Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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Plaintiffs, two young Oregonians, concerned about the effects of climate change and their guardians, filed suit against the Governor and the State of Oregon (collectively, the State), contending the State was required to act as a trustee under the public trust doctrine to protect various natural resources in Oregon from substantial impairment due to greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change and ocean acidification. Among other things, plaintiffs asked the circuit court to specify the natural resources protected by the public trust doctrine and to declare that the State had a fiduciary duty, which it breached, to prevent substantial impairment of those resources caused by emissions of greenhouse gases. Plaintiffs also asked for an injunction ordering the State to: (1) prepare an annual accounting of Oregon’s carbon dioxide emissions; and (2) implement a carbon reduction plan protecting the natural resources, which the court would supervise to ensure enforcement. The circuit court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment, concluding the public trust doctrine did not encompass most of the natural resources that plaintiffs identified, and did not require the State to take the protective measures that plaintiffs sought. In 2015, the circuit court entered a general judgment dismissing the action, and the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and remanded for the circuit court to enter a judgment, consistent the Court of Appeals opinion, declaring the parties’ rights. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that as a matter of common law, the public trust doctrine was not fixed and, that it must evolve to address the undisputed circumstances presented, namely, that climate change was damaging Oregon’s natural resources. They argued the doctrine was not limited to the natural resources that the circuit court identified and, the doctrine should cover other natural resources beyond those that have been traditionally protected. The Oregon Supreme Court held the public trust doctrine currently encompassed navigable waters and the submerged and submersible lands underlying those waters. "Although the public trust is capable of expanding to include more natural resources, we do not extend the doctrine to encompass other natural resources at this time." The Supreme Court also declined to adopt plaintiffs’ position that, under the doctrine, the State had the same fiduciary duties that a trustee of a common-law private trust would have, such as a duty to prevent substantial impairment of trust resources. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, which vacated the judgment of the circuit court. The matter was remanded the circuit court to enter a judgment consistent with Supreme Court's judgment. View "Chernaik v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In Senate Bill (SB) 226 (2019), enacted as Oregon Laws 2019, chapter 545, sections 1 to 5, the Oregon Legislature sought to retroactively cure defects in a 2016 local election in which voters approved disincorporating the City of Damascus. Anticipating controversy as to the validity and effectiveness of SB 226 in curing the problem with the election, the legislature included a provision for direct and expedited review by the Oregon Supreme Court upon a timely petition filed by any person who was “interested in or affected or aggrieved” by the statute. Petitioners, who included at least one person who was “interested in or affected or aggrieved,” challenged SB 226 on various statutory and constitutional grounds in a timely filed petition. Having considered their arguments and the state’s responses, the Supreme Court concluded SB 226 was valid, and that it accomplished what the legislature intended, giving effect to the 2016 vote by the city’s residents to disincorporate. View "City of Damascus v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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The Oregon legislature made various changes to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) by enacting amendments set out in SB 1049, Or Laws 2019, ch 355. Petitioners were PERS members challenging two of those amendments: (1) the redirection of a member's PERS contributions from the member’s individual account program to a newly created employee pension stability account, used to help fund the defined-benefit component of the member’s retirement plan; and (2) a cap on the salary used to calculate a member's benefits. Petitioners primarily argued the amendments impaired their contractual rights and therefore violated the state Contract Clause, Article I, section 21, of the Oregon Constitution. Respondents were the state, the Public Employees Retirement Board (the board), and various state and local public employers. The Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with petitioners' contentions, finding challenged amendments did not operate retrospectively to decrease the retirement benefits attributable to work that the member performed before the effective date of the amendments. And, although the amendments operated prospectively to change the offer for future retirement benefits, the preamendment statutes did not include a promise that the retirement benefits would not be changed prospectively. The Supreme Court resolved petitioners’ other claims on similar grounds and denied their requests for relief. View "James v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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After claimant Danny Arvidson received an award of permanent total disability, insurer Liberty Northwest Insurance Corporation requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) to review the award. The ALJ dismissed insurer’s hearing request as time-barred. The question on review before the Oregon Supreme Court was whether that dismissal entitled claimant to attorney fees under ORS 656.382(2), which provided that, if an insurer initiates review of a compensation award and the reviewing body “finds that ... all or part of the compensation awarded ... should not be reduced or disallowed,” the insurer shall pay the claimant’s attorney a “reasonable attorney fee.” The ALJ determined that the statute applied to the dismissal of insurer’s claim and awarded fees to claimant. The Workers’ Compensation Board reached a different conclusion and reversed that decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding the ALJ correctly determined that his dismissal of insurer’s request for hearing entitled claimant to attorney fees. The board erred in concluding otherwise. View "Arvidson v. Liberty Northwest Ins. Corp." on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case arose from an Environmental Quality Commission order, which concluded that petitioners were persons “controlling” an inactive landfill site and imposed liability on them for failing to per- form the statutory closure requirements. At issue here was whether the legislature intended that the category of persons “controlling” the landfill site would extend to those having the legal authority to control the site, as the commission concluded, or would be limited to “those persons actively involved in the operation or management of a landfill site,” as the Court of Appeals concluded. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended the category of persons “controlling” the site to include persons having the authority to control the site, regardless of whether that authority has been exercised. The matter was remanded to the Court of Appeals to consider petitioners’ remaining challenges to the order in light of the correct legal standard. View "Kinzua Resources v. DEQ" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on a final order of the Oregon State Board of Nursing (the board) and the meaning of the term “time limitations” in ORS 183.645(1). That statute required the chief administrative law judge (ALJ) to assign a different ALJ to a contested case on written request from a party, subject to applicable “time limitations” that the chief ALJ has established by rule for submitting such requests. The chief ALJ established OAR 471-060-0005, under which the chief ALJ evaluated the timeliness of a request by determining whether a party had a “reasonable opportunity” to make an earlier request. Licensee Rebecca Pulito challenged a preliminary decision of the chief ALJ that denied her request for a different ALJ. In that decision, the chief ALJ determined that licensee had failed to take advantage of a “reasonable opportunity” to make an earlier request. The contested case proceeded on the merits, and the board issued a final order revoking licensee’s nursing license. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. Licensee then petitioned the Oregon Supreme court for review. Licensee argued OAR 471-060-0005 was invalid because it did not impose a “time limitation” as authorized by ORS 183.645(1). Alternatively, she contended the chief ALJ erred in applying OAR 471-060-0005 because her request for a different ALJ was made within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court concluded OAR 471-060-0005 was invalid as written and that the error in denying licensee’s request for a different ALJ required reversal. Because that ruling was dispositive, the Supreme Court did not reach licensee’s alternative argument that the chief ALJ erred in applying the rule. The final order was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Pulito v. Board of Nursing" on Justia Law

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By Legislative Referendum (LR) 401 (2020), the Oregon legislature asked voters to approve or reject a constitutional amendment that would permit the legislature, local governments, and the people through the initiative process to pass laws regulating campaign finance and advertising. As provided in Oregon Laws 2019, chapter 674, section 1, a joint legislative committee drafted the ballot title and explanatory statement for LR 401. In consolidated cases, petitioners sought review of the ballot title and the explanatory statement. Petitioner Markley challenged all parts of the ballot title, contending that the caption, “yes” and “no” result statements, and the summary did not comply with the requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). Petitioner Buel challenged the ballot title summary and the explanatory statement. After the parties completed briefing on petitioners’ challenges, this court decided Multnomah County v. Mehrwein, 366 Or 295, 462 P3d 706 (2020), in which the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that a Multnomah County ordinance limiting campaign contributions was not subject to a facial challenge under Article I, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution. That decision overruled, in part, the court’s earlier decision in Vannatta v. Keisling, 931 P2d 770 (1997), which held that certain statutes that provided for, among other things, mandatory limits on contributions to state political campaigns, violated Article I, section 8. Because the ballot title “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement all briefly described the state of the law before the court’s issuance of the Mehrwein decision, the Court asked the parties to submit supplemental briefing concerning the effect, if any, that Mehrwein had on this matter. After review of the supplemental briefs of the parties, the Supreme Court concluded the the ballot title’s “no” result statement and summary and the explanatory statement had to be modified. The Court otherwise rejected petitioners’ arguments. The ballot title was referred back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Buel/Markley v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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The original plaintiffs in this action were nine Oregon counties that sought declaratory relief, alleging that the Oregon paid sick leave law required them to spend money on a program without sufficient state reimbursement, as required by Article XI, section 15 of the state Constitution, and that they consequently were not required to comply with that statute. Defendants, the governor and the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, responded that the constitutional provision did not apply to the paid sick leave law because that law was not a “program” within the meaning of Article XI, section 15(1), and, additionally, that not all nine plaintiff counties met the cost threshold required to make Article XI, section 15(3), applicable to them. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the paid sick leave law did not require local governments to implement a “program” under that provision and, therefore, that the counties were not exempt from that statute. View "Linn County v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In the November 2016 election, Multnomah County voters approved Measure 26-184, an amendment to the Multnomah County Home Rule Charter containing campaign finance provisions. Multnomah County then adopted new ordinances, Multnomah County Code (MCC) sections 5.200-203, mirroring and implementing those charter provisions. At issue before the Oregon Supreme Court was the validity of those ordinances under the free speech provisions of both the Oregon and United States Constitutions - Article I, section 8, and the First Amendment. The Court reached four conclusions: (1) the county’s contribution limits did not, on their face, violate Article I, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution; (2) the case had to be remanded for factual findings and to consider, in the first instance, whether the contribution limits violated the First Amendment; (3) the county’s expenditure limits were invalid under both constitutional provisions; and (4) the parties’ dispute with respect to the disclosure provisions was moot. View "Multnomah County v. Mehrwein" on Justia Law

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The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) issued a permit, pursuant to ORS 196.825, for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Walmart”) to fill and remove some wetlands on private property in order to build a new store in The Dalles. Citizens for Responsible Development in The Dalles (Citizens) opposed the project and appealed the fill permit, arguing that DSL lacked authority to issue the permit because DSL did not find that there was a “public need” for the project. The Court of Appeals agreed with Citizens that DSL erred in issuing the permit “[b]ecause DSL found that it was inconclusive whether the project would address a public need.” The Oregon Supreme Court granted certiorari to construe ORS 196.825, and thereafter affirmed the Court of Appeals: the matter was remanded to DSL. "[A]lthough we disagree with its premise that ORS 196.825 conditions the issuance of every permit on a finding that the proposed project will serve a 'public need,' . . . Because DSL found that all categories of public benefit from the project were 'inconclusive' but failed to find that the project would not 'interfere' with the state’s 'paramount policy,' the record does not support its determination that the project will not 'unreasonably interfere.'” View "Citizens for Resp. Devel. in The Dalles v. Walmart" on Justia Law