Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The Fox and Puchlak filed purported class actions, alleging that Michigan counties seized property to satisfy property-tax delinquencies, sold the properties, and kept the difference between the sales proceeds and the tax debts.. The suits assert that the counties committed takings without just compensation or imposed excessive fines in violation of the Michigan and federal constitutions. Genesee County’s insurance, through Safety, precludes coverage for claims “[a]rising out of . . . [t]ax collection, or the improper administration of taxes or loss that reflects any tax obligation” and claims “[a]rising out of eminent domain, condemnation, inverse condemnation, temporary or permanent taking, adverse possession, or dedication by adverse use.”Safety sought a ruling that it owed no duty to defend or to indemnify. The district court entered summary judgment, finding no Article III case or controversy between Safety and Fox and Puchlak. The court also held that Safety owes Genesee County no duty to defend. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Safety lacks standing to sue Fox and Puchlak over its duty to defend and its claim for the duty to indemnify lacks ripeness. Safety owes no duty to defend; the alleged tax-collection process directly caused the injuries underlying each of Fox’s and Puchlak’s claims. View "Safety Specialty Insurance Co. v. Genesee County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law

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The 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), 42 U.S.C. 802, appropriated $195.3 billion in aid to the states and the District of Columbia. To get the money, states had to certify that they would comply with several conditions, including ARPA’s “Offset Provision,” which forbids a state from using the funds “to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue” that “result[s] from” a tax cut. Claiming that this condition amounted to a prohibition on tax cuts during ARPA’s “covered period,” and that such a condition would violate the Constitution in multiple respects, Ohio filed suit. The district court permanently enjoined enforcement of the Offset Provision on the ground that its terms are “unconstitutionally ambiguous” under the Spending Clause.The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction, finding the case moot. The district court should not have reached the merits of the case, as Ohio failed to establish a justiciable controversy. Treasury later promulgated a regulation disavowing Ohio’s interpretation of the Offset Provision and explaining that it would not enforce the Provision as if it barred tax cuts per se. There is no reason to believe that Treasury will not abide by its disavowal of Ohio’s interpretation of the Offset Provision as it administers the statute. View "Ohio v. Yellen" on Justia Law

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The 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) set aside $195.3 billion in stimulus funds, to be distributed to states and the District of Columbia. Kentucky and Tennessee challenged ARPA’s requirement that states certify that they would comply with an “Offset Provision” that bars the states from enacting tax cuts and then using ARPA funds to “directly or indirectly offset a reduction" in net tax revenue resulting from such tax cuts. 42 U.S.C. 802(c)(2)(A). Because money is fungible, enacting any tax cut and then spending ARPA funds could be construed, the states argued, as impermissibly using those funds to “indirectly offset” a revenue reduction from the tax cut. A subsequent Treasury regulation (the Rule) offered a narrowing construction; the states asserted that this construction in no way follows clearly from the Offset Provision itself. The states argued they were coerced into relinquishing control over their sovereign taxing authority.The district court entered a permanent injunction. The Sixth Circuit vacated in part. Kentucky’s challenge is non-justiciable. After the promulgation of the Rule, the states offered no evidence of a concrete plan to violate the Rule. Kentucky offered no other theory of injury. Tennessee offered another theory of injury: that Treasury’s Rule burdened the state with compliance costs that it would not incur were enforcement of the Offset Provision enjoined. On the merits of Tennessee’s claim, the court affirmed the injunction; the Offset Provision is impermissibly vague under the Spending Clause. Treasury cannot use its Rule to impose compliance requirements that are not authorized by the Offset Provision itself. View "Kentucky v. Yellen" on Justia Law

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The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (within the Department of Transportation (DOT)) found that Polyweave had violated federal regulations and assessed a $14,460 civil penalty. While seeking judicial review of that civil-penalty order in the court of appeals, Polyweave filed suit in district court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to prevent DOT from rescinding a regulation (Subpart D) that included requirements for enforcement actions taken by DOT administrations, such as the Polyweave enforcement proceeding. Polyweave argued that the DOT improperly rescinded Subpart D and alleges that it, therefore, incurred procedural injuries in the underlying enforcement proceeding.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The district court lacked jurisdiction over Polyweave’s claims because the court of appeals exclusive jurisdiction (49 U.S.C. 5127) over judicial review of the underlying agency order bars Polyweave from attempting to litigate the rescission of Subpart D in the district court. When Congress places judicial review of certain types of agency action in the court of appeals rather than the district court, this jurisdictional allocation cannot be circumvented by suing in the district court to challenge agency procedures used (or omitted) in the proceedings leading to such actions, at least where court-of-appeals jurisdiction provides a fully effective forum to address such arguments. The only plausible bases for asserting Article III injury in this case, which involves enforcement procedures, can be asserted in review of the agency action in which those procedures were applied. View "Polyweave Packaging, Inc. v. Buttigieg" on Justia Law

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Fannie Mae purchases mortgage loans from commercial banks, which enables the lenders to make additional loans, finances those purchases by packaging the mortgage loans into mortgage-backed securities, then sells those securities to investors. In 1968, Fannie Mae became a publicly-traded, stockholder-owned corporation. Freddie Mac also buys mortgage loans and securities and sells those mortgage-backed securities to investors. In 1989, Freddie Mac became a publicly traded, stockholder-owned corporation. In the 2008 recession, both entities suffered precipitous drops in the value of their mortgage portfolios. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) was established and authorized to undertake extraordinary measures to resuscitate the companies, 12 U.S.C. 4511(b)(1).Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders sought to nullify an agreement (the “third amendment”) between FHFA and the Treasury Department that “secured unlimited funding" from Treasury in exchange for "almost all of Fannie’s and Freddie’s future profits.” The third amendment was authorized by FHFA’s Acting Director, who was serving in violation of the Appointments Clause. Shareholders also claimed that they are entitled to retrospective relief because the Supreme Court held in 2021 that FHFA’s enabling statute contained an unconstitutional removal restriction. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the Acting Director was not serving in violation of the Constitution when he signed the third amendment. The court remanded for determination of whether the unconstitutional removal restriction inflicted harm on shareholders. View "Rop v. Federal Housing Finance Agency" on Justia Law

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Under the Social Security Act’s Title IV-E program, states receive reimbursements for foster care maintenance payments (FCMPs), 42 U.S.C. 670–676. Title IV-E’s conditions include having a state plan approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS); the removed child’s placement and care must be the responsibility of the state agency administering that plan. Kentucky's approved plan is administered by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Under Kentucky law, a court may remove a child from her home “to the custody of an adult relative, fictive kin,” or other person or facility or can commit the child to the custody of the Cabinet. The Cabinet does not provide FCMPs to children placed by courts into the care of a relative or fictive kin, although that is a preferred outcome for the child.Caregivers brought a class action, accusing the Cabinet of denying FCMPs to eligible children without notice or a fair hearing, in a way that discriminated against relative caregivers. The district court certified a Children’s Class, a Caregivers’ Class, a Cabinet Custody Class, and a Notice and Hearing Class. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit except as to the Cabinet Custody Class. Under Kentucky law, the Cabinet did not have placement and care responsibility over children not in their custody; the Cabinet cannot change a child’s placement without a court order. Only Cabinet Custody Class members were eligible for FCMPs. View "J. B-K. v. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services" on Justia Law

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Secretary of Defense Austin directed that all members of the armed forces be vaccinated against COVID-19. Air Force guidelines allow affected service members to seek exemptions on medical, administrative, and religious grounds. As of May 2022, the Department had denied 8,869 requests for religious exemptions, while granting only 85–all to service members who were separately eligible for an administrative exemption (apparently near the end of their service term). Plaintiffs claimed that the Department’s “systematic” denial of requests for religious exemptions violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and the First Amendment and sought certification of a class of some 10,000 affected service members. Air Force chaplains confirmed that the vaccination mandate substantially burdened sincerely-held religious beliefs. Typically the objections concerned the use of aborted fetal cells in the development of the vaccines. The commanding officers for two plaintiffs recommended that their requests for exemptions be granted, on the ground that less-restrictive means (like masking or social distancing) could satisfy the Air Force’s operational interests. The Department denied those requests.The court entered an injunction, barring the Department from “taking any disciplinary or separation measures” against the named plaintiffs during the pendency of their lawsuit and certified a class. The Sixth Circuit denied the Department’s motion for an emergency stay but expedited the appeal. The Department has not made a strong showing that it “is likely to succeed on the merits” of its appeal of the class-wide injunction. View "Doster v. Kendall" on Justia Law

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Class Counsel discovered the Social Security Administration's (SSA’s) systemic failure to perform “Subtraction Recalculations” and recovered over $106 million in past-due disability benefits. After performing the Subtraction Recalculations for all the claimants, the SSA argued that the district court did not have authority under the Social Security Act’s judicial-review provision, 42 U.S.C. 405(g), to order the Subtraction Recalculations and that Class Counsel cannot recover attorney fees under section 406(b) for representation of the claimants.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the award of $15.9 million in attorney fees to Class Counsel. SSA “may not hide behind” the statutory provisions merely because it erred at the end, rather than at the beginning, of the benefits-award process. The district court appropriately exercised judicial review under section 405(g), properly ordered the SSA to perform the Subtraction Recalculations, and properly awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees. The SSA failed to award claimants additional past-due benefits to which they were entitled. Counsel successfully sought judicial assistance to obtain those benefits. Congress did not create a statute that allows attorneys to recover fees when the SSA initially fails to award benefits, only to foreclose fee recovery when the SSA later unlawfully withholds additional benefits. View "Steigerwald v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Weiser, a Republican donor and chair of the Michigan Republican Party (MRP), and the MRP alleged that an interpretative statement (recall exemption) and a declaratory ruling issued by the Michigan Secretary of State in the 1980s violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments by allowing supporters of Governor Whitmer to make or receive contributions on more favorable terms than Weiser or the MRP with respect to the 2022 gubernatorial election. The Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA) limits donations to candidates. The recall exceptions clarify that the general election contribution limits do not apply to contributions made to an officeholder to defend against a recall effort. During a recall effort, the officeholder’s committee may “accept contributions in excess of section [169.252’s] contribution limitations.” Contributions made during an active recall effort must be so designated and must be deposited into the committee’s account. If a recall election never materializes, the committee must divest itself of these contributions. In 2020 and 2021, apparently in response to measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, 27 recall efforts were launched by Michigan voters. Whitmer’s committee collected and subsequently disgorged leftover recall funds, refunding $250,000 to an individual donor and about $3.5 million to the Democratic Party.The district court dismissed the action for lack of standing. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Weiser and the MRP fail to plausibly demonstrate that the recall exception prevents Weiser or the MRP from equally supporting their preferred gubernatorial candidate. View "Weiser v. Benson" on Justia Law

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Clemons worked as a coal miner for 10 years and smoked two packs per day for 30 years. Clemons suffered and died from COPD. His claims for federal black-lung benefits (30 U.S.C. 901) were denied. An ALJ awarded Mrs. Clemons survivor’s benefits after considering three medical opinions. Dr. Sikder diagnosed Clemons with legal pneumoconiosis in the form of COPD that resulted from both cigarette smoking and from coal-mine dust exposure. Doctros Habre and Broudy attributed Clemons’s COPD solely to his cigarette smoking. The ALJ credited Sikder’s opinion as well-documented, well-reasoned, and supported by substantial evidence, irrespective of the length of coal mine employment she considered, so that opinion was accorded “probative weight” while the other opinions did not sufficiently explain why Clemons’s coal-mine dust exposure did not contribute “at least in part” to his COPD. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, concluding that the evidence was sufficient to establish the presence of legal pneumoconiosis.The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, finding that the ALJ took the coal mine employment discrepancy into account when he weighed Dr. Sikder’s opinion, and acted within his discretion in explaining that the discrepancy was not so great as to detract from the opinion’s probative value. View "Huscoal, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law