Friday, August 11, 2017
The Third Circuit ruled this week that a case challenging Delaware's escheat law, prior to an investigation under the law, was ripe in one respect, even though it mostly was unripe. The ruling allows just one piece of the case to move forward--an as-applied procedural due process challenge.
The case arose when Delaware appointed a private auditing firm, Kelmar Associates, to investigate Plains All American Pipeline under the state's escheat law. Kelmar sent Plains a document request to initiate the investigation; Plains complained to the state; the state backed Kelmar; and Plains sued. Plains argued that the escheat law violated the Fourth Amendment, and the Ex Post Facto, Equal Protection, and Takings Clauses on their face, and the Due Process Clause as applied; it also argued that the law was void for vagueness and was preempted by federal law. It sought declaratory and injunctive relief.
The court applied its own "refined" test for ripeness, which looks to (1) the adversity of the parties' interests, (2) the conclusiveness of the judgment, and (3) the utility of the judgment. As to adversity, the court said that Plains couldn't demonstrate a sufficient harm, and that Plains didn't face an Abbott Labs Hobson's choice, to establish adversity. As to conclusiveness, the court said that Plains's challenges required further factual development for a ruling. And as to utility, the court said that the investigation currently requires Plains to do nothing: "Plains 'would take the same steps whether or not it was granted a declaratory judgment.'"
But, in contrast, the court ruled that Plains's as-applied procedural due process claim was ripe for review. The difference: Plains challenged the appointment of Kelmar as a violation of procedural due process. And because that harm already occurred, Plains could move forward to the merits. (Success on the merits, of course, is a different question.)
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Judge Quackenbush (E.D. Wash.) ruled earlier this week that the torture case against psychologists who helped design and implement the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" can move forward. The jury trial is set to commence on September 5.
Judge Quckenbush rejected the defendant's argument that the case raises a political question; that the defendants enjoy absolute derivative sovereign immunity; that the Alien Tort Statute doesn't confer jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims; and that the defendants are not liable for violating international law. The court also rejected the defendants' motion to exclude the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
At the same time, the court rejected the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on the ATS claim. The court said that "the issue of aiding and abetting liability under the ATS present complicated issues of both fact and law. Neither side has demonstrated judgment as a matter of law is appropriate."
The ruling keeps the case on track for trial on the merits.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Ninth Circuit ruled last week that Maricopa County officials violated federal law when they sought and obtained a wiretap, but that that the subject couldn't recover damages, because the officials acted in good faith and consistent with Arizona law and long-standing practices.
The ruling adds to a complicated body of law on federal preemption under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 of state law authorizing wiretaps. The Ninth Circuit aligned with the approach of the First Circuit, and asked whether state procedural protections were "in substantial compliance with the federal law."
The case arose when County Attorney Montgomery, pursuant to state law, authorized a deputy to apply for a wiretap. The deputy obtained an order, and officials intercepted eight conversations between Manuela Villa and her daughter in 2011 and 2012. Officials, pursuant to long-standing state practice, then did not immediately deliver the recordings to the state court that authorized the wiretap.
Villa sued under Title III, arguing that officials violated Title III of the federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and that Title III preempted Arizona law that authorized the wiretap. In particular, Villa argued that County Attorney Montgomery, acting pursuant to state law, improperly delegated the authority to apply for a wiretap order to his deputy, in violation of Title III, which requires the "principal prosecuting attorney" to apply for a wiretap. Villa also argued that Deputy Brockel, acting pursuant to long-standing practice, failed to timely submit the recordings to the state court that authorized the wiretap, in violation of a Title III requirement that officials submit intercepted conversations to the authorizing court "[i]mmediately upon the expiration of the period of the order, or extensions thereof."
The Ninth Circuit first ruled that Villa lacked Article III standing to seek declaratory and injunctive relief. The court said that she could demonstrate no individualized future harm that would justify prospective relief. The court rejected Villa's taxpayer-standing claim out of hand, and held that she "does not allege that she is more likely than any other member of the public to have her future conversations illegally intercepted." Because Villa lacked standing for prospective relief, the court said that she also lacks standing to pursue prospective relief on behalf of a putative class.
In contrast, the court held that Villa did have standing to pursue individual damages for past interceptions, but, as below, couldn't actually recover.
The court held next that Title III preempted Arizona law, and that Arizona officials violated Article III. As to authorizing wiretaps, the court adopted the standard set by the First Circuit: "so long as the state wiretapping statute, considered as a whole and as interpreted by state courts, is in substantial compliance with, and is therefore equal to, Title III, state wiretaps are permissible." The court said that Arizona's statute, which authorizes a principal prosecuting attorney to delegate authority to apply for a wiretap to a deputy, didn't meet the standard: "substantial compliance with Title III requires that the principal prosecuting attorney indicate, as part of the application process, that he or she is personally familiar with all of the 'facts and circumstances' justifying his or her 'belief that an order should be issued,'" but that the Arizona statute permitted the "principal prosecuting attorney to state that he or she is [only] generally aware of the criminal investigation . . . ."
As to making the recordings available to the court that approved the wiretap, the court said that "long-standing practice" at the time of Villa's wiretap, in which "county officials submitted recordings of intercepted conversations for sealing only at the conclusion of an entire criminal investigation," was "not in substantial compliance" with federal law. But the court went on to say that a practice of submitting recordings within 10 days would be in compliance with the Act.
But even though the court concluded that officials violated the Act, it also ruled that Villa couldn't recover damages, because the officials acted in good faith, consistent with Arizona law or long-standing practices. (Good faith is a defense under a Title III cause of action.)
Friday, August 4, 2017
The D.C. Circuit earlier this week allowed 17 states and the District of Columbia to intervene in the suit challenging federal subsidies to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act.
The development keeps the appeal alive, even as President Trump considers halting the payments. Such a move before this week's ruling would have mooted the appeal. But now that the states can defend the payments, and oppose Judge Collyer's ruling, it's not entirely clear whether President Trump can stop the payments, or whether the D.C. Circuit might stop him if he tried.
Recall that House Republicans sued the Obama Administration for making payments to insurance companies under the ACA, even though the line-item for those payments was zero funded. The payments were designed under the ACA to subsidize insurance companies for providing affordable plans on the exchanges. But Congress allocated no money to the line-item designated for the subsidies. The Obama Administration nevertheless made payments, drawing money from another, related account. (Without the payments, insurance rates would skyrocket on the exchanges, or insurers would have pulled out, or both.)
House Republicans sued, and Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled in their favor. But she stayed her injunction pending appeal. President Trump then inherited the appeal from the Obama Administration, allowing him to drop the appeal, leave Judge Collyer's decision in place, and stop the payments. (If President Trump dropped the appeal, Judge Collyer's stay pending appeal would have gone away.) He could even have cited Judge Collyer's ruling as a reason for stopping payments, perhaps diffusing some of the political blow-back from such a move.
But President Trump didn't drop the appeal. Moreover, he has continued the payments, even as he repeatedly suggests that he might stop. Bipartisan lawmakers have encouraged him to continue payments. A final decision is due from the White House this week.
Now, with this most recent order from the D.C. Circuit, allowing states to join the suit, the appeal will continue (with the states now defending the payments, even as the Trump Administration doesn't), and Judge Collyer's stay will remain in place, at least until the D.C. Circuit rules on the case. While the stay itself doesn't prevent the President from halting payments, the states' intervention might: Because the D.C. Circuit said that the states demonstrated sufficient harm if the subsidies stop (a condition of intervention), it's not entirely clear that President Trump can stop them. And even if he can, it's not clear that the D.C. Circuit might not prevent him from stopping them (in order not to harm the states).
In other words, the states' intervention might tie the President's hands by forcing him to continue payments, even though the parties to the lawsuit might otherwise agree to stop the payments and let the case go moot.
The uncertainty here comes, on the one hand, from the fact that the President can probably stop the payments whenever he wants, irrespective of the states' intervention or Judge Collyers' ruling and stay. But on the other hand if the states argue that the President has to make payments under the ACA (and not just that he can't be prevented from making payments), then the D.C. Circuit could stop the President from halting payments. This week's ruling suggests, but does not specifically say, that the D.C. Circuit is leaving this latter option open.
But it gets even weirder. The D.C. Circuit might not even rule on the merits. That's because the states will surely challenge the House's standing to bring the case in the first place. If the D.C. Circuit kicks the case on standing grounds, that'll undue Judge Collyer's decision against the payments.
For now, the ball's in the President's court.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a group of CareFirst customers, proceeding as a class, had standing to sue the health insurer for its carelessness in protecting customers' personal information after cyber-attackers allegedly stole that information. The ruling is a victory for the plaintiffs, but it doesn't mean that the case will proceed to the merits: the lower court still has to determine whether it has diversity jurisdiction.
The problem was that the plaintiffs alleged imminent harms from the breach, and not actual harms. (As it turns out, some plaintiffs did allege actual harms, but the court didn't rule on those claims, because its ruling on imminent harms was sufficient to support standing.) The court applied the substantial-risk-of-harm test and ruled that the plaintiffs alleged a sufficiently imminent harm. Contrasting Clapper v. Amnesty International, the court said,
Here, by contrast, an unauthorized party has already accessed personally identifying data on CareFirst's servers, and it is much less speculative--at the very least, it is plausible--to infer that this party has both the intent and the ability to use that data for ill. As the Seventh Circuit asked, in another data breach case where the court found standing, "Why else would hackers break into a . . . database and steal consumers' private information? Presumably, the purpose of the hack is, sooner or later, to make fraudulent charges or assume those consumers' identities." . . . No long sequence of uncertain contingencies involving multiple independent actors has to occur before the plaintiffs in this case will suffer any harm; a substantial risk of harm exists already, simply by virtue of the hack and the nature of the data that the plaintiffs allege was taken. That risk is much more substantial than the risk presented to the Clapper Court, and satisfies the requirement of an injury in fact.
As to traceability, the court said that this doesn't require the plaintiffs to sue only "the most immediate cause, or even a proximate cause, of the plaintiffs' injuries [in this case, the robbers]; it requires only that those injuries be 'fairly traceable' to the defendant.'" The plaintiffs satisfied this test.
As to redressability, the court said that the plaintiffs have incurred costs to mitigate any damage, and that these "self-imposed risk-mitigation costs" "can satisfy the redressability requirement, when combined with a risk of future harm that is substantial enough to qualify as an injury in fact." (But the court noted that these kinds of costs are insufficient to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement.)
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday that most of two suits against the State of Michigan, state officers, Flint, and Flint officials for creating the ongoing water crisis can move forward. The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs and all residents of Flint. It reverses a lower court and means that much of the original case can move to discovery.
The two consolidated cases arose when residents of Flint sued the state, the city, and state and city officials for a variety of constitutional claims for creating the water crisis that continues to plaque the city. The district court dismissed the cases on several grounds, but the Sixth Circuit on Friday reversed much of that ruling.
The court ruled first that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act did not displace the plaintiffs' constitutional claims under Section 1983. In particular, the court said that the language and legislative history of the SDWA did not point to displacement, that the SDWA's remedial scheme is not so comprehensive as to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude, and that the "contours of the rights and protections" under 1983 are different than those under the SDWA. The court went on to rule that the SDWA similarly did not displace the plaintiffs' conspiracy claim under Section 1985.
The court also ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred claims against the State of Michigan and, in one of the two cases, against state agencies and Governor Snyder. (It noted that Eleventh Amendment immunity doesn't cover municipalities--Flint and Flint officials.) The court said that the plaintiffs in the other case sought injunctive relief against the agencies and Snyder, and could therefore move forward under Ex Parte Young. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity based on their positions in this litigation.
Finally, the court rejected the defendants' other arguments, including absolute and qualified immunity defenses for agency officials.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) yesterday denied a motion by the Electronic Privacy Information Center for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction to stop the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from collecting voter roll data from the states.
The ruling also says that EPIC lacks organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, and that, while it has standing to seek redress for informational injuries under the E-Government Act, the Act isn't enforceable against the Commission (because it's not an "agency").
But the court went to lengths to say that the Commission limited its request to the states for only publicly available information, that the request is only a request (not a mandate) of the states, and that publicized voter information will be de-identified. If these things change, the court's analysis could well change, too. As a result, while the ruling allows the Commission's requests for voter roll information to go forward, the ruling also reminds us that states may decline to provide the information, and that the Commission will only get already-publicily-available information, and will have to store and use it with certain limitations.
The court said that EPIC lacked organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, because, even if EPIC is considered a membership organization for organizational standing purposes (which the court suggested it's not), "the only practical harms that Plaintiff's advisory board members would suffer, assuming their respective states decide to comply with the Commission's request in the future, is that their already publicly available information would be rendered more easily accessible by virtue of its consolidation on the [Commission's] computer systems . . . ." According to the court, that's not enough for standing.
But the court went on to say that EPIC had informational standing under the E-Government Act. The Act requires government agencies to conduct a privacy impact statement and publicize it. The court said that EPIC (1) had been deprived of this information and (2) therefore suffered the kind of harm that Congress sought to prevent by requiring it. The court also said that EPIC had standing under circuit precedent recognizing standing for an organization that "suffered a concrete and demonstrable injury to its activities . . . ." The court held that EPIC "has a long-standing mission to educate the public regarding privacy rights, and engage in this process by obtaining information from the government," and thus suffered such an injury.
But the court held that the Administrative Procedures Act (the basis of EPIC's suit, because the E-Government Act doesn't create a separate cause of action) doesn't apply to the Commission, because the Commission isn't an "agency" under the APA.
So even though EPIC has standing, it's not likely to succeed on the merits, and the court rejected its motion for a TRO and Preliminary Injunction.
Monday, July 3, 2017
The D.C. Circuit on Friday dismissed a challenge to the government's drone strike program by the family of unintended, innocent victims. The court ruled that the case raised a political question.
The ruling was unsurprising, given the state of the law. But one judge on the panel concurred in order to lodge a harsh criticism.
The case involves the family members of Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, the unintended, innocent victims of a drone strike in Yemen. They sought a declaratory judgment that the strike violated the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.
The D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question. Drawing on circuit precedent, the El-Shifa case, the court wrote:
It would be difficult to imagine precedent more directly adverse to Plaintiff's position. While Plaintiffs clearly assert claims under the TVPA and ATS, the precise grounds they raise in their Complaint call for a court to pass judgment on the wisdom of [the] Executive's decision to commence military action--mistaken or not--against a foreign target. . . .
Plaintiffs will no doubt find this result unjust, but it stems from constitutional and pragmatic constraints on the Judiciary. In matters of political and military strategy, courts lack the competence necessary to determine whether the use of force was justified.
Judge Brown, who also wrote the majority opinion, concurred with a scathing critique of the application of the political question doctrine to cases like this, especially given the lack of oversight in the other two branches:
Of course, this begs the question: if judges will not check this outsized power, then who will? . . . The President is the most equipped to police his own house. But, despite an impressive number of executive oversight bodies, there is pitifully little oversight within the Executive. Presidents are slow to appoint members to these boards; their operations are shrouded in secrecy; and it often seems the board's are more interested in protecting and excusing the actions of agencies than holding them accountable. Congress perhaps? But congressional oversight is a joke--and a bad one at that. . . .
Our democracy is broken. We must, however, hope that it is not incurably so. . . . The Court's opinion . . . is all a Judiciary bound by precedent and constitutional constraints may permissibly claim. It is up to others to take it from here.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
With all the activity at the Court yesterday, we might be excused for missing the Court's non-decision in Hernandez v. Mesa. But even as the Court punted, remanding to the lower court, this is a case we should pay attention to.
The case involved a border patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican youth just on the other side of the border. (Our oral argument review is here.) The case teed up an important dispute over whether the Fourth Amendment applies outside the United States, and how the Court should decide that question. (The case also asked whether the agent enjoyed qualified immunity for a related Fifth Amendment claim.)
But then the Court added a third QP--whether the plaintiffs had a Bivens claim, an issue that the lower courts dodged--signalling that the Court thought this was a substantial, even threshold, issue. Then just last week in Abbasi the Court ruled that 9/11 detainees did not have a Bivens claim and in the course substantially narrowed the Bivens doctrine. Yesterday the Court put these two pieces together and took them to their logical conclusion: It remanded Hernandez with instructions to consider, as a threshold matter (that is, before the courts gets to the extraterritoriality question, and possibly even before the court gets to the qualified immunity question), whether the plaintiffs have a Bivens claim in light of Abbasi.
This does not bode well for the plaintiffs. That's because the Court in Abbasi all but limited the Bivens "context" to cases that look exactly like the three cases in which the Court has found a Bivens remedy. Outside of that "context," the Court won't extend Bivens if "special factors" counsel against a Bivens remedy. And the Court defined "special factors" broadly enough that it'll be hard to show that they don't.
In other words, the plaintiffs will only prevail if they can show that special factors don't counsel against extending a Bivens remedy to this case. And given the very broad approach to "special factors" in Abbasi, that could be quite hard to do.
At the same time, the Court ruled that the lower court improperly granted qualified immunity to the agent. The Court said that the agent couldn't have known that Hernandez was Mexican (not American), and the lower court therefore erred in relying on the fact that Hernandez was "an alien who had no significant voluntary connection to . . . the United States."
That may be a hollow victory for the plaintiffs, however, if the courts rule as a threshold matter that they lack a Bivens claim. If they so rule, there'll be no need to even consider qualified immunity, or, for that matter, the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment.
Monday, June 26, 2017
When the Supreme Court granted certiorari and modified the lower courts' injunctions halting President Trump's travel ban today, it also directed the parties to brief this question: "Whether the challenges to Section 2(c) became moot on June 14, 2017."
The question matters, because June 14, 2017, is the date on which the 90-day ban would have expired under the order's stated effective date, March 16, 2017. In other words, the cases should have become moot on June 14, because that's when the ban, by the order's own terms, would end, anyway.
But that same day, President Trump issued an order stating that the new effective date for each enjoined provision of the travel ban would be the date on which the injunctions in those cases "are lifted or stayed with respect to that provision." The government argues that the order solves the mootness problem, because the enjoined provisions, including the 90-day ban wouldn't start until the injunctions go away.
But President Trump's order purporting to extend the effective date doesn't un-moot the case as of June 14, and it won't un-moot it when it goes to the Court in October.
As to June 14: The stated purpose for the 90-day ban was "[t]o temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the [20-day review period of foreign nations' practices], to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals, to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists . . . ." But none of these reasons supports extending the effective date while injunctions remained in place. In other words, the government could move forward with all of those things while the injunctions were in place, thus securing the nation's safety against nationals from the six identified countries (the other reason for the 90-day ban), and obviating the need for 90 days after the injunctions go away.
As to October: Even if the government and Court take the position that the circuits' injunctions applied to "ensur[ing] the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals" and "ensur[ing] that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltrating by foreign terrorists"--in other words, that the injunctions halted even the government's own review of its own processes, so that President Trump's subsequent order really did un-moot the case as of June 14--the case would seem to be moot by the time the Court hears it in October. That's because President Trump's subsequent order--the one purporting to extend the effective date--says that the ban again becomes effective when the injunctions "are lifted or stayed . . . ." It seems that the Supreme Court just "lifted or stayed" them, at least insofar as the government can re-start any stalled process to review government vetting standards. (The Court itself seems to have suggested so, when it wrote that "we fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of [the ban].") If so, 90 days will pass before the Court hears the case in October. In other words, it'll be moot in October.
Still, this can't be the result that the Court foresees. If it were, it wouldn't waste everybody's time and energy on briefing the mootness question as of June 14. So: Even if the case was, or becomes, technically moot, look for the Court to get to the merits.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Fifth Circuit Says "Stigmatic" Harm Isn't Enough for Standing to Challenge State Opposite-Sex "Anti-Discrimination" Measure
The Fifth Circuit ruled last week that a group of plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Mississippi's law that bans discrimination against those who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. The court said that the plaintiffs pleaded only "stigmatic" harm, not concrete and particularized harm, and that this wasn't enough to get into federal course.
Mississippi's provision bans state "discriminatory action" against those whose "religious beliefs or moral convictions" say that marriage is a union between only one man and one woman. It applies to religious organizations when they make decisions regarding employment, housing, placement of children in foster or adoptive homes, or the "solemnization of a marriage based on a belief listed" in the provision. It also applies to parents if they raise their foster or adoptive children in accordance to the belief covered by the provision. And it applies to doctors, mental health counselors, and businesses that offer wedding-related services. The statute creates a private right of action for individuals for any violations by state officials and allows its use as a defense in private suits over conduct covered by the statute.
The plaintiffs are residents of Mississippi and two organizations (a church and a secular non-profit) that do not share the provision's belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman. They argued that "they are injured by the 'clear message' sent by [the provision] that the 'state government disapproves of and is hostile to same-sex couples, to unmarried people who engage in sexual relations, and to transgender people." They claimed that the provision violated the Establishment Clause and equal protection.
The Fifth Circuit tossed the case for lack of standing. The court said that the plaintiffs asserted only "stigmatic" harm, not concrete and particularized harm, and that the "stigmatic" harm simply wasn't enough to get into federal court. (The court held that the plaintiffs' asserted harm was nothing like the actual and concrete "exposure" harm in the monument, display, and prayer-at-football game cases. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that their case was just like the plaintiffs' case in Romer v. Evans, because the Romer Court didn't address standing, and lower courts therefore can't use it for that purpose.) The court also rejected the plaintiffs' theory of taxpayer standing (based on Flast v. Cohen), because the government hadn't yet spent money in support of the provision.
The ruling ends the case and leaves Mississippi's statute on the books--for now. Under the ruling, a viable challenger will probably have to wait for a concrete and particularized harm (discrimination) at the hands of a person or organization who falls within the protection of the provision, sue that person or organization, and argue that the provision violates the Constitution when the defendant raises it as a defense.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Millennium Pipeline Company lacked standing to sue the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for its foot-dragging on Millennium's application for a water-quality certificate--a prerequisite for building a pipeline under the Clean Water Act.
The ruling means that Millennium's case against the state agency is dismissed. But it also means that Millennium can proceed directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get direct approval for the pipeline, considering the state agency's consideration waived.
The case arose when Millennium petitioned the state agency for a water-quality certificate, required under the Clean Water Act as a first step in gaining FERC approval for the pipeline. The state agency sat on the petition for over a year, however, arguing that it was incomplete. Millennium then sued the state agency, asking for a court order to require the agency to act so that it could take its application on to FERC.
But the D.C. Circuit ruled that Millennium lacked standing. That's because under the Clean Water Act when a state agency delays a decision for a year, the agency is deemed to have waived its consideration, and the applicant can take the application directly to FERC. As a result, the court said that Millennium hadn't suffered any harm from the state agency; after all, the agency's inaction only meant that Millennium could go right to FERC. The court went on to say that Millennium could sue FERC if it rejects the application, but that's down the road.
None of this breaks new law--and Millennium surely would have known this--so why'd Millennium sue? Probably because it anticipated opposition from the state agency down the road, and it wanted to get state-agency approval on the record now in order to preempt later opposition. The court had an answer for that, too: FERC, not the state agency, has final say, and Millennium can later sue FERC for any disapproval or delay.
Friday, June 23, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a class-action against the D.C. school system for failing to identify pre-school children with disabilities in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was not moot just because the children were no longer toddlers with a personal stake in the requested relief. The court went on to affirm the district court's class certification and its comprehensive injunction designed to bring the District into compliance with the IDEA.
The case arose when the parents of six children, then ages three to six, sued D.C., arguing that the District failed to identify children with disabilities in violation of the IDEA. The district court granted class certification to a broad class of "[a]ll children [between three and five] who are or may be eligible for special education and related services" in D.C. and whom the District failed or would fail to "identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services." The D.C. Circuit, however, vacated the class certification in light of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court case rejecting "one of the most expansive class[es] ever," and which came down during the district court trial. The district court then certified four subclasses, all including three-to-five year-olds alleging different IDEA violations. The court then issued a comprehensive injunction to bring the District in line with the IDEA.
On appeal, the district argued that the case was moot, because all of the plaintiffs had moved beyond preschool.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court held that the relation-back exception to the mootness doctrine in United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty applied, because the district court erroneously granted class certification, causing the litigation delay that resulted in the children aging out of their relief. The court explained: "Like the plaintiffs in Geraghty, the parents had live claims when they sought certification, and but for the district court's error, could have obtained proper class certification before their individual claims became moot."
The court noted that in Geraghty the district court erroneously denied class certification, whereas here the district court erroneously granted it. But the court said it didn't make a difference:
The point in Geraghty was that claims relate back when a trial court's error prevents a class from gaining independent status under Rule 23. Whether that error is the erroneous denial of class certification (as in Geraghty) or the erroneous certification of an excessively broad class (as here) makes no difference. What matters it that the named plaintiffs' claim became moot--and their class therefore never 'acquired . . . independent legal status'--due to the district court's mistake. In other words, but for the district court's error--certifying an overly broad class--the parents' claims would not have become moot. There is no legally relevant difference between this case and Geraghty.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
The Tenth Circuit ruled this week that the mother of a school child had standing to challenge under the Establishment Clause the school's fundraising and support for a religious mission trip, even though the child received just one e-mail and one flyer from school officials soliciting donations for the trip.
The ruling reversed a district court order dismissing the case on the ground that the child's exposure to unconstitutional activities at the school lacked "a degree of constancy or conspicuousness."
The case arose after public school officials sought donated or a school-sponsored, religious mission trip to Guatemala. Families enrolled in the district and the American Humanist Association filed suit, seeking nominal monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court dismissed all the claims, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to show sufficient harm and that they lacked standing as taxpayers. As to plaintiff Jane Zoe, the district court held that the harm--one e-mail soliciting donations and one flyer from school employees soliciting donations--wasn't pervasive enough to satisfy standing requirements.
The Tenth Circuit reversed as to Zoe. The court held that under well-settled Supreme Court and circuit precedent, any harm, even nominal harm, will do to establish standing, and that a plaintiff need not show any particular level of heightened pervasiveness or degree of harm.
But the court denied injunctive relief to Zoe, holding that "the record does not suggest that Zoe is likely to receive similar fundraising solicitations in the future." The court also held that the other individual plaintiffs lacked standing, because they couldn't show that they'd been exposed (like Zoe had).
The ruling sends the case back to the district court for consideration of the merits.
Monday, June 19, 2017
The Supreme Court ruled today that post-9/11 "of interest" detainees could not sue executive officials for damages for constitutional violations during their detention. Moreover, the ruling in Ziglar v. Abbasi all but wipes out future damages remedies against federal officials for constitutional violations, except in the very narrow circumstances of three cases where the Court has found such a remedy. (And those cases may be hanging on by just a string.)
The case arose when post-9/11 detainees at a federal detention facility sued then-AG John Ashcroft, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, and then-INS Commissioner James Ziglar for abusive detention policies in violation of their Fourth- and Fifth-Amendment rights. The plaintiffs sought monetary damages under Bivens.
The Court today rejected those claims. In an opinion abounding with deference to Congress, Justice Kennedy, writing for himself and Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito (Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch were all recused), held that the case raised a new Bivens context and that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy.
As to context, the Court set out this test:
If the case is different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court, then the context is new. Without endeavoring to create an exhaustive list of differences that are meaningful enough to make a given context a new one, some examples might prove instructive. A case might differ in a meaningful way because of the rank of the officers involved; the constitutional right at issue; the generality or specificity of the official action; the extent of judicial guidance as to how an officer should respond to the problem or emergency to be confronted; the statutory or other legal mandate under which the officer was operating; the risk or disruptive intrusion by the Judiciary into the functioning of other branches; or the present of potential special factors that previous Bivens cases did not consider.
In other words, if a new case isn't nearly on all fours with one of the three cases where the Court has found a Bivens remedy--Bivens itself (a Fourth Amendment violation), Davis v. Passman (an assistant's Fifth Amendment Due Process claim against a Congressman for gender discrimination), and Carlson v. Green (a prisoner's estate's Eighth Amendment Cruel-and-Unusual claim)--there's a new context. And the Court said that this case presented a new context.
As to special factors, the Court said that the claims "call[ed] into question the formulation and implementation of a general policy," that the policy related to the government's response to the 9/11 attacks (a national security concern, traditionally an area for the executive), that Congress had not provided a damages remedy, and that other remedies (injunctive relief, a habeas claim) were available.
Between the Court's very narrow view of new circumstances and its very broad view of special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy, this case failed. And the ruling ensures that very few future Bivens cases will succeed.
On another issue, the Court remanded a related claim against the prison warden, instructing the lower court to conduct a special-factors analysis. Finally, the Court rejected the plaintiffs' civil-rights conspiracy claim, holding that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, because the question whether officials all within the executive branch could constitute a conspiracy "is sufficiently open so that the officials in this suit could not be certain that [conspiracy] was applicable to their discussions and actions."
Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
The Third Circuit last week dismissed a case challenging an elected candidate's qualifications for the Virgin Islands legislature. The ruling means that the elected candidate will not be seated.
The case arose when Kevin Rodriguez was elected to serve in the Virgin Islands Legislature. After the election, but before the swearing-in, a rival candidate, Janelle Sarauw, challenged Rodriguez's qualifications to serve, based on Rodriguez's prior representation in a bankruptcy case that he lived in Tennessee. (The VI Revised Organic Act requires that a person serving in the VI legislature reside in the VI for at least three years preceding the date of his or her election.) Sarauw sued in the VI courts and sought an injunction compelling the Board of Elections to de-certify Rodriguez as a qualified candidate, thus preventing him from taking a seat in the 32nd Legislature. (The Board, an independently elected body outside the legislature and judiciary, has authority under the ROA to determine qualifications of candidates before swearing in.)
While that case was moving up and down the VI courts, the 32nd Legislature was sworn in (without Rodriguez, because the courts were still working out how to deal with his qualification). Rodriguez then removed the case to federal court (remember, this is all federal law, including the ROA, because of the VI's status in relation to the US), asking for an injunction directing the 32nd Legislature to seat him.
The Third Circuit tossed the case. The court ruled that the courts lacked authority to rule a candidate qualified after the swearing in, because the ROA says that the legislature shall have the sole power to determine the qualifications of its members. In other words, the issue was textually committed to a coordinate branch of government--a political question. (The court ruled that the ROA contains separation-of-powers principles, which form the basis of the political question doctrine.) The court noted that separation-of-powers and the ROA would not prohibit the courts from ruling on a candidate's qualifications before swearing in, when the Board has authority to make such a determination, because the separation of powers don't apply to the Board, "a popularly elected and independent entity" that's not a part of the legislative or judicial branches. But Rodriguez only removed his case after the swearing-in, so his case was always a political question.
The court also ruled that the portion of the case brought by Sarauw, the "removed case," was moot, because the legislature had already been sworn in.
Along the way, the governor ordered a special election, and Sarauw won.
Monday, June 5, 2017
The Supreme Court ruled today that intervenors as of right under Rule 24(a)(2) have to meet Article III standing requirements if they wish to pursue relief not requested by a plaintiff.
But the Court didn't say whether the intervenor in the case sought relief different from the plaintiff. Instead, the Court remanded for further consideration on that point.
The case involved Steven Sherman's regulatory takings lawsuit against the town of Chester, New York, for holding up his housing subdivision project, MareBrook. A real estate development corporation, Laroe Estates, Inc., paid Sherman more than $2.5 million for a portion of the property, but agreed to transfer a certain number of lots back to Sherman when the town approved the development. Under the agreement, Laroe also had authority to settle a debt that Sherman owed a bank and to terminate the agreement with Sherman if the settlement failed. It did fail, and the bank took over the property, but Laroe didn't terminate its agreement with Sherman.
Laroe moved to intervene as of right pursuant to Rule 24(a)(2).
The Court ruled that Laroe had to satisfy Article III standing, if it sought relief different than the relief that Sherman sought. (The parties (and the United States as amicus) all agreed on this.) But the Court said that the record was ambiguous as to the relief that Laroe actually sought. So it remanded the case for further proceedings.
If the lower courts determine that Laroe seeks relief that's different than the relief that Sherman seeks--including the same relief, but in its own (not Sherman's) name--Laroe will have to demonstrate its own Article III standing.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
The Fourth Circuit ruled yesterday that a case challenging the NSA's upstream surveillance program can move forward. The ruling reverses a district court ruling that dismissed the case for lack of standing, citing Clapper v. Amnesty International. The Fourth Circuit distinguished Clapper, however, and let the case move forward.
In short, the two key differences in Clapper: Wikimedia has more communications with a larger, more comprehensive reach than the plaintiffs in Clapper; and the plaintiffs here learned (and pleaded) more about the nature of the program.
In so ruling, the court followed the Third Circuit's approach in a similar case last year, Schuchardt v. President of the United States.
The case involved two challenges to the upstream surveillance program under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. (This program authorizes the government, subject to certain controls, to collect and search electronic communications between an overseas target and a person in the US.) In the first challenge, the "Wikimedia challenge," Wikimedia argued that given its size and amount of international communications, and given the nature of the upstream surveillance program, the NSA necessarily collected at least some of its Internet communications. In the second challenge, the "dragnet challenge," plaintiffs argued that the nature of the NSA program alone likely meant that the NSA in fact collects all Internet communications. (The plaintiffs in this case had more information about the nature of the program than the plaintiffs in the earlier Clapper case, so could plead a stronger argument.)
The court ruled that "Wikimedia has plausibly alleged that its communications travel all the roads that a communication can take, and that the NSA seizes all of the communications along at least one of those roads." Moreover, "because Wikimedia has self-censored its speech and sometimes forgone electronic communications in response to Upstream surveillance, it also has standing to sue for a violation of the First Amendment." As to Clapper: "Unlike in Clapper, where the plaintiffs based their theories of standing on prospective or threatened injury and actions taken in response thereto, Wikimedia pleaded an actual and ongoing injury [actual, not speculative, collection of at least some of Wikimedia's communications], which renders Clapper's certainly-impending analysis inapposite here.
But at the same time, the court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert the dragnet challenge. In short, the court said that the plaintiffs could not "plausibly establish that the NSA is intercepting 'substantially all' text-based communications entering and leaving the United States." (In contrast, Wikimedia only had to show that the NSA is conducting upstream surveillance on a single backbone link on the Internet connections to the United States, which it did.)
Judge Davis concurred with the result as to the Wikimedia challenge, but dissented as to the dragnet challenge: "However, because I would find that the non-Wikimedia Plaintiffs also have standing, I respectfully dissent in part."
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a damages claim against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple can move forward. The ruling reverses a lower court ruling that dismissed the case as moot and sends the case back for further proceedings.
This was one of three cases challenging Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of Obergefell. The other two sought declaratory and injunctive relief; this one sought monetary damages.
After Kentucky passed a law that permitted county clerks to issue licenses without their names--an accommodation to Davis's religious objection--same-sex couples, including the plaintiffs here, received their marriage licenses. Courts then dismissed the two cases seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as moot (because the plaintiffs received their licenses), and the lower court dismissed this case as moot, too.
The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court held that the plaintiffs' claim for monetary damages continued to be a live dispute, despite Kentucky's accommodation law, because it sought relief for past harms to the plaintiffs that weren't remedied by their eventual receipt of a license. The court noted that a claim for monetary damages for past harms can live on, even if other portions of a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief (or other, related suits for those forms of relief) become moot.
Judge Siler concurred, but added that Davis might argue on remand that she was protected by the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In particular, Judge Siler argued that the district court "should have the first opportunity upon remand to decide whether that or any other provision of the law would protect Davis as a qualified-immunity or absolute-immunity defense under the circumstances."
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sought to tighten standing by adding plaintiffs to its complaint against President Trump for violations of the Emoluments Clause. We previously posted on the case here.
CREW's standing to sue was sure to be an early issue, even a roadblock, in the case. So the organization added plaintiffs ROC United, a nonprofit corporation with restaurant members and a restaurant owner in its own right, and an individual who books events for Washington hotels. Both new plaintiffs argue that President Trump, by doing and gaining business at his own hotels and restaurants in violation of the Emoluments Clause, is harming their bottom line by taking away business.
The move is designed the tighten standing. In order to sue in federal court, a plaintiff has to show that they suffered an actual or imminent concrete and particularized injury, that the defendant's alleged actions caused the injury, and that their requested relief would redress their injury. The amended complaint almost surely satisfies these requirements, but we're still likely to see a motion to dismiss for lack of standing.