Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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In January 2017, President Trump signed executive order EO-1, "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry," suspending, for 90 days, entry of foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and suspending the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. The Ninth Circuit upheld a nationwide temporary restraining order. The government revoked EO-1. EO-2 issued on March 6, describing conditions in six countries that “demonstrate ... heightened risks to [U.S.] security.” EO–2 section 2(a) directs Homeland Security to determine whether foreign governments provide adequate information about nationals applying for U.S visas and to report those findings to the President within 20 days; nations identified as deficient will have 50 days to alter their practices (2(b)). EO–2 2(c) directs that entry of nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, be suspended for 90 days; section 3(c) provides for case-by-case waivers. Section 6(a) suspends decisions on applications for refugee status and travel of refugees under the USRAP for 120 days; 6(b) suspends refugee entries in excess of 50,000 for this year. The order’s stated effective date is March 16, 2017. The Ninth Circuit again declined to stay a temporary injunction. The Supreme Court stayed the order in part, with respect to sections 2(c), 6(a), and 6(b). An American individual or entity that has a bona fide relationship with a particular person seeking to enter the country can legitimately claim concrete hardship if that person is excluded, even if the 50,000-person cap has been reached. As to these individuals and entities, the Court did not disturb the injunction; as to those lacking any such connection, the balance tips in favor of the government’s compelling interest in security. The Court noted a June 12 Ninth Circuit decision vacating the injunction as to 2(a) and stated that the Executive should conclude its work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of 2(c). View "Trump. v. International Refugee Assistance Project" on Justia Law

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Under the Civil Service Reform Act, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has the power to review certain personnel actions against federal employees. If an employee asserts rights under the CSRA only, MSPB decisions are subject to judicial review exclusively in the Federal Circuit, 5 U.S.C. 7703(b)(1). If the employee invokes only federal antidiscrimination law, the proper forum is federal district court. An employee who complains of a serious adverse employment action and attributes the action, in whole or in part, to bias based on race, gender, age, or disability brings a “mixed case.” When the MSPB dismisses a mixed case on the merits or on procedural grounds, review authority lies in district court, not the Federal Circuit. Perry received notice that he would be terminated from his Census Bureau employment for spotty attendance. Perry agreed to early retirement. The settlement required Perry to dismiss discrimination claims he had filed separately with the EEOC. After retiring, Perry appealed to the MSPB, alleging discrimination based on race, age, and disability, and retaliation for his discrimination complaints. He claimed the settlement had been coerced. Presuming Perry’s retirement to be voluntary, an ALJ dismissed his case for lack of jurisdiction. The MSPB affirmed, stating that Perry could seek review in the Federal Circuit. Perry instead sought review in the D.C. Circuit, which transferred the case to the Federal Circuit. The Supreme Court reversed. The proper review forum when the MSPB dismisses a mixed case on jurisdictional grounds is district court. A nonfrivolous claim that an agency action appealable to the MSPB violates an antidiscrimination statute listed in section 7702(a)(1) suffices to establish district court jurisdiction. Had Congress wanted to bifurcate judicial review, sending merits and procedural decisions to district court and jurisdictional dismissals to the Federal Circuit, it could have said so. View "Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia 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