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

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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
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Six defendants were indicted in 2018 following an ATF investigation of drug activity at a D.C. barbershop. During a 2017 traffic stop, officers had found what appeared to be a drug ledger, approximately $9,000, and drug paraphernalia in Fields’s vehicle. The ATF executed a search warrant on the barbershop three months later. In a suite above the barbershop, agents found cash, firearms, more drug paraphernalia, and large quantities of heroin mixed with fentanyl, PCP, Suboxone, and synthetic marijuana. They also found a document listing a medical appointment for Fields and a receipt for a purchase made with his credit card. A search of Fields’s home led to more drug ledgers, two of which listed “Foots” (Samuels). During subsequent searches of Samuels’s home, ATF agents found a shotgun, drug paraphernalia, crack cocaine, marijuana, and synthetic marijuana. Samuels admitted that he kept a gun under his bed for protection.Fields, Samuels, and Tucker were convicted on several drug- and firearm-related offenses. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the convictions, 21 U.S.C. 841, 846, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), and Samuels’s 84-month sentence, rejecting challenges to the 2017 traffic stop, evidentiary rulings, and the denial of Fields’s request to represent himself, and claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court cured any potential prejudice to Samuels and Tucker with limiting instructions and did not abuse its discretion in denying their motions to sever. View "United States v. Tucker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Broidy, an activist businessman, urged the government to oppose Qatar’s alleged funding and harboring of terrorists and to support the efforts of Qatar’s neighbors to isolate it economically. Broidy alleges that Qatar engaged in “a multi-million dollar dark money effort to recruit lobbyists and influencers to polish Qatar’s public image.” Qatar allegedly paid the defendants, U.S.-citizen public relations contractors, millions in hopes of rehabilitating its image with “the Republican, American Jewish community and other conservative supporters of Israel.” They allegedly retained a cybersecurity firm “to coordinate an offensive cyber and information operation against” Broidy and his company.Broidy sued, alleging violations of RICO, Stored Communications Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Defend Trade Secrets Act, and California law. Without acknowledging involvement in the alleged scheme, the defendants claimed immunity based on Broidy’s allegations regarding their relationship to Qatar, a foreign sovereign. The court dismissed certain claims as legally inadequate and rejected the immunity defense.The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act by its terms does not apply. Qatar has not said that the challenged conduct was at its behest nor has it urged the United States to recognize the defendants’ immunity. The State Department has never suggested that the defendants are immune as agents of Qatar. Without any such acknowledgment or suggestion, a private party claiming foreign sovereign immunity bears a heavy burden. The defendants here are U.S. citizens sued in their private capacities by U.S. plaintiffs for violations of U.S. and California law within the U.S. View "Broidy Capital Management LLC v. Muzin" on Justia Law

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The San Antonio Symphony contracts to perform most of its shows at the Tobin Center. After the Tobin Center barred the Symphony’s musicians from distributing leaflets on the premises, the musicians’ union filed an unfair labor practices charge. The leaflets informed patrons attending a ballet performance that they would not hear a live symphony and encouraged them to insist on live music. The National Labor Relations Board revised its approach and concluded that a property owner has the right to exclude from its property off-duty contractor employees seeking access to the property to engage in Section 7 activity unless those employees work both regularly and exclusively on the property and the property owner fails to show that they have one or more reasonable non-trespassory alternative means to communicate their message.The D.C. Circuit remanded. In aiming to identify those contractor employees with a sufficiently strong connection to the property to warrant the grant of access rights, the Board’s approach was arbitrary, both as to the condition that contractor employees work “regularly” on the property and as to the condition that they also work “exclusively” on the property. On remand, the Board may decide whether to proceed with a version of the test it announced and sought to apply in this case or to develop a new test. View "Local 23, American Federation of Musicians v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Wood smoke produced by home heaters can produce grave health consequences. To account for differences between residential and industrial or commercial sources, and in recognition that residential wood heater manufacturers are often small businesses, EPA regulates wood heaters’ emissions under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7411(b)(1)(A) through a certification program. Instead of requiring the testing of every heater, the program allows manufacturers to obtain certification to sell an entire model line based on satisfactory emissions testing of a single representative heater. EPA accepts test results from private, EPA-approved laboratories hired by the manufacturers. EPA may randomly select heaters from certified model lines for audit testing. Under its 1988 Rule, EPA called on the same laboratory that had done the certification testing for audit testing. The 1988 Rule referred to “restricting where and how audit testing could occur, at least until EPA studied and better understood interlaboratory variability.”The D.C. Circuit rejected challenges to the portion of the EPA 2015 rule updating those audit standards. When EPA proposed the current Rule, it explained the evolution of its understanding of test variability. It described how, based on analyses of testing proficiency data and improved testing methods developed since 1988, concerns about interlaboratory audit testing as a distinct source of variability were shown to have been overstated. It refined the audit procedures to address identified causes of variability. EPA acknowledged and adequately explained the changes and substantial evidence supports those changes. View "Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Several utilities that are managed by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a regional transmission operator, paid for upgrades to the transmission grid. The operative tariff required other utilities who benefitted from these upgrades to share the costs of the expanded network. The tariff, however, also required SPP to invoice the charges monthly and to make adjustments within one year. The reimbursement calculation proved complicated. It took SPP eight years to implement it, during which time SPP did not invoice for the upgrade charges. FERC initially granted SPP a waiver of the tariff’s one-year time bar but later determined it lacked the authority to waive this provision retroactively. FERC’s revised determination meant the utilities that had made substantial outlays for upgrades were denied reimbursement for the eight years that had elapsed.The D.C. Circuit denied petitions for review filed by SPP and a company that sponsored upgrades and has been denied reimbursement. Once a tariff is filed, FERC has no statutory authority (16 U.S.C. 824d(d)) to provide equitable exceptions or retroactive modifications to the tariff. SPP may impose only those charges contained in the filed rate. Because the one-year time bar for billing is part of the filed rate, FERC could not retroactively waive it, even to remedy a windfall for users of the upgraded networks. View "Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, was murdered in a Saudi consulate in 2018, apparently on orders of the Saudi Crown Prince. Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A), the plaintiffs sought records about whether four U.S. intelligence agencies knew, before the murder, of an impending threat to Khashoggi. The agencies refused to confirm or deny whether they have any responsive records, on the ground that the existence or nonexistence of such records is classified information. FOIA Exemption 1 covers matters that are “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.” To claim a FOIA exemption, an agency ordinarily must “acknowledge the existence of information responsive to a FOIA request” but if “the fact of the existence or nonexistence of agency records” itself falls within a FOIA exemption, the agency may “refuse to confirm or deny the existence” of the requested records, a “Glomar” response.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the agencies. Statements made by a State Department spokesman soon after the murder do not foreclose the intelligence agencies from asserting their Glomar responses; the intelligence agencies have logically and plausibly explained why the existence or nonexistence of responsive records is classified information. View "Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Central Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law