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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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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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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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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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

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In 2010, Plaintiff filed several employment claims against her employer. In 2013, the parties reached a settlement agreement. However, before the parties reached their agreement, Plaintiff resigned in lieu of termination. Plaintiff then filed a subsequent claim against her employer, alleging retaliation.The D.C. Circuit held that the initial settlement agreement did not preclude Plaintiff’s ability to bring a retaliation claim. The parties’ initial agreement released Plaintiff’s employer for “all claims” related to her employment; however, it also carved out various exceptions, including Plaintiff’s ability to pursue any claims she raised in her separate grievance, including her claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The D.C. Circuit remanded the case for the district court to determine if Plaintiff properly presented the claim for consideration. View "Karin Weng v. Martin J. Walsh" on Justia Law

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About seven weeks after the 2020 presidential election, Republican state legislators, individual voters, and organizations representing voters from Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—all states carried by Joseph R. Biden Jr.—sued to prevent Congress from certifying their states’ electoral results. The district court denied their motion to enjoin the counting of electoral votes, and, after the Senate certified Biden as the winner, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their case. In a post-dismissal order cataloging the suit’s “numerous shortcomings,” the district court referred plaintiffs’ counsel, Kaardal, to the Committee on Grievances for possible discipline. “When any counsel seeks to target processes at the heart of our democracy,” the district court reasoned, “the Committee may well conclude that they are required to act with far more diligence and good faith than existed here.”The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The district court’s referral is not a final order. Rather than fixing Kaardal’s rights and liabilities, the challenged order merely initiated disciplinary proceedings. View "Wisconsin Voters Alliance v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Sacks is a law firm with a 20-year history of working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 2011, IMF hired Sacks to negotiate disputed claims of various contractors that worked on the renovation of its headquarters. The parties’ contract asserts IMF’s immunity from suit and provides that any disputes not settled by mutual agreement shall be resolved by arbitration. In a subsequent fee dispute between Sacks and IMF, Sacks filed a demand for arbitration with the AAA. The arbitration panel awarded Sacks $39,918.82 plus interest but denied Sacks’ claim of underpayment in connection with earlier work.Sacks sued the Fund, claiming that the award should be vacated pursuant to the D.C. Code as “the result of misconduct by the arbitrators.” IMF removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss it on immunity grounds pursuant to its Articles of Agreement, given effect in the U.S. by the Bretton Woods Act, 22 U.S.C. 286h. Sacks asserted the contract waived immunity by expressly providing for arbitration pursuant to the AAA Rules, which contemplate courts’ entry of judgment on arbitral awards. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The AAA Rules and D.C. law contemplate judicial involvement in the enforcement of arbitral awards, so arguably the contract also does so but an international organization's waiver of the immunity must be explicit. The parties' contract expressly retains the IMF’s immunity, reiterating it even within the arbitration clause. View "Leonard A. Sacks & Associates P.C. v. International Monetary Fund" on Justia Law

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Wye sued Iraq. The district court denied Iraq’s motion to dismiss on sovereign immunity grounds and entered judgment in Wye’s favor years later. An intervening Fourth Circuit ruling rejected Iraq’s contention that none of the exceptions in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. 1602, applied to Wye’s breach of contract claims; because Wye alleged that it had engaged in acts inside the U.S. under the contract, the lawsuit could proceed under the second clause of the FSIA’s commercial activities exception, which abrogates foreign sovereign immunity with respect to claims that are “based upon . . . an act performed in the United States in connection with commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere.”The D.C. Circuit vacated. Iraq’s participation in the trial did not implicitly waive its sovereign immunity. The law of the case doctrine does not require adherence to the Fourth Circuit’s conclusions. The D.C. Circuit concluded that section 1605(a)(2) does not apply to this case. A plausible basis for sustaining the district court’s jurisdictional ruling can be found in the commercial activity exception’s third clause, abrogating immunity if the action is “based upon . . . an act outside the territory of the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere and that act causes a direct effect in the United States.” The district court is best positioned to determine whether Iraq’s breach of contract caused “direct effects” in the U.S. View "Wye Oak Technology, Inc. v. Republic of Iraq" on Justia Law

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Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Europe sought compensation for the expropriation of its interests in a company in Venezuela. The district court granted Saint-Gobain summary judgment after determining it had properly served the Republic of Venezuela with court process pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters.The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. 1608, identifies four methods for serving a foreign state. The method at issue is “by delivery of a copy of the summons and complaint in accordance with an applicable international convention on service of judicial documents”; the Hague Convention is such an international agreement. Articles 2-6 of the Hague Convention require that a plaintiff request service from a Central Authority designated by the receiving state and receive a certificate of service from the Central Authority stating it has served the defendant by a method consistent with the state’s internal law. Venezuelan law requires lawsuits against the Republic to be served on the Attorney General, and the Attorney General was never served. View "Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Europe v. Bolivarian Rep. of Venezuela" on Justia Law

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The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons maintains a website and publishes the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, both of which host information concerning “important medical, economic, and legal issues about vaccines,” The Association, joined by an individual, sued a Member of Congress (Schiff) who wrote to several technology and social media companies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic expressing concern about vaccine-related misinformation on their platforms and inquiring about the companies’ policies for handling such misinformation. The Association alleged that the inquiries prompted the technology companies to disfavor and deprioritize its vaccine content, thereby reducing traffic to its web page and making the information more difficult to access.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of Article III standing. The Association has not plausibly alleged injury-in-fact; it maintains that Schiff’s actions interfered with its “free negotiations” with the technology companies but never alleged that it has made any attempts at such negotiations, nor that it has concrete plans to do so in the future. The Association’s other claimed injuries, to its financial prospects and to its speech and associational interests, are not adequately supported by allegations that any injury is “fairly traceable” to Schiff’s actions. View "Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Inc. v. Schiff" on Justia Law