Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Flint, which previously obtained water from DWSD, decided to join the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA). The DWSD contract terminated in 2014. Because KWA would take years to construct, Flint chose the Flint River as an interim source. A 2011 Report had determined that river water would need to be treated to meet safety regulations; the cost of treatment was less than continuing with DWSD. Genesee County also decided to switch to KWA but continued to purchase DWSD water during construction. Flint did not upgrade its treatment plants or provide additional safety measures before switching. Residents immediately complained that the water “smelled rotten, looked foul, and tasted terrible.” Tests detected coliform and E. coli bacteria; the water was linked to Legionnaire’s disease. General Motors discontinued its water service, which was corroding its parts. Eventually, the city issued a notice that the drinking water violated standards, but was safe to drink. Subsequent testing indicated high levels of lead and trihalomethane that did not exceed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Lead and Copper Rule’s “action level.” The tests indicated that corrosion control treatment was needed to counteract lead levels. The City Council voted to reconnect with DWSD; the vote was overruled by the state-appointed Emergency Manager. The EPA warned of high lead levels; officials distributed filters. Genesee County declared a public health emergency in Flint, advising residents not to drink the water. The Emergency Manager ordered reconnection to DWSD but the supply pipes' protective coating had been damaged by River water. Flint remains in a state of emergency but residents have been billed continuously for water. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission determined that the response to the crisis was “the result of systemic racism.” The Sixth Circuit reversed dismissal, as preempted by SDWA, of cases under 42 U.S.C. 1983. SDWA has no textual preemption of section 1983 claims and SDWA’s remedial scheme does not demonstrate such an intention. The rights and protections found in the constitutional claims diverge from those provided by SDWA. The court affirmed dismissal of claims against state defendants as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. View "Boler v. Earley" on Justia Law

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The Herrs bought property on Crooked Lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, hoping to use the lake for recreational boating and fishing. Most of Crooked Lake lies in the federally-owned Sylvania Wilderness but some remains under private ownership. Congress gave the Forest Service authority to regulate any use of Crooked Lake and nearby lakes “subject to valid existing rights.” The Forest Service promulgated regulations, prohibiting gas-powered motorboats and limiting electrically powered motorboats to no-wake speeds throughout the wilderness area. After noting “nearly a quarter century of litigation over the recreational uses of Crooked Lake,” the Sixth Circuit concluded that both regulations exceed the Forest Service’s power as applied to private property owners on the lake. Under Michigan law, lakeside property owners may use all of a lake, making the Herrs’ right to use all of the lake in reasonable ways the kind of “valid existing rights” that the Forest Service has no warrant to override. Michigan law permits motorboat use outside the Sylvania Wilderness. The Forest Service long allowed motorboat use on all of the lake after it obtained this regulatory authority and it still does with respect to one property owner. View "Herr v. United States Forest Service" on Justia Law

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Lincoln Park’s dire financial condition led Michigan officials to place the city under the purview of an Emergency Manager pursuant to the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, Mich. Comp. Laws 141.1541. Emergency Manager Coulter, with the approval of Michigan’s Treasurer, issued 10 orders that temporarily replaced Lincoln Park retiree health-care benefits with monthly stipends that retirees could use to purchase individual health-care coverage. Retirees filed sui under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting violations of the Contracts Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Takings Clause. The district court rejected the Treasurer’s motion to dismiss, arguing qualified immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court held, as a matter of first impression, that an alleged Contracts Clause violation cannot give rise to a cause of action under section 1983. With respect to other constitutional claims, the claimed property right derives from contract; a state contract action would be sufficient to safeguard the retirees’ contractual property rights. Because the state contract action is available as a remedy for any uncompensated taking the challenges to the constitutionality of Coulter’s orders are not ripe for resolution. As the claims fail on the merits, there is no need to evaluate the alleged immunity defenses. View "Kaminski v. Coulter" on Justia Law

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Federal Medicaid funds are not available for state medical expenditures made on behalf of “any individual who is an inmate of a public institution (except as a patient in a medical institution),” 42 U.S.C. 1396d(a)(29)(A). "Inmate of a public institution" means a person who is living in a public institution. However, an individual living in a public institution is not an “inmate of a public institution” if he resides in the public institution “for a temporary period pending other arrangements appropriate to his needs.” Ohio submitted a proposed plan amendment aimed at exploiting this distinction: it sought to classify pretrial detainees under age 19 as noninmates, living in a public institution for only “a temporary period pending other arrangements appropriate to [their] needs,” for whom the state could claim Medicaid reimbursement. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rejected the amendment, finding that the inmate exclusion recognizes “no difference” between adults and juveniles, or convicted detainees and those awaiting trial. The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, agreeing that the involuntary nature of the stay is the determinative factor. The exception does not apply when the individual is involuntarily residing in a public institution awaiting adjudication of a criminal matter. View "Ohio Department of Medicaid v. Price" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee Republican Party, the Georgia Republican Party, and the New York Republican State Committee challenged the legality of 2016 amendments to rules proposed by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) that are “deemed to have been approved” by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 15 U.S.C. 78s(b)(2)(D). The rules arose out of concern “that brokers and dealers were engaging in a variety of ethically questionable practices in order to secure underwriting contracts,” and are intended to limit pay-to-play practices in the municipal securities markets. The amendments limit the campaign activities of persons who advise city and state governments on issuing municipal securities. The Sixth Circuit dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to establish their standing to challenge the amendments. There was no “self-evident” injury to the plaintiffs and only limited information on the number of persons possibly affected by the amendments. At most, there were approximately 713 registered non-dealer municipal advisory firms in the United States that would be affected by the Amendments, but it is unclear how many municipal advisor professionals are associated with these firms, let alone the likelihood that they would donate to plaintiffs if not for the Amendments. It is unknown whether the Amendments have hindered individual candidates who are members of the plaintiff organizations. View "Georgia Republican Party v. Securities & Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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Over the last 10 years, the Federal Communications Commission has established rules governing how local governments may regulate cable companies. In 2007, the FCC barred franchising authorities from imposing unreasonable demands on franchise applicants or requiring new cable operators to provide non-cable services. The FCC also read narrowly the phrase “requirements or charges incidental to the awarding . . . of [a] franchise” (47 U.S.C. 542(g)(2)(D)), with the effect of limiting the monetary fees that local franchising authorities can collect. A petition for review was denied. Meanwhile, the FCC sought comment on expanding the application of the First Order’s rules—which applied only to new applicants for a cable franchise—to incumbent providers. In its Second Order, the FCC expanded the First Order’s application as proposed. Local franchising authorities again objected. The FCC finally rejected objections after seven years; the FCC clarified that the Second Order applied to only local (rather than state) franchising processes and published a “Supplemental Final Regulatory Flexibility Act Analysis.” Local governments sought review, arguing that the FCC misinterpreted the Communications Act, and failed to explain the bases for its decisions. The Sixth Circuit granted the petition in part; while “franchise fee” (section 542(g)(1)) can include noncash exactions, the orders were arbitrary to the extent they treat “in-kind” cable-related exactions as “franchise fees” under section 541(g)(1). The FCC’s orders offer no valid basis for its application of the mixed-use rule to bar local franchising authorities from regulating the provision of non-telecommunications services by incumbent cable providers. View "Montgomery County. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Williamson, an Army veteran and U.S. postal worker, began experiencing pain in his right foot. He usually worked a walking route, walking up to eight miles per day on the job. He was also doing other physical activity, including running and CrossFit, which could have contributed to his injury. He eventually received benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA): $79,379.66 in temporary total disability net compensation from March 20, 2010 through October 25, 2012; $27,801.27 for medical expenses; and $19,974.19 as a lump-sum “schedule award.” Williamson then sought damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for medical malpractice by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the treatment of his injuries, which included two unsuccessful surgeries. The district court denied the government’s motion for summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Liability under FECA is “exclusive” of “all other liability of the United States” to the employee “under a Federal tort liability statute,” 5 U.S.C. 8116(c) (2012). Because this exclusion applies broadly even when a work-related injury has been negligently treated by an entirely non-work-related federal hospital, Williamson may not recover under the FTCA. View "Williamson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Employers are signatories to collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the Operating Engineers Union, providing that “the Employer shall employ Operating Engineers for the erection, operation, assembly and disassembly, and maintenance and repair of . . . Forklifts, Skidsteers.” The provision includes a penalty for violation. Employers’ CBA with the Laborers Union provides that “operation of forklifts . . . [and] skid-steer loaders . . . shall be the work of the laborer.” Employers assigned the disputed work to Laborers. Operators filed pay-in-lieu grievances and threatened to strike. The NLRB noted that Employers had assigned forklift and skidsteer work to Laborers for 15-26 years, and found no merit in Operators’ work-preservation claims, characterizing them as attempts at work acquisition. The NLRB found that Operators’ ongoing filing of grievances and threats to strike constituted unfair labor practices under NLRA section 8(b)(4) and that Laborers were entitled to perform the work. Meanwhile, Operators filed a complaint under Employee Retirement Income Security Act section 5153 seeking payment of contributions defendant allegedly owed under the CBAs, access to audit records, interest, costs, and injunctive relief. The NLRB intervened. The district court concluded and the Sixth Circuit agreed that the jurisdictional award was dispositive of, and precluded, Operators’ CBA claims. View "Orrand v. Hunt Construction Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose from an FBI investigation into plaintiff and his involvement in attacks made by an ethnic Albanian group against facilities in Montenegro. Plaintiff filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5), seeking information regarding the investigation. The FBI subsequently claimed that it had fully discharged its disclosure obligations and argued that the common interest doctrine shielded the requests for assistance (RFAs) from disclosure. The FBI's invocation of the common-interest doctrine convinced the district court that the requests to Austria and to an unnamed government were exempt under section 552(b)(5). Therefore, the district court granted the FBI's motion for summary judgment. At issue was the exemption of disclosure of inter-agency and intra-agency memorandums or letters (Exemption 5) under FOIA. The FBI and the DOJ argued that "inter-agency" and "intra-agency" included agencies of other countries. The court held that the plain language of section 552(b)(5) was limited to memorandums or letters between authorities of the Government of the United States. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Lucaj v. FBI" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, municipal corporations operate the local “emergency communications” or “911” programs in their respective counties, alleged that the telephone company, to reduce costs, offer lower prices, and obtain more customers, engaged in a covert practice of omitting fees mandated by Tennessee’s Emergency Communications District Law (Code 7-86-101), and sought compensation under that statute. They also alleged that, while concealing this practice, the telephone company violated the Tennessee False Claims Act. The district court dismissed the first claim, finding that the statute contained no implied private right of action, and rejecting the second claim on summary judgment on the second claim, finding that the statements at issue were not knowingly false. In consolidated appeals, the Sixth Circuit reversed. Plaintiffs provided evidence of a “massive quantity of unexplained unbilled lines,” establishing a disputed question of material fact. The Law does not require the plaintiffs to prove that the defendant acted in some form of bad faith, given that the statute imposes liability for “deliberate ignorance” View "Knox County Emergency Communications District v. BellSouth Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law