Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
by
When the ACA’s mandate and SRP were still in effect, a husband and wife (“Taxpayers”) did not maintain the minimum insurance coverage required by the ACA. The taxpayers did not include their $2409 SRP when they filed their 2018 federal tax return. The Taxpayers filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The IRS filed a proof of claim for the unpaid SRP and asserted that its claim was entitled to priority as an income or excise tax under Section 507 of the Bankruptcy Code. The Taxpayers objected to the government’s claim of priority. The bankruptcy court granted the objection, concluding that, for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code, the SRP is a penalty, not a tax, and therefore is not entitled to priority under Section 507(a)(8). The government appealed to the district court, which affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. The district court held that even if the SRP was generally a tax, it did not qualify as a tax measured by income or an excise tax and thus was not entitled to priority. The government thereafter appealed.   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court concluded that that the SRP qualifies as a tax under the functional approach that has consistently been applied in bankruptcy cases and that nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision in NFIB requires the court to abandon that functional approach. Because the SRP is a tax that is measured by income, the government’s claim is entitled to priority under 11 U.S.C. Section 507(a)(8)(A). View "US v. Fabio Alicea" on Justia Law

by
Caroline Avery (“Avery”) filed nomination petitions to run as a Republican candidate for Representative of the Pennsylvania First Congressional District in the May 2022 primary election, and Brittany Kosin (“Kosin”) filed nomination petitions to run as a candidate in the same primary election as a Republican for the Pennsylvania General Assembly seat representing the 178th District. However, both candidates withdrew their primary election nomination petitions by way of Commonwealth Court orders. Avery and Kosin subsequently submitted nomination papers seeking to run as third-party candidates in the November 2022 general election for the same offices that they initially sought to fill as Republican candidates in the 2022 primary election. Various citizens petitioned to set aside these nomination petitions, primarily on grounds that the candidates were barred from appearing on the general election ballot by the Election Code, Subsection 976(e) of the Code, 25 P.S. § 2936(e). In response, both potential candidates argued that they were entitled to participate in the 2022 general election based upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion in Packrall v. Quail, 192 A.2d 704 (Pa. 1963), and in In re Cohen for Office of Philadelphia City Council-at-Large, 225 A.3d 1083 (Pa. 2020) (“Cohen”). Although neither Avery nor Kosin withdrew their primary election nomination petitions pursuant to Section 914, they argued that, in Cohen, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended Packrall to allow a candidate to run in a general election in the circumstances presented in their cases. The Commonwealth Court rejected this argument, concluding that, in Cohen, a majority of Justices held that the Supreme Court’s decision in Packrall was limited to the particular circumstances of that case and did not apply to the case on appeal here. The Supreme Court issued orders affirming the Commonwealth Court on September 22, 2022; the Court issued this opinion to explain its reasoning. View "In Re: Nomination Papers of Kosin & Avery" on Justia Law

by
Appellants Rio Grande Foundation (“RGF”) and Illinois Opportunity Project (“IOP”) were nonprofit advocacy groups challenging an amendment to New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act (“CRA”), which required groups spending over designated amounts on electioneering communications to state their identities on the materials and to disclose the identities of their donors to New Mexico’s Secretary of State (the “Secretary”). Appellants claimed these requirements burdened their First Amendment rights and chilled their planned speech in the 2020 election cycle. The district court dismissed the case at summary judgment for lack of standing, reasoning Appellants showed no injury-in-fact under the framework the Tenth Circuit laid out in Initiative and Referendum Institute v. Walker, 450 F.3d 1082 (10th Cir. 2006). After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the dismissal here in part, holding that RGF had standing to pursue its First Amendment challenge to the amended CRA’s disclosure requirement. The Court affirmed the dismissal of IOP’s claims, but on grounds different than those relied on by the district court. View "Rio Grande Foundation, et al. v. Oliver" on Justia Law

by
An attorney appealed from orders of the Committee on Grievances of the Board of Judges of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (the “Committee”) finding her liable for violating various provisions of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct and imposing sanctions for these violations, including a six-month suspension from practicing law in the Eastern District. On appeal, the attorney argued that the Committee (1) deprived her of due process by failing to afford her with reasonable notice of the charges and an adequate opportunity to defend against the charges, (2) failed to substantiate each element of the charges by clear and convincing evidence, and (3) imposed a punishment that was excessive in light of the putative lack of harm to the public. She has also requested that we maintain her appeal under seal, arguing that public disclosure of her identity would cause her reputational harm.   The Second Circuit affirmed the orders of the Committee and ordered that the docket in this appeal, and all its contents, be unsealed. The court explained that the attorney violated her most basic duty to the vulnerable clients who depended on her: to provide them with diligent, competent representation. Along the way, her neglectful and discourteous conduct harmed the administration of justice itself. The Committee’s evidence establishing as much was unassailable. Further, the court wrote that to the extent that the attorney’s sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge relies on her contention that it was improper for the Committee to consider filings and transcripts from her non-disciplinary matters in the Eastern District, it fails. View "In re Demetriades" on Justia Law

by
Perioperative Services and Logistics, LLC, sells medical devices to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). After someone emailed the VA accusing Perioperative of selling counterfeit implants, the VA’s National Center for Patient Safety posted an internal recall, requiring agency facilities to sequester Perioperative products. Forty days later, after an investigation yielded no support for the accusation, the VA lifted the recall. Seeking to unmask the complainant, Perioperative filed a FOIA request for the complaint. The VA denied the request, relying on Exemption 6, which shields “personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Perioperative filed suit in district court, and the VA moved for summary judgment. The district court accepted an ex parte declaration and concluded that the requested record was exempt.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court relied on a declaration that the company cannot see, let alone rebut. But that dilemma is inherent in those FOIA cases where, as here, an ex parte declaration is the only way to “decid[e] the dispute without . . . disclosing the very material sought to be kept secret.” Further, the court held that the complainant’s substantial privacy interest outweighs any public interest in disclosure. Accordingly, the VA has demonstrated that the complaint is exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 6. View "Perioperative Services And Logistics, LLC v. DVA" on Justia Law

by
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) challenges a rule governing the elections in which employees vote on whether to be represented by a union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) promulgated the 2019 Rule without notice and comment, asserting that it falls within the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) exception. The NLRB argues that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or Act), mandates direct review from the Board to the circuit court. The Board also asserts that, even if the district court had jurisdiction, it erred in holding that five challenged provisions of the Rule fall outside the APA’s procedural exception. The AFL-CIO cross-appeals, arguing that the 2019 Rule as a whole is arbitrary and capricious and that the provision concerning ballot impoundment specifically is arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law.   The DC Circuit held that the statutory provision for direct review in federal appellate courts of NLRB orders regarding unfair labor practices did not divest the district court of jurisdiction over rules that are exclusively concerned with representation elections, as is the 2019 Rule. The court held that the district court erred in concluding that none of the five challenged provisions comes within the procedural exception; the court held that two of them do. Those two are rules of agency procedure, so were validly promulgated without notice and comment. The court affirmed the district court’s invalidation of the rules regarding the eligible employee-voters list, the timeline for certification of election results, and election-observer eligibility. The AFL-CIO’s challenge to the 2019 Rule as arbitrary and capricious fails. View "American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations v. NLRB" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Citizens for Constitutional Integrity and Southwest Advocates, Inc. appealed the rejection of their challenges to the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), and Senate Rule XXII, the so-called Cloture Rule, which required the votes of three-fifths of the Senate to halt debate. The Stream Protection Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 93,066 (Dec. 20, 2016), heightened the requirements for regulatory approval of mining-permit applications. The Rule was promulgated by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (the Office) in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Within a month of the Stream Protection Rule taking effect on January 19, 2017, both Houses of Congress had passed a joint resolution disapproving the Rule pursuant to the CRA, and President Trump had signed the joint resolution into law. According to Plaintiffs, the repeal of the Rule enabled the approval of a 950.55-acre expansion of the King II Coal Mine (the Mine), located in La Plata County, Colorado, and owned by GCC Energy. Plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the federal government and several high-ranking Department of the Interior officials in their official capacities (collectively, Defendants) seeking: (1) a declaration that the CRA and the Cloture Rule were unconstitutional and that the Stream Protection Rule was therefore valid and enforceable; (2) vacation of the approval of the King II Mine permit modification and an injunction against expanded mining activities authorized by the modification; and (3) attorney fees. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs' challenges to the CRA and held that they lacked standing to challenge the Cloture Rule. View "Citizens for Constitutional, et al. v. United States, et al." on Justia Law

by
In the wake of a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, interpreted existing regulations on machineguns as extending to bump stocks. Plaintiff relinquished several bump stocks and then filed this case, seeking to invalidate ATF's interpretation.The district court found in favor of the ATF, as did a panel of Fifth Circuit judges. However, on rehearing en banc, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, finding that "a plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of 'machinegun' set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act."The court went on to explain that, even if it determine the language to be ambiguous, it would apply the rule of lenity to interpret the statute against imposing criminal liability. Notably, three judges concurred with the court's opinion on lenity grounds, and the opinion also garnered a three-judge dissent. View "Cargill v. Garland" on Justia Law

by
The original proceedings involve efforts by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC or the Commission) to discover whether the political activities of Southern California Gas Company (SCG) are funded by SCG’s shareholders, which is permissible, or ratepayers, which is not. The Commission propounded several discovery requests (called “Data Requests”) on SCG, and when SCG failed fully to comply, moved to compel further responses that ultimately resulted in an order to comply or face substantial penalties. SCG seeks a writ of mandate directing the Commission to rescind its order on the ground that the discovery requests infringe on SCG’s First Amendment rights.   The Second Appellate District granted the petition. The court held that SCG has shown that disclosure of the requested information will impact its First Amendment rights, and the Commission failed to show that its interest in determining whether SCG’s political efforts are impermissibly funded outweighs that impact. The court explained that the Commission argues that sometimes SCG misclassifies expenditures, and has at times moved expenditures from ratepayer to shareholder accounts. But this just shows that a less invasive discovery process is working, and the PAO can confirm that no funds have been misclassified to ratepayer accounts by reviewing above-the-line accounts. Further, because the court will vacate Resolution ALJ-391 insofar as it compels disclosure of shareholder expenditures, no basis for sanctions exists. View "So. Cal. Gas Co. v. P.U.C." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff began working as an environmental, safety, and health specialist at Targa’s Venice, Louisiana plant. He alleged that Targa violated the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute (“LEWS”) by discharging him after he refused and reported a manager’s directive to dilute sewage samples. The district court denied Targa’s motion for summary judgment and, following a bench trial, rendered judgment for Plaintiff. Targa argues on appeal that Plaintiff’s report of the manager’s directive and refusal to comply do not constitute “protected activities” under LEWS.     The court certified questions to the Louisiana Supreme Court, explaining that certification is necessary because the court lacks clear guidance from the Louisiana Supreme Court on how to resolve these issues, and the outcome is determinative of the entire appeal. The certified questions are: (1) Whether refusals to engage in illegal or environmentally damaging activities are “disclosures” under the current version of the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute, La. Stat. Ann. 30:2027; and (2) Whether the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute affords protection to an employee who reports to his supervisor an activity, policy, or practice of an employer which he reasonably believes is in violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation, where reporting violations of environmental law, rules, or regulations, is a part of the employee’s normal job responsibilities. View "Menard v. Targa Resources" on Justia Law