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

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The Grand Cayman Blue Iguana is protected by the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531, and by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which ban their collection, trade, and export. The Secretary of the Interior may permit “any” otherwise prohibited conduct “to enhance the propagation or survival” of a protected species. The nonprofit Phoenix Herpetological Society applied for permits to export four blue iguanas to a Danish zoo and continue its captive-bred wildlife program at its Arizona facility. For export, the Fish and Wildlife Service must find that “proposed export would not be detrimental to the survival of the species.” The Service also evaluates—under Endangered Species Act criteria—whether a permit “would be likely to reduce the threat of extinction facing the species.” The applicant bears the burden of showing that its specimens were lawfully acquired, including lawful importation of the ancestors of specimens it has bred.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of the permits. The agency determined that exporting the iguanas would not be “detrimental” to the species but that exporting them would not “reduce the threat of extinction” for the species. The court concluded that its reasoning was not inconsistent. The Service appropriately acknowledged the prior permits and explained that inconsistent assertions about the parental stock raised new questions about lawful acquisition. View "Phoenix Herpetological Society, Inc. v. Fish and Wildlife Service" 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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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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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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Trinity employee Victoria’s timecard indicated that she had earned three days of paid leave. The company’s records indicated otherwise. Victoria and her unionized coworkers had a unique paid-leave plan, different from the plan at Trinity’s other, nonunionized facilities. In response to the discrepancy, Victoria’s boss, Rivera, stated, “[T]hat is a problem that the Union created” and “You need to fix that with the Union.” A split panel of the National Labor Relations Board found that these remarks “had a reasonable tendency to interfere with” employees’ labor rights, in violation of 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1), because there was “no objective basis for blaming the Union” and the remarks came amidst “ongoing contract negotiations and grievance proceedings” regarding paid leave.The D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of Trinity, declining to enforce the Board’s order. The National Labor Relations Act protects an employer’s right to “express[] . . . any views, argument, or opinion,” 29 U.S.C. 158(c). Unless the employer threatens “reprisal or force” or promises “benefit[s],” such expressions “cannot be used as evidence of an unfair labor practice.” Rivera’s remarks were “opinion[s]” containing no threats or promises and evoking no future consequences. The court declined to recognize an exception for misstatements involving no threat or promise. Section 8(c) does not require fairness or accuracy and says nothing about materiality or knowledge. View "Trinity Services Group, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" 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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Eringer is a writer of espionage-themed books and an "intelligence operative." Eringer, working for Prince Albert II of Monaco, hired Berlin to investigate the Chandler brothers, businessmen operating in Monaco. In 2003, Berlin delivered to Eringer a report that included allegations that the brothers were engaged in money laundering on behalf of high-level Russian officials and Russian organized crime. In the following years, Eringer made claims about the Chandlers in various fora, including a suit against the Prince in California, a 2014 self-published book, "The Spymaster of Monte Carlo," and an online article. Eringer did not reference Berlin or the 2003 Report. Chandler learned of Eringer’s accusations by 2010. Claims regarding the Chandlers became a source of public controversy in 2017, when a British newspaper published a story about their "links to Russia.” In 2018, Chandler sued Berlin for libel per se.The district court granted Berlin summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The evidence does not establish as a matter of law that a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have sued Berlin more than a year earlier. Berlin and Eringer are not so closely connected that Chandler’s knowledge of Eringer’s pre-2017 defamatory statements caused accrual of Chandler’s action against Berlin. Reasonable jurors could differ as to whether facts available to Chandler before 2017 put him on inquiry notice of any claim against Berlin. Berlin cannot be held liable for the nonparty client’s republication of Berlin’s statements, which was not reasonably foreseeable. View "Chandler v. Berlin" 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

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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 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