Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Diamond S.J. Enterprise, Inc., which operates a nightclub in San Jose, California, had its license suspended for thirty days by the city following a shooting outside the club. The city held an administrative hearing and found that Diamond had operated its venue in a way that caused the shooting and created a public nuisance, violating San Jose's entertainment business licensing provisions. Diamond filed a complaint in federal court, alleging First Amendment and due process violations.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, which dismissed Diamond's claims and granted summary judgment for the City of San Jose. The district court ruled that the challenged provisions did not implicate First Amendment rights and that the city had satisfied due process requirements.The case was then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision, holding that Diamond's facial attack on the city's public entertainment business licensing provisions failed because the provisions did not give city officials unbridled discretion that created a risk of censorship. The court also held that Diamond failed to state a procedural due process claim, as the licensing scheme provided Diamond with notice, an opportunity to be heard, the ability to present and respond to evidence, and a pre-deprivation appeal, followed by post-deprivation review by the California Superior Court. View "Diamond S.J. Enterprise, Inc. v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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In 2022, the California Legislature directed Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to extend operations at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, despite PG&E's previous plans to cease operations. However, the deadline for a federal license renewal application for continued operation had already passed. PG&E requested an exemption from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to this deadline, which the NRC granted. The NRC found that the exemption was authorized by law, would not pose an undue risk to public health and safety, and that special circumstances were present. The NRC also concluded that the exemption met the eligibility criteria for a categorical exclusion, meaning no additional environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act was required.Three non-profit organizations, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Working Group, petitioned for review of the NRC's decision. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals first addressed whether it had jurisdiction to hear a direct appeal from an NRC exemption decision. The court held that it did have jurisdiction, as the substance of the exemption was ancillary or incidental to a licensing proceeding. The court also concluded that the petitioners had Article III standing to bring the case, as they alleged a non-speculative potential harm from age-related safety and environmental risks, demonstrated that Diablo Canyon would likely continue operations beyond its initial 40-year license term, and alleged members’ proximity to the facility.On the merits, the court held that the NRC’s decision to grant the exemption was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. The court also held that the NRC did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in invoking the National Environmental Policy Act categorical exclusion when issuing the exemption decision. The court concluded that the NRC was not required to provide a hearing or meet other procedural requirements before issuing the exemption decision because the exemption was not a licensing proceeding. The court denied the petition for review. View "SAN LUIS OBISPO MOTHERS FOR PEACE V. UNITED STATES NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION" on Justia Law

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A group of telecommunications carriers, including Assurance Wireless USA, L.P., MetroPCS California, LLC, Sprint Spectrum LLC, T-Mobile USA, Inc., and T-Mobile West LLC, sued the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) over a rule change. The CPUC had altered the mechanism for charging telecommunications providers to fund California’s universal service program. Previously, the program was funded based on revenue, but due to declining revenues, the CPUC issued a rule imposing surcharges on telecommunications carriers based on the number of active accounts, or access lines, rather than revenue.The carriers sought a preliminary injunction against the access line rule, arguing that it was preempted by the Telecommunications Act, which requires providers of interstate telecommunications services to contribute to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) universal service mechanisms on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis. The carriers argued that the access line rule was inconsistent with the FCC's rule and was inequitable and discriminatory.The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied the preliminary injunction. The court found that the carriers were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their express preemption claims. It held that the access line rule was not inconsistent with the FCC's rule and was not inequitable or discriminatory.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed that the carriers were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. It held that the access line rule was not inconsistent with the FCC's rule and was not inequitable or discriminatory. The court concluded that the carriers had failed to show that the access line rule burdened the FCC's universal service programs or that it unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged any provider. View "ASSURANCE WIRELESS USA, L.P. V. ALICE REYNOLDS" on Justia Law

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In February 2022, Workers United sought to represent 90 employees at a Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle. Due to rising COVID-19 cases, the Regional Director ordered a mail-ballot election, which took place in April 2022. Starbucks refused to recognize and bargain with the union, arguing that the Regional Director should have ordered an in-person election. The Regional Director overruled Starbucks' objection and certified the election results. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Starbucks' refusal to recognize and bargain with the union constituted unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act.The NLRB's decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Starbucks argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over the enforcement application because the NLRB had severed the question of whether to adopt a compensatory remedy. The court rejected this argument, holding that the NLRB's order was final and reviewable under 29 U.S.C. § 160(e).Starbucks also claimed that the Regional Director abused his discretion by ordering a mail-ballot election instead of an in-person one. The court rejected this argument as well, holding that the Regional Director had correctly applied the NLRB's own law in deciding to hold a mail-ballot election. The court affirmed the NLRB's finding that Starbucks had violated Section 8(a)(5) by refusing to bargain. The court granted the NLRB's application for enforcement of its order directing Starbucks to recognize and bargain with the union. View "NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD V. SIREN RETAIL CORPORATION DBA STARBUCKS" on Justia Law

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The case involves James Fejes, a pilot who held a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under 49 U.S.C. § 44703. Fejes used his aircraft to transport and distribute marijuana to retail stores within Alaska, an activity that is legal under state law but illegal under federal law. After an investigation, the FAA revoked Fejes's pilot certificate under 49 U.S.C. § 44710(b)(2), which mandates revocation when a pilot knowingly uses an aircraft for an activity punishable by more than a year's imprisonment under a federal or state controlled substance law.Fejes appealed the FAA's decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who affirmed the revocation. He then appealed the ALJ's decision to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which also affirmed the ALJ. Throughout the agency proceedings, Fejes admitted that he piloted an aircraft to distribute marijuana within Alaska, but argued that his conduct fell outside of § 44710(b)(2)'s reach.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Fejes's petition for review of the NTSB's order affirming the FAA's revocation of his pilot certificate. The court rejected Fejes's argument that the FAA lacked jurisdiction to revoke his pilot certificate because Congress cannot authorize an administrative agency to regulate purely intrastate commerce like marijuana delivery within Alaska. The court held that airspace is a channel of commerce squarely within congressional authority, and therefore, Congress can regulate Fejes's conduct. The court also rejected Fejes's argument that his conduct was exempt under FAA regulation 14 C.F.R. § 91.19, and that the FAA misinterpreted § 44710(b)(2). The court concluded that the FAA's revocation of Fejes's pilot certificate was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "FEJES V. FAA" on Justia Law

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A scientist with physical disabilities, Dr. Andrew Mattioda, sued his employer, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. He alleged that he suffered a hostile work environment after informing his supervisors of his disabilities and requesting upgraded airline tickets for work travel. He also claimed he was discriminated against due to his disability by being passed over for a promotion.The United States District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed Dr. Mattioda’s hostile-work-environment claim and granted summary judgment in favor of NASA on his disability-discrimination claim. The court concluded that Dr. Mattioda failed to allege a plausible causal nexus between the claimed harassment and his disabilities. It also held that NASA provided a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for not selecting Dr. Mattioda for an available senior scientist position.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Dr. Mattioda’s hostile-work-environment claim, affirming that a disability-based harassment claim is available under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act. The court held that Dr. Mattioda plausibly alleged a hostile-work-environment claim based on his disability. However, the court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment for NASA on the disability-discrimination claim, agreeing that NASA had provided a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for not selecting Dr. Mattioda for the senior scientist position. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "MATTIODA V. NELSON" on Justia Law

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The case involves a lawsuit filed by the family of Kyle Hart against the City of Redwood City and its police officers, following Hart's death in a police shooting. Hart, who was attempting suicide with a knife in his backyard, was shot by Officer Gomez when he approached the officers with the knife despite commands to drop it. The family alleged constitutional and state law violations arising from the shooting.The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied Officer Gomez's claim of qualified immunity at summary judgment. The court found that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity, relying on a previous court decision that stated it was objectively unreasonable to shoot an unarmed man who had committed no serious offense, was mentally or emotionally disturbed, had been given no warning of the imminent use of such a significant degree of force, posed no risk of flight, and presented no objectively reasonable threat to the safety of the officer or other individuals.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that Officer Gomez was entitled to qualified immunity. The court found that Hart posed an immediate threat when he rapidly approached the officers brandishing a knife and refusing commands to drop it. Furthermore, even if Officer Gomez’s conduct violated the Fourth Amendment, he would still be entitled to qualified immunity because the conduct did not violate clearly established law. None of the cases the plaintiffs identified would have put Officer Gomez on notice that his actions in this case would be unlawful. View "Hart v. City of Redwood City" on Justia Law

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The Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (BMBP) sued the U.S. Forest Service, alleging that the Service's approval of the Walton Lake Restoration Project violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Forest Management Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Forest Service developed the project to replace trees infested with laminated root rot and bark beetles with disease-resistant trees. In 2016, the Service contracted with T2, a private company, for logging to implement the decision. BMBP filed this action challenging the 2020 decision notice. The Service filed an administrative record (AR) in 2021.BMBP argued that the AR was incomplete, contending that deliberative materials were part of the “whole record” and that a privilege log was required if they were not included in the AR. BMBP also argued that all documents in the 2016 AR should be in the AR for this case. The court held that deliberative materials are generally not part of the AR absent impropriety or bad faith by the agency. The court also held that BMBP’s arguments failed to overcome the presumption of regularity.The court then addressed whether the Service violated NEPA by approving the Project. The court held that BMBP failed to establish that the logging contract with T2 improperly committed resources under any standard. The court also rejected BMBP’s contention that the EA diluted the significance of some impacts by analyzing them on too large a scale. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court and lifted the previous stay of its order dissolving the preliminary injunction. View "BMBP V. JEFFRIES" on Justia Law

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The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency (SCVWA), a public water agency, sued Whittaker Corporation for contaminating groundwater that the agency pumps from wells. The jury found Whittaker liable for negligence, trespass, public nuisance, and private nuisance, and awarded damages for past harm and restoration or repair costs. The jury verdict was reduced to $64,870,000 due to SCVWA’s fault for failure to mitigate damages and an offset for a settlement between SCVWA and a third party. After a bench trial on the statutory claims, the district court denied SCVWA relief under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and apportioned costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to SCVWA and Whittaker.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the jury award on Whittaker’s appeal. On SCVWA’s cross-appeal, the court affirmed in part, holding that the district court’s denial of injunctive relief under RCRA, denial of prejudgment interest, and denial of attorneys' fees were proper. However, the court reversed in part, holding that the district court erred in denying SCVWA a finding of liability against Whittaker for one category of incurred response costs under CERCLA and by denying SCVWA declaratory relief under CERCLA. The court remanded the case for the district court to amend its judgment. View "SANTA CLARITA VALLEY WATER AGENCY V. WHITTAKER CORPORATION" on Justia Law

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The case involves the family of Joseph Perez, who died after law enforcement officers, under the direction of a paramedic, used their body weight to restrain him while he was prone to secure him to a backboard for hospital transport. The family sued the City and County of Fresno, individual law enforcement officers, and the paramedic, alleging violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the officers and paramedic were entitled to qualified immunity. The court held that at the time of Perez's death in 2017, the law did not clearly establish that the officers' actions would be unconstitutional. The court also found that the paramedic was entitled to qualified immunity because the law did not clearly establish that a paramedic acting in a medical capacity to restrain a person for medical transport could be held liable for a constitutional violation. The court dismissed the plaintiffs' Monell claims, finding insufficient evidence that the City and County were deliberately indifferent to their duty to properly train their officers.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the law did not clearly establish, nor was it otherwise obvious, that the officers' actions, directed by medical personnel, would violate Perez's constitutional rights. The court also held that the paramedic was acting in a medical capacity during the incident, and the law did not clearly establish that medical personnel are liable for constitutional torts for actions taken to provide medical care or medical transport. The court concluded that the plaintiffs produced insufficient evidence to support their municipal liability claim against the City and the County based on a failure-to-train theory. View "PEREZ V. CITY OF FRESNO" on Justia Law