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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Decisions of interest involving Government and Administrative Law

Decisions of interest involving Government and Administrative Law
Source: Justia September 30, 2011

Court: U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-30918
September 26, 2011
Judge: Per curiam
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
This case stemmed from FEMA's determination that the Holy Cross School was eligible for public assistance funds to construct a new school campus on the site of Cabrini Church and Cabrini School in Gentilly to replace its old campus six miles away in the Lower Ninth Ward. Friends of Cabrini Church filed a complaint against FEMA, alleging that, inter alia, the section 106 review process, which defined the "area of potential effects" (APE), C.F.R. 800.4(a), 800.16(d), was deficient. On appeal, Friends of Cabrini Church subsequently challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of FEMA. The court held that because Friends of Cabrini Church lacked standing to bring its claims, the court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss for lack of standing.
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Court: U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-50416, 10-50290
September 28, 2011
Judge: Dennis
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Government & Administrative Law
Appellant sought to intervene in a suit under the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973, that was originally filed in 1996 by the League of United Latin American Citizens, District 19 (LULAC), against the city of Boerne, Texas. LULAC and the city reached a settlement agreement in 1996 and the district court entered a consent decree which provided that city council members would thereafter be elected through at-large elections with cumulative voting. In 2009, LULAC and the city filed a joint motion to reopen the case and modify the consent decree in order to switch to a single-member-district system. The district court granted that motion and appellant, a resident and registered voter of Boerne who opposed the change, filed a motion to intervene. Appellant subsequently appealed the district court's denial of his motion on the grounds that appellant lacked standing. The court held that appellant had standing; that the case was not moot; and appellant had a right to intervene in the case under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's denial of appellant's motion to intervene. The court also held that the district court had the power to modify the consent decree; but the district court abused its discretion in granting LULAC and the city's motion to modify because the record did not show that modifications were warranted. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded the district court's order granting the modified consent decree.
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Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-35789
September 28, 2011
Judge: Fletcher
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Legal Ethics, Tax Law
Taxpayers appealed the district court's denial of their Rule 60(b) motion to vacate a 1967 tax judgment against them. Taxpayers argued that the government committed fraud on the court during their 1967 suppression hearing and their subsequent appeal to this court. Taxpayers also argued that the judgment should be vacated under United States v. Throckmorton because taxpayers' business associate who sometimes served as their attorney, gave information to the government. The court concluded that, although the evidence uncovered by taxpayers showed some misconduct on the part of the government, it was insufficient to demonstrate fraud on the court. The court also held that because taxpayers have not shown that the business associate was their attorney rather than their business associate at the time he informed on taxpayers, the court rejected taxpayers' Throckmorton claim.
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Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-35032
September 23, 2011
Judge: Graber
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Non-Profit Corporations
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a part of the United States Department of Treasury, froze the assets of Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Oregon (AHIF-Oregon), a non-profit organization, and designated AHIF-Oregon as a "specially designated global terrorist" pursuant to Executive Order No. 13,224. AHIF-Oregon eventually filed an action asserting that the OFAC violated a variety of its statutory and constitutional rights. The Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon, which the government had not accused of supporting terrorism, challenged certain laws that barred it from providing services to designated entities such as the AHIF-Oregon. With the exception of one claim not at issue on appeal, the district court granted summary judgment to OFAC. The court affirmed the district court's ruling that substantial evidence supported OFAC's redesignation of AHIF-Oregon as a specially designated global terrorist, and the court affirmed the district court's rejection of AHIF-Oregon's due process claims. The court reversed the district court's rejection of AHIF-Oregon's Fourth Amendment claim and remanded for the district to determine what judicial relief, if any, was available. Finally, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' First Amendment claim.
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Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-35776
September 23, 2011
Judge: Smith
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Native American Law, Tax Law
The Tribes of the Yakima Nation claimed that the principle of Indian tax immunity had been violated by the State of Washington's current cigarette excise tax, which the Tribes argued left their retailers liable for payment of the tax when retailers sold cigarettes to non-Indians. The court held that, although some elements of Washington's cigarette tax law had been modified over the past thirty years, the court concluded that none of those changes had materially altered the legal incidence of the cigarette tax approved of in Confederated Tribes of Colville Indian Reservation v. Washington. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the state.
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Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-50074
September 26, 2011
Judge: Graber
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law
Defendant, a former Boeing engineer who gave technological information to China, appealed his convictions on six counts of violating the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA), 18 U.S.C. 1831(a)(1), (3); on one count of conspiring to violate the EEA, 18 U.S.C. 371; on one count of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, 18 U.S.C. 951; and on one count of making a false statement to federal agents, 18 U.S.C. 1001. On appeal, defendant argued primarily that his convictions were not supported by sufficient evidence, and in the alternative, defendant contended that he was entitled to a new trial because the government failed to turn over exculpatory information in violation of its duty under Brady v. Maryland and because the district court made several erroneous evidentiary rulings. Defendant finally challenged the district court's calculation of his offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to support defendant's convictions; that there were no Brady violations; that there was no violation of defendant's Sixth Amendment rights where the admission of certain evidence at issue was harmless; and that the district court did not err in choosing section 2M3.2 as the most analogous guideline applicable to the foreign agent conviction.
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Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-56465
September 26, 2011
Judge: Fletcher
Areas of Law: Aviation, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Transportation Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
This case arose when the Port of Los Angeles prohibited motor carriers from operating drayage trucks on port property unless the motor carriers entered into concession agreements with the port. The concession agreements set forth fourteen specific requirements covering, among other things, truck driver employment, truck maintenance, parking, and port security. The agreements were adopted as part of the port's "Clean Truck Program," adopted in response to community opposition that had successfully stymied port growth. Plaintiff challenged the concession agreements, arguing that they were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAA Act), 49 U.S.C. 14501 et seq. The court held that the district court meticulously identified and applied the governing law. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the financial capability, maintenance, off-street parking, and placard provisions were not preempted. The court reversed the district court's conclusion that the employee-driver provision was saved from preemption by the market participant doctrine, and remanded for further proceedings.
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Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-56813, 10-56634
September 29, 2011
Judge: Per curiam
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Military Law
Plaintiff brought this suit in 2004, challenging the constitutionality of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, 10 U.S.C. 654(b). While an appeal was pending in this case, Congress enacted the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-321, 124 Stat. 3515. Consequently, the court held that this case became moot when the repeal of section 654 took effect on September 20, 2010. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded with directions to dismiss.
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Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-9573
September 28, 2011
Judge: Lucero
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Immigration Law
Petitioners Mihiretab Teshome Jobira and Beza Teshome Jobira petitioned the Tenth Circuit to review final orders of removal. The Jobiras are natives and citizens of Ethiopia. They claimed to be brother and sister. In September 2006, the Jobiras entered the United States on visitor visas. On the date their visas expired, they applied for asylum and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). According to their applications, the Jobiras were arrested on several occasions in 2005 as a result of their activities organizing fellow high school students in support of the "Coalition for Unity and Democracy" (CUD). They alleged that during their detentions, they were interrogated, held in squalid conditions, and severely beaten or tortured. After hearing the Jobiras’ testimony, an immigration judge issued an oral decision denying relief and granting voluntary departure. The judge concluded the Jobiras’ story had not proven credible for a number of reasons. The Jobiras appealed the judge's denial to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). A single member of the BIA dismissed their appeal. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the Jobiras failed to meet the persecution standards for asylum, and necessarily failed to satisfy the higher standards required for restriction on removal under the immigration laws or relief under the CAT. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the BIA's and immigration judge's decisions.
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Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-7024
September 28, 2011
Judge: Matheson
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Public Benefits
Plaintiff-Appellant Timothy Arles appealed a district court judgment that affirmed the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his application for supplemental security income benefits (SSI). An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Plaintiff's request for benefits at the last step of the five-step sequential process for determining disability. At the time of the hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff was 44 years old and weighed 329 pounds. He testified about his difficulties with cramping and swelling hands after carpal tunnel surgery, swollen knees, a painful left foot, daily migraine headaches, neck pain, loss of near vision from glaucoma, low-back problems, and an ache from a rupture in his stomach. He stated that medical providers prescribed eye drops for his diagnosed low-tension glaucoma and also pain pills, sleeping pills,nerve pills, arthritis pills, and high-blood-pressure pills. Plaintiff further related that he did not take any of these medications or seek medical care because he lacked the financial resources to afford them. The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not entitled to SSI and denied his application. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ’s decision the final agency decision. The district court affirmed. On appeal of the district court’s ruling to the Tenth Circuit, Plaintiff argued that the Commissioner’s denial of benefits should have been reversed because the ALJ did not perform a proper credibility determination. He also contended that throughout the sequential-evaluation process, the ALJ failed to give appropriate consideration to his restricted vision and obesity. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found that the ALJ’s decision provided "an adequate discussion of the effect of obesity on [Plaintiff]’s RFC. Further, the ALJ’s conclusion that obesity did not interfere with Plaintiff's ability to perform a restricted range of sedentary work is supported by substantial evidence." Therefore, the Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision to deny Plaintiff SSI benefits.
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Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 09-3282
September 26, 2011
Judge: McKay
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law
This appeal arose from a dispute between a city and a rural water district over their rights to serve customers in several annexed areas of Douglas County, Kansas. Rural Water District No. 4 brought this suit against the City of Eudora under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the City violated the District's exclusive right to provide water service to current and prospective customers in violation of 7 U.S.C. 1926(b). On appeal, the Tenth Circuit was asked to resolve multiple federal and state legal issues concerning the competitive relationship between the water district and local municipality. Upon careful consideration of the briefs submitted by the parties and the applicable legal authority, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and vacated the trial verdict. The Court remanded the matter for further proceedings solely on the issue of whether the District's cooperation to secure a Rural Development guarantee was necessary to carry out the purposes of its organization. All other issues on appeal and cross-appeal were affirmed.
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Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-3018
September 22, 2011
Judge: Anderson
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law
The Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act provides that individuals adjudged to be sexually violent predators due to a mental abnormality or personality disorder shall be committed to the custody of the secretary of social and rehabilitation services for control, care and treatment until such time as the person's mental abnormality or personality disorder has so changed that the person is safe to be at large. Appellant Timothy Burch was a sexually violent predator committed to the Sexual Predator Treatment Program (SPTP) at Larned State Hospital. He and other Larned residents initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 to challenge the adequacy of the SPTP provided at Larned. The other residents voluntarily dismissed their claims, but Appellant filed an amended complaint, insisting the SPTP is inadequate to treat his condition and provide a realistic opportunity for his release. In addition, Appellant alleged that Defendants improperly punished him by, among other things, interfering with his educational endeavors, revoking his work privileges, and reducing his treatment classification level through manipulation of his treatment progress scores. In a fifty-two page opinion, the court analyzed Appellant's allegations, distilled his claims, and concluded he was not entitled to relief. As is relevant to this appeal, the court determined that most of Appellant's claims failed to adequately allege Defendants' personal participation in the claimed misconduct. As for the rest of his claims, the court discussed the unique principles and standards governing the KSVPA and concluded that Appellant failed to state a cognizable claim for relief. Regarding the claims of inadequate treatment, the court ruled that Appellant enjoyed no substantive due process right to treatment culminating in his release. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court's "thorough and well-reasoned order. The court accurately analyzed Mr. Burch's claims and correctly determined that he was not entitled to relief."
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Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-6260
September 27, 2011
Judge: Anderson
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Public Benefits
Plaintiff-Appellant Timothy Grede appealed a district court's order upholding the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of disability benefits. In 2004, Plaintiff applied for benefits asserting an onset date of 2002 due to kidney stones, high blood pressure, renal and intestinal problems, hemorrhoids, pulmonary problems and left hand problems. When his insurance ended, he was required to show the disability onset for one year plus the four-month period between when his insurance ended until the time of his benefit application. After receiving denials of disability at all stages of administrative review, Plaintiff appealed to the district court, who remanded his case to the Commission for further review. And administrative law judge concluded again that Plaintiff was not disabled. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the Commissioner failed to conduct a proper analysis of his residual functional capacity (RFC). Because the Commissioner’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and the law was properly applied, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the Commissioner's decision.
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Court: U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-5136
September 28, 2011
Judge: Bryson
Areas of Law: Contracts, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Government & Administrative Law, Government Contracts
Plaintiff, which owned a nuclear power plant, entered into the standard U.S. Department of Energy contract, under which DOE agreed to collect spent nuclear fuel (SNF) no later than 1998. DOE never began collecting SNF and has breached contracts nationwide. Massachusetts restructured the electric utility industry and, in 1999, the plant sold for $80 million; buyer agreed to accept decommissioning responsibilities for $428 million. The district court awarded $40 million for the portion of the decommissioning fund corresponding to projected post-decommissioning SNF-related costs attributable to DOE’s continuing breach. The court awarded the buyer $4 million in mitigation damages, including direct and overhead costs for new spent fuel racks and fees paid to the NRC. The Federal Circuit reversed in part and remanded. Plaintiff cannot recover damages under a diminution-of-value theory in a partial breach setting. The sale of assets does not alter the principle that when the breaching party has not repudiated and is still expected to perform, anticipated damages are not recoverable until incurred. A non-breaching party may recover from the government indirect overhead costs associated with mitigation and the costs of financing those activities.
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Court: Alaska Supreme Court
Docket: S-13913
September 23, 2011
Judge: Carpeneti
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law, Public Benefits, Trusts & Estates
An elderly woman requiring long-term medical care gave $120,000 to her son in February 2007. The mother believed that the gift would not prevent her from receiving Medicaid coverage if she lived long enough to exhaust her remaining assets. She relied on a provision in Alaska's Medicaid eligibility manual that suggested prospective Medicaid beneficiaries could give away a portion of their assets while retaining sufficient assets to pay for their medical care during the period of ineligibility that Medicaid imposes as a penalty for such gifts. But by the time the mother applied for Medicaid in September 2008, the Alaska legislature had enacted legislation with the retroactive effect of preventing the kind of estate planning the mother had attempted through her gift. The State temporarily denied the mother's application. The son appealed pro se on behalf of his mother, who died in 2009. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the Alaska legislature's retroactive change to the Medicaid eligibility rules was valid. The Court thus affirmed the State's temporary denial of the mother's application.
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Court: Kentucky Supreme Court
Docket: 2007-SC-000511-DG
September 22, 2011
Judge: Rhoads
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Legal Ethics, Real Estate & Property Law, Trusts & Estates
Appellants, a group of heirs who were entitled to receive the net proceeds of a judicial sale of four tracts of land, sued Appellees, a former master commissioner of the circuit court, a circuit court judge, and the administrative office of the courts, pursuant to the Kentucky Board of Claims Act, after the former master commissioner failed to disburse the proceeds of the sale. The Board of Claims (Board) entered a final order dismissing Appellants' claims for lack of jurisdiction. The circuit court and court of appeals affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether a claim involving judicial officers or court employes may proceed at the Board. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the judge's continued use of the master commissioner, without reappointment, to perform significant functions in actions in the circuit court without a bond and without surety approved by the judge as statutorily mandated, was grounds for a claim in the Board of Claims based upon alleged negligence in the performance of a ministerial duty by an officer of the state. Remanded to the Board for a determination of whether Appellants suffered damages as a proximate cause of the alleged negligence.
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Court: Maryland Court of Appeals
Docket: 97/10
September 23, 2011
Judge: Barbera
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law
Appellant Tonya Walker received housing benefits administered pursuant to the Section Eight Housing Program, which required certain family obligations to be satisfied for continued participation in the program. Appellant's housing benefits were later terminated by the Department of Housing and Community Development for her alleged violations of the family obligations. Appellant challenged that decision at an informal administrative hearing. A hearing officer affirmed the Department's decision. Appellant sought judicial review, asserting that the informal hearing was intended to be a "contested case" under Maryland's APA, to which certain rights and procedures apply but were not followed in her case. The circuit court affirmed the Department's decision. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that judicial review of the decision could not be conducted on the present record because the hearing officer did not develop a record that contained the requisite factual findings, including resolution of disputed facts, and a clear statement of the rationale for the decision. Remanded.
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Court: Mississippi Supreme Court
Docket: 2010-CA-00599-SCT
September 22, 2011
Judge: King
Areas of Law: Business Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
The Mississippi Tax Commission (Commission) assessed a contractor’s tax against Walter Akins, d/b/a Akins Construction Company. Akins challenged the assessment administratively. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Akins appealed to the Chancery Court. The chancellor dismissed his complaint for failure to comply with Mississippi Code Section 27-77-7 (Rev. 2005), which required a taxpayer seeking judicial review to pay the amount ordered before filing the petition or attach a security bond, for double the amount in controversy, with the petition to appeal. Akins appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that he was deprived of his right to due process because the appeal provisions codified in Section 27-77-7 are unconstitutional. Finding that the statute does meet constitutional standards and that Akins failed to pay the tax or post a bond in order to grant jurisdiction to the chancery court, the Court affirmed the chancellor's decision.
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Court: Mississippi Supreme Court
Docket: 2010-IA-00776-SCT
September 22, 2011
Judge: Pierce
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Medical Malpractice
This was an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a motion to sever and transfer venue. Plaintiffs Hattie Douglas, Kevin Hamlin, and the victim’s five siblings (collectively Plaintiffs) filed a complaint in circuit court against Sunshine Medical Clinic; Dr. Vibha Vig, in her official and personal capacities and Lisa Hoehn, nurse practitioner, in her official and personal capacities (collectively Defendants). The Plaintiffs alleged a medical-negligence and negligent-hiring cause of action against Defendants concerning the treatment and care of their minor son and brother, Kaddarius Douglas (Kaddarius) received before he died. Plaintiffs, in the same complaint, also brought claims against the Mississippi Crime Laboratory; Mississippi State Medical Examiners; Dr. Steven Hayne, in his official and personal capacities; Expertox, Inc.; and MedScreens, Inc. (Wrongful Incarceration Defendants) asserting that their acts and omissions in performing a postmortem examination and toxicological tests on Kaddarius's body, as well as in storing and handling blood and urine samples, caused the wrongful incarceration of Hattie Douglas for the murder of Kaddarius. All Defendants moved to have the trial court sever the claims and to transfer the claims against the Wrongful-Incarceration Defendants and to transfer the claims against the medical-negligence Defendants to another county court. The trial court denied the motion. All Defendants brought an interlocutory appeal to severe the two claims and transfer venue. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in not severing and transferring the claims to their proper venues. The Court the circuit court's judgment and remanded the case for severance and transfer.
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Court: Nebraska Supreme Court
Docket: S-10-540
September 23, 2011
Judge: Connolly
Areas of Law: Contracts, Government & Administrative Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Appellants, three individuals, filed an initiative and referendum petition to refer a proposed ballot measure, which would have amended a city ordinance imposing an occupation tax, to the electorate of the City. The City filed a declaratory judgment action to have the proposed measure declared invalid. The district court ruled that the petition proposed a referendum measure that violated Neb. Rev. Stat. 18-2528(1)(a), which prohibits referendums that interfere with a city's contractual obligations. The electors voted on the proposed amendment. The district court subsequently ordered the county clerk not to count the votes cast and not to report or certify the results. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part and vacated, holding (1) the district court lacked the authority to block the count of the votes cast because the City failed to comply with the statutory requisites that would allow a court to take that action; (2) the district court erred in ruling that the proposed referendum violated section 18-2528(1)(a); and (3) the proposed referendum violated a common-law single subject rule, which invalidates proposed ballot measures that ask voters to approve independent and distinct measures in a single vote.
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Court: Nebraska Supreme Court
Docket: S-10-1142
September 23, 2011
Judge: Heavican
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law
Appellant Thomas Pearson was struck by a forklift and was later determined to have been injured in the course of his employment with Archer-Daniels-Midland Milling Company (ADM). The workers' compensation court entered an award granting Pearson, among other benefits, certain future medical expenses. Pearson subsequently had a total knee replacement and sought reimbursement from ADM for those expenses as well as for expenses relating to a back injury. After ADM declined to pay the expenses, Pearson filed a motion to compel payment. A further award was entered (1) denying Pearson's motion with respect to the knee replacement but ordering ADM to pay expenses relating to the treatment of the back injury, and (2) applying the workers' compensation court's fee schedule to payments for the back injury, which had previously been paid by Pearson's health insurer. The workers' compensation court review panel affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court incorrectly found that the original order denied knee replacement, and (2) the trial court did not err in applying the fee schedule to any reimbursement to a third party. Remanded.
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Court: New Hampshire Supreme Court
Docket: 2010-586
September 22, 2011
Judge: Conboy
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Petitioner Limited Editions Properties, Inc., appealed a superior court order upholding a decision to deny Petitioner's subdivision application by the planning board of Respondent Town of Hebron (Town). Petitioner owned 112.5 acres of property in Hebron on the northwest end of Newfound Lake with frontage on West Shore Road. A portion of the lot lay within the Hebron lake district, and the remainder lay within the rural district. In an earlier decision, the Board determined that because Petitioner had materially revised its plan for the property, it was required to submit a new application to develop it. Petitioner sued, and the Board was reversed. When the Board resumed consideration of the application, Petitioner requested that it grant preliminary conditional approval of the plan's overall concept before Petitioner sought the required state and federal permits. Petitioner acknowledged that the plan would not meet then-current state regulations; it intended to revise the plan to obtain the necessary permits after the Board granted preliminary approval. Once it obtained the permits, Petitioner intended to return to the Board for consideration of any necessary changes to the plan. However, the Board determined that it would not approve the subdivision application in stages; rather, it would either conditionally approve the application or deny it. After holding several hearings on the application, a motion to deny the application was introduced and seconded, and after further discussion, three of the five members of the Board voted to deny the application. Petitioner subsequently appealed to the superior court, which upheld the Board's decision. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Petitioner failed to establish that the trial court erred in affirming the Board's decision. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's decision.
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Court: New Hampshire Supreme Court
Docket: 2010-157
September 22, 2011
Judge: Conboy
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Labor & Employment Law
In this personal injury case, Plaintiff Alfred Ocasio appealed a judgment entered in favor of Defendant Federal Express Corporation (FedEx). Plaintiff was a mail handler who pulled by hand, large, heavy canisters filled with mail from delivery tractor-trailer trucks. One day as he was pulling canisters from a FedEx tractor-trailer truck, he accidentally stepped into and caught his leg in a gap between the rear of the truck and the loading dock. When a canister he had been pulling continued to roll toward him, the bones of his trapped leg were shattered. He argued on appeal that the Trial Court erred when it allowed the jury to apportion fault to his employer, the United States Postal Service (USPS), and when, despite the jury's $1,445,700 verdict in his favor, it entered judgment for FedEx after comparing the fault allocated to him to the fault allocated to FedEx. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that "while it was not error to allow the jury to apportion fault to the USPS, it was error to deny the plaintiff any recovery against FedEx. We, thus, affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand."
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Court: New Mexico Supreme Court
Docket: 32,486
August 22, 2011
Judge: Chvez
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
In 1985, at the behest of the City of Rio Rancho, Amrep Southwest Inc. recorded a plat for the Vista Hills West Unit 1 (VHWU1) subdivision, granting the City a drainage easement over ten acres identified as 'Parcel F.' In 2004, Amrep sold Parcel F to the Mares Group in fee simple, subject to the drainage easement. Mares in turn sold it to Cloudview Estates in fee simple, subject to the same recorded drainage easement. Cloudview asked the City to vacate the drainage easement and subdivide the parcel into thirty lots. The City declined because it found that the City and Amrep had originally intended to perpetually dedicate Parcel F as open space, and as such, had a claim to the property's title. The issue before the Supreme Court was: even if the City and Amrep intended Parcel F to be open space, what effect did the recorded plat designating Parcel F as a drainage easement have on Cloudview's subsequent purchase of Parcel F? Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Cloudview was a good faith purchaser and the plat did not specifically designate Parcel F for public use. The recorded plat unambiguously granted the City an easement for the specific purpose of drainage, thereby extinguishing any unrecorded interests and relieving Cloudview from its duty to diligently investigate whether the City had other adverse claims to the property title. The Court ruled in favor of Cloudview.
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Court: Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Docket: 93 MAP 2008
September 29, 2011
Judge: Eakin
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Indian Rocks Property Owners Association, Inc. developed rules and regulations that were recorded as protective covenants running with the land in a development in Salem Township, Wayne County. Appellees John and Regina Glatfelter purchased a lot within the Indian Rocks community. John died in 1990 leaving Regina as the sole owner of the lot. The lot sat vacant until 2003 when the Glatfelters' son David began constructing a foundation. The Association initially inspected and approved the excavation, but late that year informed the Glatfelters that the work was substandard and inadequate pursuant to the covenants. The Glatfelters were ordered to cease construction until a new plan was approved. The Glatfelters agreed to stop work until they submitted a new application for construction in conformance with the covenants, but they failed to comply with the agreement. The Association brought suit to enforce the covenants, which the trial court approved and entered into its order. Since that suit, the Commonwealth amended the Construction Code to exempt "recreational cabins" from its requirements. Adopting the Construction Code, the Association passed a resolution refusing to recognize the recreational cabin exemption. When the Glatfelters sought to use the changed Construction Code to their advantage, the Association argued that its refusal to recognize the Code's changed cabin exemption did not apply to the Glatfelters' construction project. The trial court granted the Association's contempt petition against the Glatfelters. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the Glatfelters stipulated that they would comply with the Association's rules prior to the change in the Code. As such, they were bound to the terms of the stipulation when completing their construction project: "the Glatfelters cannot use the recreational cabin exemption as a trump card to bypass the rules and regulations to which they agreed. … Our holding is premised entirely on the Glatfelters' failure to obtain the Association's approval regarding the intended structure." The Court did not address the validity of the Association's resolution refusing the adopt the recreational cabin exemption.
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Court: Utah Supreme Court
Docket: 20090679
September 27, 2011
Judge: Nehring
Areas of Law: Construction Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
Ivory Homes purchased various concrete products from a company that, when it delivered the products, provided an invoice that charged a single sales price without indicating separate delivery charges. Ivory Homes then discovered if it structured its transactions with the company differently and bargained for separate and independent delivery charges, the charges would not be taxable. Subsequently, Ivory Homes filed a refund request with the Utah Taxpayer Services Division for sales tax it paid for several years on expenses associated with the concrete products. The Division denied the refund. The Utah State Tax Commission also denied the refund request. The Supreme Court affirmed the Tax Commission's decision that it did not erroneously receive any tax and that Ivory Homes was not entitled to a tax refund where (1) under a substantial evidence standard of review, the Commission correctly made findings of fact that the parties did not intend delivery charges in their original transactions; and (2) alternatively, a plain language interpretation of the Refund Statute requires that the Tax Commission commit some error in its receipt of taxes before a taxpayer is entitled to a refund.
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Court: Washington Supreme Court
Docket: 84243-4
September 29, 2011
Judge: Wiggins
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law
A public school teacher or other certificated employee discharged by a school district may obtain review by a hearing officer and appeal an adverse decision of the hearing officer to superior court. But the legislature did not give school districts the right to appeal an adverse hearing officer decision.* When a hearing officer decided in favor of Petitioner David Vinson and against Respondent Federal Way School District, the school district sought review of the decision by statutory writ of certiorari. The superior court denied the writ, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding sufficient cause to terminate Vinson. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the statutory writ was not available to the school district. In contrast, the constitutional writ was always available to a party seeking relief from arbitrary, capricious, or illegal acts. However, the Court found that the hearing officer acted within the limits of his statutory authority, and his final decision was not arbitrary or capricious. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the attorney fees awarded by the superior court.

* N.B, New York Education Law Section 3020-a permits either, or both, parties to appeal a disciplinary arbitration decision pursuant to Article 75 of the State's Civil Practice Law and Rules.
 
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Court: Washington Supreme Court
Docket: 84108-0
September 29, 2011
Judge: Johnson
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law
The issue central to this case involved a Public Records Act (PRA) request and a definition of the scope of discovery allowed in PRA-provoked lawsuits, what constitutes an adequate search for requested records, and whether a party may be prevailing when it possesses some responsive documents at the time suit is filed. On February 16, 2005, a copy machine at Spokane County's Building and Planning Department (BPD) printed copies of an undated office seating chart. This chart showed cubicle arrangements of employees at the BPD, but it also included two names within a cubicle of those who had not yet been hired, designated “Ron & Steve.” This caused quite a stir among the BPD employees, many of whom already suspected the BPD of illegal hiring practices. On February 19, 2005, the chart and an accompanying letter were anonymously transmitted to the Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County (the Alliance). The Alliance took interest in this matter when Steve Harris, son of the BPD Commissioner, and Ron Hand, a former employee, were hired in March. Essentially, the Alliance wanted to know when the “Ron & Steve” seating chart was created. It sought to prove, using the BPD’s own records, that the undated chart was created prior to job postings for the positions later filled by Ron and Steve. The Alliance petitioned the Supreme Court for review, arguing that the Court of Appeals’ decision regarding discovery was contrary to case law and that the Court rejected the Freedom of Information Act's (FOIA) “prevailing party” doctrine. The County cross-petitioned. It argued the appellate court’s decision created a new cause of action under the PRA because it significantly heightened the requirements of an adequate search, and such penalties will continue to accrue until the date of final judgment, including all appeals, thereby punishing an agency for exercising its right to appeal. The Supreme Court held that discovery in a PRA case is the same as in any other civil action and is therefore governed only by relevancy considerations, The Court adopted FOIA standards of reasonableness regarding an adequate search. The Court partly and partly affirmed the appellate court's decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
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