Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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Suzanne Brown, a federal prisoner, appealed the denial of her habeas corpus petition. Brown was convicted on twelve counts of making a materially false statement to a federal agency and was sentenced to twelve months of imprisonment and a two-year term of supervised release. She began her term of imprisonment in January 2022, with release scheduled for January 2023. However, in March 2022, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) calculated that Brown had earned fifteen First Step Act (FSA) credits, which it applied to accelerate her release date to December 17, 2022. In August 2022, BOP transferred Brown to home confinement under the emergency measures of the CARES Act, still with a calculated release date of December 17, 2022.Brown filed a petition for habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, arguing that she had earned enough FSA credits to qualify for release on September 2, 2022, and that BOP's decision not to correct her FSA credit calculation and apply FSA credits to accelerate her release would result in her being held unlawfully in custody. A magistrate judge recommended that Brown's petition for habeas corpus be denied, and the district court adopted that recommendation and denied the petition. Brown timely appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the denial of the habeas petition de novo. Brown conceded that controlling precedent foreclosed some of the relief she sought earlier. She now asked only that the court hold her term of supervised release began on August 2, 2022, when she was transferred to home confinement. However, the court affirmed the denial of habeas relief, stating that the BOP's transfer of Brown to home confinement was a form of BOP custody, and her term of supervised release could not begin until the BOP released her from that custody. The court expressed no view as to whether Brown could receive relief under other procedural mechanisms, such as 18 U.S.C. § 3583. View "Brown v. Penders" on Justia Law

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The case involves Hartono Djokro and his son William Djokro, citizens of Indonesia who entered the United States as nonimmigrant visitors and overstayed their visas. In 2007, Hartono Djokro filed an application for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), including his son as a derivative applicant. They were served with notices to appear by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2008, charging them with removability for having remained in the United States longer than they had been authorized.In 2009, an immigration judge (IJ) denied their applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the CAT. The IJ found that the petitioners were ineligible for relief on several grounds, including that they had failed to establish a pattern or practice of persecution against either Chinese or Christians in Indonesia. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld the IJ's decision in 2012. The petitioners' first motion to reopen was denied by the BIA in 2013.In the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the petitioners sought review of the BIA's denial of their second untimely motion to reopen, filed in 2021. The court denied the petition, finding that the BIA reasonably concluded that the petitioners had failed to satisfy the requirements for an exception to late filing. The court held that the BIA did not abuse its discretion in finding that the petitioners failed to establish changed conditions or circumstances material to their eligibility for asylum or withholding of removal. The court found that the record amply supported the BIA's determination that the petitioners had not met their burden of showing that the exception for changed country conditions applies. View "Djokro v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The case involves Carlos M. Rivera-Velázquez, an employee of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division (CEPD), a component of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Rivera, a military veteran with a service-connected disability, was hired by the CEPD in 2001. Throughout his tenure, he expressed interest in being promoted to a GS-13 position. In 2006, the CEPD was reorganized, and Teresita Rodríguez became Rivera's supervisor. After Rivera returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010, Rodríguez began checking on his well-being. In 2012, Rivera was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 2014, Nancy Rodríguez became the chief of the Multimedia Permits and Compliance Branch and Rivera's supervisor. Rivera filed several formal and informal complaints about his treatment by his supervisors, alleging discrimination and harassment.In the lower courts, Rivera filed formal complaints with the EPA Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in 2011, 2017, and 2018, alleging discrimination and retaliation. He also filed claims of "harassment" under EPA Order 4711 in 2017 and 2018. The OCR and the EPA Order 4711 investigations found no merit to Rivera's complaints. Rivera then filed a complaint in the District Court in 2019, alleging employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court granted summary judgment to the Administrator of the EPA on Rivera's claims.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The court found that Rivera failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act or retaliation under Title VII. The court concluded that Rivera failed to show that his supervisors regarded him as having a disability, that he was subjected to an adverse action, or that there was a causal connection between his protected conduct and the alleged adverse actions. View "Rivera-Velazquez v. Regan" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the construction of an offshore wind project aimed at reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The project, proposed by Vineyard Wind 1, LLC, was expected to provide energy sufficient to power 400,000 Massachusetts homes. However, residents of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket opposed the project, arguing that federal agencies failed to properly assess the potential impact of the project on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.Previously, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts had granted summary judgment in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Vineyard Wind, rejecting the residents' challenge to a biological opinion issued by the NMFS and relied on by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in permitting the construction of the wind power project.In the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the residents challenged the lower court's decision, arguing that the NMFS's determination that the incidental harassment of up to twenty right whales constituted a "small number" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful. They also argued that NMFS's consideration of the "specified activity" and the "specific geographic region" within which that activity would occur for purposes of issuing the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Vineyard Wind was impermissibly narrow in scope.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision, finding that the NMFS's determination was not arbitrary or capricious and that it had properly delineated the "specific geographic region" for the purposes of the IHA. The court also found that the residents' concerns about the broader effect of the project on the right whale population were unwarranted, as the agency had considered the impact on the entire right whale population in its "negligible impact" analysis, its biological opinion, and in its participation in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's Environmental Impact Statement. View "Melone v. Coit" on Justia Law

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A group of Nantucket residents, organized as Nantucket Residents Against Turbines, challenged the approval of the Vineyard Wind project by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The project involves the construction of a wind power facility off the coast of Massachusetts. The residents alleged that the federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by concluding that the project's construction would not jeopardize the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. They also claimed that BOEM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by relying on a flawed analysis by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which granted summary judgment in favor of the federal agencies. The court found that NMFS and BOEM had followed the law in analyzing the right whale's current status and environmental baseline, the likely effects of the Vineyard Wind project on the right whale, and the efficacy of measures to mitigate those effects. The court also found that the agencies' analyses rationally supported their conclusion that Vineyard Wind would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the right whale.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. The appellate court found that the lower court had correctly interpreted the law and that the federal agencies had not violated the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. The court concluded that the agencies' analyses were rational and that their conclusion that the Vineyard Wind project would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the right whale was supported by the evidence. View "Nantucket Residents Against Turbines v. U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Carlos Rubén Boyrie-Laboy, a Puerto Rico Police officer, who was convicted under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951, 371, and 641 for his involvement in a conspiracy to commit robbery and theft of government property. Boyrie-Laboy was part of the Humacao Drugs Division, responsible for seizing illegal weapons, drugs, and other contraband. In 2015, Officer Gabriel Maldonado-Martínez joined the division and began working with Boyrie-Laboy. Maldonado-Martínez later became an undercover FBI informant to identify corrupt police officers. Boyrie-Laboy was involved in two thefts of fireworks and was present during two FBI operations designed to catch corrupt officers. However, he did not accept any stolen goods or money from these operations.The government indicted Boyrie-Laboy and three other officers based on these activities. Boyrie-Laboy was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to steal and convert government property, and theft and conversion of government property. He proceeded to a five-day jury trial, where the jury found him guilty on all counts. Boyrie-Laboy appealed the convictions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support them.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the case. Boyrie-Laboy's counsel had declined the opportunity to move for a judgment of acquittal twice during the trial and did not make a post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal. As a result, the court applied the "clear and gross injustice" standard of review. The court found that the evidence sufficiently supported the jury's findings and that upholding Boyrie-Laboy's convictions did not result in a clear and gross injustice. Therefore, the court affirmed the convictions. View "United States v. Boyrie-Laboy" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jennifer Root Bannon, who sued six law enforcement officers and the City of Boston on behalf of her brother's estate. Her brother, Juston Root, was fatally shot by the officers after a series of events that began with him pointing a gun at a hospital security guard and a responding police officer, leading the officers on a high-speed chase, and disregarding police instructions to drop his weapon. Bannon claimed that the officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agreed with the district court's conclusion that the officers acted reasonably under the circumstances during the fatal shooting and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court also held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity and affirmed the grant of summary judgment on Bannon's other claims. The court found that no reasonable jury could conclude that the officers acted unreasonably in employing deadly force against Root in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court also independently concluded that the officers were entitled to summary judgment on Bannon's § 1983 and MCRA claims based on qualified immunity. View "Bannon v. Godin" on Justia Law

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Frederic P. Zotos, an attorney residing in Cohasset, Massachusetts, filed a qui tam complaint against the Town of Hingham and several of its officials. Zotos alleged that the town and its officials posted speed limit signs and advisory speed plaques that did not comply with applicable federal and state laws and regulations. He further claimed that the town applied for and received reimbursements for these signs and plaques from both the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Zotos asserted that the town fraudulently induced the federal government to pay it roughly $3,300,000 and the Commonwealth to pay it approximately $7,300,000.The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed Zotos's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court concluded that the qui tam action was not barred by either claim or issue preclusion. However, it found that Zotos's claims fell short of the False Claims Act (FCA) and Massachusetts False Claims Act's (MFCA) requirements. Specifically, it ruled that Zotos failed to sufficiently plead that the alleged misrepresentations were material to the federal government's and the Commonwealth's respective decisions.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that Zotos's complaint did not adequately allege that the defendants' purported misrepresentations were material. It noted that the essence of the bargain under the Federal-Aid Highway Program (FAHP) and the Chapter 90 program was that the defendants incurred permissible costs on projects that were duly reimbursed. The court concluded that Zotos's allegations amounted to ancillary violations that, without more, were insufficient to establish materiality. View "United States ex rel. Zotos v. Town of Hingham" on Justia Law

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In the case at hand, the defendant, Christopher Condron, was convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States by obtaining payment for false claims. He had been involved in submitting applications to the United States Department of the Treasury for grant money in connection with supposed renewable energy projects. The applications were submitted on behalf of four different companies, which were created under the name of his then-girlfriend, Jessica Metivier.Condron appealed his conviction on three main grounds: 1) He argued that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction on all counts. 2) He claimed that the government's argument and evidence at trial constructively amended, or at least prejudicially varied from, one of the wire fraud counts. 3) He contended that the district court abused its discretion when it limited his cross-examination of a key government witness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected all three arguments and affirmed Condron's conviction. It found that there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction, that the government did not constructively amend or prejudicially vary from the indictment, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting Condron's cross-examination of a key government witness. View "US v. Condron" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, a married couple, both visually impaired, sued Colony Insurance Company to recover for the injuries they suffered when the wife fell down a restaurant's stairs. The couple had previously sued the restaurant and its owner for negligence in a New Hampshire state court, resulting in a default judgment against the defendants.The couple then sought to collect the judgment amount from Colony, the restaurant's insurer, arguing that the insurer was obligated to pay under the restaurant's liability insurance policy. Colony denied the couple's claim, stating that it was not notified of the lawsuit against the restaurant "as soon as practicable," as required by the insurance policy. The couple contended that the insurance policy was compulsory under a City of Manchester ordinance, therefore the insurer could not deny the claim based on a breach of the notice provision in the policy.The District Court granted summary judgment to Colony, ruling that the insured had breached the insurance contract by failing to provide timely notice and that the compulsory insurance doctrine, which generally limits an insurer's defenses against an injured party's claim, did not apply. The couple appealed the decision, but the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling.The Appeals Court held that, as a matter of law, the lack of timely notice constituted a breach of the insurance contract, thereby releasing Colony from payment. The court also agreed with the District Court's conclusion that the compulsory insurance doctrine did not apply to the case. The court noted that the doctrine has largely been applied in the context of automobile liability insurance and found no persuasive reason to extend it to this case. View "Jespersen v. Colony Insurance Company" on Justia Law