Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The full court granted rehearing en banc and held that Rowan County's practice of lawmaker-led prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The en banc court held that the prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion. Because the commissioners were the exclusive prayer-givers, Rowan County’s invocation practice fell well outside the more inclusive, minister-oriented practice of legislative prayer described in Town of Greece v. Galloway, 134 S. Ct. 1811 (2014). The en banc court explained that the solemn invocation of a single faith in so many meetings over so many years distanced adherents of other faiths from that representative government which affects the lives of all citizens and which Americans of every spiritual persuasion have every right to call their own. View "Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina" on Justia Law

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The Animal Welfare Act does not directly address license renewal but does expressly authorize the USDA to promulgate and implement its own renewal standards. PETA filed suit challenging the license renewal process for animal exhibitors promulgated by the USDA through which the USDA may renew such license despite a licensee's noncompliance with the Act. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the USDA's Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court agreed with the Eleventh Circuit that the Act's licensing regulations embody a reasonable accommodation of the conflicting policy interests Congress has delegated to the USDA and were entitled to Chevron deference. View "PETA v. USDA" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed in substantial part the district court's issuance of a nationwide injunction as to Section 2(c) of the challenged Second Executive Order (EO-2), holding that the reasonable observer would likely conclude EO-2's primary purpose was to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs. Section 2(c) reinstated the ninety-day suspension of entry for nationals from six countries, eliminating Iraq from the list, but retaining Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Determining that the case was justiciable, the Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs have more than plausibly alleged that EO-2's stated national security interest was provided in bad faith, as a pretext for its religious purpose. Because the facially legitimate reason offered by the government was not bona fide, the court no longer deferred to that reason and instead may look behind the challenged action. Applying the test in Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court held that the evidence in the record, viewed from the standpoint of the reasonable observer, created a compelling case that EO-2's primary purpose was religious. Then-candidate Trump's campaign statements revealed that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States. President Trump and his aides have made statements that suggest EO-2's purpose was to effectuate the promised Muslim ban, and that its changes from the first executive order reflect an effort to help it survive judicial scrutiny, rather than to avoid targeting Muslims for exclusion from the United States. These statements, taken together, provide direct, specific evidence of what motivated both executive orders: President Trump's desire to exclude Muslims from the United States and his intent to effectuate the ban by targeting majority-Muslim nations instead of Muslims explicitly. Because EO-2 likely fails Lemon's purpose prong in violation of the Establishment Clause, the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim. The court also held that plaintiffs will likely suffer irreparable harm; the Government's asserted national security interests do not outweigh the harm to plaintiffs; and the public interest counsels in favor of upholding the preliminary injunction. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a nationwide injunction was necessary to provide complete relief, but erred in issuing an injunction against the President himself. View "International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Wikimedia and eight other organizations filed suit challenging Upstream surveillance, an electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA. First, Wikimedia alleged that the sheer volume of its communications makes it virtually certain that the NSA has intercepted, copied, and reviewed at least some of its communications (Wikimedia Allegation). Second, all plaintiffs alleged that in the course of conducting Upstream surveillance the NSA was intercepting, copying, and reviewing substantially all text-based communications entering and leaving the United States, including their own (Dragnet Allegation). The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of Article III standing. The Fourth Circuit held that the analysis of speculative injury in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138 (2013), was not controlling in this case because the central allegations were not speculative. As to Wikimedia, the court vacated and remanded because Wikimedia made allegations sufficient to survive a facial challenge to standing. As to the other plaintiffs, the court affirmed because the complaint did not contain enough well-pleaded facts entitled to the presumption of truth to establish their standing. View "Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA/CSS" on Justia Law

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BBII filed suit against the City for breach of contract, alleging that the City unlawfully assessed liquidated damages against the company for failure to complete a construction project on time. This case involved two public works contracts entered into by the parties, in which BBII agreed to build certain parts of a wastewater treatment system aimed at reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The court agreed with the district court that BBII is not excused from the normal requirement of administrative exhaustion under Maryland law. The court rejected BBII's remaining claims and affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Balfour Beatty Infrastructure v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore" on Justia Law

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Relators filed a qui tam action under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729-3733, alleging that Agape fraudulently billed Medicare and other federal health care programs for services to thousands of patients. The district court determined that using statistical sampling to prove relators' case would be improper. The district court also rejected a proposed settlement between relators and Agape, because the Attorney General of the United States objected to it. The district court concluded that the Government — despite not having intervened in an FCA qui tam action — possesses an unreviewable veto authority over the action's proposed settlement. Then the district court certified both its rulings for these interlocutory appeals. The court concluded that, under the plain language of section 3730(b)(1), the Attorney General possesses an absolute veto power over voluntary settlements in FCA qui tam actions. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's unreviewable veto ruling. In regard to the statistical sampling ruling, the court concluded that relators' appeal does not present a pure question of law that is subject to the court's interlocutory review under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b). Accordingly, the court dismissed as improvidently granted relators' appeal as to this rule. View "United States ex rel. Michaels v. Agape Senior Community" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671 et seq., alleging that Navy officers negligently allowed a training structure to remain in a dangerous condition and failed to warn her of the dangerous gap between the mats placed adjacent to the structure. Plaintiff, a sheriff's deputy, was seriously injured when she jumped from the structure onto the set of mats and landed in a gap between them. The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the challenged Navy conduct fell within the FTCA’s “discretionary function exception” and therefore that Congress had not waived sovereign immunity for plaintiff's claim. The court affirmed and concluded that the Navy’s decisions regarding the maintenance of its military bases for use by civilian law enforcement involved policy judgments that Congress sought to shield from tort liability under the FTCA. View "Wood v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission instituted an administrative proceeding against Dawn Bennett and her law firm (collectively, Bennett) to determine whether Bennett had violated the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. The Commission assigned the initial stages of the proceeding to an ALJ, and the ALJ scheduled a hearing on the merits of Bennett’s case. Bennett subsequently filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the administrative enforcement proceeding. Specifically, the Complaint alleged that the SEC’s administrative enforcement proceedings violated Article II of the United States Constitution. The district court dismissed the suit on jurisdictional grounds. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that Congress has impliedly divested district-court jurisdiction over the agency action. View "Bennett v. U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the proposed construction of a twenty-two-mile toll road in North Carolina called the Gaston East-West Connector. Two Conservation Groups brought suit against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (collectively, the Agencies), and others, challenging the environmental analysis conducted for the Connector. The district court granted summary judgment for the Conservation Groups, concluding that the alternatives analysis underlying the Connector violated National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and that the Agencies failed adequately to assess and disclose the Connector’s environmental impacts. NCDOT appealed. Before the district court ruled, however, the Connector was stripped of its funding, and the statute that expressly authorized its construction was repealed. Following the district court’s ruling, the Connector was removed from local and state transportation plans. The Fourth District vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions that the district court dismiss the action, holding that the appeal was moot where the Connector was no longer viable. View "Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation v. North Carolina Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Seaside filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671-2680, alleging that the FDA negligently issued a contamination warning in response to an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul that devalued Seaside’s tomato crop by $15,036,293.95. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the FDA was exercising a discretionary function in connection with the contamination warning. The court explained that the ruling was essential to protect the FDA’s vital role in safeguarding the public food supply. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Seaside Farm, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law