Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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The City of Miami moved to terminate a consent decree that regulated how the City of Miami treats its homeless residents twenty years after its adoption based on changed circumstances, fulfillment of its purpose, and substantial compliance with its requirements. The district court ruled that the City had not violated the consent decree, granted its motion for termination, and denied the opposing motion for contempt. The district court terminated the decree because the City had substantially complied with the core purpose of the settlement agreement, that is, to stop the criminalization of homelessness. Furthermore, the district court found no evidence that would negate a finding of substantial compliance. The district court also found changed circumstances in Miami, but did not rely on those findings as a basis for termination.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the termination of the consent decree and the denial of the contempt motion, holding that the district court correctly interpreted the decree and did not abuse its discretion by terminating the decree. Applying Florida contract law, the court held that, although the homeless identify one misinterpretation of the consent decree, they failed to identify any errors that establish noncompliance by the City. The court also held that the district court correctly applied the burden of proof on the City's motion for termination by bifurcating its analyses; did not abuse its discretion by granting the motion for termination; and did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion for contempt. View "Peery v. City of Miami" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit certified the following questions of law to the Alabama Supreme Court under Alabama Rule of Appellate Procedure 18: (1) Can property owned by a solid waste disposal authority "belong[] to" a county or municipality for purposes of section 6-10-10? (2) If so, what factors should courts consider when making such a determination? (3) If section 6-10-10 can apply to property owned by a solid waste disposal authority, is such property "used for county or municipal purposes" when the authority has not used the property but is holding it for a future use? (4) Does Alabama continue to recognize a common law exemption from execution for property used for public purposes as described in Gardner v. Mobile & N.W.R. Co., 15 So. 271 (Ala. 1894)? (5) If so, does that exemption apply to public corporations like the Authority, and what standards should courts employ in applying this common law exemption? View "WM Mobile Bay Environmental Center, Inc. v. The City of Mobile Solid Waste Authority" on Justia Law

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American Guarantee appealed the district court's dismissal of their complaint for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The complaint identifies the challenged conduct as the Forestry Branch's negligent failure to observe, monitor, and maintain a controlled burn once the fire was started.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of American Guarantee's negligence claims against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The court assumed at this stage that the Forestry Branch officials were negligent in their observation, monitoring, and maintenance during the controlled burn itself as alleged in the complaint, but held that the alleged conduct by its nature, involves an exercise of discretion and considerations of social, economic, political, and public policy. Because the government's decisions about how to monitor and maintain a controlled burn are shielded from judicial second-guessing by the discretionary function exception to the FTCA, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege a plausible claim that falls outside the discretionary function exception. Because the discretionary-function exception applies in this case, the court held that the United States has not unequivocally waived its sovereign immunity. Therefore, the district court lacked jurisdiction over plaintiffs' FTCA claim. View "Foster Logging, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Canal A Media and Erick Archila appealed the district court's dismissal of their amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, challenging the USCIS's decision to deny Canal A Media's petition for a work visa for Mr. Archila.The Eleventh Circuit reversed and held that the denial of Canal A Media's visa petition was final agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), because Canal A Media has gone as far as it can in obtaining administrative adjudication of the I-129 petition and neither plaintiff can displace that decision through Mr. Archila's removal proceedings. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing the complaint for failure to satisfy the APA finality requirement.The court also held that 8 U.S.C. 1252(b)(9) and (g) do not bar plaintiffs' challenge to the visa petition denial. Section 1252(b)(9), commonly known as the "zipper clause," does not apply in this case where plaintiffs have not brought any challenge to Mr. Archila's removal proceedings. Section 1252(g) also does not apply because the I-129 petition is not a decision to commence proceedings, much less to adjudicate a case or execute a removal order. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Canal A Media Holding LLC v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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