Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Mason, an African-American Ohio resident sued against all 88 Ohio county recorders for violating the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition against making, printing, or publishing “any . . . statement” indicating a racial preference, such as a racially restrictive covenant. Mason’s complaint included copies of land records, recorded in 1922-1957, that contain racially restrictive covenants. There is no allegation that such covenants have been enforced since the 1948 Supreme Court decision prohibiting enforcement of such covenants. Mason maintains that permitting documents with restrictive covenants in the chain of title to be recorded or maintained and making them available to the public violated the Act. Mason alleges that defendants “discouraged the Plaintiff and others from purchasing real estate ... by creating a feeling that they ... do not belong in certain neighborhoods” and that defendants’ actions “damage and cloud the title to property owned by property owners.” Mason’s counsel stated that Mason became aware of the covenants while looking to buy property, a fact not contained in the complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Mason lacked standing. A plaintiff must show that he suffered a palpable economic injury distinct to himself; any alleged injury was not caused by the county recorders, who are required by Ohio statute to furnish the documents to the public; county recorders cannot redress the alleged harm, as they have no statutory authority to edit the documents. View "Mason v. Adams County Recorder" on Justia Law

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Seven Counties, a nonprofit provider of mental health services, attempted to file for Bankruptcy Code Chapter 11 reorganization. For decades, Seven Counties has participated in Kentucky’s public pension plan (KERS). Because the rate set for employer contributions has drastically increased in recent years, Seven Counties sought to reject its relationship with KERS in bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court and the district court both held that Seven Counties is eligible to file under Chapter 11 and that the relationship between Seven Counties and KERS is based on an executory contract that can be rejected. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Seven Counties is only eligible to be a Chapter 11 debtor if it is a “person” under 11 U.S.C. 109(a); a “governmental unit” is generally excluded from the category of “person.” Because the Commonwealth does not exercise the necessary forms of control over Seven Counties for it to be considered an instrumentality of the Commonwealth, Seven Counties is eligible to file. Seven Counties characterized its relationship with KERS as contractual, such that, to the extent it is executory, it may be rejected in bankruptcy, 11 U.S.C. 365. KERS argued the relationship is purely statutory, similar to an assessment, such that it cannot be rejected. The Sixth Circuit certified the question of the nature of the relationship to the Kentucky Supreme Court. View "Kentucky Employees. Retirement System v. Seven Counties.Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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DEA ordered Miami-Luken, a registered controlled substances pharmaceutical wholesaler, to show cause why its registration should not be revoked, for failing to maintain effective controls against the diversion of oxycodone and hydrocodone and failing to disclose suspicious orders. At the company’s request, an ALJ issued a subpoena requiring DEA to produce various investigative records. DEA filed a notice declaring that it would not comply. Miami-Luken filed an emergency motion and the district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation to enforce the subpoena in part, eliminating one category of subpoenaed documents, narrowing another, and permitting DEA to provide “reasonably redacted versions.” DEA's Acting Administrator determined that the enforcement order, permitting the DEA to make reasonable redactions, also permitted DEA to review the validity of the subpoena itself, and found that the requested categories of documents were not “necessary to conduct” the hearing as would be required for disclosure under 21 C.F.R. 1316.52(d) and ordered the subpoena quashed. DEA obtained a stay of the order enforcing the subpoena pending further judicial review and moved for relief from judgment. Miami-Luken then petitioned the Sixth Circuit to review directly DEA’s order quashing the subpoena. Meanwhile, the district court denied DEA’s motion for relief from judgment, stating: Nothing in this Court’s Order permitted the DEA Administrator to set aside the subpoena. The Sixth Circuit denied Miami-Luken’s petition for lack of jurisdiction. The Administrator’s order was not a “final decision” under 21 U.S.C. 877. View "Miami-Luken, Inc. v. United States Drug Enforcement Administration" on Justia Law

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Detroit residents voted to allow the school district to increase property taxes “for operating expenses.“ In 2013, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) announced its intent to capture some of that tax revenue to fund the construction of Little Caesars Arena for the Red Wings hockey team. In 2016, the DDA revised its plan to allow the Pistons basketball team to relocate to Arena. The Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (DBRA) agreed to contribute to the $56.5 million expenditure, including reimbursing construction costs that private developers had already advanced. The project is largely complete. Plaintiffs requested that the school board place on the November 2017 ballot a question asking voters to approve or disapprove of the agencies' use of tax revenue for the Pistons relocation. The board held a special meeting but did not put the question on the ballot. Plaintiffs filed suit. Count VIII sought a declaratory judgment that the board had authority to place the question on the ballot. Count IX sought a writ of mandamus ordering the board to place it on the ballot. The court dismissed Counts VIII and IX, noting that Plaintiffs could have filed suit in 2013. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs lack Article III standing. Failure to place Plaintiffs’ question on the ballot affects all Detroit voters equally; they raised only a generally available grievance about government. Michigan statutes do not give Detroit residents the right to void a Tax Increment Financing plan by public referendum, so a referendum would not redress Plaintiffs’ injury. View "Davis v. Detroit Public School Community District" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee Department of Transportation hired Jones to repair a collapsed portion of a state highway. The company drilled and blasted a pit less than a mile from the highway, extracting thousands of tons of graded solid rock to fill the collapsed bed that previously supported the highway. The Mine Safety and Health Administration imposed $2,940 in civil penalties on Jones for failing to comply with the agency's safety requirements. An ALJ for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent agency responsible for reviewing the Administration’s actions, 30 U.S.C. 823, upheld the penalties, agreeing that the site was “a coal or other mine” under the Administration’s jurisdiction. The Commission affirmed. The Sixth Circuit vacated because the administrative law judge was an inferior officer of the United States, and was not appointed by the President, a court of law, or the head of a department, as the Appointments Clause of the Constitution (art. II, sect. 2, cl. 2) demands. The ALJ was appointed by the Chief Administrative Law Judge. The court excused Jones’s failure to pursue the argument below. View "Jones Brothers, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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The DEA bars hospitals from hiring, as an employee with “access to controlled substances,” any doctor who “for cause” has surrendered his registration to handle those substances. The DEA enforced this regulation against Doctors McDonald and Woods, who had voluntarily surrendered their registrations while in addiction treatment. They later regained full registrations. The doctors sued to enjoin the DEA from enforcing the regulation against them in the future, arguing that it no longer applied to them once their registrations were restored. The parties settled. Their agreement provides that “[t]he DEA no longer interprets 21 C.F.R. 1301.76(a) as requiring . . . potential employers of doctors with unrestricted DEA registrations to seek waivers.” The Sixth Circuit denied the government’s motion to keep the agreement under seal, noting “a strong presumption in favor of openness as to court records.” The government did not identify information too sensitive to remain public. Public interest is particularly strong where the information pertains to an agency’s interpretation of a regulation. Other doctors would no doubt be interested. View "Woods v. United States Drug Enforcement Administration" on Justia Law

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The VA determined that West, a Viet Nam veteran, was eligible for a disability pension. Two days later West died. Four days later—without knowing that West had died—the government sent West a check for $8,660--his pension benefit retroactive to June 2013. In March 2014, a Kentucky probate court appointed West’s ex-wife, Brenda, as the Estate's executor. Brenda endorsed the VA check, the estate’s only cash asset, and deposited it into an escrow account. After three months, the VA determined that West’s estate was not entitled to the money, 38 U.S.C. 5121(a), and directed the bank to wire the $8,660 back to the U.S. Treasury. The bank complied. The Estate did not learn until later that its account had been drained of funds. More than 18 months later, the Estate obtained a Kentucky probate court order requiring the government to return the funds. The government removed the matter to the district court, which remanded the matter back because the $8,660 was already subject to the probate court’s jurisdiction. The Estate unsuccessfully sought attorneys’ fees. The Sixth Circuit reversed the remand order; the dispute can be litigated only under the procedure set forth in the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act, 102 Stat 4105. The court noted “concerns about the government’s expropriation of the Estate’s funds without any advance notice or process.” View "Estate of West v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Earley applied for disability benefits, 42 U.S.C. 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B) . In 2012, an ALJ rejected the application on the ground that Earley, who suffered from fibromyalgia, mild carpal tunnel syndrome, panic disorder, degenerative disk disease, and major depression, did not have a covered disability. She applied again for a new period of time. The same ALJ denied her benefits, citing Sixth Circuit precedent (Drummond) as requiring him to give preclusive effect to the work-capacity finding he had made during the first proceeding absent “new and material evidence documenting a significant change in the claimant’s condition.” The district court reversed, concluding that the Drummond “principles of res judicata” apply only when they favor an individual applicant, not the government. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. The key principles protected by Drummond—consistency between proceedings and finality with respect to resolved applications—apply to individuals and the government but do not prevent the agency from giving a fresh look to a new application containing new evidence or satisfying a new regulatory threshold that covers a new period of alleged disability while being mindful of past rulings and the record in prior proceedings. View "Earley v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Sunrise, an Ohio agricultural cooperative, owns one-third of Lund, which sells crop insurance. Sunrise pays “patronage,” a rebate, to its Ohio and Michigan members based on how much Lund insurance they buy. The Risk Management Agency (RMA) within the USDA, administers Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) programs. Patronage payments were prohibited until 2000, when Congress authorized some rebating if permitted under state law. Congress changed course in 2008, prohibiting patronage payments with a grandfather clause, 7 U.S.C. 1508(a)(9)(B)(iii) stating that the prohibition does not apply to a patronage dividend paid: “by an entity that was approved by the [FCIC] to make such payments for the 2005, 2006, or 2007 reinsurance year.” From 2008-2016, Sunrise was approved to pay patronage as a “grandfathered” entity. In 2016, another farming cooperative, Trupointe, merged into Sunrise. Trupointe had 4100 members, did not sell crop insurance, and was not eligible to pay patronage. Sunrise argued to the RMA that under Ohio law and federal tax law, when one company merges into another, the surviving company is the same entity that existed before the merger. The RMA disagreed, concluding that the merger would make Sunrise ineligible to pay patronage and defining “entity” to mean the same entity that it approved for any of the 2005-2007 reinsurance years, with the same structure and relative size; any mergers would be considered a different entity, regardless of name or how taxed. The Sixth Circuit held that the agency was not permitted to impose additional eligibility requirements on approved entities that are unmoored from the statute. View "Sunrise Cooperative v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, who profess disbelief in God and one Jewish individual, alleged that the inscription of the Motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency, (31 U.S.C. 5112(d)(1) and 5114(b)), violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and constitutional provisions, placing a substantial burden on their religious exercise by causing Plaintiffs to: personally bear a religious message that is the antithesis of what they consider to be truth, and “proselytize for a religious claim.” The Jewish Plaintiff alleged that it is sinful for him to participate in an activity that involves the superfluous printing of God’s name. Plaintiffs alleged that the inscription denies equal dignity to Plaintiffs’ religious views, contributing to cultural stigma. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all claims. RFRA does not require the government to permit Plaintiffs to use their preferred means of payment. Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that the inscription substantially burdens their exercise of religion or that the currency statutes intended to discriminate against them or suppress their religion; precedent demonstrates that the statutes do not lack any valid secular purpose. The currency statutes are neutral and generally applicable and only incidentally burden religious practices. Plaintiffs alleged facts showing societal bias against Atheists and suggesting that Congress required and reaffirmed the inscription for Christian religious purposes but have not presented factual allegations plausibly demonstrating that the challenged statutes caused the societal bias that is their asserted injury. View "New Doe Child #1 v. Congress of the United States" on Justia Law