Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Federal prosecutors asked the district court for permission to withhold classified information from defense counsel for Asgari, an Iranian scientist charged with theft of trade secrets. Applying the Classified Information Procedures Act of 1980, 18 U.S.C. app.3 1, the district court reviewed the information and concluded that none of it would help Asgari and granted the government’s motion. Asgari moved for reconsideration on the ground his defense counsel had a top-level security clearance. The court ordered the information’s disclosure to counsel. The Sixth Circuit reversed, first holding that it had jurisdiction. The Act permits the government to seek an interlocutory appeal of a district court order “authorizing the disclosure of classified information.” Nothing in the Act suggests that defense counsel has a role to play when the district court assesses the relevance or helpfulness of the classified information. Although the district court expressed it had trouble, on reconsideration, deciding whether the information was relevant to Asgari’s defense, the Act vests the district court alone with the responsibility to make the decision. View "United States v. Asgari" on Justia Law

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The Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901–44, provides federal funds to individuals totally disabled by a respiratory disease commonly caused by coal mine employment. The Secretary of Labor has broad implementation authority. When a miner applies for benefits, a Labor Department “district director” investigates and issues a proposed order, from which a party may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. The ALJ holds a hearing and issues a decision. A party may appeal a “substantial question of law or fact” to the Benefits Review Board. After exhausting these steps, a party may obtain judicial review of the Board's final order. Labor Department staff (not the Secretary) had been appointing the ALJs. The Constitution’s Appointments Clause dictates that Congress may place the appointment power for “inferior Officers” only in the President, the courts, or the “Heads of Departments.” In 2017, anticipating that the Supreme Court might address the issue, the Secretary ratified the appointments of existing ALJs. Months later, the Court held (Lucia) that an SEC ALJ was an inferior officer who had been unconstitutionally appointed. A former miner and an operator unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration of adverse decisions, arguing for the first time that the Secretary had not appointed their ALJs. The Board found the arguments “waived.” The Sixth Circuit agreed. The Act requires exhaustion. Parties are normally prohibited from raising new issues at the rehearing stage. The Board had the authority to address this constitutional issue and provide effective relief; there were many cases in which it did so for parties who preserved their claims. No exception applies; the parties did not demonstrate exceptional circumstances. View "Island Creek Coal Co. v. Bryan" on Justia Law

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In 1968, the Hamilton County, Ohio Board of County Commissioners and Cincinnati consolidated their sewer districts into a single sewer system and entered an agreement providing that the city would manage the sewer system’s operations, subject to County oversight, for 50 years. After the city indicated that it planned to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement in 2018, the Board sought judicial intervention. The district court found that the city’s withdrawal would interfere with environmental remediation projects that the city and Board had committed to implement under a 2004 consent decree. The court temporarily extended the term of the 1968 agreement, enjoining the city’s withdrawal pursuant to the court’s inherent power to enforce consent decrees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the temporary injunction because doing so was necessary to enforce the terms and objectives of the 2004 consent decree. District courts possess broad authority to enforce the terms of consent decrees, even where doing so requires interfering with municipal prerogatives or commitments. View "United States v. Board of County Commissioners of Hamilton County" on Justia Law

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A1 learned that government auditors thought that the company had overcharged a federal agency by several million dollars for services provided to Medicare beneficiaries. A1 challenged the auditors’ decisions at two levels of the Medicare appeals process but changed the auditors’ minds only in a few minor ways. The government tried to start collecting the money, as the regulatory regime allows, 42 U.S.C. 1395ff(a)(5), (c)(3)(E). Fearing bankruptcy from the government’s recoupment efforts, A1 obtained a preliminary injunction, barring the government from recouping the money until A1 received a hearing before an administrative law judge. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction, first holding that although A1 did not proceed to the third and fourth levels of the administrative appeal, the district court had jurisdiction over A1’s constitutional claims. On the merits, the court identified unanswered questions regarding the statistics concerning the relief likely to be obtained at the third level of administrative review; details about A1’s choice not to take advantage of an option to escalate its claim to the fourth and final level of administrative review; and the parties’ awareness of a recoupment option that might have allowed A1 to obtain an ALJ hearing before making most or even all of its recoupment payments. View "A1 Diabetes & Medical Supply v. Alex Azar II" on Justia Law

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The Clean Air Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for certain air pollutants, 42 U.S.C. 7409. Each state must propose a state implementation plan (SIP) that “specif[ies] the manner in which national . . . ambient air quality standards will be achieved and maintained” for approval by the EPA. A 1990 CAA amendment set a national Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) standard for gasoline. In 2004, the EPA informed Michigan that eight counties in southeast Michigan were “nonattainment” areas for the ozone NAAQS. In response, Michigan enacted the “Summer Fuel Law” to limit the RVP for gasoline sold during the summer months within those eight counties. After concluding that the revised RVP standards were “necessary” for the attainment of the ozone NAAQS, the EPA approved the incorporation of the Summer Fuel Law into Michigan’s SIP. Ammex unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development from enforcing the Summer Fuel Law, arguing that the standard violates the Supremacy Clause and dormant Foreign Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. MDARD’s enforcement of the standard is the enforcement of federal law. View "Ammex, Inc. v. Wenk" on Justia Law

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Due to an unsafe condition on the premises, Osborne suffered a broken arm at the Center, which is owned and operated by Metro Nashville. Osborne obtained a state court judgment against Metro under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act; the damages included specific medical expenses related to the incident and found Osborne’s comparative fault to be 20 percent. Before the state court suit, Osborne incurred medical expenses for which Metro did not pay at the time. Medicare made conditional payments to Osborne totaling at least $9,453.09. Osborne claims he incurred—in addition to the costs of his state court litigation—the cost of his co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance for treatments not covered through Medicare. Osborne alleged Metro is a primary payer who failed to pay under the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSPA), 42 U.S.C. 1395y(b), and was therefore liable for reimbursement of Medicare’s conditional payments and a double damages penalty under section 1395y(b)(3)(A). Metro claimed it paid the judgment in full, including discretionary costs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Osborne lacked statutory standing to sue for his individual losses and the conditional payments made by Medicare because the MSPA does not permit a private cause of action against tortfeasors. Because the MSPA is not a qui tam statute and financial injury suffered by Medicare is not attributed to Osborne, he also lacked Article III standing to sue for Medicare’s conditional payments. View "Osborne v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County" on Justia Law

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American Islamic Community Center (AICC) unsuccessfully sought zoning permission to build a mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan. AICC sued, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment. The Department of Justice also investigated. The city negotiated a consent judgment that allowed AICC to build the mosque. At the City Council meeting at which the consent judgment was approved, people voiced concerns about issues such as traffic and noise; others disparaged Islam and AICC. Comments and deliberation were punctuated by audience outbursts. Eventually, Mayor Taylor cleared the chamber of all spectators, except the press. The Council voted to settle the case. A consent judgment was entered. Plaintiffs sought a judgment declaring the consent judgment invalid. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The defendants fulfilled their procedural obligations; they considered and made findings on the relevant criteria, such as “parking, traffic and overall size,” before voting. The court upheld limitations on speech imposed during the meeting: the relevance rule and a rule forbidding attacks on people and institutions. The city did not “grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.” View "Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee General Assembly alleged that the federal government violated the Spending Clause and the Tenth Amendment by enacting and implementing statutes that require states to provide Medicaid coverage to eligible refugees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the General Assembly’s complaint. The General Assembly did not allege an injury that gives it standing and did not establish that it has the authority to bring suit on behalf of Tennessee. Merely alleging an institutional injury is not enough. In this case, one of the claimed injuries is an alleged injury to the state, not the General Assembly. The General Assembly argued that the State Department was “infringing on the State’s sovereignty and nullifying its powers” and that its votes to appropriate state funds have been “completely nullif[ied].” The allegation amounts to claiming an abstract “loss of political power.” The General Assembly has not identified an injury that it has suffered, such as disruption of the legislative process, a usurpation of its authority, or nullification of anything it has done. Tennessee has selected the Attorney General, not the General Assembly, as the exclusive representative of its interests in federal court View "Tennessee v. United States Department of State" on Justia Law

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An incumbent Kentucky state senator and an unsuccessful state candidate sued, alleging that Kentucky statutes violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. One (now defunct) campaign finance provision restricted the amount a candidate could loan to his campaign. The challenged ethics provisions prohibit a legislator, candidate for the legislature, or his campaign committee from accepting a campaign contribution from a lobbyist; prohibit a legislator, candidate, or his campaign committee from accepting a campaign contribution from an employer of a lobbyist or a political committee (PAC) during a regular session of the General Assembly; prohibit a legislator or his spouse from accepting “anything of value” from a lobbyist or his employer; and prohibit a lobbyist from serving as a campaign treasurer, and directly soliciting, controlling, or delivering a campaign contribution to a legislator or candidate. The district court dismissed the campaign finance claim as moot but found that the ethics laws burdened “core political speech” and curtailed freedom of association, requiring strict scrutiny. The court upheld the regular session contribution ban but found the other challenged ethics provisions unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to the “regular session” ban but otherwise vacated and reversed. Kentucky’s legislature acted to protect itself and its citizens from corruption; these laws are closely drawn to further Kentucky’s anti-corruption interest and pass constitutional muster. View "Schickel v. Dilger" on Justia Law

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In 1966, Sebree Kentucky enacted an ordinance requiring CSX Transportation’s predecessor to obtain approval from the city before commencing any maintenance or construction project that would result in any change in grade at any of the six railroad crossings in Sebree. After a 1979 dispute concerning the ordinance, the predecessor railroad and the city entered into a settlement agreement. The company agreed not to raise the height of one crossing by more than 0.4 feet and not to raise the height of another crossing at all. In 2017, CSX notified Sebring of its intent to perform maintenance that would raise four crossings. CSX obtained a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance or settlement agreement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding both the ordinance and settlement agreement preempted by the 1995 Termination Act, which established the Surface Transportation Board and gave it exclusive jurisdiction over certain aspects of railroad transportation, 49 U.S.C. 1301, 10501(b). The ordinance, as applied, is not settled and definite enough to avoid open-ended delays, and could easily be used as a pretext for interfering with rail service; it “amount[s] to impermissible [local] regulation of [CSX’s] operations by interfering with the railroad’s ability to uniformly design, construct, maintain, and repair its railroad line.” View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Sebree" on Justia Law