Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In 2019, the Department of Justice announced that it would resume federal executions using a new lethal agent: the drug pentobarbital. Shortly thereafter, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the Bureau of Prisons’ records related to its procurement of pentobarbital. The Bureau of Prisons supplied some records but withheld any information that could identify companies in the government’s pentobarbital supply chain. The Bureau invoked FOIA Exemption 4, which protects, among other things, trade secrets and confidential commercial information. The district court sustained those withholdings and entered judgment for the Bureau.   The DC Circuit reversed. The court concluded that on de novo review that the Bureau of Prisons has not met its burden to justify the challenged nondisclosures. In particular, the Bureau has not provided the detailed and specific explanation required to justify withholding the information as “commercial” and “confidential” under Exemption 4. The court remanded to the district court to determine in the first instance whether and to what extent any information in the public domain is the basis on which the government seeks to withhold any records or reasonably segregable portions thereof under Exemption 4. View "CREW v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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The 2010 ACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act) created a three-year Risk Corridors program with the creation of new health-insurance marketplaces, which presented uncertain risks for participating health-insurance companies. Qualified health-plan issuers (QHP issuers) that offered their products in the new marketplaces were entitled to payments from HHS if they suffered sufficient losses, 42 U.S.C. 18062(b).The government failed to make those payments. QHP issuers sued under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). In two such lawsuits, the Quinn law firm was lead counsel for classes of QHP issuers seeking payments. In the opt-in notices sent to potential class members with court approval, Quinn represented that it would seek attorney’s fees out of any recovery, that it would seek no more than 5% of any judgment or settlement, and that the Claims Court would determine the exact amount by considering how many issuers participated, the amount at issue, and a “lodestar cross-check” (based on hours actually worked). Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in other cases, held that QHP issuers were entitled to collect ACA-promised payments.The Claims Court entered judgments in favor of the classes, totaling about $3.7 billion, then awarded Quinn 5% of the common funds, rejecting objections. The total fee was about $185 million. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court’s analysis was inconsistent with the class opt-in notices and did not adequately justify the extraordinarily high award. View "Health Republic Insurance Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nicholas Casson was a firefighter for the City of Santa Ana for 27 years. In 2012, he retired and began collecting a pension from California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). He immediately started a second career with the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), where he was eligible for a pension under respondent Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS). He did not elect reciprocity between the two pensions, which would have allowed him to import his years of service under CalPERS to the OCERS pension. He started as a first-year firefighter for purposes of the OCERS pension and immediately began collecting pension payments from CalPERS. Five years into the job, he suffered an on-the-job injury that permanently disabled him. He applied for and received a disability pension from OCERS, which, normally, would have paid out 50 percent of his salary for the remainder of his life. However, because he was receiving a CalPERS retirement, OCERS imposed a “disability offset” pursuant to Government Code section 31838.5, the statute central to this appeal. This resulted in a monthly benefit reduction from $4,222.81 to $1,123.87. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Casson filed a petition for a writ of mandate; court denied the petition, finding that the plain language of section 31838.5 required a disability offset. The Court of Appeal reversed: Casson’s service retirement from CalPERS was not a disability allowance and thus should not have been included in the calculation of Casson’s total disability allowance. OCERS should not have imposed an offset, and the trial court should have issued a writ of mandate. View "Casson v. Orange County Employees Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming an award of attorney's fees under Cal. Gov. Code 91003(a) to a prevailing defendant, holding that a prevailing defendant under the Political Reform Act "should not be awarded fees and costs unless the court finds the action was objectively without foundation when brought, or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so."Plaintiffs, two residents of the City of Redondo Beach, sought injunctive relief against certain supporters of a local initiative to compel their compliance with the Political Reform Act. The trial court ruled in favor of Defendants on all claims and awarded Defendants costs and attorney's fees as prevailing parties under 91003(a). The court of appeal affirmed the award of attorney's fees, holding that the statute grants trial courts discretion to award attorney's fees and costs to either a plaintiff or a defendant who prevailed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 91003(a) imposes an asymmetrical standard, which constrains the trial court's discretion to award a prevailing defendant attorney's fees. View "Travis v. Brand" on Justia Law

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Drug makers participating in Medicare or Medicaid must offer their drugs at a discount to certain “covered entities,” which typically provide healthcare to low-income and rural individuals, 42 U.S.C. 256b, 1396r-8(a)(1), (5) (Section 340B). Initially, few covered entities had in-house pharmacies. A 1996 HHS guidance stated that covered entities could use one outside contract pharmacy each; a 2010 HHS guidance stated that covered entities could use an unlimited number of contract pharmacies. Drug makers thought that contract pharmacies were driving up duplicate discounting and diversion and adopted policies to limit any covered entity’s use of multiple contract pharmacies. A 2020 HHS Advisory Opinion declared that Section 340B required drug makers to deliver discounted drugs to an unlimited number of contract pharmacies.In 2010, Congress told HHS to establish a process for drug makers and covered entities to resolve Section 340B–related disputes. In 2016, HHS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking and accepted comments on the proposed ADR Rule. HHS subsequently listed the proposed rule as withdrawn. In 2020, HHS stated that it had just “paus[ed] action on the proposed rule,” responded to the four-year-old comments. and issued a final ADR Rule.Drug companies sued. The Third Circuit held that Section 340B does not require drug makers to deliver discounted drugs to an unlimited number of contract pharmacies. HHS did not violate the APA by purporting to withdraw the proposed ADR Rule before later finalizing it. View "Sanofi Aventis US LLC v. United States Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Pineville City Court was fully funded by the City of Pineville. This funding included amounts for the salaries of three clerk positions and accompanying human resources services. In turn, the City Court reimbursed the City for forty-percent of those expenses. In November 2020, the Pineville City Court informed the City that it would no longer reimburse the forty- percent as it had done in the past. Thereafter, the City sent notice that it would reduce payments of the clerks’ salaries by forty-percent, cease providing payroll and human resources services, pay only sixty-percent of the clerks’ retirement contributions, and discontinue the clerks’ participation in the city’s Blue Cross health plan. In this mandamus action the issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was whether the court of appeal erred in reversing the trial court’s judgment that granted the City's exception of no cause of action. The plain language of La. R.S. 13:1888 A mandated only a minimum salary amount that must be paid to the city court clerk and deputy clerks. "The governing authorities have discretion to pay more than the mandated minimum salary. A mandamus action is an incorrect vehicle for the demand asserted by Pineville City Court because the underlying duty is not purely ministerial in nature." Accordingly, the Supreme Court found that the trial court correctly granted the exception of no cause of action. View "Pineville City Court, et al. v. City of Pineville, et al." on Justia Law

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This matter arose from a 2006 class action suit instituted by Steve Crooks and Era Lee Crooks (“Class Plaintiffs”) against the State through the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (“LDNR”) concerning the ownership of riverbanks in the Catahoula Basin and subsequent mineral royalty payments. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to address whether mandamus may lie to compel the State to pay a judgment rendered against it for mineral royalty payments. Finding that the payment of a judgment concerning the return of mineral royalties received by the State required legislative appropriation, an act that is discretionary in nature, the appellate court erred in issuing the writ of mandamus. View "Crooks, et al. v. Louisiana, Dept. of Nat. Resources" on Justia Law

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The National Labor Relations Board (the Board) petitioned for enforcement of a final order issued against Aakash, Inc. d/b/a Park Central Care and Rehabilitation Center (Aakash). The Board ruled that Aakash had violated Sections 8(a)(5) and (1) of the National Labor Relations Act (the Act), 29 U.S.C. Section 158(a)(5) and (1), by refusing to recognize and bargain with Service Employees International Union, Local 2015 (the Union). Aakash cross-petitioned, admitting that it refused to bargain but asserted that the court should nonetheless vacate the Board’s order.   The Ninth Circuit granted the Board’s petition for enforcement. The panel rejected Aakash’s contentions. The panel held that the President may remove the Board’s General Counsel at any time and for any reason. The panel held that several canons of construction supported their conclusion. Even if history mattered here, past administrations have maintained that the General Counsel was removable at will. Finally, neither of the established two exceptions to the President’s plenary removal power applied here. The panel disagreed with Aakash’s claims that the RNs were supervisors because they held the authority to assign, discipline, and responsibly direct employees, and they exercised that authority using independent judgment. First, Aakash failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that the RNs assigned work using independent judgment within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. Section 152(11). Nor did the RNs discipline employees. The power to issue verbal reprimands or report to higher-ups did not suffice. Finally, Aakash did not prove that the RNs responsibly directed other employees using independent judgment. The panel, therefore, concluded the RNs were not statutory supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act. View "NLRB V. AAKASH, INC." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this complaint brought by Plaintiff, an inmate in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services system, against the Department and several of its officials (collectively, DCS) under 42 U.S. 1983 and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) regarding Plaintiff's tentative release date, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff sued DCS under section 1983 and the APA, alleging that DCS violated both his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to have his "sentence determined consistent with the statutes and case law of Nebraska." DCS moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the entire was barred by claim preclusion. The district court agreed with DCS and dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in dismissing Plaintiff's action with prejudice; and (2) did not err in not granting Plaintiff leave to amend. View "Schaeffer v. Frakes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants Jennifer Bitner and Evelina Herrera were employed as licensed vocational nurses by defendant-respondent California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). They filed a class action suit against CDCR alleging that: (1) while assigned to duties that included one-on-one suicide monitoring, they were subjected to acts of sexual harassment by prison inmates; and (2) CDCR failed to prevent or remedy the situation in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Government Code section 12940 et seq. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of CDCR on the ground that it was entitled to statutory immunity under section 844.6, which generally provided that “a public entity is not liable for . . . [a]n injury proximately caused by any prisoner.” Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that, as a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeal should interpret section 844.6 to include an exception for claims brought pursuant to FEHA. Plaintiffs also argued that, even if claims under FEHA were not exempt from the immunity granted in section 844.6, the evidence presented on summary judgment did not establish that their injuries were “ ‘proximately caused’ ” by prisoners. The Court of Appeal disagreed on both points and affirmed the judgment. View "Bitner v. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation" on Justia Law