional display, was a "thing of value" under the statute. View "Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control v. Alcoholic Beverage etc." on Justia Law

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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

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The Alaska Department of Revenue audited a non-resident corporation doing business in Alaska. The Department issued a deficiency assessment based in part on an Alaska tax statute requiring an income tax return to include certain foreign corporations affiliated with the taxpaying corporation. The taxpayer exhausted its administrative remedies and then appealed to the superior court, arguing that the tax statute the Department applied was facially unconstitutional because: (1) it violated the dormant Commerce Clause by discriminating against foreign commerce based on countries’ corporate income tax rates; (2) it violated the Due Process Clause by being arbitrary and irrational; and (3) it violated the Due Process Clause by failing to provide notice of what affiliates a tax return must include, and therefore is void for vagueness. The superior court rejected the first two arguments but ruled in the taxpayer’s favor on the third argument. The Department appealed, claiming the superior court erred by concluding that the statute was void for vagueness in violation of the Due Process Clause. The taxpayer cross-appealed, asserting that the court erred by concluding that the statute did not violate the Commerce Clause and was not arbitrary. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision that the statute was facially unconstitutional on due process grounds, and affirmed the court’s decision that it otherwise was facially constitutional. View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. Nabors International Finance, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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East Bay Drywall, LLC was a drywall installation business that hired on a per-job basis. Once a builder accepts East Bay’s bid for a particular project, East Bay contacts workers -- whom it alleged to be subcontractors -- to see who is available. Workers are free to accept or decline East Bay’s offer of employment, and some workers have left mid-installation if they found a better job. In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether those workers were properly classified as employees or independent contractors under the Unemployment Compensation Law, which set forth a test -- commonly referred to as the “ABC test” -- to determine whether an individual serves as an employee. On June 30, 2013, East Bay, a business registered as an employer up to that point, ceased reporting wages to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Consequently, an auditor for the Department conducted a status audit that reviewed the workers East Bay hired between 2013 and 2016 to determine whether they were independent contractors, as defined by the ABC test. The auditor ultimately found that approximately half of the alleged subcontractors working for East Bay between 2013 and 2016 -- four individuals and twelve business entities -- should have been classified as employees. The Department informed East Bay that it owed $42,120.79 in unpaid unemployment and temporary disability contributions. The Supreme Court was satisfied that all sixteen workers in question were properly classified as employees, but it remanded the case back to the Department for calculation of the appropriate back-owed contributions. View "East Bay Drywall, LLC v. Department of Labor and Workforce Development " on Justia Law

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In this case involving a dispute related to Texas liquor laws, the court previously certified the following two questions to the Supreme Court of Texas:1.) Does Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Section 22.16(f) “continue[] to exempt a public corporation if that corporation sells some or all its shares to a non-exempt corporation, and, if so,2.) Whether the exempt corporation can acquire additional package store permits.The Supreme Court of Texas affirmatively answered both questions, resolving the appeal. Thus, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Gabriel Invst v. Texas Alcoholic" on Justia Law