Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The case revolves around Terry Cousins' efforts to obtain public records related to her sister, who died while in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC). Cousins alleged that the DOC's response to her public records request violated the Public Records Act (PRA). The main issue was whether Cousins' PRA action was barred by the one-year statute of limitations.Previously, the DOC had responded to Cousins' request by producing multiple installments of records and then sent Cousins a letter in January 2019 stating that her request was "now closed". Cousins asked about specific records she believed were missing, and the DOC reopened Cousins' original PRA request to conduct an additional search, leading to the production of hundreds of pages of previously undisclosed responsive records, followed by a second letter stating that the request was "now closed" in June 2021.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that the June 2021 closing letter was DOC’s final, definitive response to Cousins’ PRA request. The court ruled that Cousins' PRA action was not barred by the statute of limitations. The court reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Cousins v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over a medical marijuana cultivation license issued by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to Bennett Scott “Storm” Nolan II. 2600 Holdings, LLC, an unsuccessful applicant for the same license, filed a lawsuit against the Commission and other state entities, alleging that Nolan's application did not meet the minimum merit selection criteria and that the Commission violated its own rules and the Arkansas Constitution in awarding the license to Nolan. Nolan was not initially named as a defendant or joined as a party in the lawsuit.The Pulaski County Circuit Court denied Nolan's multiple motions to join the lawsuit as an indispensable party under Rule 19(a) of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure and granted summary judgment in favor of 2600 Holdings. The court ruled that the Commission had exceeded its discretion and violated the Arkansas Constitution and its own rules in awarding the license to Nolan.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed the lower court's decision, finding that Nolan was indeed an indispensable party under Rule 19(a)(2). The court held that the lower court erred in not joining Nolan as an indispensable party to the litigation. As a result, the court vacated the order granting summary judgment to 2600 Holdings and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court did not address Nolan's remaining issues as they were deemed moot due to the reversal and remand. View "Nolan v. 2600 Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the procedural interplay between two Mississippi statutes—the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) and the Mississippi Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA). Mark Johnson, the plaintiff, filed a retaliation complaint under the MWPA, alleging that he was fired from his position as general manager of the Clarksdale Public Utilities Authority (CPU) for reporting inefficiency and incompetence. Johnson later added claims for First Amendment retaliation and breach of contract.The district court held that the procedural requirements of the MTCA applied to Johnson’s MWPA claim, and because the court concluded he didn’t comply with them, it dismissed his claim. The district court also concluded that Johnson’s First Amendment retaliation and breach-of-contract claims were time-barred because the three-year statute of limitations for these claims ran after Johnson filed his first complaint but before he amended to add these claims—and neither claim relates back. Johnson appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was unable to make a reliable Erie guess as to whether the MTCA’s procedural requirements apply to MWPA claims because it lacked clear guidance from Mississippi courts on how the two statutes interrelate. Therefore, the court certified this question to the Supreme Court of Mississippi: When a plaintiff brings a claim against the government and its employees for tortious conduct under the MWPA, is that claim subject to the procedural requirements of the MTCA? View "Johnson v. Miller" on Justia Law

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A group of Indian nationals, legally present in the United States on employment-based visas, filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State and the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The plaintiffs were seeking permanent residency and challenged the defendants' approach to distributing immigrant visas. They argued that the defendants' policies of deferring adjudication of their applications until a visa number becomes available violated the statute governing adjustment of status for nonimmigrants. They sought injunctive and declaratory relief under the Administrative Procedure Act and the federal Declaratory Judgment Act.The plaintiffs had initially moved for a preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, but their motion was denied. They appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.The Fifth Circuit, however, found that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The court cited the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which strips federal courts of jurisdiction to address many challenges brought in the context of immigration proceedings. The court concluded that the INA's jurisdiction-stripping provisions precluded it from hearing the plaintiffs' challenge. The court vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Cheejati v. Blinken" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge to a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reinstate a waiver granted to California under the Clean Air Act. The waiver allows California to set its own standards for automobile emissions, which are stricter than federal standards. The petitioners, a group of states and fuel industry entities, argued that the EPA's decision was not authorized under the Clean Air Act and violated a constitutional requirement that the federal government treat states equally in terms of their sovereign authority.The lower courts had upheld the EPA's decision, finding that the petitioners lacked standing to challenge the decision. The petitioners appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court found that the fuel industry petitioners lacked standing to raise their statutory claim, and that the state petitioners lacked standing to raise their preemption claim, because neither group had demonstrated that their claimed injuries would be redressed by a favorable decision by the court. The court also rejected the state petitioners' constitutional claim on the merits, holding that the EPA's decision did not violate the constitutional requirement of equal sovereignty among the states. View "Ohio v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Frederic P. Zotos, an attorney residing in Cohasset, Massachusetts, filed a qui tam complaint against the Town of Hingham and several of its officials. Zotos alleged that the town and its officials posted speed limit signs and advisory speed plaques that did not comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations. He further claimed that the town applied for and received reimbursements for these signs and plaques from both the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Zotos asserted that the town fraudulently induced the federal government to pay it roughly $3,300,000 and the Commonwealth to pay it approximately $7,300,000.The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed Zotos's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court concluded that the qui tam action was not barred by either claim or issue preclusion. However, it found that Zotos's claims fell short of the False Claims Act (FCA) and Massachusetts False Claims Act's (MFCA) requirements. Specifically, it ruled that Zotos failed to sufficiently plead that the alleged misrepresentations were material to the federal government's and the Commonwealth's respective decisions.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that Zotos's complaint did not adequately allege that the defendants' purported misrepresentations were material. It noted that the essence of the bargain under the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP) and the Chapter 90 program was that the defendants incurred permissible costs on projects that were duly reimbursed. The court concluded that Zotos's allegations amounted to ancillary violations that, without more, were insufficient to establish materiality. View "United States ex rel. Zotos v. Town of Hingham" on Justia Law

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A group of business associations, including the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas against the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (CFPB). The plaintiffs challenged a new Final Rule issued by the CFPB regarding credit card late fees and sought a preliminary injunction against the rule. The plaintiffs requested expedited briefing and review due to the imminent effect of the rule and the substantial compliance it required.The district court, instead of ruling on the motion for a preliminary injunction, considered whether venue was appropriate in the Northern District of Texas and invited the CFPB to file a motion to transfer the case. The CFPB complied, and the district court granted its motion, transferring the case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs then petitioned for a writ of mandamus, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by transferring the case while their appeal was pending and, alternatively, lacked jurisdiction to transfer the case.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs, stating that the district court acted without jurisdiction. The court explained that once a party properly appeals something a district court has done, in this case, the effective denial of a preliminary injunction, the district court has no jurisdiction to do anything that alters the case’s status. The court clarified that its decision was not about the correctness of the district court’s transfer order but rather about whether the court had jurisdiction to enter it. The court concluded that the district court did not have jurisdiction to transfer the case.The court granted the petition for mandamus, vacated the district court’s transfer order, and ordered the district court to reopen the case. The court also instructed the district court to notify the District of Columbia that its transfer was without jurisdiction and should be disregarded. View "In re: Chamber of Commerce" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, Inc., and Conrad Reynolds (appellants) who filed a complaint against John Thurston, the Arkansas Secretary of State, the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners, and Election Systems and Software, LLC (appellees). The appellants claimed that the voting machines approved by the state did not comply with the Arkansas Code and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) because voters could not independently verify their selections on the ballot before casting their votes. They argued that the machines printed ballots with both bar codes and the voter's selections in English, but the vote tabulator only scanned the bar codes. Since most voters cannot read bar codes, the appellants claimed that voters were unable to verify their votes as required by state and federal law. They also alleged that the appellees committed an illegal exaction by using public funds for the purchase and maintenance of these machines and that Election Systems and Software, LLC violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and committed fraud by claiming that its machines complied with state and federal law.The Pulaski County Circuit Court dismissed the appellants' complaint. The court found that the voting machines complied with the Arkansas Code and HAVA. The court also denied the appellants' motion for recusal and their motion for a new trial. The appellants appealed these decisions.The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the voting process complied with the Arkansas Code and HAVA. The court also found that the appellants failed to demonstrate evidence of bias or prejudice sufficient to warrant the recusal of the circuit court judge. Finally, the court found that the appellants were not deprived of their right to a jury trial and that the circuit court did not err by denying their motion for a new trial. View "ARKANSAS VOTER INTEGRITY INITIATIVE, INC., AND CONRAD REYNOLDS v. JOHN THURSTON, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ARKANSAS SECRETARY OF STATE; THE ARKANSAS STATE BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS, IN ITS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; AND ELECTION SYSTEMS AND SOFTWARE, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves the City of Joliet and five commercial truck drivers who were fined for violating city ordinances prohibiting overweight and/or overlength vehicles on nondesignated highways. The drivers challenged the city's jurisdiction to administratively adjudicate the ordinance violations, arguing they were entitled to have the violations dismissed because applicable law required that they be adjudicated in the circuit court. The hearing officer overruled the drivers' objections and denied their motions to dismiss. The drivers then filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Will County, which affirmed the decisions of the hearing officer.The appellate court reversed the decisions of the circuit court and hearing officer, following a previous First District's opinion which held that home rule municipalities are prohibited from administratively adjudicating "traffic regulations governing the movement of vehicles," in addition to "reportable offense[s] under Section 6-204 of the Illinois Vehicle Code." The City of Joliet appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Illinois.The Supreme Court of Illinois found that section 1-2.1-2 of the Illinois Municipal Code does not preempt the City of Joliet's home rule authority to administratively adjudicate violations of its ordinances. Therefore, it vacated that part of the appellate court's judgment. However, the court also found that the hearing officer's administrative decisions were precluded by the Joliet Code of Ordinances, and thus affirmed, on different grounds, that part of the appellate court's judgment that reversed the judgment of the circuit court and the administrative decisions of the City. The court concluded that the administrative decisions were reversed, and the circuit court judgment was reversed. View "Cammacho v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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Several school districts in Oklahoma launched a legal action claiming they had received insufficient State Aid payments for several years due to incorrect calculation by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. They sought to compel the Oklahoma State Board of Education to recover excessive State Aid payments made to other school districts and redirect them to the underfunded districts. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the intervening school districts, stating that the State Board of Education had no duty to seek repayment of excessive State Aid payments until an audit approved by the State Auditor and Inspector was performed.The case was brought before the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, which agreed with the lower court. However, the court raised the issue of the school districts' standing to compel legislative appropriations and remanded the case for adjudication of standing. Upon remand, the district court granted summary judgment to the appellees, concluding that the school districts failed to demonstrate that they initiated their action before the expiry of any State Aid appropriations from which they sought additional funds. The case was dismissed based on the school districts' lack of standing.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the school districts lacked a legally cognizable aggrieved interest and therefore didn't have standing. The court stated that the school districts sought funds that were previously appropriated and had now lapsed. Hence, the districts had no cause of action to obtain legislatively appropriated funds because those funds had expired by application of the Oklahoma Constitution. View "INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT #52 OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY v. WALTERS" on Justia Law