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

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Appellate was sentenced to life in prison in 1979 when he escaped prison and killed a federal officer. After serving more than 40 years of his sentence, he sought parole relief but was denied by the U.S. Parole Commission ("the Commission"). The Commission reasoned that Appellant was a high risk.Appellant sued the Commission, claiming that the Commission violated his due process rights and exceeded its statutory discretion when it denied him parole in 2016. Reaching the merits of Appellant's petition, the district court denied relief. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of Appellant's petition, finding that the district court's jurisdictional analysis was proper and that the Commission did not violate Appellant's rights. View "Artie Dufur v. USPC" on Justia Law

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Freight shippers (“Plaintiffs”) alleged that the nation’s four largest freight railroads (“Defendants” or “Railroads”) have violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1, by engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy to coordinate their fuel surcharge programs as a means to impose supra-competitive total price increases on their shipping customers. Before hearing summary judgment motions, the District Court considered Defendants’ motions to exclude certain evidence on which Plaintiffs rely. Defendants argued the challenged documents were inadmissible under 49 U.S.C. Section 10706(a)(3)(B)(ii)(II) (“Section 10706”) as evidence of the Railroads’ discussions or agreements concerning “interline” traffic.   The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the District Court’s interpretation of Section 10706, vacated the District Court’s order and remanded for the court to reconsider the evidence at issue. The court held that the District Court’s interpretation of Section 10706 sometimes strays from the literal terms of the statute.  The court reasoned that a discussion or agreement “concern[s] an interline movement” only if Defendants meet their burden of showing that the movements at issue are the participating rail carriers’ shared interline traffic. A discussion or agreement need not identify a specific shipper, shipments, or destinations to qualify for exclusion; more general discussions or agreements may suffice. Further, the court held that a carrier’s internal documents need not convey the substance of a discussion or agreement concerning interline movements to qualify for exclusion under the statute. View "In re: Rail Freight Fuel Surcharge Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law

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Vermont National Telephone Company filed a qui tam action against Northstar, SNR, DISH, and several affiliated companies (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging they violated the False Claims Act (“FCA”) by making false certifications and manipulating the Commission’s auction rules to secure fraudulent bidding credits on spectrum licenses. The district court dismissed the suit, resting its decision on the FCA’s “government-action bar” and its “demanding materiality standard.”   The D.C. Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal finding that neither basis the district court invoked warranted dismissal.  Defendants argued that the Commission levied civil money penalties by subjecting Northstar and SNR to default payment.  The court reasoned that even assuming that these default payments are civil money penalties, they have no bearing on whether the Commission’s licensing proceeding is a “civil money penalty proceeding” because the default payments were not assessed during the licensing proceeding.   Second, Defendants pointed out that the Commission may assess forfeiture penalties for willful failure to comply with any FCC rule or regulation. Commission regulations, however, authorize assessment of forfeiture penalties only in forfeiture proceedings.   Third, Defendants alluded to "other penalties” that the Commission may impose, however, because the Commission had no authority to assess civil money penalties during its licensing proceeding, which evaluated only Northstar’s and SNR’s long-form applications and the petitions to deny them, the licensing proceeding was not an “administrative civil money penalty proceeding.”  Finally, the court held that Vermont Telephone also satisfied Rule 9(b) by setting forth detailed allegations regarding the “time, place, and manner” of the fraudulent scheme. View "USA, ex rel. Vermont National Telephone Company v. Northstar Spectrum, LLC" on Justia Law

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Arthur Gary, General Counsel of the Justice Management Division at the Department of Justice, sent a letter to the Census Bureau requesting the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Then-Secretary of Commerce relied on the Gary Letter to direct the Census Bureau to include a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire.Shortly after the Department of Justice sent the Gary Letter, the Campaign Legal Center filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request with the Justice Department seeking documents that would explain how and why the agency came to request the citizenship question. The Department withheld more than 100 pages of responsive documents under FOIA Exemptions 5 and 6. The district court held that some of the Justice Department’s withholdings based on the deliberative process privilege were improper, and ordered the Department to produce those documents.   The D.C. Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment as to all drafts of the Gary Letter and most of the associated emails. The court remanded the withholding decision regarding the five emails identified above for further consideration. The court held that the Justice Department properly withheld non-final drafts of the letter and that most of the Department’s redactions of associated emails were lawful. The court reasoned that the process of drafting the Gary Letter to request the addition of a citizenship question in a way that protected the Department’s litigation and policy interests involved the exercise of policymaking discretion, and so the letter’s content itself was a relevant final decision for purposes of FOIA’s deliberative process privilege. View "Campaign Legal Center v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of organizations devoted to animal welfare and individuals who work with those organizations and with marine mammals, sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”), seeking to enforce conditions in permits held by SeaWorld, a business operating several marine zoological parks. The permits authorize the capture and display of orcas and require display facilities to transmit medical and necropsy data to the NMFS following the death of an animal displayed under the terms of a permit. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ suit for lack of standing.   The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court reasoned that to establish standing, a plaintiff “must show (1) an injury in fact that is concrete and particularized and actual or imminent; (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s challenged conduct; and (3) that the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision.” Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Feld Ent., Inc., 659 F.3d 13 (D.C. Cir. 2011).   Here, the court found that Plaintiffs failed to allege a favorable decision would lead the NMFS to enforce the permit conditions and thus redress their alleged injury. Their allegation to the contrary relies upon unadorned speculation that the NMFS would choose to enforce the necropsy permit conditions and that SeaWorld would voluntarily send necropsy information to an agency that had not enforced permit conditions in twenty-three years should the court determine that the NMFS retains its discretion to enforce permits it issued prior to 1994. View "Lori Marino v. NOAA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of blood plasma companies, challenged a U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") rule precluding aliens from entering the U.S. using B-1 business visitor visas to sell plasma. Plaintiffs claimed that they invested substantial resources to develop plasma collection facilities near the border and that the CPB rule failed to take Plaintiffs' interests into account when creating the new rule.The district court denied Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that the Plaintiffs' interests were not within the Administrative Procedure Act's "zone of interests." The district court, determining the zone-of-interest determination was jurisdictional, dismissed the complaint.The D.C. Circuit reversed. For the Plaintiffs to sue under the APA, they must have been “adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute." However, the zone-of-interests determination is a merits issue, not a jurisdictional one. From there, the D.C. Circuit considered the merits, finding that the Plainitffs' case interests should have been considered under the B-1 analysis. Thus, the court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "CSL Plasma Inc. v. United States Customs and Border Protection" on Justia Law

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Petitioner is an experienced airline pilot. When he was interviewing for a new position, he was asked to take a urine test. Unable to provide an adequate sample, Petitioner left the site. Under FAA guidelines, walking out before providing a drug test sample is considered a refusal. The potential employer reported Petitioner's refusal to the FAA. The FAA sought to revoke Petitioner's pilot and medical certifications. However, at a hearing in front of the National Safety Transportation Board, the Board agreed with the FAA in sustaining the refusal, but reduced Petitioner's sanction to a 180-suspension.The D.C. Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review, finding that by walking out before providing a sufficient urine sample, Petitioner's conduct was properly considered a refusal. In so holding, the court noted that the trial court credited the FAA witnesses while questioning the veracity of Petitioner's testimony.The D.C. Circuit also granted the FAA's cross-petition, finding that the Board was required to defer to the FAA under these circumstances. View "Ydil Pham v. NTSB" on Justia Law

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In this insurance coverage dispute, Plaintiff, an insured company, sought to sidestep its insurer by collecting a $22 million claim from ten insurance brokers and reinsurers. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract and declaratory judgment.   The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court held that Plaintiff failed to plead facts to establish a contractual relationship with reinsurers. Plaintiff’s evidence of the reinsurance binders did not create a contractual relationship between Plaintiff and reinsurers. Further, the court held that summary judgment for reinsurers was proper; finding that Plaintiff’s claims of implied contract, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment are wholly unsupported by record evidence. The court further held that the “economic loss doctrine” bars Plaintiff’s claims against the other defendants. The economic loss doctrine prohibits claims of negligence where, as here, a claimant seeks to recover purely economic losses. View "Vantage Commodities Financial Services v. Assured Risk Transfer PCC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, the Fast Food Workers Committee and Service Employees International Union, sought review of the NLRB’s (“Board”) approval of the settlement agreements between the Board’s General Counsel on the one hand, and McDonald’s and a group of McDonald’s franchisees on the other. Amongst Petitioners' many objections, their primary concern is the agreements’ failure to determine whether McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees. Another significant objection is directed to the participation of one of the Board’s Members in this decision. It is claimed that he should have been recused   The DC Circuit denied the petition for review, finding that the Board did not abuse its discretion in issuing its order approving the settlements and that Petitioners’ recusal argument was not properly presented.Petitioners argued that Board was arbitrary and capricious in approving the settlements, in light of the unions’ objections. The court held that the Board acted well within its discretion in approving the settlements, given the Board’s discretion to approve settlements and its careful and comprehensive analysis of the reasonableness of the settlements. Petitioners also contended that the Board’s order was invalid because a member should have recused himself. The court held that Petitioners’ did not meet their obligation to make clear that they were bringing a constitutional challenge before the NLRB and the court. View "Fast Food Workers Committee v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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The case stems from a compensation fund established by the Justice for United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act. Pursuant to that statute, known as the “Terrorism Act,” the child’s grandfather, Appellant, has received roughly $250,000 of a multimillion-dollar judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism. Contending that the law requires more prompt and regular payment to claimants like himself, Appellant sued the federal officials administering the fund.The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s first claim. The court reasoned that the statute does not authorize the retroactive increase of penalties collected prior to the Clarification Act amendments. Further, the court affirmed the dismissal of the second claim because the court need reach Appellant’s second claim only “[i]n the event [that he] prevails on Count 1.”Next, Appellant sought an injunction “requiring the Attorney General ‘to appoint a [s]pecial [m]aster going forward if there is more than $100 million in the [f]und’ and ordering that the [s]pecial [m]aster ‘make a distribution in 2021.’” The court declined to resolve without briefing this late-raised issue. Appellant argues that once the fund’s balance exceeds $100 million, “the special master is required to distribute all the money in the [f]und to claimants.” However, the court explained that the statute “does not set a threshold for mandating distributions from the fund” and, it is possible for the fund to exceed $100 million and still lack “available” funds, Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal. View "Murray Braun v. USA" on Justia Law