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

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The DC Circuit denied the Commission's and Intervenor's motions to dismiss the petitions filed after thirty days of Commission inaction. The court explained that, before a party aggrieved by an order of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can obtain judicial review, that party must file an application for rehearing with the Commission. Congress directed that, if the Commission fails to act on that rehearing application within thirty days, the application may be deemed denied, allowing the aggrieved party to proceed to federal court. The court held that under the plain statutory language and context of the Natural Gas Act, such tolling orders are not the kind of action on a rehearing application that can fend off a deemed denial and the opportunity for judicial review. In this case, because the Commission's Tolling Order could not prevent the Homeowners and Environmental Associations from seeking judicial review, the initial petitions for review that they filed challenging the Certificate Order in Nos. 17-1098 and 17-1128 are properly before this court for review, and the motions to dismiss those petitions for lack of jurisdiction are denied. The court held that the Homeowners' and Environmental Associations' challenge to the Certificate Order falls short because the Commission did not rely on precedent agreements alone to find that the pipeline would be a matter of public convenience and necessity. Therefore, the court denied all four petitions for review, as well as the Commission's and Transco's motions to dismiss the petitions for review in Nos. 17-1098 and 17-1128. View "Allegheny Defense Project v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed Defendant David G. Bowser's conviction for charges related his obstruction of an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) into his work as chief of staff to a Member of Congress, Paul Broun. Bowser hired Brett O'Donnell as a communications and messaging consultant for official duties, but O'Donnell's job included increasingly more work on the Congressman's re-election campaign. The court explained that nothing prevented O'Donnell from assisting the campaign as a volunteer or campaign employee, but House Rules forbade the Congressman's office from paying O'Donnell out of the Members' Representational Allowance (MRA). The court affirmed the judgment of acquittal on the obstruction-of-Congress charge and held that the House has structured its internal procedures such that the Office's reviews precede any investigation by the House or the Ethics Committee; affirmed the concealment conviction because defendant had fair notice that he could be criminally prosecuted by failing to disclose particular information; affirmed the two false-statement charges because the charges are justiciable, the jury had sufficient evidence to conclude that his statements to the OCE investigators were false, and the court declined to adopt defendant's proposed jury instruction; because any error was harmless, the court need not address the merits of defendant's Rostenkowski argument; and affirmed three of defendant's false-statement convictions because any failure to instruct the jury to ignore evidence presented for other counts was harmless. View "United States v. Bowser" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of the Commission's order of disclosure of certain financial data related to Inbound Letter Post. The court held that the Postal Service's statutory argument hinges on a misreading of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, and its arguments that the Commission's decision was arbitrary and capricious fail to overcome the deference the court owes to the Commission's reasoned decisions. In this case, the Commission hoped to facilitate public participation in discussions of possible reforms and to help the public understand why Inbound Letter Post was so unprofitable. The court found unpersuasive the Postal Service's contention that the Commission's reasoning was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to properly take into account substantial risk of commercial harm, to respond to the dissenting opinions of two Commissioners, and to provide a meaningful standard for when Postal Service confidential submissions can remain under seal. View "United States Postal Service v. Postal Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims of employment discrimination against Cushman & Wakefield's Chief Executive Officer of the Americas for lack of personal jurisdiction based on the fiduciary shield doctrine. The court held that the fiduciary shield doctrine lacks any basis in either the Due Process Clause or the transacting-business prong of the District of Columbia's long-arm statute, D.C.CODE 13-423(a)(1). The court also held that the district court's dismissal erroneously denied plaintiff's request in the alternative for limited jurisdictional discovery. Accordingly, on remand, the district court may either (i) determine on the current record that defendant's suit-related contacts (made in his capacity as CEO of the Americas and otherwise) satisfy the minimum-contacts standard, or (ii) grant jurisdictional discovery to permit development of the record on defendant's contacts with the District of Columbia. View "Urquhart-Bradley v. Mobley" on Justia Law

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In the underlying lawsuit, voting rights organizations alleged that the new Executive Director, Brian Newby, acted outside the scope of his authority by changing the Commission's policy on documentary proof of citizenship requirements. Eagle Forum subsequently moved, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(b), to permissively intervene for the limited purpose of gaining access to the sealed briefs and exhibits containing materials related to Commissioner Christy McCormick's testimony. Two years later, the district court denied Eagle Forum's motion in a Minute Order. The DC Circuit first held that the district court's order qualifies as an appealable collateral order. Under MetLife, Inc. v. Financial Stability Oversight Council, 865 F.3d 661 (D.C. Cir. 2017), the court held that Eagle Forum may intervene for the limited purpose of seeking to unseal references to the McCormick deposition. In so ruling, the court emphasized that this does not mean that those materials must be unsealed. Under the court's decision in United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293 (D.C. Cir. 1980), the district court will still need to determine whether countervailing interests, including the government's privilege claims, justify continued sealing. View "League of Women Voters v. Newby" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Defendant was convicted of distributing child pornography and traveling across state lines to engage in sexual conduct with a nine-year-old girl. The DC Circuit held that a defendant violates 18 U.S.C. 2423(b) by traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a child, even if the defendant is mistaken in believing that an actual child is involved. Therefore, the district court properly denied defendant's motion to dismiss the charged travel offense. The court also held that the district court permissibly admitted evidence that defendant had molested his own stepdaughter several years earlier, when she was between six and eight years old. View "United States v. Lieu" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit granted the petition for writ of mandamus in part and ordered the district court to grant the government's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 48 motion to dismiss the charges against Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, who pleaded guilty to making false statements under 18 U.S.C. 1001. The court held that the district court's orders appointing an amicus and scheduling a proposed hearing constitute legal error. The court also held that this is not the unusual case where a more searching inquiry is justified, and there is no adequate remedy for the intrusion on "the Executive's long-settled primacy over charging decisions." The court stated that, although Rule 48 requires "leave of court" before dismissing charges, "decisions to dismiss pending criminal charges—no less than decisions to initiate charges and to identify which charges to bring—lie squarely within the ken of prosecutorial discretion." The court reasoned that, whatever the precise scope of Rule 48's "leave of court" requirement, this is plainly not the rare case where further judicial inquiry is warranted. The court explained that Flynn agrees with the government's motion to dismiss and there has been no allegation that the motion reflects prosecutorial harassment, and the government's motion includes an extensive discussion of newly discovered evidence casting Flynn's guilt into doubt. The court stated that the government specifically points to evidence that the FBI interview at which Flynn allegedly made false statements was "untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn." In light of this evidence, the government maintains that it cannot "prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt." The court also stated that the government's representations about the insufficiency of the evidence are entitled to a "presumption of regularity," and, on the record before the district court, there is no clear evidence contrary to the government’s representations. Therefore, the court held that these clearly established legal principles and the Executive's "long-settled primacy over charging decisions" foreclose the district court's proposed scrutiny of the government's motion. The court also held that the district court's appointment of the amicus and demonstrated intent to scrutinize the reasoning and motives of the Department of Justice constitute irreparable harms that cannot be remedied on appeal. The court stated that the district court's actions will result in specific harms to the exercise of the Executive Branch's exclusive prosecutorial power, and the contemplated proceedings would likely require the Executive to reveal the internal deliberative process behind its exercise of prosecutorial discretion, interfering with the Article II charging authority. Furthermore, circumstances of this case demonstrate that mandamus is appropriate to prevent the judicial usurpation of executive power. The court denied Flynn's petition to the extent that he seeks reassignment of the district judge where the district judge's conduct did not indicate a clear inability to decide this case fairly. The court vacated the district court's order appointing an amicus as moot. View "In re: Michael Flynn" on Justia Law

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Associations filed suit contending that the Secretary's decision to expand the reach of the expedited removal process to its statutory limit, sweeping in all individuals without documentation who have resided in the United States for less than two years, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the Suspension Clause. The district court granted a preliminary injunction against the expansion based only on the APA claims, but did not address the INA and constitutional claims. The DC Circuit held that the district court properly exercised jurisdiction under 8 U.S.C. 1252(e) over the Associations' case. However, because Congress committed the judgment whether to expand expedited removal to the Secretary's "sole and unreviewable discretion," 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(iii)(I), the Secretary's decision is not subject to review under the APA's standards for agency decisionmaking. Furthermore, the Secretary's decision is not subject to the APA's notice-and-comment rulemaking requirements. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings. View "Make The Road New York v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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ACC, the subcontractor on a Corps flood protection project, filed suit against the prime contractor, Hirani, for breach of contract and the providers of Hirani's payment bond, Colonial, under the Miller Act for unpaid labor and materials. The district court entered judgment in favor of ACC and awarded damages against both defendants. The DC Circuit remanded the case to the district court to make findings of fact as to when the Prime Contract was terminated and whether ACC performed labor or supplied material on April 29 and/or April 30. In the event that Colonial and Hirani cannot meet their burden to show that ACC's Miller Act claim was untimely, then this court can resolve the parties' other Miller Act contentions. If Hirani and Colonial show that termination occurred before April 29 or that ACC performed no labor or supplied no material on April 29 or 30, the court can then address the Miller Act statute of limitations issue. The court affirmed the restitution damages award against Hirani on ACC's contract claim where ACC has not provided the court with any basis to deviate from the principle of D.C. law that restitution, not quantum meruit, is the proper remedy where there is an express contract between the parties. The court deferred addressing other issues raised by the parties. View "United States v. Hirani Engineering & Land Surveying, PC" on Justia Law

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Four professors of American studies filed suit against the American Studies Association (ASA) and individual ASA leaders after the ASA endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, alleging that the individual defendants breached various statutory, contractual and fiduciary duties in connection with the boycott. The district court dismissed their ultra vires claim and all derivative claims brought on the ASA's behalf. The professors then filed a second amended complaint. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the second amended complaint based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the district court did not err in revisiting its jurisdictional determination, applying the legal certainty test or valuing the amount in controversy. View "Bronner v. Duggan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure