Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Plaintiff-Appellants were eleven rural hospitals (the “Hospitals”) who challenged the methodology the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (the “Secretary”) used to calculate their Medicare reimbursements. After the publication of the FY 2010 Final Rule, the Hospitals took issue with the Secretary’s methodology for calculating the hospital-specific rate for new base years. And dissatisfied with their reimbursements under that methodology, the Hospitals filed administrative appeals with the Provider Reimbursement Review Board, an independent panel authorized to hear appeals from the Secretary’s final determinations. The Hospitals then sued the Secretary in the district court, arguing: (1) the Secretary applied the same cumulative budget-neutrality adjustment twice—once by using inflated normalized diagnosis-related group weights as a divisor in step two and then again in step four; (2) the Secretary’s methodology yielded different payments than “would have been made had [he] . . . applied the budget-neutrality adjustments to the DRG weights themselves;" and (3) the Secretary acted arbitrarily and capriciously by not calculating the hospital-specific rate for new base years “based on 100 percent” of a hospital’s base-year “target amount." The district court held it would “not second-guess the Secretary’s policy” just because there may have been “other ways of calculating payments.” And so the court denied the Hospitals’ summary-judgment motion, granted the Secretary’s cross-motion, and entered final judgment.The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, in reviewing the Hospitals’ arguments, found that their arguments rested on "flawed assumptions. And the Secretary has long understood his methodology and explained it to the public." The Court concurred with the district court and affirmed its judgment. View "Hays Medical Center et al. v. Azar" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were citizens of the City of Boulder, Colorado and entities with various interests in the sale or possession of firearms within the city. They filed suit against the City of Boulder and several of its officials, alleging that Boulder City Ordinances 8245 and 8259 violate the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado State Constitution, and Colorado state statutes, Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 29-11.7-102 & 103. The ordinances at issue banned the sale of "assault weapons," and raised the legal age for possessing a firearm from eighteen to twenty-one. The City of Boulder is a home-rule municipality under the Colorado Constitution, which granted the City to pass ordinances in “local and municipal matters” that supersede “any law of the state in conflict therewith.” The district court abstained and stayed the proceedings pending resolution of the state law preemption question in state court. Plaintiffs appealed, and finding that the district court properly abstained as “appropriate regard for the rightful independence of state governments reemphasize[s] that it is a wise and permissible policy for the federal chancellor to stay his hand in absence of an authoritative and controlling determination by the state tribunals,” the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Caldara v. City of Boulder" on Justia Law

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Claiming insolvency, taxpayer Vincent Hamilton sought to exclude nearly $160,000 in student loans that were forgiven from his taxable income. During the same tax year, however, he had received a non-taxable partnership distribution worth more than $300,000. His wife transferred those funds into a previously-unused savings account held nominally by their adult son. Using login credentials provided by their son, Mrs. Hamilton incrementally transferred almost $120,000 back to the joint checking account she shared with her husband. The Hamiltons used these funds to support their living expenses. In a late-filed joint tax return, they excluded the discharged student-loan debt on the theory that Mr. Hamilton was insolvent. In calculating his assets and liabilities, however, the Hamiltons did not include the funds transferred into the savings account. Had they done so, Mr. Hamilton would not have met the criteria for insolvency; and the couple would have owed federal income tax on the student-loan discharge. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue eventually filed a Notice of Deficiency, reasoning that the partnership distribution rendered Mr. Hamilton solvent, such that the Hamiltons were required to pay income tax on the cancelled student loan debt. debt. The Hamiltons petitioned for review from the Tax Court, which sustained both the deficiency and a significant late-filing penalty. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court's judgment. View "Hamilton v. CIR" on Justia Law

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The IRS conducted a civil audit of Peter Hermes, Kevin Desilet, Samantha Murphy, and John Murphy (collectively, the “Taxpayers”) to verify their tax liabilities for their medical- marijuana dispensary, Standing Akimbo, LLC. The IRS was investigating whether the Taxpayers had taken improper deductions for business expenses arising from a “trade or business” that “consists of trafficking in controlled substances.” Claiming to fear criminal prosecution, the Taxpayers declined to provide the audit information to the IRS. This left the IRS to seek the information elsewhere—it issued four summonses for plant reports, gross-sales reports and license information to the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (the “Enforcement Division”), which is the state entity responsible for regulating licensed marijuana sales. In Colorado federal district court, the Taxpayers filed a petition to quash the summonses. The government moved to dismiss the petition and to enforce the summonses. The district court granted the motion to dismiss and ordered the summonses enforced. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the Taxpayers failed to overcome the IRS' showing of good faith, and failed to establish that enforcing the summonses would constitute an abuse of process. View "Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Steven Kientz spent many years as a "dual status" technician with the Kansas Army National Guard, where he worked as a mechanic on electronic measurement equipment. Plaintiff’s position required him to simultaneously serve as a member of the National Guard, a second job with separate pay and separate responsibilities. In retirement, Plaintiff receives a monthly pension payment under the Civil Service Retirement System based on his service as a dual status technician. Plaintiff also receives Social Security retirement benefits based on contributions he made to the Social Security system from his separate pay as a National Guard member. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether a dual status service technician’s civil service pension was “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service” under 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A). After review, the Court concluded Plaintiff's civil service pension is not “wholly” based on service as a member of a uniformed service, and his pension payments were therefore subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision ("WEP"). Plaintiff’s dual status technician work was at least partially distinct from the performance of his military duties. And Plaintiff received separate compensation and separate pensions for his performance of those distinct roles. The Court concurred with the district court and Social Security Administration that Plaintiff's Social Security retirement benefits were subject to the WEP. View "Kientz v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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Jose Angel Banuelos-Galviz (Banuelos) entered the United States in 2006. Roughly three years later, he was served with a document labeled “Notice to Appear.” By statute, a notice to appear must include the time of the removal hearing. But Banuelos’s document did not tell him the date or time of the hearing, so the immigration court later sent him a notice of hearing with this information. Banuelos then sought asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. The immigration judge rejected each request, and Banuelos appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals. While the administrative appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Pereira v. Sessions, which held that the stop-time rule was not triggered by a notice to appear that omitted the time of the removal hearing. Because Banuelos’s notice to appear lacked both the date and time, he moved for a remand so that the immigration judge could consider his request for cancellation of removal. To qualify for cancellation of removal, Banuelos needed to show continuous presence in the United States for at least ten years. His ability to satisfy this requirement turned on whether the combination of the deficient notice to appear and notice of hearing had triggered the "stop-time rule." If the stop-time rule had been triggered, Banuelos would have had only about three years of continuous presence. But if the stop-time rule had not been triggered, Banuelos’s continuous presence would have exceeded the ten-year minimum. The Board held that the stop-time rule had been triggered because the combination of the two documents—the incomplete notice to appear and the notice of hearing with the previously omitted information—was the equivalent of a complete notice to appear. Given this application of the rule, the Board found that Banuelos’s period of continuous presence had been too short to qualify for cancellation of removal. So the Board denied his motion to remand. Given the unambiguous language of the pertinent statutes, the Tenth Circuit determined the stop-time rule was not triggered by the combination of an incomplete notice to appear and a notice of hearing. The Court thus granted the petition for review and remanded to the Board for further proceedings. View "Banuelos-Galviz v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The jaguar is a large felid found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Pertinent here, the jaguar was listed as a foreign endangered species in 1972. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule designating 764,207 acres in New Mexico and Arizona as critical jaguar habitat. Plaintiffs filed suit, contending the Service’s designation was arbitrary and capricious. The district court ruled in favor of the Service. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agency did not comply with the regulation, and the Tenth Circuit's "resolution of this issue is beyond doubt. Further, the agency had a chance to rectify this error, but failed to do so. When an agency does not comply with its own regulations, it acts arbitrarily and capriciously. " The Court therefore reversed the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "NM Farm & Livestock Bureau v. United States Dept of Interior" on Justia Law

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Arthur Noreja appeals the denial of his claim for disability benefits. Noreja filed his disability claim in March 2012. In July 2013, following a hearing, an ALJ issued a detailed written order – exceeding 13 pages with single spacing – in which she denied Noreja’s claim. The ALJ found Noreja had several severe impairments, including “arthritis of the left upper extremity and right lower extremity,” “cognitive disorder,” and “headaches.” Nevertheless, the ALJ determined that these impairments (or a combination of the impairments) did not warrant relief. The ALJ found that Noreja had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do “medium” work, subject to various limitations, and that there were “jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy” which Noreja could perform. The Appeals Council disagreed with the ALJ’s assessment, and remanded with direction for further proceedings. Once more, however, the ALJ determined that Noreja did not have “an impairment or combination of impairments” that warranted relief, reiterated that Noreja had the RFC to do "medium" work, subject to various limitations, and that there were jobs in existence "in significant numbers" which Noreja could perform. The ALJ did not obtain a new consultative mental examination before issuing her May 2016 decision, but she procured additional evidence regarding Noreja’s impairments. On appeal of the second ALJ decision, Noreja alleged the ALJ failed to follow an instruction in the Appeals Council's remand order. The Tenth Circuit held: (1) it had jurisdiction to determine whether an alleged ALJ violation of an Appeals Council order warranted reversal; but (2) the Court's “usual” review standards remained in force, meaning that the alleged violation was material only if it showed the ALJ meaningfully failed to apply the correct legal standards, or the denial of benefits was unsupported by substantial evidence; and (3) applying those standards here, the ALJ’s denial of Noreja’s application had to be affirmed. View "Noreja v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Roadless Rule, which the Forest Service adopted in 2012, prohibits road construction in designated areas but included an exception for the North Fork Coal Mining Area (the “North Fork Exception”). In prior litigation, a district court concluded agency decisions violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and vacated the North Fork Exception. Following these decisions, the Forest Service prepared a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“North Fork SFEIS”) and readopted the Exception, Roadless Area Conservation. Mountain Coal Company, LLC, submitted lease modification requests in connection with coal leases in the area. In response, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (“Leasing SFEIS”) and approved the requests. In the lawsuit that followed, a coalition of environmental organizations alleged the agencies violated NEPA and the APA by unreasonably eliminating alternatives from detailed study in the North Fork SFEIS and the Leasing SFEIS. The district court rejected these challenges. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed as to the North Fork SFEIS, holding that the Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to study in detail the “Pilot Knob Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. Accordingly, the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate the North Fork Exception. With respect to the Leasing SFEIS, the Tenth Circuit held NEPA did not require consideration of the “Methane Flaring Alternative” proposed by plaintiffs. View "High Country Conservation v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Thomas Alpern claimed the United States Forest Service improperly charges him a fee when he entered Maroon Valley to park and hike. He cited an provision of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) he claimed prohibited charging a fee "solely for parking." He argued that this prohibition overrode another REA provision that allowed agencies to charge a fee when certain listed amenities were present, like picnic tables, security patrols, trash bins, and interpretive signs. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding section 6802(d)(1)(A) prohibited charging fees “[s]olely for parking . . . along roads or trailsides[,]” something Alpern did not do. The Court found Alpern parked in a developed parking lot featuring all the amenities listed in section 6802(f)(4), not along a road or trailside. So it affirmed the district court’s decision to reject Alpern’s as-applied challenge to the Maroon Valley fee program. View "Alpern v. Ferebee" on Justia Law