Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed, based on federal preemption, the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's state law claims alleging that Trader Joe's federally regulated retained water labels on poultry products were misleading. The panel explained that the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act regulates the retained water data collection process and label production for covered poultry products.In this case, plaintiff argued that she used a data collection protocol that produced different percentages of retained water than those displayed on Trader Joe's poultry labels, and thus Trader Joe's labels are misleading in violation of state law. The panel concluded that plaintiff's claims are preempted by federal law regulating poultry labeling and retained water measurement protocols under 21 U.S.C. 467e. The panel explained that state law claims seek to impose the requirements of plaintiff's retained water protocol in addition to Trader Joe's required Food Safety and Inspection Service protocol, and plaintiff's counsel confirmed at oral argument that she cannot assert that her data collection protocol is the same as that used by Trader Joe's. Accordingly, the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claims with prejudice. View "Webb v. Trader Joe's Co." on Justia Law

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A 1993 Communications Act amendment required the FCC to collect regulatory fees to recover the costs of its activities. “Space stations” (satellites) were included in the schedule but there were blanket exceptions for governmental or nonprofit entities. Initially, the FCC limited regulatory fees to those entities it licensed, which does not include foreign-licensed satellites. In 2013, the FCC invited comment on that conclusion but declined to decide the issue. The 2018 “Ray Baum’s Act,” 47 U.S.C. 159, changed the FCC’s authority to adjust the fee schedule based on the number of “units” (satellites) subject to fees rather than either the number of units or licensees and added the power to adjust fees based on factors “reasonably related to the benefits provided" by FCC activities.In 2019, the FCC again sought comment, noting that foreign-licensed satellites that serve U.S. customers benefit in the same manner as their U.S.-licensed competitors. The FCC concluded it should adopt regulatory fees for non-U.S. licensed satellites with U.S. market access. Foreign-licensed satellite operators must petition the FCC to access the U.S. market. The FCC devotes significant resources to processing such petitions. The current exemption “places the burden of regulatory fees" solely on U.S. licensees; commercial foreign-licensed satellites with general U.S. market access did not exist until 1997. The D.C. Circuit denied a petition for review. The petitioners have not shown that the FCC unreasonably interpreted the Act or provided inadequate notice of the Order. View "Telesat Canada v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Judicial Watch sued the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and its chairman Adam B. Schiff, seeking disclosure of all subpoenas issued to any telecommunications provider as a part of the Committee’s 2019 Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry and the responses to those subpoenas.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars the suit, providing that “for any Speech or Debate in either House, [Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other Place.” The Committee’s issuance of subpoenas, whether as part of an oversight investigation or impeachment inquiry, was a legislative act protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. “The wisdom of congressional approach or methodology is not open to judicial veto.” “Nor is the legitimacy of a congressional inquiry to be defined by what it produces.” View "Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Schiff" on Justia Law

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Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (the Territories) in September 2017 and destroyed large portions of the Territories’ telecommunications networks. In response, the FCC issued three orders that provided subsidies from the Universal Service Fund to help rebuild those networks. TriCounty, a telecommunications provider that contributes to the Fund, challenged two orders under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Communications Act. Tri-County argued that in one order, the FCC bypassed notice and comment without good cause and failed to justify the amount and allocation of funds and that in both orders, the FCC departed from a previous policy without explanation and contravened the Communications Act.The D.C. Circuit denied a petition for review, after finding that TriCounty had standing to challenge the orders, except with respect to the allocation of funds, from which it suffered no concrete harm. The Communications Act directs the FCC to make policies “for the preservation and advancement of universal service.” 47 U.S.C. 254(b). The FCC had previously used the Fund for disaster relief and its findings with respect to the Territories were reasonable. Under the APA, an agency may forgo notice and comment when it is “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest,” 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B). View "Tri-County Telephone Association, Inc. v. e Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court affirming the decision of the Sex Offender Registry Board denying Doe's motion to vacate her final classification as a level three sex offender, holding that Doe's premature classification violated due process.In 2012, years before her potential release date from prison, Doe was classified as a level three sex offender. She did not challenge the classification at the time. In 2019, Doe moved to vacate the final classification on the grounds that it was premature. The Board denied the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the classification violated due process because it served little to no purpose, posed an unnecessary risk of harm and error and was not justified by the Board's limited interest in finality or administrative efficiency. View "Doe v. Sex Offender Registry Board" on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2016, a large fire, later known as the Dog Head Fire, engulfed Isleta Pueblo and United States Forest Service land in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. The fire resulted from forest-thinning work performed by Pueblo crewmembers under an agreement with the Forest Service. Insurance companies and several owners of destroyed property (collectively, “Appellants”) sued the government, alleging negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and, alternatively, for summary judgment on that same basis. The district court granted the government summary judgment, concluding: (1) the Pueblo crewmembers had acted as independent contractors of the government, and thus, the government wasn’t subject to FTCA liability based on the Pueblo crewmembers’ negligence; and (2) Appellants’ claims premised on the Forest Service employees’ own negligence, under the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, were barred. On appeal, Appellants contended the district court erred in ruling that the FTCA jurisdictionally barred their claims. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ohlsen v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Service in an action challenging the Service's decision reversing its previous decision that the Pacific walrus qualified for listing as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The panel found that the Service did not sufficiently explain why it changed its prior position. The panel concluded that the essential flaw in the 2017 Decision is its failure to offer more than a cursory explanation of why the findings underlying its 2011 Decision no longer apply. The panel explained that if, as is the case here, the agency's "new policy rests upon factual findings that contradict those which underlay its prior policy," a sufficiently detailed justification is required. In this case, the panel found insufficient the Service's briefs regarding localized prey depletion, a study showing that female walruses can travel longer distances than expected to forage, stampede-related mortalities, habitat loss generally, and subsistence harvest. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) filed suit against the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency (together, the "OCC"), challenging the OCC's decision to begin accepting applications for special-purpose national bank (SPNB) charters from financial technology companies (fintechs) engaged in the "business of banking," including those that do not accept deposits. The district court ultimately entered judgment in favor of DFS, setting aside OCC's decision.The Second Circuit reversed, concluding that DFS lacks Article III standing because it failed to allege that OCC's decision caused it to suffer an actual or imminent injury in fact. The court explained that the Fintech Charter Decision has not implicated the sorts of direct preemption concerns that animated DFS's cited cases, and it will not do so until OCC receives an SPNB charter application from or grants such a charter to a non-depository fintech that would otherwise be subject to DFS's jurisdiction. The court was also unpersuaded that DFS faces a substantial risk of suffering its second alleged future injury—that it will lose revenue acquired through annual assessments. Because DFS failed to adequately allege that it has Article III standing to bring its Administrative Procedure Act claims against OCC, those claims must be dismissed without prejudice.The court also found that DFS's claims are constitutionally unripe for substantially the same reason. Finally, the court lacked jurisdiction to decide the remaining issues on appeal. Accordingly, the court remanded to the district court with instructions to enter a judgment of dismissal without prejudice. View "Lacewell v. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency" on Justia Law

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WSI appealed a judgment ordering payment of death benefits to Gloria Felan. In 2017, Fred Felan was injured when driving a loaded truck that tipped on its side. Julie Schulz of KBO Farms, Fred’s employer, arrived at the scene a short time later. Fred declined an ambulance but agreed to allow Schulz to drive him to the hospital. At the hospital Fred complained of left chest and rib pain. X-rays taken at the hospital did not reveal any fractures. The next morning, Schulz picked Fred up from the hotel. She noted Fred was falling asleep during the meal and expressed concern he should return to the hospital to get checked again. Fred declined. Fred was discovered dead in his hotel room two days after the accident. WSI accepted Fred’s claim for injuries relating to his truck accident for contusion of thorax. WSI also did not believe Fred died from his work-related injury because Fred had multiple health problems including some related to his heart and diabetes. An autopsy confirmed Fred died of congestive cardiomyopathy and arteriosclerotic heart disease. Gloria thereafter filed a claim for death benefits. WSI would deny this claim, but an ALJ reversed the agency’s denial. WSI argued the ALJ and the district court misapplied the law by failing to properly apply N.D.C.C. 65-01-02(11)(a)(3). The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the ALJ and district court, finding the ALJ was not provided objective evidence of the claimed injury: Fred died of a cardiac arrhythmia caused by blunt force trauma to his chest cavity. However, a medical expert admitted there was no objective medical evidence that an arrhythmia occurred. Rather, the conclusion the expert reached was a result of deductive reasoning. “As our precedent indicates, objective medical evidence may be established by a physician’s medical opinion based on an examination, a patient’s medical history, and the physician’s education and experience. However, objective medical evidence may not be established solely by deductive reasoning. On this record, the ALJ erred in concluding there was objective medical evidence of a cardiac arrhythmia.” View "WSI v. Felan, et al." on Justia Law

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A physician's professional conduct was examined by the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision. During the disciplinary proceeding a stipulated protective order was entered by the Board. The professional complaint against the physician was dismissed, and approximately two years later the physician requested the Board modify its protective order to allow the physician to use three documents in a different legal proceeding. The Board refused, and the physician appealed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) the stipulated blanket protective order making all documents in the administrative proceeding subject to the order and prohibiting their use in any other legal proceeding was contrary to the public policy expressed by the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Oklahoma Discovery Code; and (2) the physician's claim seeking access to the initial report of misconduct was not properly before the Court. View "State ex rel. Okla. St. Bd. of Medical Licensure & Supervision v. Rivero" on Justia Law