Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al.
The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
Military-Veterans Advocacy Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Military-Veterans Advocacy (MVA) filed suit under 38 U.S.C. 502, seeking review and revision of certain instructions and practices set forth in the Veterans Affairs Adjudication Procedures Manual (M21-1 Manual), which provides guidance and instructions to the administrators of veterans’ benefits and claims, by interpreting and coordinating the application of statutes, regulations, policies, and judicial decisions. The M21-1 Manual “limits VA staff discretion, and, as a practical matter, impacts veteran benefits eligibility for an entire class of veterans.”The Federal Circuit dismissed challenges to presumptions and procedures concerning Vietnam-era exposure to the Agent Orange defoliant. MVA waived its challenge to the “Thailand Rules.” The VA’s interpretation of the “Blue Water Navy Rule” of 2019 did not unduly narrow the presumption of exposure and service connection as applied to shipboard service. MVA’s challenge to the “Airspace Rule” is barred by the six-year limit provided in section 2401(a) because the rule has been in full force and effect since 1993. Even if the time bar did not apply, Congress has consistently preserved the high-altitude exception to the presumption of exposure since its adoption in 1993. View "Military-Veterans Advocacy Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law
Moss v. Shelby County Civil Service Merit Bd.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals in this employment action, holding that a civil service merit board does not act arbitrarily or capriciously by declining to allow an employee who is challenging his termination for just cause to inquire about more lenient discipline imposed on other employees.Plaintiff, a Shelby County Fire Department employee, participated in an altercation involving a firearm at a political rally and was subsequently investigated. Due to the altercation and Plaintiff's dishonesty during the investigation, Plaintiff was fired. Plaintiff appealed, requesting that the Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board ask questions about discipline imposed on other fire department employees. The Board affirmed. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case, ruling that the Board arbitrarily and unreasonably excluded questions about other discipline. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Board's decision to decline to consider evidence of discipline imposed on other employees was nor arbitrary or capricious. View "Moss v. Shelby County Civil Service Merit Bd." on Justia Law
Chimento v. Gallagher Benefit Services
Plaintiff Sue Chimento brought claims for defamation, negligence, intentional interference with business relations, false representation, constructive fraud, and conspiracy against Defendants Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc., and Scott McCoy, based on allegations they made to the Tulsa Police Department, Tulsa County District Attorney's Office, and the Oklahoma Insurance Department that she had embezzled money while under their employment. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to Defendants, finding that their statements to the police and district attorney were subject to an absolute privilege and their statements to Oklahoma Insurance Department were subject to a qualified privilege under 36 O.S. § 363. The trial court certified its order granting partial summary judgment for interlocutory review. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Defendants' statements to the police, the district attorney, and the Oklahoma Insurance Department were afforded a qualified privilege. View "Chimento v. Gallagher Benefit Services" on Justia Law
Jason Payne v. Joseph Biden, Jr.
On November 22, 2021—the day federal employees were required to be vaccinated—Appellant filed suit in District Court, challenging the mandate’s constitutionality. Characterizing Appellant’s suit as a “workplace dispute involving a covered federal employee,” the District Court found Appellant’s claims were precluded under the CSRA and dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On appeal, Appellant insisted that he challenges the vaccine mandate’s constitutionality, as opposed to contesting a workplace dispute under the CSRA. According to his complaint, however, he alleged that the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional—at least in part—because it requires that he obtain the vaccine to avoid adverse employment action. The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that all attempts to characterize his argument as anything but a challenge to adverse employment action fail for jurisdictional purposes because Appellant himself admitted that his standing to challenge the vaccine mandate is rooted in the looming disciplinary action he now faces as a result of his continued noncompliance. In other words, Appellant challenges the vaccine mandate to maintain his employment while continuing to defy the mandate that he views as unlawful. And while his constitutional arguments are relevant to the merits, they do not change the fact that one of Appellant’s interests in this suit is to avoid the impending adverse employment action. Appellant’s claims are not wholly collateral because challenges to adverse employment actions are the type of claims that the MSPB regularly adjudicates. Thus, the court found that should Appellant choose to continue challenging the vaccine mandate, he must do so through the CSRA’s scheme. View "Jason Payne v. Joseph Biden, Jr." on Justia Law
Shanette Rogers v. Kilolo Kijakazi
Plaintiff initiated a civil action in district court contesting the denial of her claim for disability insurance benefits by Defendant Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “SSA”). Plaintiff has asserted that the SSA Commissioner erred in multiple ways. Her arguments include that, pursuant to precedents of this Court, the Commissioner should have accorded substantial weight to a prior determination by the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) that Plaintiff is 100% disabled, but the Commissioner instead followed contrary new SSA rules providing that such a determination need not be considered, much less given any weight. As Rogers would have it, the new SSA rules cannot — and thus do not — abrogate this Court’s precedents. The district court concluded, however, that the new SSA rules supersede our precedents and that the Commissioner acted appropriately in adhering to those rules. After then addressing many, but not all, of Plaintiff’s other arguments, the court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision. Plaintiff appealed from the court’s judgment. The Fourth Circuit vacated the court’s judgment and remanded for the court to further remand this matter for administrative proceedings. The court concluded that by omitting the menstrual cycle evidence from the residual functional capacity assessment as to Plaintiff, the ALJ’s decision is sorely lacking in the analysis needed for the court to review meaningfully the ALJ’s conclusions. That legal error alone demands further administrative proceedings. View "Shanette Rogers v. Kilolo Kijakazi" on Justia Law
Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al.
Plaintiff-Appellant Wyo-Ben, Inc., (“Wyo-Ben”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of its complaint against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (the “Secretary”) and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM;” collectively, “Respondents”) asserting a single claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). In 1993, Wyo-Ben filed a mineral patent application with BLM. While that application was pending, in 1994, Congress enacted a moratorium on processing mineral patent applications. In the same legislation, Congress also enacted an exemption to the moratorium: if a patent application was still pending by September 30, 1994, and it otherwise complied with certain conditions, the patent application was not subject to the moratorium and the Secretary was required to process the application. On October 3, 1994, BLM—not the Secretary—determined that Wyo-Ben’s mineral patent application did not qualify for the exemption. Congress thereafter reenacted the 1995 Act (including the moratorium and exemption) annually through 2019. In 2019, Wyo-Ben filed suit alleging that, pursuant to § 706(1) of the APA, the Secretary “unlawfully withheld” and “unreasonably delayed” agency action by failing to review Wyo-Ben’s pending application to determine whether it was exempt from the moratorium. The court found that Wyo-Ben’s claim was statutorily barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a), reasoning that Wyo-Ben’s § 706(1) claim first accrued on the date BLM determined that Wyo-Ben’s patent application was not exempt (i.e., October 3, 1994) and that the limitations period expired six years later (i.e., October 3, 2000). On appeal, Wyo-Ben contended the district court misconstrued its § 706(1) claim by characterizing the allegedly unlawful conduct as BLM’s decision that Wyo- Ben’s application falls within the moratorium. Respondents maintained: (1) Wyo-Ben submitted an incomplete application in that BLM rejected its tender of the purchase price before the moratorium took effect; and (2) BLM properly determined in 1994, pursuant to authority the Secretary lawfully delegated to BLM, Wyo-Ben’s application fell within the moratorium. The district court did not resolve either of the foregoing two issues in dismissing Wyo-Ben’s claim. And, specifically as to the second issue, the court did not determine whether the lawful effect of any such delegation from the Secretary was that BLM properly stood in the shoes of the Secretary for purposes of determining that Wyo-Ben’s application was subject to the moratorium. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit remanded the action to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wyo-Ben Inc. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Richardson v. Blaine County
Appellants were residents of Blaine County, Idaho (the “County”) who opposed a modified conditional use permit that the County granted to Idaho Power to install above-ground power lines. After the County denied Petitioners’ motion to reconsider as untimely, Petitioners sought judicial review of the permit in district court. Intervenor, Idaho Power Company, filed a motion to dismiss the petition, which the County joined, arguing that Petitioners’ underlying motion to reconsider was untimely, thereby precluding the district court from exercising its jurisdiction over the petition. The district court granted the motion to dismiss and concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition because the Local Land Use and Planning Act (LLUPA) required aggrieved parties to file a timely motion to reconsider prior to seeking judicial review. The district court further held that no exception to the exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine applied. Petitioners timely appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court to resolve the question of whether the LLUPA required a timely motion to reconsider to be filed in advance of a petition for judicial review. The Supreme Court concluded the act does require the filing of a timely motion to reconsider in advance of a petition for judicial review, and, therefore, affirmed the district court's order. View "Richardson v. Blaine County" on Justia Law
Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al.
In 2019, Western Watersheds Project sued to challenge the issuance of permits that expired in 2018. The district court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that decision: Western Watersheds Project’s claims were brought against expired permits that had already been renewed automatically by 43 U.S.C. § 1752(c)(2). And the timing of a new environmental analysis of the new permits was within the Secretary’s discretion under 43 U.S.C. § 1752(i). Western Watersheds Project, therefore, lacked Article III standing because its claims were not redressable. View "Western Watersheds Project v. Interior Board of Land Appeals, et al." on Justia Law
Padmanabhan v. Executive Director of the Bd. of Registration in Medicine
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice of the court denying Petitioner's petition filed under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 249, 5 seeking relief in the nature of mandamus, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse her discretion in denying relief.Petitioner brought this action against the executive director of the Board of Registration in Medicine, acting in his official capacity, and timely served his complaint upon the Board. Petitioner, however, did not also serve the office of the Attorney General, as required under Mass. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(3). The superior court denied the petition. Thereafter, Petitioner filed a request for entry of default. The superior court denied the request for failure to certify compliance with Rule 9A of the Superior Court. Petitioner then brought the instant petition requesting that the superior court clerk be compelled to enter a default against the Board. The single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that, because the Board was an agency of the Commonwealth, the office of the Attorney General must be served in order to perfect service of process under Rule 4(d)(3). View "Padmanabhan v. Executive Director of the Bd. of Registration in Medicine" on Justia Law