Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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In the 1970s, federal district courts began ordering disgorgement in Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement proceedings. The Commission may also seek monetary civil penalties; 28 U.S.C. 2462 establishes a five-year limitations period for “an action, suit or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.” In 2009, the Commission brought an enforcement action against Kokesh for concealing the misappropriation of $34.9 million from business development companies, seeking monetary civil penalties, disgorgement, and an injunction. A jury found that Kokesh’s actions violated securities laws. The district court determined that section 2462’s limitations period applied to the monetary civil penalties but did not apply to the $34.9 million disgorgement judgment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. SEC disgorgement operates as a penalty under section 2462. It is imposed by the courts as a consequence for violating public laws, i.e., a violation committed against the United States rather than an aggrieved individual, and is imposed for punitive purposes. SEC disgorgement is often not compensatory. Disgorged profits are paid to the courts, which have discretion to determine how the money will be distributed. When an individual is made to pay a noncompensatory sanction to the government as a consequence of a legal violation, the payment is a penalty. Although disgorgement may sometimes serve compensatory goals, “sanctions frequently serve more than one purpose.” View "Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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A city is an “aggrieved person,” authorized to bring suit under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), according to the Supreme Court. The City of Miami sued Bank of America and Wells Fargo, alleging violations of the FHA prohibition of racial discrimination in connection with real-estate transactions, 42 U.S.C. 3604(b), 3605(a). The city claimed that the banks intentionally targeted predatory practices at African-American and Latino neighborhoods and residents, lending to minority borrowers on worse terms than equally creditworthy nonminority borrowers and inducing defaults by failing to extend refinancing and loan modifications to minority borrowers on fair terms, resulting in a disproportionate number of foreclosures and vacancies, impairing municipal effort to assure racial integration, diminishing property-tax revenue, and increasing demand for police, fire, and other municipal services. The Court reasoned that those claims of financial injury are “arguably within the zone of interests” the FHA protects. In remanding the case, the Court stated that the Eleventh Circuit erred in concluding that the complaints met the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement based solely on a finding that the alleged financial injuries were foreseeable results of the banks’ misconduct. Foreseeability alone does not ensure the required close connection to the prohibited conduct. Proximate cause under the FHA requires “some direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged,” considering the “nature of the statutory cause of action,” and an assessment “of what is administratively possible and convenient.” View "Bank of America Corp. v. Miami" on Justia Law

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The Federal Employees Health Benefits Act (FEHBA) authorizes the Office of Personnel Management to contract with private carriers for federal employees’ health insurance; 5 U.S.C. 8902(m)(1) states that the “terms of any contract under this chapter which relate to the nature, provision, or extent of coverage or benefits (including payments with respect to benefits) shall supersede and preempt any State or local law . . . which relates to health insurance.” OPM’s regulations make a carrier’s “right to pursue and receive subrogation and reimbursement recoveries" a condition of the provision of benefits under the plan’s coverage. In 2015, OPM confirmed that subrogation and reimbursement rights and responsibilities “relate to the nature, provision, and extent of coverage or benefits” under section 8902(m)(1). Nevils, insured under a FEHBA plan offered by Coventry, was injured in an automobile accident. Coventry paid his medical expenses and asserted a lien against the settlement Nevils recovered from the driver who caused his injuries. Nevils satisfied the lien, then filed a state court class action, citing Missouri law, which does not permit subrogation or reimbursement in this context. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nevils. The Supreme Court reversed. Because contractual subrogation and reimbursement prescriptions plainly “relate to . . . payments with respect to benefits,” they override state laws barring subrogation and reimbursement. When a carrier exercises its right to reimbursement or subrogation, it receives from either the beneficiary or a third party “payment” respecting the benefits it previously paid. The carrier’s very provision of benefits triggers that right to payment. Strong and “distinctly federal interests are involved,” in uniform administration of the FEHBA program, free from state interference, particularly concerning coverage, benefits, and payments. The regime is compatible with the Supremacy Clause. The statute, not a contract, strips overrides state law View "Coventry Health Care of Missouri, Inc. v. Nevils" on Justia Law

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Ochoa worked in a physically demanding job for McLane, which requires new employees in such positions and those returning from medical leave to take a physical evaluation. When Ochoa returned from three months of maternity leave, she failed the evaluation three times and was fired. She filed a sex discrimination charge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) began an investigation, but McLane declined its request for names, Social Security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers of employees asked to take the evaluation. After the EEOC expanded the investigation’s scope, it issued subpoenas under 42 U.S.C. 2000e–9, requesting information relating to its new investigation. The district judge declined to enforce the subpoenas. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the lower court erred in finding the information irrelevant. The Supreme Court vacated. A district court’s decision whether to enforce or quash an EEOC subpoena should be reviewed for abuse of discretion, not de novo. The Court noted “the longstanding practice of the courts of appeals," to review a district court’s decision to enforce or quash an administrative subpoena for abuse of discretion. In most cases, the enforcement decision will turn either on whether the evidence sought is relevant to the specific charge or whether the subpoena is unduly burdensome under the circumstances. Both tasks are well suited to a district judge’s expertise. Deferential review “streamline[s] the litigation process by freeing appellate courts from the duty of reweighing evidence and reconsidering facts already weighed and considered by the district court,” something particularly important in a proceeding designed only to facilitate the EEOC’s investigation. Not every decision touching on the Fourth Amendment is subject to searching review. View "McLane Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" on Justia Law

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The Constitution requires that the President obtain “the Advice and Consent of the Senate” before appointing “Officers of the United States” (PAS officers). The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA), section 3345(a), provides in paragraph (1), that generally, if a PAS vacancy arises, the first assistant to that office “shall perform” the office’s “functions and duties temporarily in an acting capacity,” but “notwithstanding paragraph (1),” the President “may direct” a person already serving in another PAS office, or a senior employee in the agency, to serve in an acting capacity. Subsection (b)(1) states: “Notwithstanding subsection (a)(1), a person may not serve as an acting officer” if the President nominates him for the vacant PAS office and, during the 365-day period preceding the vacancy, the person “did not serve in the position of first assistant” or “served . . . for less than 90 days.” The National Labor Relations Board's general counsel is a PAS office. In June 2010, a vacancy arose in that office. The President directed Solomon to serve as acting general counsel. Solomon qualified under subsection (a)(3) as an NLRB senior employee. In January 2011, the President nominated Solomon to serve as permanent general counsel. The Senate never took action on the nomination. Meanwhile, an NLRB Regional Director, acting on Solomon’s behalf, issued a complaint against SW. An ALJ and the Board concluded that SW had committed unfair labor practices. SW argued that the complaint was invalid because, under subsection (b)(1), Solomon could not act as general counsel after being nominated to that position. The NLRB countered that subsection (b)(1) applies only to first assistants acting under subsection (a)(1), not to officers who serve under (a)(2) or (a)(3). The DC Circuit vacated the Board’s order. The Supreme Court affirmed. Subsection (b)(1) prevents a person who has been nominated to fill a vacant PAS office from performing the duties of that office in an acting capacity and is not limited to first assistants acting under subsection (a)(1). View "National Labor Relations Board v. SW General, Inc" on Justia Law

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The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) is a federally-chartered corporation that participates in the secondary mortgage market, with authority “to sue and to be sued, and to complain and to defend, in any court of competent jurisdiction, State or Federal,” 12 U.S.C. 1723a(a). Plaintiffs filed suit in state court alleging deficiencies in the refinancing, foreclosure, and sale of their home. Fannie Mae removed the case to federal court, relying on its sue-and-be-sued clause as the basis for federal jurisdiction. The district court denied a motion to remand the case to state court and later entered judgment against plaintiffs. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The clause does not grant federal courts jurisdiction over all cases involving Fannie Mae. Distinguishing cases in which a sue-and-be-sued clause was held to confer jurisdiction, the Court noted that Fannie Mae’s clause adds the qualification “any court of competent jurisdiction.” A court of competent jurisdiction is a court with an existing source of subject-matter jurisdiction; the clause does not grant federal court subject-matter jurisdiction, but confers only a general right to sue. View "Lightfoot v. Cendant Mortgage Corp" on Justia Law

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Former Virginia Governor McDonnell, and his wife were indicted on honest services fraud and Hobbs Act extortion charges related to their acceptance of $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific, which developed Anatabloc, a nutritional supplement made from a compound found in tobacco. Williams wanted McDonnell’s assistance in getting public universities to perform research studies on the product. The government asserted that McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts. An “official act” is “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit,” 18 U.S.C. 201(a)(3). The claimed “official acts,” included “arranging meetings” for Williams with other Virginia officials, “hosting” events at the Governor’s Mansion, and “contacting other government officials” concerning the studies. The district court instructed the jury that “official act” encompasses “acts that a public official customarily performs,” including acts “in furtherance of longer-term goals” or “in a series of steps to exercise influence or achieve an end.” The court declined to give McDonnell’s requested instruction that “merely arranging a meeting, attending an event, hosting a reception, or making a speech are not, standing alone, ‘official acts.’” The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. An “official act” involves a decision or action (or an agreement to act or decide) on “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,” by a formal exercise of governmental power. The pertinent matter must be more focused and concrete than “Virginia business and economic development,” and a decision or action is more than merely setting up a meeting, hosting an event, or calling another official. The government’s expansive interpretation of “official act” would raise significant constitutional concerns. Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The jury instructions, therefore, were significantly overinclusive. View "McDonnell v. United States" on Justia Law

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An equally divided Court affirmed, by per curiam opinion, the judgment of the appeals court below. That court had temporarily halted implementation of the federal government's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program ("DAPA") on the grounds that the policy likely violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The case will go back to the federal district court to determine whether DAPA should be permanently enjoined. View "United States v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A third party may ask the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for inter partes review to reexamine claims in an issued patent and to cancel any claim found to be unpatentable in light of prior art; the decision “whether to institute an inter partes review . . . shall be final and non-appealable,” 35 U.S.C. 314(d). PTO is authorized to issue regulations governing inter partes review. One such regulation provides that, during inter partes review, a patent claim “shall be given its broadest reasonable construction in light of the specification of the patent in which it appears.” Garmin sought inter partes review of Cuozzo’s patent, asserting that claim 17 was obvious in light of prior patents. PTO reexamined claims 17, 10 and 14, finding those claims to be logically linked to the challenge; concluded that the claims were obvious in light of prior art; and canceled the claims. The Federal Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Section 314(d) bars a challenge to the decision to institute review. The “strong presumption” favoring judicial review is overcome by clear and convincing indications that Congress intended to bar review of the determination “to initiate an inter partes review under this section,” or where the challenge consists of questions closely tied to statutes related to that determination. Cuozzo’s claim does not implicate a constitutional question, nor present other questions beyond “this section.” The regulation requiring the broadest reasonable construction standard is a reasonable exercise of PTO's rulemaking authority, which is not limited to procedural regulations. The purpose of inter partes review is not only to resolve disputes among parties, but also to protect the public’s “paramount interest in seeing that patent monopolies . . . are kept within their legitimate scope.” Congress did not dictate what standard should apply in inter partes review. The broadest reasonable construction standard helps ensure precision in drafting claims and prevents a patent from tying up too much knowledge; PTO has used the standard for more than 100 years. View "Cuozzo Speed Techs., LLC v. Lee" on Justia Law

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay overtime compensation to covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a week; a 1966 exemption covers “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” at a covered dealership, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(10)(A). In 1970, the Department of Labor defined “salesman” to mean “an employee who is employed for the purpose of and is primarily engaged in making sales or obtaining orders or contracts for sale of the vehicles . . . which the establishment is primarily engaged in selling.” The regulation excluded service advisors, who sell repair and maintenance services but not vehicles, from the exemption. Several courts rejected that exclusion. In 1978, the Department changed its position, stating that service advisors could be exempt. In 1987, the Department confirmed its new interpretation, amending its Field Operations Handbook. In 2011, the Department issued a final rule that followed the original 1970 regulation and interpreted the statutory term “salesman” to mean only an employee who sells vehicles. The Ninth Circuit reversed dismissal of a suit by service advisors, alleging violation of the FLSA by failing to pay overtime compensation. The Supreme Court vacated. Section 213(b)(10)(A) must be construed without placing controlling weight on the 2011 regulation. Chevron deference is not warranted where the regulation is “procedurally defective.” An agency must give adequate reasons for its decisions. An “[u]nexplained inconsistency” in agency policy is “a reason for holding an interpretation to be an arbitrary and capricious change from agency practice,” not entitled to deference. The 2011 regulation was issued without the reasoned explanation that was required in light of the Department’s change in position and the significant reliance interests. View "Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro" on Justia Law