Thursday, May 21, 2015
The Supreme Court this week upheld Maryland's income tax system against a Dormant Commerce Clause challenge. The sharply divided ruling put on full display the Court's fault lines in this area, even as the five-Justice majority set out a bright line test for tax challenges under the Dormant Commerce Clause.
Our preview of the case, Comptroller v. Wynne, is here, with the full factual background. In brief: Maryland income tax consists of a state tax and a county tax. Residents who pay income tax to another jurisdiction (because they earn income there) are allowed a credit against the state tax, but not the county tax. This means that residents who earn out-of-state income are taxed on that income by the other jurisdiction, and by Maryland (under the county tax). (For out-of-staters earning income in Maryland, Maryland imposes a state income tax and a "special resident tax" (in lieu of the county tax).) Maryland residents who earned pass-through income from an S-corporation that earned income in several states sued, arguing that the "double taxation" violated the Dormant Commerce Clause.
The Court disagreed. Justice Alito wrote for the majority, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Alito wrote that the case was an easy application of precedent and the "internal consistency test." That test asks whether, if every state adopted the challenged tax structure, taxes would "inherently discriminate against interstate commerce without regard to the tax policies of other States." If so, the category of taxes "is typically unconstitutional." Justice Alito said that Maryland's tax system violated the rule, because a Marylander earning out-of-state income would be taxed on that income twice (once by the out-of-state jurisdiction, and once by the Maryland county), whereas a Maryland earning in-state income would be taxed only once.
Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Scalia and Kagan. She argued that there's a long history "of States imposing and this Court upholding income taxes that carried a similar risk of double taxation," and that the majority's internal consistency test is deeply flawed. She also argued that "[f]or at least a century, 'domicile' has been recognized as a secure ground for taxation of residents' worldwide income," and based on the domicile principle Maryland's tax system (of its own residents) is valid. Justice Ginsburg gave several reasons for this principle, including the benefits that residents receive and the political influence that residents wield--both hotly disputed by Justice Alito. Justice Ginsburg also argued that the cases relied on by the majority involved gross receipts taxes, not income taxes. She said that the difference matters: "For decades--including the years when the majority's 'trilogy' was decided--the Court has routinely maintained that 'the difference between taxes on net income and taxes on gross receipts from interstate commerce warrants different results' under the Commerce Clause."
Finally, Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented separately, maintaining their positions that there is no Dormant Commerce Clause.
The upshot of this fractured ruling is that the internal consistency test is the rule for Dormant Commerce Clause challenges to state tax practices, and that the Court will strike tax practices that result in this kind of "double taxation" of out-of-state income.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) ruled in American Freedom Law Center v. Obama that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the federal government's "transitional policy" and "hardship exemption," which permit individuals temporarily to maintain health insurance coverage through plans that are not compliant with the general requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the government's exemption--but a fully predictable one.
The plaintiffs' theory of standing turned on market forces driving up an AFLC staff member's premiums. It goes like this: When the federal government temporarily exempted certain individuals from enrolling in non-compliant plans (in reaction to the political blow-back after many folks received notices that their insurance would be cancelled and changed to comply with the ACA), this depleted the pool of individuals enrolling in ACA-compliant plans; and that drove up the costs of those plans. Plaintiff Muise was enrolled in such a plan, and, indeed, saw his premiums rise.
In short, Muise argued that his premiums rose in his compliant plan because the government's exemption meant that fewer people enrolled in compliant plans.
Judge Walton disagreed. He noted that insurance premiums can fluctuate for any number of reasons, not just the government's exemption, and that the plaintiff's theory suffered from other defects in the causal chain. Quoting from the government's motion to dismiss:
[the] [p]laintiffs have not established any of the links in the causal chain . . . that would be necessary to their apparent theory of standing to challenge this particular exemption. [The] [p]laintiffs have not alleged, for example, that there are individuals in Michigan with cancelled policies; that any such individuals consider the other policies available to them to be unaffordable; that any such individuals have availed themselves of [the defendants'] "hardship" exemption for consumers with cancelled policies; that, but for this exemption, any such individual would have purchased "minimum essential coverage" . . .; that in purchasing such coverage, that individual would have entered the same risk pool as these [p]laintiffs; and that such individual's addition to the risk pool would have lowered [the] [p]laintiffs' premiums.
The ruling is consistent with similar rulings in other district courts.
May 17, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, May 16, 2015
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled in National Association of Home Builders v. EPA that a development association lacked standing to challenge the EPA's determination that two reaches of the Santa Cruz River are traditional navigable waters, subject to federal regulation. The court said that the plaintiff was barred by collateral estoppel, based on the same court's earlier ruling against the same plaintiff lodging the same complaint.
But two judges argued that the earlier ruling was flat wrong, rearguing an issue that the court wrangled over just three years ago. (The full D.C. Circuit denied en banc review of the earlier ruling in 2012.)
Home Builders filed its original lawsuit in 2009, challenging the determination by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers that two reaches of the Santa Cruz River were traditional navigable waterways. That determination requires any party that wishes to dredge or discharge into the river, or any waterway with a "significant nexus" to the river, to get a federal permit. Parties who don't know whether they need a permit can seek a Jurisdictional Determination from the Corps.
Home Builders sued to stop the designation, on the theory that its members would have to choose between applying for a permit and facing enforcement penalties. The D.C. Circuit dismissed the case, holding that Home Builders lacked standing unless and until the agencies applied the determination to a particular property:
the owner or developer of the property suffers no incremental injury in fact from the [determination] and any challenge to it is therefore premature. In the meanwhile, [Home Builders'] members face only the possibility of regulation, as they did before the [determination]: Any watercourse on their property may (or may not) turn out to be subject to [Clean Water Act] dredging permit requirements because of a nexus (or not) with the two Santa Cruz reaches.
Home Builders came back in this latest suit with additional allegations designed to fill the standing gaps in its original case. But the D.C. Circuit said they weren't enough: Home Builders' standing in the second case has exactly the same problems it did in the first.
The ruling means that Home Builders, and its members, have to wait until later in the process--until the agencies determine that particular land is covered--until they can challenge the original designation of the Santa Cruz.
But two judges on the panel argued that the first ruling was flat wrong. Judges Silberman and Sentelle wrote that any regulated party has standing to challenge an agency rule:
And the law is rather clear; any party covered by an agency's regulatory action has standing to challenge a rule when it issues--it certainly need not wait until a government agency seeks to enforce a rule. That proposition is so clearly established it is beyond question. Nor do parties have to wait until the government takes preliminary steps before enforcing--clearing its throat, so to speak. It is only necessary for a potential litigant to show that it is part of the regulated class and its behavior is likely affected by the government's action.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The Seventh Circuit ruled in Armstrong v. Daily that a prosecutor and two crime lab technicians were not entitled to qualified immunity after they bungled an investigation that resulted in a faulty trial and foiled the plaintiff's attempts to demonstrate his innocence. In all, this top-to-bottom outrageous investigation put a wrongfully convicted plaintiff behind bars for 29 years.
Ralph Armstrong brought the civil rights case against prosecutor John Norsetter and state lab technicians Karen Daily and Daniel Campbell. Armstrong was convicted of rape and murder in 1981 and sentenced to life plus 16 years. The prosecution had two key pieces of physical evidence against him: drug paraphernalia found at the crime scene that could have shown who was in the victim's apartment the evening she was murdered; and a bathrobe belt used as the murder weapon.
The drug paraphernalia was never examined; instead, it was tossed in a trash bag, left in an office storage locker at the police station, and eventually lost. The bathrobe belt was tested crudely for DNA in 1980, which didn't rule out Armstrong. (The prosecution also relied on the identification by an eyewitness who Norsetter had hypnotized. Armstrong challenged this evidence in a prior case, where he lost his habeas claim at the Seventh Circuit.)
Armstrong later presented new DNA testing definitively excluding him and, in 2005, won a new trial through the state courts. A state court also ordered the prosecution to inform the defense of future DNA tests and to allow the defense to be present for any handling of the evidence. Armstrong stayed in prison.
Norsetter then ordered new testing of the belt, without telling Armstrong (despite the court order). Daily and Campbell conducted testing that consumed the entire DNA sample from the belt. The results could not confirm or eliminate Armstrong as the source, because the test they used could not distinguish between men with the same father. (This is important, because Armstrong's brother, who died in 2005, earlier confessed to the crime.) Norsetter never disclosed to Armstrong or the technicians that Armstrong's brother might be a suspect.
After Armstrong's attorneys learned that the prosecution's secret testing destroyed the evidence, they moved to dismiss charges against him. The court found that the prosecution acted in bad faith and dismissed the charges because the destruction of that evidence had irreparably compromised his right to a fair trail. Armstrong remained in prison for the three years between the destruction of the evidence in 2006 and the court's dismissal in 2009.
Armstrong then sued Norsetter, Daily, and Campbell, arguing that they violated his civil rights. Norsetter claimed absolute immunity as a prosecutor for the destruction of DNA evidence and qualified immunity for the destruction of the drug paraphernalia; Daily and Campbell claimed qualified immunity. The district court denied these claims, except as to Norsetter's involvement in the destruction of DNA evidence.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed. As to Norsetter, it ruled that Norsetter did not enjoy absolute immunity for his investigatory acts, and that he did not enjoy qualified immunity because he acted in bad faith in allowing the destruction of the drug paraphernalia and DNA sample. As to Daily and Campbell, the court said that
we must assume that Daily and Campbell's actions caused Armstrong to suffer a loss of liberty as he languished in prison for three more years after Daily said he was excluded by the earlier DNA tests and after the last sample had been destroyed in the [later] test of the newly discovered stain.
The court rejected the defendant's arguments that a state tort action could have provided Armstrong a remedy sufficient to satisfy federal due process under Parratt v. Taylor. In a lengthy discussion, the court said that the argument was based on a fundamental mis-reading of Parratt. In short:
When Parratt and its progeny are read carefully, then, and are read against the broader sweep of due process jurisprudence, they do not bar Armstrong's claims based on deprivation of his liberty through deliberate destruction of exculpatory evidence. More specifically, Parratt does not bar Armstrong's claims because the defendants' conduct was not "random and unauthorized" and the available state remedies are not adequate.
The court recognized "some disagreement among the courts about the conditions for obtaining a civil remedy for destruction of exculpatory evidence, those disagreements do not support a qualified immunity defense."
Judge Flaum argued that Norsetter should get qualified immunity, because his destruction of the drug paraphernalia was negligent, not "in bad faith."
Friday, May 8, 2015
Judge Hanen issued a "Supplemental Order" in the state case, led by Texas, against the federal government challenging the President's Deferred Action program, DAPA, doubling down on his earlier conclusion that the government "abdicat[ed] its duty to enforce this country's immigration laws."
The order cites testimony by ICE Director Sarah Saldana before the House Judiciary Committee on April 14, 2015, "reiterat[ing]," according to Judge Hanan, "that any officer or agent who did not follow the dictates of the 2014 DHS Directive would face the entire gamut of possible employee sanctions, including termination." This, according to Judge Hanan, is conclusive evidence that the program represents "the Government's abdication of its duty to enforce the INA," and not lawful discretionary enforcement.
Judge Hanan likened DAPA to the government's non-enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, and active funding of segregating schools, in Adams v. Richardson, the 1973 D.C. Circuit case. Judge Hanan wrote,
Just like HEW giving federal funds to those violating the civil rights laws in Adams, the DHS in this case is giving a variety of rewards to individuals violating the country's immigration laws. This general policy of affirmatively awarding benefits is not merely an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The Government has announced, and has now confirmed under oath, that it is pursuing a policy of mandatory non-compliance (with the INA), and that any agent who seeks to enforce the duly-enacted immigration laws will face sanctions--which could include the loss of his or her job. If the solicitation of voluntary compliance (questioned by taxpayers who are rarely accorded standing) equates to abdication, certainly mandatory non-compliance by the Government (questioned by twenty-six states) does as well.
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's efforts to cut public pensions violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.
The case means that the state can't balance its budget on the backs of state workers who are members of a public retirement system. It also means that the state supreme court takes the state constitutional Pension Clause seriously.
The case arose after the state legislature, and former Governor Quinn signed, Senate Bill 1 in late 2013. Senate Bill 1, which became Public Act 98-599, cut state workers' public pension benefits in several ways. State workers sued, arguing, among other things that the cuts violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.
The Pension Protection Clause says that "[m]embership in any pension or retirement system of the State *** shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired." The Clause was added in the 1970 constitution in order to protect state workers from pension cuts in a system that had been (and since has been) chronically underfunded.
The Illinois high court's ruling says that the Clause means what it says. In fact, the court said exactly that: "We held in [Kanerva v. Weems] that the clause means precisely what it says." And this means that "once an individual begins work and becomes a member of a public retirement system, any subsequent changes to the Pension Code that would diminish the benefits conferred by membership in the retirement system cannot be applied to that individual." The court called the question "easily resolved."
The court also rejected the state's argument that its fiscal situation is so dire that it has to dip into public pension funds by using its "reserved sovereign powers." The court said that things might be bad, but they've been bad before, and will be bad again. It's no reason to violate the Pension Protection Clause. The court also said that other provisions of the 1970 constitution contained limitations or suspension provisions; not so the Public Pension Clause.
First, Florida Governor Rick Scott sued the federal government for halting federal LIP funding for the state. Now, according to The Hill, he's turning to state hospitals to figure out how to replace federal LIP funds with a make-shift state program.
Here's one governor who really doesn't want to expand Medicaid.
As we previously explained, HHS told Florida that it would lose federal Low Income Pool, or LIP, money, designed to pay back hospitals for uncompensated care for low-income individuals, because HHS deemed Medicaid a better way to pay for low-income health care. But that would require Florida to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. HHS's move prompted Governor Scott to sue HHS, arguing that the threat to halt LIP funding amounted to coercion to expand Medicaid in violation of NFIB v. Sebelius. (It doesn't. NFIB said that the ACA's structure, which allowed HHS to halt all a state's Medicaid funding if a state declined to expand Medicaid to reach those at or below 133% of the federal poverty line, was unduly coercive. Losing LIP funding is a far cry from that structure. And that's even assuming that HHS's move to halt Florida's LIP funding is a kind of penalty for Florida's decision not to expand Medicaid (and it's not at all clear that it is).)
Perhaps recognizing that the suit was a nonstarter, now Governor Scott is looking inward, to Florida, to fund its own LIP-like program. He's asked state hospitals to submit proposals for sharing profits to cover the costs of a state-run program.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
District Judge Rejects Challenges to Requirement that Government Contractors Post Employee Rights Notice
In an opinion today in National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) v. Perez, Judge Amit Mehta of the District of Columbia District Court rejected various challenges to the Department of Labor's so-called "Posting Rule," a regulation requiring, as a condition of nearly all federal contracts, that contractors post workplace notices informing their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The "Posting Rule" is derived from President Obama's Executive Order 13496, promulgated in January 2009 pursuant to the Procurement Act.
The central constitutional challenge is that the "Posting Rule" is compelled speech and violates the First Amendment as an unconstitutional condition. The court's first task was to determine the relevance of a NAM v. NLRB, 717 F.3d 947 (D.C. Cir. 2013), overruled in part by Am. Meat Inst. v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 760 F.3d 18 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The judge concluded that while the posting at issue in NAM was "nearly identical," that case was not a First Amendment one - - - although it drew on some First Amendment principles - - - but an interpretation of §8(c) of the NLRA which prohibits the expression of views, argument, or opinions as constituting an unfair labor practice.
Instead, the challenge here was analogous to the Supreme Court's decision in Rumsfeld v. FAIR involving the Solomon Amendment directed at law schools.
There is little material distinction between FAIR and this case. The facts differ, but the First Amendment analysis and outcome are the same. Like the Solomon Amendment, the Posting Rule is a “far cry” from the government-mandated speech deemed unconstitutional in Barnette and Wooley. Requiring an employer to post government speech about labor rights is “simply not the same as forcing a student to pledge allegiance, or forcing a Jehovah’s Witness to display the motto ‘Live Free or Die,’ and it trivializes the freedom protected in Barnette and Wooley to suggest that it is.”
Moreover, the Posting Rule does not require a contractor to speak at all. Rather, the contractor is required to host government speech as a condition of receipt of a federal contract. That, of course, presents a contractor with a choice—agree to post the Notice or forgo federal contracting. But that choice is no different than the one presented by the Solomon Amendment— either accommodate a military recruiter or forgo federal funds.
Additionally, the Posting Rule does not interfere with the contractor’s ability to convey a different message. A contractor can still express its own views or engage in lawful activities to discourage unionization. Indeed, nothing in the rule prevents a contractor from creating its own posting and placing it next to the Department of Labor-drafted Notice, so as to make clear that the Notice does not reflect the contractor’s own views and its display is government mandated. *** A contractor’s speech is thus not “affected by the speech it [is] forced to accommodate.”
Nor are employees likely to believe that the Notice is their employer’s speech.
[citations omitted]. The court rejected NAM's attempt to distinguish FAIR because the speech here is a “slanted list of rights that unfairly promotes unionization while pointedly omitting a host of other critical employee rights,” noting even if the court could determine the meaning of "slanted," it is well settled that the government may make content-based choices about its own speech.
The court rejected NAM's arguments regarding preemption, as well as its statutory and administrative law arguments. It therefore entered summary judgment in favor of the government.Given the vigor with which NAM has litigated similar issues, it will most likely appeal. However, recently appointed Judge Mehta has authored a closely reasoned opinion that should withstand review.
The en banc Eleventh Circuit ruled this week in United States v. Davis that a court order, pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, compelling the production of a telephone company's business records containing information as to cell tower locations (and linking the defendant's calls to those towers) did not violate the Fourth Amendment.
The ruling reverses an earlier panel decision, which held that the order violated the Fourth Amendment. The panel nevertheless affirmed the conviction, however, based on the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.
The ruling tests traditional Fourth Amendment rules against technological advances--and their ability to reveal vast amounts of highly personal data. The court applied a traditional Fourth Amendment approach, but invited Congress to revisit the appropriate balance between technology and privacy in cases like this.
The defendant, Quartavious Davis, was charged with several counts for his role in a string of robberies. At Davis's trial, the prosecution introduced telephone records from Metro PCS, obtained through an earlier court order, showing the telephone numbers for each of Davis's calls and the number of the cell tower that connected each call. An officer-witness then connected the location of the cell towers with the addresses of the robberies, placing Davis near the robbery locations around the time of the robberies. (The evidence showed the location of the cell towers that connected Davis's calls, but not the precise location of Davis or his phone.) Davis was convicted and sentenced to 1,941 months in prison.
The court order for the records was based on the Stored Communications Act. The SCA provides that a federal or state governmental entity may require a telephone service provider to disclose "a record . . . pertaining to a subscriber to or a customer of such service (not including the contents of communications)" if "a court of competent jurisdiction" finds "specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe" that the records sought "are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." This does not require a showing of probable cause. Davis argued that the order violated the Fourth Amendment.
The Eleventh Circuit rejected Davis's arguments. The court wrote that the SCA actually provides greater privacy protections than a routinely issued subpoena to third parties for a wide variety of business records (credit card statements, bank statements, and the like). This, it said, was no different. It also wrote that Davis claimed no trespass, and that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of cell towers to which he voluntarily sent call signals, or in the business records of his third-party provider. The court thus concluded that there was no "search."
But even if there were a search, the court held that it was reasonable, balancing the government interests against Davis's expectations of privacy. It said that the government had compelling interests in investigating and preventing crimes, and that Davis had, at most, a diminished expectation of privacy.
Judges Martin and Jill Pryor dissented, arguing that technological advances, "which threaten to cause greater and greater intrusions into our private lives," threaten "to erode our constitutional protections."
John Bessler (U. Baltimore) writes over at Jurist.org with helpful background and context on Glossip v. Gross. That's the Supreme Court case testing the constitutionality of lethal injection when the first drug doesn't reliably induce unconsciousness, or a deep, coma-like state, resulting in extreme pain when the second drug is administered. Our preview of the oral arguments is here.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
The D.C. Circuit last week dismissed a case challenging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under separation of powers. The ruling in Morgan Drexen, Inc. v. CFPB held that the plaintiffs lacked standing and should pursue their constitutional claims against the CFPB in a CFPB enforcement action pending in another federal district court.
The ruling ends this particular challenge to the CFPB (for now), but allows the plaintiff to pursue its challenge in the enforcement action.
Morgan Drexen filed the claim after the CFPB threatened enforcement action against the firm for violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule in its bankruptcy and debt-relief services. Kimberly Pisinski, an attorney who contracts with Morgan Drexen for paralegal services, joined the suit on the theory that the CFPB's enforcement action against Morgan Drexen would affect her own law practice.
Morgan Drexen and Pisinski sought declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the CFPB is unconstitutional because its powers are overbroad, it's headed by a single director who is removable only for cause, it is funded outside the ordinary appropriations process, and judicial review of its actions is limited.
But soon after Morgan Drexen and Pisinski sued in the D.C. District, the CFPB filed an enforcement action against Morgan Drexen in the Central District of California. Pisinski, who apparently really, really wanted to be a part of the action, moved to intervene in that suit, too. (The court denied her motion. The court also recently granted the CFPB's motion for sanction and default judgment against Morgan Drexen, finding that "[d]efendants willfully and in bad faith engaged in a coordinated and extensive effort to deceive the Court and opposing counsel" and having "blatantly falsified evidence . . . concealing this fact from the Court, opposing counsel, and even their own counsel at every turn.")
The D.C. Circuit ruled that Morgan Drexen could lodge its constitutional claims against the CFPB in the enforcement case in the Central District of California instead of in its case in the D.C. District. The court said that Morgan Drexen wouldn't suffer any harm in harm in doing so, and that it'd support judicial economy.
The court also ruled that Pisinski lacked standing. That's because she didn't allege a CFPB enforcement action would harm her practice, or that she engaged in any illegal conduct as a Morgan Drexen contractor:
In sum, Pisinski has failed to proffer evidence in support of any of her theories of standing: that she was responsible for Morgan Drexen's allegedly illegal conduct, that her practice is or will be economically harmed by the Bureau's enforcement action against Morgan Drexen, or that implicit accusations by the Bureau that she exercised too little control over Morgan Drexen or engaged in illegal conduct herself could damage her professional standing. The record evidence does not show that she used Morgan Drexen's allegedly illegal services or that there is a substantial risk that the Bureau's enforcement action will cause harms to her practice or professional reputation that she has asserted.
Judge Kavanaugh dissented, arguing that Pisinsky had standing, and that the majority's approach is "more complicated than it needs to be."
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Florida Governor Rick Scott filed suit yesterday against the federal government arguing that its move to take away the state's Low Income Pool money compels the state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act--all in violation of the anti-commandeering principle and the "gun to the head" principle in NFIB v. Sebelius.
We posted on Florida's LIP and the constitutional issues here. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities just put out a very helpful backgrounder here.
In short, LIP is a federal program that pays health-care providers for uncompensated care for the poor. Medicaid, and the ACA's Medicaid expansion, pays directly for health care for that same population.
The lawsuit argues that the federal government threatened to take away the state's LIP money unless the state expands Medicaid under the ACA--and that this amounts to unconstitutional coercion in violation of federalism principles and the Tenth Amendment under NFIB.
But the case is a sham. The federal government doesn't appear to be strong-arming Florida into expanding Medicaid as much as it appears to prefer to spend money directly on health insurance for the poor instead of paying for uncompensated care for them. That's a policy choice that the federal government can make. States have no entitlement to LIP money, or to any particular federal approach to providing health care for the poor. And when the feds take away LIP funds, Florida's choice is clear: figure out a way to cover care for the poor, or don't.
Governor Scott claims that this isn't a real choice, because the state can't afford to let the poor go without health insurance. If that's right, he can implement his own program, or he can expand Medicaid. This hardly seems like compulsion.
The case is obviously politically, and not constitutionally, motivated, and probably has little chance of success on the merits. "Probably," because so many thought the same thing about NFIB, before the Court got a hold of it.
There's another commonality with NFIB: Governor Scott hired Paul Clement to represent him.
The case centers around Oklahoma's use of midazolam as the first drug in the cocktail. In particular the case asks whether midazolam, a sedative, reliably induces a sufficiently pain-free state so that the condemned prisoner wouldn't feel the intense pain associated with the second drug, potassium chloride. (Everyone agrees that potassium chloride alone causes intense pain and suffering. The pain is described as burning alive, or burning from the inside out.) If so, there's probably no constitutional problem with midazolam. (Under Baze, the Court upheld a different lethal injection protocol on the assumption, supported in the record, that the first drug reliably produced a deep, coma-like unconsciousness.) If not, however, Oklahoma's protocol may violate the Eighth Amendment.
But there's a problem: Nobody seems to know for sure. More: the state's expert's testimony at trial on a key point about how midazolam works was wrong--so much so that the state itself backed away from that testimony. That means that the district court's ruling, based on its conclusion that midazolam sufficiently protects against pain, based on the state's expert's testimony, is seriously flawed. (Justice Kagan described it as "gobbledygook." That seems about right.)
The Court focused principally on two questions today. The first, whether the state's use of midazolam reliably induces a sufficiently pain-free state so that the condemned prisoner wouldn't suffer from potassium chloride, seemed to divide the Court along conventional ideological lines. The progressive wing went with the condemned (against the use of midazolam), and the conservatives went with the state. The second question--whether the petitioners bear the burden to show that midazolam does not induce the state (and to identify a constitutional alternative for the state), or whether the state bears the burden to show that its use of midazolam does not cause intense pain and suffering--divided the Court the same way.
Justice Kennedy is probably the swing vote, but he was relatively quiet today. He only piped up when the arguments turned to whether the petitioners contributed to the problem in the first place. (Oklahoma started using midazolam because it couldn't gain access to the barbiturate drugs that more reliably protect against pain--and that the Court upheld in Baze. Oklahoma can't gain access to the barbiturate drugs because manufacturers have stopped supplying them, for ethical reasons, for use in lethal injections. Justice Alito suggested that opponents of the death penalty contributed to that situation, and that the Court shouldn't be complicit in this "guerrilla war" against the death penalty.) Justice Kennedy simply asked what relevance this all had to the case. Answer from the petitioners: none.
On one level, the case asks pretty narrow and technical questions about a particular drug and the burdens in proving an Eighth Amendment violation under Baze.
But on another level, the case potentially strikes a serious blow against the death penalty itself. That's because if the Court strikes Oklahoma's use of midazolam (whatever it does with the burden), Oklahoma and other lethal-injection states will have to look to a much less attractive alternative--something like electrocution, the gas chamber, or even a firing squad. (That's "much less attractive" on the barbarity scale, not the constitutional one (alas).) Some states have already moved in this direction. If that happens across the board, moves like this could erode public support for the death penalty. And if that's true, a ruling for the petitioners could be much more than a narrow, technical ruling on lethal injections: it could strike a serious practical blow against the death penalty itself.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Oklahoma's three-drug lethal injection protocol tomorrow, the last day of scheduled oral arguments for the Term. Here's an excerpt from my preview of the case, Glossip v. Gross, for the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
For many years, Oklahoma administered the death penalty using a three-drug lethal-injection protocol that included sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. The first drug, sodium thiopental, is a fast-acting barbiturate sedative that is designed to induce a deep, coma-like state of unconsciousness in the condemned. The second drug, pancuronium bromide, is a paralytic agent that is designed to inhibit all muscular-skeletal movements, thus paralyzing the diaphragm and stopping respiration. The third drug, potassium chloride, interferes with the electrical signals that stimulate heart contractions and thus induces cardiac arrest.
Since 2010, however, Oklahoma has been unable to obtain the first drug, sodium thiopental, for use in executions. Oklahoma used an alternative barbiturate, pentobarbital, for a brief period, but that drug, too, became unavailable for use in executions. (Oklahoma was not alone. Other states that used sodium thiopental in executions also saw their sources dry up. Those states, too, turned to pentobarbital or a similar barbiturate capable of producing a deep coma. But soon enough, the sources for pentobarbital also dried up.)
So in early 2014, Oklahoma substituted midazolam hydrochloride (midazolam) for sodium thiopental and pentobarbital as the first drug in its protocol. (Oklahoma retained pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride as the second and third drugs, respectively.) Midazolam is a sedative in the benzodiazepine family of drugs. Midazolam and other benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and insomnia, to reduce anxiety before general anesthesia, and for conscious sedation in minor outpatient procedures. Unlike barbiturates, midazolam does not reliably produce a deep, coma-like state that would render a person insensate to severe pain; and it is not used as the sole drug to maintain general anesthesia during a painful procedure. (There is some dispute on this point. The state’s expert testified at trial that 500 milligrams would induce and maintain coma-like unconsciousness between its administration and death. The petitioners, however, take issue with the expert’s methodology, as described more below.) Indeed, studies show that although midazolam can cause unconsciousness, a person on midazolam can be “jolted into consciousness” by the infliction of pain. (Midazolam itself does not reduce or relieve pain.) Moreover, midazolam has a “ceiling effect.” This means that beyond a certain dosage, an additional increase in dosage does not produce a corresponding increase in effect.
Oklahoma first used midazolam on April 29, 2014, in its execution of Clayton Lockett. The state administered 100 milligrams of midazolam, and Lockett was declared unconscious seven minutes later. But during the administration of the second and third drugs, Lockett awoke. He writhed in the gurney, bucked his head, and said, “This shit is fucking with my mind,” “Something is wrong,” and “The drugs aren’t working.” Lockett died 24 minutes later. While a subsequent investigation found that a catheter failure caused the drugs to infiltrate Lockett’s tissue instead of directly entering his bloodstream (as they should have), this would not have significantly impacted midazolam’s effectiveness, because it has a rapid absorption rate even when not administered intravenously.
Lockett’s experience was not unique. Ohio and Arizona both used a mixture of midazolam and hydromorphone in executions with similar results. In January 2014, Ohio used 10 milligrams of midazolam and 40 milligrams of hyodromorphone to execute Dennis McGuire. McGuire gasped for nearly ten minutes before his death. In July 2014, Arizona used more of each drug, 750 milligrams of each, to execute Joseph Wood. Wood gasped for nearly two hours before dying.
After its investigation into Lockett’s execution, Oklahoma adopted a new execution protocol, effective September 30, 2014. The new protocol gives the Director of Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections sole discretion to select among four alternative drugs or drug combinations to be used in lethal injection executions. The first alternative calls for the administration of 5,000 milligrams of pentobarbital in a one-drug procedure. The second alternative provides for the administration of 5,000 milligrams of sodium pentothal in a one-drug procedure. The third alternative calls for the administration of 500 milligrams of midazolam and 500 milligrams of hydromorphone. The fourth alternative calls for the administration of 500 milligrams of midazolam, 100 milligrams of vecoronium bromide, and 240 milliequivalents of potassium chloride. The new protocol requires the Director to inform the condemned of his or her decision in writing ten calendar days before the scheduled execution.
Richard Glossip and other death-row prisoners, including Charles Warner, sued Oklahoma and moved for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from carrying out executions in an unconstitutional manner, including through the use of midazolam in a three-drug protocol. The district court denied relief. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed.
On January 13, 2015, petitioners filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court along with an application to stay their scheduled executions. On January 15, 2015, the Court denied the stay application. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, dissented.
That same evening, Oklahoma used its fourth alternative drug combination, which includes midazolam as the first of three drugs, to execute Charles Warner. (This combination is the same combination that the state used to execute Lockett, but with a much higher dose of midazolam.) After Warner was injected with midazolam, but before he was sedated past the point of speech, his last words were reported as “my body is on fire.”
A week later, on January 23, 2015, the Court agreed to hear the appeal. The state then applied for a stay of execution for the remaining three petitioners, asking the Court to stay the executions “until final disposition in Oklahoma’s favor . . . or, alternatively, until [the state] has in its possession a viable alternative to midazolam for use in its executions.” The Court granted the stay on January 28, 2015, ordering that the state’s “executions using midazolam are stayed pending final disposition of this case.”
The Supreme Court upheld a three-drug protocol like Oklahoma’s old protocol, including sodium thiopental as the first drug, seven years ago in Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S 35 (2008). In that case, the challengers conceded that an execution under the protocol would be humane and constitutional if performed correctly. But they argued that there was a significant risk that the procedures would not be performed correctly. In particular, they claimed that the sodium thiopental would not be properly administered to achieve its intended effect, thus resulting in severe pain upon the administration of the second and third drugs. The challengers argued that a different protocol—a one-drug protocol using a single dose of sodium thiopental or another barbiturate—would solve this problem.
The Court rejected this argument. A plurality of the Court ruled that the challengers failed to show that the three-drug protocol would create a “substantial risk of serious harm,” an “objectively intolerable risk of harm” that would prevent prison officials from pleading that they were “subjectively blameless for purposes of the Eighth Amendment.” The plurality also held that the challengers failed to show that their proposed alternative effectively addressed a “substantial risk of serious harm.” The plurality wrote,
To qualify, the alternative procedure must be feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain. If a State refuses to adopt such an alternative in the face of these documented advantages, without a legitimate penological justification for adhering to its current method of execution, then a State’s refusal to change its method can be viewed as “cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment.
The Court in Baze thus articulated the standard for an Eighth Amendment violation. It also set a standard for when a condemned prisoner challenges the administration of a protocol and suggests an alternative.
But this case is different than Baze for two reasons. First, the first drug in Oklahoma’s protocol is midazolam, a sedative, and not sodium thiopental or another barbiturate. As a result, this case raises a new question: whether a lethal injection protocol that includes midazolam as the first drug violates the Eighth Amendment. Next, Glossip and the other challengers (together, Glossip) do not merely take on the administration of the protocol; they challenge the protocol itself. In particular, Glossip does not concede (as the Baze challengers did) that the protocol, if properly administered, is constitutional. Instead, Glossip challenges the protocol itself (even if properly administered). Given these differences, this case asks whether and how the courts should apply the Baze standards to challenges that are meaningfully different than those in Baze itself.
Glossip argues first that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam violates the Eighth Amendment because it creates a “substantial risk of serious harm” or an “objectively intolerable risk of harm” in violation of Baze. Glossip says that unlike properly administered sodium thiopental, midazolam does not reliably induce a deep, coma-like unconsciousness that would render a person insensate to pain, and that, indeed, clinical studies show that when midazolam was used in surgery, patients felt pain. Moreover, he claims that there is no substantial practice among the states of using midazolam for lethal injections (again, in contrast to the widespread use of sodium thiopental, at least when it was available). Glossip says that only four states have used midazolam in an execution, and only two have used it as anesthesia.
Glossip contends that the lower court’s decision to credit the state’s expert that a 500-milligram dose of midazolam would induce a deep unconsciousness was clear error. Glossip claims that the expert supported his opinion with only undisclosed or unreliable sources and mathematical error, and that the expert’s supposition about how the drug works “has no acceptance in the scientific community.” Instead, Glossip says that midazolam’s properties, including its ceiling effect, mean that it cannot reliably induce a deep, coma-like unconsciousness.
On the second issue, Glossip argues that the Tenth Circuit erred in setting a higher standard for a stay of execution than the one set by the plurality’s decision in Baze. Glossip says that the traditional standard for obtaining a stay requires, among other things, “a significant possibility of success on the merits.” Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573 (2006). He says that the Baze plurality did not modify or overrule that standard. Yet he claims that the Tenth Circuit and other courts have construed Baze to set a new and higher standard, one that all but forecloses a stay. He contends that this is wrong. Glossip claims that, if anything, a higher standard should apply only to cases like Baze, where a death-row prisoner challenges a concededly valid method of execution but seeks to show a step that “the State could take as a failsafe for other, independently adequate measures.” But where, as here, a person lodges a claim that the state’s method itself violates the Eighth Amendment, Glossip contends that the traditional stay standard should apply.
Finally, on the third issue, Glossip argues that the Tenth Circuit also erred in requiring the petitioners to propose a commercially available alternative drug for their executions. Glossip claims that the Eighth Amendment prohibits certain punishments, independent of whether market forces prevent a state from adopting its preferred alternative. Glossip says that Hill supports this principle, and Baze did not overrule it. Glossip writes, “The vitality of a core constitutional guarantee does not vary with the marketing decisions or supply constraints of private corporations.”
Oklahoma argues first that the Court should dismiss the appeal as improvidently granted. The state says that Glossip is challenging the lower courts’ fact-finding, and that the fact-finding at issue was not even necessary to the courts’ judgments. Oklahoma claims that this kind of fact-based dispute is ill-suited to Supreme Court review.
Oklahoma argues next that its use of midazolam does not create a “substantial risk of serious harm.” The state says, contrary to Glossip’s assertion, a 500-milligram dose of midazolam can induce a deep, coma-like unconsciousness. Indeed, the state claims that the record evidence indicates that a large dose of midazolam produces unconsciousness sufficiently deep to render a person insensate “to even extremely painful stimuli.” Oklahoma says that midazolam’s lack of analgesic properties is irrelevant, because it induces deep unconsciousness. It claims that the risk of paradoxical reactions is extremely low. And it contends that any ceiling effect has not been sufficiently established. Oklahoma also claims that its other “robust procedural safeguards” “will eliminate” the risk of severe pain.
Oklahoma argues that the district court did not err in admitting the opinions of its expert. The state says that Glossip’s challenges to the expert’s methodology lack merit and that the district court properly relied on the expert’s testimony. Oklahoma claims that the Tenth Circuit gave Glossip “every benefit of the doubt” and still ruled that none of Glossip’s challenges undermined the scientific reliability of the state’s evidence at trial.
Oklahoma argues on the second issue that the Tenth Circuit properly applied the standard that Glossip seeks here. Oklahoma says that the Tenth Circuit explicitly applied the proper standard for a preliminary injunction, and that the Supreme Court cannot assume that the Tenth Circuit applied a higher standard without saying so. Moreover, the state claims that the district court ruled that Glossip failed to meet the burden under an even more relaxed standard. And Oklahoma contends that in any event the Baze standard should apply to Glossip’s claim. The state says that the Baze plurality was clear when it wrote, “A stay of execution may not be granted on grounds such as those asserted here unless the condemned prisoner establishes that the State’s lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain * * * [that] is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.”
Finally, on the third issue, Oklahoma argues that Glossip did not show that an alternative execution method is available that will substantially lower the risk of severe pain, which Oklahoma says is the Tenth Circuit’s alternative (not principal) holding. The state says that the Baze plurality’s requirement that a challenger identify an alternative was a “broadly applicable standard” designed to provide adequate guidance in method-of-execution cases. Oklahoma claims that all courts of appeals so far have applied Baze this (broader) way. The state says that this makes sense: Because the death penalty itself is constitutional (even if some pain results), any challenge to a method of execution that fails to identify a feasible alternative method that would result in substantially less pain amounts to a challenge to the death penalty itself. And this, the state claims, is already foreclosed by the Constitution.
Thirty-two states plus the federal government currently have a death penalty. All of these jurisdictions use lethal injection as the primary method of execution, but many have a back-up (electrocution, gas chamber, and even hanging and firing squad) in case lethal injection drugs become unavailable. (Check out deathpenaltyinfo.org for more information on state-by-state approaches to the death penalty.)
States started using lethal injection in the 1980s as a more humane method of execution, theoretically free of unnecessary pain, in reaction to the risks associated with other methods of execution. When states first adopted lethal injection, the vast majority left their statutes purposefully vague on the procedure and delegated the development of a protocol to prison officials. Historically, most states and the federal government used a three-drug protocol like Oklahoma’s earlier protocol, which included sodium thiopental or another barbiturate as the first drug. (For an excellent and critical history, check out the amicus curiae brief filed by The Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law. Amicus argues, like Glossip, that states developed and modified their drug protocols not with the kind of medical or scientific rigor that we might expect, but in reaction to court decisions and out of expedience.)
But in the 7 years since Baze came down, states have moved away from the original three-drug protocol. This is at least in part because states’ sources for sodium thiopental and alternative barbiturates for use in executions have largely dried up, as international drug suppliers have refused to sell drugs for use in executions. As a result, some states have turned to compounding pharmacies to obtain lethal drugs, others have altered their protocols, and yet others have authorized alternative methods of execution when lethal drugs are not available. (For example, Utah’s governor signed a bill on March 23, 2015, allowing the use of firing squads in executions if the state is unable to obtain lethal injection drugs.)
Against this backdrop, Glossip is important because it will give states additional guidance on when a particular drug protocol violates the Eighth Amendment, and what challengers must show to prove it.
If Baze is any indication (and, indeed, if the complicated route to the Court in Glossip is any indication), the Court is deeply divided on how to evaluate these claims. While the Court upheld the protocol in Baze by a 7-2 vote, the case produced seven different opinions. Since Baze came down, Justice Sotomayor replaced Justice Souter (who dissented in Baze), and Justice Kagan replaced Justice Stevens (who wrote a separate concurrence arguing that the death penalty is unconstitutional but ultimately deferring to precedents). While these changes may not alter the head-count in this case, they may add yet another dimension to the reasoning.
Just to be clear: This case does not test the constitutionality of the death penalty itself, but instead tests the constitutionality of a particular drug protocol in administering the death penalty. It also tests the standards by which courts should evaluate challenges to a particular method of execution.
But as states continue to have problems obtaining sodium thiopental and similar barbiturates, and as they therefore increasingly look to alternative drug protocols and other methods of execution, these standards will become increasingly important in death penalty challenges. In this way, even though Glossip does not test the death penalty itself, the Court’s ruling will, as a practical matter, put a heavy thumb on the scale either for or against the death penalty.
Monday, April 27, 2015
A divided panel of the Seventh Circuit today upheld a local ordinance banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines against a Second Amendment challenge. The ruling in Friedman v. City of Highland Park means that the ordinance, by Highland Park, a Chicago suburb, stays in place for now. But this case is a good candidate for en banc and even Supreme Court review, so we likely haven't seen the end of it.
The case is full of turns. For example, Judge Easterbrook, for the majority, used history against the plaintiffs, even though opponents of gun regulation have so often used history in support of their points. He also used federalism against the plaintiffs, even though opponents of gun regulation so often look to "states' rights" in this and other areas. He turned the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia into a point about the states' ability to decide what weapons should be available to civilians. And finally he turned the gun-rights victories at the Supreme Court against the plaintiffs: If the plaintiffs can already possess handguns and long-guns for self-defense (as the Court has ruled, why do they also need semi-automatic weapons?
The case is also full of both social science and common sense. For example, "That laws similar to Highland Park's reduce the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons is established by the data." And, "But assault weapons with large-capacity magazines can fire more shots, faster, and thus can be more dangerous in the aggregate. Why else are they the weapons of choice in mass shootings?"
But aside from the turns, the social science, and the common sense, the case is notable for the Second Amendment rule it uses. Judge Easterbrook declined to apply any particular tier of scrutiny and instead applied this test:
[W]hether a regulation bans weapons that were common at the time of ratification or those that have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia," and whether law-abiding citizens retain adequate means of self-defense.
Judge Easterbrook essentially said that this is the best a lower court can do when the Supreme Court has declined to set a particular level of scrutiny (or other test).
As to the requirement of a reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, the court said that "states, which are in charge of militias, should be allowed to decide when civilians can possess military-grade firearms, so as to have them available when the militia is called to duty." As to whether the law allows other means of self-defense, the court noted that Highland Park residents can still use handguns and long-guns for self-defense, and that the Court said that was enough.
He even at one point went so far as to say that if Highland Park's ban only "reduces the perceived risk from a mass shooting, and makes the public feel safer as a result, that's a substantial benefit."
In wrapping up, Judge Easterbrook went even more deferential:
The best way to evaluate the relation among assault weapons, crime, and self-defense is through the political process and scholarly debate, not by parsing ambiguous passages in the Supreme Court's opinions. The central role of representative democracy is no less part of the Constitution than is the Second Amendment: when there is no definitive constitutional rule, matters are left to the legislative process.
And he went more on federalism:
Another constitutional principle is relevant: the Constitution establishes a federal republic where local differences are cherished as elements of liberty, rather than eliminated in a search for national uniformity. McDonald circumscribes the scope of permissible experimentation by state and local governments, but it does not foreclose all possibility of experimentation. Within the limits established by the Justices in Heller and McDonald, federalism and diversity still have a claim. Whether those limits should be extended is in the end a question for the Justices.
Judge Manion dissented, arguing that the "ordinance infringes upon the rights of . . . citizens to keep weapons in their homes for the purpose of defending themselves, their families, and their property."
The Fifth Circuit on Friday dismissed a case challenging both the individual and employer mandates in the Affordable Care Act under the Origination Clause. The court said that the individual plaintiff challenging the individual mandate lacked standing, and that the corporation challenging the employer mandate was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. The ruling dismisses the case, with little or no chance of a successful appeal.
The case, Hotze v. Burwell, was brought by a medical doctor, Steven Hotze, and his employer, Braidwood Management. The plaintiffs argued that the ACA's individual and employer mandates violated the Origination Clause, because they are "bills for raising Revenue" that did not "originate in the House." Their theory: The ACA was a Senate amendment to a shell of a House bill that already passed, so that in fact the ACA really originated in the Senate. If so--and if the individual mandate is authorized by the Taxing Clause (and not the Commerce Clause), as the Court held--then, they claimed, the whole ACA should have started in the House. Because it really didn't, it violated the Origination Clause.
But there was a problem even before the court got to the merits: Hotze already had health insurance through Braidwood, and so would not have to purchase insurance or pay the tax penalty. This meant that he didn't suffer a harm.
Hotze neglected to say in his complaint that his insurance wasn't up to ACA snuff (and that he'd have to drop it and buy new insurance or pay the tax penalty), so all he had for an injury was that the ACA forced him to make hard health-insurance choices. The court said that this wasn't enough for standing.
Hotze also argued that when the employer mandate takes effect, Braidwood would have to offer him less desirable insurance. The court said that this theory wasn't tightly enough tied (or at all tied) to the individual mandate, however, so this didn't support standing, either.
Finally, Hotze said that the ACA forced his insurance premiums up. The court rejected this theory, too, saying that it amounts to a generalized grievance.
The court also dismissed Braidwood's challenge to the employer mandate, but this time under the Anti-Injunction Act. The AIA bars courts from hearing any challenge to restrain the assessment or collection of any tax.
Even if the court had addressed the merits, however, this case didn't appear to be going anywhere. That's because the ACA did originate in the House, even if in a shell bill later amended by the Senate to include the full ACA. The plaintiffs argued that the Senate amendment wasn't germane to the House bill (and was thus an unconstitutional end-run around the Origination Clause), but the government argued that the Origination Clause didn't contain a germane-ness requirement--a point the district court found convincing.
The district court dismissed the case on the merits, ruling that the ACA didn't violate the Origination Clause. Good bet the Fifth Circuit would have, too.
Friday, April 24, 2015
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge EPA and NHTSA's standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The ruling means that the case is dismissed, and the standards stay in place.
The case, Delta Construction v. EPA, tests a joint effort by the EPA and NHTSA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and trucks. The agencies issued coordinated rules, one set of rules for cars and, later, one set for trucks. (The D.C. Circuit previously upheld the car rules, and the Supreme Court denied review.)
The plaintiffs--business, associations, and individuals in California, and Plant Oil Powered Diesel (or POP Diesel), a company that promotes the use of vegetable oil in place of traditional diesel fuel--sued, arguing that the regulations were arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The California plaintiffs challenged the EPA rules only; POP Diesel challenged both the EPA and NHTSA rules. The California plaintiffs argued that the regs jacked up the price of cars and trucks in the state; POP Diesel argued that the truck rule makes its product economically unfeasible.
The court held that the California plaintiffs lacked standing, because they couldn't show causation and redressability. That's because even if they won on the merits--and the court struck the EPA rules--the NHTSA rules would still drive the prices of their vehicles up. In other words, because both agencies' sets of rules did the same thing, defeating one wouldn't solve their alleged problem.
As to POP Diesel, the court said that it didn't fall within the zone of interests protected by the portion of the Clean Air Act governing emissions standards for motor vehicles. The court said that economic interests, like POP Diesel's, without more, aren't within the congressional goals of the Act, and that POP Diesel's green approach alone doesn't put it within the Act's zone of interests.
The court dismissed the case and ended the plaintiffs' challenge to the emissions regs.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled this week in Oneok, Inc. v. Learjet, Inc. that the Natural Gas Act did not preempt retail gas purchasers' antitrust lawsuits against sellers (gas pipelines) for manipulating gas indexes used to set contract rates. Our argument review of the case is here.
The case arose when retail, intrastate purchasers of gas sued gas sellers for falsely reporting gas price data to industry journals that buyers and sellers used to set their contract price for gas purchases. The false reporting resulted in higher gas prices than the true market rate, so purchasers overpaid for their gas. Purchasers sued sellers under state antitrust laws. The sellers moved to dismiss, arguing that the state antitrust suits (by then removed to federal court) were preempted by the Natural Gas Act and FERC's authority under the Act.
Under the NGA, FERC has authority to regulate interstate, wholesale gas sales (sometimes called "jurisdictional" sales), but not intrastate, retail sales. Indeed, the NGA "was drawn with meticulous regard for the continued exercise of state power [over retail sales], not to handicap or dilute it in any way."
So the question was whether the price manipulation, which affected the buyers' intrastate purchases but also affected interstate, wholesale gas prices, was preempted by the NGA.
But there was a catch: the sellers (joined by the government, as amicus) only argued field preemption. Everyone agreed that the NGA contained no express preemption provision, and the sellers did not raise a conflict preemption argument.
The Court said that the answer lies in the "target at which the state law aims." In other words, because the state antitrust suits targeted sellers for manipulation of intrastate (non-jurisdictional) rates, it didn't matter that the manipulation also affected interstate, wholesale (jurisdictional) rates (over which FERC has authority). If the state law aims at intrastate sales, there's no field preemption by the NGA.
But the Court expressly withheld judgment on conflict preemption, leaving that question to the lower courts. It also expressly withheld judgment on the question whether FERC's determination that the NGA field preempts the buyers' claim holds any sway. The Court said that neither the sellers nor the government pointed to any FERC determination, so the Court wouldn't rule on it.
The case is a clear victory for gas purchasers who paid higher-than-market prices because of price manipulation by sellers. Those cases now go back to the lower courts to proceed on the merits.
But at the same time the case also suggests a strategy for sellers in the next round of antitrust litigation: Look for a way to argue conflict preemption (if there is such a way), and ask FERC to opine on the scope of NGA's field preemption.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled today in Rodriguez v. United States that the Fourth Amendment prohibits a dog sniff that extends the duration of an otherwise lawful traffic stop, as measured by the time it reasonably takes an officer to complete the mission of the stop. But the ruling doesn't end the case: The Court sent the case back to the lower court for determination of whether the dog sniff was nevertheless independently justified under the Fourth Amendment.
The case arose when an officer pulled Rodriguez over for a traffic violation, issued a warning, then engaged in a dog sniff (which revealed drugs, which led to Rodriguez's prosecution). In other words, the dog sniff came after the purpose, or mission, of the traffic stop expired and thus extended the stop beyond the period reasonably required to complete the mission. The Court previously ruled in Illinois v. Caballes that the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff in the course of an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But this case asked whether the Fourth Amendment also allowed that sniff when it extended the length of the stop.
The Court said no. Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. She wrote that a dog sniff that extends the length of the stop violates the Fourth Amendment, without some independent justification for it.
So: How to know if a dog sniff extends the length of the stop? Look to the officer's mission in making the stop in the first place: the "time reasonably required to complete [the stop's] mission."
Because the Court refused to draw a bright line at the point when an officer issues a ticket (and instead looked to the total time of the stop, whenever the mission is complete), the rule could mean that some dog sniffs in the course of a traffic stop (upheld under Caballes) would now violate the Fourth Amendment. Again, the touchstone is whether the sniff extends the "time reasonably required to complete [the stop's] mission."
The Court rejected the Eighth Circuit's holding that the sniff was reasonable because it only extended the time of the stop a little bit.
Justice Thomas wrote the principal dissent, joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito. Justice Thomas argued that because the stop was reasonably executed the sniff was OK.
He also argued that there was independent justification for the dog sniff--a point that Justice Alito also made in a separate dissent, but a point that Justice Kennedy did not join. The district court found that there was no independent justification for the sniff, but the Eighth Circuit did not rule on the question.
The case now goes back to the Eighth Circuit for a ruling on this issue. If the lower court finds an independent justification for the sniff (for reasons described by Justices Thomas and Alito, for example), then the evidence (drugs) can come in, and Rodriguez could still be convicted.
Monday, April 13, 2015
The Seventh Circuit today affirmed a lower court ruling granting qualified immunity to a police officer who falsely reported to 911 and then called off another officer before the plaintiff was sexually assaulted. The ruling affirms the dismissal of the plaintiff's civil rights and state-law claims against the officer and ends the case.
The case, Doe v. Village of Arlington Heights, arose when an Arlington Heights police officer, Officer Del Boccio, responded to a 911 call and saw Doe with three young men in an apparently intoxicated state near an apartment building. When Del Boccio arrived, one of the young men was holding up Doe from behind, because she could not stand up by herself. Del Boccio consulted with the apartment manager, who told Del Boccio that the young men were taking Doe home. Del Boccio also rolled down his window to talk to the three young men. But he didn't ask Doe or any of the three young men for identification or otherwise investigate.
Del Boccio then reported to dispatch that he checked the scene and the subjects of the 911 call were gone on arrival. He also called off Officer Spoerry, who had been dispatched to the scnee.
After Del Boccio left the scene, the three young men carried Doe into a laundry room. The apartment manager called 911. Mount Prospect officers responded, entered the laundry room, and caught one of the young men sexually assaulting Doe.
Doe sued Del Boccio and the city for federal civil rights violations and various state law claims. Del Boccio moved to dismiss based on qualified immunity. The district court granted immunity and dismissed the case.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed, ruling that Del Boccio didn't violate a clearly established constitutional right when he falsely reported to dispatch that the subjects of the 911 call were gone on arrival and when he called off Officer Spoerry. The court alternatively held that Doe's case was foreclosed by DeShaney v. Winnebago County:
Here, we can only speculate whether Del Boccio made Doe worse off, whether by calling off Officer Spoerry or falsely reporting to dispatch.
This is not a case in which Doe was safe, or even considerably safer, before Del Boccio acted. His alleged conduct did not turn a potential danger into an actual one; Doe was in actual danger already. Therefore, Del Boccio had no constitutional duty to protect her. But even if calling off Officer Spoerry violated Doe's constitutional rights, it was not clearly established and Del Boccio nonetheless would be entitled to qualified immunity.