Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Suzanne Brown, a federal prisoner, appealed the denial of her habeas corpus petition. Brown was convicted on twelve counts of making a materially false statement to a federal agency and was sentenced to twelve months of imprisonment and a two-year term of supervised release. She began her term of imprisonment in January 2022, with release scheduled for January 2023. However, in March 2022, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) calculated that Brown had earned fifteen First Step Act (FSA) credits, which it applied to accelerate her release date to December 17, 2022. In August 2022, BOP transferred Brown to home confinement under the emergency measures of the CARES Act, still with a calculated release date of December 17, 2022.Brown filed a petition for habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, arguing that she had earned enough FSA credits to qualify for release on September 2, 2022, and that BOP's decision not to correct her FSA credit calculation and apply FSA credits to accelerate her release would result in her being held unlawfully in custody. A magistrate judge recommended that Brown's petition for habeas corpus be denied, and the district court adopted that recommendation and denied the petition. Brown timely appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the denial of the habeas petition de novo. Brown conceded that controlling precedent foreclosed some of the relief she sought earlier. She now asked only that the court hold her term of supervised release began on August 2, 2022, when she was transferred to home confinement. However, the court affirmed the denial of habeas relief, stating that the BOP's transfer of Brown to home confinement was a form of BOP custody, and her term of supervised release could not begin until the BOP released her from that custody. The court expressed no view as to whether Brown could receive relief under other procedural mechanisms, such as 18 U.S.C. § 3583. View "Brown v. Penders" on Justia Law

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The case involves Hartono Djokro and his son William Djokro, citizens of Indonesia who entered the United States as nonimmigrant visitors and overstayed their visas. In 2007, Hartono Djokro filed an application for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), including his son as a derivative applicant. They were served with notices to appear by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2008, charging them with removability for having remained in the United States longer than they had been authorized.In 2009, an immigration judge (IJ) denied their applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the CAT. The IJ found that the petitioners were ineligible for relief on several grounds, including that they had failed to establish a pattern or practice of persecution against either Chinese or Christians in Indonesia. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld the IJ's decision in 2012. The petitioners' first motion to reopen was denied by the BIA in 2013.In the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the petitioners sought review of the BIA's denial of their second untimely motion to reopen, filed in 2021. The court denied the petition, finding that the BIA reasonably concluded that the petitioners had failed to satisfy the requirements for an exception to late filing. The court held that the BIA did not abuse its discretion in finding that the petitioners failed to establish changed conditions or circumstances material to their eligibility for asylum or withholding of removal. The court found that the record amply supported the BIA's determination that the petitioners had not met their burden of showing that the exception for changed country conditions applies. View "Djokro v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Eghbal Saffarinia, a former high-ranking official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General (HUD-OIG), was required by federal law to file annual financial disclosure forms detailing most of his financial liabilities over $10,000. One of Saffarinia’s responsibilities was the allocation of HUD-OIG’s information technology contracts. An investigation revealed that Saffarinia had repeatedly falsified his financial disclosure forms and failed to disclose financial liabilities over $10,000. The investigation also revealed that one of the persons from whom Saffarinia had borrowed money was the owner of an IT company that had been awarded HUD-OIG IT contracts during the time when Saffarinia had near-complete power over the agency operation.Saffarinia was indicted on seven counts, including three counts of obstruction of justice. A jury convicted Saffarinia on all seven counts, and the District Court sentenced him to a year and a day in federal prison, followed by one year of supervised release. Saffarinia appealed his conviction, arguing that the law under which he was convicted did not extend to alleged obstruction of an agency’s review of financial disclosure forms because the review of these forms is insufficiently formal to fall within the law’s ambit. He also argued that the evidence presented at trial diverged from the charges contained in the indictment, resulting in either the constructive amendment of the indictment against him or, in the alternative, a prejudicial variance. Finally, Saffarinia challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him at trial.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found no basis to overturn Saffarinia’s conviction. The court held that the law under which Saffarinia was convicted was intended to capture the sorts of activity with which Saffarinia was charged. The court also found that the government neither constructively amended Saffarinia’s indictment nor prejudicially varied the charges against him. Finally, the court found that the evidence presented at Saffarinia’s trial was sufficient to support his conviction. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the District Court. View "USA v. Saffarinia" on Justia Law

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The case involves a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by American Oversight seeking communications between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress regarding healthcare reform. The agencies invoked Exemption 5 of the FOIA to withhold certain communications, arguing that they were "intra-agency" communications. The district court sided with the agencies, holding that the communications were protected from disclosure under Exemption 5.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed with the lower court's decision. The court held that the communications between the agencies and Congress were not "intra-agency" communications and therefore not protected by Exemption 5. The court reasoned that under the "consultant corollary" to Exemption 5, the term "intra-agency" encompasses nearly all documents used by an agency in its deliberative process, even if the author or recipient is not an employee of that same agency. However, the court concluded that agencies may not invoke Exemption 5 to withhold agency records generated by a government consultant with its own stake in the outcome of the agency’s decision-making process.The court also found that HHS's search for responsive records was inadequate because it failed to include obvious alternative terms for the subject matter of American Oversight’s request. The court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to HHS and OMB on the applicability of Exemption 5 to the records at issue and to HHS on the adequacy of its search. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "American Oversight v. HHS" on Justia Law

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Mark and Birgit Self owned a tract of rural land that adjoined a portion of Farm-to-Market Road 677 in Montague County, Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) had a right-of-way easement that reached fifty feet from the centerline of the road in each direction, which burdened part of the Selfs’ property. As part of a highway maintenance project, TxDOT contracted with T.F.R. Enterprises, Inc. (TFR) to remove brush and trees from the right-of-way. TFR subcontracted with Lyellco Inc. to remove the trees. Following TxDOT’s instruction to TFR to “clear everything between the fences,” Lyellco workers cut all trees up to the Selfs’ fence line, including trees that were outside the State’s right-of-way easement. The Selfs sued TxDOT for negligence and inverse condemnation.The trial court denied TxDOT’s plea to the jurisdiction, asserting immunity from both causes of action. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that there was a fact issue on whether the Texas Tort Claims Act waived immunity for the negligence cause of action, but reversed the trial court’s judgment on the cause of action for inverse condemnation, holding there was no evidence that TxDOT intentionally destroyed the Selfs’ property.The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the court of appeals. It held that the Selfs had not shown either that the subcontractor’s employees were in TxDOT’s paid service or that other TxDOT employees operated or used the motor-driven equipment that cut down the trees, as required to waive immunity under the Tort Claims Act. Therefore, the negligence cause of action was dismissed. However, regarding inverse condemnation, the court found that the Selfs had alleged and offered evidence that TxDOT intentionally directed the destruction of the trees as part of clearing the right-of-way for public use. Therefore, the cause of action for inverse condemnation was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION v. SELF" on Justia Law

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Emilio Puente, a police officer for the City of Iowa City, resigned from his position and later attempted to rescind his resignation. When the City rejected his attempt, Puente filed an action with the Civil Service Commission of Iowa City (Commission) for review of the City’s refusal to reinstate him. The Commission dismissed Puente's complaint, agreeing with the City that it was untimely. Puente then filed a petition for judicial review in the Johnson County District Court, which was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that Puente’s “petition for judicial review” was not a “notice of appeal” as required by Iowa Code § 400.27.The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court of appeals relied on the differences between a chapter 17A proceeding and an appeal under section 400.27 to conclude that the petition for judicial review could not be deemed a notice of appeal. The court of appeals noted that the two are initiated differently, have different venue provisions and service requirements, and have different standards and scopes of review.The Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the lower courts' decisions. The Supreme Court found that Puente had substantially complied with the requirements for filing a notice of appeal from the Commission’s decision to the district court. The court noted that Puente's petition sought "judicial review" of the Commission’s decision, identifying the Commission as a “respondent” rather than a “defendant.” The court concluded that Puente's reference to the wrong Code provision for venue did not mean he failed to substantially comply with the correct Code provision. The court vacated the decision of the court of appeals, reversed the district court judgment dismissing Puente’s appeal from the Commission’s decision, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Puente v. Civil Service Commission of Iowa City" on Justia Law

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The case involves the defendant, Michael C. Hoehn, who was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) after a motion to suppress evidence from his stop and arrest was denied by the county court. The arresting officer, Officer Matt Rockwell of the Minatare Police Department, had left his primary jurisdiction after receiving a report of a white pickup driving erratically. Rockwell observed the pickup straddling the centerline and trash coming from the driver’s-side window. After the pickup turned into oncoming traffic and down into the grass median, Rockwell stopped the vehicle and identified the driver as Hoehn. Rockwell observed Hoehn had slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes, and detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle. Rockwell administered a preliminary breath test and other field sobriety tests, which Hoehn failed, leading to his arrest for DUI.Hoehn appealed to the district court, arguing that Rockwell did not have jurisdictional authority to perform the traffic stop. The district court affirmed the conviction, interpreting Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-215(3)(c) to mean that when probable cause exists, officers have authority to perform stops and arrests outside of their primary jurisdiction that are solely related to enforcing laws that concern a person operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.Hoehn then appealed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of § 29-215(3)(c) and found that Rockwell lacked jurisdictional authority to make the stop and arrest. However, the Court of Appeals held that under the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule, Hoehn’s conviction, based on the evidence from his stop and arrest, did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. Both Hoehn and the State petitioned for further review by the Nebraska Supreme Court.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, albeit on different grounds. The court held that a law enforcement officer’s jurisdictional power and authority to make a stop or arrest is irrelevant to the admissibility, under the Fourth Amendment and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution, of the evidence obtained from the stop or arrest. Therefore, the county court did not err in denying Hoehn’s motion to suppress brought under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. View "State v. Hoehn" on Justia Law

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The case involves two public school districts, Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD) and Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD), located within the boundaries of the former El Cajon Redevelopment Agency (RDA) in San Diego County. In 1988, the districts entered into “pass-through” agreements with the RDA, which agreed to provide the districts a portion of its annual property tax increment revenue up to a specified dollar cap. After the RDA was dissolved in 2012, the San Diego County Auditor-Controller continued to make payments according to the agreements. The districts sought a writ of mandate to compel the Auditor-Controller to make statutorily defined pass-through payments to them after the caps in their respective agreements were reached. The Auditor-Controller responded that she would not make further pass-through payments to the districts once their respective caps were reached.The trial court denied the requested relief. The court found that under the plain and unambiguous language of the statute, when the RDA adopted an amendment lifting the time limit to establish loans, advances, and indebtedness, it triggered a statutory obligation to pay one or the other of two things to affected taxing entities, depending on whether the RDA had entered into a pass-through agreement with any particular entity before January 1, 1994, that required pass-through payments to that entity. If such an agreement did exist, the RDA would need to make the contractually defined pass-through payments. If such an agreement did not exist, the RDA would need to make statutorily defined pass-through payments. The court concluded that the statute does not require other payments and it would not read such a requirement into the plain language of the statute.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The appellate court agreed with the trial court's interpretation of the statute and found that the districts were not entitled to receive statutorily defined pass-through payments once the payment caps in the agreements were reached. View "Cajon Valley Union School District v. Drager" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the ballot title for Legislative Referral 403 (2024) (LR 403), which was referred for voters' consideration at the upcoming November 2024 General Election. The petitioner, James Sasinowski, challenged all parts of the ballot title, asserting non-compliance with requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). LR 403 would amend ORS chapter 254 to require "ranked choice voting" for certain elections and would permit local governments to adopt ranked-choice voting in their elections.The ballot title for LR 403 was prepared by a joint legislative committee and filed with the Secretary of State. The petitioner challenged all parts of the ballot title, arguing that the word "majority" was used inaccurately and without proper context. He contended that "majority of votes" suggests that a candidate has received the majority of total votes cast, but in operation, ranked-choice voting can produce a winner who does not receive that type of "majority" vote.The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon agreed with the petitioner in part. The court found that the caption of the ballot title for LR 403 did not reasonably identify the subject matter of the measure and required modification. The court also agreed that the "yes" result statement in the ballot title for LR 403 did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2)(b) and required modification. However, the court disagreed with the petitioner that the "no" result statement and the summary in the ballot title for LR 403 required modification. The court concluded that the caption and "yes" result statement in the joint legislative committee’s ballot title for LR 403 required modification and referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Sasinowski v. Legislative Assembly" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Stuart Harrow, a Department of Defense employee who was furloughed for six days. Harrow challenged this decision before the Merit Systems Protection Board. After a five-year delay, the Board ruled against him. Harrow had the right to appeal this decision to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit within 60 days of the Board's final order. However, Harrow did not learn about the Board's decision until after the 60-day period had elapsed, and he filed his appeal late. Harrow requested the Federal Circuit to overlook his untimeliness and equitably toll the filing deadline. The Federal Circuit, however, denied his request, believing that the deadline was an unalterable "jurisdictional requirement."The Supreme Court of the United States reviewed the case. The main issue was whether the 60-day filing deadline under Section 7703(b)(1) was jurisdictional, meaning it marked the bounds of a court's power and could not be waived or subject to exceptions. The Supreme Court held that the 60-day filing deadline was not jurisdictional. The Court reasoned that procedural rules, even when phrased in mandatory terms, are generally subject to exceptions like waiver, forfeiture, and equitable tolling. The Court found no language in Section 7703(b)(1) that suggested it was a jurisdictional requirement. The Court also rejected the Government's argument that the term "pursuant to" in a different statute, 28 U.S.C. §1295(a)(9), made the deadline jurisdictional.The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Federal Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Federal Circuit was directed to determine whether equitable tolling was available and, if so, whether Harrow was entitled to that relief given the facts of the case. View "Harrow v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law