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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Plaintiffs, aliens unlawfully in the United States seeking U-Visas, filed suit alleging that DHS unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed adjudication of their U-Visa petitions and their applications for work authorization pending U-Visa approval.The Fourth Circuit held that it lacked the power to review plaintiffs' work-authorization claims here because the agency is not required to adjudicate plaintiffs' requests. The court explained that, under the Administrative Procedure Act and All Writs Act, it can only compel faster agency action if the agency is required to act. In this case, neither congressional statutes nor agency regulations compel the agency to adjudicate these requested pre-waiting-list work authorizations. However, the court may review plaintiffs' claim that DHS unreasonably delayed adjudicating their U-Visa petitions. Furthermore, plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to avoid dismissal of their claim for unreasonable delay in placing them on the waiting list. Accordingly, the court dismissed plaintiffs' claims relating to their requests for pre-waiting-list work authorization and remanded plaintiffs' claim relating to U-Visa adjudications. View "Fernandez Gonzalez v. Cuccinelli" on Justia Law

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Resettlement agencies filed suit challenging President Trump's Executive Order 13,888, which drastically alters the system by which the federal government resettles refugees across the United States. The order creates an "opt-in" system requiring that both a state and a locality provide their affirmative consent before refugees will be resettled there. Plaintiffs challenge the Order and notice implementing the order, asserting that they violate the Refugee Act, principles of federalism, and the Administrative Procedure Act.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Order and Notice. The court concluded that plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on their claim that the Order and Notice violate the carefully crafted scheme for resettling refugees that Congress established in the Refugee Act. The court explained that, at bottom, the consent requirement in the Order and Notice is "incompatible with the overall statutory scheme governing" the refugee resettlement program. Furthermore, the court's conclusion regarding the many infirmities of the consent requirement is not altered by the government's reliance on the so-called "savings clause" of the Order. The court also concluded that the record supports the district court’s award of preliminary injunctive relief under the remaining factors of Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 555 U.S. 7 (2008). The court affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a nationwide injunction. View "HIAS, Inc. v. Trump" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Homeland Security passed rules requiring that employers receive a favorable labor certification from Labor before obtaining a visa. Homeland Security and Labor jointly issued a new series of rules in 2015. Plaintiffs, a group of employers and associations whose members rely on H-2B visas, filed suit challenging Homeland Security's 2008 Rules and the joint 2015 Rules as exceeding the agencies' statutory authority.The Fourth Circuit held that there is standing to challenge the 2008 Rules but the challenge is time-barred; there is standing to challenge the 2015 Program and Wage Rules; and the 2015 Program and Wage Rules are valid exercises of Labor's implied delegation to rulemake as part of its duty as Homeland Security's chosen consulting agency. The court explained that this implied delegation is evident from the statutory circumstances in the Immigration and Nationality Act, including the requirement that Homeland Security engage in "consultation with appropriate agencies," the definition of H-2B, and Labor's rulemaking powers for similar visas. The court concluded that, while there are limits on which agencies Homeland Security can choose and on those agencies' ability to rulemake, Labor's 2015 Program and Wage Rules fall within both boundaries. View "Outdoor Amusement Business Association, Inc. v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) against the United States for wrongful investigation, arrest, and detention. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his arrest, detention, transportation, and removal from the country by immigration officers based on an incorrect citizenship determination.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that the discretionary function exception to the FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity operated to defeat plaintiff's claims. The court explained that, in deciding whom to investigate, detain, and then remove, DHS officers must make all the kinds of classic judgment calls the discretionary function exception was meant to exempt from tort liability. Applying the Berkovitz analysis, the court concluded that the decisions to detain and remove are discretionary and DHS officers' decisions in investigating and responding to potential violations of immigration law are infused with public policy considerations. Because the discretionary function exception applies so plainly here, the court need not consider the government's other arguments. View "Blanco Ayala v. United States" on Justia Law

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MVP asked two Army Corps districts to verify that, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, MVP's proposed discharge of dredged and/or fill material into waters of the United States in furtherance of construction of a natural gas pipeline in those districts could be governed by the Army Corps' 2017 nationwide permit (NWP) referred to as NWP 12. The Huntington District issued a verification, determining that the Pipeline project met the criteria for operation under the NWP 12, excusing the project from the individual permitting process (the "Verification"). The Norfolk District did the same, issuing a reinstatement of its prior verification allowing MVP to use NWP 12 in that district (the "Reinstatement"). Petitioners filed petitions for agency review of the Verification and Reinstatement pursuant to the Natural Gas Act (NGA) and filed the instant motions to stay.The Fourth Circuit concluded that petitioners are likely to succeed on the merits of their petitions for review, and other equitable factors weigh in favor of granting the motions for stay. The court explained that the Verification was likely issued in contravention of applicable law because the Army Corps impermissibly incorporated into NWP 12 a modified permit condition from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). Furthermore, because the Verification was likely issued in contravention of law, the Reinstatement (which necessarily depends on the validity of the Verification) is likely defective as well. Therefore, the court granted petitioners' motions for a stay of the Huntington District's Verification and the Norfolk District's Reinstatement until such time as the court may consider the petitions for review on their merits. However, the court concluded that petitioners are not likely to succeed on the merits of their challenges to the Army Corps' 2017 issuance of NWP 12 itself because the court likely lacks jurisdiction to entertain such challenges. View "Sierra Club v. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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While plaintiffs sought judicial review in federal district court of their denial of Social Security disability benefits, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, 138 S. Ct. 2044 (2018), which elucidated a possible constitutional objection to administrative proceedings pursuant to the Appointments Clause. At issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs may raise an Appointments Clause challenge in federal court that they did not preserve before the agency.The Fourth Circuit held that claimants for Social Security disability benefits do not forfeit Appointments Clause challenges by failing to raise them during their administrative proceedings. Balancing the individual and institutional interests at play, including considering the nature of the claim presented and the characteristics of the ALJ proceedings, the court declined to impose an exhaustion requirement. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgments of the district courts remanding these cases for new administrative hearings before different, constitutionally appointed ALJs. View "Probst v. Saul" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit declined to enjoin the North Carolina State Board of Elections's extension of its deadline for the receipt of absentee ballots for the ongoing general election. The court explained that the only issue it must address now is plaintiffs' request for an emergency injunction pending appeal regarding a single aspect of the procedures that the district court below refused to enjoin: an extension of the deadline for the receipt of mail-in ballots. The court explained that the change is simply an extension from three to nine days after Election Day for a timely ballot to be received and counted.Because plaintiffs have not established a likelihood of success on the merits of their equal protection claim—and because, in any event, Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006), and Andino v. Middleton, No. 20A55, 2020 WL 5887393 (U.S. Oct. 5, 2020), require that the court not intervene at this late stage—the court declined to enter an injunction pending appeal. The court also held that plaintiffs lack standing to raise their Elections Clause challenge. Even if they did not lack standing, the Pullman abstention doctrine strongly counsels the court against exercising jurisdiction over that claim. The court further held that all suggestions from the state courts point to the conclusion that the Board properly exercised its legislative delegation of authority, and there is no irreparable harm from a ballot extension. Finally, the balance of the equities is influenced heavily by Purcell and tilts against federal court intervention at this late stage, and Andino establishes that the appropriate status-quo framework is the status quo created by the state's actions, not by later federal court interventions. View "Wise v. Circosta" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying Proposed Intervenors' renewed motion to intervene in an action brought by the NAACP challenging the validity of Senate Bill 824. S.B. 824 established, inter alia, photographic voter identification requirements for elections in North Carolina.After determining that it has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291, the court held that the Proposed Intervenors have Article III standing to intervene for the purposes of intervention before the district court based on N.C. Gen Stat. 1-72.2 and Supreme Court precedent. The court rejected the arguments of the NAACP and the State Defendants that section 1-72.2 infringes on the powers of the Executive Branch in violation of the North Carolina Constitution's separation of powers provisions.In regard to intervention as a matter of right, the court held that the district court erred in determining that the Proposed Intervenors lacked a sufficient interest in the S.B. 824 litigation without careful consideration of section 1-72.2(a). Therefore, the court remanded for the district court to more fully consider the North Carolina statute in the analysis of the Proposed Intervenors' interest in the litigation. Because the Proposed Intervenors may have interests which may be practically impaired if not permitted to intervene in the action before the district court, the court remanded as to this issue as well. The court further stated that, although it was appropriate for the district court to apply the Westinghouse presumption since the Proposed Intervenors and the State Defendants appear to seek the same ultimate objective, the district court erred in demanding that the Proposed Intervenors overcome that presumption by the heightened standard of a "strong showing." In regard to permissive intervention, the court held that the district court failed to address sections 1-72.2(a) and (b) and 120-32.6. Given the import of those statutes, the court remanded for consideration of the permissive intervention request. View "North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Berger" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit dismissed the County's petition to vacate or set aside the FAA's modified air-traffic procedure, or series of flight routes, that governs westbound departing aircraft at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (TERPZ-6). The court agreed with the FAA that the petition is untimely under 49 U.S.C. 46110(a) because it was filed well over sixty days after the issuance of the agency's relevant order. In this case, the County unreasonably waited 110 days to demand voluntary relief from the FAA as a first resort, and six months for the agency to come to the table. Therefore, the County's belated effort to engage the FAA in a voluntary fix to the noise impacts associated with TERPZ-6, together with the FAA's belated offer to pursue such a fix, provides no grounds for not filing by the 60th day. View "Howard County v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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The Immigration and Nationality Act states that any alien who is “likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible,” 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)(A) but has never defined “public charge.” The Department of Homeland Security sought to define “public charge,” via rulemaking, as an alien who was likely to receive certain public benefits, including many cash and noncash benefits, for more than 12 months in the aggregate over any 36-month period. The district court enjoined that Rule nationwide.The Fourth Circuit reversed. Invalidating the Rule “would visit palpable harm upon the Constitution’s structure and the circumscribed function of the federal courts that document prescribes” and would entail the disregard of the statute's plain text. The Constitution commands “special judicial deference” to the political branches in light of the intricacies and sensitivities inherent in immigration policy. Congress has charged the executive with defining and implementing a purposefully ambiguous term and has resisted giving the term the definite meaning that the plaintiffs seek. The court noted that, in cases addressing the identical issue, the Supreme Court granted the government’s emergency request to stay the preliminary injunctions, an action which would have been improbable if not impossible had the government, as the stay applicant, not made “a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits.” View "Casa De Maryland, Inc. v. Trump" on Justia Law