Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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On January 18, 2019, the plaintiffs went with Covington Catholic High School classmates to Washington, D.C. to attend the March for Life. They later gathered near the Lincoln Memorial to await buses to return to Kentucky. Following interaction with other groups, Native American activist Phillips approached them, beating a drum and chanting. A video of this interaction was posted online and went viral. Some of the students were displaying the “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan; some were performing the “tomahawk” chop; one student is standing close to Phillips. The plaintiffs complained of online harassment in response to the video’s dissemination. Representative Debra Haaland, a Native American, on her official Congressional Twitter account, posted: “This Veteran [Phillips] put his life on the line for our country. The students’ display of blatant hate, disrespect, and intolerance is a signal of how common decency has decayed under this administration.” She later sent a tweet from her campaign Twitter account that linked to an interview with Phillips, in which he stated that the students were chanting “build that wall.” Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a tweet from her official Senate Twitter account, stating “Omaha elder and Vietnam War veteran Nathan Phillips endured hateful taunts with dignity and strength."The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as barred by sovereign immunity, 28 U.S.C. 2679(b)(1). Members of Congress routinely broadcast their views on current events; the statements were made within the scope of their employment. The United States was properly substituted as the defendant and the court correctly dismissed Senator Warren and Representative Haaland from the suit. That the United States has not waived its immunity to libel suits is irrelevant. Plaintiffs may pursue their claims against the remaining defendants in state court. View "Does v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs sought Social Security disability and/or supplemental security income benefits. In each case, the application was denied, and an ALJ upheld the denial. The Appeals Council denied relief. The plaintiffs sought judicial review. While the appeals were pending, the plaintiffs moved to raise an issue they had not raised during administrative hearings--a challenge to the ALJs’ appointments, citing the Supreme Court’s 2018 "Lucia" decision that SEC ALJs had not been appointed in a constitutionally legitimate manner and that remand for a de novo hearing before a different ALJ was required. The district courts agreed that the Appointments Clause challenges were forfeited and affirmed the denials of benefits.The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded for new hearings before constitutionally appointed ALJs other than the ALJs who presided over the first hearings. There is no question that Social Security ALJs are inferior officers who were required to be, but were not, appointed consistently with the Appointments Clause. There are no statutory or regulatory exhaustion requirements governing Social Security proceedings and, while a court may still impose an implied exhaustion rule, such a requirement is inappropriate because the regulations provide no notice to claimants that their failure to raise an Appointments Clause challenge at the ALJ level will preclude them from later seeking a judicial decision on the issue. View "Flack v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Title IV of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) creates an insurance program to protect employees’ pension benefits. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)—a wholly-owned corporation of the U.S. government—is charged with administering the pension-insurance program. PBGC terminated the “Salaried Plan,” a defined-benefit plan sponsored by Delphi by an agreement between PBGC and Delphi pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1342(c). Delphi had filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition and had stopped making contributions to the plan. The district court rejected challenges by retirees affected by the termination.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Subsection 1342(c) permits termination of distressed pension plans by agreement between PBGC and the plan administrator without court adjudication. Rejecting a due process argument, the court stated that the retirees have not demonstrated that they have a property interest in the full amount of their vested, but unfunded, pension benefits. PBGC’s decision to terminate the Salaried Plan was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Black v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp." on Justia Law

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In 1998-2010, Dimora served as one of three Cuyahoga County Commissioners. An FBI investigation revealed that Dimora had received over $250,000 in gifts from individuals with business before the County, including home renovations, trips to Las Vegas, and encounters with prostitutes. Dimora had used his position to help with the awarding of County contracts, hiring, the results of at least one County election, and civil litigation outcomes. Dimora’s “influence” ranged from casting formal votes as Commissioner to pressuring other officials.Dimora was charged with Hobbs Act offenses, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, making false statements on tax returns, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, RICO conspiracy, mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstructing a federal investigation. A jury convicted Dimora on 33 counts. The Sixth Circuit upheld the jury instructions defining “official acts” as having “fairly trace[d] the line between permissible gifts and impermissible bribes.” A ruling that state ethics reports were inadmissible hearsay was harmless in light of “overwhelming evidence.”In its 2016 “McDonnell” decision, the Supreme Court gave a narrow construction to a key element included within several of Dimora’s offenses. The term “official acts” does not include “setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event.” Official acts are limited to “formal exercise[s] of governmental power.” Dimora petitioned to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The Sixth Circuit vacated a denial of relief. The court declined to decide whether the instructional error was harmless with respect to most of the counts or whether the “cumulative effect” of instructional and evidentiary errors entitles Dimora to relief. View "Dimora v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 144 years of the Kentucky Derby, only one horse to cross the finish line first had been disqualified. No winning horse had ever been disqualified for misconduct during the race itself. In 2019, at the 145th Derby, “Maximum Security,” the horse that finished first, was not declared the winner. He would come in last, based on the stewards’ call that Maximum Security committed fouls by impeding the progress of other horses. His owners, the Wests, were not awarded the Derby Trophy, an approximate $1.5 million purse, and potentially far greater financial benefits from owning a stallion that won the Derby.They filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the individual stewards, the individual members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, an independent state agency, and the Commission, claiming that the regulation that gave the stewards authority to disqualify Maximum Security is unconstitutionally vague.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The decision to disqualify Maximum Security was not a “final order[] of an agency” under KRS 13B.140(1) and is not subject to judicial review. The owners had no constitutionally-protected right. Kentucky law provides that “the conduct of horse racing, or the participation in any way in horse racing, . . . is a privilege and not a personal right; and ... may be granted or denied by the racing commission or its duly approved representatives.” View "West v. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation began a construction project on a portion of Interstate Highway 75 near the Plaintiffs’ Hancock County properties. As a result of this construction, storm and groundwater flooded those properties three times and caused significant damage. The Plaintiffs filed suit, including a claim brought directly under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 19 of the Ohio Constitution, seeking a declaratory judgment that the flooding caused a “change in topography [that] constitutes a taking of private property without just compensation,” and compensation for the same, and a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 seeking damages for the alleged taking. The district court dismissed, finding that Ohio’s Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. States’ sovereign immunity predates the Constitution; unless the Constitution itself, or Congress acting under a constitutional grant of authority, abrogates that immunity, it remains in place. The Sixth Circuit has previously held that the states’ sovereign immunity protects them from takings claims for damages in federal court and that Ohio’s statutory mechanism for obtaining compensation to remedy a Takings Clause violation does provide reasonable, certain, and adequate procedures. View "Ladd v. Marchbanks" on Justia Law

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While in office, Courser, a former Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives, had an affair with another representative, Gamrat. The defendants were legislative aides assigned to Courser and Gamrat. Worried that he and Gamrat eventually would be caught, Courser concocted a plan to get ahead of the story by sending out an anonymous email to his constituents accusing himself of having an affair with Gamrat, but including outlandish allegations intended to make the story too hard to believe. Courser unsuccessfully attempted to involve one of the defendants in the “controlled burn.” The defendants reported Courser’s affair and misuse of their time for political and personal tasks to higher-ups. In retaliation, Courser directed the House Business Office to them. After they were fired, the defendants unsuccessfully tried to expose the affair to Republican leaders, then went to the Detroit News. Courser resigned and pleaded no contest to willful neglect of duty by a public officer.Courser later sued, alleging that the defendants conspired together and with the Michigan House of Representatives to remove him from office. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all of Courser’s claims: 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985; violation of the Fair and Just Treatment Clause of the Michigan Constitution; computer fraud; libel, slander, and defamation; civil stalking; tortious interference with business relationships; negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress; RICO and RICO conspiracy; intentional interference with or destruction of evidence/spoliation; and conspiracy. View "Courser v. Allard" on Justia Law

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The Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U.S.C. 107, requires government agencies to set aside certain contracts for sight-challenged vendors. States license the vendors and match them with available contracts. In 2010, Michigan denied Armstrong’s bid for a contract to stock vending machines at highway rest stops. A state ALJ ruled in Armstrong’s favor and recommended that she get priority for the next available facility/location. The state awarded Armstrong an available vending route later that year. Armstrong nonetheless requested federal arbitration, seeking nearly $250,000 in damages to account for delays in getting the license. The arbitrators ruled that Armstrong was wrongfully denied the location she sought and ordered Michigan to immediately assign Armstrong the Grayling vending route but declined to award damages, reasoning that her request was “too speculative.”The district court upheld the arbitration award and rejected Armstrong’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, concluding that the Randolph-Sheppard Act created the sole statutory right to relief under federal law. Michigan subsequently granted her the Grayling license. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The unfavorable arbitration decision was not arbitrary or capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. Armstrong may not sue under 42 U.S.C. 1983 to vindicate her rights under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. View "Armstrong v. Michigan Bureau of Services for Blind Persons" on Justia Law

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The City of Flint and city and state officials allegedly caused, sustained, and covered up the poisoning of the people of Flint. Plaintiffs filed a 2017 “Master Complaint,” containing the allegations and claims made by plaintiffs across the coordinated litigation; “short-form” complaints charted certain components of the Master Complaint, including named defendants, alleged injuries, and claims. In this case, the district court declined to dismiss all defendants other than former State Treasurer Andy Dillon.Earlier in 2020, the Sixth Circuit, in "Waid," decided that the same officials who are defendants in this case plausibly violated plaintiffs’ substantive due process right to bodily integrity and are not entitled to qualified immunity and rejected Flint’s and Michigan Governor Whitmer’s arguments that the Eleventh Amendment required their dismissal. Defendant Johnson argued that the allegations against him in this case differently than those levied against him in Waid. The court concluded that there is no reason to treat Johnson differently. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that higher-ups should be treated differently than officials making decisions on the ground. . View "In re Flint Water Cases" on Justia Law

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Hargett, born in 1965, has a high-school education and previously worked as a semi-truck driver, municipal worker, maintenance mechanic, and industrial cleaner. He last worked in March 2015. Hargett applied for disability insurance benefits; he had high blood pressure, type-two diabetes, curvature of the spine, and COPD. Hargett’s primary care physician, Lucardie, referred Hargett to a physical therapist for a functional capacity evaluation (FCE), which indicated that Hargett had a maximum lifting capacity of 35 pounds and maximum carrying capacity of 20 pounds--the “medium strength” category-- but that Hargett could continuously stand for no more than five minutes; could continuously walk for no more than 0.1 miles; could never balance while standing, crouching, or walking; and could never crouch, stoop, or crawl. Lucardie reviewed and signed the FCE.An ALJ denied Hargett’s claim, finding that Hargett retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work. The ALJ gave only “partial weight” to the FCE, discounting its indication that Hargett’s ability to stand or walk did not meet any standard for work activity. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The ALJ should have considered the FCE as a treating-source opinion, which, in 2015, had to be given controlling weight if “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and “not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence.” The error was not harmless. View "Hargett v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law