Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
by
The FDIC removed Calcutt, a bank executive and director, from his position, prohibited him from participating in the conduct of the affairs of any insured depository institution, and imposed civil money penalties. Calcutt challenged the conduct and findings in his individual proceedings and brought constitutional challenges to the appointments and removal restrictions of FDIC officials. His first hearing occurred before an FDIC ALJ in 2015. Before the ALJ released his recommended decision, the Supreme Court decided Lucia v. SEC (2018), which invalidated the appointments of similar ALJs in the Securities and Exchange Commission. The FDIC Board of Directors then appointed its ALJs anew, and in 2019 a different FDIC ALJ held another hearing in Calcutt’s matter and ultimately recommended penalties.The Sixth Circuit denied Calcutt’s petition for review, concluding that his 2019 hearing satisfied Lucia’s mandate. Even if he were to establish a constitutional violation with respect to FDIC Board of Directors and ALJs being shielded from removal by the President, he would not be entitled to relief. Any error by the ALJ in curtailing cross-examination about bias of the witnesses was harmless. Substantial evidence supports the FDIC Board’s findings regarding the elements of 12 U.S.C. 1818(e)(1). View "Calcutt v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs alleged they were sexually abused by Tyler, a Kentucky probation and parole officer, 2017-2019, while Plaintiffs served sentences for state convictions. In 2018, one victim filed a sexual harassment complaint but Tyler’s supervisor, Hall, concealed the complaint. The state terminated Hall and charged Tyler with rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, tampering with physical evidence, official misconduct in the first degree, and harassment.Plaintiffs brought their claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Thirteenth Amendment, arguing that Defendants directly violated their rights. to be free from involuntary sexual servitude guaranteed by the Thirteenth Amendment and violated Plaintiffs’ Thirteenth Amendment rights to be free from “unwanted sexual physical contact,” “unwanted intrusion upon Plaintiffs’ person(s) for the sexual gratification of Defendants’ employee,” “sexual physical assault,” and “unwanted sexual contact.” Because the section 1983 limitations period had expired, Plaintiffs amended their complaint and claimed that their action arose out of the Thirteenth Amendment exclusively, disclaimed their arguments against Governor Beshear, and asserted that jurisdiction was proper under 28 U.S.C. 1331. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit; the Thirteenth Amendment neither provides a cause of action for damages nor abrogates state sovereign immunity against private damages actions. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that no state or federal law prohibits them from filing suit directly against the Commonwealth. View "Smith v. Commonwealth of Kentucky" on Justia Law

by
Head Start is a federal program that funds early childhood education for low-income children and provides other resources and education to the children’s families. Michigan Head Start grantees challenged the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Head Start program staff, contractors, and volunteers imposed by an interim final rule of the Department of Health and Human Services. The district court denied a preliminary injunction.The Sixth Circuit denied an injunction pending appeal. The plaintiffs have not shown that they will likely prevail on the merits. HHS likely did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act when it promulgated the vaccine requirement through an interim final rule instead of notice-and-comment rulemaking, 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B). That rule contains ample discussion of the evidence in support of a vaccine requirement and the justifications for the requirement, 86 Fed. Reg. 68,055-059. HHS likely has the statutory authority to issue a vaccine requirement for Head Start program staff, contractors, and volunteers under 42 U.S.C. 9836a(a)(1)(A), (E). The risk that unvaccinated staff members could transmit a deadly disease to Head Start children—who are ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine due to their young age—is “a threat to the health” of the children. The court noted HHS’s history of regulating the health of Head Start children and staff. View "Livingston Educational Service Agency v. Becerra" on Justia Law

by
TVA, wholly owned by the U.S. government, 16 U.S.C. 831, operates Tennessee's Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant. A containment dike that retained coal-ash sludge failed in 2008, causing 5.4 million cubic yards of coal-ash sludge to spill to adjacent property. TVA and the EPA responded under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan. TVA, as the lead agency, engaged Jacobs as its “prime contractor providing project planning, management, and oversight,” including evaluating potential hazards to human health and safety. Jacobs submitted a Safety and Health Plan. More than 60 of Jacobs’s former employees sued, claiming that they were exposed to coal ash and particulate “fly ash” during this cleanup. The suits were consolidated.The district court denied Jacobs’s motions seeking derivative discretionary-function immunity, reasoning that Jacobs would be entitled to immunity only if it adhered to its contract and there were genuine disputes of material fact as to whether Jacobs acted within the scope of its authority. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs but did not designate any particular theory, as listed in the jury instructions, for which Jacobs could be held liable, broadly finding that Jacobs “failed to adhere to the terms of its contract," or the Plan. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Jacobs is immune from suit only if TVA is immune; TVA would not have been immune from suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims raise either “inconsistency” or “grave-interference” concerns. View "Greg Adkisson v. Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc" on Justia Law

by
USN4U brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, alleging that Wolf Creek and its employees submitted falsely inflated project estimates to NASA for facilities maintenance, resulting in the negotiation of fraudulently induced, exorbitant contract prices. USN4U alleged that “[t]he Government paid Wolf Creek and its union employees for labor not actually performed,” described specific projects, and alleged that when Wolf Creek performed NASA projects, workgroup leads instructed “participating union employee[s]” to falsely report their labor hours to “justify the inflated [labor] estimate.” USN4U identified several Wolf Creek employees who were allegedly active members of the fraudulent schemeCiting NASA’s subsequent decision to pay the invoices and continue to contract with Wolf Creek, and the government’s decision not to intervene in USN4U’s claim, the district court dismissed the suit.The Sixth Circuit reversed. USN4U adequately alleged fraud. NASA asked Wolf Creek for estimates and always awarded the contracts for the quoted amount, which could indicate that NASA trusted and relied upon the purported accuracy of Wolf Creek’s estimates. NASA plausibly would not have agreed to pay Wolf Creek the quoted amount if NASA knew that it was being grossly overcharged. View "USN4U, LLC v. Wolf Creek Federal Services, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2012, an anonymous complaint cited dangerous conditions at KenAmerican’s Muhlenberg County, Kentucky underground coal mine. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspectors arrived for an unannounced inspection and instructed the dispatcher, Holz, not to tell anyone that they were there. When called to the surface, a miner asked Holz, “do we have any company outside?” Holz responded, “yeah, I think there is.” The miner declined to identify himself. Believing that Holz made an illegal attempt to notify the miner about MSHA’s impending inspection, Sparks issued a citation under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, 30 U.S.C. 813(a). At a hearing, Sparks testified that he believed that the miner and Holz were using coded language. The ALJ ruled in KenAmerican’s favor; the Commission again reversed, finding that the ALJ abused his discretion in crediting Holz’s testimony over Sparks’s testimony. The ALJ then assessed an $18,742 penalty.The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, first rejecting an argument that the prohibition on advance notice does not apply to mine operators. Section 103(a) prohibits communication that provides advance notice of an MSHA inspection. It does not bar all communication about MSHA, nor prevent discussion of MSHA inspections after they occur. KenAmerican failed to demonstrate that there is a less restrictive rule that would effectively serve the government’s compelling interests, and section 103(a) is narrowly tailored to allow for meaningful inspections. View "KenAmerican Resources, Inc. v. United States Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

by
In 2016, voters elected Kent to the Ohio House of Representatives; she became a member of the House Democratic Caucus. In 2018, she distributed a press release that accused the Columbus Chief of Police of wrongdoing; another press release accused the Department of failing to take child-abuse reports seriously. She attached a letter from the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus to the mayor. Kent submitted the documents to the Caucus for public distribution. Strahorn, then the Minority Leader, prohibited the communications team from posting the press release online and blocked any publication of the release because the attached letter included unauthorized signatures. Strahorn publicly stated that he would not “tolerate a member of the caucus using staff and tax-payer funded resources to fake, forge or fabricate any claim, request or document to further their own political interest or personal vendetta.” The Caucus voted to remove Kent, who lost access to policy aides, communications professionals, lawyers, and administrative staff. Kent was reelected. In 2019, Kent was blocked from attending a Democratic Caucus meeting. Kent did not run for reelection in 2020.Kent filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim, alleging that she suffered retaliation for speech protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her suit, citing legislative immunity. The Caucus is inextricably bound up in the legislative process. “Whatever the lawmakers’ motives, principles of immunity fence [courts] out of the legislative sphere.” View "Kent v. Ohio House of Representatives" on Justia Law

by
The Secretary of Homeland Security’s 2021 Guidance notes that the Department lacks the resources to apprehend and remove all of the more than 11 million removable noncitizens in the country and prioritizes apprehension and removal of noncitizens who are threats to “our national security, public safety, and border security.” “Whether a noncitizen poses a current threat to public safety,” the Guidance says, “requires an assessment of the individual and the totality of the facts and circumstances.” The Guidance lists aggravating and mitigating factors that immigration officers should consider and does not “compel an action to be taken or not taken,” and “is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any right or benefit.”In a suit by Arizona, Montana, and Ohio, the district court issued a “nationwide preliminary injunction,” blocking the Department from relying on the Guidance priorities and policies in making detention, arrest, and removal decisions. The Sixth Circuit granted a stay pending appeal. The court noted “many dubious justiciability questions” with respect to standing. The Guidance leaves considerable implementation discretion and does not create any legal rights for noncitizens, suggesting it is not reviewable. The preliminary injunction likely causes irreparable harm to the Department by interfering with its authority to exercise enforcement discretion and allocate resources toward this administration’s priorities. A stay pending appeal should not substantially injure the three states. View "Arizona v. Biden" on Justia Law

by
Ohio's legislatively-established municipal and county courts possess jurisdiction within their territorial limits over certain civil and criminal matters with the same authority as other common pleas judges. Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court employees certified a union as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for 136 employees, not including judges. A 2016 collective bargaining agreement was to extend through December 2019 and stated that the court would respect its terms until the parties reached a new agreement, the union disclaimed the contract, or the employees decertified the union. In 2019, negotiations stalled. In December 2020, the Juvenile Court sought a declaration that the agreements were void or expired. The union counterclaimed for breach of contract. The Juvenile Court subsequently treated union members as nonunion employees, decided to stop deducting union dues from paychecks, imposed new work schedules, and eliminated grievance procedures.The union sued in federal court, citing the Contracts Clause and the Takings Clause. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sovereign immunity bars the union’s claims against the Juvenile Court because it is an arm of the State of Ohio. Section 1983 does not provide a cause of action for the union’s Contracts Clause claims against the individual defendants; qualified immunity barred the money-damages claims against them under the Takings Clause. View "Laborers' International Union of North America v. Neff" on Justia Law

by
IRS Notice 2007-83, entitled “Abusive Trust Arrangements Utilizing Cash Value Life Insurance Policies Purportedly to Provide Welfare Benefits” designates certain employee-benefit plans featuring cash-value life insurance policies as listed “tax avoidance" transactions. A cash-value life insurance policy combines life insurance coverage with a cash-value investment account. The IRS believes these transactions run the risk of allowing small business owners to receive cash and other property from the business “on a tax-favored basis.” The regulation requires reporting of transactions involving cash-value life insurance policies connected to employee-benefit plans.Taxpayers claimed that the IRS skipped the notice-and-comment process before promulgating this legislative rule as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 551, 553–59, 701–06. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court and found the regulation invalid. The Notice was a “legislative rule,” with the “force and effect of law,” not a policy statement or interpretation. Congress did not expressly exempt the IRS from the APA’s requirements. View "Mann Construction, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law