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

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This case involves four subgroups of the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), which provided advice to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The subgroups—one subcommittee and three task groups—provided advice to the DAC, but never directly to the FAA. At issue is whether section 10(b) of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) applies to records that these subgroups created but never provided to the DAC.The DC Circuit held that the DAC subgroups were not themselves advisory committees and that section 10(b) of FACA does not extend to documents that the subgroups created but never gave to the DAC. The court found unpersuasive EPIC's contentions that the subcommittee and task groups satisfy FACA's definition of an advisory committee. Rather, the court concluded that the subgroups here provided no advice to the FAA directly, and the DAC functioned as more than a rubber-stamp for the subgroups' work product. As to section 10(b), the court concluded that the present dispute involves only records created by the subgroups and never given to the DAC; such records were neither "made available to" nor "prepared for or by" the DAC; and, instead, the records were "prepared for or by" the subgroups themselves. View "Electronic Privacy Information Center v. Drone Advisory Committee" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly transporting an individual to engage in prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2421(a), the district court sentenced him to 22 months in prison and six years of supervised release.The DC Circuit vacated the supervised release portion of defendant's sentence, agreeing with defendant that his attorney provided ineffective assistance at sentencing by failing to object when the district court relied on the wrong provision of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. In this case, USSG 5D1.2(c) was the incorrect provision to apply, and the proper Guidelines provision was USSG 5D1.2(c). The court explained that the record of defendant's sentencing shows a reasonable probability that the district court would have chosen a five-year sentence but for his counsel's failure to object to the incorrect Guidelines provision. Therefore, defendant was prejudiced by counsel's deficient performance. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Parks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant entered a guilty plea on the understanding that the government would not argue that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction because of his alleged supervisory or managerial role in a drug-smuggling conspiracy. Doing so would eliminate a statutory barrier to defendant seeking relief under the Safety Valve provision of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. 3553(f)(4), from his mandatory minimum sentence. However, the government understood its promise differently, arguing that it retained the ability to oppose any Safety Valve relief and characterizing the relevant language in the plea agreement as inelegant and unnecessary.The DC Circuit held that the plea agreement is ambiguous as to the government's ability to oppose Safety Valve relief on the ground that defendant was a supervisor or manager in a drug conspiracy. The court explained that controlling precedent requires that the ambiguity be resolved in favor of the defendant. Therefore, the court vacated defendant's sentence and remanded for a new sentencing proceeding, untainted and uninfluenced by the government's breach of the plea agreement and the evidence it introduced in the process. View "United States v. Moreno-Membache" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts related to his involvement in a Mexican cartel called the Los Zetas. The first count involved a racketeer influenced and corrupt organization (RICO) conspiracy to import controlled substances into the United States, and the second and third counts related to being an accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder in Mexico of two U.S. Special Agents.The DC Circuit concluded that the district court did not commit reversible error in determining the drug quantity for which defendant was responsible; the district court did not commit reversible error in applying the two-point supervisory role enhancement under USSG 3B1.1(c); and the district court did not commit reversible error in imposing a two-point enhancement for the use of threats and violence under USSG 2D1.1(b)(2) and a two-point enhancement for the use of physical restraints under USSG 3A1.3. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's calculation of defendant's sentence for the RICO conspiracy. However, the court vacated defendant's convictions under 18 U.S.C. 1114 for accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder of U.S. officials. The court concluded that the district court committed plain error affecting defendant's substantial rights by convicting and sentencing defendant under section 1114 because the underlying conduct occurred in Mexico. The court remanded for a limited resentencing. View "United States v. Carbajal Flores" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellants challenge the district court's dismissal of their claims against Ukraine for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). Appellants' claims stemmed from Ukraine's "total destruction" of their property for the construction of a road and railway bridge project.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Ukraine based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the district court correctly determined that appellants' lawsuit does not fall within the FSIA's expropriation exception. With respect to Appellants Luxexpress–II and the Ivanenkos, their claims are barred by the domestic takings rule. The court explained that, although the domestic takings rule does not apply to Alamo Group, it failed to show that its property is "owned or operated" by an instrumentality of Ukraine. In this case, even assuming arguendo, that the Ukraine South–Western Railway occupies the land that Luxexpress–II had leased, there are no allegations that it "owned or operated" Alamo Group's property. The court also concluded that appellants cannot satisfy the FSIA's commercial activity exception where the allegations describe conduct that is quintessentially sovereign and which could not have been carried out by a private participant in the marketplace. Therefore, Ukraine's alleged conduct was not in connection with commercial activity. Finally, the court concluded that Ukraine did not waive its sovereign immunity and rejected appellants' claims to the contrary. View "Ivanenko v. Yanukovich" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to PBGC, concluding that 29 C.F.R. 4044.4(b) is valid and that the PBGC Appeals Board reasonably applied section 4044.4(b) to deny appellant's lumpsum request. The court also concluded that, because fiduciaries must act in accordance with the terms of plan documents only "insofar as such documents and instruments are consistent with the provisions of" the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), Penn Traffic fulfilled its fiduciary duties by denying appellant's request in compliance with section 4044.4(b). Therefore, the court need not address appellant's contentions that Penn Traffic's handling of his lumpsum request was inconsistent with the Plan's terms. View "Fisher v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp." on Justia Law

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Wilton Rancheria, a Sacramento area Indian tribe, was federally recognized in 1927. The 1958 Rancheria Act disestablished Wilton and 40 other reservations. In 1979, several California rancherias, including Wilton, sued. The government agreed to restore Indian status. Wilton was erroneously excluded from the settlement. In 2009, the Department of the Interior restored Wilton’s federal recognition and agreed to “accept in trust certain lands formerly belonging to” Wilton. Wilton petitioned to acquire 282 acres near Galt for a casino. A draft environmental impact statement (EIS), under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321–4347, identified alternatives, including a 30-acre Elk Grove parcel. Wilton changed its preference and requested that the Department acquire the Elk Grove location. Objectors responded that acquiring the Elk Grove location would moot pending state-court suits.The Department’s final EIS identified the Elk Grove location as the preferred alternative. The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs, Roberts, signed the Record of Decision (ROD) pursuant to delegated authority. Roberts had served as Acting Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs (AS–IA), but after his acting status lapsed under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Roberts continued to exercise the non-exclusive AS–IA functions. Black, who became Acting AS–IA in the new administration, signed off on the acquisition.Objectors filed suit before the issuance of the Department’s ROD and unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order. The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Department, rejecting claims that the Department impermissibly delegated the authority to make a final agency action to acquire the land to an official who could not wield this authority, was barred from acquiring land in trust on behalf of Wilton’s members, and failed to comply with NEPA. View "Stand Up For California! v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. 301, sets forth separate and detailed regimes for the regulation of medical products classified as drugs or devices. Since 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has exercised its claimed discretion to classify Genus’s “Vanilla SilQ” line of diagnostic contrast agents as drugs, notwithstanding the FDA’s recognition that the products “appear” to satisfy the statutory definition for devices. Contrast agents are used in medical imaging to improve the visualization of tissues, organs and physiological processes. The FDA claims that, if a medical product satisfies the statutory definitions of both a “drug” and a “device,” the Act’s overlapping definitions grant by implication the FDA broad discretion to regulate the product under either regime. Genus challenged the FDA’s classification decision as inconsistent with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2), and the FDCA.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Genus. The FDCA unambiguously forecloses the FDA’s interpretation. “It would make little sense, then, for the Congress to have constructed such elaborate regulatory regimes—carefully calibrated to products’ relative risk levels—only for the FDA to possess the authority to upend the statutory scheme by reclassifying any device as a drug, no matter its relative risk level.” View "Genus Medical Technologies LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law

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T-Mobile's call centers employ customer service representatives (CSRs). Since 2009, the union, CWA, has attempted to organize T-Mobile CSRs but has not filed a representation petition. In 2015, T-Mobile launched T-Voice to “Enhance Customers and Frontline experience by identifying, discussing, and communicating solutions for roadblocks for internal and external customers. Provide a vehicle for Frontline feedback and create a closed-loop communication with T-Mobile Sr. Leadership,” with T-Voice representatives at each call center. T-Mobile emailed all CSRs: You can raise issues by reaching out to your T-Voice representatives. Prospective T-Voice representatives were told that they would be “responsible for gathering pain points from your peers.”CWA alleged that T-Voice was a labor organization under the National Labor Relations Act (Section 2(5)), T-Mobile supported T-Voice (Section 8(a)(2)), and its operation of T-Voice constituted solicitation of grievances during an ongoing organizing campaign and an implied promise to remedy those grievances (Section 8(a)(1)). The Board concluded that T-Voice did not “deal with” T-Mobile as required for it to be a “labor organization” and its operation did not violate Section 8(a)(2); given the duration of CWA’s organizing campaign, there was no inference that T-Voice would tend to erode employee support for union organizing.The D.C. Circuit upheld the Board’s finding that the creation of T-Voice was not aimed at interfering with union organizing but remanded with respect to whether T-Voice constitutes a labor organization. The Board has two lines of precedent: one holding an organization is not engaged in “dealing with” an employer unless the organization makes “group proposals,” the other has no such requirement. The Board needs to identify what standard it has adopted for separating “group proposals” from proposals of employee representatives. View "Communications Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Webb, a disabled veteran, was referred to U.S. Vets, which administered the Supportive Housing Program, for participants to live with a roommate in multiple-occupancy units, and Shelter Plus Care, for chronically homeless veterans with disabilities to live in one-bedroom units without roommates or two-bedroom units with a roommate. Webb alleges that he qualified for a one-bedroom unit through Shelter Plus. Vets allegedly told him that no one-bedroom unit was available and placed him temporarily in a multiple-occupancy unit. . A few months later, Vets placed a female applicant in its Shelter Plus Care program although she had indicated on her application that she was not chronically homeless. Webb alleges that she was “given preferential treatment because she is a female” in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(a).The district court dismissed Webb's suit, concluding that because Webb had paid no rent, he had “no legally protected interest.” The D.C. Circuit reversed. Under the Act, it is unlawful to “make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Any person who . . . claims to have been injured by” conduct prohibited by section 3604 is an “aggrieved person.” Webb alleged that housing was made “unavailable” based on his sex, regardless of whether he paid rent. View "Webb v. United States Veterans Initiative and Community Partnership" on Justia Law