Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Colgan, a teacher at a special education high school, attempted to break up a fight between students but either fell or was pushed into a wall, leading to serious injuries. Colgan’s injuries and symptoms persisted despite treatment from several medical sources. Her treating physician, Dr. Ward, a concussion specialist, found that Colgan satisfied the medical criteria for mild traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome with persistent cognitive defects and fatigue, chronic post-traumatic headaches, sleep disturbance, and dizziness; Colgan's debilitating headaches severely hampered her ability to carry out activities of daily living and basic job-related functions.Colgan successfully applied for workers’ compensation benefits. In 2016, Colgan sought social security disability insurance benefits. An ALJ denied Colgan’s claim, concluding that she had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, subject to physical and cognitive limitations (42 U.S.C. 423(d)(1)(A)). The district court affirmed. The Second Circuit vacated. The ALJ’s factual determination with respect to Colgan’s RFC was not supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ misapplied the treating physician rule to Dr. Ward’s “check-box” medical opinion, which was supported by voluminous treatment notes gathered over almost three years of clinical treatment View "Colgan v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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After a shopper tripped over a metal rod at a military commissary store and sustained injuries, she filed suit against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for the store's negligence. The district court found that under New York law, no reasonable jury could have found the store liable for the shopper's injuries.The Second Circuit vacated the district court's grant of the government's motion for summary judgment, concluding that plaintiff has established a triable issue of fact as to whether the commissary had sufficient notice (constructive or actual) of the hazard posed by the existence of an open emergency door that had an ankle-high metal bar in front of it. If she has, then the district court should have let her negligence claim reach a jury. In this case, the government, notwithstanding its spot-check policy, may still be charged with constructive notice of the hazard created by the metal bar because, as the record shows, it lacked any meaningful procedure that would have reliably and promptly notified employees of an open emergency door, and because the metal bar served no clear purpose and could have been removed altogether. Furthermore, plaintiff's evidence was not mere speculation or a general awareness of danger. Rather, the evidence showed that the commissary's manager specifically knew that these doors came open daily. The court explained that, when confronted with comparable facts, New York courts have readily found evidence of constructive or actual landowner notice sufficient to permit slip-and-fall cases to go to trial. View "Borley v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied a petition for review challenging an FCC order removing the Solicited Fax Rule from the Code of Federal Regulations. The order was issued in response to the D.C. Circuit's decision holding that the Solicited Fax Rule was unlawful, and vacating a 2014 order of the FCC that affirmed the validity of the Rule. The court concluded that it is bound by the D.C. Circuit's decision and that the agency did not err by repealing the Rule following the D.C. Circuit's ruling. Pursuant to the Hobbs Act's channeling mechanism, the court explained that the D.C. Circuit became the sole forum for addressing the validity of the Rule. Therefore, once the D.C. Circuit invalidated the 2014 Order and the Rule, that holding became binding in effect on every circuit in which the regulation's validity is challenged. Accordingly, the FCC was bound to comply with the D.C. Circuit's mandate and could not pursue a policy of nonacquiescence. View "Gorss Motels, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The EPA appeals the district court's order requiring EPA to disclose twenty-eight records pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by the NRDC. At issue is whether records reflecting an agency's discussions about how to communicate its policies to people outside the agency qualify for the deliberative process privilege and whether an agency must connect a record to a specific contemplated agency decision to claim the privilege.The Second Circuit concluded that the deliberative process privilege protects otherwise deliberative records that relate to and precede an agency's communications decision about a policy. The court explained that, in the context of a communications decision, a record is deliberative if it reflects discussions about how to communicate the agency's policies to the public or to other stakeholders. The court also held that an agency may invoke the deliberative process privilege by connecting a record either to a specific decision or to a specific decisionmaking process. In this case, the EPA's Vaughn submissions establish that eleven of the "messaging records" subject to the EPA's appeal meet these standards. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Natural Resource Defense Council v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Teachers and school administrators challenge the denial of motions to preliminarily enjoin the enforcement of an order issued by the New York City Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene mandating that individuals who work in New York City schools be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.The Second Circuit concluded that the Vaccine Mandate does not violate the First Amendment on its face. However, the court concluded that plaintiffs have established their entitlement to preliminary relief on the narrow ground that the procedures employed to assess their religious accommodation claims were likely constitutionally infirm as applied to them. The court explained that the Accommodation Standards as applied here were neither neutral nor generally applicable to plaintiffs, and thus the court applied a strict scrutiny analysis at this stage of the proceeding. The court concluded that these procedures cannot survive strict scrutiny because denying religious accommodations based on the criteria outlined in the Accommodation Standards, such as whether an applicant can produce a letter from a religious official, is not narrowly tailored to serve the government's interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's orders denying preliminary relief and concurred with and continued the interim relief granted by the motions panel as to these fifteen individual plaintiffs. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Kane v. De Blasio" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, New York City amended its Residential and Non-Residential Harassment Laws, to prohibit “threatening” tenants based on their “status as a person or business impacted by COVID-19, or . . . receipt of a rent concession or forbearance for any rent owed during the COVID-19 period,” and added the “Guaranty Law,” which renders permanently unenforceable personal liability guarantees of commercial lease obligations for businesses that were required to cease or limit operations pursuant to a government order. For rent arrears arising during March 7, 2020-June 30, 2021, the Guaranty Law extinguishes a landlord’s ability to enforce a personal guaranty.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the plaintiffs alleged that the Harassment Amendments violated the Free Speech and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. and New York Constitutions by impermissibly restricting commercial speech in the ordinary collection of rents and by failing to provide fair notice of what constitutes threatening conduct. Plaintiffs further alleged that the Guaranty Law violated the Contracts Clause, which prohibits “State . . . Law[s] impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” The district court dismissed the suit.The Second Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that the plaintiffs failed to allege plausible free speech and due process claims. The court reinstated the challenge to the Guaranty Law. The Guaranty Law significantly impairs personal guaranty agreements; there are at least five serious concerns about that law being a reasonable and appropriate means to pursue the professed public purpose. View "Melendez v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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The Plaintiff States filed suit alleging that the $10,000 cap on the federal income tax deduction for money paid in state and local taxes (SALT), enacted as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, violates the United States Constitution.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and denial of the States' cross-motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that the States had standing and that their claims were not barred by the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA). However, the court rejected the States' contention that the SALT deduction is constitutionally required by the text of Article I, Section 8 and the Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution, and thus the SALT deduction cap effectively eliminates a constitutionally mandated deduction for taxpayers. Rather, the court concluded that the Constitution itself does not limit Congress's authority to impose a cap. In this case, the States' arguments mimic those that the Supreme Court rejected in South Carolina v. Baker, 485 U.S. 505, 515–27 9 (1988). In Baker, the Court held that Congress had the power to tax interest earned on state-issued bonds even though it had not previously done so. The court also concluded that the SALT deduction cap is not coercive in violation of the Tenth Amendment or the principle of equal sovereignty. View "New York v. Yellen" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that a report evaluating the Indian Health Service's management and administration is not a "medical quality assurance record" under 25 U.S.C. 1675, and thus not exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This case arose from plaintiffs' request of a report from Indian Health Services under FOIA, and the Department's subsequent denial of the FOIA request pursuant to section 1675. The court found the Department's remaining arguments to be without merit and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to plaintiffs. View "The New York Times Co. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Percoco, a longtime friend and top aide to former Governor Andrew Cuomo, accepted payment in exchange for promising to use his position to perform official actions. For one scheme, Percoco promised to further the interests of an energy company, CPV; for another, Percoco agreed with Aiello to advance the interests of Aiello’s real estate development company. Aiello was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349. Percoco was convicted of both conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and solicitation of bribes or gratuities, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B). The court had instructed the jury that the quid-pro-quo element of the offenses would be satisfied if Percoco wrongfully “obtained . . . property . . . in exchange [for] official acts as the opportunities arose.”The Second Circuit affirmed. Although the as-opportunities-arise instruction fell short of a recently clarified standard, which requires that the honest-services fraud involve a commitment to take official action on a particular matter or question, that error was harmless. A person who is not technically employed by the government may nevertheless owe a fiduciary duty to the public if he dominates and controls governmental business, and is actually relied on by people in the government because of some special relationship. View "United States v. Percoco" on Justia Law

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In 2012, then-Governor Cuomo launched the "Buffalo Billion” initiative to develop the greater Buffalo area through the investment of $1 billion in taxpayer funds. A big-rigging scheme ensued with respect to state-funded projects. Four defendants were convicted of various counts of conspiracy to engage in wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349, wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and making false statements to federal officers, 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2).The Second Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to the charged wire fraud conspiracies, the instructions to the jury regarding the right-to-control theory of wire fraud and the good faith defense, the preclusion of evidence regarding the success of the projects awarded to defendants through the rigged bidding system and the admission of evidence from competitors regarding the range of fees typically charged by other companies in the market, and the district court's denial of a motion to dismiss Gerardi's false statement charge for alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Evidence of actual economic harm is not necessary for conviction in "right-to-control" cases, which require "a showing that the defendant, through the withholding or inaccurate reporting of information that could impact on economic decisions, deprived some person or entity of potentially valuable economic information." View "United States v. Percoco et al." on Justia Law