Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission and its former statewide chair. The district court dismissed the action for want of subject matter jurisdiction because neither the Commission nor the chair is an "agency" within the meaning of FOIA. The court agreed with the district court that the Commission is not an agency. However, because this fact creates a defect in the merits of the complaint rather than in the district court's jurisdiction, the court held that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. View "Statton v. Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit denied a motion for a stay of a preliminary injunction that enjoins certain applications of a public health order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama. The public health order, published on March 27, 2020, mandated the postponement of all dental, medical, or surgical procedures. Plaintiffs, abortion providers in Alabama, sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing enforcement of the public health order as applied to pre-viability abortions. After the district court issued a TRO, the state filed a motion to dissolve the TRO and included clarifications. The district court subsequently adopted the state's clarifications and issued an April 3rd order, staying the TRO in part. The state later changed its interpretation again. Based on the evidence presented at the preliminary injunction hearing, the district court determined that the medical restrictions, as read pursuant to the state's earlier interpretation, violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The court held that the state has not made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its appeal or that it will be irreparably injured absent a stay. In this case, because of the state's shifting interpretations of the March 27th and April 3rd orders, the district court had ample authority to issue a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo and prevent the state from reverting to its initial and more restrictive interpretations. The district court considered Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Smith v. Avino, but read them together with cases holding that the Fourteenth Amendment generally protects a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy. Applying both the Jacobson framework and the Casey undue-burden test together, the district court concluded that the April 3rd order imposed a plain, palpable invasion of rights, yet had no real or substantial relation to the state's goals. The court held that the district court was permitted to reach this conclusion and to issue a status quo preliminary injunction to ensure that the state did not deviate from the Alabama State Health Officer's interpretation of the April 3rd order at the preliminary injunction hearing. View "Robinson v. Planned Parenthood Southeast Inc." on Justia Law

by
Florida's 2018 U.S. Senate election triggered a statewide recount. The Democratic Executive Committee challenged the signature-match requirements of Florida’s vote-by-mail statute, which gave voters who learned that their votes had been blocked for signature mismatch until “5 p.m. one day before the election” to verify their identities by submitting an affidavit and an accepted form of identification. They also challenged Florida’s law allowing prospective voters who could not prove their eligibility to cast provisional ballots; provisional ballots rejected because of signature mismatch could not be cured after the fact. The district court entered a modified preliminary injunction allowing the “ballots of those voters who were belatedly notified of signature mismatch” to be counted, provided that “those voters timely verified their identities.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) sought an emergency stay, which was denied by the Eleventh Circuit. The preliminary injunction expired two days later. About three months later, the motions panel issued an opinion explaining its denial of the emergency stay. In 2019, S.B. 7066, significantly amended the signature-match provisions. The plaintiffs dismissed their lawsuit. Defendants moved to dismiss their appeal of the preliminary injunction. The NRSC agreed that the case was moot but moved to vacate the order granting a preliminary injunction and the stay-panel opinion. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that it retained jurisdiction to consider the proposed motions but declined to vacate the prior opinions because they will not have negative collateral effects on any party. View "Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. National Republican Senatorial Committee" on Justia Law

by
Relying on an earlier decision (Rabun County), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a decision ordering the removal of a 34-foot Latin cross from the City of Pensacola’s Bayview Park, finding that the maintenance of the cross violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. While the city's petition for certiorari was pending, the Supreme Court held, in "American Legion," that a 32-foot Latin cross on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court vacated the earlier decision and remanded for further consideration in light of American Legion. On remand, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that it remains bound by Rabun to conclude that plaintiffs have Article III standing to challenge Pensacola’s maintenance of the cross but that American Legion abrogates Rabun to the extent that the latter disregarded evidence of “historical acceptance.” When "American Legion" is applied, the cross’s presence on city property does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Bayview cross (in one iteration or another) stood in the same location for more than 75 years; there is no evidence of the city's original purpose in its placement. The message and purposes of the cross have changed over time. A strong presumption of constitutionality” attaches to “established” monuments, View "Kondrat'yev v. City of Pensacola," on Justia Law

by
Hamid Sow, a citizen of Guinea, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) denial of his motion to remand based upon ineffective assistance of counsel, and motion to reopen based upon new evidence. In December 2016, Sow entered the United States and immediately applied for asylum because he was a homosexual, and the stigma of being a homosexual in a devout Muslim community in his homeland meant danger for himself and his family. Sow only spoke French, and relied on other detainees to relate information to his attorney. Without a translator, Sow's counsel did not fully understand Sow’s concerns: Sow tried to communicate to his counsel that the content of affidavits counsel “did not match up with what happened.” When asked about discrepancies in facts from the affidavits presented, Sow responded he could not explain them because he did not have an opportunity to read them. In his oral decision, the IJ said that he “unfortunately” had to deny Sow’s application based solely on an adverse credibility finding. In coming to this conclusion, the IJ specifically highlighted the inconsistencies in statements made in affidavits. He noted that, if it were true that Sow were a homosexual, then he “clearly should get” asylum. Sow, represented by new counsel, appealed to the BIA. He argued that the IJ erred in failing to assess Sow’s well-founded fear of future persecution. The BIA denied Sow’s motion to remand. It held that the IJ did not clearly err in making an adverse credibility determination and the record did not establish that Sow was entitled to relief “independent of his discredited claim of past harm.” It also denied Sow’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, reasoning that counsel “reasonably relied on, and submitted the evidence provided by, the respondent and his friends.” The Eleventh Circuit concluded the BIA abused its discretion in denying Sow’s motion to remand based on ineffective assistance of counsel. It therefore granted Sow’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s decisions, and remanded to the BIA with instructions to remand to the IJ for reconsideration of Sow’s asylum application. View "Sow v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA) and Georgia law, alleging that the county had engaged in a fraudulent scheme related to billing for ambulance services and had fired him in retaliation for his whistleblowing. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment to the county on the FCA claim. The district court concluded that although plaintiff had engaged in "protected conduct" he had not created a genuine issue of material fact that he had been fired because of that conduct. The Eleventh Circuit held that the but-for causation standard applies to claims under the antiretaliation provision of the FCA just as it does to the antiretaliation provision of Title VII and the antidiscrimination provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The court declined to apply the motivating factor standard of causation to the FCA, explaining that it did not want to use legislative history to get around the plain meaning of a statute's text. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that the harm would not have occurred but for his protected conduct. View "Nesbitt v. Candler County, Georgia" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff and the Association filed suit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against several Florida entities and officials, challenging defendants' failure to provide captioning for live and archived videos of Florida legislative proceedings. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that Congress validly abrogated defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity for the claims under Title II regardless of whether the right is "fundamental." The court agreed with the district court's holding that Congress validly abrogated defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity because a fundamental right was at stake and, in the alternative, Congress validly abrogated defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity even if a fundamental right was not at stake. Furthermore, Congress's identification of discrimination in public services and voting establishes the necessary history of discrimination for the rights implicated here: access to public legislative information relevant to voting, and Title II is an appropriate response to this history and pattern of unequal treatment. The court also affirmed the district court's holding that plaintiffs were entitled to pursue declaratory and injunctive relief against state officials under the doctrine of Ex parte Young for allegedly ongoing violations of Title II. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse is discretion in ordering discovery prior to resolving the question of sovereign immunity. View "National Association of the Deaf v. Florida" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the town on plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim and to Wantman on the Florida malicious prosecution claim. In a prior lawsuit, the town and its contractor, Wantman, filed suit against the plaintiff in this case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for a fraud and extortion scheme. After the prior lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, plaintiff then filed this action. The court held that, as with section 1983 First Amendment retaliation claims arising in the criminal prosecution and arrest context, the presence of probable cause will generally defeat a section 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim based on a civil lawsuit as a matter of law. Furthermore, the court held that the town had probable cause to file the civil RICO lawsuit. In this case, plaintiff and others sustained a pattern of abusive requests and lawsuits against the town and the town's elected officials had a legitimate, objective reason to take legal action in response to the conduct. Finally, the court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to Wantman on plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim because Wantman, like the town, had probable cause to file the RICO suit against her. View "DeMartini v. Town of Gulf Stream" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Corps, holding that the district court properly determined that it was reasonable for the Corps to conclude that environmental effects of phosphogypsum production and storage fell outside the scope of its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. The court held that the Corps otherwise complied with NEPA by issuing an area-wide environmental-impact statement, which served as the mine-specific impact statement for each of the four proposed mine sites, and following that up with a supplemental environmental assessment of the South Pasture Mine Extension, before issuing the Section 404 permit related to that mine in a record of decision. Finally, the court held that the Corps did not violate section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, which requires each agency to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before taking an "action" to ensure that such action was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or its habitat. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Immigration Services violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in two ways: when it used a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard rather than a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard to evaluate his I-130 petition for sponsorship of close relatives, and when it did not allow him to offer rebuttal evidence. In this case, plaintiff had been convicted of possession of child pornography, which put him outside the bounds of the visa-sponsorship program unless he could show that he posed no risk to his wife, the person he was trying to sponsor. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action, holding that courts lack jurisdiction to review either the process or the outcome of the no-risk decision. Under the Adam Walsh Act, the USCIS has "sole and unreviewable discretion" to determine if citizens like plaintiff pose "no risk" to their foreign relatives. Therefore, the district court correctly held that the Adam Walsh Act prevented it from exercising jurisdiction over plaintiff's APA claim. View "Bourdon v. United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law