Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Plaintiff made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request after the FAA notified him that he was ineligible for an Air Traffic Control Specialist position based on his performance on a screening test called the Biographical Assessment. At issue is FOIA's Exemption 5, which provides that FOIA's disclosure requirements do not apply to "interagency or intra-agency memorandums or letters that would not be available by law to a party . . . in litigation with the agency."The en banc court joined six of its sister circuits in adopting the consultant corollary to Exemption 5, and held that the term "intra-agency" in 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5) included, at least in some circumstances, documents prepared by outside consultants hired by the agency to assist in carrying out the agency's functions. The en banc court explained that the relevant inquiry asks whether the consultant acted in a capacity functionally equivalent to that of an agency in creating the document or documents the agency sought to withhold. In this case, the FAA properly withheld two of the three documents at issue under that exemption. However, the en banc court held that the FAA did not establish that the remaining document is protected by the attorney work-product privilege, and the agency failed to show that it conducted a search reasonably calculated to locate all documents responsive to petitioner's FOIA request. Accordingly, the en banc court vacated the district court's entry of summary judgment for the FAA and remanded for further proceedings. The en banc court denied plaintiff's motion for judicial notice. View "Rojas v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order granting a partial stay under Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), of three state law claims, in an action brought by the United States alleging that the California State Water Resources Board violated various provisions of the California Environmental Quality Control Act.The panel held that the district court abused its discretion in granting a partial Colorado River stay. The panel explained that partial stays pursuant to Colorado River are permissible only in very limited circumstances, namely when there is strong evidence of forum shopping. In this case, there is little evidence of forum shopping. The panel also concluded that it could not affirm the district court on the basis of Pullman abstention where the Board, which did not cross-appeal, cannot ask the court to affirm on Pullman grounds. The panel reasoned that it would necessarily have to stay the intergovernmental immunity claim, which the district court allowed to proceed. On remand, the panel instructed the district court to allow the United States' claims to proceed, subject to regular issues of justiciability. View "United States v. State Water Resources Control Board" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the FRA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing a national minimum requirement of two crew members for trains. In 2019, the FRA issued an order purporting to adopt a nationwide maximum one-person crew rule and to preempt "any state laws concerning that subject matter." Two Unions and three states petitioned for review of the Order under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Unions' petition because venue was not proper under 28 U.S.C. 2343. The panel explained that the Unions' principal officers were not in the Ninth Circuit. The panel concluded that it had jurisdiction over the States' petitions because they were sufficiently aggrieved to invoke jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 2344. On the merits, the panel held that the FRA's Order does not implicitly preempt state safety rules, that the FRA failed to comply with the APA's notice-and-comment provisions in issuing the Order, and that the order is arbitrary and capricious. The panel explained that the Order's basis for its action did not withstand scrutiny, and the FRA's contemporaneous explanation was lacking. In this case, the States met their burden of showing that the issuance of the Order violated the APA. Accordingly, the panel dismissed the petition for review but granted the States' petitions, vacating the Order. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of Axon's action alleging that the FTC's administrative enforcement process violated the company's constitutional rights. In this case, the FTC investigated and filed an administrative complaint challenging Axon's acquisition of a competitor, demanding that Axon spin-off its newly acquired company and provide it with Axon's own intellectual property. The district court dismissed the complaint after determining that the FTC's statutory scheme requires Axon to raise its constitutional challenge first in the administrative proceeding.The panel held that the Supreme Court's Thunder Basin trilogy of cases mandates dismissal. The panel explained that the structure of the Federal Trade Commission Act suggests that Congress impliedly barred jurisdiction in district court and required parties to move forward first in the agency proceeding. Because the FTC statutory scheme ultimately allows Axon to present its constitutional challenges to a federal court of appeals after the administrative proceeding, the panel concluded that Axon has not suffered any cognizable harm. Therefore, the panel joined every other circuit that has addressed a similar issue in ruling that Congress impliedly stripped the district court of jurisdiction. View "Axon Enterprise, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit amended its certification order, in an appeal raising issues pertaining to Nevada state water law. The panel certified to the Supreme Court of Nevada the following questions: 1) Does the public trust doctrine apply to rights already adjudicated and settled under the doctrine of prior appropriation and, if so, to what extent? 2) If the public trust doctrine applies and allows for reallocation of rights settled under the doctrine of prior appropriation, does the abrogation of such adjudicated or vested rights constitute a “taking” under the Nevada Constitution requiring payment of just compensation? View "Mineral Country v. United States" on Justia Law

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In light of the surging community spread of COVID-19, California's public health and epidemiological experts have crafted a complex set of regulations that restrict various activities based on their risk of transmitting the disease and the projected toll on the State's healthcare system. California permits unlimited attendance at outdoor worship services and deems clergy and faith-based streaming services "essential," but has temporarily halted all congregate indoor activities, including indoor religious services, within the most at-risk regions of the state.South Bay challenges this restriction, along with others, under provisions of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States and California Constitutions. South Bay argues that the current restrictions on indoor services prohibit congregants' Free Exercise of their theology, which requires gathering indoors. The district court concluded that California's restrictions on indoor worship are narrowly tailored to meet its compelling—and immediate—state interest in stopping the community spread of the deadly coronavirus.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of South Bay's request to enjoin California's temporary prohibition on indoor worship under the Regional Stay at Home Order and Tier 1 of the Blueprint. The panel concluded that, although South Bay has demonstrated irreparable harm, it has not demonstrated that the likelihood of success, the balance of the equities, or the public interest weigh in its favor. The panel stated that California has a compelling interest in reducing community spread of COVID-19, and the Stay at Home Order is narrowly tailored to achieve the State's compelling interest in stemming the recent case surge. The panel also concluded that South Bay has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to its challenge to California's state-wide ban on indoor singing and chanting. In this case, the State's ban on these activities is rationally related to controlling the spread of COVID-19. The panel could not, however, conclude that the 100- and 200-person attendance caps on indoor worship under Tiers 2 and 3 of the Blueprint survive strict scrutiny. The panel explained that the State has not shown that less restrictive measures, such as basing attendance limits on the size of the church, synagogue or mosque would cause any greater peril to the public. The panel remanded to the district court with instructions to enjoin the State from imposing the 100- and 200-person caps under Tiers 2 and 3 of the Blueprint. View "South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied petitions for review of the FMCSA's determination that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break rules (MRB rules), as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to the FMCSA's own rest break regulations.The panel held that the agency's decision reflects a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 and is not arbitrary or capricious. Applying Chevron deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute and the phrase "on commercial motor vehicle safety," the panel held that even assuming petitioners identified a potential ambiguity in the statute, the agency's reading was a permissible one. In this case, the FMCSA reasonably determined that a State law "on commercial motor vehicle safety" is one that "imposes requirements in an area of regulation that is already addressed by a regulation promulgated under [section] 31136." Furthermore, the FMCSA's 2018 preemption decision also reasonably relied on Congress's stated interest in uniformity of regulation.The panel concluded that the FMCSA permissibly determined that California's MRB rules were State regulations "on commercial motor vehicle safety," so that they were within the agency's preemption authority. The panel also concluded that the FMCSA faithfully interpreted California law in finding that California's rules were "additional to or more stringent than" federal regulations. Finally, the panel concluded that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding that enforcement of the MRB rules "would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce." View "International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act), which provides for emergency assistance to households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying a motion for a preliminary injunction brought by a putative class of Californians, who normally receive the maximum monthly allotment of SNAP benefits, seeking to bar the USDA from denying California's request under section 2302(a)(1) of the Families First Act to issue emergency allotments to households already receiving maximum SNAP benefits. After determining that plaintiffs had Article III standing, the panel held that the USDA, which administers SNAP, correctly interpreted the statute by concluding that it allows households receiving less than the maximum monthly allotment of SNAP benefits to be brought up to the maximum but does not permit those already receiving the maximum to be given any additional benefits. When the panel examined the Families First Act as a whole, as well as other statutes addressing emergency SNAP benefits, three considerations lead it to conclude that the government's reading of section 2302(a)(1) is more consistent with the overall statutory scheme. Therefore, because plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a preliminary injunction. View "Hall v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Administrative Orders Review Act, frequently referred to as the Hobbs Act. Because the scope of the Hobbs Act must be read broadly, the Hobbs Act thus encompasses not only all final NRC orders in licensing proceedings, but all NRC decisions that are preliminary, ancillary, or incidental to those licensing proceedings.The panel concluded that plaintiff's action fell squarely within the scope of the Hobbs Act because plaintiff's complaint challenges final orders of the NRC related to licensing, NRC enforcement decisions related to NRC licenses and certifications, and conduct licensed or certified by the NRC. Therefore, the district court correctly determined that it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction under the Hobbs Act. View "Public Watchdogs v. Southern California Edison Co." on Justia Law

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This case relates to the consent decree incorporating the Flores Agreement, a 1997 settlement agreement between the United States and a class of all minors subject to immigration detention. The Agreement established nationwide standards for the detention, release, and treatment of minors by U.S. immigration authorities. The Agreement, by its own terms, terminates after the government's publication of final regulations implementing the Agreement. In 2019, the government issued final regulations represented as implementing, and thus terminating, the Agreement. The district court then concluded that the new regulations, on the whole, were inconsistent with the Agreement, enjoining the regulations from taking effect and denying the government's motion to terminate the Agreement.The Ninth Circuit held that the provisions of the new regulations relating to unaccompanied minors are consistent with the Agreement except to the extent that they require ORR to place an unaccompanied minor in a secure facility if the minor is otherwise a danger to self or others and to the extent they require unaccompanied minors held in secure or staff-secure placements to request a hearing, rather than providing a hearing to those minors automatically unless they refuse one.The panel also held that some of the regulations regarding initial detention and custody of both unaccompanied and accompanied minors are consistent with the Agreement and may take effect. However, the remaining new regulations relating to accompanied minors depart from the Agreement in several important ways. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's order enjoining those regulations. The panel further held that the district court correctly concluded that the Agreement was not terminated by the adoption of the regulations. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the government's motion to terminate the Agreement, as the government has not demonstrated that changed circumstances, such as an increase in family migration, justify terminating the Agreement's protections. View "Flores v. Rosen" on Justia Law