Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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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 petitions for review sought reversal of a refund order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) upon finding a discrepancy in petitioner Ameren Illinois’s self-reported operational costs. Instead of reporting construction-related materials and supplies costs on line 5 of page 227 of Form 1, Ameren Illinois reported these costs on line 8 with the result that it over-collected for transmission costs. The Commission found that this reporting error was contrary to Ameren Illinois’s filed rate, which, prior to June 1, 2020, did not allow it to recover costs recorded to line 5 of page 227.   The DC Circuit affirmed the Order, denying review and reconsideration. The court explained that the Commission’s decision that Ameren lacked the discretion to report construction-related costs on line 8 was not unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, or otherwise contrary to law. The court reasoned that although the Commission “may not retroactively alter a filed rate to compensate for prior over- or underpayments,” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. FERC, 571 F.3d 1208, 1211 (D.C. Cir. 2009), that is not what occurred here. All the Commission has done is require Ameren Illinois to correct a reporting error that resulted in overcharging customers for expenses not allowed under Ameren Illinois’s then-registered formula rate. Its contrary arguments fail to demonstrate that the refund order was unjust or contrary to the law. View "Ameren Illinois Company v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Perioperative Services and Logistics, LLC, sells medical devices to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). After someone emailed the VA accusing Perioperative of selling counterfeit implants, the VA’s National Center for Patient Safety posted an internal recall, requiring agency facilities to sequester Perioperative products. Forty days later, after an investigation yielded no support for the accusation, the VA lifted the recall. Seeking to unmask the complainant, Perioperative filed a FOIA request for the complaint. The VA denied the request, relying on Exemption 6, which shields “personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Perioperative filed suit in district court, and the VA moved for summary judgment. The district court accepted an ex parte declaration and concluded that the requested record was exempt.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court relied on a declaration that the company cannot see, let alone rebut. But that dilemma is inherent in those FOIA cases where, as here, an ex parte declaration is the only way to “decid[e] the dispute without . . . disclosing the very material sought to be kept secret.” Further, the court held that the complainant’s substantial privacy interest outweighs any public interest in disclosure. Accordingly, the VA has demonstrated that the complaint is exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 6. View "Perioperative Services And Logistics, LLC v. DVA" on Justia Law

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The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) challenges a rule governing the elections in which employees vote on whether to be represented by a union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) promulgated the 2019 Rule without notice and comment, asserting that it falls within the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) exception. The NLRB argues that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or Act), mandates direct review from the Board to the circuit court. The Board also asserts that, even if the district court had jurisdiction, it erred in holding that five challenged provisions of the Rule fall outside the APA’s procedural exception. The AFL-CIO cross-appeals, arguing that the 2019 Rule as a whole is arbitrary and capricious and that the provision concerning ballot impoundment specifically is arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law.   The DC Circuit held that the statutory provision for direct review in federal appellate courts of NLRB orders regarding unfair labor practices did not divest the district court of jurisdiction over rules that are exclusively concerned with representation elections, as is the 2019 Rule. The court held that the district court erred in concluding that none of the five challenged provisions comes within the procedural exception; the court held that two of them do. Those two are rules of agency procedure, so were validly promulgated without notice and comment. The court affirmed the district court’s invalidation of the rules regarding the eligible employee-voters list, the timeline for certification of election results, and election-observer eligibility. The AFL-CIO’s challenge to the 2019 Rule as arbitrary and capricious fails. View "American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Under the Hatch-Waxman Act, a drug may receive “new chemical entity exclusivity” if no active ingredient in the drug was previously “approved.” The drug Aubagio was awarded this exclusivity because the Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) determined that Aubagio’s only active ingredient, teriflunomide, had never previously been approved. This case concerns a challenge to Aubagio’s exclusivity period, which Sandoz Inc. raises to secure a solo period of marketing exclusivity for its generic equivalent. Sandoz maintains that teriflunomide was previously “approved” as an impurity in the drug Arava. In the alternative, Sandoz argued that teriflunomide was in fact approved as an active ingredient in Arava. The district court granted summary judgment for the FDA, agreeing with the agency that Aubagio was entitled to exclusivity because teriflunomide had never previously been approved.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that while Sandoz did not exhaust its statutory argument before the FDA, in the absence of a statutory or regulatory exhaustion requirement, the court found it appropriate to decide Sandoz’s challenge. When the FDA approves a new drug, it does not also “approve” known impurities in that drug for the purpose of new chemical entity exclusivity. And the record is clear the FDA did not approve teriflunomide as an active ingredient when it approved Arava. Aubagio was therefore entitled to new chemical entity exclusivity, and Sandoz cannot benefit from a solo exclusivity period for its generic equivalent. View "Sandoz Inc. v. Xavier Becerra" on Justia Law

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Before registering a pesticide, EPA must consult with the statutorily specified agencies that have expertise on risks to species’ survival. But for decades, the EPA skipped that step when it registered pesticides, including those at issue in this case. After the EPA went ahead and approved the five registrations, the Conservation Groups petitioned the D.C. Circuit court to invalidate them. The parties then jointly requested that the court hold the petitions in abeyance to allow for settlement negotiations.The parties arrived at the terms of a settlement allowing the registrations to stand if EPA fulfills core ESA obligations by agreed deadlines. As a condition of their settlement agreement’s binding effect, the parties then jointly moved for an Order returning the cases to abeyance until the specified deadlines to afford EPA time to comply with the parties’ settlement terms.The D.C. Circuit agreed with the Order of Consent and held in the case in abeyance. However, the court dismisses as moot the challenge to the registration of cuprous iodide based on the parties’ report that EPA has complied to their satisfaction with the proposed settlement regarding that pesticide ingredient. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Appellants, three Sikh men, intended to join the Marines. However, existing Marines pre-enlistment requirements pertaining to hair length, beards, and a prohibition on wearing certain non-uniform items, conflicted with their faith. The Marines allowed an accommodation, but only after the men completed basic training.Appellants sought a preliminary injunction, and the district court refused. After considering the competing interests in the case, the D.C. Circuit reversed the decision as it related to two men, finding that they showed a likelihood for success on the merits and proved irreparable harm. The court remanded the third man's case for further proceedings. View "Jaskirat Singh v. David Berger" on Justia Law

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Appellants are foreign companies that allegedly launder money for Kassim Tajideen, a prominent Hezbollah financier and specially designated global terrorist (SDGT). The United States seized three sums totaling $612,168.23 belonging to Appellants and filed the instant forfeiture action in order to keep the funds permanently. When no one claimed the funds for more than a year after the government gave notice of the forfeiture action, the government moved for a default judgment. Apparently realizing their mistake, Appellants belatedly attempted to file claims to the seized funds to prevent the district court from ordering forfeiture. The court struck Appellants’ filings as untimely and entered default judgment in favor of the government. After the court denied Appellants’ late reconsideration motion, they filed the instant appeal.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court in part and dismiss the appeal in part for lack of jurisdiction. The court explained that Appellants’ Rule 59(e) motion was untimely and, as a result, so was its notice of appeal, at least with respect to the district court’s June 3 order striking Appellants’ putative claims and entering default judgment. Further, although the notice of appeal was timely with respect to the district court’s order denying Appellants’ Rule 59(e) motion, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion. The motion was not only untimely but also presented arguments that either were or could have been raised before judgment was entered. View "USA v. Three Sums Totaling $612,168.23 in Seized United States Currency" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) licensing of the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland. Under section 401(a)(1) of the Clean Water Act, FERC may issue a license only if the state where the dam is located either certifies that the dam will comply with the Act’s water quality standards or waives its authority to do so. After initially granting a section 401(a)(1) certification, Maryland attempted to withdraw it and waive its authority as part of a settlement with the dam’s operator, which FERC then used as the basis for the Conowingo license.   The DC Circuit vacated the license explaining that by issuing a license under such circumstances, FERC exceeded its authority under section 401(a)(1). The court remanded o FERC for further proceedings. The court explained that Section 401(a)(1) limits FERC’s power to issue a license to two circumstances: (1) where a state has granted a certification; or (2) where the state has waived its authority to certify “as provided in the preceding sentence” by failing or refusing to act. This leaves no room for FERC’s third alternative, in which it issued a license based on a private settlement arrangement entered into by Maryland after the state had issued a certification with conditions but then changed its mind. Accordingly, the court held that vacatur is appropriate. View "Waterkeepers Chesapeake v. FERC" on Justia Law

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This case involves an ongoing dispute between owners and operators of power lines and power generators over who is responsible for paying for upgrades to existing power lines. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled in favor of the owners and operators; however, FERC's decision was not "reasonably explained." Thus, the D.C. Circuit remanded the case back to FERC without vacating the FERC order because the court found that the FERC ruling may very well stand once it is explained. View "American Clean Power Assoc v. FERC" on Justia Law