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

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BuzzFeed, a media outlet, sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, seeking disclosure of an unredacted version of the report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The district court permitted most of DOJ’s redactions. BuzzFeed challenged the decision only with respect to information redacted pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C), and relating to individuals investigated but not charged. Exemption 7(C) permits the withholding of law enforcement records which, if disclosed, “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”The D.C. Circuit affirmed with respect to redacted passages containing personally-identifying facts about individuals that are not disclosed elsewhere in the Report and would be highly stigmatizing to the individuals’ reputations. The court reversed with respect to redacted passages that primarily show how Special Counsel interpreted relevant law and applied it to already public facts available elsewhere in the Report in reaching individual declination decisions. After in camera review of the Report, the court concluded that those passages show only how the government reached its declination decisions and do not contain new facts or stigmatizing material. Matters of substantive law enforcement policy are properly the subject of public concern” and are “a sufficient reason for disclosure independent of any impropriety.” View "Electronic Privacy Information Center v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska and numerous intervenors filed suit challenging the Forest Service's issuance of the Roadless Rule, which prohibits (with some exceptions) all road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvesting in inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. After the district court dismissed the case on statute-of-limitations grounds, the DC Circuit reversed and remanded. On remand, the district court granted the summary-judgment motions of the Agriculture Department and its intervenor supporters. After briefing but before oral argument, the Agriculture Department granted Alaska's request to conduct a rulemaking to redetermine whether to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. The DC Circuit ordered the appeals stayed pending completion of the rulemaking, and on October 29, 2020, the Agriculture Department issued a final rule exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule.The DC Circuit concluded that Alaska's claims regarding application of the Roadless Rule to the Tongass National Forest are moot, and dismissed these claims and vacated those portions of the district court's decision regarding the Tongass. The court dismissed the remaining claims on appeal for lack of standing. View "Alaska v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, 120 Stat. 3198, directed the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to establish a rate-making system to govern the prices set by the U.S. Postal Service for its market-dominant products. The Act forbids rates from increasing faster than the rate of inflation. PRC was required to assess after 10 years whether the system had achieved nine objectives; if not, then PRC could modify the rate-making system or adopt an alternative one. In 2017, PRC found that the existing rate-making system was deficient and had not maintained the Postal Service’s financial stability. After extensive review, it adopted a new system in 2020, which retains the price cap generally but allows above-inflation rate increases to target specific costs, 85 Fed. Reg. 81,124 (Order 5763).The D.C. Circuit rejected a challenge to Order 5763. PCR acted within its authority under the Accountability Act, and its predictive judgments and economic conclusions satisfy the Administrative Procedure Act’s requirement of reasoned decision-making. The Act's terms permit PCR to either make minor changes to the rate-making system or replace it altogether, including with a system inconsistent with the price cap. View "National Postal Policy Council v. Postal Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule for trailers pulled by tractors based on a statute enabling the EPA to regulate “motor vehicles.” In that same rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued fuel efficiency standards for trailers based on a statute enabling NHTSA to regulate “commercial medium-duty or heavy-duty on-highway vehicles.” The “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2.” 81 Fed. Reg. 73,478, requires trailer manufacturers to adopt some combination of fuel-saving technologies, such as side skirts and automatic tire pressure systems. Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association sought review.The D.C. Circuit vacated all portions of the rule that pertain to trailers. Trailers have no motor and art not “motor vehicles.” Nor are they “vehicles” when that term is used in the context of a vehicle’s fuel economy since motorless vehicles use no fuel. View "Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4, to sue an agency of the United States, a plaintiff must serve the agency and the United States. Service to the United States is delivered to the U.S. Attorney for the district where the action is brought and the U.S. Attorney General . Rule 4 provides 90 days to complete service, and instructs that “[i]f a defendant is not served within 90 days after the complaint is filed, the court ... must dismiss the action without prejudice against that defendant or order that service be made within a specified time.” In these consolidated cases, federal employees seeking to sue federal agencies for discrimination, failed to properly serve the United States. Each district court declined to grant an extension of time to effectuate service. The cases were dismissed without prejudice, but the limitations period had expired.The D.C. Circuit affirmed. When a plaintiff has otherwise not demonstrated good cause for failing to effectuate service, the running of the statute of limitations does not require a district court to extend the time for service of process, nor does it require appellate review under a heightened standard. Neither plaintiff demonstrated good cause, and dismissal of these complaints under Rule 4(m) was within the broad discretion of the district court. View "Stephenson v. Buttigieg" on Justia Law

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Schindler filed suit alleging that WMATA arbitrarily eliminated it from consideration of a bid to replace escalators throughout WMATA's Metrol Rail System stations even though it complied with the Request for Proposal's (RFP) requirements and offered a better value than that proposed by the awardee.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal sua sponte of Schindler's complaint based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that WMATA, an interstate compact entity, had not waived its sovereign immunity. The court explained that neither the interstate compact creating WMATA, the Authority's procurement documents nor the Administrative Procedure Act waives WMATA's sovereign immunity for challenges to procurement decisions like Schindler's. View "Schindler Elevator Corp. v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority" on Justia Law

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Breiterman was subjected to three disciplinary actions imposed by her employer, the U.S. Capitol Police. She was suspended after commenting to fellow employees that women had to “sleep with someone” to get ahead. She was later placed on administrative leave and ultimately demoted for leaking a picture of an unattended Police firearm to the press. Although Breiterman admitted to this misconduct, she sued the Police, alleging sex discrimination, retaliation in violation of the Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. 1301, and unlawful retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Police. The Police provided legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for suspending Breiterman, placing her on administrative leave during an investigation into the media leak, and demoting her from a supervisory position; nothing in the record would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that those reasons were a pretext for discrimination or retaliation. Supervisors are entrusted with greater authority than officers, held to a higher standard, and disciplined more severely than officers for similar violations, so Breiterman’s nonsupervisory comparators are too dissimilar to draw any inference of discriminatory treatment. Even assuming some procedural deviation occurred, the deviations were not so irregular as to indicate unlawful discrimination. View "Breiterman v. United States Capitol Police" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are commercial truck drivers who received citations for violating state vehicle safety laws. State officials reported these citations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for inclusion in the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), 49 U.S.C. 31106(a)(3)(B). After state courts dismissed misdemeanor charges arising from the citations, the drivers asked the Administration to remove them from the MCMIS. The Administration forwarded the requests to the relevant state agencies, which declined to remove the citations. The drivers later authorized the release of their PreEmployment Screening Program (PSP) reports to prospective employers.The drivers allege harm from the inclusion of their citations in the PSP reports and sought damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681e. The drivers alleged that the Administration violated FCRA by not following reasonable procedures to ensure that their PSP reports were as accurate as possible, by failing to investigate the accuracy of their PSP reports upon request, and by refusing to add a statement of dispute to their PSP reports. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Administration, in releasing MCMIS records as required by the SAFE Transportation Act, is not a “consumer reporting agency” under FCRA. View "Mowrer v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Cadillac of Naperville's service mechanics went on strike in 2017. The National Labor Relations Board found that the dealership responded to the strike unlawfully (29 U.S.C. 158(a)) by discharging one mechanic for his union activity, threatening to retaliate against several mechanics, and refusing to bargain with the mechanics’ union. The mechanic, Bisbikis, was one of six mechanics permanently replaced during the strike and had approached the dealership’s owner about certain worker complaints. The owner had “warned” Bisbikis that “things would not be the same” if the mechanics decided to strike. After the strike settled, the owner stated that Bisbikis was a ringleader of the strike and he no longer wanted to employ Bisbikis. Later, the owner fired Bisbikis, assertedly for insubordination. The owner subsequently sought to restrict union access to Naperville premises.At the NLRB’s request, the D.C. Circuit remanded the discharge issue for the Board to apply its intervening decision changing the framework under which it assesses alleged retaliation in mixed-motive cases. Under that decision, the NLRB bears the initial burden of proving that union activity was a “motivating factor” in an adverse action against an employee; if it meets that burden, the employer must prove that it “would have taken the same action in the absence of the unlawful motive.” The court rejected the dealership’s other challenges. View "Cadillac of Naperville, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Hillie was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2251(e), possession of images of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B), and various counts relating to sexual abuse of children and minors, under D.C. law. A search of his electronic devices had revealed videos, recorded by cameras hidden in the bedroom and bathroom, of minors in the nude. Hillie had also touched the girls in a sexual manner. He was sentenced to 354 months’ imprisonment.The D.C. Circuit vacated in part, agreeing that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions of sexual exploitation of a minor, attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, and possession of images of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. No rational trier of fact could find the girl’s conduct depicted in the videos to be a “lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person,” under section 2256(2)(A) nor that Hillie intended to use the girl to display her anus, genitalia, or pubic area in a lustful manner that connotes the commission of sexual intercourse, bestiality, masturbation, or sadistic or masochistic abuse, and took a substantial step toward doing so. The court rejected arguments that the court erroneously instructed the jury, erroneously admitted certain testimony, and erroneously denied a motion to sever the federal counts from the remaining counts. View "United States v. Hillie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law