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)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sovereign Immunity Protects Official's Determination of Streambed Ownership

The Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Lacano Investments v. Balash that state sovereign immunity barred a suit against a state official for his determination that streambeds claimed by the plaintiffs were owned by the State of Alaska.  The court said that the relief plaintiffs requested--declaratory relief and an injunction prohibiting the defendants from claiming title to the lands beneath the waterways--was the funcational equivalent of quiet title, a claim that under Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho does not fall within Ex parte Young.

The case arose when an Alaskan official determined pursuant to the federal Submerged Lands Act of 1953 that certain streambeds over which the plaintiffs claimed ownership were in fact owned by the State of Alaska.  The plaintiffs said that they owned the streambeds pursuant to a federal land patent granted the year before Alaska became part of the Union.  When the official then determined that the streambeds belonged to the state, the plaintiffs sued, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

Under Ex parte Young, the plaintiffs could sue a state official for injunctive relief and dodge state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.  But the Supreme Court limited Ex parte Young in Coeur d'Alene, holding that the Eleventh Amendment barred a suit that was "the functional equivalent of a quiet title action."  That's because that kind of claim "implicate[d] special sovereignty interests"--the historical and legal importance of submerged lands to state sovereignty.  The Coeur d'Alene Court explained that "if the Tribe were to prevail, Idaho's sovereign interest in its lands and waters would be affected in a degree fully as intrusive as almost any conceivable retroactive levy upon funds in its Treasury."

The plaintiffs argued that Coeur d'Alene was distinguishable, because the plaintiffs in that case sought to divest the state of its title (and not, as here, the other way around), and because a ruling for the plaintiffs in Coeur d'Alene would have deprived the state of all regulatory power over the property (and not so here).  The court didn't bite, however.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that Coeur d'Alene is no longer good law.  Instead, the court applied Coeur d'Alene, ruled that the plaintiffs' claim was quiet-title-like, and held that the claim was therefore barred by state sovereignty under the Eleventh Amendment.

The ruling means that the plaintiffs' case is dismissed.

August 29, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

No Head-of-State Immunity for Finance Minister

Judge James E. Boasberg (D.D.C.) ruled earlier this week in Sikhs for Justice v. Singh that while Manmohan Singh enjoyed head-of-state immunity from suit in U.S. federal court for acts committed while he was Prime Minister of India, that immunity did not extend to acts he took earlier, when he was Finance Minister.  They ruling means that the plaintiff's case against Singh for acts he took while Finance Minister can move forward, but that Singh is immune from suit for acts he took while Prime Minister.

Plaintiffs Sikhs for Justice alleged that Singh tortured and killed Indian Sikhs during his time as Prime Minister and before, when he was Finance Minister.  The group filed suit in the D.C. District while Singh was Prime Minister, but Singh then left office (or, rather, got voted out).  The government filed a Suggestion of Immunity, arguing that Singh enjoyed head-of-state immunity for acts he committed as Prime Minister.  But it didn't state a position on immunity for acts before Singh became Prime Minister, when he was Finance Minister.

Judge Boasberg ruled that Singh wasn't immune for those acts.  In a case of apparent first impression, Judge Boasberg said that "[w]hile Singh's alleged acts as Finance Minister are not 'private' per se, they did not occur in the course of his official duties as head of state; accordingly they are not encompassed within the purview of head-of-state immunity."

Judge Boasberg, however, adopted the government's position and granted immunity for acts taken while Singh was Prime Minister.  Judge Boasberg also ruled that Singh enjoyed risidual immunity for those acts after he left office.

The upshot is that the plaintiff's case can proceed against Singh for acts he took as Finance Minister, but not for acts he took as Prime Minister, even after he left office.

August 20, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Foreign Affairs, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

No Constitutional Damages for Victims of Rape in Military

The D.C. Circuit ruled on Friday that survivors of rape and sexual assault in the military did not have constitutional damage claims against military officers who failed to address the prevalence of sexual misconduct and retaliation in the Navy and Marine Corps, even in the face of congressional mandates to take action.  (The plaintiffs did not sue their assailants in this case; instead, they sued higher-ups for perpetuating and grossly mismanaging the problem.)  The ruling means that this avenue of relief--the constitutional tort--is unavailable, and that survivors will have to look elsewhere for a remedy.

The three-judge panel declined to apply a Bivens remedy to the survivors' claims that officers violated the First, Fifth, and Seventh Amendments.  (A Bivens remedy would have allowed the survivors to sue the officers for monetary damages, even though there's no statutory authorization for such a suit.)  The court said that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy.  (The court did not say whether other avenues of relief were available, the other part of the Bivens inquiry.)  In particular, the court wrote that "the military context" and "Congress's extensive legislation on this specific issue" were "special factors that counsel decisively against authorizing a Bivens remedy."

The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that rape and sexual assault were not "incident to service," and that therefore the military context shouldn't foreclose a Bivens remedy.  The court said that the plaintiffs did not sue their assailants for rape and sexual assault; instead, they sued higher-ups for creating and failing to change a hostile environment--"a decade's worth of military management decisions," which, according to the court, is exactly the kinds of military decisions that fall outside Bivens's scope.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that officers ignored Congress in failing to establish an investigatory commission and failing to create a database.  The court said that Congress's extensive regulation of the issue, without creating a statutory civil damages remedy, was telling, and that it would violate separation-of-powers principles for the courts to step in and create a remedy when Congress declined.

The ruling aligns with the Fourth Circuit's Cioca v. Rumsfeld and adds to the recent line of cases rejecting Bivens claims for military torture, including Doe v. Rumsfeld, Vance v. Rumsfeld, and Lebron v. Rumsfeld.  In other words, it adds to the well established body of law that says that courts defer entirely  to the military in defining the kinds of military actions that fall outside of Bivens--even when those actions quite clearly have nothing to do with running a good ship.

July 19, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

D.C. Circuit Rejects Guantanamo Detainees' Mistreatment Claims

The D.C. Circuit this week rejected a variety of claims by Guantanamo detainees for mistreatment by government officials and guards even after they had been cleared for release by the Combat Status Review Tribunal.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs' request to remand the case to amend their complaint.

The case, Allaithi v. Rumsfeld, involved detainee claims of "forced grooming, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forced medication, transport in 'shackles and chains, blackened goggles, and ear coverings,' and the disruption of . . . religious practices," even after some of the plaintiffs were cleared for release by the CSRT.  The plaintiffs brought claims against government officials and Guantanamo guards under the Alien Tort Statute, the Geneva Convention, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As to the ATS, the court held that the defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, which, under the Westfall Act, transforms their ATS claim into a Federal Tort Claims Act claim against the government.  But the plaintiffs didn't pursue administrative remedies under the FTCA, so their case was dismissed.

As to the Vienna Convention, the court said that the Convention confers a private right of action.

As to the other, Bivens claims, the court held, citing its second Rasul ruling, that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, or, alternatively, that the case raised special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy.

June 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds Contribution Disclosure Requirement

The Ninth Circuit yesterday rejected a challenge to California's political contribution disclosure requirement by a group of political committees that backed Prop 8, the state constitutional ballot initiative that defined marriage only as between one man and one woman.  The ruling means that the California's disclosure requirement stays in place, and that Prop 8 Committees have to comply.

The Prop 8 Committees in ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen challenged California's requirement that political committees disclose contributors who contribute more than $100, even after a campaign, arguing that some of their contributors had been harassed.  The Prop 8 Committees challenged the requirement both on its face and as applied.

The court rejected the challenges.  It applied the familiar "exacting scrutiny" standard to disclosures--that the requirement (and the burden it imposes) bears a "substantial relation" to a "sufficiently important" government interest.  As to the facial challenge, the court said that the state obviously had sufficiently important interests in disclosure during the campaign, and that the state still had sufficiently important interests even after the campaign:

A state's interests in contribution disclosure do not necessarily end on election day.  Even if a state's interest in disseminating accurate information to voters is lessened after the election takes place, the state retains its interests in accurate record-keeping, deterring fraud, and enforcing contribution limits.  As a practical matter, some lag time between an election and disclosure of contributions that immediately precede that election is necessary for the state to protect these interests.  In this case, for example, Appellants' contributions surged nearly 40% (i.e., by over $12 million) between the final pre-election reporting deadline and election day.  Absent post-election reporting requirements, California could not account for such late-in-the-day donations.  And, without such reporting requirements, donors could undermine the State's interests in disclosure by donating only once the final pre-election reporting deadline has passed.

As to the as-applied challenge, the court said they weren't justiciable: a request for an injunction to purge records of past disclosures is moot (and not capable of repetition but evading review); a request for an exemption from future reporting requirements is not ripe.  Judge Wallace dissented on the as-applied challenge.

 

May 21, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Ripeness, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Oregon District Judge Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Joining a decided trend which we last discussed here and here, today Oregon District Judge Michael McShane declared unconstitutional the state’s same-sex marriage prohibition in Article 15 of the state constitution. Judge McShane’s 26 page  opinion in Geiger v. Kitzhaber concludes that because “Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

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voting in 2004 ballot measure defining marriage as man/woman only: red is no; green is yes; dark green is yes by 2/3 or more; via

Judge McShane noted that the state defendants “concede that Oregon's marriage laws banning same-gender marriage are unconstitutional and legally indefensible, but state they are legally obligated to enforce the laws until this court declares the laws unconstitutional,” and thus, the case “presents itself to this court as something akin to a friendly tennis match rather than a contested and robust proceeding between adversaries.”  However, McShane did not find (or analyze) any Article III “case or controversies” issues, or address standing (including defendant standing).

Judge McShane notes that last term’s decision in Windsor v. United States  finding DOMA unconstitutional

may be distinguished from the present case in several respects. Yet, recounting such differences will not detract from the underlying principle shared in common by that case and the one now before me. The principle is one inscribed in the Constitution, and it requires that the state's marriage laws not "degrade or demean" the plaintiffs in violation of their rights to equal protection.

Unlike Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Windsor, however, Judge McShane’s opinion in Geiger is quite specific regarding the level of scrutiny being applied: rational basis.  McShane rejected two arguments for intermediate scrutiny.  First, he rejected the argument based upon a gender classification, concluding that the “targeted group here is neither males nor females, but homosexual males and homosexual females” and thus the state's marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, not gender.  Second, he rejected the applicability of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs, reasoning that the panel's decision in SmithKline is not yet a truly final and binding decision given that the mandate has not issued pending en banc review. (Recall that last week, a federal district judge in Idaho found "SmithKline’s examination of Windsor is authoritative and binding").

Judge McShane then engaged in the by now familiar analysis of government interests - - - including protecting traditional marriage and promoting responsible procreation - - - and their relationship to the same-sex marriage prohibition.  Like his fellow judges in recent cases, Judge McShane found rational basis is not satisfied.

And like some of his fellow judges, McShane shared his personal perspective.  McShane's provided his in an extended conclusion:

I am aware that a large number of Oregonians, perhaps even a majority, have religious or moral objections to expanding the definition of civil marriage (and thereby expanding the benefits and rights that accompany marriage) to gay and lesbian families. It was these same objections that led to the passage of Measure 36 in 2004 [the ballot measure defining marriage as only between a man and a woman]. Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion,
a mental disorder, or a mortal sin. I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called "smear the queer" and it was played with great zeal and without a moment's thought to today' s political correctness. On a darker level, that same worldview led to an environment of cruelty, violence, and self-loathing. It was but 1~86 when the United States Supreme Court justified, on the basis of a"millennia of moral teaching," the imprisonment of gay men and lesbian women who engaged in consensual sexual acts. Bowers, 478 U.S. at 197 (Burger, C.J., concurring), overruled by Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 578. Even today I am reminded ofthe legacy that we have bequeathed today's generation when my son looks dismissively at the sweater I bought him for Christmas and, with a roll of his eyes, says "dad ... that is so gay."

It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value. But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.

It is at times difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate. Accusations of religious bigotry and banners reading "God Hates Fags" make for a messy democracy and, at times, test the First Amendment resolve of both sides. At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities.

My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise.

 Judge McShane's opinion ends with a exhortation perhaps more befitting religious rhetoric than legal analysis.

 

May 19, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Court Temporarily Stops Force-Feeding at Guantanamo

Judge Gladys Kessler (D.D.C.) on Friday temporarily enjoined the government from force-feeding Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a hunger-striking Guantanamo detainee.  Judge Kessler's order also requires the government to produce medical records and videotapes of Dhiab's "forcible cell extractions" for the purpose of "enteral feedings."  Judge Kessler will preside over a status conference on May 21 to work some of this out.

This isn't the first time Judge Kessler ruled on the case.  In her earlier ruling, on July 10, 2013, she held that 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2241(e)(2) deprived the court of jurisdiction to hear a claim over a Guantanamo detainee's conditions of confinement.  She was also highly critical of force feedings in that ruling, however, and telegraphed her likely ruling on the merits, should it ever come to the merits.

It did come to the merits after the D.C. Circuit ruled that Guantanamo detainees could challenge the conditions of their confinement under 28 U.S.C. 2241(e)(2).  After that ruling, Dhiab's case came back to Judge Kessler, leading to Friday's ruling.

Judge Kessler's ruling is only temporary.  But if this ruling and her prior ruling (in the first round) are any indication, she's almost certain to rule against the practice. 

May 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)