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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Pioch and co-defendants were convicted based on their scheme to defraud the multimillion-dollar estate of an elderly widower. Pioch was sentenced to 111 months’ imprisonment with a special assessment of $3,700 and restitution of $2,037,783.30. Pioch shares joint-and-several liability with her co-defendants for $1,990,342.76 of the restitution to McLaughlin (victim’s son), under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. 3664(i)). Pioch personally owes the remaining $47,440.54 to the IRS, so she is liable for a total of $2,041,483.30 for the assessment and restitution. The government sought garnishment and, invoking the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act (FDCPA), 28 U.S.C. 3011(a)), requested a 10% surcharge, $204,148.33.The district court granted the garnishment and surcharge requests. The Sixth Circuit remanded, rejecting Pioch's argument that the surcharge should be calculated based on the “debt” that the government “actually recover[s] through enforcement of a collection remedy” (10% of the $367,681.48 subject to garnishment) and not the total debt resulting from her crimes (10% of the $2,041,483.30 judgment). When the government initiates an FDCPA action to recover debt owed to the United States, the government is entitled to recover a 10% surcharge on the entire outstanding debt; the debt must be paid off before the United States may collect the surcharge, which is added to, not subtracted from, the judgment. View "United States v. Pioch" on Justia Law

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Paul was driving his daughter Kelly’s vehicle when it was struck by a United States Postal Service (USPS) vehicle. Kelly was a passenger. Days later, Kelly filed her SF 95, for a claim under Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671–80. Use of the form is not required to present an FTCA claim. Kelly listed herself as the claimant, noted Paul’s involvement, and indicated that the extent of their injuries was unknown. Kelly alone signed the form and provided only her contact information. The form requests a total amount of damages and states: “[f]ailure to specify may cause forfeiture of your rights.” Kelly wrote: “I do not have ... a total on medical.” Kelly sent USPS the final car repair bill, which USPS paid. Later, USPS received a representation letter from counsel for Kelly that did not mention Paul. USPS responded, stating: “A claim must be for a specific dollar amount.” USPS states that it did not receive any further information concerning the amount of personal injury damages.Paul and Kelly filed suit, seeking $25,000 in personal injury damages. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit remanded. While the sum certain requirement in the FTCA is not jurisdictional, Kelly never provided a sum certain so, her personal injury claim is not cognizable. The agency had adequate notice of Paul’s claim but he also failed to satisfy the statutory “sum certain” requirement. View "Copen v. United States" on Justia Law

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The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocated $29 billion for grants to help restaurant owners. The Small Business Administration (SBA) processed applications and distributed funds on a first-come, first-served basis. During the first 21 days, it gave grants only to priority applicants--restaurants at least 51% owned and controlled by women, veterans, or the “socially and economically disadvantaged,” defined by reference to the Small Business Act, which refers to those who have been “subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice” or “cultural bias” based solely on immutable characteristics, 15 U.S.C. 637(a)(5). A person is considered “economically disadvantaged” if he is socially disadvantaged and he faces “diminished capital and credit opportunities” compared to non-socially disadvantaged people who operate in the same industry. Under a pre-pandemic regulation, the SBA presumes certain applicants are socially disadvantaged including: “Black Americans,” “Hispanic Americans,” “Asian Pacific Americans,” “Native Americans,” and “Subcontinent Asian Americans.” After reviewing evidence, the SBA will consider an applicant a victim of “individual social disadvantage” based on specific findings.Vitolo (white) and his wife (Hispanic) own a restaurant and submitted an application. Vitolo sued, seeking a preliminary injunction to prohibit the government from disbursing grants based on race or sex. The Sixth Circuit ordered the government to fund the plaintiffs’ application, if approved, before all later-filed applications, without regard to processing time or the applicants’ race or sex. The government failed to provide an exceedingly persuasive justification that would allow the classification to stand. The government may continue the preference for veteran-owned restaurants. View "Vitolo v. Guzman" on Justia Law

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The FCC's orders, together with Title VI of the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 521, establish rules by which state and local governments may regulate cable providers. A cable operator may provide cable services only if a franchising authority—usually a local body, but sometimes a unit of state government—grants the operator a franchise. Franchising authorities often require that cable operators pay fees, provide free cable service for public buildings, and set aside channel capacity for public, educational, and governmental use. The Act limits “franchise fees” to five percent of a cable operator’s gross revenues for cable services for any 12-month period.The FCC's 2007 “First Order” announced the “mixed-use rule,” under which franchisors could not regulate the non-cable services of cable operators who were “common carriers” under the Act. A “Second Order” interpreted “franchise fee” to include noncash exactions except those exempted by statute; counted the value of those exactions toward the fee cap; and extended the “mixed-use rule” to “incumbent” cable operators, who generally were not common carriers.The 2019 Third Order concluded that most cable-related noncash exactions are franchise fees; explained why the Act does not allow franchising authorities to regulate the non-cable services of cable operators who are not common carriers; and extended FCC rulings to state (rather than just local) franchising authorities.The Sixth Circuit denied, in part, challenges by franchising authorities, upholding the FCC’s interpretation of “franchise fee” but holding that noncash cable-related exactions should be assigned a value equal to the cable operator’s marginal cost in providing them. A fee on broadband services is not imposed based on the operator’s provision of cable services and is not a “franchise fee” under section 542(g)(1); it does not count toward the cap and its imposition is not preempted. The extension to state franchisors was not arbitrary. View "City of Chicago v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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An agency within the Department of Agriculture summarily approved a proposed plan for dry-bean crop insurance in Michigan based upon the mistaken belief that the terms of the proposed endorsement for the Michigan policy were identical to the terms of the endorsement for a Minnesota policy that it had approved the year before. The terms of the two endorsements were different because the Michigan endorsement contained a different pricing mechanism for determining the beans’ “harvest price” than the mechanism the agency had approved as part of the Minnesota endorsement. That difference later caused significant harm to Michigan farmers who had purchased the coverage, some of whom filed suit. In the district court, the government compounded the agency’s mistake when it mistakenly told the district court that the pricing mechanisms in the Michigan and Minnesota endorsements were the same. Based in part upon that representation, the district court granted the government summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed, noting that “the government’s brief unhelpfully elides both mistakes rather than acknowledge them but Plaintiffs’ counsel on appeal has made the existence of those mistakes clear enough.” The agency violated 7 C.F.R. 400.701 when it found that the Michigan proposal presented only “non-significant changes” to the Minnesota one; the mistake was apparently inadvertent. View "Ackerman v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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Torres started working for Precision in 2011. He was not then legally authorized to work in the U.S. but obtained work authorization about five months later. Torres listed a fake Social Security number on a tax form when he started the job. In May 2012, Torres injured his back at work. Precision did not pay all of the doctor's bills. Torres pursued a workers’ compensation claim. After receiving a September 2011 call from Torres’s lawyer, supervisors confronted Torres. Torres recorded their threatening and profanity-laced statements. Torres was immediately terminated.Torres sued, claiming Precision violated Tennessee law by firing him in retaliation for making a workers’ compensation claim. The district court rejected the claim, citing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. On remand, the district court found Precision liable for retaliatory discharge and held that federal law did not preempt a damage award. The court awarded Torres backpay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Federal law makes it illegal to employ undocumented aliens, but Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law protects them. Because of federal law, the company cannot be required to pay lost wages that the alien was not allowed to earn; the employer is liable for wages the employee could have lawfully received, and for damages unrelated to the employee’s immigration status. View "Torres v. Precision Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2010, Felten filed a qui tam complaint alleging that his then-employer, Beaumont Hospital, was violating the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3730(h), and the Michigan Medicaid False Claims Act by paying kickbacks to physicians and physicians’ groups in exchange for referrals of Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE patients. Felten also alleged that Beaumont had retaliated against him by threatening and “marginaliz[ing]” him for insisting on compliance with the law. After the government intervened and settled the case against Beaumont, the district court dismissed the remaining claims, except those for retaliation and attorneys’ fees and costs.Felten amended his complaint to add allegations of retaliation that took place after he filed his initial complaint: he was terminated after Beaumont falsely represented to him that an internal report suggested that he be replaced and that his position was subject to mandatory retirement. Felten further alleged that he had been unable to obtain a comparable position in academic medicine because Beaumont “intentionally maligned [him].”The district court dismissed the allegations of retaliatory conduct occurring after Felten’s termination. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The FCA’s anti-retaliation provision protects a relator from a defendant’s retaliation after the relator’s termination. View "Felten v. William Beaumont Hospital" on Justia Law

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In 2008, State Bank, a Fentura subsidiary, hired Wollschlager to deal with “problem loans.” Wollschlager’s contract provided a golden parachute worth $175,000 if the Bank fired him early. In 2009, the FDIC deemed the Bank “troubled.” In 2010, Wollschlager negotiated an amended agreement worth $245,000. Wollschlager's 2011 separation agreement provided that the $245,000 payment would comprise $138,000 (one year’s salary) within 60 days of Wollschlager’s departure; $107,000 plus his base compensation through the end of the year ($28,000) would be paid once the Bank’s conditions improved. Fentura did not seek FDIC prior approval. The FDIC and the Federal Reserve subsequently approved the $138,000 installment. FDIC regulations “generally limit payments to no more than one year of annual salary.” In 2013, Fentura sought approval to pay the remainder, acknowledging that the agreements required prior approval. The FDIC refused, citing 12 U.S.C. 1828(k).The district court granted the FDIC judgment on the record. The Sixth Circuit affirmed The statute says that the agency should withhold golden parachute payments for misconduct and should also consider whether the employee “was in a position of managerial or fiduciary responsibility,” the “length of” the employment, and whether the “compensation involved represents a reasonable payment for” the employee’s services. The FDIC reasonably found that the payment would result in a windfall of two years’ salary for an employee who worked for just three years and that the Bank never sought initial approval. View "Wollschlager v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation" on Justia Law

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The March 2020 “CARES Act,” 134 Stat. 281, included a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings based on nonpayment of rent for tenants residing in certain federally financed rental properties, which expired in July 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director unilaterally issued the “Halt Order” declaring a new moratorium, halting evictions of certain “covered persons” through December 31, 2020, purportedly based on authority found in Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 264, which provides the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the power to “make and enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.” Congress subsequently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which extended that Halt Order from December 31 to January 31, 134 Stat. 1182. Just before that statutory extension lapsed, the CDC Director issued a new directive extending the order through March 31, 2021, again relying on the generic rulemaking power arising from the Public Health Service Act.Landlords sued. The district court held that the Halt Order exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority. The Sixth Circuit declined to stay the order. Congressional acquiescence in the CDC’s assertion that the Halt Order was supported by the Act does not make it so; the plain text of that provision indicates otherwise. View "Tiger Lily, LLC v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) promulgated a rule that classified bump stocks as machine guns, reversing its previous position. Bump stocks are devices designed to assist the shooter in “bump firing,” a technique that increases a semiautomatic firearm’s rate of fire. In a challenge to the rule, the district court held that the ATF’s interpretation was entitled to Chevron deference and that the classification of bump stocks as machine guns was “a permissible interpretation” of 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). The court denied a preliminary injunction.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Section 5845(b)'s definition of a machine gun applies to a machine-gun ban carrying criminal culpability and penalties; an agency’s interpretation of a criminal statute is not entitled to Chevron deference. Deference to an agency’s interpretation of a criminal statute directly conflicts with the rule of lenity, would violate the Constitution’s separation of powers, and would raise individual liberty and fair notice concerns. ATF’s rule is not the best interpretation of section 5845(b); “single function of the trigger” refers to the mechanical process of the trigger and a bump stock does not enable a semiautomatic firearm to fire more than one shot each time the trigger is pulled. View "Gun Owners of America, Inc. v. Garland" on Justia Law