Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sixth Circuit Says Damages Suit Against Kim Davis Can Move Forward

The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a damages claim against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple can move forward. The ruling reverses a lower court ruling that dismissed the case as moot and sends the case back for further proceedings.

This was one of three cases challenging Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of Obergefell. The other two sought declaratory and injunctive relief; this one sought monetary damages.

After Kentucky passed a law that permitted county clerks to issue licenses without their names--an accommodation to Davis's religious objection--same-sex couples, including the plaintiffs here, received their marriage licenses. Courts then dismissed the two cases seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as moot (because the plaintiffs received their licenses), and the lower court dismissed this case as moot, too.

The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court held that the plaintiffs' claim for monetary damages continued to be a live dispute, despite Kentucky's accommodation law, because it sought relief for past harms to the plaintiffs that weren't remedied by their eventual receipt of a license. The court noted that a claim for monetary damages for past harms can live on, even if other portions of a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief (or other, related suits for those forms of relief) become moot.

Judge Siler concurred, but added that Davis might argue on remand that she was protected by the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In particular, Judge Siler argued that the district court "should have the first opportunity upon remand to decide whether that or any other provision of the law would protect Davis as a qualified-immunity or absolute-immunity defense under the circumstances."

May 3, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Court Temporarily Halts Trump's Sanctuary Cities Order

Judge William H. Orrick (N.D. Cal.) issued a nationwide temporary injunction halting President Trump's executive order that sought to clamp down on sanctuary cities.

The ruling was a broadside against the EO, handing the plaintiffs, Santa Clara County and San Francisco, a decisive preliminary victory on nearly all the points they raised. But at the same time, the ruling is preliminary, and holds only that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their various claims. It's also certain to be appealed.

The ruling comes closely on the heels of the Justice Department's move last week to begin enforcement of the EO by informing certain "sanctuary cities" that they could lose DOJ Justice Assistance Grants if they failed to provide "documentation and an opinion from legal counsel" that they were in compliance with Section 1373.

But the lawsuit challenged the EO on its face, and not just as applied to DOJ JAG grants. And that turned out to be critical in Judge Orrick's decision. In particular, Judge Orrick held that the plain language of the EO threatened all "federal grants" to sanctuary cities, notwithstanding the administration's attempts to narrow that language. (Judge Orrick flatly rejected attempts to limit the EO, taking judicial notice of a variety of public statements of President Trump and administration officials about the breadth of the program.) Because the EO put all "federal grants" on the chopping block, Judge Orrick said that it swept way too far. (Judge Orrick wrote that nothing in the injunction prohibited the administration from enforcing lawful conditions on federal grants, or enforcing Section 1373, or designating jurisdictions as "sanctuary jurisdictions.")

Judge Orrick ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their separation-of-powers claim, because "Section 9 [of the Order, which conditions federal grants on compliance with Section 1373] purports to give the Attorney General and the Secretary the power to place a new condition on federal funds (compliance with Section 1373) not provided for by Congress." This was particularly troubling, because Congress has several times declined to put like conditions on other federal immigration laws.

Judge Orrick also ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their Spending Clause claim, because (1) the conditions in the EO were not unambiguous (because it didn't exist when the states signed up for many of their federal grants, and because so much of the language is vague), (2) there's not a sufficient nexus between the federal funds at issue (from any federal grant) and compliance with Section 1373, and (3) the EO is coercive (because it could deny to local governments all their federal grants).

Judge Orrick also ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their Tenth Amendment challenge (because the EO would compel state and local governments "to enforce a federal regulatory program through coercion" and require state and local jurisdictions to honor civil detainer requests), their void-for-vagueness challenge (because so much of the EO is, well, vague), and their Due Process claim (because the EO contains no process before the feds could withhold already-issued federal grants).

In short, Judge Orrick ruled for the plaintiffs on all their claims. Just one went the other way: Judge Orrick declined to issue an injunction against President Trump himself.

Despite the lofty separation-of-powers and federalism issues that were (and are) at the core of the case, a good chunk of the ruling dealt with justiciability. Judge Orrick ruled that the plaintiffs had standing (because they suffered current budget uncertainty or a required change in policies to comply with the EO) and that the claims were ripe (because of the threatened injury, under MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech).

April 25, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 21, 2017

DOJ Moves to Clamp Down on Sanctuary Cities

The Department of Justice sent nine letters today reminding "sanctuary" jurisdictions that "as a condition for receiving certain financial year 2016 funding from the Department of Justice, each of these jurisdictions agreed to provide documentation and an opinion from legal counsel validating that they are in compliance with Section 1373." Here's DOJ's press release.

The move is the administration's latest effort to clamp down on sanctuary cities. We posted on President Trump's original EO here.

Section 1373 says that "a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual."

The DOJ letters to sanctuary cities say that the FY 2016 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program conditions federal funds on compliance with this provision. That Program provides funds for law enforcement and related purposes. It amounts to a relatively modest sum of federal support for the targeted jurisdictions and probably runs well short of all federal spending in these jurisdictions. (President Trump's EO, in contrast, targets all "Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.")

These features may make it more difficult for targeted jurisdictions to challenge DOJ's latest move and any subsequent move to withhold federal funds as applied to JAG Program grants. (If the JAG Program makes this condition specific, and if immigration enforcement is sufficiently related to the purposes of the JAG grant for any given targeted jurisdiction, and if the amount of money involved does not turn pressure into compulsion, then a move to withhold JAG funds from jurisdictions that don't comply may withstand judicial scrutiny.)

But because President Trump's EO remains on the books with its full breadth, jurisdictions can still lodge facial challenges against the administration to block the full force of the EO. And the pending cases challenging the EO on its face are likely to move forward, despite this latest DOJ move.

April 21, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fifth Circuit Tosses State Prosecution of Federal Officer

The Fifth Circuit today threw out a criminal case brought by Texas against a federal FBI deputy, citing Supremacy Clause immunity. The ruling means that the state's case against the officer ends, although the court noted that federal authorities could still bring a federal case.

The case arose when Charles Kleinert, specially deputized by the FBI to investigate bank robberies, accidentally shot a person during an investigation. The victim showed up to a bank that was closed after an actual robbery. When Kleinert, who was in the bank, came out, the victim gave Kleinert a false name and allegedly exhibited other suspicious behavior. When Kleinert called him on the false name, the victim fled. Kleinert followed and eventually nabbed the victim. In the course of a struggled, Kleinert's weapon discharged and struck and killed the victim.

A Travis County grand jury indicted Kleinert for manslaughter. Kleinert removed the case to federal court (under the "federal officer removal" statute) and moved to dismiss, arguing that he was immune from state prosecution under Supremacy Clause immunity. The district court agreed and dismissed the case; the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Supremacy Clause immunity prohibits a state from punishing (1) a federal officer (2) authorized by federal law to perform an act (3) who, in performing the act, did no more than what the officer subjectively believed was necessary and proper and (4) that belief was objectively reasonable under the circumstances.

The Fifth Circuit held that Kleinert was authorized by federal law to pursue and arrest the victim, because, under the circumstances, he had probable cause that criminal activity was afoot. The court held that he had a subjective belief that his action was necessary and proper, because, under the circumstances, he acted consistently with his training, without any animus toward the victim. And the court said that Kleinert's belief was objectively reasonable, because his acts were consistent with what others would have done. (The state conceded that Kleinert was a federal officer.)

The ruling ends the state prosecution. But the court specifically noted that Kleinert might still be subject to federal prosecution.

April 20, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

CREW Files Amended Emoluments Complaint

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sought to tighten standing by adding plaintiffs to its complaint against President Trump for violations of the Emoluments Clause. We previously posted on the case here.

CREW's standing to sue was sure to be an early issue, even a roadblock, in the case. So the organization added plaintiffs ROC United, a nonprofit corporation with restaurant members and a restaurant owner in its own right, and an individual who books events for Washington hotels. Both new plaintiffs argue that President Trump, by doing and gaining business at his own hotels and restaurants in violation of the Emoluments Clause, is harming their bottom line by taking away business.

The move is designed the tighten standing. In order to sue in federal court, a plaintiff has to show that they suffered an actual or imminent concrete and particularized injury, that the defendant's alleged actions caused the injury, and that their requested relief would redress their injury. The amended complaint almost surely satisfies these requirements, but we're still likely to see a motion to dismiss for lack of standing.

April 19, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Court Gives No First Amendment Protection to Competition Art at U.S. Capitol

Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) ruled today that a student whose painting was displayed at the U.S. Capitol after winning an congressional art competition enjoyed no First Amendment right against the Architect of the Capitol when the Architect took the painting down based on its viewpoint.

Judge Bates said that the painting amounted to government speech, and that it was therefore not protected by the First Amendment.

The ruling is just the latest chapter in a dispute over the painting between a group of Republican lawmakers and law enforcement advocates, and the Congressional Black Caucus.

The case arose when high school student David Pulphus's painting was selected to represent Missouri's First Congressional District in the 2016 Congressional Art Competition. As a result, Pulphus's painting hung, along with other selected works, in the Cannon Tunnel in the U.S. Capitol complex. But this didn't sit well with some members of Congress, who saw the painting as anti-police. They took it upon themselves to remove the painting and deliver it to the office of Congressman William Clay, who represents the First District. After each removal, Clay, whose district includes Ferguson, then took it upon himself to return the painting to its place in the Cannon Tunnel.

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Zach Gibson, AP

Eventually the Architect removed the painting, but did not explain exactly why. Clay and Pulphus then sued, arguing that the removal constituted viewpoint discrimination in a designated public forum and therefore violated free speech.

Judge Bates disagreed. Applying three factors from Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans and Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, Judge Bates said (1) that the "traditional use of the medium" was "inconclusive," but (2) that "[t]he government, then, is understood by the public as speaking through that exercise of choosing which works are displayed in the art competition," and (3) that the Architect "retains editorial control over the art submitted in the competition." He concluded that Pulphus's piece therefore amounted to government speech (and not private speech in a limited public forum), and therefore enjoyed no First Amendment protection.

Judge Bates also rejected the plaintiffs' vagueness challenge, writing that "[w]hen the government speaks, it is free to promulgate vague guidelines and apply them arbitrarily."

April 14, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Third Circuit Rules for Officials in Retaliatory Speech and Petition Case

The Third Circuit granted qualified immunity to local government officers against plaintiffs' First Amendment claims that the officers retaliated against them for exercising their speech and petition rights and directly violated their right to petition the government.

The ruling most likely ends this case.

The case arose when the Mirabellas, husband and wife who happen to be attorneys, got into a dispute with their neighbors over the neighbor's use of protected wetlands. The Mirabellas sought local government assistance in the dispute, but government officials sided with the neighbors. The Mirabellas then threatened to sue the neighbors and join the local government. So local government officials wrote to the Mirabellas that they were barred from communicating with the government or government officials (except the township attorney), and that government counsel should seek sanctions against the Mirabellas if they sued.

The Mirabellas did sue--but on First Amendment grounds, and not the underlying land-use dispute. They alleged that government officials retaliated against them for communicating with the government and directly violated their right to petition the government.

The Third Circuit ruled that the officials enjoyed qualified immunity and dismissed both claims. The court ruled that the officials did, in fact, retaliate against the Mirabellas for exercising their free speech and petition rights (based on the no-contact communication, but not on the communication threatening sanctions), but that the law wasn't clearly established at the time. In particular, the court said that "the right to be free from a retaliatory restriction on communication with one's government, when the plaintiff has threatened or engaged in litigation against the government" wasn't clearly established at the time.

The court similarly ruled that the officials violated the plaintiffs' right to petition the government, but that that right wasn't clearly established, either. The court said that "the right to be free from a restriction on communicating with one's government, when the plaintiff has threatened or engaged in litigation against the government" wasn't clearly established.

In defining the rights in this very specific way for purposes of the clearly-established prong of the qualified immunity test, the court said that Ashcroft v. al-Kidd prohibited it from "defin[ing] clearly established law at a high level of generality."

The court said that it wanted to address both prongs of the qualified immunity test--actual constitutional violation and clearly established--in order to provide some guidance on the actual contours of the rights at issue. (The court could have ruled the same way by addressing the clearly-established prong only, and punting on the actual constitutional violation prong.)

April 5, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 31, 2017

D.C. Circuit Rejects Media Claim to Guantanamo Force-Feeding Tapes

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in the long-running Dhiab case that media intervenors had no First Amendment right to access redacted and videotapes classified as "secret" of force-feedings at Guantanamo Bay. The ruling overturns the district court order releasing the tapes after government redaction and ensures that the tapes won't be released (at least unless the full D.C. Circuit or Supreme Court reverses). We last posted on the case here.

The court rejected the internors' First Amendment claim under Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court. The court distinguished that case, holding that it dealt with sealed testimony and exhibits in a murder case (not classified national security information, as here) and that it was a criminal prosecution (and not a habeas corpus case, as here). As to the former difference, the court noted that national security information is traditionally well protected, citing the State Secrets Privilege from Reynolds and Totten, the closed hearings in Guantanamo habeas cases, and the classified-material exception in FOIA. As to the latter difference, the court reviewed the history and concluded that "[i]n habeas corpus cases, there is no tradition of public access comparable to that recounted in Press-Enterprise II with respect to criminal trials."

The court went on to say that even if the intervenors had a First Amendment right of access to the tapes, the government's interests in protecting national security justified withholding them. In particular, the court said that the government provided sufficient evidence that the tapes could threaten security at Guantanamo Bay, incite violence against American troops abroad, and serve as propaganda to recruit fighters.

March 31, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seattle Sues Over Sanctuary Cities EO

Seattle sued the Trump Administration this week over President Trump's "sanctuary cities" executive order. Seattle's move follows San Francisco's earlier suit and AG Sessions's speech this week on how he intends to enforce the EO.

We posted earlier on the EO here, on San Francisco's suit here, and on Section 1373's constitutionality here.

Like San Francisco, Seattle alleges that it's already complying with Section 1373 (because that section doesn't "impose an affirmative obligation to collect the citizenship and immigration data of its residents, or to provide such data to federal officials"), and that Section 1373 is unconstitutional if it requires anything more.

As to the constitutionality of Section 1373, Seattle contends that it violates the anti-commandeering principle in violation of Printz, that it turns pressure into compulsion in violation of NFIB, and that it contains only vague conditions on federal spending, unrelated to the underlying federal program.

Seattle's suit assumes that the EO threatens all federal funding for failure to comply with Section 1373--an assumption that seems supported by the plain language of the EO. AG Sessions's speech this week did very little (if anything) to qualify that assumption and to clarify the EO's reach.

March 31, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tenth Circuit Upholds Prairie-Dog Protection Under Endangered Species Act Against Commerce Clause Challenge

The Tenth Circuit today rebuffed a challenge to the Endangered Species Act and ruled that Congress had authority to enact the Act under the Commerce Clause. The ruling in PETPO v. FWS upholds the Fish and Wildlife Service's regulation protecting Utah prairie dogs.

The ruling deals a(nother) blow to challengers of ESA regs that protect purely intra-state species and reaffirms federal authority to protect those species under the Commerce Clause. (Because the court held that the prairie-dog reg was authorized under the Commerce Clause, it did not separately address whether it's authorized under the Necessary and Proper Clause.)

We might keep an eye on this case and any others like it. If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, he could tilt the balance on the Court against ESA regs--and in favor of yet more restrictions on congressional authority under the Commerce Clause. (Remember that Justice Scalia concurred in Gonzales v. Raich, the basis for the Tenth Circuit's ruling. Judge Gorsuch might not agree, or might see this case through the Lopez- and Morrison-lenses of the plaintiffs. Judge Gorsuch was not on the Tenth Circuit panel in this case.)

The court applied the test from Gonzales v. Raich, which upheld the federal prohibition on home-grown marijuana for medical use because it was part of a larger regulatory scheme (the federal Controlled Substances Act), which itself was authorized under the Commerce Clause. At the same time, the court specifically rejected PETPO's argument that it should consider the prairie-dog regulation only in isolation (like the Gun-Free School Zones Act in U.S. v. Lopez or the individual cause of action in United States v. Morrison)--not as part of the larger ESA scheme. By analyzing the reg under Raich (and not under the provision-specific approach in Lopez and Morrison), the court aligned with other circuits that have ruled on the question.

The court summarized its test:

In short, the Commerce Clause authorizes regulation of noncommercial, purely intrastate activity that is an essential part of a broader regulatory scheme that, as a whole, substantially affects interstate commerce (i.e., has a substantial relation to interstate commerce). Therefore, to uphold the challenged regulation here, we need only conclude that Congress had a rational basis to believe that such a regulation constituted an essential part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme that, in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce.

The court rejected PETPO's contention that it shouldn't apply Raich, because PETPO lodged a facial challenge to the specific prairie-dog provision under Lopez and Morrison, and not "an application to a particular subset of activity, as in Raich." The court said,

the real crux of PETPO's challenge is not a challenge to any particular FWS regulation but to Congress's power to authorize regulation of the Utah prairie dog. Although PETPO is, in a sense, correct that the prohibition on take of the Utah prarie dog is "a particular challenged provision," this prohibition finds its place within the broader regulatory scheme of the ESA's protections of endangered and threatened species. More specifically, the prohibition at issue is an instance of Congress's broad authorization to use regulations to extend the take protections that endangered species enjoy to those listed as threatened.

The court said that "the Court in both Lopez and Raich looked past the larger enactment and characterized the Gun-Free School Zones Act as an independent statute."

The court also rejected PETPO's argument that the ESA "is a comprehensive scheme to provide for environmental conservation, not [to] regulate a market." The court said that this was based on too cramped a reading of Raich, which, the court said, doesn't require a "comprehensive economic scheme." Instead, Raich only required a "comprehensive regulatory scheme" that has a "substantial relation to commerce." The court said that the ESA prohibitions easily meet this standard, based on their plain economic effects (some of which PETPO itself raised as the harms that formed the basis of its suit).

The court went on to hold that Congress had a rational basis for thinking that the prairie-dog-protection reg constituted an essential part of the ESA, a comprehensive regulatory scheme, that, "in the aggregate, substantially affects interstate commerce."

 

March 29, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fifth Circuit Says Medical Reimbursement Preemption Claim Can Move Forward

The Fifth Circuit ruled this week that a medical air-evacuation company has standing and that it sufficiently alleged that state defendants had "some connection" to the enforcement of state law against it to allow the company's preemption suit, including a request for injunctive relief, to move forward. The ruling remands the case to the district court for proceedings on the merits.

The case involves Texas's workers'-compensation scheme, which caps reimbursement to Air Evac's medi-vac air ambulances from an insurance company. Under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act, the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission sets reimbursements rates for insurers to pay health-care providers directly. The Act also prohibits health-care providers from billing a patient for any amount in excess of the set rate. The upshot is that "the initial bill goes to the insurer rather than the patient," at a set rate, here 125% of the Medicare rate for the same service.

Air Evac, along with other, similar health-care providers, challenged the rate through the state administrative-dispute system, arguing that it was preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act. They lost, and the lead plaintiff, PHI, appealed.

While the appeal was pending, Air Evac filed this case in federal court, seeking a declaration that the ADA preempted the TWCA and an injunction against TWCA enforcement (under Ex Parte Young). But the district court dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, because the state defendants weren't charged with enforcing the maximum-reimbursement scheme against Air Evac (because the rate "constraints the amount insurers can pay, rather than the amount air-ambulance companies can charge"), and because Air Evac "failed to show an enforcement proceeding concerning the balance-billing prohibition is imminent, threatened, or even intended."

The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that Air Evac had standing, because the maximum rate actually constrained the amount that Air Evac could receive, even though it operated directly on the third-party insurer (and not Air Evac). The court held that there was federal question jurisdiction, because Air Evac pleaded that the federal ADA preempted the TWCA. And the court ruled that the state defendants had "some connection" to enforcement of the maximum rate against Air Evac, again because the maximum rate actually constrained Air Evac's reimbursement, even if it operated on the insurer. The court declined to abstain while PHI's state appeal was pending, because the parties and claims were different.

The ruling sends the case back to the district court for proceedings on the merits, the preemption claim.

 

March 23, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Fourth Circuit: No First Amendment Protection for Fire Battallion Chief's Disruptive Facebook Posts

The Fourth Circuit today dismissed a fire department battalion chief's First Amendment retaliation claim for his Facebook activity in violation of the Department's Social Media and Code of Conduct policies. The court also dismissed his facial challenge against the policies as moot.

The case arose when Howard County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Services Battalion Chief Kevin Patrick Buker posted a series of statements and "likes" on his Facebook page. On January 20, 2013, Buker posted this while on duty (sics omitted):

My aide had an outstanding idea . . lets all kill someone with a liberal . . . then maybe we can get them outlawed too! Think of the satisfaction of beating a liberal to death with another liberal . . . its almost poetic . . .

He then "liked" a colleague's post that added ugly racial comments to this.

The assistant chief directed Buker to remove the posts pursuant to the Department's Social Media Policy. That Policy, relatively new at the time, prohibited employees from posting anything that "might reasonably be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent when such statements, opinions or information, may place the Department in disrepute or negatively impact the ability of the Department in carrying out its mission."

Buker removed the posts, but then posted comments criticizing the Social Media Policy and the "liberals" who were behind it. The Department moved Buker out of field operations and into an administrative assignment and began an investigation.

About three weeks later, another colleague posted to his own Facebook page a picture of an elderly woman with her middle finger raised, with a caption saying that he'll post whatever he wants, and a note stating, "for you Chief." Buker "liked" it.

Shortly after that, Buker was fired for violating the Social Media Policy and the Code of Conduct. (The Code of Conduct banned "conduct unbecoming," that is, "any conduct that reflects poorly on an individual member, the Department, or County government, or that is detrimental to the public trust in the Department or that impairs the operation and efficiency of the Department.")

Buker sued, arguing that the Department fired him in retaliation for his speech, and that the Social Media Policy and Code of Conduct Policy were facially unconstitutional. The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

Applying Pickering, the court held that two of Buker's posts (the one about assaulting liberals, and the one criticizing the Social Media Policy) addressed matters of public concern. (The court assumed, without deciding, that Buker's Facebook activity constituted a "single expression of speech.") But the court said that the Department's interest in efficiency and preventing disruption outweighed Buker's interests:

  • Buker's Facebook activity "interfered with an impaired Department operations and discipline as well as working relationships within the Department.
  • The posts "significantly conflicted with [his] responsibilities as battalion chief," including "acting as an impartial decisionmaker and 'enforcing Departmental policies and taking appropriate action for violations of those policies.'"
  • Buker's "speech frustrated the Department's public safety mission and threatened 'community trust' in the Department, which is 'vitally important' to its function."
  • Buker's activity "expressly disrespect[ed] [his] superiors" after he had been reprimanded.
  • The posts "disregarded and upset the chain of command."

The court dismissed Buker's facial challenge to the Social Media Guidelines and Code of Conduct as moot. The court said that although the Department changed the policies to eliminate the earlier version's prohibitions on the private use of social media, the Chief and defendants' counsel both promised the court that the Department wouldn't re-implement the old guidelines (so as to make this a "voluntary cessation" case).

 

 

March 20, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

No Standing to Challenge BIA's Native American Land Lease Tax Reg

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the California Desert Water Agency lacks standing to challenge a new Bureau of Indian Affairs regulation concerning taxes on leases on Native American lands to third parties. The ruling ends DWA's challenge, although DWA could resurrect it, if BIA later halts DWA taxes under the reg.

The case centers around a BIA reg on state and local government taxation of leases by non-Native Americans on Native American lands. The relevant subsection says that "[s]ubject only to applicable Federal law, the leasehold or possessory interest is not subject to any fee, tax, assessment, levy, or other charge imposed by any State or political subdivision of a State. Leasehold or possessory interests may be subject to taxation by the Indian tribe with jurisdiction."

The DWA, which assess taxes on these leases, sued under the APA. But the Ninth Circuit ruled that it lacked standing.

The court said that the regulatory language "[s]ubject only to applicable Federal law," incorporated existing case law, in particular, White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker (1980), which held that courts must apply a fact-specific balancing test in order to determine whether federal law preempts any particular state effort to regulate non-Native American conduct on tribal lands. In other words, the reg, as understood incorporating the Bracker test, couldn't preempt and halt DWA taxation until a court, applying the Bracker test, said so. The reg by its own force doesn't preempt. And with no preemption of DWA taxation, DWA doesn't have a harm, and without a harm DWA lacks standing. (Indeed, after BIA issued the reg, DWA continued to collect taxes on these leases, with no direct threat of enforcement by the BIA.)

The court went on to reject DWA's argument that notwithstanding Bracker incorporation, it still suffered a harm, because the reg would encourage leaseholders not to pay their taxes. The court applied Linda R.S. v. Richard D. and Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org. in support of its conclusion that "a plaintiff in DWA's position lacks standing if, notwithstanding the relief sought, the third parties would retain discretion to continue their harmful behavior or, alternatively, if it is too speculative to conclude that they would modify their behavior in the way the plaintiff desires."

March 9, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fourth Circuit Upholds Maryland's Assault Weapon Ban

The en banc Fourth Circuit yesterday upheld Maryland's ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines against a Second Amendment challenge. The ruling reverses an earlier panel decision and puts the circuit in line with other circuits that have ruled on the issue. (We posted on the earlier panel ruling here.)

The court said first that assault weapons aren't even protected by the Second Amendment. Quoting Heller, the majority wrote, "Because the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are 'like' 'M-16 rifles'--'weapons that are most useful in military service'--they are among those arms that the Second Amendment does not shield."

The court said next that even if the Second Amendment applied, the ban satisfied intermediate scrutiny. (The court applied intermediate scrutiny, not strict, because Maryland's ban "does not severely burden the core protection of the Second Amendment, i.e., the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms for self-defense in the home.") The court wrote that the ban is "reasonably adapted" to the state's "substantial" (indeed, compelling) interest in public safety, because assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are especially dangerous and are disproportionately used in crime and to kill law enforcement officers. The court also noted that the ban did not regulate the more typical weapon used in the home for self-defense (the core of the Second Amendment right, under Heller)--the handgun.

The court also ruled that the ban didn't violate equal protection by allowing retired police officers to possess assault weapons, because police officers are highly trained, and thus not situated similarly to civilians. Finally, the court held that the ban on "copies" of assault weapons wasn't unconstitutionally vague, because the term ("copy") is sufficiently clear under well established Maryland law.

The ruling drew a sharp dissent and several other opinions.

February 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Court Leans Toward Agent in Cross-Border Shooting Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Hernandez v. Mesa, the case testing whether the family of a Mexican youth can sue a border patrol agent for Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations for shooting and killing the youth while the agent was on the U.S. side of the border, but the youth was in the concrete border culvert, 60 feet into Mexico.

The parties briefed three issues--whether a formalist or functionalist approach governs the Fourth Amendment's application outside the U.S., whether the officer enjoyed qualified immunity for the Fifth Amendment violation, and whether Bivens provided a remedy--but only two were really on display today: the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment, and Bivens. And if the arguments are any prediction, it looks like a closely divided Court could rule for the agent. But the case could also be a good candidate for re-argument, when a ninth Justice joins the Court.

The plaintiffs' biggest problem was defining a workable test for the application of the Fourth Amendment. The formalist approach has the benefit of providing a bright-line for the application of the Fourth Amendment--the actual border. But the functional approach (or something like it) is more flexible in a situation like this, where the difference in a remedy could (absurdly, to some) be measured in the 60-foot distance between Hernandez and the U.S. border when he was shot.

Trying to walk a line between a rigid-border approach and a functional approach without any clear and determinate limits, the plaintiffs argued for a test that would apply the Fourth Amendment only in the culvert area straddling the border--an area that includes both U.S. and Mexican territory, but just barely. They justified this case-specific approach on the number of cross-border shootings that occurred of late: a particular problem demands a particular solution.

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan seemed on board with this approach; Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito did not. If the Court splits 4-4 on the issue (as seems likely), the lower court ruling simply stays in place. That ruling said that neither the Fourth nor Fifth Amendment applied, and that Hernandez therefore had no federal constitutional remedy.

But whatever the Court says about the "extraterritorial" application of the Fourth Amendment, there's another issue--a threshold one: Bivens. Here, the Justices seemed to divide along conventional political lines. Justice Kennedy well outlined the conservatives' case when he asked the plaintiffs this:

Since 1988, this Court has not recognized a single Bivens action. We look for special considerations. You've indicated that there's a problem all along the border. Why doesn't that counsel us that this is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs where the political branches should discuss with Mexico what the solution ought to be? It seems to me that this is an extraordinary case for us to say there's a Bivens action in light of what we've done since 1988 where we haven't created a single one.

The four conventional progressives pushed back, equally hard.

If the Court divides 4-4 on Bivens, as seems likely, it might not matter to the outcome, because a 4-4 split on extraterritoriality would hand the win to Mesa, the border agent. But a 4-4 split on Bivens would leave open a substantial question that the Court itself directed the parties to answer: does Bivens provide a remedy here? Because there's no lower-court ruling on Bivens (the en banc Fifth Circuit did not address the issue, and only reinstated the non-Bivens portions of the panel ruling), a 4-4 split would not even leave in a place a lower court ruling. Given that the Court itself added this question--suggesting that it would like an answer--a 4-4 split may mean that the Court holds this case over for re-argument with a ninth Justice.

February 21, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Eleventh Circuit Strikes Florida's Ban on Doctors' Questions About Patients' Guns

The Eleventh Circuit ruled yesterday that Florida's law banning doctors from asking patients about gun ownership violated the First Amendment. The en banc court struck three key provisions of Florida's law, but upheld a fourth, banning discrimination against gun owners.

We previously posted on the case here.

Florida's Firearms Owners' Privacy Act bans doctors from asking about guns in patients' homes, from keeping records on patient gun ownership, from "unnecessarily" harassing patients about gun ownership, and from discriminating against patients based on gun ownership. The legislature enacted the provisions after hearing about six instances involving doctors asking patients about gun ownership or discriminating against patients because of gun ownership.

Doctors sued, arguing that the provisions violated free speech. The court agreed (again, except for the anti-discrimination provision).

The court held that FOPA was a content-based restriction on speech, subject to the heightened-review standard in Sorrell v. IMS, and that FOPA failed to stand up. (Because FOPA failed under heightened review, the majority said that it didn't need to consider whether strict scrutiny applied. Judges Wilson and Martin would have applied strict scrutiny, however, arguing that FOPA is both content- and viewpoint-based. Judge Tjoflat dissented, taking issue with the majority's failure "to elucidate and apply a particularized standard of review," especially in wake of the "uncertainty" created by Reed v. Town of Gilbert.) In a separate majority opinion, the court said that the anti-unnecessary harassment provision was unconstitutionally vague.

Florida proffered four interests: protecting Second Amendment rights; protecting patient privacy; ensuring equal access to health care; and regulating the medical profession to protect the public. The court said that FOPA's wasn't necessary to achieve any of these.

As to the Second Amendment, the court said that doctors can't violate it, because they're not state actors, and because the Second Amendment doesn't protect against questions on gun ownership:

The first problem is that there was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients' firearms or otherwise infringed on patients' Second Amendment rights. This evidentiary void is not surprising because doctors and medical professionals, as private actors, do not have any authority (legal or otherwise) to restrict the ownership or possession of firearms by patients (or by anyone else for that matter). The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right.

As to the state's interest in protecting patient privacy, the court noted that the FOPA itself, in a provision not contested in this case, protects a patient's right not to answer questions about gun ownership. "So any patients who have privacy concerns about information concerning their firearm ownership can simply refuse to answer questions on this topic." Moreover, "Florida law already places significant limits on the disclosure of a patient's confidential medical records, and there is no evidence that doctors or medical professionals have been improperly disclosing patients' information about firearm ownership."

As to ensuring equal access to health care, the court noted that it upheld FOPA's anti-discrimination provision, and that the other challenged provisions in FOPA simply weren't narrowly tailored to promote that interest.

Finally, as to the state's interest in regulating the medical profession "in order to protect the public," the court said that this just "is not enough here." "There is no claim, much less any evidence, that routine questions to patients about the ownership of firearms are medically inappropriate, ethically problematic, or practically ineffective. Nor is there any contention (or, again, any evidence) that blanket questioning on the topic of firearm ownership is leading to bad, unsound, or dangerous medical advice."

Judge Marcus, in a separate majority opinion, added that the anti-unnecessary-harassment provision was unconstitutionally vague.

The court upheld the anti-discrimination provision, because it raised no First Amendment concerns as applied to non-expressive conduct such as "failing to return messages, charging more for the same services, declining reasonable appointment times, not providing test results on a timely basis, or delaying treatment because a patient (or a parent of a patient) owns firearms."

The court severed the record-keeping, inquiry, and anti-harassment provisions, so that other provisions of the FOPA stay on the books. These include a provision relating to firearm inquiries by emergency medical professionals, a provision allowing patients to decline to answer questions about firearm ownership, the anti-discrimination provision, a provision prohibiting insurers from discriminating against gun owners, and a provision stating that a violation of any of these constitutes grounds for disciplinary action.

February 17, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sixth Circuit Tells Lower Court: Go Ahead and Rule on TN Campaign Finance Law

The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a lower court should go ahead and rule on a First Amendment challenge to Tennessee's Campaign Finance Disclosure Act, and not wait for the outcome of a state administrative proceeding in a different case. The court also hinted toward a likely outcome: the Act violates the First Amendment.

The decision overturns the lower court's invocation of Pullman abstention and orders the lower court to move ahead to the merits. But the Sixth Circuit still gave the lower court a chance to certify interpretation of the state law to the Tennessee Supreme Court (but suggested that this wouldn't really help).

The case arose when two parents of school-aged children formed an unincorporated group to advocate in an upcoming school board election. The group planned to spend less than $250 on independent expenditures, and not make any direct campaign contributions to candidates.

But group members learned that Tennessee law might regulate their activities. The Tennessee Campaign Financial Disclosure Act defines a "political campaign committee" as "a combination of two (2) or more individuals, including any political part governing body, whether state or local, making expenditures, to support or oppose any candidate for public office or measure." The Act goes on to require committees to pay an annual registration fee, appoint a treasurer, maintain a separate bank account, file financial disclosure statements, and keep financial records--all things that the two members weren't prepared to do.

So they sued in federal court, arguing that the Act violated the First Amendment. But the district court punted, invoking Pullman abstention, and citing a pending state administrative proceeding involving the application of the Act to a different group.

The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court said that Pullman abstention wasn't appropriate here, because the state administrative proceeding dealt with different issues (and not the ones that the plaintiffs raised here), because the Act wasn't "so ambiguous as to necessitate abstention," and because the Act wasn't really susceptible to a limiting construction that would save it from a First Amendment challenge.

The court left open an option for the district court to certify a question on the construction of the Act to the Tennessee Supreme Court. But it also suggested that certification wouldn't do any good, because the Act says what it says.

February 16, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Melania Trump's Defamation Claims

The wife of the President has two pending defamation claims that not only involve interesting First Amendment issues, but may also be relevant to the pending Emoluments Clause challenge.

First there is the complaint in Melania Trump v. Tarpley (and Mail Media), filed in Maryland state court. This suit alleges that statements by blogger Webster Griffin Tarpley in a blog post, including “Ms. Trump Reportedly Obsessed by Fear of Salacious Revelations by Wealthy Clients from Her Time as a High-End Escort” and “It is widely known that Melania was not a working model but rather a high end escort.”  The complaint survived the motion to dismiss by Tarpley, with the Judge ruling from the bench reportedly rejecting the blogger defendant’s argument that he was not making the statement as a fact but merely reporting rumors. The judge further reportedly stated that the alleged statements were defamatory: “The court believes most people, when they hear the words 'high-end escort' that describes a prostitute. There could be no more defamatory statement than to call a woman a prostitute."

Melania_Trump_at_the_Inauguration
Melania Trump at the Inauguration, January 2017, via

Additionally, as the news report stated:

The judge also seemed skeptical that such salacious claims were deserving of the highest level of legal protection given that Melania Trump was the wife of a candidate and not a candidate herself.

"The interests affected are arguably not that important because the plaintiff wasn't the one running for office," [Judge] Burrell said.

This would seem to imply that Melania Trump was not a public figure, a conclusion that does not seem sustainable. The judge did, however, seem to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim that the false statements included injuries to her husband’s business.

Maryland Judge Burrell did , however, dismiss the complaint as against Mail Media for lack of jurisdiction against the company.

Ms. Trump has now filed a complaint in New York against Mail Media (Mail Online), alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress based on the same facts.  Interestingly, Ms. Trump has dropped the allegations of injuries to her husband's business and included more specific injuries to her own business and lost opportunities.  Paragraph 3 of the Complaint reads:

As a result of Defendant’s publication of defamatory statements about Plaintiff, Plaintiffs brand has lost significant value, and major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her have been lost and/or substantially impacted. The economic damage to Plaintiffs brand, and licensing, marketing and endorsement opportunities caused by the publication of Mail Online’s defamatory article, is multiple millions of dollars. Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson, and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world. These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.

This allegation has raised some eyebrows as it seems to allege that Melania Trump intended to monetize her "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for a "multi-year term" as First Lady by promoting her personal products.  Indeed, Melania Trump's initial biography on the White House website lends credence to this view:

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 5.18.58 PM

This entry has since been removed, although it does not seem the removal is connected to the August 2016 publications about Melania Trump.

Should discovery on damages ensue, it could be a trove of material for those claiming that conflicts of interests exist in Donald Trump's official position and his businesses, including his family businesses.  However, note that under Seattle Times v. Rhinehart (1984), a judge could certainly order nondisclosure of the material gained by Mail Media despite the defendant's press status.  

Meanwhile, also in New York state court, Donald Trump is defending a defamation suit filed by Zervos Summer based on allegations that he called her charges of sexual harassment by him false.

 

February 7, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Executive Privilege, First Amendment, Gender, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

San Francisco Sues Trump Over Sanctuary Cities Order

San Francisco filed suit today against President Trump over his executive order stripping sanctuary cities of federal grants.

We posted on the EO and some of the federalism issues here.

San Francisco argues that the EO violates the anti-commandeering rule, that its funding provision turns persuasion into compulsion, and that the funding threat includes federal money that has nothing to do with immigration enforcement--all in violation of federalism principles in the Tenth Amendment.

Recall the EO's federal-funding-for-compliance provision:

the Attorney General and the Secretary, in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1371 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.

8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373(a), in turn, prohibits local governments from "sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration officials] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status . . . of any individual."

As an initial matter, San Francisco argues that it actually complies with 1373, because it doesn't prohibit officials from communicating with the feds regarding "citizenship or immigration status," even though it restricts communications on other matters.

The City goes on to argue that 1373, taken together with the EO, commandeers state and local governments in violation of the anti-commandeering rule, because it regulates "States in their sovereign capacity," "limit[s] state authority to regulate internal affairs and determine the duties and responsibilities of state employees," and "ultimately forc[es] States to allow their employees to use state time and state resources to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes regulating private individuals." Moreover, the EO "commandeers state and local governments, violating the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, inter alia, compelling them to enforce a federal program by imprisoning individuals subject to removal at the request of the Federal government when those individuals would otherwise be released from custody."

As to preenforcement review, San Francisco argues that it "faces the imminent loss of federal funds and impending enforcement action if it does not capitulate to the President's demand that it help enforce federal immigration law. At least one jurisdiction has already succumbed to this presidential fiat." (The complaint also outlines the many other harms the city says it suffers, and will suffer, under the EO.)

January 31, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Washington State AG Sues Trump for Immigration EO

Washington State Attorney General Robert Ferguson has filed suit on behalf of the State in Western District of Washington, arguing that President Trump's immigration EO violates various constitutional provisions (including equal protection, due process, and establishment of religion). The State also moved for a nationwide temporary restraining order.

Check out our analysis of the equal protection issues in the EO here.

As to standing, the state argues that the EO interferes with its interests in protecting the health, safety, and well-being of residents (including about 7,280 non-citizen immigrants from the seven countries identified in the EO) and its interests in economic activity and growth. (The State points out that it's the home of Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, and Starbucks, among others, and that those companies rely on the H-1B visa program.)

January 30, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Executive Authority, News, Procedural Due Process, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)