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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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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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The Committee seeks to obtain the redacted grand jury materials referenced in the Special Counsel's Report in connection with its impeachment investigation of President Trump. The Committee requested three categories of grand jury materials: (1) all portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); (2) any portions of grand jury transcripts or exhibits referenced in those redactions; and (3) any underlying grand jury testimony and exhibits that relate directly to certain individuals and events described in the Mueller Report. The district court authorized disclosure of the first two categories of requested information and stated that the Committee could file additional requests articulating its particularized need for the third category of information. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's decision authorizing disclosure of the grand jury materials under the "judicial proceeding" exception in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e)(3)(E)(i). The court held that a Senate impeachment trial qualifies as a "judicial proceeding" under the rule. The court also held that the Committee has established a "particularized need" for the grand jury materials. The court wrote that Counsel Mueller prepared his Report with the expectation that Congress would review it; the district court released only those materials that the Special Counsel found sufficiently relevant to discuss or cite in his Report; the Department has already released information in the Report that was redacted to avoid harm to peripheral third parties and to ongoing investigations, thereby reducing the need for continued secrecy; and the Committee's particularized need for the grand jury materials remains unchanged. In this case, the Committee has repeatedly stated that if the grand jury materials reveal new evidence of impeachable offenses, the Committee may recommend new articles of impeachment. View "Committee on the Judiciary v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Separation-of-powers principles and historical practice compelled the DC Circuit to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction the Committee's suit to enforce the congressional subpoena against the Executive Branch. After the Committee ordered the former White House Counsel, Donald F. McGahn, II, to testify before the Committee, President Trump instructed McGahn to assert absolute testimonial immunity from compelled congressional process. The Committee then sought to invoke this court's jurisdiction to enforce its subpoena. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and dismissed the Committee's suit based on lack of an Article III case or controversy. The court agreed with the DOJ that Article III of the Constitution forbids federal courts from resolving this kind of interbranch information dispute. The court found unpersuasive the Committee's three core arguments: first, the Committee attempts to frame the case as a run-of-the-mill dispute about the effect of a duly issued subpoena; second, relying largely on Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 135 S. Ct. 2652 (2015), the Committee argues that it may assert an "institutional injury" to satisfy Article III, even in a suit against the Executive Branch; and, third, the Committee insists that circuit precedent before Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 820 (1997), requires that the court resolve this dispute. The court vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint. View "Committee on the Judiciary of the United States House of Representatives v. McGahn" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Chinese citizens who were imprisoned for expressing dissent on the internet, filed suit alleging that, as part of an earlier settlement, Yahoo established a charitable trust to provide humanitarian and legal assistance to imprisoned Chinese dissidents and that defendants improperly depleted the trust's funds, terminating it altogether. The DC Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that plaintiffs plausibly alleged that Yahoo established a charitable trust and that plaintiffs' "special interest" in the trust was sufficient to give them standing to enforce it. In this case, the Settlement Agreement created a charitable trust. Furthermore, plaintiffs' allegations satisfied the two prongs of the Hooker special interest standing test, because plaintiffs challenged an extraordinary measure threatening the existence of the trust, raising an issue that could only be tried once, and they plausibly satisfied the requirement that they belong to a class of potential beneficiaries that was sharply defined and limited in number. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "He Depu v. Yahoo! Inc." on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's suit, alleging that President Trump violated the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 by obscuring liabilities on financial disclosure reports, because plaintiff has not shown that he has a clear and indisputable right to mandamus-type relief. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that President Trump violated the Act by over-disclosing; that is, by listing debts in Part 8 of his May 2018 and May 2019 financial disclosure reports for which he was not personally liable. The court rejected plaintiff's contention that the declaratory judgment statute and the federal question statute provided statutory bases for jurisdiction. The court also held that the Mandamus Act did not provide a base for jurisdiction, because plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that the Ethics Act, once interpreted, imposed a clear and indisputable duty on President Trump to differentiate personal from business liabilities. Therefore, the court vacated the portions of the district court's decision addressing whether the equities would favor issuing mandamus-type relief but otherwise affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction. View "Lovitky v. Trump" on Justia Law

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215 Members of the Congress sued President Donald J. Trump based on allegations that he has repeatedly violated the United States Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause. The district court denied the President's motion to dismiss the complaint. The DC Circuit reversed and held that the members of Congress lacked standing. The court held that the district court erred in holding that the members suffered an injury based on the President depriving them of the opportunity to give or withhold their consent to foreign emoluments, thereby injuring them in their roles as members of Congress. The court held that Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818 (1997), and Va. House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, 139 S. Ct. 1945, 1953–54 (2019), were controlling in this case. In Bethune-Hill, the Supreme Court summarily read in Raines that individual members of Congress lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature in the same way a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole. The court stated that the members—29 Senators and 186 Members of the House of Representatives—do not constitute a majority of either body and are, therefore, powerless to approve or deny the President's acceptance of foreign emoluments. Accordingly, in regard to the district court's holding that the members have standing, the court reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint. In regard to the district court's holding that the members have a cause of action and have stated a claim, the court vacated as moot. View "Blumenthal v. Trump" 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