Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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This case concerns rules and regulations issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governing two types of pilot credentials: airline transport pilot (ATP) certificates, which enable pilots to fly for airlines, and type ratings, which authorize pilots to command complex, “type-rated” aircraft. Flight Training International, Inc. (FTI), a provider of flight training courses, wants to offer a course that uses type-rated aircraft but culminates in the issuance of an ATP certificate without a type rating. A rule (Rule) issued by the FAA in 2020 prohibits it from doing that, so FTI petitioned us to set aside the rule. FTI argued that the rule effectively amends portions of 14 C.F.R. pt. 61, and, therefore, should have been promulgated only after notice and comment in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).   The Fifth Circuit agreed and granted the petition. The court explained that the Must-Issue Rule is a legislative rule, but it was not promulgated after notice and comment as required by the APA. Because the Rule was issued “without observance of procedure required by law,” FTI’s petition must be granted, and the Rule set aside. In light of this disposition, the court did not reach FTI’s alternative argument that the Rule is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” View "Flt Training Intl v. FAA" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Public Service Commission (“LPSC”) petitioned the Fifth Circuit for a writ of mandamus compelling the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) to resolve several of its complaints before the agency related to a ratemaking dispute with System Energy Resources, Inc. (“SERI”), operator of the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.   The Fifth Circuit concluded that FERC has yet to provide the court with sufficient explanation for its delay despite ongoing irreparable harm to consumers. Accordingly, the court ordered FERC to provide the court—within 21 days—with a meaningful explanation for the length of time the Commission takes for final action in Section 206 complaint proceedings, including those at issue here. View "In re: LA Pub Svc Comm" on Justia Law

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In the wake of a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, interpreted existing regulations on machineguns as extending to bump stocks. Plaintiff relinquished several bump stocks and then filed this case, seeking to invalidate ATF's interpretation.The district court found in favor of the ATF, as did a panel of Fifth Circuit judges. However, on rehearing en banc, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, finding that "a plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of 'machinegun' set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act."The court went on to explain that, even if it determine the language to be ambiguous, it would apply the rule of lenity to interpret the statute against imposing criminal liability. Notably, three judges concurred with the court's opinion on lenity grounds, and the opinion also garnered a three-judge dissent. View "Cargill v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The Port of Corpus Christi Authority of Nueces County, Texas (a governmental entity), sued The Port of Corpus Christi, L.P.(a private entity) and Kenneth Berry in state court. The claims were for trespass and encroachment on its submerged land that resulted from dredge operations occurring in a ship channel. Defendants removed the case, but the district court remanded, holding there was no basis for removal either under the federal officer removal statute or due to a federal question.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in denying removal on the basis of the federal officer removal statute. Further, the court explained that it agreed with the district court that the Port Authority’s complaint “disclaims any issue regarding permit compliance, stating its claim exclusively in terms of Texas state law: common law trespass.” The Port Authority did not allege a violation of either the Clean Water Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act. View "Port of Corpus v. Port of Corpus" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff began working as an environmental, safety, and health specialist at Targa’s Venice, Louisiana plant. He alleged that Targa violated the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute (“LEWS”) by discharging him after he refused and reported a manager’s directive to dilute sewage samples. The district court denied Targa’s motion for summary judgment and, following a bench trial, rendered judgment for Plaintiff. Targa argues on appeal that Plaintiff’s report of the manager’s directive and refusal to comply do not constitute “protected activities” under LEWS.     The court certified questions to the Louisiana Supreme Court, explaining that certification is necessary because the court lacks clear guidance from the Louisiana Supreme Court on how to resolve these issues, and the outcome is determinative of the entire appeal. The certified questions are: (1) Whether refusals to engage in illegal or environmentally damaging activities are “disclosures” under the current version of the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute, La. Stat. Ann. 30:2027; and (2) Whether the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute affords protection to an employee who reports to his supervisor an activity, policy, or practice of an employer which he reasonably believes is in violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation, where reporting violations of environmental law, rules, or regulations, is a part of the employee’s normal job responsibilities. View "Menard v. Targa Resources" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Shrimpers and Fishermen of the RGV, Sierra Club, and Save RGV from LNG (collectively, “Petitioners”) challenge the issuance of a Clean Water Act (“CWA”) permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the “Corps”). Petitioners allege that the Corps’ permit issuance violated the CWA and its implementing regulations.   The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the Corps approved the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative presented before it during the permitting process and did not act arbitrarily in its evaluation of pipeline construction impacts and mitigation efforts. The court explained Petitioners’ first set of arguments centers on the Corps’ estimation that restoration will occur within one year. They state that the Corps did not consider the full construction period when quantifying the duration of impacts, which they allege is improper. However, they supply no evidence that the construction period must be, or even that it typically is, included when assessing whether impacts are temporary.   Further, the Corps’ analysis also comports with the EIS, which estimates that herbaceous vegetation will regenerate “within 1 to 3 years.” The EIS estimation necessarily includes the finding that vegetation may revegetate in one year, as the Corps concluded. Finally, the EPA feedback Petitioners relied upon does not consider the approved compensatory mitigation plan or the special conditions of the permit because the comments are from 2015 and 2018— well before the current permit (and even the original permit) was approved. The Corps considered this feedback and aligned its ultimate approach with the EPA’s recommendations. View "Shrimpers v. United States Army Corps" on Justia Law

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As part of his efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden issued a series of sweeping vaccination mandates. This challenge concerns four actions that together constitute the “federal contractor mandate.” Having established that an injunction was warranted, the district court set out that the injunction would only apply “to all contracts, grants, or any other like an agreement by any other name between the Plaintiff States and the national government.” It then stayed the case pending appellate review.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of the injunction. The court wrote that it cannot rule on the efficacy of any vaccine, the wisdom of the President’s action, or even whether or not this action would, in fact, increase economy and efficiency in federal contracting. The court wrote that it was asked: where Congress has not authorized the issuance of this mandate, whether the President may nonetheless exercise this power. The court held he may not. The court explained that the President’s use of procurement regulations to reach through an employing contractor to force obligations on individual employees is truly unprecedented. As such, Executive Order 14042 is unlawful, and the Plaintiff States have consequently demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits. View "State of Louisiana v. Biden" on Justia Law

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The State of Texas appeals the district court’s decision that Plaintiffs’ federal Taking Clause claims against the State may proceed in federal court. Because we hold that the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment does not provide a right of action for takings claims against a state.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s decision for want of jurisdiction and remanded with instructions to return this case to the state courts. The court explained that the Supreme Court of Texas recognizes takings claims under the federal and state constitutions, with differing remedies and constraints turning on the character and nature of the taking; nothing in this description of Texas law is intended to replace its role as the sole determinant of Texas state law. View "Devillier v. State of Texas" on Justia Law

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The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) is a federal law that nationalizes governance of the thoroughbred horseracing industry. To formulate detailed rules on an array of topics, HISA empowers a private entity called the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (the “Authority”), which operates under Federal Trade Commission oversight. Soon after its passage, HISA was challenged by various horsemen’s associations, which were later joined by Texas and the state’s racing commission. Plaintiffs argued HISA is facially unconstitutional because it delegates government power to a private entity without sufficient agency supervision. The district court acknowledged that the plaintiffs’ “concerns are legitimate,” that HISA has “unique features,” and that its structure “pushes the boundaries of public-private collaboration.” Nonetheless, the court rejected the private non-delegation challenge.   The Fifth Circuit declared that the HISA is unconstitutional because it violates the private non-delegation doctrine. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s decision and remanded. The court explained that while acknowledging the Authority’s “sweeping” power, the district court thought it was balanced by the FTC’s “equally” sweeping oversight. Not so. HISA restricts FTC review of the Authority’s proposed rules. If those rules are “consistent” with HISA’s broad principles, the FTC must approve them. And even if it finds an inconsistency, the FTC can only suggest changes. What’s more, the FTC concedes it cannot review the Authority’s policy choices. The Authority’s power outstrips any private delegation the Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit has allowed. Thus the court declared HISA facially unconstitutional. View "National Horsemen's Benevolent v. Black" on Justia Law

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Believing Texas intends to enforce its abortion laws to penalize their out-of-state actions, Plaintiffs sued Texas Attorney General (Petitioner). Petitioner moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs then issued subpoenas to obtain Petitioner’s testimony. Petitioner moved to quash the subpoenas, which the district court initially granted. On reconsideration, however, the district court changed course, denied the motion, and ordered Petitioner to testify either at a deposition or evidentiary hearing. Petitioner petitioned for a writ of mandamus to shield him from the district court’s order.   The Fifth Circuit granted the writ, concluding that the district court clearly erred by not first ensuring its own jurisdiction and also by declining to quash the subpoenas. The court explained that the district court committed a “clear abuse of discretion” by finding that exceptional circumstances justified ordering Petitioner to testify. Petitioner has therefore shown a clear and indisputable right to relief. The court further found that the errors are ones that cannot be rectified as the case progresses. Petitioners compelled testimony cannot be undone or corrected by the district court or a reviewing court once it occurs. Accordingly, the court was satisfied that, under the circumstances, it should exercise its discretion to issue the writ. View "In Re: Ken Paxton" on Justia Law