Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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B.C., by and through his parent Michelle Cox, appealed from a district court judgment affirming the Department of Human Services (“Department”) decision to deny autism voucher program funding for a gazebo. B.C. argued the Department’s rationale for rejecting the Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) recommendation was insufficient, its interpretation of its regulation was unreasonable, and its conclusions of law were not supported by its findings of fact. After review of the agency and trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the agency unreasonably interpreted the regulation, and its conclusions of law were not supported by its findings of facts. The Supreme Court reversed the district court judgment affirming the Department’s denial of the autism voucher program funding for the gazebo. View "B.C. v. NDDHS" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered a question of whether the General Assembly overstepped its constitutional authority by enacting legislation that allowed for universal mail-in voting. Among other things, "Act 77" effected major amendments to the Pennsylvania Election Code, including universal, state-wide mail-in voting. On November 21, 2020, eight petitioners – including a Republican congressman and Republican candidates for the United States House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court seeking to halt the certification of the 2020 General Election, and including a facial challenge to the portions of Act 77 that established universal mail-in voting. The Supreme Court exercised extraordinary jurisdiction over the matter, and found a “complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing [the] facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77’s enactment[,]” as the petitioners waited until the ballots from the General Election were in the process of being tallied, and the results were becoming apparent, to raise their claim. Thus, the Court found the claim barred by the doctrine of laches. The Court found no restriction in the Pennsylvania Constitution on the General Assembly's ability to create universal mail-in voting. View "McLinko v. Penna. Dept. of State, et al." on Justia Law

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John Doe (Father) appealed a magistrate court’s decision to terminate his parental rights to his three children: John Doe I (age 12), Jane Doe (age 11), and John Doe II (age 7). The children and their biological mother (Mother) lived in Idaho when the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the Department) petitioned to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother eventually voluntarily stipulated to the termination of her rights. Father resided in Tennessee during these proceedings and could not be located by the Department for several months. The Department amended its original petition in Idaho to establish jurisdiction over Father. The Department then moved to obtain authorization to serve the petition on Father by publication in the Tennessee city where Father resided. The magistrate court granted the Department’s request. Ultimately, Father was located in Tennessee and accepted personal service. The Department then filed petitioned to terminate his parental rights. Father participated in the termination trial via Zoom from Tennessee. Throughout the proceeding, Father’s internet connection proved to be unreliable, and he was repeatedly disconnected from the proceeding. Father rejoined the proceeding when the connection was reestablished. Father moved to continue the trial because of the connectivity issue, which the magistrate court denied, noting that it had given the parties the option of joining the proceedings remotely, but that they were required to ensure they had a reliable internet connection. Following the trial, the magistrate court terminated Father’s parental rights based on the grounds of abandonment, neglect, and the inability to discharge parental responsibilities. Father appealed. Finding no reversible error in the magistrate court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed it. View "IDHW v. John Doe" 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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Sonoma County received a harassment complaint lodged against the elected sheriff of the county, Mark Essick. An independent investigator, Amy Oppenheimer, prepared a written report. A local newspaper requested the County release the complaint, the report, and various related documents (collectively, the Oppenheimer Report) pursuant to the California Public Records Act (CPRA) Sheriff Essick objected to the County’s release of the Oppenheimer Report. In this “reverse” CPRA action, the trial court denied his request for a preliminary injunction barring the Oppenheimer Report’s release. Sheriff Essick appealed, contending the trial court erred because: (1) the Oppenheimer Report should have been classified as confidential under an exemption to the CPRA either as a “peace officer[]” “personnel record[],” or because it constituted a “report[] or findings” relating to a complaint by a member of the public against a peace officer; and (2) the County should have been estopped to release the Oppenheimer Report because it promised him that, in conducting its investigation, it would abide by the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act POBRA), and it therefore should have been bound to keep the results of the investigation confidential. The Court of Appeal disagreed on both points and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Essick v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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Helen Jordan, a nurse who was formerly employed by the predecessor to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, challenged in the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) the decision of a magistrate that she was not entitled to disability benefits under the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA). In 1995, plaintiff was working for defendant’s predecessor when she was injured during an altercation with a patient. Plaintiff was prescribed opioid medication to treat leg and back pain that she said resulted from the 1995 injury, and she used the opioid medication continuously after the incident and became dependent upon it. Plaintiff began receiving disability benefits under the WDCA in 1996. In 2015, plaintiff underwent an independent medical examination at defendant’s request pursuant to MCL 418.385. The doctor who conducted the examination concluded that any disability experienced by plaintiff was not the result of the 1995 incident, and defendant subsequently discontinued plaintiff’s benefits. Plaintiff applied for reinstatement of her benefits under the WDCA. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the agency record was too incomplete to facilitate “meaningful” appellate review: “Despite the MCAC’s conclusion, whether the experts agreed that plaintiff had a limitation of her wage-earning capacity in work suitable to her qualifications and training was not clear from the record.” Therefore, the Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred by deciding this case as a matter of law because further administrative proceedings were needed. View "Jordan v. Dep’t. of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law

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Rouch World, LLC, and Uprooted Electrolysis, LLC, brought an action before the Michigan Court of Claims against the Department of Civil Rights and its director, seeking, among other relief, a declaratory judgment that the prohibition of sex discrimination in places of public accommodation under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) did not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The owners of Rouch World had denied a request to host the same-sex wedding of Natalie Johnson and Megan Oswalt at their facility, claiming that doing so would violate their religious beliefs. The owner of Uprooted Electrolysis had denied hair-removal services to Marissa Wolfe, a transgender woman, on the same basis. Johnson, Oswald, and Wolfe filed complaints with the Department of Civil Rights, which had issued an interpretive statement in 2018 indicating that the ELCRA’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex included sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department of Civil Rights opened an investigation into both of these incidents, but the investigations were stayed when plaintiffs brought this action. The Michigan Supreme Court held that the ELCRA encompasses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court overruled the Court of Appeals decision in Barbour v. Dept. of Social Servs, 497 NW2d 216 (1993), and reversed in part the Court of Claims decision below. View "Rouch World LLC v. Department Of Civil Rights" on Justia Law

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The San Diego City Attorney brought an enforcement action under the Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. (UCL), on behalf of the State of California against Maplebear Inc. DBA Instacart (Instacart). In their complaint, the State alleged Instacart unlawfully misclassified its employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers employee protections, harming its alleged employees and the public at large through a loss of significant payroll tax revenue, and giving Instacart an unfair advantage against its competitors. In response to the complaint, Instacart brought a motion to compel arbitration of a portion of the City’s action based on its agreements with the individuals it hires ("Shoppers"). The trial court denied the motion, concluding Instacart failed to meet its burden to show a valid agreement to arbitrate between it and the State. Instacart challenged the trial court’s order, arguing that even though the State was not a party to its Shopper agreements, they were bound by its arbitration provision to the extent they seek injunctive relief and restitution because these remedies were “primarily for the benefit of” the Shoppers. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order. View "California v. Maplebear Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Thomas Lowell provided piano tuning services to defendant Medford School District and assisted in producing concerts performed in defendant’s facilities. While providing production assistance for a particular concert, plain- tiff noticed an echo near the stage. He complained to the school theater technician, Stephanie Malone, and, later, feeling that Malone had not adequately responded, he followed up with her. Malone reported to her supervisor that plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated, that he “smelled of alcohol,” and that “this was not the first time.” The supervisor repeated Malone’s statements to a district support services assistant. The assistant sent emails summarizing Malone’s statements to three other district employees, including the supervisor of purchasing. The assistant expressed concerns that appearing on district property under the influence of alcohol violated district policy and the terms of plaintiff’s piano tuning contract. Plaintiff brought this defamation action against Malone, the supervisor and assistant, later substituting the School district for the individual defendants. Defendant answered, asserting multiple affirmative defenses, including the one at issue here: that public employees are entitled to an absolute privilege for defamatory statements made in the course and scope of their employment. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on that basis. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding that defendant as a public employer, did not have an affirmative defense of absolute privilege that entitled it to summary judgment. View "Lowell v. Medford School Dist. 549C" on Justia Law

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Robert Bolinske appealed the dismissal of his claims against former Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom and former District Court Judge Gail Hagerty (“State Defendants”) and awarding them attorney’s fees. In October 2016, Bolinske alleged in a press release that the State Defendants conspired to misfile or hide a petition for supervisory writ that he submitted in a prior case and thus tampered with public records. A few days after this press release, Rob Port published an article on his “Say Anything” blog regarding Bolinske’s press release. The article stated Port contacted Sandstrom and quoted Sandstrom as having said Bolinske’s press release was “bizarre and rather sad” and that “[a]lthough I’ve been aware of his mental health problems for years, I don’t recall ever having seen anything in his email before.” Three days after the article was published, Hagerty filed a grievance complaint against Bolinske, alleging he violated the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct. Based on the complaint, a disciplinary action was brought against Bolinske. The Inquiry Committee found Bolinske violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and issued him an admonition. The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court affirmed, and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding his procedural due process rights were not violated. The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Bolinske’s complaint in part, concluding the district court properly dismissed Bolinske’s claims of procedural and substantive due process, civil conspiracy, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, governmental bad faith, and tortious outrage. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding the district court erred by dismissing the defamation claim under the statute of limitations. The award of attorney’s fees was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Bolinske v. Sandstrom, et al." on Justia Law