Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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An anonymous complaint led to Plaintiff’s arrest and trial on charges of aggravated animal cruelty, battery on an officer, and resisting arrest. After a jury acquitted Plaintiff, he sued the officers who arrested him. At issue on appeal was whether those officers are immune from suit under Florida law.   The Eleventh Circuit denied Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the officers’ appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court further reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions for the district court to enter summary judgment, based on sovereign immunity under Fla. Stat. Section 768.28(9)(a), in favor of the officers Officers on Plaintiff’s claims.   The court explained that the district court erred in this case when it applied the legal malice standard — instead of the actual malice standard — and determined that an arrest without probable cause by itself establishes that the officers acted with malice for purposes of Section 768.28(9)(a). Thus, because the district court applied the wrong standard, the district court didn’t do what is required, which is to analyze if each officer’s actions created a fact question about whether he was entitled to immunity from each state law claim against him.   The court addressed the immunity issues now instead of remanding the case for the district court to do so. In doing so the court held that no reasonable jury could find that any of the officers acted with actual malice or with wanton and willful disregard in arresting Plaintiff, even if they lacked probable cause to arrest him. View "Aaron Coleman v. John Riccardo, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs—five organizations and two individual voters from Gwinnett County, Georgia—alleged that absentee ballot applications and voting-related information should have been, but were not, provided in both English and Spanish to voters in Gwinnett County during the 2020 election cycle. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether Defendants—the Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections, the Board’s individual members, and Georgia Secretary of State—violated Section 203 and Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. Section 10503, requires certain States and their political subdivisions to provide voting materials in languages in addition to English.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiffs lacked standing. Plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded standing under a diversion of resources theory, and while some of Plaintiffs’ claims were moot, others remained live and amenable to meaningful relief from the court. The court, therefore, vacated the district court’s dismissal of the suit pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1).The court held that the district court was correct, however, in concluding that Plaintiffs failed to state causes of action under either Section 203 or Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act and in not granting Plaintiffs leave to file their proposed supplemental complaint. The court, therefore, affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the suit pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and its denial of leave for Plaintiffs to file the supplemental complaint pursuant to Rule 15(d). View "Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Inc., et al. v. Gwinnett County Board of Registration and Elections, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (together, “NetChoice”)—are trade associations that represent internet and social-media companies. They sued the Florida officials charged with enforcing S.B. 7072 under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. They sought to enjoin enforcement of Sections 106.072 and 501.2041 on a number of grounds, including, that the law’s provisions (1) violate the social-media companies’ right to free speech under the First Amendment and (2) are preempted by federal law.   The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it preliminarily enjoined those provisions of S.B. 7072 that are substantially likely to violate the First Amendment. But the district court did abuse its discretion when it enjoined provisions of S.B. 7072 that aren’t likely unconstitutional.   The court reasoned that it is substantially likely that social-media companies—even the biggest ones—are “private actors” whose rights the First Amendment protects, that their so-called “content-moderation” decisions constitute protected exercises of editorial judgment and that the provisions of the new Florida law that restrict large platforms’ ability to engage in content moderation unconstitutionally burden that prerogative. The court further concluded that it is substantially likely that one of the law’s particularly onerous disclosure provisions—which would require covered platforms to provide a “thorough rationale” for each and every content-moderation decision they make—violates the First Amendment. However, because it is unlikely that the law’s remaining disclosure provisions violate the First Amendment, the companies are not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief with respect to them. View "NetChoice, LLC, et al. v. Attorney General, State of Florida, et al." on Justia Law

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Florida Senate Bill 90 ("SB 90") imposed certain restrictions on citing. Plaintiffs challenged several provisions of SB 90, claiming the provisions violated the prohibition against race discrimination under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs also alleged the provisions were vague or overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and that the provisions compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. The district court found that SB 90 restricted the right to vote and permanently enjoined certain provisions of SB 90. The court also imposed a preclearance requirement under which Florida needed to obtain the district court's approval before enacting or amending certain election laws. Florida sought a stay of the district court's order pending its appeal.The Eleventh Circuit granted Florida's request to stay the district court's order pending appeal. The court noted that changing election laws as an election nears can cause voter confusion. Thus, Federal district courts ordinarily should not enjoin state election laws in the period close to an election. Here, a statewide election was less than four months away. Thus, Florida has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process.Applying the reasoning from Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), the court found that the state has a reduced burden to obtain a stay and only needs to show that Plaintiff's position is not "entirely clearcut." Thus, the court granted Florida's request for a stay pending appeal. View "Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters Corp, et al v. Florida Secretary of State, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are property owners in Forsyth County who used to rent their homes on a short-term basis. Forsyth County recently amended its Unified Development Code (“UDC”) to prohibit certain property owners from renting their homes on a short-term basis. The amendment includes a grandfathering provision under which a property owner who was engaged in previously lawful activity that is now prohibited may continue to engage in that use. Plaintiffs sought the ability to continue renting their homes on a short-term basis under the amended UDC. The dispute involves determining which of the terms, “owner occupancy,” “rental,” and/or “lease” the phrase “on a weekly, monthly or longer basis” modifies. The court determined that neither the last-antecedent rule nor the series-qualifier canon rule would shed light on the UDC’s meaning. Therefore, the court found that it must discern and apply the ordinary meaning of the terms at issue. Applying ordinary meanings, the court concluded that the prior version of the UDC prohibited short-term rentals.Further, the court disagreed with Plaintiffs’ argument that “[b]ecause the prohibition on ‘rentals’ of less than a week was not explicit in the ordinances, the former UDC[‘s short-term rental ban] was void for vagueness.” The court reasoned that “when the plain text of the statute sets forth clearly perceived boundaries, our inquiry is ended.” Here, the court found that the plain text of the ordinance prohibited short-term rentals, thereby ending the court’s vagueness inquiry. Thus, short-term rentals remain prohibited. View "Kenneth R. Heyman, et al v. Molly Cooper, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy and substantive health care fraud for fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars for visits to nursing home patients that he never made. He challenged the convictions, sentence, restitution amount, and forfeiture amount on appeal.The co-conspirator pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government. Part of his plea agreement addressed his compensation during the conspiracy. Defendant contends that the district court erred in quashing his subpoena of the co-conspirator’s attorney. The court ruled that any erroneous exclusion of the attorney’s testimony was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because his testimony would not have impeached the co-conspirator. He further argues that the district court erred in limiting how many character witnesses he could present. The court found that the district court did not err because defendant overstates the importance of character witness testimony in this case. He was not on trial for being uncaring or uncompassionate but for lying and billing Medicare for services he did not provide.Additionally, defendant contends that the district court improperly limited part of his counsel’s closing argument when he was discussing whether defendant had made a profit. The court found that the government does not have to prove a defendant profited to establish the elements of fraud. The court also found that the district court did not err in calculating the loss amount used to determine defendant's sentence or the amount of restitution ordered. View "USA v. Douglas Moss" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were involved in a motor vehicle accident involving a vehicle operated by a USPS employee; through counsel, Plaintiffs submitted a “claim for damage, injury, or death." Subsequently, Plaintiffs retained a new law firm (Pawlowski), and provided notice to the USPS. On September 27, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Federal Tort Claims Act action against the government and the USPS employee. On October 16, 2018, a copy of the complaint and summons in the first FTCA action was delivered to the government. Another law firm (“Youngblood”), filed the first FTCA action complaint.On October 22, 2018, the USPS mailed a certified letter denying Plaintiffs’ administrative claims to Pawlowski, indicating Plaintiffs had until April 22, 2019 to file suit against the government. Neither Pawlowski nor Youngblood provided the USPS notice of any change in representation. On August 30, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their second FTCA complaint. On March 4, 2020, the government moved for summary judgment, arguing Plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred.Plaintiffs contend that the government failed to comply with the plain language of 39 C.F.R. Sec. 912.9(a) when the USPS sent the denial letter to Pawlowski. Further that the district court erred in finding they were not entitled to equitable tolling.The court ruled that the USPS mailed the denial letter to the legal representative who Plaintiffs most recently identified, thus complying with the regulation. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate entitlement to equitable tolling. The court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment for the government. View "Robert Wayne Dotson, et al. v. USA" on Justia Law

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Heather operated a health-coaching business called Constitution Nutrition. She started her business in California, which did not require a license. After moving to Florida in 2015, she continued to run her business—meeting online with most of her clients and meeting in person with two clients who lived in Florida. She described herself as a “holistic health coach” and not as a dietician. Heather tailored her health coaching to each client, which included dietary advice. After a complaint was filed against her and she paid $500.00 in fines and $254.09 in investigatory fees, Heather sued, claiming that Florida’s Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Act, which requires a license to practice as a dietician or nutritionist, violated her First Amendment free speech rights to communicate her opinions and advice on diet and nutrition to her clients. The district court granted the Florida Department of Health summary judgment.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, after considering the Supreme Court’s decision in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra (2018). The Act “is a professional regulation with a merely incidental effect on protected speech,” and is constitutional under the First Amendment. View "Del Castillo v. Secretary, Florida Department of Health" on Justia Law

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Enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), creates a comprehensive remedial scheme that governs—and apportions liability for—oil-removal costs. OPA holds oil spillers strictly liable upfront for oil-removal expenses and allows them, if they meet certain requirements, to avail themselves of one of three liability defenses and to seek contribution from other culpable parties. The M/V SAVAGE VOYAGER was transporting oil through a Mississippi waterway when an accident at a boat lift— operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—caused a rupture in the SAVAGE VOYAGER’s hull, through which thousands of gallons of oil poured into the river.The owners of the vessel sued the United States, not under the OPA, but under the common-law admiralty regime. They cited the Suits in Admiralty Act (SAA), a 1920 law by which Congress generally waived sovereign immunity for most admiralty claims. The interplay between the OPA and the SAA was an issue of first impression in the federal courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the vessel owner’s claims for removal costs. OPA authorizes no claim against the government for oil-removal damages and OPA’s comprehensive remedial scheme displaced the SAA’s more general sovereign-immunity waiver. View "Savage Services Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Norton operated a pressure washer on a Tampa Convention Center dock that had no guardrails or barricades and was surrounded on three sides by water. Norton fell into the bay while working and drowned. He was wearing rubber boots and was not wearing a personal flotation device. During an investigation, an OSHA officer did not identify any incidents of employees falling off the dock before Norton’s accident, but did learn that two employees who had pressure washed the same dock voluntarily wore personal flotation devices. OSHA issued a citation to C&W for its failure to provide and require the use of a personal flotation device and proposed a $12,675 penalty.Eleventh Circuit precedents required proof either that the use of personal flotation devices was an industry custom or that C&W had “clear actual knowledge that personal protective equipment was necessary under the circumstances.” OSHA did not present any evidence of industry custom. An ALJ concluded that C&W had “clear actual knowledge" that personal protective equipment was necessary, given “an open and obvious hazard.” The Eleventh Circuit vacated the citation. The Commission misapplied the standard for actual knowledge in the absence of industry custom. A finding that C&W had actual knowledge of the requirement to provide and require the use of personal flotation devices for employees when they pressure washed the dock was not supported by substantial evidence. View "C&W Facility Services, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law