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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Perioperative Services and Logistics, LLC, sells medical devices to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). After someone emailed the VA accusing Perioperative of selling counterfeit implants, the VA’s National Center for Patient Safety posted an internal recall, requiring agency facilities to sequester Perioperative products. Forty days later, after an investigation yielded no support for the accusation, the VA lifted the recall. Seeking to unmask the complainant, Perioperative filed a FOIA request for the complaint. The VA denied the request, relying on Exemption 6, which shields “personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Perioperative filed suit in district court, and the VA moved for summary judgment. The district court accepted an ex parte declaration and concluded that the requested record was exempt.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court relied on a declaration that the company cannot see, let alone rebut. But that dilemma is inherent in those FOIA cases where, as here, an ex parte declaration is the only way to “decid[e] the dispute without . . . disclosing the very material sought to be kept secret.” Further, the court held that the complainant’s substantial privacy interest outweighs any public interest in disclosure. Accordingly, the VA has demonstrated that the complaint is exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 6. View "Perioperative Services And Logistics, LLC v. DVA" on Justia Law

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The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) challenges a rule governing the elections in which employees vote on whether to be represented by a union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) promulgated the 2019 Rule without notice and comment, asserting that it falls within the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) exception. The NLRB argues that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or Act), mandates direct review from the Board to the circuit court. The Board also asserts that, even if the district court had jurisdiction, it erred in holding that five challenged provisions of the Rule fall outside the APA’s procedural exception. The AFL-CIO cross-appeals, arguing that the 2019 Rule as a whole is arbitrary and capricious and that the provision concerning ballot impoundment specifically is arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law.   The DC Circuit held that the statutory provision for direct review in federal appellate courts of NLRB orders regarding unfair labor practices did not divest the district court of jurisdiction over rules that are exclusively concerned with representation elections, as is the 2019 Rule. The court held that the district court erred in concluding that none of the five challenged provisions comes within the procedural exception; the court held that two of them do. Those two are rules of agency procedure, so were validly promulgated without notice and comment. The court affirmed the district court’s invalidation of the rules regarding the eligible employee-voters list, the timeline for certification of election results, and election-observer eligibility. The AFL-CIO’s challenge to the 2019 Rule as arbitrary and capricious fails. View "American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Appellants, three Sikh men, intended to join the Marines. However, existing Marines pre-enlistment requirements pertaining to hair length, beards, and a prohibition on wearing certain non-uniform items, conflicted with their faith. The Marines allowed an accommodation, but only after the men completed basic training.Appellants sought a preliminary injunction, and the district court refused. After considering the competing interests in the case, the D.C. Circuit reversed the decision as it related to two men, finding that they showed a likelihood for success on the merits and proved irreparable harm. The court remanded the third man's case for further proceedings. View "Jaskirat Singh v. David Berger" on Justia Law

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Claiming that the code they write qualifies as speech protected by the First Amendment, Appellants brought a pre-enforcement action challenging the DMCA on facial and as-applied First Amendment grounds. The government moved to dismiss all claims, and the district court partially granted the motion. The district court dismissed all, but the as-applied First Amendment claims. The district court summarily denied an injunction for the dismissed claims. Appellants appealed the district court’s dismissal of their facial challenge and denial of injunctive relief.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellants’ motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings. The court first addressed jurisdiction and held that declaring the DMCA facially unconstitutional would resolve Appellants’ as-applied claims, but not so in reverse, ensuring that their as-applied claims remain anything but inextricably bound to their facial challenge. The court, therefore, held that it lacked jurisdiction over Appellants’ facial challenge.   In regards to the Appellant, that wants to publish an academic book “to instruct readers in the methods of security research,” which will include “examples of code capable of bypassing security measures, the court held that the government’s concession ends any “credible threat of prosecution” against Appellant, leaving him without standing to obtain a preliminary injunction. Moreover, the court held that the other Appellant’s arguments on the remaining preliminary injunction factors rest entirely on his flawed claim that continued enforcement of the DMCA imperils his First Amendment rights. View "Matthew Green v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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Appellant  agreed to plead guilty to one section 924(c) charge and one cocaine possession charge in exchange for dismissal of the remaining four charges. The parties agreed that the career offender sentencing guideline, U.S.S.G. Section 4B1.1(a), applied. The district court sentenced Appellant to eight years. Appellant waived any right to challenge the sentence on direct appeal or by motion under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, except to the extent such a motion was based on newly discovered evidence or a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Appellant filed a motion for compassionate release. He argued that the narrowed stacking provision, the commission of a Winstead error to trigger the career offender guideline, and the pre-Borden threat of a 15-year minimum sentence under ACCA were extraordinary and compelling circumstances warranting early release.   The DC Circuit affirmed and held that the district court properly denied Appellant’s motion. The court explained that Appellant is correct that factors may sometimes become extraordinary and compelling when considered together. And here the district court did not explicitly address the combined weight of Appellant’s arguments. Still, the court did not abuse its discretion. It correctly determined that Appellant’s arguments factors about the intervening changes in sentencing law were legally irrelevant to the compassionate-release determination. That left only arguments about his own health and family circumstances. The court reasonably found that these circumstances were minimally significant, so it did not need to say explicitly that their combined force did not rise to the level of extraordinary and compelling circumstances. View "USA v. Curtis Jenkins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging that all members of the DC Circuit court violated his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights based on the actions and inactions he alleges they took in the prior litigation. The district court dismissed the case sua sponte. Plaintiff appealed.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims. The court explained that the district court properly denied Plaintiff’s request for a change of venue. The court wrote that the case was properly dismissed on the independent ground that Plaintiff had an adequate remedy at law and was therefore not entitled to injunctive or declaratory relief. Moreover, Plaintiff’s claims would be barred by issue preclusion, a form of res judicata also known as collateral estoppel. Additionally, the district court correctly dismissed this case because it lacked jurisdictionFurther, because two of the named Defendants sit as judges on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Plaintiff argues that all the judges of that court should have been recused or disqualified on the basis that their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” He argued that because every judge of the district court should have been recused or disqualified, his complaint should have been transferred to another judicial district. First, the mere fact that this case challenges rulings made by other judges of the same court would not “lead a reasonable, informed observer to question the District Judge’s impartiality. Moreover, Plaintiff cites no authority for the proposition that recusal or disqualification of all judges in a judicial district is a basis for transfer of venue. View "Larry Klayman v. Neomi Rao" on Justia Law

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After Appellant, a ticketing agent ordered a non-ticketed individual off of the bus, the two women got into a physical altercation. When DC Metropolitan Police officers arrived, they grabbed Appellant, pressed her against the wall, and then forced her to the floor. The police charged her with simple assault on the non-ticketed individual and with assaulting a police officer while resisting arrest.   Appellant sued the District of Columbia and the police officers, alleging civil rights violations during this arrest and a second arrest that occurred two months after the first. Appellant appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the District and its officers.   The DC Circuit agreed in part and reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the District and its officers on Appellant’s Section 1983 wrongful arrest, common law false arrest, and respondeat superior claims. The court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to Appellant’s other claims. The court explained that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether probable cause for the simple assault charge dissipated before Appellant was handcuffed a second time and taken involuntarily to the police station. Second, there is a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of probable cause to arrest Appellant for assaulting a police officer. View "Xingru Lin v. DC (REDACTED)" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development promulgated a rule prohibiting the use of lit tobacco products in HUD-subsidized public housing units and their immediate surroundings. Appellants, led by New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.), brought an action raising a number of statutory and constitutional challenges to the Rule. The district court rejected all of C.L.A.S.H.’s claims.The D.C. Circuit affirmed, finding that the Department did not exceed its authority in passing the rule and was not arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion. The Court similarly rejected C.L.A.S.H.’s constitutional claims under the Spending Clause and the Fourth, Fifth, and Tenth Amendments. View "NYC C.L.A.S.H., Inc. v. Marcia L. Fudge" on Justia Law

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Appellee, an independent filmmaker, filmed parts of a feature film on land administered by the National Park Service (NPS) without having obtained the requisite permit and having paid the requisite fee. The Government charged him with a misdemeanor but later dismissed the charge. Appellee then sued for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing the permit-and-fee requirements are facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The district court agreed with Appellee, holding the permit-and-fee requirements do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny applicable to restrictions on speech in a public forum.   The DC Circuit reversed the district court’s order. The court held that regulation of filmmaking on government-controlled property is subject only to a “reasonableness” standard, even when the filmmaking is conducted in a public forum. Here, the court found, that the permit-and-fee requirements are reasonable. The court explained that although filmmaking is protected by the First Amendment, the specific speech-protective rules of a public forum apply only to communicative activity. Consequently, regulations governing filmmaking on government-controlled property need only be “reasonable,” which the permit-and-fee requirements for commercial filmmaking on NPS land surely are. View "Gordon Price v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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The Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act (CMPA) governs collective bargaining by employees of the District of Columbia government. It allows officers of the Metropolitan Police Department, like other D.C. government employees, to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. They have done so and are represented by the plaintiff in this case, the Fraternal Order of Police, Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee, D.C. Police Union (FOP). The police union contends that the statute violates equal protection principles, the Bill of Attainder Clause, the Contract Clause, and the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause.   The DC Circuit rejected all the challenges concluding that the district court correctly concluded that the FOP’s constitutional claims lack merit. The FOP disputes that police accountability motivated the Council. The court explained that the legislature’s actual motive is “entirely irrelevant”; all that matters is whether there are “plausible reasons” to conclude that the statutory classification furthers a legitimate government interest.   The FOP next contends that section 116 violates the Bill of Attainder Clause. However, the court found that the union makes no serious effort to show that the Council acted beyond its discretion. And the court could discern no express or hidden intent to punish. Further, FOP contends that section 116 violates the Contract Clause. The court explained that retrospective laws violate the Contract Clause only if they “substantially” impair existing contract rights. Here, the union could not have reasonably expected to insulate itself from legal changes after the 2017 Agreement had expired by its terms. View "Fraternal Order of Police, Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee, D.C. Police Union v. DC" on Justia Law