Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered an appeal by Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump, who sought to move his state criminal prosecution to federal court. The state of Georgia had indicted Meadows for crimes related to alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election. Meadows argued that because these actions were taken in his official capacity, they should be heard in federal court according to the federal-officer removal statute (28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1)). The district court denied this request because Meadows' charged conduct was not performed under the color of his federal office. The court of appeals affirmed this decision. It ruled that the federal-officer removal statute does not apply to former federal officers and even if it did, the alleged actions leading to this criminal action were not related to Meadows’ official duties. The court concluded that the former chief of staff’s role does not include influencing state officials with allegations of election fraud or altering valid election results in favor of a particular candidate, regardless of the chief of staff's role with respect to state election administration. Therefore, Meadows was not entitled to invoke the federal-officer removal statute. View "The State of Georgia v. Meadows" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the United States District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) denial of a church's petition for a religious exemption from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Soul Quest Church of Mother Earth, Inc. petitioned the DEA for an exemption to the CSA so it could lawfully use and handle a sacramental tea known as ayahuasca, which contains a controlled substance, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The DEA denied the petition, concluding that the church had not met its burden under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to show that its members' beliefs were sincerely held and that its use of ayahuasca was part of a religious exercise. The DEA also found compelling governmental interests in maintaining public safety and preventing diversion of the tea into improper channels. The DEA's denial of the petition was deemed a final decision made under the CSA, thereby triggering the jurisdictional bar of 21 U.S.C. § 877. The court ruled that because the DEA's decision was made under the CSA, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the denial on the merits. The court also held that Soul Quest's additional constitutional, statutory, and procedural claims were "inescapably intertwined" with the DEA's final decision, making the CSA's jurisdictional bar applicable to those claims as well. View "Soul Quest Church of Mother Earth, Inc. v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law

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Governor DeSantis signed into law the Individual Freedom Act, also called the Stop W.O.K.E. Act. Seven professors and one student from public universities in Florida challenged the law in the district court as violative of their civil rights. Plaintiffs served subpoenas on fourteen non-party legislators—thirteen co-sponsors of the Act and one legislator who supported the bill during a Florida House of Representatives debate. The district court partially granted and partially denied the legislators’ motion. After the legislators appealed, the district court stayed the discovery order pending the resolution of this appeal. At issue on appeal is whether a common-law privilege shields state legislators from a discovery request made for the purpose of determining the legislators’ motives in passing a law.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that factual documents are within the scope of the privilege, which is unqualified in this kind of lawsuit. The court explained that according to Plaintiffs’ response to the Florida legislators’ motion to quash the subpoena, the plaintiffs served the subpoenas on the legislators to “determine whether there was a discriminatory motive behind the [Act].” By Plaintiffs’ own admission, the subpoenas’ purpose was to uncover the legislators’ motives in passing the law. “The privilege applies with full force against requests for information about the motives for legislative votes and legislative enactments.” So, the privilege applies with its usual force against the discovery of even the factual documents in the Florida legislators’ possession. Accordingly, the court held that the district court abused its discretion when it determined otherwise. View "Leroy Pernell, et al. v. Robert Alexander Andrade, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioners, a group of five individuals, filed this petition for review, claiming that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) during its Phase II approval process. Petitioners assert that the FAA violated NEPA by (1) segmenting its review of a single Airport development project into multiple, smaller projects to make the project’s environmental effect appear less significant, (2) failing to consider the project’s cumulative effects, and (3) failing to analyze all air quality impacts. The FAA responds that, as an initial matter, Petitioners cannot bring this petition for review because they lack standing and did not exhaust their administrative remedies. Alternatively, the FAA contends that it did not violate NEPA, and the petition for review should be denied.   The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition. The court held that Petitioners have standing and did not fail to exhaust their administrative remedies. Petitioners, however, fall short on the merits because it is clear that the FAA satisfied NEPA’s requirements. The court explained that Petitioners are unhappy that the FAA greenlighted Phase II (as well as the Airport developments preceding Phase II). However, the court does not vacate agency decisions over mere policy disagreements. Accordingly, the court held that the FAA did what it was supposed to do, and its review processes were not arbitrary and capricious. View "John S. Lowman, IV, et al v. Federal Aviation Administration, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s affirmance of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) denial of his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) following the Appeals Council’s remand. He argued that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred on remand by reconsidering a prior finding of Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (RFC) after the prior decision had been vacated, in violation of the law-of-the-case doctrine and the mandate rule.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the mandate rule, which is “a specific application” of the law-of-the-case doctrine, binds a lower court to execute the mandate of the higher court without further examination or variance. The court wrote that even assuming the law-of-the-case doctrine and mandate rule apply, the ALJ was free to reconsider Plaintiff’s RFC because the 2018 Decision was vacated. The court reasoned that the district court order made no findings about how the ALJ erred in his determination on Plaintiff’s disability. Instead, the district court remanded the case on a motion from the Commissioner without making specific factual findings, including whether or not the ALJ properly determined Plaintiff’s RFC. As a result, the Appeals Council had no factual findings in the remand order from which it could deviate. Additionally, the Appeals Council explained that Plaintiff filed a new SSI claim in 2019, and it consolidated that claim with his initial claims, which stemmed from the same disabilities. The SSA regulations allow an ALJ to consider any issues relating to the claim, whether or not they were raised in earlier administrative proceedings. View "George Weidner, III v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs worked as detention officers for Glynn County under Sheriff Jump’s supervision. Although it is unclear from the record whether the Officers are formally deputy sheriffs, it is undisputed that they are, at minimum, direct employees of Sheriff Jump, in his official capacity, akin to deputies. The Officers brought a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action alleging that the County “illegally calculated their and other detention officers’ overtime wages.” The County moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In response, the Officers amended their complaint to include Sheriff Jump in his individual capacity. The County and Sheriff Jump then moved to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, arguing that neither defendant was the Officers’ employer under the FLSA.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed both the district court’s denial of the Officers’ motion for leave to amend and its ultimate dismissal of the amended complaint. The court held that the district court correctly dismissed the Officers’ complaint against Sheriff Jump in his individual capacity because he is not an “employer” under the FLSA. Further, the court agreed with the district court that Sheriff Jump would be entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity when making compensation decisions for his employees. Further, the court held that Georgia “retained its Eleventh Amendment immunity” from suits in federal court for breach-of-contract claims because no statute or constitutional provision “expressly consents to suits in federal court. View "Langston Austin, et al. v. Glynn County, Georgia, et al." on Justia Law

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After eight years of litigation involving ten different parties, Continental Holdings, Inc. (Continental) appealed the district court’s denial of its November 2015 motion to voluntarily dismiss Houston Pipe Line Company, L.P. and HPL GP, LLC (collectively, Houston) from the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). Continental argues that we should reverse the district court’s Rule 41(a)(2) decision and vacate all of the subsequent orders governing its dispute with Houston.   The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal. The court explained that over the course of this litigation, many parties filed motions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) in an attempt to voluntarily dismiss their claims against another party. For each motion, fewer than all parties involved in the litigation provided a signature. Yet, Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) only permits a plaintiff to dismiss an action without a court order by filing “a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared. The court explained that because multiple motions made under this Rule were not signed by all parties who appeared in the lawsuit, they were ineffective, and the claims they purported to dismiss remain pending before the district court. Consequently, there has not been a final judgment below, and the court explained that it lacks jurisdiction to consider the merits of this appeal. View "City of Jacksonville v. Jacksonville Hospitality Holdings, L.P., et al" on Justia Law

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Zen Group, Inc., is “a Florida Medicaid provider of services to developmentally-disabled minors.” Zen Group alleges that beginning in 2018, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration wrongfully attempted to recoup payments rendered under the Agency’s “Behavior Analysis Services Program.” Zen Group asserts that the officials made baseless referrals for investigation of fraud and suspended payments to Zen Group in retaliation for the previous exercise of its constitutional rights in an administrative proceeding. Zen Group complained that the officials’ retaliation violated its due-process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and its speech and petition rights under the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the complaint.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that Zen Group’s due process and First Amendment claims for damages are both barred by qualified immunity. And Zen Group lacks standing to seek injunctive relief. The court explained that Zen Group alleged that it had “completely ceased operations” in June 2020. It did not allege that it had resumed providing services to Medicaid recipients. The court explained that in that context, the most it can fairly infer from the assertion that Zen Group “remains a Florida Medicaid provider” is that Zen Group remains an active corporation authorized by the state to provide Medicaid services, even though it is not currently doing so. The allegations in the amended complaint do not support the inference that Zen Group faces anything more than a speculative risk of future injury if it resumes providing services or the officials decide to engage in retaliatory fraud referrals against an inactive provider with respect to services rendered in the past. View "Zen Group, Inc., et al v. State of Florida Agency for Health Care Administra, et al" on Justia Law

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A nine-year-old girl took her own life after a classmate repeatedly delivered racist insults to her. The girl's mother and grandmother sought to hold the school system and several school officials accountable for her death. The family filed a lawsuit asserting claims arising under federal and state law against the school system and the school officials. The district court granted summary judgment to the school system and its officials, concluding that the family failed to satisfy various elements of their federal statutory claims and that qualified immunity barred at least one of the claims. The court concluded that the state law claims failed on immunity grounds. The family appealed.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Although the response of the school system and its officials was "truly discouraging," the standard for relief in cases of student-on-student harassment was not met. The court explained that a reasonable jury could not find that DCS acted with deliberate indifference, that it intentionally discriminated against the girl, or that Defendants' actions were arbitrary or conscience-shocking. Thus, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the defendants on the family's Title IX, Title VI, equal protection, and substantive due process claims. View "Jasmine Adams, et al v. Demopolis City Schools, et al" on Justia Law

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Over 20 years ago, a group of Florida wine consumers and an out-of-state winery (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) sued the Director of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, alleging that certain provisions of Florida’s beverage laws unconstitutionally discriminated against out-of-state wineries. After the United States Supreme Court ruled a virtually identical statutory scheme unconstitutional, the Division agreed to the entry of a judgment declaring Florida’s direct shipment laws unconstitutional as applied to out-of-state “wineries.” The Division also agreed to an injunction prohibiting it from enforcing its direct shipment laws “against out-of-state vendors and producers.” Significantly, these last five words were absent from the parties’ proposed injunction and were added sua sponte by the district court. No one objected to the court’s addition of this language. However, 16 years later, the Division filed a motion in district court to “clarify and modify” the injunction. Specifically, the Division asked the district court to confirm that the injunction applied only to out-of-state wineries rather than out-of-state wine retailers generally. The district court denied the Division’s motion.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the district court expressly determined that the injunction the court entered “accurately reflects the intent of the parties and the Court.” Rule 60(a) does not allow a district court to rewrite its decision any time a party later contends that the language is ambiguous. Thus, the court held that the district court did not err by construing the Division’s motion as made under Rule 60(b)(1) instead of Rule 60(a). View "Jerry Bainbridge, et al. v. Director of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco" on Justia Law