Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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The Trust appealed the district court's decision finding that the Trust failed to show that its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit caused the agencies to change their positions. In this case, the Trust requested records from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, and all parties subsequently agreed that the Trust received the lion's share of the records requested only after suit. The court held that, in order to establish eligibility for attorney's fees, a FOIA plaintiff must show that its lawsuit caused a change in the agency's position regarding the production of requested documents; the clear error standard of review applies to a district court's fact-finding regarding causation; and the district court did not clearly err here by finding that the Trust's lawsuit did not cause a change in the agencies' positions. View "Grand Canyon Trust v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the USDA's motion to dismiss, based on failure to state a claim, an action brought under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by two animal-rights groups, alleging that the agency's failure to issue standards governing the humane handling and care of birds not bred for use in research amounted to arbitrary and capricious action. The court held that the Coalition has alleged facts sufficient to establish Article III standing, and thus the court need not consider whether the Anti-Vivisection Society too has standing. On the merits, the court held that the Coalition has adequately alleged that USDA has failed to take a discrete agency action that it is required to take. In this case, the Animal Welfare Act was amended eighteen years ago to require USDA to issue standards governing the humane treatment, not of animals generally, but of animals as a defined category of creatures including birds not bred for use in research. USDA has conceded that its general animal-welfare standards are inadequate to ensure the humane treatment of birds, and USDA has yet to fulfill its statutory responsibility to issue standards regarding the humane treatment of birds. Because the issue of whether such action has been unreasonably delayed has been unbriefed, the court remanded for the district court to consider it in the first instance. View "American Anti-Vivisection Society v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied Rain for Rent's petition for review of a $116 fine under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. Rain for Rent was given a citation after an employee forgot to set the parking brake on a company truck, in violation of a safety standard governing unattended vehicles. The court rejected Rain for Rent's contention that its employee was not within the jurisdiction of the Mine Act at the moment the citation was issued. The court held that, under the Mine Act, the requirement is that the contractor -- not the particular employee on whom the citation is served -- be engaged in work at the mine, which Rain for Rent was. The court also held that the inspection did not violate section 103(f) of the Mine Act, and there was no violation of Rain for Rent's walkaround rights. Furthermore, even if there had been a violation of Rain for Rent's walkaround rights, the court rejected the contention that the violation warranted vacatur or suppression. The court explained that the statute did not expressly state the consequences of violating section 103(f). Finally, the court rejected Rain for Rent's contention that the warrantless inspection of its truck violated the Fourth Amendment because Rain for Rent was not afforded an opportunity for precompliance review. The court has never held that precompliance review is necessary for the constitutionality of warrantless administrative searches in a closely regulated industry like mining. View "Western Oilfields Supply Co. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Commercial-fishing associations challenged the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which was established by President Obama to protect distinct geological features and unique ecological resources in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The district court concluded that the President acted within his statutory authority in creating the Monument, dismissing the Fishermen's claims. The DC Circuit first drew a distinction between two types of claims: those justiciable on the face of the proclamation and those requiring factual development. The court determined that the Fishermens' first three claims could be judged on the face of the proclamation and resolved as a matter of law, and the last claim required factual allegations. As to the first three claims, the court held that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed the Fishermens' contention that the Antiquities Act does not reach submerged lands; ocean-based monuments are compatible with the Sanctuaries Act; and the federal government's unrivaled authority under both international and domestic law established that it controls the United States Exclusive Economic Zone. Finally, the court held that the Fishermens' smallest-area claim failed, because the complaint contained no factual allegations identifying a portion of the Monument that lacks the natural resources and ecosystems the President sought to protect. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross" on Justia Law

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Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap filed suit seeking access to documents from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The DC Circuit held that, because the emails at issue were neither "similar" to the "examples" of covered documents listed in the December 2017 injunction opinion, nor "substantive disclosures" within the plain meaning of that opinion, they were not among the disclosure obligations imposed by that injunction. Therefore, the court held that the January 2019 order that required their release changed the legal relationship between the parties and hence was immediately appealable. On the merits, the court held that Secretary Dunlap could not clearly and indisputably show that the emails he sought fell within the work of the Commission, and thus the district court lacked jurisdiction to entertain his request for their disclosure. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's January 28, 2019 order insofar as it required the release of such emails. View "Dunlap v. Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" on Justia Law

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Virginia power wholesalers who buy electricity from Dominion challenged the Commission's conclusion that Dominion's Virginia customers, but not its North Carolina customers, should bear the costs of undergrounding new transmission wires. The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review and rejected petitioners' claim that the Commission did not properly invoke its power under section 206 of the Federal Power Act; held that petitioners were provided adequate notice of the Commission's intent to modify Dominion's filed rate; and held that the ALJ did not misinterpret a Commission order and thereby improperly cabined the scope of an evidentiary hearing. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' claim that the Commission acted arbitrarily by requiring Dominion's Virginia customers to bear the costs of undergrounding. View "Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking information related to the FBI's thoughts about and possible uses of mosaic theory in its handling of FOIA cases. The DC Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the FBI, holding that the FBI failed to sufficiently explain its determinations. The court held that the FBI's affidavit did not explain how the agency concluded that the files preliminarily listed as responsive did not relate to the request; the affidavit said nothing—at least nothing clear—about the files whose numbers were redacted, though it identifies each numbered file as either non-responsive or destroyed; and the affidavit did not explain why or how the FBI knew that certain files had been destroyed. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's decision in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shapiro v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Cares filed suit claiming that defendants unlawfully allowed an insurer offering Medicare prescription drug coverage, Humana, to pay Cares less for drugs that Cares obtains at a discount under a separate federal program known as Section 340B, than Humana would reimburse a non-Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) for the same drugs. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Cares' claim, holding that the Medicare statute does not preclude HHS from approving prescription drug plans that lower reimbursements for FQHC pharmacy services based on whether the FQHC obtained the pharmaceuticals at a discount under Section 340B. The court need not and did not decide whether the statute permits the contrary interpretation Cares advances or whether, as a matter of policy, HHS might promulgate regulations requiring Medicare prescription drug plans to include a "not less than" term in their agreements with FQHCs to secure to FQHCs broader financial benefits from 340B drug discounts. View "Cares Community Health v. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The County and other parties filed a complaint in the district court claiming that DOT exceeded its authority under 26 U.S.C. 142(m)(1)(A) when it allocated $1.15 billion in Private Activity Bond (PABs) to fund Phase II of the AAF Project. The complaint also alleged that the allocation violated 26 U.S.C. 147(f), and challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the FRA under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the County's interest were within the zone of interests protected by section 142 and thus the complaint raised claims that were cognizable under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). However, the court held that DOT permissibly and reasonably determined that the Project qualified for tax-exempt PAB financing under section 142(m), and that the EIS for the Project did not violate NEPA. View "Indian River County v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment sustaining the Tobacco Control Act and its application to e-cigarettes. The court held that e-cigarettes are indisputably highly addictive and pose health risks, especially to youth, that are not well understood. Therefore, the court held that it is entirely rational and nonarbitrary to apply to e-cigarettes the Act's baseline requirement that, before any new tobacco product may be marketed, its manufacturer show the FDA that selling it is consistent with the public health. Furthermore, the First Amendment does not bar the FDA from preventing the sale of e-cigarettes as safer than existing tobacco products until their manufacturers have shown that they actually are safer as claimed. The court explained that this conclusion was amply supported by nicotine's addictiveness, the complex health risks tobacco products pose, and a history of the public being misled by claims that certain tobacco products are safer, despite disclaimers and disclosures. Finally, the court held that nothing about the Act's ban on distributing free e-cigarette samples runs afoul of the First Amendment where free samples are not expressive conduct and, in any event, the government's interest in preventing their distribution is unrelated to the suppression of expression. View "Nicopure Labs, LLC v. FDA" on Justia Law