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

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Confronted with reliable claims of escalating Chinese cyber threats targeting the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) revoked the authority of China Telecom (Americas) Corp. (“China Telecom”) to operate domestic and international transmission lines pursuant to section 214 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Commission additionally found that China Telecom breached “the 2007 Letter of Assurances with the Executive Branch agencies, compliance with which is an express condition of its international section 214 authorizations.” Although the Commission offered support from the classified record, consisting of evidence obtained pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”), it has made it clear throughout these proceedings that its decision is entirely justified by the unclassified record alone.   China Telecom argues that the Revocation Order is arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by substantial evidence. The DC Circuit denied China Telecom’s petition for review. The court explained that Commission’s determinations that China Telecom poses a national security risk and breached its Letter of Assurances are supported by reasoned decision-making and substantial evidence in the unclassified record. In addition, the court held that no statute, regulation, past practice, or constitutional provision required the Commission to afford China Telecom any additional procedures beyond the paper hearing it received. View "China Telecom (Americas) Corporation v. FCC (PUBLIC)" on Justia Law

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Under the Hatch-Waxman Act, a drug may receive “new chemical entity exclusivity” if no active ingredient in the drug was previously “approved.” The drug Aubagio was awarded this exclusivity because the Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) determined that Aubagio’s only active ingredient, teriflunomide, had never previously been approved. This case concerns a challenge to Aubagio’s exclusivity period, which Sandoz Inc. raises to secure a solo period of marketing exclusivity for its generic equivalent. Sandoz maintains that teriflunomide was previously “approved” as an impurity in the drug Arava. In the alternative, Sandoz argued that teriflunomide was in fact approved as an active ingredient in Arava. The district court granted summary judgment for the FDA, agreeing with the agency that Aubagio was entitled to exclusivity because teriflunomide had never previously been approved.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that while Sandoz did not exhaust its statutory argument before the FDA, in the absence of a statutory or regulatory exhaustion requirement, the court found it appropriate to decide Sandoz’s challenge. When the FDA approves a new drug, it does not also “approve” known impurities in that drug for the purpose of new chemical entity exclusivity. And the record is clear the FDA did not approve teriflunomide as an active ingredient when it approved Arava. Aubagio was therefore entitled to new chemical entity exclusivity, and Sandoz cannot benefit from a solo exclusivity period for its generic equivalent. View "Sandoz Inc. v. Xavier Becerra" on Justia Law

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Telematch, Inc. is a commercial vendor of agricultural data. In 2018 and 2019, it submitted to USDA seven FOIA requests for records containing farm numbers, tract numbers, and customer numbers. USDA withheld the numbers under Exemptions 3 and 6. But it released or offered to release a statistical version of the files in accordance with section 8791(b)(4)(B). It also released payment information for the 2018 Conservation Reserve Program pursuant to section 8791(b)(4)(A). Telematch sued to challenge the USDA’s withholding of the farm, tract, and customer numbers. Both parties moved for summary judgment and attached statements of material facts to their motions.   The district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment. The court held that USDA properly withheld the farm and tract numbers under Exemption 3, because the numbers are “geospatial information” covered by section 8791(b)(2)(B). Telematch appealed.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that farm and tract numbers identify a specific area of farmland in a specific location. They serve as a shorthand reference to individual plots of land. In this respect, they are analogous to a street address or latitude and longitude coordinates. They are, therefore “geospatial information” properly withheld under section 8791(b)(2)(B). Further, the court explained it need not definitively resolve whether farm and tract numbers meet these two statutory definitions. Neither of them applies to section 8791. Thus, the court held that the USDA permissibly withheld the requested farm, tract, and customer numbers. View "Telematch, Inc. v. AGRI" on Justia Law

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Part of the Transportation Equity Act required the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “consider, in consultation with the Secretary [of Transportation], spectrum needs for the operation of intelligent transportation systems. The FCC allocated that spectrum in 1999. In 2019, the FCC began a new rulemaking process to ensure that the 5.9 GHz band was put to its best use. The FCC also proposed changing the technology that would be used by intelligent transportation systems; vehicles would need to start using “vehicle-to-everything” communications (in which they send communications to cell towers and other devices) rather than the “dedicated short-range” communications originally permitted in 1999.   The Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (“Transportation Petitioners”) now petition for review. They argue that the court should vacate the part of the order reallocating the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum but leave in place the rest of the order dealing with what technology intelligent transportation systems use.   The DC Circuit dismissed the appeal and denied the petitions for review. The court found that the FCC adequately explained its conclusion that “30 megahertz is sufficient for the provision of core vehicle safety related [intelligent transportation system] functions. Further, the court reasoned that FCC may modify the licenses it issues when such modifications promote the public interest. View "Intelligent Transportation Society of America v. FCC" on Justia Law

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PJM Interconnection, LLC (“PJM”)  authorized a series of upgrades to facilities owned by the Public Service Electric and Gas Company (“PSE&G”). PSE&G’s Bergen and Linden switching stations; a second involved repairs to and around PSE&G’s Sewaren substation. Together, these two projects cost around $1.3 billion. Initially, PJM assigned most of the projects’ costs to entities that reroute electricity from northern New Jersey into the New York market. Thereafter, the New York-based entities gave up their rights to withdraw electricity from New Jersey, and PJM reassigned their costs to PSE&G. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) approved both rounds of cost allocations. The petitions for review in these two cases are about whether these cost allocations were “just and reasonable” under the Federal Power Act, and whether FERC’s orders were “arbitrary [and] capricious” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).   The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review in New Jersey Board v. FERC, and granted in part and denied in part the petitions in ConEd v. FERC. In denying the New York entities’ applications for rehearing of both the First and Second Linden Complaint Orders, the court explained that FERC failed to adequately distinguish its decision in Artificial Island from its treatment of the Bergen and Sewaren projects. Further, FERC upheld the de minimis threshold in its orders denying rehearing of the First and Second Linden Complaint Orders and the ConEd Complaint Order. The court, therefore, vacated FERC’s denial of Linden’s two complaints. The court also vacated its denial of ConEd’s complaint and remanded for further proceedings solely on the de minimis issue. View "New Jersey Board of Public Utilities v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is responsible for ensuring that interstate electricity rates are “just and reasonable.” Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”) administers the electric grid on behalf of the companies that own transmission lines. Those transmission owners invested money to build their transmission lines, and MISO must charge customers electricity transmission rates that provide those companies an appropriate return on their investment. That return-on-equity component of the transmission rates, which we’ll just call the Return, is at issue in this case. In this case, a group of customers thought MISO provided transmission owners a too-generous Return. They asked FERC to reduce that aspect of MISO’s rates. FERC did. In the process, it completely overhauled its approach to setting an appropriate Return. Both the customers and transmission owners challenged several aspects of the FERC proceedings as unlawful or arbitrary and capricious.   The DC Circuit agreed with the customers that FERC’s development of the new Return methodology was arbitrary and capricious, thus the court vacated its rate-determination orders and remanded for further proceedings. Because the other challenged aspects of FERC’s orders flow from FERC’s rate determination, the court did not reach them. The court explained that FERC Failed to offer a reasoned explanation for its decision to reintroduce the risk-premium model after initially, and forcefully, rejecting it. Because FERC adopted that significant portion of its model in an arbitrary and capricious fashion, the new Return produced by that model cannot stand. View "MISO Transmission Owners v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Wabash Valley Power Association is an Indiana-based cooperative established to generate and transmit electricity. This case centers on a provision newly added to the 2020 contracts. Section 22 of these contracts purport to subject any changes to the Formulary Rate Tariff to the Mobile-Sierra presumption of justness and reasonableness. After Wabash submitted the new contracts to FERC, Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Cooperative, one of the two-member utilities that did not sign, filed a protest arguing that the Mobile-Sierra presumption should not apply to changes to the Formulary Rate Tariff. The Commission agreed. After FERC failed to act on an application for rehearing within 30 days, Wabash filed a petition for review.   The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review finding that the Commission reasonably rejected Wabash’s new contracts. The court wrote that  FERC reasonably determined that the 2020 contracts do not set a contractually negotiated rate. Under the Mobile Sierra doctrine, the key question is whether rates are set bilaterally or unilaterally. Here, the governing contracts give the Wabash board broad discretion to raise rates unilaterally: The board may approve rates that it believes are necessary to cover Wabash’s expenses and to maintain a reasonable profit margin, which is what any utility filing a unilateral tariff rate may seek to do. View "Wabash Valley Power Association, Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC or Commission) promulgated a mandatory safety standard governing all previously unregulated infant sleep products, including ones for which there was no voluntary safety standard in effect. Finnbin, LLC sold baby boxes, an infant flat sleep product covered by the final rule. Finnbin’s boxes lack a firm stand and elevation, so Finnbin may no longer sell them as designed. Finnbin sought judicial review of the final rule.   The DC Circuit denied in part and dismissed in part Petitioner’s motion seeking judicial review of the final review. Finnbin made two arguments why, in its view, the final rule exceeds the CPSC’s statutory authority under section 104. The court held that because the extant voluntary standard here covers only inclined sleep products, the Commission could not impose a broader standard extending to previously unregulated flat sleep products.   Finnbin further contended that section 104 permits the CPSC to impose safety standards but not product bans, which it says must be done under 15 U.S.C. Section 2057. Moreover, Finnbin continues, the final rule bans products like baby boxes. The court explained that by its terms, the final rule creates performance requirements for infant sleep products not already covered by a section 104 standard. Finnbin provides no reason to think that the rule effectively bans any discrete product.   Finally, the court explained in contending the CPSC failed to provide an adequate explanation, Finnbin highlights cases faulting the Commission for relying on imprecise injury reports. But these cases involved rules promulgated under the Consumer Product Safety Act—which, unlike section 104, requires a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. View "Finnbin, LLC v. CPSC" on Justia Law

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Adelphia Gateway, LLC, applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission)_  for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to acquire an existing pipeline system. It also sought authorization to construct two short lateral pipeline segments extending from the existing pipeline infrastructure it would acquire. Adelphia also sought approval to construct facilities necessary to operate the pipeline. Together, these acquisitions and improvements would comprise the Adelphia Gateway Project (“the Project”).   In their joint brief, Petitioners challenge: (1) the Commission’s finding of market need for the Project under the Natural Gas Act; (2) the sufficiency of the Commission’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”); and (3) the constitutionality of the Commission’s purported preemption of state and local authorities’ ability to protect public health.   The Court is persuaded that the Commission did not act arbitrarily and capriciously. The court explained that as in Birckhead v. FERC, 925 F.3d 510 (D.C. Cir. 2019), Petitioners here “have identified no record evidence that would help the Commission predict the number and location of any additional wells that would be drilled as a result of production demand created by the Project.” Further, Petitioner did not argue before the Commission that section 1502.21(c) required the use of the Social Cost of Carbon tool. Their rehearing request referred to the regulation once in a footnote, and only in the context of the version of the argument petitioners then relied on and that passing reference was not enough to “alert the Commission” to the position Petitioners now take. View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The  FDA declared that “preventing tobacco use initiation in young people is a central priority for protecting population health.” Congress has called on the FDA to regulate e-cigarette products pursuant to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.   Prohibition Juice makes flavored liquids containing nicotine derived from tobacco. Prohibition applied in September 2020 for FDA authorization to market several flavors in a range of sizes. The FDA denied those applications a year later. The FDA requires applicants to present reliable evidence of robust public health benefits exceeding known risks. Finding the manufacturers had presented insufficient evidence that their flavored products are more effective than unflavored products in helping adult cigarette smokers decrease or quit harmful tobacco uses, the FDA denied the applications. The manufacturers petitioned for a review of those denials.   The DC Circuit denied the petitions. The court explained that FDA plainly had statutory authority under the Tobacco Control Act to regulate as it did. As to the arbitrary and capricious challenges, the court held that the FDA did not change the evidentiary or substantive standard from its 2019 Guidance. The court further held that any error in the FDA’s failure to consider the marketing plans was harmless because the manufacturers failed to identify how an individualized review of the plans they submitted could have made any difference. Finally, the FDA did not otherwise fail to consider important aspects of the problem. View "Prohibition Juice Co. v. FDA" on Justia Law