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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff, a former employee of the FAA, filed suit against the Secretary of Transportation for unlawful retaliation and discrimination, and the Secretary of Transportation and the Department of Labor for violation of her First Amendment right to run for office without penalty. In this case, after she ran for elective office, her full disability benefits were reduced. The DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, holding that plaintiff alleged her FAA retaliation claim almost fifteen years after her protected activity and thus the lack of temporal proximity did not support an inference of causation. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to state a claim under the Rehabilitation Act or Title VII, because she is neither an employee nor an applicant. Finally, OWCP's determination that plaintiff had demonstrated an ability to run for elective office, and thus disproving her doctor's contention that she was permanently disabled and would be unable to work again in any capacity, did not violate the First Amendment. View "Pueschel v. Chao" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit vacated the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining four plaintiffs from being executed. Plaintiffs claimed that the 2019 execution protocol and addendum violate the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 (FDPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Controlled Substances Act, and the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. Each member of the panel had a different view of what the FDPA requires. Plaintiffs' primary claim under the FDPA, on which the district court found they were likely to succeed, involves the requirement to implement federal executions in the manner provided by state law. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao both rejected that claim on the merits; Judge Katsas concluded that the FDPA regulates only the top-line choice among execution methods, such as the choice to use lethal injection instead of hanging or electrocution; Judge Rao concluded that the FDPA also requires the federal government to follow execution procedures set forth in state statutes and regulations, but not execution procedures set forth in less formal state execution protocols; and Judge Rao further concluded that the federal protocol allows the federal government to depart from its procedures as necessary to conform to state statutes and regulations. On either of their views, plaintiffs' claim was without merit and the preliminary injunction must be vacated. Plaintiffs contend in the alternative that the federal protocol and addendum reflect an unlawful transfer of authority from the United States Marshals Service to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Judge Katsas would reject the claim on the merits, and Judge Rao would hold that it was forfeited. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao resolved the notice-and-comment claim because it involves purely legal questions intertwined with the merits of the FDPA issues at the center of this appeal. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao concluded, on the merits, that the 2019 protocol and addendum are rules of agency organization, procedure, or practice exempt from the APA's requirements for notice-and-comment rulemaking. Therefore, judgment for the government must be entered on this claim. Finally, the court declined to reject plaintiffs' claims under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Controlled Substances Act. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: Federal Bureau of Prisons Execution Protocol Cases" on Justia Law

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Jackson served in the Marine Corps, 1977-1991. Almost 30 years after his honorable discharge, Jackson filed a pro se complaint alleging that toward the end of his military career, his supervising officers discriminated against him because he is a black male, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court inferred additional claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), and the Military Pay Act, 37 U.S.C. 204 but ultimately dismissed all of Jackson’s claims. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court noted the unanimous rulings of other sister circuits, concluding that Title VII does not apply to uniformed members of the armed forces. Jackson’s APA claim was untimely and, although the limitations period is no longer considered jurisdictional, the facts alleged were insufficient to apply equitable tolling. Jackson was able to manage his affairs and comprehend his rights; he alleged that at the time of the alleged discrimination, he knew that he “had been subjected to wrongdoing and strongly desired justice.” The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the dismissal of Jackson’s Military Pay Act claim; the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction of such claims. View "Jackson v. Modly" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a white male of Chilean origin, filed suit under Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), alleging that WMATA failed to promote him on the basis of age and national origin and later retaliated against him for complaining of such discrimination by continuing to deny him promotions. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that WMATA was entitled to sovereign immunity from the ADEA claims; affirmed the grant of summary judgment on all Title VII claims not exhausted via the 2014 Charge of Discrimination; and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the Title VII claims arising out of the 2014 EEOC charge. The court held that plaintiff failed to present evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that WMATA's nondiscriminatory and non-retaliatory rationale for denying plaintiff a promotion in Fall 2013 was pretext for discrimination or retaliation. View "Oviedo v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority" on Justia Law

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The First Amendment does not create an implied damages action against officials in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) for retaliatory administrative enforcement actions under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA). The DC Circuit held that, consistent with the Supreme Court's marked reluctance to extend Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), to new contexts, the First Amendment does not create such an implied damages action. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against the United States and four OCC officials, alleging Bivens claims against the officials as well as various tort claims. The Bivens claims were based on the theory that the officials caused the OCC enforcement action in retaliation for plaintiff's protected speech criticizing an OCC investigation, in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. The court held that this case clearly presented a new Bivens context, and FIRREA's administrative enforcement scheme is a special factor counselling hesitation. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss plaintiff's First Amendment claims. View "Loumiet v. United States" on Justia Law

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Duquesne petitioned for review of the Board's decision and order requiring the school to bargain with a union representing the school's adjunct facility. Duquesne argued that its religious mission places it beyond the Board's jurisdiction. The DC Circuit granted the petition for review, agreeing with the Supreme Court and the courts of appeals which have held that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)—read in light of the Religion Clauses—does not allow the Board to exercise jurisdiction over religious schools and their teachers in a series of cases over the past several decades. The court held that Pacific Lutheran University, 361 N.L.R.B. 1404 (2014), runs afoul of the court's decisions in University of Great Falls v. NLRB, 278 F.3d 1335 (D.C. Cir. 2002), and Carroll Coll. v. NLRB, 558 F.3d 568, 574 (D.C. Cir. 2009), which continue to govern the reach of the Board's jurisdiction under the NLRA in cases involving religious schools and their faculty members or teachers. Therefore, the court held that the Board has no jurisdiction in this case and the court need not address the remaining arguments. View "Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit reversed the district court's order dismissing, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a pre-enforcement challenge to the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), brought by plaintiffs, alleging harm to their online activities. This action stemmed from Congress's continual goal of protecting minors online while promoting a free and open internet. The court held that at least two of the plaintiffs have established Article III standing to bring the pre-enforcement challenge to FOSTA. In this case, Plaintiff Andrews, an advocate for sex worker rights and a co-founder of several groups that advocate for the health, safety, and human rights of sex workers, has alleged intended conduct that is arguably proscribed by FOSTA and the threat of future enforcement is substantial. Furthermore, Plaintiff Koszyk, a licensed massage therapist and the owner of Soothing Spirit Massage, has demonstrated that a favorable decision would create a significant increase in likelihood that he would obtain relief. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Woodhull Freedom Foundation v. United States" on Justia Law

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HHS issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) in 2018, soliciting applications for family planning grants. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the FOA as inconsistent with a governing regulation and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The district court rejected their claims, and granted summary judgment for HHS. After plaintiffs appealed, HHS issued its FOA announcing grants for 2018. The DC Circuit held that plaintiffs' appeal was moot because, while the appeal was pending, HHS disbursed the grant funds for 2018, issued a modified FOA for 2019, and amended the regulation. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. View "Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Azar" on Justia Law

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Roger Stone and members of his family petitioned for a writ of mandamus vacating the district court's orders modifying his conditions of release. Stone, a political consultant, was indicted on one count of obstruction of proceedings, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering. Stone's charges stemmed from allegations that he obstructed investigations by Congress and the FBI into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election. The DC Circuit dismissed the petition, holding that Stone and his family members failed to avail themselves of adequate alternative remedies and thus were not entitled to mandamus relief. The court held that Stone could have appealed under 18 U.S.C. 3145(c), which expressly provides for judicial review of a detention order; Stone could have challenged the conditional release orders by filing a notice of appeal within fourteen days after their entry, but failed to do so; and Stone's family members may move the district court to reconsider or modify the conditions of release and, if unsuccessful, appeal the denial of that motion. View "In re: Roger Stone, Jr." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs won the 2017 diversity visa lottery but were denied visas pursuant to the State Department's Guidance Memo. The Guidance Memo instructed consular officers reviewing diversity visa applications about how President Trump's Executive Order temporarily prohibiting nationals of specific countries from entering the United States (EO2) affected visa eligibility. In this case, plaintiffs were denied visas because they were from Iran and Yemen—countries subject to the entry ban—and could not qualify for exemptions or waivers or satisfy the bona fide relationship requirement in Trump v. Int'l Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP I), 137 S. Ct. 2080, 2088 (2017). After EO-2 expired, it was replaced by President Trump's third iteration of the travel ban, the Proclamation. After the Supreme Court explained that challenges to the expired EO-2 were moot, and the government then filed a motion to dismiss this case as moot. The DC Circuit reversed the district court's determination that this case was moot, and held that plaintiffs' claims -- seeking a court order instructing the government to stop implementing the Guidance Memo, process their visa applications, and issue them diversity visas -- were not moot because whether the district court retains the authority to award plaintiffs relief is a merits question. The court held that neither plaintiffs' claim that such relief was legally available nor their claim that they were entitled to that relief was so implausible as to deprive the district court of jurisdiction. Furthermore, there was some chance that this relief would be effective at securing their immigration to the United States. View "Almaqrami v. Pompeo" on Justia Law