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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Decisions of interest involving Government and Administrative Law

Decisions of interest involving Government and Administrative Law

Source: Justia November 18, 2011

Court: U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-1661
November 16, 2011
Judge: Murphy
Areas of Law: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law
The district court dismissed plaintiff's complaint, concluding in relevant part that plaintiffs failed to exhaust the administrative remedies for their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., claim and that the Norbeck Wildlife Project was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to the Norbeck Organic Act (NOA), 16 U.S.C. 675. On appeal, plaintiffs argued that defendants violated NEPA and NOA by approving the project. The court held that because the court determined that plaintiffs did not exhaust their administrative remedies, it did not reach additional arguments raised by defendants and intervenors. The court also held that defendants' decision to approve the project was neither arbitrary nor capricious because defendants considered the direct and indirect effects of the project on the preserve's focus species, the management indicator species for the Black Hills National Forest, and species of local concern; defendants considered the habitat needs of various game animals and birds as well as the effects of the burning and logging activities; the district ranger adjusted the parameters of the approved project to try to mitigate the adverse impact on game animals and birds; and defendants seriously considered the no action alternative and provided ample explanation for why that option was inadequate.




Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-36184
November 17, 2011
Judge: Burns
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Labor & Employment Law
Plaintiff filed a Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA), 5 U.S.C. 8131, 8132, claim after he was injured in a helicopter crash and received benefits totaling $409,838.11. Plaintiff then filed a civil suit against the helicopter operator and eventually the lawsuit settled for $2.3 million. At issue was whether plaintiff could deduct his litigation costs from a refund to the United States under FECA. The court held that no reading of section 8132 allowed for a FECA beneficiary to obtain a civil award and then deduct the costs of obtaining that award from a refund of benefits owed to the United States. The only plausible reading of section 8132 was to the contrary: A beneficiary could deduct his litigation costs only from his gross recovery to determine the amount, if any, of the surplus he must credit to the United States for future benefits.



Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-35596
November 16, 2011
Judge: Pregerson
Areas of Law: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law
Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Revett Silver Company in an action brought pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2), which required federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before undertaking any action "authorized, funded, or carried out" by the agency that might "jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat" used by any endangered or threatened species. The court held that the Fish and Wildlife Service's determination that a copper and silver mine in northwest Montana would entail "no adverse modification" to bull trout critical habitat and would result in "no jeopardy" to grizzly bears was not arbitrary, capricious, or in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment.



Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-4225
November 15, 2011
Judge: Kelly
Areas of Law: ERISA, Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law
Plaintiff-Appellant Eugene S. appealed a district court's denial of his motion to strike and its entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ). Plaintiff sought coverage for his son A.S.'s residential treatment costs from his employer's ERISA benefits insurer. Horizon's delegated plan administrator originally denied the claim. Having exhausted his administrative appeals, Plaintiff filed suit in district court challenging the denial of benefits. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, but Horizon also filed a declaration that included the terms of Horizon's delegation of authority to the plan administrator to administer mental health claims in a Vendor Services Agreement. Plaintiff moved to strike that declaration as procedurally barred. The district court denied the motion and granted Horizon summary judgment, finding that neither Horizon nor its plan administrator acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner in denying the contested claim. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found substantial evidence in the record that A.S. did not meet the criteria for residential treatment benefits under the plan, and as such, the plan administrator did not act in an arbitrary or capricious manner in denying Plaintiff's claim. The Court affirmed the district court's judgment.



Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-1311
November 15, 2011
Judge: Anderson
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Plaintiffs Edward Klen, Diverse Construction, Stephen Klen and Holstein Self-Service Storage, LLC brought a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Loveland Colorado and various City employees alleging "a plethora" of constitutional violations involving: the defendants' alleged imposition of deliberate delays and unreasonable requirements for Plaintiffs' building permit; solicitation of illegal and extortionate fees for the permit; use of perjury in criminal ordinance violation proceedings; retaliation for plaintiffs' exercise of their First Amendment rights; forgery of Plaintiffs' permit application to facilitate a wrongful prosecution; and trespassing by a building inspector. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants on Plaintiffs' federal claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over their state-law claims. Plaintiffs appealed the grant of summary judgment. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit could not agree with the district court's conclusion that there was no causal connection between an alleged affidavit used to support Plaintiffs' claim that they were being selectively prosecuted and the outcome of that prosecution. "It is not possible to determine on this record whether, absent the affidavit, the state municipal court would have dismissed the prosecution against Ed Klen, obviating the need for a no contest plea to avoid the possibility of a trial and even of jail time for the offenses. We therefore reverse summary judgment as to this claim." The court affirmed the district court in all other respects.



Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-4096
November 10, 2011
Judge: Ebel
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Public Benefits
Plaintiff-Appellant Thomas Richardson appealed a district court's order that affirmed the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his application for Childhood Disability Benefits. Plaintiff filed two applications: one for Childhood Disability Benefits as a Disabled Adult Child and another for Supplemental Security Income benefits. Plaintiff was diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder; the examining physician opined that Plaintiff had a "fairly severe disability" such that he probably would not be able to find a job or remain employed. Both of Plaintiff's applications were initially denied. The ALJ found no evidence that Plaintiff was under a disability beginning before his twenty-second birthday, and that his impairment did not prevent him from performing unskilled work. The Commissioner affirmed the ALJ. After the Appeals Council denied review, Plaintiff filed an action in district court seeking reversal of the Commissioner’s decision denying his claim. The district court affirmed the Commissioner’s decision, and Plaintiff filed a timely appeal. On appeal, the Commissioner initially asserted that the ALJ’s findings were largely consistent with the examining physician's findings. However, upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the ALJ made no such findings: the ALJ did not mention the physician's opinion "much less evaluate whether it was supported by the record." The Court remanded the case back to the ALJ to perform a proper evaluation of the physician's opinion.




Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-7042
November 10, 2011
Judge: O'Brien
Areas of Law: Bankruptcy, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Tax Law
This appeal arose from a suit filed by the United States that asked the district court to reduce certain of Defendant-Appellant Jack Wilson’s tax liabilities to judgment, to set aside a fraudulent transfer of real property from Wilson to Defendant Joey Lee Dobbs-Wilson, and to enforce the government’s new liens, as well as one preexisting tax lien, against the real property by ordering a sale. Wilson appealed the district court’s order granting summary judgment to the United States. Wilson argued in his response to the government’s motion for summary judgment and in his cross-motion for summary judgment that Ms. Dobbs-Wilson was not his nominee when he transferred the property to her in 1998 and, as a result, a 1997 lien became invalid when the government mistakenly released it in 2003, after he no longer owned the property. Assuming the validity of Wilson's argument, and after supplemental briefing on the matter, the Tenth Circuit concluded that Wilson failed to demonstrate any injury to him that the Court could redress. Having determined that the Court lacked jurisdiction over his appeal, the case was dismissed.




Court: U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-1326
November 15, 2011
Judge: Rogers
Areas of Law: Aviation, Government & Administrative Law
Petitioner sought review of the NTSB's order affirming emergency revocation of his airman and medical certificates, which was based on the conclusion that he made an intentionally false statement on his medical certificate application when he failed to disclose an arrest for an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident. Petitioner contended that the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) failed to prove intent because he had reported the arrest and suspension to the FAA almost two years earlier and hence lacked any motive to falsify his answer on the application. The NTSB ruled that petitioner's admitted failure to read the question before answering it constituted willful disregard for truth or falsity, and he thus had intentionally made a false statement in his application. The court held that because the willful disregard standard articulated in Administrator v. Boardman, and endorsed by the FAA was a reasonable interpretation of the regulation, the NTSB's deference to the FAA's interpretation of its regulation was not arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or contrary to law. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review.




Court: California Supreme Court
Docket: S188128
November 14, 2011
Judge: Chin
Areas of Law: Banking, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
This case stemmed from the taking of property in downtown Los Angeles to comply with a federal court order to improve the quality of bus services and involved California's "quick-take" eminent domain procedure, Code of Civil Procedure 1255.010, 1244.410, where a public entity filing a condemnation action could seek immediate possession of the condemned property upon depositing with the court the probable compensation for the property. At issue was Section 1255.260's proper interpretation. The court of appeals in this case held that, under the statute, if a lender holding a lien on condemned property applied to withdraw a portion of the deposit, and the property owner did not object to the application, the lender's withdrawal of a portion of the deposit constituted a waiver of the property owner's claims and defenses, except a claim for greater compensation. The court found the court of appeal's conclusion was inconsistent with the relevant statutory language and framework. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.




Court: California Supreme Court
Docket: S189476
November 17, 2011
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Government & Administrative Law
This case arose from litigation challenging the validity, under the United States Constitution, of the initiative measure (Proposition 8) that added a section to the California Constitution providing that "[o]nly marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California" (Cal. Const., art. I, section 7.5). The Ninth Circuit posed the following procedural issue to the court, "[w]hether under article II, section 8 of the California Constitution, or otherwise under California law, the official proponents of an initiative measure possess either a particularized interest in the initiative's validity or the authority to assert the State's interest in the initiative's validity, which would enable them to defend the constitutionality of the initiative upon its adoption or appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative, when the public officials charged with that duty refused to do so." In response, the court concluded that when the public officials who ordinarily defended a challenged state law or appealed a judgment invalidating the law declined to do so, under article II, section 8 of the California Constitution and the relevant provisions of the Election Code, the official proponents of a voter-approved initiative measure were authorized to assert the state's interest in the initiative's validity, enabling the proponents to defend the constitutionality of the initiative and to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative.




Court: Connecticut Supreme Court
Docket: SC18202
November 22, 2011
Judge: Palmer
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Labor & Employment Law
After Employee was diagnosed with hypertension, Employee filed a notice of claim for hypertension benefits under Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-433c(a). The workers' compensation commissioner dismissed Employee's claim as untimely under the one year limitation period of Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-294c(a), finding that Employee had notice of his hypertension more than one year before he filed his claim for benefits. The compensation review board affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether advice from a medical professional to Employee that he had an elevated blood pressure triggered the one year limitation period. While Employee's appeal was pending, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ciarlelli v. Hamden, which held that the one year limitation period set forth in section 31-294c(a) for claims brought pursuant to section 7-433c does not commence until an employee is informed by a medical professional that he or she has been diagnosed with hypertension. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the board applied an incorrect legal standard in upholding the commissioner's dismissal of Employee's claim.




Court: Connecticut Supreme Court
Docket: SC18203
November 22, 2011
Judge: Per Curiam
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Labor & Employment Law
After Employee received numerous elevated blood pressure readings and was prescribed hypertension medication, Employee filed a notice of claim for hypertension benefits. The workers' compensation commissioner (1) found that a physician informed Employee more than one year prior to filing his claim that he had hypertension, and (2) concluded that, because Employee's claim was filed more than one year after that date, his claim was untimely under Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-294c(a). The compensation review board affirmed. While Employee's appeal was pending, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ciarlelli v. Hamden, in which it held that the one year limitation period set forth in section 31-294c(a) for claims for hypertension benefits does not commence until an employee is informed by a medical professional that he or she has been diagnosed with hypertension. At issue on appeal was whether the time limitation period was triggered only after Employee's physician prescribed medication for his condition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Employee was, in fact, diagnosed with hypertension more than one year before he filed his claim, the board properly upheld the commissioner's dismissal of Employee's claim for benefits.




Court: Mississippi Supreme Court
Docket: 2009-CT-00710-SCT
November 17, 2011
Judge: Randolph
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
The issue before the Supreme Court concerned whether the Union County Circuit Court erred in finding that the City of New Albany Board of Aldermen's (City) decision that a tract of land had been legally rezoned from agricultural to industrial was arbitrary and capricious and that the City failed to give statutorily required notice before changing the zoning designation. Upon review of the trial court record and the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court found that the circuit court did not err: in finding that the City acted arbitrarily and capriciously; in finding that the City failed to give statutorily required notice; and in concluding that the property should remain zoned for agricultural use. The Court vacated the Court of Appeals' holding and reinstated the judgment of the circuit court.




Court: Nebraska Supreme Court
Docket: S-10-861
November 10, 2011
Judge: Miller-Lerman
Areas of Law: Business Law, Government & Administrative Law, Transportation Law
Appellant Tymar, LLC filed an application with the Nebraska Public Service Commission seeking authority to operate as a common carrier of household goods in intrastate commerce. Appellees, other common carriers in the area, filed protests to Tymar's application. After a hearing, the Commission denied the application, determining that Tymar had failed to establish its prima facie case that it met the standards for approval of its application under the regulatory scheme imposed by Neb. Rev. Stat. 75-301. The district court affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether requests for admissions Tymar tendered to Appellees but which Appellees did not answer should have been deemed admitted under Neb. R. Civ. P. R. 36. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Commission erred when it did not give legal effect to the substance of the unanswered requests, and the district court erred as a matter of law when it failed to correct the Commission's rulings regarding these requests for admissions. Remanded with directions to reconsider Tymar's application.




Court: New York Court of Appeals
Docket: 196, 195
November 17, 2011
Judge: Pigott
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law
Petitioners brought these Article 78 proceedings to challenge, among other things, their placement on involuntary leave without having been provided a hearing pursuant to Civil Service Law 72. At issue was whether Civil Service Law 72, which provided certain procedural safeguards to a public employee when placed on an involuntary leave of absence, applied to employees who were prevented from returning to work following a voluntary absence. The court held that it did and the order of the Appellate Division was reversed and the judgment of Supreme Court reinstated.




Court: North Dakota Supreme Court
Docket: 20110142
November 15, 2011
Judge: VandeWalle
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Plaintiffs John and Lori Finstad appealed a district court judgment which granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Ransom-Sargent Water Users, Inc., n/k/a Southeast Water Users District, and its board members (collectively, "Water District"), and dismissed their complaint. The Finstads owned 80 acres of land in Ransom County, and leased the adjacent 240 acres from Willis and Doris Olson. In 1997, the Finstads and Olsons granted options to purchase their land to the Water District. The options contained a provision which allowed the Finstads and Olsons to lease back the property for a five-year period, after which they had a nonassignable right of first refusal for the next five years. The options also stated that the land could only be used for pasture and hayland purposes if it were leased back, and no feedlots, fertilizer use, or chemical use would be permitted on the land. The options provided that any violation of the use restrictions would result in the immediate termination of the lease and the right of first refusal. In 2001, the Water District exercised its options to purchase the 320 acres. The district court found that the Finstads exercised the right to lease their former property back from the Water District, and also exercised the right to lease back the Olsons' former property, which the Olsons had assigned to the Finstads. In early 2006, the Finstads brought suit against the Water District and its board members. The district court dismissed the action without prejudice due to lack of jurisdiction because the Finstads had filed for bankruptcy. The Water District moved for summary judgment which was granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the district court erred in applying the three-year statute of limitations to the Finstads' contract claims, and genuine issues of material fact existed to preclude summary judgment. The Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.




Court: West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-0166
November 10, 2011
Judge: Davis
Areas of Law: Business Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
Craig Griffith, state tax commissioner, appealed from an order entered by a circuit court that reversed an earlier order of the Office of Tax Appeals and found that Frontier West Virginia was entitled to a refund of its telecommunications tax for the 2004 year in the amount of over nine million dollars. The Supreme Court reinstated the order of the Office of Tax Appeals and (1) affirmed the circuit court's ruling finding the subject statute, W. Va. Code 11.13B02(b)(5), was plain and unambiguous; (2) reversed the circuit court's ruling finding the governing rule, W. Va. C.S.R. 110-13B-2.6, invalid; and (3) reversed the circuit court's determination that the West Virginia Public Service Commission's (PSC) list of competitive services that were exempt from the telecommunications tax applied to define a taxpayer's gross income for the calendar year in which the PSC issued its list. Rather, the Court held that the PSC's list operated to define a taxpayer's gross income for the calendar year following the issuance of the list.




Court: West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-1035
November 10, 2011
Judge: McHugh
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law
After finding that the County Commission of Greenbrier County acted arbitrarily and capriciously by reducing the budget of the Sheriff of the County, the trial court directed the Commission to, among other things, allocate sufficient funds in the next fiscal year budget for the Sheriff to fill any necessary vacant positions. The Commission subsequently sought a writ of prohibition to prevent the enforcement of the trial court's directives. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the trial court exceeded its jurisdiction in awarding the writ of mandamus to the Sheriff where the record was devoid of any evidentiary basis for the trial court's conclusion that the budget cuts at issue would necessarily interfere with the Sheriff's ability to fulfill his constitutional and statutory duties.

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