Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Commercial Law
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If a municipality imposes a sales tax, the State Board of Equalization (now the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration) has the authority to collect and then remit the tax back to the municipality under the Bradley-Burns Uniform Local Sales and Use Tax Law (Stats. 1955, ch. 1311; 7200 et seq.). The Board is authorized to determine where sales of personal property occur and to designate the municipality that will receive the local sales tax it collects. After an internal reorganization of an existing seller, the Board decided that local sales tax which had been remitted to Fontana and Lathrop, where the seller had warehouses, would be “reallocated” to Ontario, the site of the seller’s new marketing operation. The trial court set aside that decision. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. The manner in which the Board determined where the taxable event occurred was well within its administrative expertise and its discretionary authority to make such a determination. Customers believed they were ordering goods from the Ontario facility, which became the retailer when it purchased goods for shipment to customers. View "City of Fontana v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration" on Justia Law

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POM, which produces and sells a pomegranate-blueberry juice blend, filed a Lanham Act suit (15 U.S.C. 1125) against Coca-Cola, alleging that the name, label, marketing, and advertising of a Coca-Cola juice blend mislead consumers into believing the product consists predominantly of pomegranate and blueberry juice when it actually consists of less expensive apple and grape juices, and that the confusion causes POM to lose sales. The district court granted Coca-Cola partial summary judgment, ruling that the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. 321(f), 331, and its regulations preclude Lanham Act challenges to the name and label of the juice blend. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that competitors may bring Lanham Act claims challenging food and beverage labels regulated by the FDCA. The Court noted that the issue was preclusion, not pre-emption. Even if the Court’s task is to reconcile or harmonize the statutes instead of to determine whether one is an implied repeal in part of another, the best way to do that does not require barring POM’s Lanham Act claim. Neither the Lanham Act nor the FDCA expressly forbids or limits Lanham Act claims challenging labels that are regulated by the FDCA. The laws complement each other in major respects: both touch on food and beverage labeling, but the Lanham Act protects commercial interests against unfair competition, while the FDCA protects public health and safety. The FDCA’s enforcement is largely committed to the FDA, while the Lanham Act allows private parties to sue competitors to protect their interests on a case-by¬case basis. Allowing Lanham Act suits takes advantage of synergies among multiple methods of regulation. Because the FDA does not necessarily pursue enforcement measures regarding all objectionable labels, preclusion of Lanham Act claims could leave commercial interests, and indirectly the general public, with less effective protection in the food and beverage labeling realm than in other less regulated industries. Neither the statutory structure nor the empirical evidence indicates there will be any difficulty in fully enforcing each statute. View "POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co." on Justia Law

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Former GM and Chrysler dealers, whose franchises were terminated in the 2009 bankruptcies of those companies, sued, alleging that the terminations constituted a taking because the government required them as a condition of its providing financial assistance to the companies. The Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 363, 365, authorizes certain sales of a debtor’s assets and provides that a bankruptcy trustee “may assume or reject any executory contract or unexpired lease of the debtor.” Debtors-in-possession in chapter 11 bankruptcies, like GM and Chrysler, generally have a trustee’s powers. The Claims Court denied motions to dismiss. In interlocutory appeals, the Federal Circuit remanded for consideration of the issues of the “regulatory” impact of the government’s “coercion” and of economic impact. While the allegations of economic loss are deficient in not sufficiently alleging that the economic value of the franchises was reduced or eliminated as a result of the government’s actions, the proper remedy is to grant to leave to amend the complaints to include the necessary allegations. View "A&D Auto Sales, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Hartney, a fuel oil retailer with a home office in Forest View, in Cook County, accepted purchase orders in the Village of Mark, in Putnam County, through a business with which it contracted. No Hartney employees were involved there. By so structuring sales, Hartney avoided liability for retail occupation taxes of Cook County, Forest View, and the Regional Transportation Authority. Hartney’s interpretation of the law was consistent with regulations published at the time. However, The Illinois Department of Revenue determined, through audit, that Hartney’s sales were attributable to the company’s Forest View office, rather than the Mark location reported by the company, and issued a notice of tax liability. Hartney paid penalties of $23,111,939 under protest and filed suit. The court agreed that the bright-line test for the situs of sale is where purchase orders are accepted. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court, court disagreed. The court found the “Jurisdictional Questions” regulations of the Administrative Code inconsistent with the statutes and case law. The legislature has not adopted a single-factor test for the situs of retail activity. The court’s own precedent calls for fact-intensive inquiry where there is a composite of many activities, and the legislature, by consistently employing the “business of selling” language, has effectively invoked that precedent. The Department of Revenue must abate Hartney’s penalties and tax liability for the relevant period because Hartney’s actions were consistent with its regulations in effect at the time.View "Hartney Fuel Oil Co. v. Village of Forest View" on Justia Law

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Itochu asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to act under 19 U.S.C. 1675(b) to revoke part of an antidumping-duty order applicable to imported steel nails. Before Commerce issued its preliminary determination, Itochu submitted comments and provided legal authority to urge that the requested partial revocation take effect at an early specified date. Commerce rejected that position in its preliminary ruling and generally invited interested parties to comment. Itochu did not avail itself of that opportunity. In its final ruling, Commerce adopted the partial revocation, which the domestic industry did not oppose, but with the later effective date. When Itochu challenged the effective-date determination, the U.S.s Court of International Trade declined to address the merits, citing failure to exhaust administrative remedies, 28 U.S.C. 2637(d), because Itochu had failed to resubmit, after the preliminary ruling, the comments it had submitted earlier. The Federal Circuit reversed, stating that in these circumstances, requiring exhaustion served no discernible practical purpose and resulting delay would have risked harm to Itochu. View "Itochu Bldg. Prods. v. United States" on Justia Law

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A commercial website operator filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of the reasonableness of the fee charged by the Rogers County Clerk for electronic copies of records and for a determination that the corporation was entitled to an electronic copy of the official tract index of county land records. Plaintiff County Records, Inc. is in the business of operating a website that provides land records to on-line subscribers, including the county clerk records for all 77 counties in Oklahoma. In April 2009, Plaintiff requested electronic copies of land records from the County Clerk's office including an electronic copy of the official tract index. The request for an electronic copy of the official tract index was denied based on Defendant's belief that she is legally prohibited from providing it to Plaintiff for its intended commercial sale of the information. The trial court granted summary judgment to the corporation and directed the Clerk to provide all the requested electronic copies at a "reasonable fee." Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that Plaintiff was not legally entitled to the tract index information in electronic form and the county clerk is prohibited by a specific provision in the Open Records Act from providing information from the land records for resale.

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In 2009 the fire protection district adopted an ordinance requiring commercial buildings and multi-family residences to have fire alarms equipped with wireless radio technology to send alarm signals directly to the district's central monitoring board. The ordinance provided that the district would contract with one private alarm company to provide and service signaling equipment, displacing several private fire alarm companies that have competed for these customers. The alarm companies sued on claims under the U.S. Constitution, federal antitrust law, and state law. The district court granted summary judgment for the alarm companies on the basis of state law and enjoined the district from implementing the ordinance. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, holding that the district has statutory authority to require that commercial and multi-family buildings connect directly to its monitoring board through wireless radio technology. The district does not, however, have authority to displace the entire private market by requiring all customers to buy services and equipment from itself or just one private company.

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Verizon Maryland, a telecommunications company, and the staff of the Public Service Commission (PSC) obtained PSC approval of a global settlement of six pending cases. Verizon employed an alternative form of regulation (AFOR) under Md. Code Ann. Pub. Util. Co. (PUC) 4-301 that included up to $6,000,000 in bill credits to customers with out-of-service complaints that were not resolved in compliance with specified standards. PSC approved the AFOR pursuant to PUC 4-301. A technicians union objected, contending that the service quality aspects of the AFOR did not ensure the quality, availability, and reliability of service required by PUC 4-301. The circuit court affirmed PSC's approval of the AFOR. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that PSC acted within its discretion in approving the AFOR, as PUC 4-301's use of the term "ensuring" did not require that PSC be completely certain that Verizon's incentive strategy would result in compliance with standards.

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The Arkansas Health Services Permit Commission awarded Hospitality Care Center a permit of approval (POA) for a nursing facility. Gracewood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center subsequently requested approval from the Commission to transfer the POA to it from Hospitality. Twin Rivers Health and Rehab opposed the transfer. The Commission ultimately granted the transfer of the POA. Twin Rivers sought judicial review of the Commission's decision and declaratory relief, naming as defendants the Commission, the Arkansas Health Services Permit Agnecy (AHSPA), Gracewood, and Hospitality. The circuit court granted the summary judgment motion of the Commission and the AHSPA and affirmed the Commission's decision. The Supreme Court (1) reversed and remanded the matter with directions to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law because the Commission did not set forth any findings of fact or conclusions of law to support its decision to grant the transfer of the POA; and (2) dismissed without prejudice that portion of the appeal relating to Twin Rivers's request for summary judgment, as the Court does not hear appeals piecemeal.

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The company, which issues preprinted travelers' checks, challenged 2010 N.J. Laws Chapter 25, amending New Jersey's unclaimed property statute, N.J. Stat. 46:30B, to retroactively reduce the period after which travelers checks are presumed abandoned from 15 years to three years, after which the funds must be turned over to the state. The district court denied an injunction. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments under the Due Process Clause, the Contract Clause, the Takings Clause, and the Commerce Clause. The law has a rational basis. It does not substantially impairment contractual relationships; while the company has the right to use and invest TC funds until the date the TC is cashed or sold, the duration of use is further subject to the lawful abandonment period set by unclaimed property laws. The company has no investment-backed expectation with respect to the longer period of investment.The law does not directly regulate sales in other states.