Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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In 2010, Felten filed a qui tam complaint alleging that his then-employer, Beaumont Hospital, was violating the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3730(h), and the Michigan Medicaid False Claims Act by paying kickbacks to physicians and physicians’ groups in exchange for referrals of Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE patients. Felten also alleged that Beaumont had retaliated against him by threatening and “marginaliz[ing]” him for insisting on compliance with the law. After the government intervened and settled the case against Beaumont, the district court dismissed the remaining claims, except those for retaliation and attorneys’ fees and costs.Felten amended his complaint to add allegations of retaliation that took place after he filed his initial complaint: he was terminated after Beaumont falsely represented to him that an internal report suggested that he be replaced and that his position was subject to mandatory retirement. Felten further alleged that he had been unable to obtain a comparable position in academic medicine because Beaumont “intentionally maligned [him].”The district court dismissed the allegations of retaliatory conduct occurring after Felten’s termination. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The FCA’s anti-retaliation provision protects a relator from a defendant’s retaliation after the relator’s termination. View "Felten v. William Beaumont Hospital" on Justia Law

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In 2008, State Bank, a Fentura subsidiary, hired Wollschlager to deal with “problem loans.” Wollschlager’s contract provided a golden parachute worth $175,000 if the Bank fired him early. In 2009, the FDIC deemed the Bank “troubled.” In 2010, Wollschlager negotiated an amended agreement worth $245,000. Wollschlager's 2011 separation agreement provided that the $245,000 payment would comprise $138,000 (one year’s salary) within 60 days of Wollschlager’s departure; $107,000 plus his base compensation through the end of the year ($28,000) would be paid once the Bank’s conditions improved. Fentura did not seek FDIC prior approval. The FDIC and the Federal Reserve subsequently approved the $138,000 installment. FDIC regulations “generally limit payments to no more than one year of annual salary.” In 2013, Fentura sought approval to pay the remainder, acknowledging that the agreements required prior approval. The FDIC refused, citing 12 U.S.C. 1828(k).The district court granted the FDIC judgment on the record. The Sixth Circuit affirmed The statute says that the agency should withhold golden parachute payments for misconduct and should also consider whether the employee “was in a position of managerial or fiduciary responsibility,” the “length of” the employment, and whether the “compensation involved represents a reasonable payment for” the employee’s services. The FDIC reasonably found that the payment would result in a windfall of two years’ salary for an employee who worked for just three years and that the Bank never sought initial approval. View "Wollschlager v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation" on Justia Law

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The March 2020 “CARES Act,” 134 Stat. 281, included a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings based on nonpayment of rent for tenants residing in certain federally financed rental properties, which expired in July 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director unilaterally issued the “Halt Order” declaring a new moratorium, halting evictions of certain “covered persons” through December 31, 2020, purportedly based on authority found in Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 264, which provides the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the power to “make and enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.” Congress subsequently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which extended that Halt Order from December 31 to January 31, 134 Stat. 1182. Just before that statutory extension lapsed, the CDC Director issued a new directive extending the order through March 31, 2021, again relying on the generic rulemaking power arising from the Public Health Service Act.Landlords sued. The district court held that the Halt Order exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority. The Sixth Circuit declined to stay the order. Congressional acquiescence in the CDC’s assertion that the Halt Order was supported by the Act does not make it so; the plain text of that provision indicates otherwise. View "Tiger Lily, LLC v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) promulgated a rule that classified bump stocks as machine guns, reversing its previous position. Bump stocks are devices designed to assist the shooter in “bump firing,” a technique that increases a semiautomatic firearm’s rate of fire. In a challenge to the rule, the district court held that the ATF’s interpretation was entitled to Chevron deference and that the classification of bump stocks as machine guns was “a permissible interpretation” of 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). The court denied a preliminary injunction.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Section 5845(b)'s definition of a machine gun applies to a machine-gun ban carrying criminal culpability and penalties; an agency’s interpretation of a criminal statute is not entitled to Chevron deference. Deference to an agency’s interpretation of a criminal statute directly conflicts with the rule of lenity, would violate the Constitution’s separation of powers, and would raise individual liberty and fair notice concerns. ATF’s rule is not the best interpretation of section 5845(b); “single function of the trigger” refers to the mechanical process of the trigger and a bump stock does not enable a semiautomatic firearm to fire more than one shot each time the trigger is pulled. View "Gun Owners of America, Inc. v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Kentucky Governor Beshear’s COVID-19 response included a “Mass Gathering Order” that prevented groups of more than 10 people from assembling for purposes including community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers; and similar activities.” Locations permitted to operate normally included airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping centers, or "other spaces where persons may be in transit” and “typical office environments, factories, or retail or grocery stores.” The ban on faith-based gatherings was enjoined in previous litigation.Plaintiffs alleged that the Order, facially and as applied, violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. While Governor Beshear threatened the plaintiffs with prosecution for holding a mass gathering at the state capitol to express their opposition to his COVID-19-related restrictions, he welcomed a large group of Black Lives Matter protestors to the capitol and addressed those protestors, despite their violation of the Order. The district court preliminarily enjoined the Order's enforcement. Governor Beshear withdrew the Order. The Sixth Circuit held that the withdrawal rendered the appeal moot. To the extent that the plaintiffs claim that a threat of prosecution for their past violations keeps the case alive, the court remanded for the district court to determine whether further relief is proper. View "Ramsek v. Beshear" on Justia Law

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At a Michigan gun show, Turaani attempted to buy a gun. When the dealer ran Turaani’s name through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, he received a “delay” response, requiring the dealer to wait three days before completing the sale. The next day, FBI agent Chambers visited the dealer to see what information Turaani had provided and explained that “we have a problem with the company” Turaani “keeps.”. He showed photographs of Turaani with another person of apparent Middle Eastern descent, whom the dealer did not recognize. Days later, Turaani contacted the dealer, who reported the visit from the FBI. While he “technically could sell the gun,” the dealer stated that he was “no longer comfortable doing so.” Turaani sued the FBI's Director, Chambers, and the director of the Terrorist Screening Database, citing the Privacy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the stigma-plus doctrine, and 42 U.S.C. 1981.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case for lack of standing. Turaani focused on his “right to obtain a weapon” and the direct and indirect injuries that flowed from the dealer’s decision not to sell him one but the dealer’s decision not to sell the gun was an independent choice that the government did not require. Turaani failed to show that his injury was traceable to the FBI’s actions. There was no coercion; making an inquiry, and passing along ambiguous information, “is a distant cry from forcing action.” View "Turaani v. Wray" on Justia Law

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The companies (Louisville) own and operate electric generation, transmission, and distribution facilities in Kentucky and Virginia; about 20 years ago, they joined MISO, which operates across 15 states (including Kentucky). Customers pay a single rate for access to transmission lines throughout the MISO service territory even if those lines are owned by multiple utilities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a merger between the companies.The Commission later approved Louisville's withdrawal from MISO, requiring Louisville to provide its wholesale customers protections like those they enjoyed through MISO so that a transmission of energy from a within-MISO generator to the customer’s facilities would incur only one charge. Once Louisville withdrew, its wholesale customers could face two charges (pancaking): one from MISO for the trip from the power plant to the MISO/Louisville border, then another from Louisville for the trip to the final destination. Louisville contracted with its wholesale customers accordingly, including Owensboro’s municipally-owned utility. To secure backup service in case its coal-fired plant suffered outages, Owensboro bought reservations of transmission rights from MISO and another within-MISO generator and asked Louisville to absorb the costs, citing Louisville’s promise to “shield” wholesale customers from pancaking of transmission charges for certain transactions in which they purchased electricity from a within-MISO source for delivery in Louisville’s territory. Louisville refused,Owensboro brought a complaint before the Commission, 16 U.S.C. 825e. The Commission agreed that the contract required Louisville to absorb all the costs. The Sixth Circuit vacated. In "a straightforward case of contract interpretation," the Commission did not address the operative text but treated the matter as an invitation to make complex policy choices. View "Louisville Gas & Electric Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit denied the consolidated petition for review brought by three coal mine operators challenging the Benefits Review Board's adverse black lung benefits determination. Honoring the Board's customary requirement that issues be raised first with the ALJ, the court held that the operators failed to preserve their Appointments Clause challenge.In this case, the court's review of the Department of Labor's regulations reveals a regulatory exhaustion requirement applicable to ALJ proceedings. The court explained that black lung benefits adjudication regulations require that litigants raise issues before the ALJ as a prerequisite to review by the Benefits Review Board. Moreover, the Board's longstanding practice of treating issues not raised below as forfeited confirms this conclusion. The court also concluded that by failing to comply with the Board's timeliness requirements, the operators failed to preserve their Appointments Clause challenges. Furthermore, the operators failed to identify an applicable exception that would excuse failure. Finally, the panel noted that, while it did not see evidence that the operators acted with a nefarious motive, the court is nonetheless mindful not to invite "sandbagging" or "judge-shopping" in future black lung proceedings. View "Joseph Forrester Trucking v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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For many years, attorney Conn obtained social security benefits for his clients by submitting fraudulent reports and bribing an Administrative Law Judge. After the government discovered this fraud, the SSA decided to redetermine whether each of Conn’s 1,500 claimants was actually eligible for disability benefits. The SSA held hearings and allowed the claimants to submit evidence but categorically excluded medical reports created by the doctors with whom Conn had conspired because it had “reason to believe” fraud was involved in the creation of the reports (42 U.S.C. 1383(e)(7)(A)(ii))). The claimants were not permitted to challenge that finding. After the denials of their claims, 57 plaintiffs filed suit.The Sixth Circuit held that the exclusion of the reports violated the Due Process Clause and the APA. On remand, the district courts concluded that remand to the SSA was proper because “the Commissioner erred in some respect in reaching the decision to deny benefits.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed the subsequent denial of the plaintiffs’ motions for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The government’s position in the litigation was “substantially justified,” in light of the precedent cited by the government, the rationale for the decision, and the fact that district courts across the country have split on this issue. The case involved numerous issues of first impression. Despite the fact that the government’s arguments were rejected, a reasonable person could have believed them to be correct. View "Wireman v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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The 1936 Randolph-Sheppard Vending Stand Act (RSA), 20 U.S.C. 107(a), authorizes blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property. The Department of Education prescribes RSA regulations and designates the state agency for issuing RSA licenses. Ohio expands the RSA to state properties. Ohio’s Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired (BSVI) implements the RSA and Ohio-RSA.Cyrus, a blind vendor, has participated in the Ohio RSA program since 1989. Pursuant to Grantor Agreements with Lucas County and the University of Toledo, Cyrus paid $504,000 in commissions to the university and county. In 2014, the Ohio Attorney General issued a formal opinion that conditioning RSA-vending at state-affiliated universities on commission payments was illegal. Cyrus filed a grievance and stopped making payments to the university. BSVI notified the university that the commission requirement "is void.” BSVI denied Cyrus’s grievance and took no action on the county commissions. A state hearing officer denied relief. Cyrus filed an arbitration complaint under the RSA’.An RSA panel found that BSVI breached its duties by requiring commission payments to both locations The Sixth Circuit held that the RSA prohibits commissions, even for facilities on county-owned properties; prospective relief was appropriate. RSA arbitration panels are enough like civil litigation in Article III courts that sovereign immunity applies. Ohio has not waived its immunity from RSA damages awards imposed by federal arbitration panels. The panel, therefore, exceeded its authority in awarding damages and interest. View "Ohio v. United States Department of Education" on Justia Law