Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment holding that FERC's action against financial trading entities and an individual trader was timely-filed within the five-year statute of limitations on civil penalty actions under 28 U.S.C. 2462. The court held that FERC did not have a complete and present cause of action to file suit in federal district court until 60 days elapsed after it had issued the penalty assessment order and appellants refused to pay the assessed penalty. Therefore, FERC's claim had not accrued until then and this action was timely filed. View "Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Powhatan Energy Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of appellant's qui tam action under the False Claims Act, because a pro se plaintiff cannot represent the Government's interest in a qui tam suit. Likewise, the court affirmed the district court's denial of appellant's motion for reconsideration of its dismissal order. In this case, appellant alleged that appellees violated the Act by filing false claims under the South Carolina Base Load Review Act in order to receive permission to increase electric energy rates to cover costs of construction of two nuclear units. After filing the complaint, appellant failed to retain counsel and to provide summonses necessary for service of the complaint on the United States Attorney General and United States Attorney for the District Court of South Carolina. View "Wojcicki v. SCANA Corporation" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the Board's award of a permit for construction of a compressor station on behalf of ACP in the historic community of Union Hill. The compression station is one of three stations planned to support the transmission of natural gas through ACP's 600-mile pipeline. The Fourth Circuit held that the Board erred in failing to consider electric turbines as zero-emission alternatives to gas-fired turbines in the compressor station. The court also held that the Board erred in failing to assess the compressor station's potential for disproportionate health impacts on the predominantly African-American community of Union Hill, and in failing to independently evaluate the suitability of that site. Accordingly, the court vacated the permit and remanded for the Board to make findings with regard to conflicting evidence in the record, the particular studies it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the compressor station. View "Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the "methods and means" that the Census Bureau has adopted for the 2020 Census, and the contention that the 2020 Census will produce an even greater differential undercount. Plaintiffs represent hard-to-count communities that historically have suffered the greatest harms from differential undercounts, and that directly will lose federal funding if the differential undercount increases in 2020. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims under the Enumeration Clause and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part, holding that plaintiffs' APA claims, as pleaded, did not satisfy the jurisdictional limitations on judicial review set forth in the APA. However, mindful of the Supreme Court's recent guidance affirming judicial review of "both constitutional and statutory challenges to census-related decision-making," Dep't of Commerce v. New York, 139 S. Ct. 2551, 2568 (2019), the court held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs' Enumeration Clause claims as unripe, and in precluding plaintiffs from filing an amended complaint regarding those claims after defendants' plans for the 2020 Census became final. Therefore, the court reversed in part and remanded to allow plaintiffs to file an amended complaint setting forth their Enumeration Clause claims. View "NAACP v. Bureau of the Census" on Justia Law

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Advantage Health filed suit, alleging that HHS's continuing recoupment of overpayments before completion of the severely delayed administrative process was denying it procedural due process. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, enjoining HHS from withholding Medicare payments to Advantage Health to effectuate recoupment of any alleged overpayments. The Fourth Circuit held that the injunction entered in this collateral proceeding, which prohibits HHS from recouping overpayments in accordance with applicable law, was inappropriately entered because the delay of which Advantage Health complains could have been and still can be avoided by bypassing an ALJ hearing and obtaining judicial review on a relatively expeditious basis, as Congress has provided. Therefore, this administrative review process did not deny Advantage Health procedural due process and thus Advantage Health has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Accident, Injury and Rehabilitation, PC v. Azar" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit granted a petition for review of the FWS's new 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement in connection with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The court held that FWS arbitrarily reached its no-jeopardy conclusions and failed to correct the deficiencies in the take limits that the court identified in the previous appeal. In this case, the Biological Opinion's conclusion that the pipeline will not jeopardize the rusty patched bumble bee (RPBB) in Bath County, Virginia was arbitrary and capricious because it runs counter to available evidence, relies on data without providing a meaningful basis for that reliance, fails to consider the species’s status as a whole, and fails to consider the pipeline’s impacts on RPBB recovery. Furthermore, the Biological Opinion's finding that the clubshell's continued survival will not be jeopardized by the pipeline construction was not in accordance with the law and failed to consider important aspects of the issue before the agency. The court also held that the Biological Opinion failed to create enforceable take limits for the Indiana bat and the Madison Cave isopod. Accordingly, the court vacated the 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland lacked Article III standing to pursue their claims against President Trump, in any capacity including his individual capacity, under the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Circuit held that the claims that the District and Maryland assert against the President in his individual capacity are identical to the claims they assert against him in his official capacity and are premised on the same factual allegations. Therefore, the court's decision in appeal No. 18-2486, also decided on the same day and addressing the same standing issue, governs the outcome here. Accordingly, based on this opinion and the court's opinion in No. 18-2486, the court remand with instructions to dismiss the complaint with prejudice. View "District of Columbia v. Trump" on Justia Law

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The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland lacked Article III standing to pursue their claims against President Trump under the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Circuit granted President Trump's petition for writ of mandamus and reversed the district court's orders in an action brought by the District and Maryland, contending that the President is receiving emoluments from them because his continued ownership interest in a global business empire provides him with millions of dollars in payments, benefits, and other valuable consideration. Exercising jurisdiction through 28 U.S.C. 1292(b), the court rejected the District and Maryland's argument that they have Article III standing based on harm to their proprietary interests, parens patriae interests, and quasi-sovereign interests. The court stated that the District and Maryland’s interest in enforcing the Emoluments Clauses is so attenuated and abstract that their prosecution of this case readily provokes the question of whether this action against the President is an appropriate use of the courts, which were created to resolve real cases and controversies between the parties. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's orders denying the President's motion to dismiss filed in his official capacity, and in light of the court's related decision in No. 18-2488, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint with prejudice. View "In re: Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that the government's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy (and its changes to policies governing the use of information provided by DACA applicants) violates the Fifth Amendment, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and common law principles of estoppel. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiffs' challenges were subject to judicial review and that the government's decision to rescind DACA did not require notice and comment under the APA. However, the court held that the decision violated the APA because—on the administrative record before the court—it was not adequately explained and thus was arbitrary and capricious. The court also held that the district court erred in ordering the government to comply with its policies promulgated in 2012 on the use of information provided by DACA applicants and enjoining it from altering those policies. The court declined, under the doctrine of constitutional avoidance, to decide whether plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment rights were violated. The court also declined to address plaintiffs' remaining arguments. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, dismissed in part, and remanded. View "Casa De Maryland v. DHS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the FCC and the Government, in an action alleging that part of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) contravenes the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. In relevant part, the Act prohibits calls to cell phones by use of an automated dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice, subject to three statutory exemptions. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that one of the statutory exemptions to the automated call ban — created by a 2015 TCPA amendment — is facially unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause. Although the Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that strict scrutiny review applied in this case, it held that the debt collection exemption fails to satisfy strict scrutiny, constitutes an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech, and therefore violates the Free Speech Clause. The court concluded that the flawed exemption could be severed from the automatic call ban. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law