Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The case involves Raymond Sefakor Yao Azumah, a Ghanaian national who was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident in 2010. After a trip to Ghana in 2014, Azumah was deemed inadmissible due to an intervening embezzlement conviction. Despite this, the government paroled Azumah into the country and initiated removal proceedings against him. These proceedings were later dismissed, and Azumah applied for citizenship. However, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services denied his application, arguing that Azumah was statutorily ineligible because he was not “lawfully admitted for permanent residence” upon his return to the United States in 2014. The district court affirmed this denial.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the lower court's decision. The court noted that Azumah was indeed “lawfully admitted for permanent residence” at all relevant times, including 2010, 2014, and when he sought citizenship, because he had the status of a legal permanent resident of the United States. The court did not interpret the agency regulation to impose upon Azumah the additional burden of showing that he was “lawfully admitted” rather than paroled when he returned to the United States in 2014. Therefore, the court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Azumah v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services" on Justia Law

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The case involves an American citizen and her noncitizen husband who sued two U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials, alleging that USCIS unreasonably delayed adjudicating a waiver application the husband submitted two years prior. The plaintiffs argued that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Mandamus Act granted subject-matter jurisdiction over their claims. The district court dismissed their claims, concluding that language in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that denies courts jurisdiction over suits based on agency “decisions or actions” also bars suits over agency inaction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, but for different reasons. The appellate court found that the district court erred in interpreting the INA's jurisdictional bar to include agency inaction. However, the court concluded that no statute or regulation requires USCIS to adjudicate the husband’s waiver application, and therefore, the district court lacked jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims. The court noted that while the delay in adjudication was stressful for the plaintiffs, their complaint should be addressed to the political branches, as the court lacked jurisdiction to order the relief sought. View "Lovo v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (the Authority), an entity jointly created by Virginia and the District of Columbia to manage the area's two airports. The Authority disputed the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry's (the Department) power to enforce its workplace safety laws against the Authority. The Department had levied a monetary penalty against the Authority following an accident that resulted in an employee's injury. The Authority contested the Department's power to enforce these penalties, arguing that it was not subject to Virginia workplace safety regulations due to its status as an interstate compact entity.The Department's adjudicator found that the Authority was subject to Virginia workplace safety regulations, a decision adopted by the Department's Commissioner. The Authority then sued the Commissioner in federal court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court ruled in favor of the Authority, reasoning that Virginia had surrendered its ability to exercise unilateral regulatory authority over the Authority's facilities when it created the Authority.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court agreed with the Authority that by jointly creating the Authority with the District, Virginia relinquished its control over the Authority except as otherwise provided in the Compact. The court rejected the Department's argument that the Compact expressly reserves its power to enforce Virginia’s workplace safety regulations against the Authority. The court also dismissed the Department's contention that it can enforce its workplace safety laws against the Authority because nothing in the Compact preempts Virginia law. View "Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority v. Pan" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the award of black lung benefits to the surviving wife of the late Bruce E. Goode, who worked for American Energy as a coal miner and suffered from a severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disability. American Energy disputed the cause of his impairment, arguing that it was due to his long-term cigarette smoking, not his coal mine employment. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Mr. Goode’s disability arose from his coal mine employment and awarded black lung benefits. The Benefits Review Board affirmed the award.American Energy appealed, arguing that the ALJ applied an incorrect legal standard. The company contended that the Black Lung Benefits Act and its implementing regulations require a miner to prove that coal dust caused the lung disease or made it worse. American Energy argued that the ALJ reversed the burden of proof by finding that the company had not proven why Mr. Goode’s lung disease was not at least partially due to coal dust exposure.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed that the ALJ applied the wrong legal standard in determining that Mr. Goode had legal pneumoconiosis. However, the court noted that the ALJ also concluded that Mr. Goode’s clinical pneumoconiosis entitled him to benefits. The court granted American Energy’s petition and vacated and remanded the Board’s order for further proceedings. View "American Energy, LLC v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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Jake's Fireworks Inc., a large importer and distributor of consumer fireworks, sought judicial review of several warning notices it received from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The notices were issued after the Commission's staff sampled fireworks imported by Jake's Fireworks and found that about one-third of those samples indicated that the fireworks were dangerously overloaded with explosive material, rendering them "banned hazardous substances" under the agency’s regulations. The Commission's Compliance Office accordingly sent Jake's Fireworks several “Notice[s] of Non-Compliance,” requesting that the distribution of the sampled lots not take place and that the existing inventory be destroyed.Jake's Fireworks first sued the Commission in federal court in 2019, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief from the agency’s enforcement of its fireworks regulations via the Notices. The district court dismissed the lawsuit, determining that the Notices did not constitute final agency actions under the Administrative Procedure Act because they did not consummate the Commission’s decisionmaking process. After the dismissal of its first lawsuit, Jake's Fireworks requested an informal hearing with the Compliance Office to contest the Notices. The Compliance Office declined to hold a hearing or to revisit its findings, and Jake's Fireworks filed a second lawsuit, which was also dismissed by the district court on the same grounds as the first lawsuit.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the Notices did not constitute final agency actions under the Administrative Procedure Act. The court reasoned that the Compliance Office’s Notices of Noncompliance did not mark the consummation of the agency’s decisionmaking process, as it is the Commission itself, not its Compliance Office, that makes final determinations on whether goods are banned hazardous substances. The court also found that the language of the Notices confirmed that they conveyed preliminary findings and advice from agency staff rather than a final determination from the Commission itself. View "Jake's Fireworks Inc. v. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission" on Justia Law

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The case involves the 68th Street Site Work Group (the "Group"), a collective of entities that had settled their liability for environmental cleanup costs with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Group sought to recoup some of these costs by filing a contribution action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) against several non-performing and non-settling entities, alleging that each defendant incurred arranger liability by arranging for the disposal of waste at the Superfund Alternative Site.The District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed the claims against each of these defendants, concluding that the Group failed to allege that the defendants took intentional steps with the specific intent to dispose of hazardous waste and knew that the disposed-of waste was hazardous. The Group then sought to amend its complaint against seven of the defendants, but the district court denied the motion, standing by its prior interpretation of CERCLA’s arranger-liability provision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court held that under CERCLA’s arranger-liability provision, a defendant is liable whenever they intentionally arrange for the disposal of a substance and the substance is hazardous. The court concluded that the district court erred by requiring the Group to allege that the defendants knew the disposed-of waste was hazardous. View "68th Street Site Work Group v. Alban Tractor Co., Incorporated" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between the Florida Division of Emergency Management (the Division) and a private company, Essential Diagnostics, LLC, over a contract for the purchase of COVID-19 test kits. The Division contracted with Essential Diagnostics to buy 200,000 COVID-19 test kits for $2.2 million. However, Essential claimed that the Division ordered 600,000 tests but only paid for 200,000. The Division, on the other hand, insisted that it only ever agreed to buy 200,000 tests and that it paid for them in full. Essential assigned its rights under the contract to Global Integrated Concepts, which sued the Division in Florida state court. However, the state court dismissed the complaint. Subsequently, Global and two other parties involved in the transaction sued the Division in federal district court in North Carolina, seeking to recover the same $4.4 million Global sought as damages in its state court suit.The Division moved to dismiss the suit on the grounds of sovereign immunity. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that the Division waived its sovereign immunity by contracting with the plaintiffs. The Division appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court found that the district court erred in concluding that the Division waived its sovereign immunity by contracting with the plaintiffs. The court clarified that the rules governing waiver of federal-law sovereign immunity in federal court come from federal law, not state law. The court concluded that the district court failed to distinguish between the defenses and immunities a State might enjoy under state law and the constitutionally protected sovereign immunity that States enjoy from suit in federal court. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the court lacked jurisdiction over the appeal. View "Global Innovative Concepts, LLC v. State of Florida, Division of Emergency Management" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Jon Oberg filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act against various student-loan companies, including Nelnet, Inc., Nelnet Education Loan Funding, Inc., Brazos Higher Education Services Corporation, and Brazos Higher Education Authority, Inc. Oberg alleged that the companies submitted false claims to the Department of Education to inflate their loan portfolios eligible for interest subsidies. The parties agreed to a protective order for discovery, and the companies filed a joint motion for leave to file confidential summary judgment materials under seal. The magistrate judge granted in part the motion to file under seal. The parties eventually settled, and the magistrate judge dismissed the actions against the companies with prejudice.On March 31, 2023, Michael Camoin—a documentary filmmaker who covers the student-loan industry—filed a pro se letter in the district court requesting access to the materials that Oberg filed under seal in connection to his opposition to summary judgment. Nelnet and Brazos eventually filed a joint brief opposing Camoin’s request. On July 3, 2023, the magistrate judge denied Camoin’s motion. The judge found that Camoin has “no common law or First Amendment right to access the sought documents and portions of documents” because “a document must play a relevant and useful part in the adjudication process for either the First Amendment or common law rights of public access to attach.”On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the magistrate judge’s order and remanded for consideration of whether maintaining the seal on the requested documents is “necessitated by a compelling government interest[] and . . . narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” The court held that Camoin has a presumptive First Amendment right to access Oberg’s summary judgment motion and the documents attached to that motion. The court found that the public has an interest in ensuring basic fairness and deterring official misconduct not only in the outcome of certain proceedings, but also in the very proceedings themselves. The court concluded that irrespective of whether a district court ever resolves a summary judgment motion, the public has a presumptive First Amendment right to access documents submitted in connection with it. View "Camoin v. Nelnet, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Erie Insurance Company and its affiliates (collectively, Erie) and the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA). In 2021, the MIA initiated two separate administrative investigations into Erie following complaints alleging racial and geographic discrimination. The first investigation broadly examined Erie’s market conduct, while the second focused on the specific allegations in the individual complaints. In 2023, the MIA issued four public determination letters stating that Erie had violated state insurance laws. These letters referenced documents obtained during the market conduct investigation, which had not yet concluded. Erie requested and was granted administrative hearings on all four determination letters.Erie then filed a lawsuit against the MIA and its commissioner in federal district court, alleging due process violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and violations of Maryland state law. Erie sought a declaration that the determination letters were unlawful, an injunction preventing the defendants from disseminating the letters, and a requirement for the defendants to publicly withdraw them. The district court dismissed Erie's complaint, citing the principles of abstention outlined in Younger v. Harris, which generally discourages federal courts from interfering with ongoing state proceedings.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Erie had an adequate opportunity to raise its constitutional claims in the administrative hearings and subsequent state court review, as required for Younger abstention. The court also rejected Erie's argument that this case fell within an exception to Younger abstention due to extraordinary circumstances or unusual situations. The court concluded that Erie had not demonstrated that the MIA's actions were motivated by bias or that the administrative proceedings would not afford Erie constitutionally adequate process. View "Erie Insurance Exchange v. Maryland Insurance Administration" on Justia Law

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The case involves Earl Johnson, a former inmate of the Maryland Correctional Training Center, who alleged that corrections officer Chad Zimmerman sexually harassed and abused him during strip searches, in violation of his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights. Johnson also sued Zimmerman’s supervisor, Lt. Richard Robinette, alleging supervisory and bystander liability. The district court dismissed Johnson’s claims against Robinette due to failure to exhaust administrative remedies but held that Johnson’s claims against Zimmerman were exempt from this requirement. The court also granted summary judgment to Zimmerman and Robinette on the merits of Johnson’s claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in concluding that Johnson’s claims against Robinette were subject to exhaustion requirements. However, the court affirmed the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment to both defendants. The court found that the strip searches, including those involving momentary touchings of Johnson’s genitalia or buttocks, did not rise to the level of an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The court also found that Johnson failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that Zimmerman had the requisite malicious intent to sexually abuse him, sexually arouse him or himself, or otherwise gratify sexual desire. Furthermore, the court found that Johnson’s evidence fell short of establishing supervisory or bystander liability against Robinette. View "Johnson v. Robinette" on Justia Law