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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The DC Circuit dismissed, based on lack of jurisdiction, petitions for review of the SEC's order directing stock exchanges to submit a proposal to replace three plans that govern the dissemination of certain types of data with a single, consolidated plan. The exchanges specifically challenge provisions of the order requiring them to include three features relating to plan governance.The court concluded that the Commission has yet to decide whether the challenged features will make it into the new plan, and that section 25(a) of the Securities Exchange Act confers authority on the courts of appeals to review only final orders. In this case, although the Governance Order was definitive on the question whether the three challenged plan elements had to be included in the proposal, it was not a "definitive statement of position" on the question the Commission had initiated proceedings to answer—whether the three features should be included in the eventual plan. View "The Nasdaq Stock Market LLC v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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During repair operations in M-Class's underground mine, a miner experienced chest pains and difficulty breathing. At a hospital, a physician examined him and notified the police that a miner was suffering from CO poisoning. The police called the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) hotline. An MSHA Inspector arrived at the mine that night, issued a section 103(k) order to suspend operations in the affected area, reviewed a report based on the mine’s gas detectors and data from one miner’s personal gas spotter, entered the mine, detected no elevated CO level, and allowed mining to resume. The Inspector also started the diesel air compressor and detected no elevated CO level but modified the Order to remove the compressor from service pending an investigation. MSHA tested the compressor but ultimately found no evidence that it was the source of the miner’s illness. MSHA insisted that M-Class submit an action plan governing the compressor use's before the Order would be terminated. MSHA rejected M-Class’s submission.M-Class filed a notice of contest. MSHA terminated the Order. The ALJ declined to dismiss the contest and concluded that the [terminated] Order was appropriate. The Commission concluded that the case was not moot but vacated the terminated Order, finding no substantial evidence that an accident occurred. The D.C. Circuit vacated the decision, finding the matter moot. MSHA terminated the challenged Order. Apart from the speculative, it no longer poses a risk of legal consequences. View "Secretary of Labor v. M-Class Mining, LLC" on Justia Law

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Judicial Watch sued the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and its chairman Adam B. Schiff, seeking disclosure of all subpoenas issued to any telecommunications provider as a part of the Committee’s 2019 Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry and the responses to those subpoenas.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars the suit, providing that “for any Speech or Debate in either House, [Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other Place.” The Committee’s issuance of subpoenas, whether as part of an oversight investigation or impeachment inquiry, was a legislative act protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. “The wisdom of congressional approach or methodology is not open to judicial veto.” “Nor is the legitimacy of a congressional inquiry to be defined by what it produces.” View "Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Schiff" on Justia Law

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A 1993 Communications Act amendment required the FCC to collect regulatory fees to recover the costs of its activities. “Space stations” (satellites) were included in the schedule but there were blanket exceptions for governmental or nonprofit entities. Initially, the FCC limited regulatory fees to those entities it licensed, which does not include foreign-licensed satellites. In 2013, the FCC invited comment on that conclusion but declined to decide the issue. The 2018 “Ray Baum’s Act,” 47 U.S.C. 159, changed the FCC’s authority to adjust the fee schedule based on the number of “units” (satellites) subject to fees rather than either the number of units or licensees and added the power to adjust fees based on factors “reasonably related to the benefits provided" by FCC activities.In 2019, the FCC again sought comment, noting that foreign-licensed satellites that serve U.S. customers benefit in the same manner as their U.S.-licensed competitors. The FCC concluded it should adopt regulatory fees for non-U.S. licensed satellites with U.S. market access. Foreign-licensed satellite operators must petition the FCC to access the U.S. market. The FCC devotes significant resources to processing such petitions. The current exemption “places the burden of regulatory fees" solely on U.S. licensees; commercial foreign-licensed satellites with general U.S. market access did not exist until 1997. The D.C. Circuit denied a petition for review. The petitioners have not shown that the FCC unreasonably interpreted the Act or provided inadequate notice of the Order. View "Telesat Canada v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (the Territories) in September 2017 and destroyed large portions of the Territories’ telecommunications networks. In response, the FCC issued three orders that provided subsidies from the Universal Service Fund to help rebuild those networks. TriCounty, a telecommunications provider that contributes to the Fund, challenged two orders under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Communications Act. Tri-County argued that in one order, the FCC bypassed notice and comment without good cause and failed to justify the amount and allocation of funds and that in both orders, the FCC departed from a previous policy without explanation and contravened the Communications Act.The D.C. Circuit denied a petition for review, after finding that TriCounty had standing to challenge the orders, except with respect to the allocation of funds, from which it suffered no concrete harm. The Communications Act directs the FCC to make policies “for the preservation and advancement of universal service.” 47 U.S.C. 254(b). The FCC had previously used the Fund for disaster relief and its findings with respect to the Territories were reasonable. Under the APA, an agency may forgo notice and comment when it is “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest,” 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B). View "Tri-County Telephone Association, Inc. v. e Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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COA submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, request, seeking access to specified Department of Justice (DOJ) records. The response indicated that 143 pages contained records that were responsive to the request. Three cover letters and four Questions for the Record (QFR) documents were identified as responsive, each contains questions posed by members of Congress and, for two of the documents, the corresponding answers provided by DOJ. Each document is self-contained, with a single, overarching heading. The questions and answers in each document are consecutively numbered, and all but one of the documents has consecutively numbered pages. DOJ removed pages and redacted material from those documents without claiming exemption from disclosure under FOIA but claiming that these pages and material need not be disclosed because they constitute “Non-Responsive Record[s].” COA filed suit.The D.C. Circuit held that DOJ’s position is untenable. Once an agency identifies a record it deems responsive, FOIA compels disclosure of the responsive record as a unit except insofar as the agency may redact information falling within a statutory exemption. FOIA calls for disclosure of a responsive record, not just responsive information within a record. Each of the QFR documents constitutes a unitary record, as demonstrated by DOJ’s own treatment of those documents. A challenge to DOJ’s alleged policy or practice of segmenting one record into multiple records to avoid disclosure was unripe. View "Cause of Action Institute v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Corley was convicted of three counts of sex trafficking of a minor. Corley subsequently sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning his own case. The Department of Justice withheld 323 pages of responsive records, including “the names, descriptions and other personally identifiable information” of Corley’s victims, invoking FOIA Exemption 3, which authorizes withholding of certain materials “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(3). The “statute” relied upon was the Child Victims’ and Child Witnesses’ Rights Act, which restricts disclosure of “information concerning a child [victim or witness],” 18 U.S.C. 3509(d)(1)(A)(i).The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The Child Victims’ Act qualifies as an Exemption 3 withholding statute and covers the records Corley seeks. The Act provides that “all employees of the Government” involved in a particular case “shall keep all documents that disclose the name or any other information concerning a child in a secure place” and disclose such documents “only to persons who, by reason of their participation in the proceeding, have reason to know such information.” Corley sought the documents not as a criminal defendant but rather as a member of the public. The protections apply even though the victims are no longer minors. View "Corley v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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The Union of Concerned Scientists sought review of a Department of Energy (DOE) rule concerning the designation of “critical electric infrastructure information,” 16 U.S.C. 824o-1(a)(3), exempted from FOIA disclosure and not to be “made available by any Federal, State, political subdivision or tribal authority pursuant to any Federal, State, political subdivision or tribal law requiring public disclosure of information or records.”The Union, a national nonprofit organization consisting of scientists, engineers, analysts, and policy and communication experts who conduct “independent analyses,” argued that the rule exceeds the Department’s authority under section 215A of the Federal Power Act, is arbitrary and capricious, and was promulgated in violation of the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. The D.C. Circuit dismissed the petition for lack of Article III standing. There is no indication that DOE’s rule would deprive the Union or its members of information they would receive if DOE were to apply a 2016 Rule promulgated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. View "Union of Concerned Scientists v. United States Department of Energy" on Justia Law

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The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. 321(g) regulates homeopathic drugs. A 1988 FDA guidance document outlined the circumstances in which the FDA intended to exercise its discretion not to enforce the full force of the FDCA against homeopathic drugs. In 2019, the FDA withdrew the guidance document, explaining that the homeopathic drug industry had expanded significantly and it had received numerous reports of “[n]egative health effects from drug products labeled as homeopathic.” The FDA then implemented a “risk-based” enforcement approach and added six of MediNatura’s prescription injectable homeopathic products to an import alert, notifying FDA field staff that the products appeared to violate the FDCA.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of MediNatura’s challenges. When a product is detained under an import alert, the importer is given notice and an opportunity to be heard, so the import alert was non-final agency action. The court declined to enjoin the withdrawal of the 1988 guidance, noting the public’s strong interest in the enforcement of the FDCA. Requiring the FDA to keep in place a guidance document that no longer reflects its current enforcement thinking, particularly in light of present public health concerns related to homeopathic drugs, is not in the public interest. View "MediNatura, Inc. v. Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law

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The Surface Transportation Board deadlocked 1–1–1 on what, if anything, to do about an existing rule governing rail carrier fuel surcharges. After five years with no majority position on how to proceed, the Board unanimously voted to discontinue its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in the interest of administrative finality. The League argued that the Board acted unreasonably by deadlocking and that an impasse does not excuse an agency from issuing a well-reasoned merits decision that considers the relevant factors.The D.C. Circuit dismissed the League’s appeal for lack of standing, The League did allege an injury-in-fact: The costs of shipping are supposedly too high. Causation is also easily established because the Board’s safe harbor provision, coupled with the Board’s failure to issue a rule that would modify or eliminate that provision, plausibly created the higher rates. But to satisfy the redressability requirement, the asserted injury must be “capable of resolution and likely to be redressed by judicial decision” and courts lack the power to issue an order to break the Board’s deadlock or to order any individual Board Member to change his policy position. View "Western Coal Traffic League v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law