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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents, 18 U.S.C. 1001. In May 2020, before sentencing, the government moved to dismiss all charges with prejudice. Flynn consented to that motion and moved to withdraw his pending motions, including a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The district court appointed an amicus curiae to present arguments in opposition to the government’s motion and to address whether the court should issue an Order to Show Cause why Flynn should not be held in criminal contempt for perjury.Flynn filed an emergency mandamus petition. A panel of the D.C. Circuit issued the writ to compel the district court to immediately grant the government’s motion. On rehearing, en banc, the D.C. Circuit denied Flynn’s requests to compel the immediate grant of the government’s motion and to vacate the district court’s appointment of amicus. Flynn has not established that he has “no other adequate means to attain the relief he desires.” The court also declined to mandate that the case be reassigned to a different district judge; Flynn has not established a clear and indisputable right to reassignment. The court noted the interest in allowing the district court to decide a pending motion in the first instance; that Flynn is not in custody; and that “it is simply not the case that the Executive will be irreparably harmed by the procedures." View "In re: Flynn" on Justia Law

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After the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives ordered former White House Counsel McGahn to testify, the president instructed McGahn to assert absolute testimonial immunity from compelled congressional process. The D.C. Circuit initially ordered the dismissal of the Committee's suit. The en banc court subsequently held that the Committee has Article III standing to seek judicial enforcement of the subpoena.On remand for consideration of the remaining issues, the panel held that the Committee has no cause of action to enforce its subpoena and the case must be dismissed. Implied statutory limitations foreclose suits by the House and suits that implicate a governmental privilege. The Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. 2201(a), does not itself “provide a cause of action,” as the “availability of declaratory relief presupposes the existence of a judicially remediable right.” If Congress (rather than a single committee in a single chamber thereof) determines that its current mechanisms leave it unable to adequately enforce its subpoenas, it remains free to enact a statute that makes the House’s requests for information judicially enforceable. View "Committee on the Judiciary of the United States House of Representatives v. McGahn" on Justia Law

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Two U.S. railroads began allowing engineers and conductors employed by their Mexican affiliates to operate trains on their tracks in the U.S. Railroads certify their own engineers and conductors, in compliance with minimum standards. The Federal Railroad Administration (49 U.S.C. 20135(a)) does not issue formal documentation approving a railroad’s written certification program but has a passive approval system. If the Administration does not notify the railroad that its written certification program fails to meet the minimum regulatory criteria, the program is considered approved. Because Mexican railroads do not meet the Administration standards, trains have traditionally switched crews at the border, a time-consuming practice.Unions representing railroad employees filed suit, arguing that it was unlawful to approve a certification program permitting one railroad to certify employees of a foreign affiliate railroad that it does not control and for a certification program to deploy an abbreviated curriculum and training protocol to engineers with operating experience only in Mexico.The D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded in part. The Administration’s approval of a railway’s revised engineer certification program that allows that railroad to use an abbreviated program to certify Mexican engineers is a final action subject to Hobbs Act jurisdiction. The court rejected a timeliness argument, stating that the Administration had “completely hidden its already obscured passive approval from public view.” The Administration failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its approval of the materially-altered certification program. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed three sets of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking information about the denial of his applications for a United States entry visa. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the agencies.The DC Circuit affirmed and held that the State Department and DEA's searches were reasonably calculated to locate all responsive records; OIP properly construed plaintiff's FOIA request to exclude the DEA and FBI documents created before his appeals were filed; OIP permissibly withheld the privileged information at issue; the district court address segregability when it addressed withholding the documents at issue under the deliberative process privilege; if the district court has not adequately addressed segregability, the court did so in the first instance and concluded that OIP appropriately segregated exempt and non-exempt portions of the documents; the DEA and FBI responses were proper determinations under FOIA, which triggered plaintiff's obligation to exhaust his administrative appeals; and the court rejected plaintiff's request to excuse his failure to exhaust on policy grounds. View "Machado Amadis v. United States Department of State" on Justia Law

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Five foreign nationals who each contributed $500,000 to Mirror Lake, a new commercial enterprise set to construct and operate a senior living facility, sought to obtain lawful permanent resident status under the EB-5 immigrant-investor program. The USCIS denied the EB-5 visa petitions on the stated ground that none had made a qualifying investment.The DC Circuit held that USCIS's denial of the EB-5 immigrant-investor visa petitions were arbitrary and capricious because the agency failed to offer a reasoned explanation for its denials. In this case, plaintiffs put their capital at risk because the redemption of their investments is dependent on the success of the business. Therefore, USCIS's decision to deny the visas on the purported ground that the investments are not at risk at all is neither reasonably explained nor supported by agency precedent. The court reversed and remanded with instructions to set aside the denials of the EB-5 petitions. View "Mirror Lake Village, LLC v. Wolf" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a longstanding dispute about which of two competing unions represents a group of several dozen mechanics who maintain and repair shipping equipment. Under NLRB v. Burns International Security Services, Inc., 406 U.S. 272 (1972), a successor employer inherits the collective-bargaining obligations of its predecessor only if the previously recognized bargaining unit remains appropriate under the successor. In determining whether the unit remains appropriate, the NLRB ignores workplace changes caused by unfair labor practices of the successor.The DC Circuit held that the Board did not adequately explain its decision for extending the rule to ignore changes caused by unfair labor practices of the predecessor. Because the Board did not engage in reasoned decisionmaking in the order under review, the court granted the petition for review of the Board's final order, set aside that order, denied the Board's cross-application for enforcement, and remanded for further proceedings. The court dismissed as moot the petition for review of the Board's order refusing to set aside the partial settlement. View "International Longshore & Warehouse Union v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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After the federal government brought an action against Dynamic Visions and its owner under the False Claims Act (FCA) for submitting false claims for reimbursement, the district court granted summary judgment to the government.The DC Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in large part but vacated the judgment as to a limited subset of the alleged false claims. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to those claims for which the falsity stems from the absence of any Plan of Care (POC), or from a POC with no signature from a physician, an untimely signature, or an authorization of services more confined in scope than the services for which reimbursement was sought. However, because the government's evidence does not foreclose a genuine dispute as to whether Dynamic Visions forged physician signatures, the court vacated the grant of summary judgment as to the corresponding subset of claims. The court rejected Dynamic Visions' remaining challenges. Finally, the court vacated the district court's order as to both damages and civil penalties, remanding for further proceedings. View "United States v. Dynamic Visions Inc." on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied the Refinery's motion to proceed under a pseudonym. The court weighed the markedly thin showing of potential injury by the Refinery against the substantial public interest in transparency and openness in cases involving the government's administration of an important statutory and regulatory scheme, holding that the Refinery has not overcome the customary and constitutionally-impeded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.In this case, the Refinery has failed to demonstrate that requiring it to proceed in its own name will risk the disclosure of sensitive and highly personal information; the Refinery itself faces no risk of physical or mental harm; and the Refinery has chosen to sue a government agency regarding the operation of a statutory program and, in particular, applications for special exemptions from the law's obligations. The court held that none of the factors commonly involved in analyzing a request to proceed anonymously weigh in the Refinery's favor. Furthermore, the Refinery's additional arguments add nothing to its side of the scale either. View "In re: Sealed Case" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary Clinton's former Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills, sought mandamus relief preventing the district court's order granting Judicial Watch's request to depose each petitioner on a limited set of topics. The petition for writ of mandamus arose from a Freedom of Information Act case brought by Judicial Watch against the U.S. Department of State.The DC Circuit held that, although Secretary Clinton meets all three requirements for mandamus relief, Ms. Mills does not. In this case, Ms. Mills could appeal either a civil or a criminal contempt adjudication and thus, unlike Secretary Clinton, she does have available an "adequate means to attain the relief" and as such her petition fails at prong one. In regard to the second prong, the court held that petitioners have demonstrated a "clear and indisputable" right to issuance of the writ where the district court clearly abused its discretion by failing to meet its obligations under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, by improperly engaging in a Federal Records Act-like inquiry in this FOIA case, and by ordering further discovery without addressing this court's recent precedent potentially foreclosing any rationale for said discovery. Finally, in regard to the third prong, the court held that the totality of circumstances merits granting the writ. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for mandamus as to Secretary Clinton, denied it as to Ms. Mills and dismissed Ms. Mills' petition for lack of jurisdiction, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In re: Hillary Clinton" on Justia Law

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The EPA issued a regulation known as the Pathways II Rule, allowing renewable-fuel producers to use a measurement method "certified by a voluntary consensus standards body" (VCSB), or a method "that would produce reasonably accurate results as demonstrated through peer reviewed references." EPA then issued the Cellulosic Guidance to explain its interpretation of the applicable regulatory requirements and clarify the types of analyses and demonstrations that might meet them.The DC Circuit dismissed in part and denied in part POET's petition for review of the Cellulosic Guidance. The court held that POET's challenge to the Guidance's treatment of VCSB-certified methods is unripe because no such method yet exists and POET's registration efforts rely on the peer-reviewed alternative. In regard to POET's challenge to the Guidance's discussion of peer-reviewed methods, the court held that the Guidance announces a final, interpretive rule that lawfully construes the underlying regulation. View "POET Biorefining, LLC v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law