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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Arthur Gary, General Counsel of the Justice Management Division at the Department of Justice, sent a letter to the Census Bureau requesting the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Then-Secretary of Commerce relied on the Gary Letter to direct the Census Bureau to include a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire.Shortly after the Department of Justice sent the Gary Letter, the Campaign Legal Center filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request with the Justice Department seeking documents that would explain how and why the agency came to request the citizenship question. The Department withheld more than 100 pages of responsive documents under FOIA Exemptions 5 and 6. The district court held that some of the Justice Department’s withholdings based on the deliberative process privilege were improper, and ordered the Department to produce those documents.   The D.C. Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment as to all drafts of the Gary Letter and most of the associated emails. The court remanded the withholding decision regarding the five emails identified above for further consideration. The court held that the Justice Department properly withheld non-final drafts of the letter and that most of the Department’s redactions of associated emails were lawful. The court reasoned that the process of drafting the Gary Letter to request the addition of a citizenship question in a way that protected the Department’s litigation and policy interests involved the exercise of policymaking discretion, and so the letter’s content itself was a relevant final decision for purposes of FOIA’s deliberative process privilege. View "Campaign Legal Center v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of organizations devoted to animal welfare and individuals who work with those organizations and with marine mammals, sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”), seeking to enforce conditions in permits held by SeaWorld, a business operating several marine zoological parks. The permits authorize the capture and display of orcas and require display facilities to transmit medical and necropsy data to the NMFS following the death of an animal displayed under the terms of a permit. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ suit for lack of standing.   The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court reasoned that to establish standing, a plaintiff “must show (1) an injury in fact that is concrete and particularized and actual or imminent; (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s challenged conduct; and (3) that the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision.” Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Feld Ent., Inc., 659 F.3d 13 (D.C. Cir. 2011).   Here, the court found that Plaintiffs failed to allege a favorable decision would lead the NMFS to enforce the permit conditions and thus redress their alleged injury. Their allegation to the contrary relies upon unadorned speculation that the NMFS would choose to enforce the necropsy permit conditions and that SeaWorld would voluntarily send necropsy information to an agency that had not enforced permit conditions in twenty-three years should the court determine that the NMFS retains its discretion to enforce permits it issued prior to 1994. View "Lori Marino v. NOAA" on Justia Law

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Petitioner is an experienced airline pilot. When he was interviewing for a new position, he was asked to take a urine test. Unable to provide an adequate sample, Petitioner left the site. Under FAA guidelines, walking out before providing a drug test sample is considered a refusal. The potential employer reported Petitioner's refusal to the FAA. The FAA sought to revoke Petitioner's pilot and medical certifications. However, at a hearing in front of the National Safety Transportation Board, the Board agreed with the FAA in sustaining the refusal, but reduced Petitioner's sanction to a 180-suspension.The D.C. Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review, finding that by walking out before providing a sufficient urine sample, Petitioner's conduct was properly considered a refusal. In so holding, the court noted that the trial court credited the FAA witnesses while questioning the veracity of Petitioner's testimony.The D.C. Circuit also granted the FAA's cross-petition, finding that the Board was required to defer to the FAA under these circumstances. View "Ydil Pham v. NTSB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of blood plasma companies, challenged a U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") rule precluding aliens from entering the U.S. using B-1 business visitor visas to sell plasma. Plaintiffs claimed that they invested substantial resources to develop plasma collection facilities near the border and that the CPB rule failed to take Plaintiffs' interests into account when creating the new rule.The district court denied Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that the Plaintiffs' interests were not within the Administrative Procedure Act's "zone of interests." The district court, determining the zone-of-interest determination was jurisdictional, dismissed the complaint.The D.C. Circuit reversed. For the Plaintiffs to sue under the APA, they must have been “adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute." However, the zone-of-interests determination is a merits issue, not a jurisdictional one. From there, the D.C. Circuit considered the merits, finding that the Plainitffs' case interests should have been considered under the B-1 analysis. Thus, the court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "CSL Plasma Inc. v. United States Customs and Border Protection" on Justia Law

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The case stems from a compensation fund established by the Justice for United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act. Pursuant to that statute, known as the “Terrorism Act,” the child’s grandfather, Appellant, has received roughly $250,000 of a multimillion-dollar judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism. Contending that the law requires more prompt and regular payment to claimants like himself, Appellant sued the federal officials administering the fund.The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s first claim. The court reasoned that the statute does not authorize the retroactive increase of penalties collected prior to the Clarification Act amendments. Further, the court affirmed the dismissal of the second claim because the court need reach Appellant’s second claim only “[i]n the event [that he] prevails on Count 1.”Next, Appellant sought an injunction “requiring the Attorney General ‘to appoint a [s]pecial [m]aster going forward if there is more than $100 million in the [f]und’ and ordering that the [s]pecial [m]aster ‘make a distribution in 2021.’” The court declined to resolve without briefing this late-raised issue. Appellant argues that once the fund’s balance exceeds $100 million, “the special master is required to distribute all the money in the [f]und to claimants.” However, the court explained that the statute “does not set a threshold for mandating distributions from the fund” and, it is possible for the fund to exceed $100 million and still lack “available” funds, Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal. View "Murray Braun v. USA" on Justia Law

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LSP, an independent electric transmission developer, bids on proposals to build transmission projects throughout the U.S. LSP sought judicial review of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision under 16 U.S.C. 824e concerning ISO New England’s compliance with Commission Order 1000, which required “the removal from Commission-jurisdictional tariffs and agreements” of rights of first refusal to construct transmission facilities and directed incumbent transmission providers to engage in competitive selection of developers. FERC recognized an exception if the time needed to solicit and conduct competitive bidding would delay the project and thereby threaten system “reliability.” FERC found “insufficient evidence” that ISO was incorrectly implementing Order 1000.The D.C. Circuit denied LSP’s petition for judicial review, first holding that FERC’s ruling bears all the indicia of a substantive decision produced after a contested proceeding involving ISO and numerous intervenors and is subject to judicial review. The court found nothing irrational in FERC’s response to LSP’s general criticism of ISO’s use of more conservative assumptions regarding its system capacity and future management in determining when to apply the exception. Although the number of reliability projects exempted from competitive bidding exceeded those open to competition, the appropriate balance between competitive procurement and quick redress of reliability needs is a policy judgment for FERC. View "LSP Transmission Holdings II, LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of the Commission's decision to authorize a new natural gas pipeline and compressor station in Agawam, Massachusetts. One of the petitioners, Berkshire, has failed to establish standing to challenge the Commission's decision. The other petitioner, Food & Water Watch, has raised challenges related to the Commission's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.The DC Circuit mainly rejected Food & Water Watch's claims, but agreed with its contention that the Commission's environmental assessment failed to account for the reasonably foreseeable indirect effects of the project—specifically, the greenhouse-gas emissions attributable to burning the gas to be carried in the pipeline. Accordingly, the court granted Food & Water Watch's petition for review on that basis and remanded for preparation of a conforming environmental assessment. View "Food & Water Watch v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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This case stems from a dispute over how to allocate the costs of high-voltage facilities to transmit electricity within the mid-Atlantic planning region. At issue is a contested settlement covering high-voltage projects approved between 2007 and 2013. LIPA and Linden petitioned for judicial review and several transmission owners and state regulatory commissions, as well as PJM, have intervened in support of FERC.The DC Circuit rejected LIPA and Linden's contention that the settlement order and its hybrid allocations are arbitrary. Rather, each formula in the settlement is just and reasonable and is therefore reason enough to uphold it. Furthermore, the court noted that FERC reasonably concluded LIPA and Linden would not have done better through litigation. The court rejected the utilities' contention that the approval was inconsistent with the Seventh Circuit's decisions, with FERC's own precedent, and with an underlying cost-causation principle. The court agreed with Linden that, under the settlement, it need not make any of the payments set forth in the historical formula. Therefore, the court set aside FERC's ruling that Linden must pay Transmission Enhancement Charge adjustments and remanded for further proceedings. The court denied the petitions for review in all the respects. View "Long Island Power Authority v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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For seven years, NTE worked to build a natural gas-fueled power plant in Killingly, Connecticut to sell electricity on the New England grid. NTE worked with ISO, the independent system operator authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to manage the regional grid, to have the project “qualified” to bid for the right to sell electricity. NTE secured a “capacity supply obligation” (CSO) for the 2022 commitment period. NTE secured a guaranteed income stream for the first seven years of the plant’s operation.NTE subsequently encountered setbacks that prevented it from meeting its financing and construction goals. On November 4, 2021, NTE told ISO that it remained confident it could complete construction on time but ISO-NE asked FERC to terminate the Killingly plant’s CSO. In January 2022, FERC did so. In February, the Second Circuit issued an emergency stay of FERC’s order. FERC likely fell short of its obligation under the Administrative Procedure Act to explain its decision. Absent emergency relief, FERC’s order would have irreparably harmed NTE, preventing it from participating in an auction to sell future electricity capacity to New England consumers. Nothing in FERC’s reasoning suggests the risk that incumbents may have to reallocate electricity capacity amongst themselves outweighs the harm of delaying NTE’s project, which could benefit consumers through more efficient, less expensive electricity. View "In re: NTE Connecticut, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 authorizes USPS to “classify and fix the compensation and benefits of all officers and employees,” 39 U.S.C. 1003(a), to “provide adequate and reasonable differentials in rates of pay between employees in the clerk and carrier grades . . . and supervisory and other managerial personnel.” USPS must “achieve and maintain compensation for its . . . employees comparable to the rates and types of compensation paid in the private sector of the economy” and must allow organizations representing supervisory and other managerial employees “to participate directly in the planning and development of pay policies and schedules” relating to supervisory and managerial employees.The Association, a recognized organization of supervisory personnel, challenged USPS’s adoption of the 2016–2019 pay package for “Field” Executive and Administrative Schedule personnel. The district court dismissed the complaint, finding that the cited provisions state “policy goals.” not mandatory and enforceable directives.The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Association plausibly alleged that USPS exceeded its statutory authority by failing to institute “some differential” in pay for supervisors and by failing to demonstrate that it set its compensation levels by reference, inter alia, to the compensation paid” in the private sector. USPS failed to comply with the Act by refusing to consult with the Association on compensation for “Area” and “Headquarters” employees; by refusing to consult regarding postmasters; and by failing to provide the Association with reasons for rejecting its recommendations. View "National Association of Postal Supervisors v. United States Postal Service" on Justia Law