Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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In 2002, at the age of seven, Sanchez, a citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. without inspection. In 2012, he obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status; DHS periodically granted him renewals. In 2019, Sanchez was charged in New Jersey with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. USCIS revoked Sanchez’s DACA status. DHS took him into custody and charged him as being present without having been admitted or paroled, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(ii).Sanchez applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and for relief under the Convention Against Torture. The IJ denied asylum, finding that Sanchez failed to meet the one-year filing deadline or show extraordinary circumstances; denied withholding of removal, finding the proposed social group was not cognizable; and denied his CAT claim, finding he did not demonstrate at least a 50 percent chance he would be tortured upon his return to Mexico. Two weeks after the IJ ordered Sanchez’s removal, his state criminal charges were dismissed.The BIA denied remand, citing then-Attorney General Sessions’ 2018 Castro-Tum holding that, under the regulations governing the Executive Office of Immigration Review, IJs and the BIA do not have the general authority to indefinitely suspend immigration proceedings by administrative closure unless a regulation or a previous judicially approved settlement expressly authorizes such an action. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The relevant regulations confer the general authority to administratively close cases to IJs and the BIA. View "Sanchez v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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For decades, the U.S. Virgin Islands Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) experienced annual deficits between its assets and projected liabilities to participants. Its aggregate shortfall is now about three billion dollars. The Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) has sometimes failed to remit to GERS all the employer contributions it is statutorily mandated to make. GERS sued GVI for these contributions, first in 1981, resulting in a consent judgment, and most recently in 2016, when GERS sought to enforce that judgment. GERS claimed that, as far back as 1991, GVI had contributed tens of millions of dollars less than required by the statutory percentages of employee compensation. GERS also claimed that independent of these fixed-percentage contributions, GVI must fund GERS to the point of actuarial soundness.The district court awarded GERS an amount calculated to reflect GVI’s historical percentage-based under-contributions. The Third Circuit affirmed that award of principal but vacated an enhancement of the award that applied late-arriving interest and penalty statutes, enacted in 2005, retroactively. The consent judgment does not require GVI to fund GERS for the gap between its assets and liabilities. Virgin Islands law apparently fails to obligate anyone to fund GERS when employee-compensation-based contributions and associated investment returns fall short of the assets required, based on actuarial assessments, to meet future pension commitments. The citizens of the Virgin Islands (population 106,4052) simply cannot pay the necessary billions. The cure for GERS’s chronic underfunding is legislative. View "Government Employees Retirement System of the Virgin Islands v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

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Simko began working for U.S. Steel in 2005. In 2012, Simko successfully bid on a new position. During training, Simko requested a new two-way radio to accommodate his hearing impairment. U.S. Steel did not provide the new radio or any other accommodation. Although Simko completed the training, he alleges that his trainer refused to “sign off” that he was able to perform the position’s duties because of his disability. Simko resumed working at his former position.In May 2013, Simko signed an EEOC charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101, asserting discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation In December 2013, U.S. Steel discharged Simko after an incident. In May 2014, Simko was reinstated but was discharged again in August 2014, based on a safety violation. About three months later, the EEOC received Simko's handwritten claim that he was discharged in retaliation for his EEOC filing. In December 2015, the EEOC communicated to Simko’s counsel that it had notified U.S. Steel that an amended charge was pending. In January 2016, Simko’s counsel filed an amended EEOC charge. In February 2019, the EEOC issued a determination of reasonable cause. A right-to-sue letter issued in April 2019.In June 2019, Simko filed suit, asserting only retaliation, without alleging disability discrimination or failure to accommodate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Simko failed to file a timely EEOC charge asserting retaliation. His amended charge claiming retaliation was filed 521 days after his termination. Simko was not entitled to equitable tolling; he was not misled by the EEOC or prevented from filing the amended charge and offered no reason why he could not file a timely claim. View "Simko v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) solicited bids for a Shenango Township Youth Development Center, closed since 2013. HIRA, a consultant for Islamic educational groups, submitted the highest bid, $400,000, planning to establish a youth intervention center and Islamic boarding school. DGS and HIRA entered into a contract. Legislators sent a letter to Governor Wolf, claiming HIRA was not in a financial position to turn the property into an economic driver, that New Jersey had revoked HIRA’s corporate status, that HIRA reported low income, that HIRA had not returned their phone calls, and that contract paperwork remained incomplete. When Governor Wolf did not act, the Legislators spoke with the press and at a community meeting where some participants made comments about Muslims. Lawrence County opened a criminal investigation into the bidding process. The Legislators tried, unsuccessfully, to pass a law divesting DGS of authority to sell the property, then tried to persuade DGS to halt the sale. Shenango Township rezoned the property.The sale fell through. DGS solicited new bids. HIRA offered $500,000; another group offered $2,000,000. Legislators promised to ensure the new purchaser secured funding. HIRA sued the officials, including the Legislators in their individual capacities, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court denied the Legislators’ motions to dismiss. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Whether HIRA alleged conduct outside the sphere of legitimate legislative activities or that violates clearly established law is a question of law over which it had jurisdiction. Some of the allegations concerned “quintessentially legislative activities” for purposes of absolute immunity. Other allegations fell “well short of showing that the rights [HIRA] seeks to vindicate here were clearly established” for purposes of qualified immunity. View "HIRA Educational Services North America v. Augustine" on Justia Law

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Wilmington Trust financed construction projects. Extensions were commonplace. Wilmington’s loan documents reserved its right to “renew or extend (repeatedly and for any length of time) this loan . . . without the consent of or notice to anyone.” Wilmington’s internal policy did not classify all mature loans with unpaid principals as past due if the loans were in the process of renewal and interest payments were current, Following the 2008 "Great Recession," Wilmington excluded some of the loans from those it reported as “past due” to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve. Wilmington’s executives maintained that, under a reasonable interpretation of the reporting requirements, the exclusion of the loans from the “past due” classification was proper. The district court denied their requests to introduce evidence concerning or instruct the jury about that alternative interpretation. The jury found the reporting constituted “false statements” under 18 U.S.C. 1001 and 15 U.S.C. 78m, and convicted the executives.The Third Circuit reversed in part. To prove falsity beyond a reasonable doubt in this situation, the government must prove either that its interpretation of the reporting requirement is the only objectively reasonable interpretation or that the defendant’s statement was also false under the alternative, objectively reasonable interpretation. The court vacated and remanded the conspiracy and securities fraud convictions, which were charged in the alternative on an independent theory of liability, View "United States v. Harra" on Justia Law

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A Compact between Pennsylvania and New Jersey created the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which is authorized to “acquire, own, use, lease, operate, and dispose of real property and interest in real property, and to make improvements,” and to "exercise all other powers . . . reasonably necessary or incidental to the effectuation of its authorized purposes . . . except the power to levy taxes or assessments.” The Commission undertook to replace the Scudder Falls Bridge, purchased land near the bridge in Pennsylvania, and broke ground on a building to house the Commission’s staff in a single location. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry inspectors observed the construction; the Commission never applied for a building permit as required under the Department’s regulations. The Commission asserted that it was exempt from Pennsylvania’s regulatory authority. The Department threatened the Commission’s elevator subcontractor with regulatory sanctions for its involvement in the project. The Commission sought declaratory and injunctive relief.After rejecting an Eleventh Amendment argument, the Third Circuit upheld an injunction prohibiting the Department from seeking to inspect or approve the elevators and from further impeding, interfering, or delaying the contractors. Pennsylvania unambiguously ceded some of its sovereign authority through the Compact. The fact that both states expressly reserved their taxing power—but not other powers—indicates that they did not intend to retain the authority to enforce building safety regulations. View "Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry" on Justia Law

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A regulation promulgated under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 30101, requires a tire dealer to help customers register their new tires with the manufacturer. The regulation prescribes three methods for tire dealers to help register a buyer’s tires. According to Thorne, Pep Boys failed to pursue any of the three when, or after, it sold her the tires. She sued on behalf of a class of Pep Boys customers who similarly received no tire registration assistance.The district court dismissed her complaint without leave to amend, holding that a dealer’s failure to help register a buyer’s tires in one of the three prescribed ways does not, by itself, create an injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal without prejudice. A district court has no jurisdiction to rule on the merits when a plaintiff lacks standing. Thorne’s benefit-of-the-bargain allegations do not support a viable theory of economic injury, and her product-defect argument ignores the statute’s defined terms. Unregistered tires are not worth less than Thorne paid and are not defective. Congress did not intend to give private attorneys general standing to redress the “injury” of unregistered tires. View "Thorne v. Pep Boys Manny Moe & Jack" on Justia Law

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PDX is a last-mile shipper of wholesale auto parts in New Jersey and other states. Depending on the volume and timing of its customers’ shipping needs, PDX hires “independent owner-operators” on an “as-needed” basis. PDX long classified these drivers as independent contractors. In 2012, after completing an audit of PDX for 2006-2009, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development determined that PDX had misclassified its drivers, finding they were employees, not independent contractors. The Department reached the same conclusion in two subsequent audits and sought payment of unemployment compensation taxesPDX filed suit, contending New Jersey’s statutory scheme for classifying workers was preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 and was unconstitutional under the Interstate Commerce Clause. An action before the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (OAL) was stayed at PDX’s request. SLS, also a last-mile shipper, was audited by the Department and was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit. The Department’s audit against SLS remains pending.The trial court dismissed the entire case as barred by the Younger abstention doctrine. The Third Circuit held that the trial court correctly dismissed PDX, but erred in dismissing SLS. PDX’s OAL action is an ongoing judicial proceeding in which New Jersey has a strong interest and PDX may raise any constitutional claims while SLS is not subject to an ongoing state judicial proceeding. View "PDX North Inc v. Commissioner New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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Alita, her son, and her stepfather died in a fire that engulfed their Philadelphia apartment. With the building already burning, Alita had called 911. A fire department operator instructed her to remain inside, promising help was on the way. Firefighters initially drove to the wrong location and, at the scene, never learned that the family was waiting. The firefighters extinguished the blaze without a search, leaving all three trapped in their home where they perished from smoke inhalation. Days passed before firefighters returned and discovered their bodies. Their estates sued the city and two fire department employees.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The state-created danger theory does not apply. The dispatcher did not act affirmatively to create the danger, but only failed to communicate the family’s location, and the operator’s behavior did not shock the conscience. The employees neglected to relay the information through error, omission, or oversight. There is no plausible allegation that the city was deliberately indifferent to anyone’s substantive due process rights. Rejecting a negligence argument based on the history of problems at the residence, and failure to fix the building’s fire hazards, the court reasoned that the city was immune from these claims because it had insufficient control over the building. View "Johnson v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Porter co-owned property with a partner. His wife, Debra, held an unrecorded $2.8 million mortgage on the property. Unbeknownst to Porter, his partner obtained a second mortgage on the property from Commerce. That mortgage went into default. The property was listed at a mortgage foreclosure sheriff’s sale. The Porters filed lawsuits before the sale. A Pennsylvania court awarded Debra damages for the title company’s failure to record her mortgage but declined to have it retroactively recorded and denied a motion to postpone the sale. A federal declaratory judgment action, claiming that Debra’s unrecorded mortgage had priority over Commerce’s mortgage, was still pending. Porter contacted the Sheriff’s Office before the sale and sought Commerce’s assurance that it would inform bidders about the pending lawsuit. Commerce’s attorney never arrived at the sale, so when the property came up for sale, Porter stood up to make the announcement. Sheriff’s Office attorney Chew and Deputy Stewart ordered him to stop speaking. They put Porter in a chokehold, placed him in handcuffs, and dragged him from the room. Porter and a deputy required medical attention. Porter was convicted of misdemeanor resisting arrest.On Porter's s Monell claim against Philadelphia based upon its unwritten policy of not allowing non-bidders to comment at a sheriff’s sales, the jury awarded him $750,000. The Third Circuit vacated the judgment. Chew’s unendorsed actions did not become municipal policy. There is no evidence that municipal decision-makers were aware of Chew’s inconsistent implementation of the no-comment policy or that Chew had previously used force to enforce it. Because the sheriff’s sale is a nonpublic forum, the Sheriff’s Office policy prohibiting comments is valid; it is viewpoint neutral and reasonable in light of the city’s right to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated. View "Porter v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law