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

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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During repair operations in M-Class's underground mine, a miner experienced chest pains and difficulty breathing. At a hospital, a physician examined him and notified the police that a miner was suffering from CO poisoning. The police called the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) hotline. An MSHA Inspector arrived at the mine that night, issued a section 103(k) order to suspend operations in the affected area, reviewed a report based on the mine’s gas detectors and data from one miner’s personal gas spotter, entered the mine, detected no elevated CO level, and allowed mining to resume. The Inspector also started the diesel air compressor and detected no elevated CO level but modified the Order to remove the compressor from service pending an investigation. MSHA tested the compressor but ultimately found no evidence that it was the source of the miner’s illness. MSHA insisted that M-Class submit an action plan governing the compressor use's before the Order would be terminated. MSHA rejected M-Class’s submission.M-Class filed a notice of contest. MSHA terminated the Order. The ALJ declined to dismiss the contest and concluded that the [terminated] Order was appropriate. The Commission concluded that the case was not moot but vacated the terminated Order, finding no substantial evidence that an accident occurred. The D.C. Circuit vacated the decision, finding the matter moot. MSHA terminated the challenged Order. Apart from the speculative, it no longer poses a risk of legal consequences. View "Secretary of Labor v. M-Class Mining, LLC" on Justia Law

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Eringer is a writer of espionage-themed books and an "intelligence operative." Eringer, working for Prince Albert II of Monaco, hired Berlin to investigate the Chandler brothers, businessmen operating in Monaco. In 2003, Berlin delivered to Eringer a report that included allegations that the brothers were engaged in money laundering on behalf of high-level Russian officials and Russian organized crime. In the following years, Eringer made claims about the Chandlers in various fora, including a suit against the Prince in California, a 2014 self-published book, "The Spymaster of Monte Carlo," and an online article. Eringer did not reference Berlin or the 2003 Report. Chandler learned of Eringer’s accusations by 2010. Claims regarding the Chandlers became a source of public controversy in 2017, when a British newspaper published a story about their "links to Russia.” In 2018, Chandler sued Berlin for libel per se.The district court granted Berlin summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The evidence does not establish as a matter of law that a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have sued Berlin more than a year earlier. Berlin and Eringer are not so closely connected that Chandler’s knowledge of Eringer’s pre-2017 defamatory statements caused accrual of Chandler’s action against Berlin. Reasonable jurors could differ as to whether facts available to Chandler before 2017 put him on inquiry notice of any claim against Berlin. Berlin cannot be held liable for the nonparty client’s republication of Berlin’s statements, which was not reasonably foreseeable. View "Chandler v. Berlin" on Justia Law

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The Union of Concerned Scientists sought review of a Department of Energy (DOE) rule concerning the designation of “critical electric infrastructure information,” 16 U.S.C. 824o-1(a)(3), exempted from FOIA disclosure and not to be “made available by any Federal, State, political subdivision or tribal authority pursuant to any Federal, State, political subdivision or tribal law requiring public disclosure of information or records.”The Union, a national nonprofit organization consisting of scientists, engineers, analysts, and policy and communication experts who conduct “independent analyses,” argued that the rule exceeds the Department’s authority under section 215A of the Federal Power Act, is arbitrary and capricious, and was promulgated in violation of the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. The D.C. Circuit dismissed the petition for lack of Article III standing. There is no indication that DOE’s rule would deprive the Union or its members of information they would receive if DOE were to apply a 2016 Rule promulgated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. View "Union of Concerned Scientists v. United States Department of Energy" on Justia Law

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The Surface Transportation Board deadlocked 1–1–1 on what, if anything, to do about an existing rule governing rail carrier fuel surcharges. After five years with no majority position on how to proceed, the Board unanimously voted to discontinue its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in the interest of administrative finality. The League argued that the Board acted unreasonably by deadlocking and that an impasse does not excuse an agency from issuing a well-reasoned merits decision that considers the relevant factors.The D.C. Circuit dismissed the League’s appeal for lack of standing, The League did allege an injury-in-fact: The costs of shipping are supposedly too high. Causation is also easily established because the Board’s safe harbor provision, coupled with the Board’s failure to issue a rule that would modify or eliminate that provision, plausibly created the higher rates. But to satisfy the redressability requirement, the asserted injury must be “capable of resolution and likely to be redressed by judicial decision” and courts lack the power to issue an order to break the Board’s deadlock or to order any individual Board Member to change his policy position. View "Western Coal Traffic League v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law

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Preeminent took over a security services contract but refused to hire two guards who had previously worked at the D.C. site. According to the Union, SEIU, the refusal violated a collective-bargaining agreement. In May 2018, the district court ordered the parties to arbitrate. Preeminent stalled for over a year, first refusing to commit to paying its share of the arbitration fees and then accusing an arbitrator of bias for seeking assurance of payment. SEIU moved for contempt. In November 2018, the court ordered Preeminent to pay half the cost. In January 2019, the court found that Preeminent had acted in bad faith and awarded SEIU attorneys’ fees. In June 2019, the court found Preeminent in civil contempt, imposed a $20,000 fine if Preeminent failed to arbitrate within 30 days, and awarded further costs and attorneys’ fees. A third arbitrator completed the arbitration. In November 2019, the court fixed the total amount of costs and attorneys’ fees at $51,000. Days later, Preeminent filed a notice of appeal, challenging the order compelling arbitration, the June 2019 contempt order, and the November 2019 fee order.The D.C. Circuit concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the arbitration and contempt orders, which were final decisions not timely appealed, 28 U.S.C. 2107(a), but affirmed the fee award. The 30-day filing deadline is jurisdictional. View "Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ v. Preeminent Protective Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, a resident of the District of Columbia and a dual citizen of the United States and the Russian Federation, filed a defamation action in district court against appellee, a nonresident alien and citizen of the United Kingdom. Because appellee made his allegedly defamatory statements outside of the District of Columbia, appellant sought to establish personal jurisdiction over appellee under the District's long-arm jurisdiction statute, D.C. CODE 13-423(a)(4). The district court granted appellee's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The DC Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that appellee's conduct within the District should have been included in the jurisdictional calculus.Appellee timely petitioned for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc. After considering the parties' arguments, the court has now decided to certify questions to the D.C. Court of Appeals regarding the circumstances in which the government contacts exception applies and whether nonresident aliens who are citizens only of foreign countries may invoke the government contacts exception. 1. May nonresident aliens who are citizens only of foreign countries invoke the government contacts exception? 2. If the first question is answered in the affirmative, must those nonresident aliens possess cognizable rights pursuant to the First Amendment generally, or any specific clause thereunder, in order to invoke the exception? 3. Does the government contacts exception extend to efforts to influence federal policy other than direct contacts with agents, members, or instrumentalities of the federal government? 4. If the third question in answered in the affirmative, what standard governs in determining whether activities not involving direct contacts with the federal government are covered under the exception? View "Akhmetshin v. Browder" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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CREW filed a citizen complaint with the Federal Election Commission against New Models, a now-defunct non-profit entity, alleging violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (FECA) registration and reporting requirements for “political committees,” 52 U.S.C. 30109(a)(1). After an initial investigation, the Commission deadlocked 2–2 on whether to proceed; an affirmative vote of four commissioners is required to initiate enforcement proceedings. With only two votes in favor of an enforcement action against New Models, the Commission dismissed CREW’s complaint. Two Commissioners explained that New Models did not qualify as a “political committee” under FECA but stated they were also declining to proceed with enforcement in an "exercise of ... prosecutorial discretion,” given the age of the activity and the fact that the organization appears no longer active.The district court granted the Commission summary judgment, reasoning that a nonenforcement decision is not subject to judicial review if the Commissioners who voted against enforcement “place[] their judgment squarely on the ground of prosecutorial discretion.” The Commission’s “legal analyses are reviewable only if they are the sole reason for the dismissal of an administrative complaint.” The D.C. Circuit affirmed. While FECA allows a private party to challenge a nonenforcement decision by the Commission if it is “contrary to law,” this decision was based in part on prosecutorial discretion and is not reviewable. View "Citizens for Responsibility v. Federal Election Committee" on Justia Law

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Ranchers in the Upper Klamath Basin region filed suit to prevent the exercise of water rights that interfere with the irrigation of their lands. The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution.The DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal and concluded that the Protocol Agreement executed by the United States and the Tribes does not delegate federal authority to the Tribes but recognizes the Tribes' preexisting authority to control their water rights under a Treaty in 1864 with the United States. The court explained that there is no concurrence requirement imposed by federal law on the Tribes' reserved instream water rights, whether by the 1864 Klamath Treaty or the federal government’s trust relationship; the McCarran Amendment subjects the Tribes' reserved water rights to state procedural rules in its quantification proceedings, but the substance and scope of the Tribes’ rights remain governed by federal law; Oregon law does not require federal government concurrence to enforce the Tribes' water rights; and thus invalidating the Protocol, and requiring the federal government to independently assess whether it would concur in the Tribes' calls, would not remedy the Ranchers' injuries. Because the Ranchers fail to show their alleged injuries are fairly traceable to federal government action or inaction, or would be redressed by striking the Protocol, they lack Article III standing. View "Hawkins v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Kapurs invested $300,000 in KAXT-CD, a Bay Area TV station, for 42% ownership in the Seller. In 2013, over the Kapurs' objections, the Seller proceeded with a $10.1 million sale of assets to First Buyer, which applied for the station’s FCC license. The Kapurs opposed that application, arguing that arbitration concerning the sale was ongoing. The arbitrator found that the sale did not require unanimity. The Kapurs unsuccessfully appealed in California state court and pressed on at the FCC, attacking the First Buyer’s qualifications under the “public interest” standard. The FCC concluded that the Kapurs’ allegations did not warrant a hearing and approved the application. In 2017, First Buyer sold the station to TV-49, Inc. for $2 million. The Kapurs opposed TV-49’s FCC license assignment application, arguing that First Buyer lacked the qualifications to buy the “license in the first place.” They did not challenge TV-49’s qualifications. The FCC approved the application. The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of standing. Even if the Kapurs prevailed on their claim of entitlement to a character hearing, they have not shown any likelihood that the FCC would find that First Buyer was of bad character or, even if it did, that it would order the unwinding of both sales and return of the station to the Seller. Nothing would stop the Seller from selling to someone else. View "Kapur v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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McNary worked as a “gland manager” and miners’ representative at Alcoa’s Point Comfort, Texas Bayer Alumina Plant. On January 8, 2014, while performing his daily safety rounds, McNary observed hot slurry spewing out of a valve, indicating a malfunction. Concerned about miner safety, McNary arranged for the plant’s environmental health and safety manager to be notified. His supervisor, Emig, had also asked for the manager’s assistance. This led to a heated exchange that ended with Emig threatening McNary with removal. Emig claimed that McNary spoke in a way that suggested he intended to challenge Emig’s authority rather than discharge his duties as a miners’ representative. McNary was neither disciplined nor terminated.Two weeks later, McNary filed a complaint against Alcoa with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), alleging discrimination under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, which declined to pursue charges, McNary filed a complaint, 30 U.S.C. 815(c)(3), seeking a posting at the plant of a notice of violation of the Act and an order requiring management training. Meanwhile, McNary was laid off when Alcoa temporarily stopped production of alumina at Point Comfort; Alcoa subsequently permanently closed the plant. The D.C. Circuit ordered the dismissal of McNary’s suit. McNary fails to show that a court can redress his injury; he does not have Article III standing. View "McNary v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure