Monday, May 18, 2015

Supreme Court Finds Qualified Immunity for San Francisco Officers in Mental Disability

The United States Supreme Court's opinion in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan arises from an incident in which two police officers shot Teresa Sheehan, a woman suffering from a schizoaffective disorder who was living in a group home for those with mental illness. 

San_francisco_montage_asemblageThe seemingly primary issue upon which certiorari was granted was whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, 42 U. S. C. §12132, required law enforcement officers  to "provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody.”  The Court, in an opinion by Justice Alito, found fault with the attorneys litigating on behalf of San Francisco and dismissed this first question presented as improvidently granted.  In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Kagan, also faulted the attorneys for San Francisco, noting that the Petition for Certiorari

assured us (quite accurately), and devoted a section of its argument to the point, that "The Circuits Are In Conflict On This Question.”

But, Justice Scalia continued,

Imagine our surprise, then, when the petitioners’ principal brief, reply brief, and oral argument had nary a word to say about that subject.

Instead, the petitioners argued that "the issue is not (as the petition had asserted) whether Title II applies to arrests of violent, mentally ill individuals, but rather how it applies under the circumstances of this case, where the plaintiff threatened officers with a weapon."

We were thus deprived of the opportunity to consider, and settle, a controverted question of law that has divided the Circuits, and were invited instead to decide an ADA question that has relevance only if we assume the Ninth Circuit correctly resolved the antecedent, unargued question on which we granted certiorari.

Scalia had especially harsh words for the attorneys for San Francisco, casting aspersion on their integrity:

Why, one might ask, would a petitioner take a position on a Circuit split that it had no intention of arguing, or at least was so little keen to argue that it cast the argument aside uninvited? The answer is simple. Petitioners included that issue to induce us to grant certiorari.

Scalia states that the Court would never have granted certiorari on the first question as it was argued in the briefs and would certainly have never granted certiorari on the"fact-bound" qualified immunity issue.  Scalia, with Kagan, dissented from the Court's holding on the qualified immunity issue:

I would not reward such bait-and-switch tactics by proceeding to decide the independently “uncertworthy” second question. And make no mistake about it: Today’s judgment is a reward. It gives the individual petitioners all that they seek, and spares San Francisco the significant expense of defending the suit, and satisfying any judgment, against the individual petitioners. I would not encourage future litigants to seek review premised on arguments they never plan to press, secure in the knowledge that once they find a toehold on this Court’s docket, we will consider whatever workaday arguments they choose to present in their merits briefs.

The Court, absent Justice Breyer who did not participate in the case, did "reward" San Francisco by finding that the police officers were protected by qualified immunity: "no precedent clearly established that there was not 'an objective need for immediate entry' here."  The somewhat particular facts - - - the situation involved an entry and then a re-entry of Sheehan's room - - - nevertheless involved a "straightforward" and exceedingly brief qualified immunity analysis. 

And a reversal of the Ninth Circuit.

While the attorneys for the City and County of San Francisco may have endured a scolding, Scalia is correct that the Court's decision is ultimately a reward.

[image via]

May 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Disability, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Obamacare Opponents Lack Standing--Again

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

DC Circuit Says No Standing to Challenge Clean Water Act Determination

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.

 

May 16, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

D.C. Circuit Rebuffs Challenge to CFPB

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."

May 6, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Obamacare Survives Origination Challenge

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.

April 27, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 24, 2015

No Gas in Auto Emission Standard Suit

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.

April 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fifth Circuit Rejects DACA Challenge

The Fifth Circuit today affirmed the dismissal of a challenge to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or "DACA," program by a group of ICE agents and deportation officers and the State of Mississippi. We previously posted on the suit here.

The plaintiffs lodged several claims against the DACA program, including a separation-of-powers and a violation of the Take Care Clause. They claimed that they had standing because Mississippi incurred expenses for state benefits for "illegal aliens" and because DACA forced the officers to violate the law, change the way they enforced the law, and face job sanctions for not deferring.

The court today rejected these standing claims and affirmed the dismissal of case. As to Mississippi, the court said that any injury was "purely speculative because there was no concrete evidence that Mississippi's costs had increased or will increase as a result of DACA." As to the officers, the court said that a violation of their oath to uphold the laws was not a sufficient injury for standing purposes; that their burden to comply with DACA also wasn't a sufficient injury and that in any event they failed to allege specific facts to support it; and that any threat of employment sanctions for not enforcing DACA was too speculative.

As to this last point, the court emphasized that DACA requires individual officers to "exercise their discretion in deciding to grant deferred action, and this judgment should be exercised on a case-by-case basis." This feature of DACA, of course, also goes to the merits by hard-wiring DACA with prosecutorial discretion and putting the program squarely within executive discretionary authority. As to standing, the court said that this feature makes it unlikely that an officer would be sanctioned for exercising discretion to deport.

Today's ruling says nothing about the merits of DACA. But it does illustrate why it's so hard to bring a challenge to DACA in court.

April 7, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fifth Circuit Rejects FMLA Claims

The Fifth Circuit dismissed most of the plaintiff's Family and Medical Leave Act case in Bryant v. Texas Dep't of Aging and Disability Services, holding that most claims were barred by state sovereign immunity and qualified immunity. But the court remanded the question whether the plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against her supervisor is barred by state sovereign immunity.

The plaintiff, Tammy Bryant, sued her employer, Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, and her direct supervisor, Kim Littleton, for interfering with her self-care FMLA leave and for retaliating against her for taking FMLA leave. She sought reinstatement and monetary damages.

The Fifth Circuit dismissed most of Bryant's case. The court ruled that while Congress validly abrogated states' Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the FMLA's family-care provision, Nev. Dep't of Human Resources v. Hibbs, Congress did not validly abrogate with respect to the self-care provision. Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland. As a result, the department had Eleventh Amendment immunity against Brant's self-care claims for monetary damages.

As to Bryant's claim for reinstatement, the court said that the Ex Parte Young exception (allowing plaintiffs to sue a state for prospective relief) did not apply to suits against state agencies; it only applies against state employees acting in their official capacities.

The court ruled further that Littleton enjoyed qualified immunity from Bryant's interference claims, because Bryant failed to show that Littleton violated clearly established law.

Finally, the court remanded Bryant's claim for monetary damages against Littleton. The court recognized that this "depends on the state's being the real party in interest" and left it to the lower court to work that out.

March 26, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Eleventh Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Court Dismisses Defamation Case on Government State Secret Assertion

Judge Edgardo Ramos (SDNY) dismissed a private defamation case this week after the government moved to intervene and asserted the state secrets privilege. Judge Ramos ruled that moving forward with the case at all (even excluding privileged evidence) would "impose an unjustifiable risk of disclosing state secrets." The ruling thus puts an end to the case, unless and until appealed. It is not a ruling on the merits, however.

The case, Restis v. American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, involves Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis's defamation claim against the group United Against Nuclear Iran for claiming, as part of its "name and shame" campaign, that Restis was involved in the illegal exportation of Iranian oil in violation of international sanctions. Restis sued UANI, and the government intervened and moved to dismiss on state secrets grounds, filing a classified declaration by the head of the government department that has control over the matter in support. (The government asserted, and the court apparently accepted, that the government couldn't even reveal "the department that has control over the matter" without risking the disclosure of secret information.)

Judge Ramos reviewed the declaration in camera and held two ex parte, in camera meetings with the government before determining that the state secrets privilege applied. "Having carefully reviewed the classified declarations and documents submitted by the Government ex parte, and being cognizant of a district court's obligation to grant 'utmost deference' to the executive's determination of the likely import of disclosure of the information on military or diplomatic security, the Court is satisfied that there is a reasonable danger that disclosure of the facts underlying the Government's assertion would in fact jeopardize national security."

Judge Ramos went on to say that "further litigation of this action would impose an unjustifiable risk of disclosing state secrets" and dismissed the case entirely. (Under the state secrets privilege, Judge Ramos might have allowed the case to move forward without the privileged evidence. But here, he said, any further litigation would risk disclosure.)

Notably absent from the ruling was any discussion of the state secrets privilege as a separation-of-powers principle. (Treating the privilege as a separation-of-powers principle has in the past led to a much more robust privilege, as in the Fourth Circuit's ruling in El-Masri.) Instead, Judge Ramos treated the privilege as it was designed and as the government apparently asserted it--as an evidentiary privilege. Even so, the government's assertion of the privilege resulted in the dismissal of the entire case.

Judge Ramos rejected the plaintiff's arguments that the government shouldn't be able to rely only on ex parte submissions for its assertion and that the case could be litigated in an in camera trial--because the evidence was apparently too secret even to tell the lawyers. Judge Ramos wrote, "The nature of the information here requires that counsel not be granted access."

Judge Ramos gave a hat tip--but only a hat tip--to the plaintiff's interest in access to justice:

The Court recognizes that dismissal is a "harsh sanction." It is particularly so in this case because Plaintiffs not only do not get their day in court, but cannot be told why.

Still, he said that "dismissal is nonetheless appropriate," because "there is no intermediate solution that would allow this litigation to proceed while also safeguarding the secrets at issue."

March 25, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Secrets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sierra Club Has Standing, Defeats EPA Redesignation of Cincinnati Area

The Sixth Circuit ruled last week in Sierra Club v. EPA that the Sierra Club had standing to challenge EPA's redesignation of the Ohio and Indiana portions of the Cincinnati area from "nonattainment" to "attainment" of the area's national air quality standards for particulate matter. The court went on to rule that the EPA's redesignation violated the Clean Air Act.

The ruling is notable, because it's the first time the Sixth Circuit had a chance to address a petitioner's burden of production on standing in a direct appeal of a final agency action. The court said that the petitioner bears a burden of production similar to that required at summary judgment (and not like the lower standard required on a motion to dismiss), that is: "the petitioner has to present specific facts supporting standing through citations to the administrative record or 'affidavits or other evidence' attached to its opening brief, unless standing is self-evident." This standard aligns the Sixth Circuit with the Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits.

Here, the Sierra Club attached to its brief a declaration by Sierra Club members who claimed that the redesignation would cause aesthetic, recreational, and physical injuries. As to causation and redressability, the court noted "that many courts have apparently found it so obvious that redesignation would lead to higher emissions that they did not even need to discuss the standing of environmental litigants." Still, the court looked to "reasonable inferences" about redesignation's impact and concluded that "[w]e find it reasonable to infer actual and imminent aesthetic and physical injuries to an identified member of the Club from redesignation of the Cincinnati area."

After concluded that the Sierra Club had standing, the court went on to rule against the EPA on the merits--that the redesignation violated the Clean Air Act.

March 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Families of Hostages Lack Standing to Halt Government No-Ransom Policy

The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Munns v. Kerry that families of a government contractor taken hostage in Iraq lacked standing to challenge the alleged government policy prohibiting families from offering a reward or negotiating with terrorist kidnappers. The ruling dismisses the case.

The case was brought by former employees of a private firm (and their families) that contracted with the government for security services in Iraq. Former employees of the company claim, through their next of kin, that they were issued substandard military equipment and were ill-prepared for a mission (because of the negligence of their employer, sanctioned by the State Department), that as a result they were taken hostage and held for over a year, and that government policy prohibited the families from negotiating with the kidnappers. Kidnappers brutally executed the employees in 2008.

One plaintiff, Bjorlin, not taken hostage, alleges that he wishes to return to Iraq but wants to be sure that government policies will not prevent his employer from properly equipping him for security missions.

The families of the kidnapped and executed employees argued that an alleged government policy prohibiting them from seeking information on the kidnapped employees, and offering a reward, violated the First Amendment; they sought declaratory and injunctive relief against such a policy. They also argued that the government withheld money that belongs to them as survivors of their deceased contractor relatives, in violation of the Due Process and Takings Clauses; they sought monetary damages.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing for their claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. As to the families of executed employees, the court said that they didn't allege how any government policies would affect them in the future (even if they alleged that those policies affected them in the past). As to Bjorlin, the court said that the chain of events required before he would be affected by any policies was simply too attenuated.

Because the court affirmed the dismissal based on lack of standing, it didn't address the political question doctrine as an alternative basis for dismissal.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claims for monetary damages based on sovereign immunity.

March 20, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Alabama Supreme Court Orders Probate Judges to Discontinue Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

In a per curiam opinion in excess of 130 pages, the Alabama Supreme Court has ordered certain probate judges to 'discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples' in compliance with a district judge's order  and a denial of a stay by the United States Supreme Court.

[UPDATED: Reports state that the controversial Chief Justice Roy Moore  recused himself from the ruling, but neither Moore nor recusal seems to be mentioned in the opinion].  The Alabama Supreme Court's opinion per curiam opinion states that "Stuart, Bolin, Parker, Murdock, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur," and that "Main, J., concurs in part and concurs in the result," and that "Shaw, J., dissents."  Chief Justice Moore is the ninth of the nine justices of the Alabama Supreme Court (pictured below).   

SC2013_Photo_Small

The case is styled Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Citizens Action Program, and John E. Enslen, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Elmore County; In re: Alan L. King, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Jefferson County, et al., and is an Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus. Justice Greg Shaw's dissent highlights the unusual procedural posture of the case: he concludes that the Alabama Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction, that the public interest groups (Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program) cannot sue in Alabama's name and do not have standing, that the petition for writ of mandamus is procedurally deficient given that there is no lower court opinion, and that the court's opinion improperly rules on the constitutionality of the Alabama marriage laws since that issue is not before it.  Justice Shaw concludes:

I believe that this case is not properly before this Court. As the main opinion notes, this case is both unusual and of great public interest; however, I do not see a way for this Court to act at this time. By overlooking this Court's normal procedures; by stretching our law and creating exceptions to it; by assuming original jurisdiction, proceeding as a trial court, and reaching out to speak on an issue that this Court cannot meaningfully impact because the Supreme Court of the United States will soon rule on it; and by taking action that will result in additional confusion and more costly federal litigation involving this State's probate judges, this Court, in my view, is venturing into unchartered waters and potentially unsettling established principles of law.

Shaw's dissent provides a window into the Alabama Supreme Court's lengthy opinion.  Much of the opinion concerns the odd procedural posture of the case.  The opinion does specifically address the relationship between Alabama and the federal judge's decision by declaring that the "Respondents' Ministerial Duty is Not Altered by the United States Constitution":

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama has declared that Alabama's laws that define marriage as being only between two members of the opposite sex -- what has been denominated traditional marriage -- violate the United States Constitution. After careful consideration of the reasoning employed by the federal district court in Searcy I, we find that the provisions of Alabama law contemplating the issuance of marriage licenses only to opposite-sex couples do not violate the United States Constitution and that the Constitution does not alter or override the ministerial duties of the respondents under Alabama law.

Thus, because the Alabama Supreme Court disagrees, Alabama is not bound by the federal decision. The Alabama Supreme Court's "per curiam" opinion on the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban is scholarly, lengthy, and well-reasoned (and perhaps more persuasive than the Sixth Circuit's opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder, to which the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari, and on which the Alabama Supreme Court relies extensively).  But this discussion does little to resolve the basic federalism of whether the state is bound by the federal court's judgment.  The court's order does include this specific provision, which may engage the issue most directly:

As to Judge Davis's request to be dismissed on the ground that he is subject to a potentially conflicting federal court order, he is directed to advise this Court, by letter brief, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.

This is certainly not the last parry in this continuing federalism struggle.

March 3, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Clears Path to Internet Tax Reporting Challenge

The Supreme Court ruled today in Direct Marketing Ass'n v. Brohl that out-of-state retailers can move forward with their challenge to Colorado's requirement that the retailers notify Colorado customers of their Colorado sales and use tax burden and report tax-related information to those customers and to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The case tests a state's best efforts at collecting sales and use taxes for out-of-state and internet purchases by its residents, given the long-standing rule that a state cannot tax out-of-state and internet retailers directly.

The underlying issue goes back to 1967, when the Court ruled in National Bellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois that states cannot require a business to collect use taxes (the equivalent of sales taxes for out-of-state purchases) if the business does not have a physical presence in the state. That rule was based on the Dormant Commerce Clause. The Court reaffirmed that rule in 1992 in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota.

But that rule has created a significant loss of revenue for states, now that so many (and dramatically increasing) sales go through the internet, to out-of-state online retailers. The rule means that states cannot collect use taxes from those retailers.

So some states, like Colorado, implemented information and reporting requirements. For example, Colorado's law requires out-of-state retailers to inform its in-state customers of their use tax burden and to report tax-related information to Colorado tax authorities.

Out-of-state retailers sued, arguing that Colorado's requirements violated the Dormant Commerce Clause. The district court ruled in their favor, but the Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that the suit was barred by the Tax Injunction Act. In a relatively short and simple opinion today, the unanimous Court reversed, holding that the Tax Injunction Act did not bar the suit (because the Act only bars suits against a tax "assessment, levy or collection," and not information and reporting requirements).

The Court's ruling opens the door to the out-of-state retailers' challenge to Colorado's information and reporting requirements. If the district court is right, even these modest efforts violate the Dormant Commerce Clause--and create an even bigger headache for states trying to collect use taxes on their citizens' out-of-state and internet purchases.

On the other hand, Justice Kennedy signaled today in concurrence that the Court may be willing to reassess its Bellas Hess and Quill Corp. rule (or at least that the Court should reassess the rule) in light of the technological changes we've seen in the last 25 years (and the proliferation of online retailers) and the fact that the Dormant Commerce Clause changed enough between the two cases to render the Quill ruling questionable. (Justice Kennedy reminds us that three Justices upheld Bellas Hess in Quill on stare decisis grounds alone, and that the majority recognized that Bellas Hess stood on weak ground.)

Bellas Hess and Quill Corp. go to state use taxes, not information and reporting requirements like Colorado's. Still, the retailers' challenge to Colorado's information and reporting requirements could put Quill on the chopping block. (At least the district court decision striking the requirements relied on Quill.)

If so, this case (in its next round) could give the Supreme Court a chance to reassess the Quill rule and give states more latitude in collecting use taxes from out-of-state and internet retailers.

March 3, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Standing in King v. Burwell

There's no shortage of opinion on standing in King v. Burwell, the case testing whether the IRS had authority under the Affordable Care Act to grant tax credits to purchasers of health insurance through a federally-facilitated (not state-run) exchange. The Wall Street Journal and Mother Jones wrote about the standing problems first, but now there's coverage all around the internet. 

Still, neither the government nor the Court has said anything about it.

The Court can consider the plaintiffs' standing anytime, and on its own motion. If it rules that the plaintiffs in this case lack standing, surely there will be efforts to find new plaintiffs.

But remember: The parallel case in the D.C. Circuit--which first came down the same day as King--is still in abeyance pending the outcome of King. If the Court dismisses King for lack of standing, the D.C. Circuit would likely lift its case out of abeyance and put the issue back before the Supreme Court relatively quickly (or at least quicker than ACA opponents could scrounge up new plaintiffs and start all over).

February 13, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Judge Moore: federal courts have no power over state marriage law

In a Letter to the Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley today, the Chief Justice of Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore (pictured) asked the Governor to continue to uphold the respect for different-sex marriage and reject the judicial "tyranny" of the federal district court's opinion last Friday finding the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.  He writes grounds the sacredness of man-woman marriage in the Bible, and writes

RmooreToday the destruction of that institution is upon us by federal courts using specious pretexts based on the Equal Protection, Due Process, and Full Faith and Credit Clauses of the United States Constitution. As of this date, 44 federal courts have imposed by judicial fiat same-sex marriages in 21 states of the Union, overturning the express will of the people in those states. If we are to preserve that “reverent morality which is our source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement," then we must act to oppose such tyranny!

 He argues that United States district court opinions are not controlling authority in Alabama, citing a case, Dolgencorp, Inc. v. Taylor, 28 So. 3d 737, 744n.5  (Ala. 2009), regarding a common law negligence claim rather than a constitutional issue. He does not argue the Supremacy Clause.

Justice Moore is no stranger to controversial positions, including promoting his biblical beliefs over federal  law, and gained notoriety as the "the Ten Commandments Judge."  Recall that Moore was originally elected to the Alabama Supreme Court with the campaign promise to “restore the moral foundation of the law” and soon thereafter achieved notoriety for installing a 5,280-pound monument depicting the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building. See Glassroth v. Moore, 335 F.3d 1282, 1285 (11th Cir. 2003). After federal courts found that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Glassroth v. Moore, 229 F. Supp. 2d 1290, 1304 (M.D. Ala. 2002), aff’d, Glassroth v. Moore, 335 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2003), Chief Justice Moore was ordered to remove the monument. See Glassroth v. Moore, No. 01-T-1268-N, 2003 LEXIS 13907 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 5, 2003). After the deadline to remove the monument passed, Chief Justice Moore was suspended, with pay, pending resolution of an ethics complaint, which charged that he failed to “observe high standards of conduct” and “respect and comply with the law.” Jeffrey Gettleman, Judge Suspended for Defying Court on Ten Commandments, N.Y. Times, August 23, 2003, at A7.

In 2012, Justice Moore was re-elected to the Alabama Supreme Court as its chief justice after almost a decade out of office during which time he served as "President of the Foundation for Moral Law."

 [UPDATE: A great video produced by Christopher Scott and Mary Baschab, University of Alabama School of Law, Class of 2011 is here].

January 27, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

No Remedy for Inmate when Authorities take Medical Settlement for Cost of Incarceration

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Shinault v. Hawks that a state has to provide pre-deprivation notice and hearing before it freezes funds in an inmate's trust account to recover the cost of his incarceration. But at the same time, the court said that this rule wasn't "clearly established" at the time, so the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity. The court also rejected the inmate's Eighth Amendment claim.

The upshot is that prison authorities took more than $60,000 of an inmate's money--money from a settlement for a medical liability claim--in violation of procedural due process. But according to the Ninth Circuit, the inmate has no recourse against the officers.

Lester Shinault received a $107,417.48 settlement from a medical claim against a drug manufacturer who products (prescribed while Shinault was not in custody) caused him to develop diabetes. Shinault's attorney deposited the money in his inmate trust account.

Prison authorities then ordered Shinault to pay $65,353.94 to cover the cost of his incarceration. On the same day that Shinault requested a hearing, authorities transferred this amount from his trust account into a "reserved miscellaneous" sub-account in Shinault's name, but which Shinault could not access. An ALJ ruled against Shinault (in a hearing where Shinault didn't have an attorney and struggled mightily to represent himself), and about a year later authorities withdrew $61,352.39.

Shinault sued, arguing that the withdraw violated procedural due process and the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment against him.

The Ninth Circuit held that authorities violated procedural due process under the Mathews v. Eldridge balancing test, because they failed to provide a pre-deprivation hearing prior to freezing the funds. But it also held that the violation wasn't "clearly established" at the time (because it couldn't find precedent directly on point, and because it said that procedural due process questions were fact specific, that is, not determined until a particular case is litigated), so the officials enjoyed qualified immunity.

In other words, the court said it wasn't "clearly established" that authorities had to provide a pre-deprivation hearing before freezing over $60,000.00 that Shinault obtained from a settlement with a drug company whose products caused him to develop diabetes. Because this wasn't "clearly established," the defendants enjoyed immunity, and Shinault has no claim against them for return of his money.

The court also held that authorities did not violate Shinault's Eighth Amendment rights, because "no authority supports the notion that freezing or withdrawing funds from an inmate account constitutes deliberate denial of care under the Eighth Amendment."

January 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CAC on Access in the Roberts Court

The Constitutional Accountability Center published its most recent issue paper in its series on the Roberts Court at 10, this one on access issues. And it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Brianne Gorod, the author of Roberts at 10: Roberts's Consistent Votes to Close the Courthouse Doors, looks at Roberts Court cases in four areas: standing, arbitration, pleading standards, and suits against states. Gorod concludes that the Court's record is mixed, but mostly negative:

Although most of the decisions of the Roberts Court in this area have limited access to the courts, there have been a few that have not, including most significantly the Court's 2007 decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, holding that Massachusetts could sue the Environmental Protection Agency to challenge its failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

But if the Court's record is mixed, Gorod says that Chief Justice Roberts's record is not:

He dissented in that 2007 case and in every other case during his tenure as Chief Justice in which the Court has refused to limit access to the courts, and he has always been in the majority when it has decided to limit such access. 

Gorod says that Chief Justice Roberts's record is "not terribly surprising," given his pre-confirmation positions on access.

Check it out.

January 21, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Court Dismisses Challenge to IRS Non-Profit Process

Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed an action by True the Vote against the IRS for politicized foot-dragging on its 501(c)(3), not-for-profit application. The ruling ends True the Vote's case against the IRS, with very little chance of a successful appeal.

True the Vote sued the IRS after the agency took a long time with its 501(c)(3) application and requested additional information from the organization before granting not-for-profit status. True the Vote argued that the IRS did this because True the Vote was a politically conservative organization aligned with the Tea Party, in violation of the First Amendment, the IRC, and the APA.

But Judge Walton dismissed the organization's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief as moot, after the IRS ultimately granted 501(c)(3) status, leaving nothing more for the court to order in terms of relief. The court also ruled that the "voluntary cessation" exception didn't apply, because the IRS, by the plaintiff's own reckoning (and the court's judicial notice), "suspended" its "targeting scheme" on June 30, 2013, and wouldn't re-engage in the footdragging.

Judge Walton dismissed the plaintiff's claim for monetary relief, ruling that there's no Bivens remedy, because the IRC already provides a comprehensive statutory remedial scheme. (It didn't matter that the plaintiff didn't like the scheme, only that it existed.)

Finally, Judge Walton dismissed the plaintiff's statutory claim that the IRS requested and inspected more information than necessary from True the Vote, because the IRC allows it to do that.

True the Vote can appeal, but Judge Walton's ruling is likely to be upheld.

October 28, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seventh Circuit Reverses Injunction Against Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

The Seventh Circuit this week reversed an earlier district court injunction halting a criminal investigation into coordination between Governor Scott Walker's campaign committee and "independent" groups on issue advocacy. We posted on the injunction here.

Recall that the Milwaukee County District Attorney asked a state court to initiate a "John Doe" criminal investigation into alleged coordination between Walker's campaign committee and "independent" groups on issue advocacy. As part of the investigation, the court issued subpoenas, including one to Eric O'Keefe, who manages the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Inc., one of these "independent" groups. The state court granted O'Keefe's motion to quash. The prosecutor took the issue to the state's higher courts, but, before those courts could rule, O'Keefe filed in federal court, seeking an injunction and monetary damages against the prosecutors. The district court granted the injunction (thus halting the investigation), ruled that the defendants did not enjoy qualified immunity, and ordered the defendants to return or destroy all documents obtained in the investigation.

The Seventh Circuit reversed the injunction and dismissed the case. It held that the Anti-Injunction Act and principles of equity, comity, and federalism prohibit it. The court said that the plaintiffs couldn't show irreparable injury, that they had adequate remedies under state law, and that federal relief was not appropriate. Because the state court judge "concluded that the investigation should end as a matter of state law, because [the prosecutor] lacks evidence that state law has been violated . . . [t]he result is an injunction unnecessary at best, advisory at worst."

The court also took the district judge to task for effectively anticipating a Supreme Court ruling that would allow the kind of coordination alleged here under the First Amendment. That hasn't happened (yet), said the court, and the district judge was wrong to base the injunction on it.

The court said that the district judge was also wrong to deny qualified immunity.

Plaintiffs' claim to the constitutional protection for raising funds to engage in issue advocacy coordinated with a politician's campaign committee has not been established 'beyond debate.' To the contrary, there is a lively debate among judges and academic analysts. . . . No opinion of the Supreme Court, or by any court of appeals, establishes ('clearly' or otherwise) that the First Amendment forbids regulation of coordination between campaign committees and issue-advocacy groups--let alone that the First Amendment forbids even an inquiry into that topic.

Thus, the defendants enjoy qualified immunity.

Finally, the court held that "Wisconsin, not the federal judiciary, should determine whether, and to what extent, documents gathered in a John Doe proceeding are disclosed to the public." The court said that the federal district court "should ensure that sealed documents in the federal record stay sealed, as long as documents containing the same information remain sealed in the state-court record."

This ruling almost surely marks the end of the federal case. Because of the Anti-Injunction Act and the state of First Amendment law on campaign finance, this is not a good candidate for en banc or Supreme Court review.

September 25, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Federalism, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Music, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Second Circuit Arguments on NSA Spying on C-Span

The Second Circuit heard oral arguments yesterday in a challenge to the NSA program involving mass collection of telephone call details under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.  The full argument was broadcast on C-Span and is available here.  (The embed code wasn't cooperating.)

The case, ACLU v. Clapper, is one of three cases challenging the program now pending in the circuit courts; the other two are Smith v. Obama (in the Ninth Circuit) and Klayman v. Obama (in the D.C. Circuit).  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a backgrounder here, with links to case materials; the ACLU has a backgrounder on Section 215 here; the ACLU's page on ACLU v. Clapper is here.

Challengers in the cases argue that Section 215 violates the First and Fourth Amendments, but face justiciability questions before the courts will get to the merits.  That's because Section 215 prohibits a telecommunication company subject to a 215 order from telling its customers about it, so without more a customer wouldn't know.  Still, the district courts in Smith and Klayman ruled that the plaintiffs had standing based on the sheer breadth of the program.

September 3, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)