Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The Twenty-first Amendment permits the states to regulate the sales of alcohol within their borders. Michigan is among several states with a three-tier system that forbids alcohol producers (first tier) to sell directly to retailers or consumers. Producers must sell to wholesalers within the state (second tier); those wholesalers sell exclusively to in-state retailers, who sell to consumers. Businesses at each tier must be independently owned; no one may operate more than one tier, Michigan imposes minimum prices and prohibits wholesalers from offering volume discounts or selling on credit. For liquor (not wine and beer), the state is the wholesaler in Michigan. In 2016, Michigan amended its law to allow in-state retailers to deliver directly to consumers using state-licensed “third party facilitators” or common carriers like FedEx or UPS. A wine retailer based in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Michigan wine consumers alleged that the new law violated the Commerce Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause. The district court extended delivery rights to out-of-state retailers. Michigan obtained a stay. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The Twenty-first Amendment permits Michigan to treat in-state retailers differently from out-of-state retailers. There is no inherent right to sell intoxicating liquors by retail. Some reduction in consumer choice is inevitable in a three-tier system, which is intended to make it harder to sell alcohol. View "Lebamoff Enterprises, Inc., v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

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The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), manages the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA), 5 U.S.C. 8705(a). Absent a valid beneficiary selection, FEGLIA provides an order of precedence for the proceeds, starting with the policyholder's surviving spouse, followed by the policyholder's descendants. FEGLIA will not follow that order if a “court decree of divorce, annulment, or legal separation, or . . . any court order or court-approved property settlement agreement” “expressly provides” for payment to someone else. The decree, order, or agreement must be “received” by the policyholder’s “employing agency” or OPM before the policyholder’s death. At the time of his death, Miller worked at Tinker Air Force Base and maintained a MetLife policy. Coleman's 27-year marriage to Donna ended in divorce in 2011. Their property settlement agreement states that “[Donna] shall remain the beneficiary of the life insurance policy.” The court ordered Coleman to assign his FEGLI benefits to Donna. Upon Coleman’s death, his only child, Courtenay, was appointed administratrix of his estate. The Air Force informed Courtenay that the court order had not been filed with Coleman’s employing office. Courtenay was paid $172,000 in proceeds and sought a declaration that she is the rightful owner. Citing lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the district court dismissed the suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the lack of a substantial federal question. FEGLIA does not contain an express cause of action for Donna. There is no federal agency involved. View "Miller v. Bruenger" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs sued, alleging that, in future elections, the defendants (various officials) will burden their right to vote, dilute their votes, and disenfranchise them in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. The plaintiffs cited election administration problems: election workers are poorly trained, sometimes distributing the wrong ballots, sometimes recording the wrong address when registering a voter; failure to recertify the voting machines; failure to follow fair protocols for uploading votes; the use of digital voting machines, vulnerable to hacking and cyberattacks, that do not produce a paper record of each voter’s choices. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The complaint’s allegations with respect to injury all reference prior system vulnerabilities, previous equipment malfunctions, and past election mistakes; nearly all of the allegations of past harm stem from human error rather than errors caused by the voting machines or hacking. Fear that individual mistakes will recur, generally speaking, does not create a cognizable imminent risk of harm. The plaintiffs do not allege that Shelby County election officials always make these mistakes or that the government entities ordered the election workers to make such mistakes. The plaintiffs have not plausibly shown that there is a substantial risk of vote flipping. Without imminent harm, the individual plaintiffs have no standing to sue. The plaintiffs allege only policies that add risk to the ever-present possibility that an election worker will make a mistake. View "Shelby Advocates for Valid Elections v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Saginaw County has nearly 200,000 residents. A single company, Mobile Medical, has provided the county’s ambulance services since 2009. The county guaranteed Mobile the exclusive right to operate within its borders; Mobile pledged to serve all eight of Saginaw County’s cities and incorporated villages and its 27 rural townships. In 2011, STAT, a competing ambulance company, entered the Saginaw market, providing patient-transport services for an insurer as part of a contract that covered six Michigan counties. A municipality, dissatisfied with Mobile’s response times and fees, hired STAT. When Saginaw County proposed to extend Mobilel’s contract in 2013, STAT objected, arguing that the arrangement violated state law, federal antitrust law, and the Fourteenth Amendment. The county approved Mobile's new contract and enacted an ordinance that codified the exclusivity arrangement but never enforced the ordinance. STAT continued to insist that Michigan law permitted it to offer ambulance services. Saginaw County sought a federal declaratory judgment that Michigan law authorizes the exclusive contract and that it does not violate federal antitrust laws or the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting STAT from operating in the county. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim for lack of jurisdiction. The county failed to establish an actual or imminent injury. Federal courts have the power to tell parties what the law is, not what it might be in potential enforcement actions. View "Saginaw County. v. STAT Emergency Medical Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Johnson rented her restaurant to a private party. For unknown reasons, individuals unaffiliated with her or the party emerged from a vehicle that night and shot at the restaurant. Police were called during the shooting but never apprehended the shooters. Less than two days later, Saginaw City Manager Morales issued Johnson a notice ordering the suspension of all business activity related to her restaurant under an ordinance that permits such suspensions “in the interest of the public health, morals, safety, or welfare[.]” There was hearing three days later. More than two months after the hearing, Human Resources Director Jordan upheld the suspension. Johnson filed suit with a motion for a temporary restraining order and, alternatively, a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Morales from sitting on the appeal panel expected to review Jordan’s decision. The district court denied that motion. The appeal panel, which did not include Morales, held a hearing and affirmed Jordan’s decision upholding the suspension. The Sixth Circuit reversed, in part, the dismissal of Johnson’s burden-shifting, substantive due process, and equal-protection claims. Johnson adequately alleged selective enforcement and pled that the city lacked a rational basis to suspend her license. Johnson has plausibly alleged that the procedures afforded to Johnson fell short of constitutional requirements. View "Johnson v. Morales" on Justia Law

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FES distributes electricity, buying it from its fossil-fuel and nuclear electricity-generating subsidiaries. FES and a subsidiary filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court enjoined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from interfering with its plan to reject certain electricity-purchase contracts that FERC had previously approved under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a or the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, 16 U.S.C. 2601, applying the ordinary business-judgment rule and finding that the contracts were financially burdensome to FES. The counterparties were rendered unsecured creditors to the bankruptcy estate. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to decide whether FES may reject the contracts, but held that the injunction was overly broad (beyond its jurisdiction) and that its standard for deciding rejection was too limited. The public necessity of available and functional bankruptcy relief is generally superior to the necessity of FERC’s having complete or exclusive authority to regulate energy contracts and markets. The bankruptcy court exceeded its authority by enjoining FERC from “initiating or continuing any proceeding” or “interfer[ing] with [its] exclusive jurisdiction,” given that it did not have exclusive jurisdiction. On remand, the bankruptcy court must reconsider and decide the impact of the rejection of these contracts on the public interest—including the consequential impact on consumers and any tangential contract provisions concerning such things as decommissioning, environmental management, and future pension obligations—to ensure that the “equities balance in favor of rejecting the contracts.” View "In re: FirstEnergy Solutions Corp." on Justia Law

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Tennessee family medicine physicians, mostly in rural areas, received increased Medicaid payments in 2013-2014. In 2015 Tennessee’s Medicaid agency, TennCare, brought an administrative action to “recoup” an average of more than $100,000 per physician, alleging that the physicians had not met the 60-percent requirement of the Final Medicaid Payment Rule. Under 42 U.S.C. 13961(a)(13(C), a state plan for medical assistance must provide payment for primary care services furnished in 2013 and 2014 by a physician with a primary specialty designation of family medicine, general internal medicine, or pediatric medicine at a specified rate; “primary specialty designation” was interpreted to mandate that the physician either show board certification in that specialty or that 60 percent of her recent Medicaid billings were for certain primary care services. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the physicians, declaring the Rule invalid. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services interpreted “a physician with a primary specialty designation” to have different meanings in parallel provisions of the Affordable Care Act although the context was the same. There is no 60-percent-of-billings requirement in 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a). The phrase “a physician with a primary specialty designation” means in section 1396a(a) the same thing that the agency said it means in section 1395l(x): a physician who has himself designated, as his primary specialty, one of the specialties recited in those provisions. View "Averett v. United States Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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Federal prosecutors asked the district court for permission to withhold classified information from defense counsel for Asgari, an Iranian scientist charged with theft of trade secrets. Applying the Classified Information Procedures Act of 1980, 18 U.S.C. app.3 1, the district court reviewed the information and concluded that none of it would help Asgari and granted the government’s motion. Asgari moved for reconsideration on the ground his defense counsel had a top-level security clearance. The court ordered the information’s disclosure to counsel. The Sixth Circuit reversed, first holding that it had jurisdiction. The Act permits the government to seek an interlocutory appeal of a district court order “authorizing the disclosure of classified information.” Nothing in the Act suggests that defense counsel has a role to play when the district court assesses the relevance or helpfulness of the classified information. Although the district court expressed it had trouble, on reconsideration, deciding whether the information was relevant to Asgari’s defense, the Act vests the district court alone with the responsibility to make the decision. View "United States v. Asgari" on Justia Law

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The Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901–44, provides federal funds to individuals totally disabled by a respiratory disease commonly caused by coal mine employment. The Secretary of Labor has broad implementation authority. When a miner applies for benefits, a Labor Department “district director” investigates and issues a proposed order, from which a party may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. The ALJ holds a hearing and issues a decision. A party may appeal a “substantial question of law or fact” to the Benefits Review Board. After exhausting these steps, a party may obtain judicial review of the Board's final order. Labor Department staff (not the Secretary) had been appointing the ALJs. The Constitution’s Appointments Clause dictates that Congress may place the appointment power for “inferior Officers” only in the President, the courts, or the “Heads of Departments.” In 2017, anticipating that the Supreme Court might address the issue, the Secretary ratified the appointments of existing ALJs. Months later, the Court held (Lucia) that an SEC ALJ was an inferior officer who had been unconstitutionally appointed. A former miner and an operator unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration of adverse decisions, arguing for the first time that the Secretary had not appointed their ALJs. The Board found the arguments “waived.” The Sixth Circuit agreed. The Act requires exhaustion. Parties are normally prohibited from raising new issues at the rehearing stage. The Board had the authority to address this constitutional issue and provide effective relief; there were many cases in which it did so for parties who preserved their claims. No exception applies; the parties did not demonstrate exceptional circumstances. View "Island Creek Coal Co. v. Bryan" on Justia Law

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In 1968, the Hamilton County, Ohio Board of County Commissioners and Cincinnati consolidated their sewer districts into a single sewer system and entered an agreement providing that the city would manage the sewer system’s operations, subject to County oversight, for 50 years. After the city indicated that it planned to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement in 2018, the Board sought judicial intervention. The district court found that the city’s withdrawal would interfere with environmental remediation projects that the city and Board had committed to implement under a 2004 consent decree. The court temporarily extended the term of the 1968 agreement, enjoining the city’s withdrawal pursuant to the court’s inherent power to enforce consent decrees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the temporary injunction because doing so was necessary to enforce the terms and objectives of the 2004 consent decree. District courts possess broad authority to enforce the terms of consent decrees, even where doing so requires interfering with municipal prerogatives or commitments. View "United States v. Board of County Commissioners of Hamilton County" on Justia Law