Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Appellant, a United States citizen working in Syria as a journalist, seeks a declaration that his alleged inclusion on the government's purported terrorist list is unconstitutional and an injunction barring the United States government from including him on the purported list without providing additional procedural protections. In this case, because five aerial bombings allegedly occurred in appellant's vicinity in Syria during the summer of 2016, he claims that he has mistakenly been placed on a purported list of individuals the United States has determined are terrorists who may be targeted and killed. The district court dismissed the complaint under the state secrets privilege.The DC Circuit held, however, that the complaint fails to allege plausibly that any of the five aerial bombings were attributable to the United States and specifically targeted appellant. Therefore, the court concluded that appellant's standing theory does not cross the line from conceivable to plausible. The court vacated the district court's dismissal and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint on the ground that appellant lacks Article III standing. View "Kareem v. Haspel" on Justia Law

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In this appeal arising from a long-running dispute between the Republic of Moldova and a Ukrainian energy provider called Energoalliance, a company called Stileks—which owns the right to Energoalliance's arbitration award—seeks to recover the arbitration award. Principally at issue is whether the district court correctly confirmed the arbitration award which, with interest, now exceeds $58 million.The DC Circuit upheld the confirmation of the award. The court rejected Moldova's claims that the district court lacked jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and that, even if the district court had jurisdiction, it was error to confirm the arbitral award during the pendency of certain foreign proceedings. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding prejudgment interest to appropriately compensate Stileks for the time value of money. However, the court remanded for the district court to consider whether Moldova had a settled expectation that an adverse judgment would be denominated in Moldovan lei rather than U.S. dollars. View "LLC SPC Stileks v. Republic of Moldova" on Justia Law

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Appellant was charged with two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), and one count of simple possession of a controlled substance, 21 U.S.C. 844(a). Appellant conditionally pleaded guilty to the firearms charges and preserved his ability to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that appellant's motion to suppress was properly denied where the vehicles' in-tandem driving to and from the scene of a shooting is suggestive of a conspiracy to perpetrate the shooting, in a way that mere presence as a passenger during what might have been an outwardly lawful transaction is not. Furthermore, despite the passage of time, the evidence gathered by the police was sufficient to establish probable cause to search one of the vehicles when it was seized. Finally, the court held that, while it would have been better if the district court had expressly omitted the disputed sentencing points from its calculation of the criminal history score, the record is sufficiently clear that the points did not affect the sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed appellant's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Jenkins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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CNN filed suit against the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for access to memos that former FBI Director James Comey wrote. The FBI filed a redacted declaration by Deputy Assistant Director David Archey explaining why it redacted the Comey Memos. After the FBI disclosed most of the Comey Memos, the district court ordered the FBI to disclose the unredacted Archey Declaration under the common-law right to access judicial records.The DC Circuit vacated, agreeing with the FBI that the district court misapplied the six-factor test first articulated in United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293 (D.C. Cir. 1980). The court explained that the Archey Declaration is a judicial record because the purpose and effect of it was to influence a judicial decision. Because the Archey Declaration is a judicial record, the court applied a strong presumption in favor of disclosing it. The court disagreed at how the district court applied the first and second Hubbard factors: (1) the need for public access to the information redacted from the Archey Declaration, and (2) the extent of previous public access to that information. The court explained that a district court weighing the first factor should consider the public's need to access the information that remains sealed, not the public's need for other information sought in the overall lawsuit. Therefore, the proper inquiry is whether the public needs to access the remaining information redacted from the Archey Declaration, not whether the public needs to access the Comey Memos as a whole or even the Archey Declaration as a whole. Likewise, a district court weighing the second factor should consider the public's previous access to the sealed information, not its previous access to the information available in the overall lawsuit. The court also parted ways with the district court as to the third, fourth, and fifth Hubbard factors. Finally, given especially the national security context of the sealed information, the sixth factor does not outweigh other factors with strong claims to the label of "most important" in this case. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to reapply the Hubbard factors. View "Cable News Network, Inc. v. FBI" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Shawnee Tribe challenged the allocation of funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 801(a)(1). Of the $150 billion appropriated, the Act reserved $8 billion for “Tribal governments.” The amount paid to a Tribal government is determined by the Secretary of the Treasury “based on increased expenditures of each such Tribal government . . . relative to aggregate expenditures in fiscal year 2019 by the Tribal government." Rather than using the enrollment numbers submitted by the tribes, the Secretary relied on tribal population data used by HUD in connection with the Indian Housing Block Grant program.” That data does not reflect actual enrollment. The Secretary’s decision to use IHBG data had an unfortunate impact on the Shawnee Tribe, which had over $6.6 million in expenditures in 2019, and “incurred significant medical and public health expenses in responding to the devastation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” It received $100,000.The district court, finding the allocation of funds under the Act unreviewable, dismissed the case. The D.C. Circuit reversed, with directions to enter a preliminary injunction promptly. By requiring that the allocations be “based on increased expenditures,” Congress has not left the Secretary with “unbounded” discretion. The court noted that the Secretary acknowledged that the IHBG data was inadequate as a proxy for increased expenditures in some cases but did not seek alternative information for the 25 tribes with no IHBG population. View "Shawnee Tribe v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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ESPN published an article about Driscoll, the former president of a nonprofit organization, indicating that a former employee planned to file an IRS whistleblower complaint that might lead to charges of embezzlement and fraud against Driscoll. The following month, Driscoll participated in a child custody hearing against her ex-husband. Valdini, an IRS criminal investigator, watched testimony by a cousin of Driscoll’s ex-husband who was also the IRS whistleblower, and from Driscoll, telling Driscoll that he was a member of the public. Valdini had lunch with Driscoll’s ex-husband, who offered to aid in the criminal investigation.Driscoll was indicted for fraud and tax evasion. Defense counsel asked the court to authorize discovery on whether the government had used a civil “audit” process to gather information for Driscoll’s criminal case. In reply to the government's opposition, Driscoll raised the custody hearing for the first time. The court denied her motion. At trial, Valdini’s conduct at the child-custody hearing was revealed. Government counsel, previously unaware of Valdini’s lunch outing, disclosed Valdini’s actions to the court, which held an evidentiary hearing. Driscoll unsuccessfully moved for a mistrial or dismissal, arguing that Valdini’s presence at the child-custody hearing violated her right against self-incrimination and that the government violated Brady by failing to disclose Valdini’s conduct.The D.C. Circuit vacated Driscoll’s convictions, finding that the court’s anti-deadlock jury instructions likely coerced a unanimous verdict. The court found no prejudice on the Brady claim and did not address Driscoll’s pretrial discovery or Fifth Amendment arguments. View "United States v. Driscoll" on Justia Law

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Appellant, a resident of the District of Columbia and a dual citizen of the United States and the Russian Federation, filed a defamation action in district court against appellee, a nonresident alien and citizen of the United Kingdom. Because appellee made his allegedly defamatory statements outside of the District of Columbia, appellant sought to establish personal jurisdiction over appellee under the District's long-arm jurisdiction statute, D.C. CODE 13-423(a)(4). The district court granted appellee's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.The DC Circuit vacated, concluding that it cannot determine whether appellee's non-government contacts with the District satisfy any of the three "plus factors" required under the long-arm statute. In this case, the district court relied on an overly broad construction of the government contacts exception in granting judgment for appellee and denying jurisdictional discovery. Accordingly, the court has no sound basis upon which to credit the district court's judgment. The court remanded for jurisdictional discovery. View "Akhmetshin v. Browder" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that DCPS failed to provide her son with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) based on his 2017 individualized education program (IEP). The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claim as moot, holding that the case presents a fact-specific challenge to particular provisions in an inoperative IEP. Furthermore, the parties agreed to a subsequent IEP and plaintiff does not seek retrospective relief. The court also held that an exception to mootness does not apply where the voluntary cessation doctrine is inapplicable and plaintiff's claim fails to meet the capable of repetition prong because the challenge focuses on a fact-specific inquiry rather than a recurring legal question. View "J. T. v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, Congress required hospitals to make public "a list" of "standard charges" in accordance with guidelines developed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Hospital and others challenged the Secretary's rule defining "standard charges" as including prices that hospitals charge insurers.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, holding that the rule does not violate the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the Administrative Procedure Act, or the First Amendment. The court concluded that, viewed in its entirety, 42 U.S.C. 2718(e) is best interpreted as requiring disclosure of more than list prices. The court explained that section 2718(e) permits the Secretary to require disclosure of negotiated rates, and requiring hospitals to display certain datapoints separately falls squarely within the Secretary's authority to develop guidelines for making the list public. Furthermore, contrary to the Association's argument, the best reading of section 2718(e), in its entirety, permits the Secretary to require hospitals to display the information in multiple ways.In regard to the APA claims, the court concluded that the Secretary adequately addressed the feasibility and administrative burdens, as well as the benefits, of complying with the rule. Furthermore, the court rejected the Association's claim that the agency changed its position. Finally, the court concluded that the Association's argument that the rule violates the First Amendment is squarely barred by the Supreme Court's decision in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626 (1985), and the court's case law applying that decision. View "American Hospital Ass'n v. Azar" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that the members of the House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Reform who requested agency information under 5 U.S.C. 2954 have standing under Article III to enforce their statutorily conferred right to information. In this case, members requested information from the General Service Administration related to property owned by the government.The court explained that informational injuries have long satisfied the injury requirement of Article III where a rebuffed request for information to which the requester is statutorily entitled is a concrete, particularized, and individualized personal injury, within the meaning of Article III. The court distinguished that traditional form of injury from the non-cognizable, generalized injuries claimed by legislators that are tied broadly to the law-making process and that affect all legislators equally. Furthermore, nothing in Article III erects a categorical bar against legislators suing to enforce statutorily created informational rights against federal agencies, whether under the Freedom of Information Act or under Section 2954. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Maloney v. Murphy" on Justia Law