Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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ICN, a religious nonprofit, operates a Nashville mosque and a school. In 2008, it began building a new school building, financed by an ijara agreement, to avoid “running afoul of the Islamic prohibition on the payment of interest.” The bank essentially bought the property, leased it back to ICN, and then sold it back to ICN, with the lease payments substituting for interest payments. The agreement lasted until October 2013; the property was “continuously occupied by [ICN] and physically used solely for exempt religious educational purposes.” The transfer of title prompted the tax assessor to return the property to the tax roll. In February 2014, ICN applied for a property tax exemption, seeking retroactive application. The Tennessee State Board of Equalization’s designee regranted ICN's exemption, but not for the time during which the bank had held title. An ALJ and the State Board’s Assessment Appeals Commission upheld the decision. ICN did not seek review in the chancery court, but filed suit in federal court under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act; the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act; and the Establishment Clause. The court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, citing the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Tennessee’s statutory provision for state-court appeal provides a plain, speedy, and efficient alternative to federal-court review, so the Tax Injunction Act bars ICN’s suit in federal court. View "Islamic Center of Nashville v. State of Tennessee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Flint, Michigan residents, filed a purported class action against city and state officials in state court, alleging that they have been harmed since April 2014 by the toxic condition of the Flint water supply. Defendants sought removal under 28 U.S.C. 1442, the federal-officer removal statute, and 28 U.S.C. 1441, which allows removal of state-law causes of action that raise substantial federal questions. Defendants claimed that they are being sued for actions that they took while acting under the direction of the federal EPA, which delegated primary enforcement authority to the state to implement the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in Michigan, and that the EPA retains “tremendous oversight authority.” Defendants also asserted “a substantial federal question”: whether the MDEQ Defendants complied with federal law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a remand to state court. Complete diversity of citizenship is lacking, and no federal question is presented on the face of the complaint. Simply complying with a regulation is insufficient, even if the regulatory scheme is “highly detailed” and the defendant’s “activities are highly supervised and monitored.” Despite the EPA’s authority to intervene, Michigan was governing itself when the alleged actions and inactions giving rise to the Plaintiffs’ claims occurred. View "Mays v. City of Flint, Michigan" on Justia Law

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Upon receiving an anonymous tip, the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) investigated allegations of race-fixing, involving gamblers and harness-racing drivers. Plaintiffs, MGCB-licensed harness drivers, attended an administrative hearing but declined to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The MGCB immediately suspended their licenses, based on a requirement that license applicants “cooperate in every way . . . during the conduct of an investigation, including responding correctly, to the best of his or her knowledge, to all questions pertaining to racing.” MGCB later issued exclusion orders banning the drivers from all state race tracks and denied Plaintiffs’ applications for 2011, 2012, and 2013 licenses. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violations of their procedural due process and Fifth Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit held that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. The exclusion orders were issued about 30 months before a post-exclusion hearing; Plaintiffs identified a violation of a clearly established right. Under specific conditions, a public employee “may rightfully refuse to answer unless and until he is protected at least against the use of his compelled answers.” The Supreme Court has held that if a state wishes to punish an employee for invoking that right, “States must offer to the witness whatever immunity is required to supplant the privilege and may not insist that the employee ... waive such immunity.” Both rights were clearly established at the time of the violation. View "Moody v. Michigan Gaming Control Board" on Justia Law

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The Jackson County Michigan Board of Commissioners begins its monthly meetings with a Christian prayer. Bormuth, a non-Christian resident, attended meetings because he was concerned about environmental issues. During the prayer, Bormuth was the only one in attendance who did not rise and bow his head. Bormuth felt isolated and worried that the Commissioners would hold his action against him. He raised the First Amendment issue during a public comment period. The Commissioners reacted with “disgust.” Bormuth filed suit asserting that this prayer practice violated the Establishment Clause. The Commissioners declined Bormuth’s application to serve on an environmental committee. The district court granted the County summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit initially reversed, but on rehearing, en banc, affirmed. “Since the founding of our Republic, Congress, state legislatures, and many municipal bodies have commenced legislative sessions with a prayer.” Jackson County’s invocation practice is consistent with the Supreme Court’s legislative prayer decisions and does not violate the Establishment Clause. View "Bormuth v. County of Jackson" on Justia 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