Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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An incumbent Kentucky state senator and an unsuccessful state candidate sued, alleging that Kentucky statutes violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. One (now defunct) campaign finance provision restricted the amount a candidate could loan to his campaign. The challenged ethics provisions prohibit a legislator, candidate for the legislature, or his campaign committee from accepting a campaign contribution from a lobbyist; prohibit a legislator, candidate, or his campaign committee from accepting a campaign contribution from an employer of a lobbyist or a political committee (PAC) during a regular session of the General Assembly; prohibit a legislator or his spouse from accepting “anything of value” from a lobbyist or his employer; and prohibit a lobbyist from serving as a campaign treasurer, and directly soliciting, controlling, or delivering a campaign contribution to a legislator or candidate. The district court dismissed the campaign finance claim as moot but found that the ethics laws burdened “core political speech” and curtailed freedom of association, requiring strict scrutiny. The court upheld the regular session contribution ban but found the other challenged ethics provisions unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to the “regular session” ban but otherwise vacated and reversed. Kentucky’s legislature acted to protect itself and its citizens from corruption; these laws are closely drawn to further Kentucky’s anti-corruption interest and pass constitutional muster. View "Schickel v. Dilger" on Justia Law

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In 1966, Sebree Kentucky enacted an ordinance requiring CSX Transportation’s predecessor to obtain approval from the city before commencing any maintenance or construction project that would result in any change in grade at any of the six railroad crossings in Sebree. After a 1979 dispute concerning the ordinance, the predecessor railroad and the city entered into a settlement agreement. The company agreed not to raise the height of one crossing by more than 0.4 feet and not to raise the height of another crossing at all. In 2017, CSX notified Sebring of its intent to perform maintenance that would raise four crossings. CSX obtained a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance or settlement agreement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding both the ordinance and settlement agreement preempted by the 1995 Termination Act, which established the Surface Transportation Board and gave it exclusive jurisdiction over certain aspects of railroad transportation, 49 U.S.C. 1301, 10501(b). The ordinance, as applied, is not settled and definite enough to avoid open-ended delays, and could easily be used as a pretext for interfering with rail service; it “amount[s] to impermissible [local] regulation of [CSX’s] operations by interfering with the railroad’s ability to uniformly design, construct, maintain, and repair its railroad line.” View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Sebree" on Justia Law

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Burnette handles canned tart cherries. Burnette’s canned product has a shelf life of about one year. Many other cherry handlers freeze their cherries for longer shelf life. Because of the shelf-life disparity, Burnette is at a disadvantage when the USDA Cherry Industry Administrative Board caps cherry sales. Burnette filed a petition with the USDA, seeking a declaration that CherrCo, an organization that markets for its members and sets minimum prices for tart cherry products, was a “sales constituency.” Many Board members were affiliated with CherrCo; some were from the same district. Under 7 C.F.R. 930.20(g), Board members come from nine districts. In a district with multiple Board members, only one member may be from a given sales constituency. A judicial officer affirmed an ALJ’s determination that CherrCo was not a “sales constituency.” The district court reversed, reasoning that CherrCo’s members sign agreements that allow it to process, handle, pack, store, dry, manufacture, and sell its members’ cherries. CherrCo is listed as the seller for all orders. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A “sales constituency” is: [A] common marketing organization or brokerage firm or individual representing a group of handlers and growers. An organization which receives consignments of cherries and does not direct where the consigned cherries are sold is not a sales constituency. There was substantial evidence to support the administrative finding that CherrCo receives consignments of cherries but does not direct where the consigned cherries are sold. View "Burnette Foods, Inc. v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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Lee was a member of the Summit County Council. The FBI obtained wiretaps and investigated the relationship between Lee and Abdelqader, a store owner, after complaints that Abdelqader “was insisting on monthly cash payments from other local businesses” that he would give to Lee in exchange for political favors. Abdelqader’s nephews were arrested for felonious assault. Abdelqader called Lee for help; they discussed Lee’s financial problems. Abdelqader promised that they would “work it out.” Lee placed calls to the juvenile court bailiff and the judicial assistant; Lee subsequently deposited 200 dollars in her bank account and placed calls to the judge who was handling the case. Lee also took payment for attempting to intervene in an IRS investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Lee’s convictions on four counts of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, honest services mail fraud, Hobbs Act conspiracy, and Hobbs Act extortion, 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, 1346, 1349, and 1951 and two counts concerning obstruction of justice and false statements to law enforcement, 18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2); 18 U.S.C. 1001 and her 60-month sentence. The court rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to the sufficiency of her indictment in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 “McDonnell” decision. At a minimum, the indictment supports an inference that Lee agreed to perform an official act or pressure or advise other officials to perform official acts in exchange for gifts or loans from Abdelqader. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Tramble worked for various Kentucky coal companies from at least May 1963 until June 1985. Tramble’s 1987 claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–944, indicated that he had stopped working due to a job-related back injury. That claim was denied although the parties stipulated to 17 years of qualifying coal mine employment. The ALJ found that medical evidence established that Tramble suffered from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis but was not totally disabled. After his 2008 death, Tramble’s widow sought survivor’s benefits. Reversing an award by an ALJ, the Department of Labor Benefits Review Board found that the ALJ failed to explain adequately how he calculated the 15.25-years of underground coal mine employment that justified application of the 15-year statutory presumption of entitlement to benefits. On remand, the ALJ again awarded benefits. The Board again reversed. The Sixth Circuit remanded. Further fact-finding is required to ensure that all relevant evidence has been considered. The court rejected Incoal’s argument that, in order to be credited with one year of coal mine employment, a miner must be on the payroll of a mining company for 365 consecutive days and have worked 125 of those days in or around a coal mine . View "Shepherd v. Incoal, Inc." on Justia Law

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In an act of road rage, Bedford fired two shots at a truck driver while they both headed westbound on Interstate 40 in Tennessee. The truck driver, P.D., was employed by P&R, a private trucking company that had a contract with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to transport mail, and was carrying U.S. mail. Bedford was charged with forcibly assaulting, resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with a person assisting officers and employees of the United States, while that person was engaged in the performance of official duties, and in doing so, using a dangerous weapon, 18 U.S.C. 111(a)(1), (b). Bedford moved to dismiss the indictment for lack of jurisdiction, contending that P.D. was not an officer or employee of the United States within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 1114. The district court denied the motion, finding that the driver was a person assisting a federal officer or employee and fell within the statute’s reach. Bedford now appeals that denial. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. When a private mail carrier, pursuant to formal contract, carries U.S. mail on behalf of the USPS, he assists an officer or employee of the United States in the performance of official duties. View "United States v. Bedford" on Justia Law

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As a cost-saving measure, Flint's municipal water supply was switched from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River and was processed by an outdated and previously mothballed water treatment plant, with the approval of Michigan regulators and an engineering firm, and distributed without adding chemicals to counter the river water’s known corrosivity. Within days, residents complained of foul smelling and tasting water. Within weeks, some residents’ hair began to fall out and their skin developed rashes. Within a year, there were positive tests for E. coli, a spike in deaths from Legionnaires’ disease, and reports of dangerously high blood-lead levels in Flint children. The river water was 19 times more corrosive than the Lake Huron water pumped supplied by DWSD; without corrosion-control treatment, lead leached out of the lead-based service lines. The district court dismissed many claims and defendants in a suit by residents. The remaining defendants appealed with respect to the remaining 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim--that defendants violated their right to bodily integrity as guaranteed by the Substantive Due Process Clause. The Sixth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs pled a plausible Due Process violation regarding some defendants, rejecting their qualified immunity claims. The court reversed as to other defendants; plaintiffs alleged mere negligence, not a constitutional violation, against them. The court rejected a claim that the city was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity based on Michigan's takeover of the city under the “Emergency Manager” law. View "Guertin v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency's automated program, MiDAS, accessed claimant records from employers, state agencies, and the federal government. When MiDAS detected unreported income or “flagged” other information, it initiated an automated process to determine whether the individual had engaged in fraud. If an employee reported no income for any week during a quarter in which he earned income, MiDAS automatically found fraud. MiDAS did not inform the claimant about the basis for suspicion and did not allow fact-based adjudication but automatically sent claimants multiple-choice questionnaires. No human being took part in the fraud determination. MiDAS sent the questionnaires to claimants’ online accounts, many of which were dormant, and did not take additional steps (emails, mail, or phone) to notify claimants. When MiDAS determined that a claimant committed fraud, the individual’s right to benefits terminated immediately and severe monetary penalties were automatically assessed, even when claimants did not actually receive benefits. Most claimants did not know about the determination until the time for appeal had expired. The Agency did not answer calls and garnished claimants’ wages and intercepted their federal income tax returns without an opportunity to contest the fraud determinations. The Michigan Auditor General reviewed 22,000 MiDAS fraud determinations; 93% did not actually involve fraud. In an action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court denied the Individual Defendants qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Plaintiffs adequately alleged that Defendants violated their right to procedural due process by terminating their eligibility for benefits and seizing their tax refunds without any meaningful pre-deprivation process; the right to a pre-deprivation hearing was clearly established at the time. Plaintiffs failed to state a plausible equal protection claim; they failed to allege Defendants intentionally singled them out for discriminatory treatment. Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights were not clearly established in this context. View "Cahoo v. SAS Analytics Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2006-2008, plaintiffs each applied, unsuccessfully, for Social Security disability benefits, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). Each plaintiff retained Kentucky attorney Conn to assist with a subsequent hearing. Each plaintiff’s application included medical records from one of four examining doctors. In each case, ALJ Daugherty relied exclusively on the doctor's opinion to conclude, without a hearing, that plaintiffs were disabled and entitled to benefits. Daugherty took bribes from Conn to assign Conn’s cases to himself and issue favorable rulings. Nearly 10 years after the agency learned of the scheme, it initiated “redeterminations” of plaintiffs’ eligibility for benefits and held new hearings, disregarding all medical evidence submitted by the four doctors participating in Conn’s scheme. Plaintiffs had no opportunity to rebut the assertion of fraud as to this evidence. Each plaintiff was deemed ineligible for benefits as of the date of their original applications; their benefits were terminated. Plaintiffs sued, alleging violations of the Due Process Clause and the Social Security Act. The Sixth Circuit held that the plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment on their due-process claim and the agency is entitled to summary judgment on the Social Security Act claims. The agency must proffer some factual basis for believing that the plaintiffs’ evidence is fraudulent. Plaintiffs must have an opportunity to “rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker.” Congress has already told the agency what to do when redetermination proceedings threaten criminal adjudications; the answer is not to deprive claimants of basic procedural safeguards. View "Griffith v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee Hospital Association and three hospitals sued, challenging efforts by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to direct states to recoup certain reimbursements made under the Medicaid program. The hospitals serve a disproportionate share of Medicaid-eligible patients and are thereby entitled to supplemental payments under the Medicaid Act, (DSH payments), 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(13)(A)(iv); 1396r-4(b). The Act limits the amount of DSH payments each hospital can receive in a given year. CMS contends that the hospitals miscalculated their DSH payment-adjustments for fiscal year 2012 and received extra payments. Plaintiffs argued, and the district court agreed, that CMS’s approach to calculating DSH payment adjustments is inconsistent with the Act and the regulations that CMS implemented in 2008. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that CMS’s policy is inconsistent with its 2008 rule and cannot be enforced unless it is promulgated pursuant to notice-and-comment rulemaking. The court disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that CMS’s policy exceeds the agency’s authority under the Medicaid Act. CMS’s payment-deduction policy is a reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous section of the Act but is not a valid interpretative rule. CMS attempted to exercise its delegated discretion to “determine[]” the “costs incurred” in serving Medicaid-eligible patients—precisely the sort of agency action that requires notice-and-comment rulemaking. View "Tennessee Hospital Association v. Azar" on Justia Law