Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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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

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the Section 8 low-income housing assistance program, 42 U.S.C. 1437f. New Lansing renewed its Section 8 contract with Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority in 2014 for a 20-year term. In 2019, at the contractual time for its fifth-year rent adjustment, New Lansing submitted a rent comparability study (RCS) to assist CM Authority in determining the new contract rents. Following the 2017 HUD Section 8 Guidebook, CM Authority forwarded New Lansing’s RCS to HUD, which obtained an independent RCS. Based on the independent RCS undertaken pursuant to HUD’s Guidebook requirements, the Housing Authority lowered New Lansing’s contract rents amount.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of New Lansing’s suit for breach of contract. The Renewal Contract requires only that the Housing Authority “make any adjustments in the monthly contract rents, as reasonably determined by the contract administrator in accordance with HUD requirements, necessary to set the contract rents for all unit sizes at comparable market rents.” HUD has authority to prescribe how to determine comparable market rents, the Renewal Contract adopted those requirements, and thus the Housing Authority was required to follow those HUD methods. The Housing Authority did not act unreasonably by following the requirements in the 2017 HUD guidance. View "New Lansing Gardens Housing Limited Partnership v. Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority" on Justia Law

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TVA's “15-foot rule” provided that TVA would remove all trees from rights-of-way if the trees had the potential to grow over 15 feet tall, even if the trees did not pose a threat to power lines. Owners claimed that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required the TVA to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the rule because it was a new major federal action. Following two remands, TVA conceded that the rule violated NEPA and asserted that it had published a notice in the Federal Register to inform the public that it would prepare a programmatic EIS to evaluate the 15-foot rule. The court issued an injunction but stated that the plaintiffs would need to file a separate lawsuit to challenge the sufficiency of the EIS. TVA later successfully moved to dissolve the injunction, claiming that it had held a statutory public comment period and issued a final programmatic EIS, rejecting the 15-foot rule and adopting “Alternative C: Condition-Based Control Strategy.”The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court has not yet determined, in light of the administrative record, whether TVA took a hard look at the environmental consequences of its action, and TVA’s action has not been shown to be so different from the 15-foot rule as to warrant a whole new suit to obtain judicial review. View "Sherwood v. Tennessee Valley Authority" on Justia Law

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A DEA task force investigated Jacobs, a Kentucky drug dealer. Jacobs sold drugs to a couple who allegedly were “good friends” with the local Commonwealth Attorney (CA). After Jacobs' arrest on state drug-trafficking charges, the couple had extensive conversations with the CA. After one conversation, an assistant state prosecutor requested Jacobs’s cell phone records from the task force, alerting the DEA to the CA’s relationship with Jacobs’s customers. The CA became involved in the case in other ways, impeding Jacobs’ use as a cooperating witness in other federal investigations by opposing a bond reduction and refusing to seek a state search warrant for an unrelated case if the DEA agent from the Jacobs investigation was involved. The DEA began investigating the CA’s conduct, “Operation Speakeasy.” Evidence was presented to the U.S. Attorney, who refused to bring obstruction charges against the CA.A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552 request with the DEA, seeking any document related to the Jacobs investigation or Operation Speakeasy. The DEA denied that request, citing an exception for “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes,” disclosure of which “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Enquirer’s suit. The documents “only minimally advance[d] a public interest in shedding light on the decision” to not prosecute the CA and “significant privacy interests outweigh[ed] the proffered public interest.” View "Cincinnati Enquirer v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Years ago, Mynatt an IRS employee, “blew the whistle” to a member of Congress about a “wasteful IRS manager conference” and gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he was critical of his union president. Mynatt asserts that federal employees formed a plan to retaliate by framing Mynatt for stealing union funds: two separate employees reported his alleged theft to government agencies, triggering internal investigations. The Department of Justice “determined the alleged crimes did not occur,” and that the investigations “were political in nature,” and declined to prosecute. The co-conspirators then lobbied Tennessee district attorneys, presenting “false testimony and forged documents” to prosecutors, despite admitting that “the charges were political in nature and not based on provable facts.” Special agent Kemp testified before a state grand jury “using false testimony and altered documents,” which resulted in a two-count grand-jury indictment of Mynatt. The District Attorney ultimately dismissed the charges.Mynatt filed several lawsuits against the United States, his union, and their employees. In this suit, Mynatt claims that the United States is liable for malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy under Tennessee law via the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. A federal employee’s use of false testimony and forged documents to secure an indictment from a state grand jury does not fall within the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1), 2680(a), so, the government is not entitled to sovereign immunity. View "Mynatt v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing this ERISA action for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that no contract bound the parties, holding that the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of this action, not the district court's jurisdiction to hear it.A group of employee benefits funds sued Defendant in a federal district court alleging breach of contract for late contributions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Defendant responded that no contract existed and that the presence of a live contract was a jurisdictional prerequisite to Plaintiffs' ERISA suit, meaning that the claim should have been brought under the National Labor Relations Act and that the National Labor Relations Board had exclusive jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' grievances. The district court dismissed the suit without prejudice, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the presence of a live contract is not an essential jurisdictional fact in an action brought under section 515 of ERISA. Rather, the presence of a live contract goes to the merits of Plaintiffs' ERISA claim. View "Operating Engineers' Local 324 Fringe Benefits Funds v. Rieth-Riley Construction Co." on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the City of Powell, Ohio and dismissing Golf Village North LLC's claims brought under 28 U.S.C. 1983 for violating its procedural and substantive due process rights, holding that there was no error.Golf Village, a developer, sought to build a "residential hotel" on its property in Powell, Ohio but never filed the required zoning application. Instead, Golf Village requested that the City confirm the residential hotel was a permitted use of the property. The City directed Golf Village to file an appropriate application for "zoning Certificate approval" to receive an answer. Rather than reply, Golf Village sued the City. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that Golf Village's procedural due process and substantive due process rights were not violated in this case. View "Golf Village North, LLC v. City of Powell, Ohio" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court upholding the decision of an administrative law judge (ALJ) finding that Todd Moats's condition prevented him from returning to his previous job but nonetheless denying his application for benefits, holding that substantial evidence supported that determination.Moats's peripheral neuropathy caused him to leave his job as a forklift operator and apply for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income through the Social Security Administration. The ALJ denied benefits, determining that, although Moats suffered from impairments that prevented him from returning to his forklift position, he could still perform a number of jobs available throughout the national economy. The district court affirmed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision; and (2) the ALJ satisfied his duty to investigate and develop the relevant facts. View "Moats v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law