Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Ascolese, a compliance officer, brought a False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim against his former employer, MBP, in connection with a qui tam action involving a federally-funded public housing construction project for the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). In 2009–2010, Congress amended the FCA, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(A), to expand the scope of protected conduct shielded from retaliation and the type of notice an employer must have of the protected conduct. The new standard is whether Ascolese showed he engaged in protected conduct in furtherance of an FCA action or other efforts to stop or more violations of the FCA and that he was discriminated against because of his protected conduct. The court believed that the pre-amendment standard was required by the Third Circuit, and concluded that Ascolese failed to show MBP was on notice that he was attempting to stop MBP from violating the FCA and not merely doing his job.The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The right question is whether Ascolese pled facts that plausibly showed MBP was on notice he tried to stop MBP’s alleged FCA violation. Ascolese sufficiently pled that he engaged in protected conduct when he went outside of his chain of command to report his concerns of fraudulent work to the PHA. View "Ascolese v. Shoemaker Construction Co" on Justia Law

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From December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, the federal government partially shut down because of a lapse in appropriations. Plaintiffs continued to work as “excepted employees” who work on “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” and whom the government can “require[] to perform work during a covered lapse in appropriations,” 31 U.S.C. 1341(c)(2), 1342. During the shutdown, the government was barred from paying wages to excepted employees by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the government from “authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation.” The government paid their accrued wages after the shutdown ended. Plaintiffs sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for failure “to timely pay their earned overtime and regular wages,” 29 U.S.C. 260; any employer who does not timely pay minimum or overtime wages is liable for liquidated damages equal to the amount of the untimely paid wages. The Claims Court has the discretion to award no liquidated damages if the employer shows “reasonable grounds for believing that [the] act was not a violation of the Act.”The Federal Circuit ordered the dismissal of the case. As a matter of law, the government does not violate the FLSA when it pays excepted employees for work performed during a government shutdown at the earliest date possible after a lapse in appropriations ends, View "Avalos v. United States" on Justia Law

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From December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, the government partially shut down because of a lapse in appropriations. Border Patrol Agents continued to work as “excepted employees” who work on “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” and whom the government can “require[] to perform work during a covered lapse in appropriations,” 31 U.S.C. 1341(c)(2), 1342. During the shutdown, the government was barred from paying wages to excepted employees by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the government from “authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation.” The government paid their accrued wages after the shutdown ended. The agents sued, alleging that the government violated the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act (BPAPRA), 5 U.S.C. 5550, by not paying their wages on their regularly scheduled payday” for work they performed during the shutdown and that the late payments were unjustified personnel actions under the Back Pay Act, section 5596(b)); they sought interest and attorney fees.The Federal Circuit ordered the dismissal of the case. The government does not violate any implicit timely payment obligation in the BPAPRA and Back Pay Act when, as required by the Anti-Deficiency Act, it defers payments to excepted employees until after a lapse in appropriations ends. View "Abrantes v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Chicago Sun-Times sent Cook County Health and Hospitals System a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1) for information about gunshot wound patients who arrive at the defendant’s emergency rooms unaccompanied by law enforcement. The newspaper was investigating whether the defendant was meeting a requirement to notify local law enforcement when so-called “walk-in” gunshot wound patients are treated, 20 ILCS 2630/3, and asked for the “time/date” of each relevant hospital admission and the corresponding “time/date” of law enforcement notification. Cook County asserted two FOIA exemptions and withheld the records, claiming they contained personal health information prohibited from disclosure by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) (110 Stat. 1936) and private information barred from disclosure under FOIA. The newspaper argued that the year listed on each record was discoverable, even if the time of day, day of the month, and month were not.The Cook County circuit court granted the defendant summary judgment. The appellate court reversed and the Illinois Supreme Court agreed, holding that HIPAA and FOIA permitted the release of the year elements of the records as long as the individual identifying information was redacted, or “deidentified” to maintain patient confidentiality. View "Chicago Sun-Times v. Cook County Health and Hospital System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus sought by Walmart, Inc. ordering the Industrial Commission of Ohio to reverse its decision awarding Dianna Hixson temporary total disability (TTD) compensation on the basis of State ex rel. Klein v. Precision Excavating & Grading Co., 119 N.E.3d 386 (Ohio 2018), holding that Klein applies prospectively only.Before the Supreme Court issued Klein, the Commission awarded Hixson TTD compensation. After Klein was released, Walmart, Hixson's former employer, filed this action seeking a writ of mandamus ordering the termination of Hixson's TTD compensation after the date notified Walmart of her retirement. The court of appeals granted the writ, concluding that the Commission abused its discretion by awarding TTD compensation for the period following Hixson's retirement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Klein does not apply retroactively and should be applied prospectively only. View "State ex rel. Walmart, Inc. v. Hixson" on Justia Law

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In this original action involving a dispute between Relator, Lake County Clerk of Courts Faith Andrews, and Respondents, the seven judges of the Lake County Court of Common Pleas, the Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition vacating Respondents' May 2022 journal entry and prohibiting the judges from imposing similar restrictions against Relator without jurisdiction, holding that Relator was entitled to the writ.Relator's alleged misconduct within the clerk's office led Respondents to issue a journey entry in May 2022 that banned Relator from entering the Lake County courthouse except for one day per month. Relator brought this action seeking writs of prohibition, mandamus, or quo warrant to prevent the judges from interfering with her execution of her duties at the courthouse, where the clerk's office was located. The Supreme Court issued a writ of prohibition vacating Respondents' journal entry, issued a writ of mandamus ordering Respondents to vacate the May 2022 entry, and denied as moot Relator's request for a writ of quo warranto, holding that Respondents effectively removed Relator from her office without jurisdiction to do so. View "State ex rel. Andrews v. Lake County Court of Common Pleas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff TransFarmations, Inc. appealed a superior court decision to uphold the Town of Amherst Planning Board's (Town) decisions to deny TransFarmations' two successive applications for a conditional use permit (CUP). In May 2019, TransFarmations requested a “Conceptual Meeting” with the Town’s planning board (Board) concerning its proposed development of an approximately 130-acre property known as the Jacobson Farm. It stated that the “development will be designed to meet many of the desired attributes the Town . . . has articulated in [its] Master Plan and [Integrated] Innovative . . . Housing Ordinance (IIHO),” including workforce housing and over-55 housing. TransFarmations subsequently submitted a CUP application under the IIHO for a planned residential development containing 64 residential units. In its challenge to the decisions, TransFarmations argued both that the decisions failed to adequately state the ground for denial and that the Board acted unreasonably because the second CUP application was materially different from the first. The trial court concluded that the Board adequately provided the reason for its first decision on the record because “the Board members discussed, in detail, their reasons for concluding that no material differences [between the first and second applications] existed.” The court also concluded that “the Board acted reasonably and lawfully in reaching [that] decision.” Accordingly, the court affirmed both of the Board’s decisions. TransFarmations contended the trial court erred in affirming the Board’s decision not to accept the second application because TransFarmations submitted that application “at the Board’s invitation and with the information the Board requested.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded TransFarmations’ second application supplying the requested information was “materially different from its predecessor, thus satisfying Fisher.” Because the trial court’s decision concluding otherwise misapplied Fisher v. Dover, it was legally erroneous. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order as to the second CUP decision and remanded. View "TransFarmations, Inc. v. Town of Amherst" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming the decision of the Montana Department of Revenue (MDOR) denying Appellant's petition to adopt a proposed administrative rule construing Mont. Code Ann. 15-30-2605(3), holding that the MDOR correctly construed sections 15-30-2605(1) and (3) and did not capriciously, arbitrarily, or unlawfully preliminarily deny Appellant's petition for adoption of a proposed rule interpreting the section 15-30-2605(3).At issue were internal MDOR reviews initiated by clients of Appellant, a certified public accountant, regarding 2021 MDOR adjustment notices regarding their 2017 income tax returns. Appellant argued that the noticed MDOR adjustments were untimely beyond the three-year deadline set forth in section 15-30-2605(3) and petitioned MDOR to adopt a rule to clarify section 15-30-2605 based on his contrary interpretation of section 15-30-2605(3). MDOR denied the petition, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in determining that MDOR's construction of section 15-30-2605(3) was correct and that Appellant failed to demonstrate that the denial of his rulemaking petition was arbitrary, capricious, or based on an erroneous conclusion of law. View "Wangerin v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, New Jersey Governor Murphy responded to the spread of COVID-19; Executive Order 107 prohibited in-person gatherings and ordered New Jersey residents to “remain home or at their place of residence,” except for certain approved purposes, such as an “educational, political, or religious reason.” EO 107 excepted businesses deemed “essential,” including grocery and liquor stores, which could continue to welcome any number of persons (consistent with social distancing guidelines). Violations of EO 107 were subject to criminal prosecution for “disorderly conduct.” The order granted the Superintendent of the State Police, “discretion to make clarifications and issue [related] orders[.]” He exercised that power, declaring (Administrative Order 2020-4) that gatherings of 10 or fewer persons were presumptively permitted. Neither EO 107 nor AO 2020-4 contained an exception for religious worship gatherings or other First Amendment activity.Two New Jersey-based, Christian congregations, believing that the Bible requires them to gather for in-person worship services, violated the Orders and were cited. Less than a week after the filing of their complaint, challenging the Orders, Governor Murphy raised indoor gathering limits to 50 persons or 25 percent of room capacity (whichever was less), allowing outdoor religious gatherings without any gathering limits. The district court denied the congregations’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The Third Circuit dismissed an appeal as moot. View "Clark v. Governor of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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The Northwestern Illinois Area Agency on Aging (NIAAA), sought mandamus relief against the Department on Aging. The Department had designated NIAAA as a regional administrative agency (RAA) for administering programs created by the Adult Protective Services Act. NIAAA had filed petitions for administrative hearings; the Department rejected both petitions, finding that neither presented a “contested case” for which an administrative hearing is required. The first petition requested a recall of a new Protective Act Program Services Manual. NIAAA claims that the Department retaliated by terminating its grant and its position as RAA. NIAAA requested the Department to adopt administrative rules for “contested case” hearings and to compensate NIAAA for the lost funding. In its second petition, NIAAA requested a hearing on the Department’s rejection of NIAAA’s designation of Protective Act providers.The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal of the mandamus complaint. The Department has adopted the requested administrative rules, so those allegations are moot. The Illinois Administrative Procedure Act, 5 ILCS 100/1-1 does not require hearings on the other allegations. Nothing in the relevant statutes and regulations provides that the Department's decision regarding funding and service provider designations are to be made only after an opportunity for a hearing. Under the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions, procedural due process protections are triggered only when a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest is implicated. NIAAA does not have a constitutionally protected interest in the funding or its service provider designation. View "Nyhammer v. Basta" on Justia Law