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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Ohio Nuclear-Free Network (Ohio Nuclear) and Beyond Nuclear petitioned for review of a decision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, Commission), issuing an amended materials license to American Centrifuge Operating, LLC (American Centrifuge). The amended license authorizes American Centrifuge to produce high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) at a facility near Piketon, Ohio pursuant to a demonstration program with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Petitioners contended that the NRC issued the amended license without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which they assert was required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).   The DC Circuit dismissed their petition. The court concluded that because Petitioners failed to properly intervene in the manner required by 42 U.S.C. Section 2339 and the NRC’s AEA regulations, they were not parties to the licensing amendment proceeding they asked the DC Circuit to review. Accordingly, under the Hobbs Act, 28 U.S.C. Section 2344, the court dismissed their petition for review for lack of jurisdiction View "Ohio Nuclear-Free Network v. NRC" on Justia Law

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The United States sued Honeywell International Inc. for providing the material in allegedly defective bulletproof vests sold to or paid for by the government. Among other relief, the government sought treble damages for the cost of the vests. It has already settled with the other companies involved, and Honeywell seeks a pro tanto, dollar for dollar, credit against its common damages liability equal to those settlements. For its part, the government argues Honeywell should still have to pay its proportionate share of damages regardless of the amount of the settlements with other companies. The district court adopted the proportionate share rule but certified the question for interlocutory review under 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(b).   The DC Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and held the pro tanto rule is the appropriate approach to calculating settlement credits under the False Claims Act. The court explained that in the False Claims Act, Congress created a vital mechanism for the federal government to protect itself against fraudulent claims. The FCA, however, provides no rule for allocating settlement credits among joint fraudsters. Because the FCA guards the federal government’s vital pecuniary interests, and because state courts widely diverge over the correct rule for settlement offsets, the court found it appropriate to establish a federal common law rule. The pro tanto rule best fits with the FCA and the joint and several liability applied to FCA claims. Thus, Honeywell is entitled to offset its common damages in the amount of the government’s settlements from the other parties. View "USA v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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In June 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) promulgated an emergency temporary standard to mitigate the risk of COVID19 transmission in healthcare settings (“Healthcare ETS”). In December 2021, OSHA announced its intent to withdraw the Healthcare ETS while continuing to work on the permanent standard. National Nurses United and its co-petitioners (“the Unions”) seek a writ of mandamus compelling OSHA (1) to issue a permanent standard superseding the Healthcare ETS within 30 days of the writ’s issuance; (2) to retain the Healthcare ETS until a permanent standard supersedes it; and (3) to enforce the Healthcare ETS.The D.C. Circuit found that it lacked jurisdiction to compel OSHA to maintain the emergency standard put in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 in the healthcare setting. The decision rests squarely with OSHA. View "In re: National Nurses United" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case revolves around which union—the International Association of Machinists (“IAM”) or the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (“ILWU”)—is entitled to represent the mechanic workforce at the Ben Nutter Terminal in Oakland, California.For many years, the Terminal’s mechanics were represented by the IAM. In 2015, Everport Terminal Services, Inc., took over the Terminal’s operation and decided to hire a new workforce. As a member of the multi-employer Pacific Maritime Association (“PMA”), Everport was party to a collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the PMA and the ILWU. As Everport read that agreement, it required Everport to prioritize ILWU applicants in hiring its new mechanics and to recognize the ILWU as their representative. Everport therefore gave qualified ILWU applicants first choice of the available mechanic positions, filling the remaining vacancies with applicants from the Terminal’s existing, IAM-represented workforce.The NLRB found that Everport had unlawfully discriminated against the Terminal’s incumbent mechanics on the basis of their IAM affiliation; that it had violated its statutory obligation to recognize and bargain with the incumbent mechanics’ chosen union, the IAM; and that it had prematurely recognized the ILWU as the representative of the Terminal’s mechanics. The NLRB also found the ILWU had unlawfully demanded and accepted recognition from Everport. In its order, the Board did not dispute—or even engage with— Everport’s reading of the PMA-ILWU agreement, instead dismissing it as a “red herring.”The D.C. Circuit held that the NLRB's action was arbitrary, granted Everport's petition for review, and vacated the NLRB's order. View "Everport Terminal Services Inc v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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The Federal Communications Commission approved a request by Space Exploration Holdings, LLC to fly its satellites at a lower altitude.The D.C. Circuit rejected the merits of a competitor's claim that the FCC did not adequately consider the risk of signal interference. The D.C. Circuit also declined to review a claim brought by another competitor and an environmental group because the competitor's asserted injury did not fall within the zone of interests protected by the NEPA and the environmental group lacked standing. View "Viasat, Inc. v. FCC" 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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Upon completing his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller delivered a two-volume, 448-page report documenting his findings to Attorney General William Barr. Attorney General Barr sent a letter to Congress providing his overview of it. Plaintiff Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking disclosure of the memorandum and related records. The Department sought to withhold nearly all of the memorandum based on the deliberative-process privilege, which protects records documenting an agency’s internal deliberations en route to a governmental decision. The district court rejected the Department’s reliance on the deliberative-process privilege and ordered the Department to disclose the memorandum in full.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the Department’s submissions in the district court gave no indication that the memorandum related to Attorney General Barr’s decision about making a public statement on the Mueller Report. Because the Department did not tie the memorandum to deliberations about the relevant decision, the Department failed to justify its reliance on the deliberative-process privilege. The court reiterated that its decision is narrow. The court held only that, in the unique circumstances of this case, in which a charging decision concededly was off the table and the agency failed to invoke an alternative rationale that might well have justified its invocation of the privilege, the district court did not err in granting judgment against the agency. View "CREW v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means (“the Chairman”) invoked Section 6103(f)(1) in a writing to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue (“the 2019 Request”). The Chairman requested the federal income tax returns of then-President Donald J. Trump and that of his related companies and organizations (collectively “the Trump Parties”). The Department of the Treasury responded that it did not intend to comply with the 2019 Request because it was not supported by a legitimate legislative purpose. Later the Treasury informed the district court and the Trump Parties that it intended to comply with the 2021 Request and provide the Committee with the requested materials. The Trump Parties alleged that Section 6103(f)(1) is facially unconstitutional and that compliance with the Request would be a violation of the First Amendment.The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the 2021 Request seeks information that may inform the United States House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means as to the efficacy of the Presidential Audit Program, and therefore, was made in furtherance of a subject upon which legislation could be had. Further, the Request did not violate the separation of powers principles under any of the potentially applicable tests primarily because the burden on the Executive Branch and the Trump Parties is relatively minor. Finally, Section 6103(f)(1) is not facially unconstitutional because there are many circumstances under which it can be validly applied, and Treasury’s decision to comply with the Request did not violate the Trump Parties’ First Amendment rights. View "Committee on Ways and Means, United States House of Representatives v. TREA" on Justia Law

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF” or the “Bureau”) promulgated a rule classifying “bump stocks” as machine guns. The Bureau’s new rule instructed individuals with bump stocks to either destroy them, abandon them at the nearest ATF facility, or face criminal penalties. Plaintiffs initially moved for a preliminary injunction to stop the rule from taking effect, which the District Court denied, and a panel of this Court affirmed. At the merits stage, the District Court again rejected Plaintiffs’ challenges to the rule under the Chevron framework. See Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).The central question on appeal was whether the Bureau had the statutory authority to interpret “machine gun” to include bump stocks and the DC Circuit affirmed. In employing the traditional tools of statutory interpretation, the court found that the disputed rule is consistent with the best interpretation of “machine gun” under the governing statutes. The court explained that it joins other circuits in concluding that these devices, which enable such prodigious rapid-fire capability upon a pull of the trigger, fall within the definition of “machine gun” in the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act. View "Damien Guedes v. ATF" on Justia Law