Monday, May 23, 2016
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today in Wittman v. Personhubalah that three members of Congress from Virginia lacked standing to appeal a federal court's rejection of the state's districting plan. The ruling means that the district court's decision stays in place, and that districting plan designed by a court-appointed special master and approved by the court now sets the lines for Virginia's congressional districts.
In this up-and-down, politically charged case, the Court not only avoided a thorny underlying question of race-based districting (and all the politics that go with it), but it also avoided the hardest standing issues in favor of resolving the case unanimously on narrower standing grounds.
The case involves the state's 2012 redistricting plan, which packed black voters into a certain congressional district. Sponsors of the measure said that they did this in order to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle and to comply with nonretrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. A district court struck the plan (twice) as a racial gerrymander, and the state declined to appeal. But Republican members of Congress, who intervened on the side of the state, tried to take the case to the Supreme Court. (In the meantime, a court-appointed special master drew a new district map, and the court approved it.)
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal for lack of standing. The Court said that one member of Congress, who challenged the district court's ruling because it would have made it harder for him to get elected in his current district, lacked standing because he was already running, and would continue to run (irrespective of the Court's ruling), in another district. In other words, that member failed to show that a Court ruling would redress his harm. The Court said that two other members of Congress, who challenged the district court's ruling for the same reason, "have not identified record evidence establishing their alleged harm."
The Court dodged the harder standing issue--whether a representative has been sufficiently harmed based on district lines that would make it less likely that he or she could get elected.
The Court also dodged the underlying issue, whether a race impermissibly dominated when a state's redistricting plan packed black voters into a district for the stated reasons to comply with one-person-one-vote and non-retrogression. The last time the Court took up a similar question, almost exactly a year ago, in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, the Court also avoided ruling squarely on the merits. Instead, the Court outlined some guiding principles and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Justice Breyer wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Court said no. It held that "Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation" (emphasis added), but then sent the case back for determination whether there was a concrete injury in this case.
The ruling makes clear that if Robins, the plaintiff, can show a concrete harm, he will have standing. But it makes equally clear that Congress cannot simply create standing by authorizing a new individual cause of action. A plaintiff still has to show a particularized and concrete injury.
The case involves the congressionally-created individual cause of action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the FCRA, Congress granted adversely affected individuals a right to sue reporting agencies for failure to "follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates." Robins sued Spokeo under the provision, arguing that Spokeo posted incorrect information about him on its website. The Ninth Circuit held that Robins had standing.
The Supreme Court today vacated that decision and remanded. Justice Alito wrote for the Court and held that standing requires both a "particularized" injury and a "concrete" injury. The Ninth Circuit analyzed whether Robins's injury was particularized, but not whether it was concrete. Justice Alito wrote that a procedural harm--like the one here, because the FCRA establishes a procedure for reporting agencies to follow--could create a concrete injury, but the Ninth Circuit didn't analyze this in Robins's case. Therefore, the Court remanded to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm.
At the same time, Justice Alito made clear that Congress could "elevat[e] to the status of legally cognizable injuries concrete, de facto injuries that were previously inadequate in law." But if so, a plaintiff still has to sufficiently allege both particularized and concrete injuries to meet the Article III standing requirement. This means that a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury alone wouldn't have standing, but a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury with a concrete and particularized harm would.
Congress' role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to vindicate that right. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.
Justice Thomas concurred and reached the same result by drawing on the difference between suits vindicating private rights and suits vindicating public rights. (Justice Thomas's "public rights" are probably broader than procedural claims like Robins's, and so this approach is probably more restrictive on standing.)
Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor. She argued that Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm, and that remand wasn't necessary.
The Supreme Court today issued a per curiam opinion in Zubik v. Burwell, dodging the question whether the government's accommodation to its contraception mandate under the ACA violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and remanding the case to give the parties a chance to settle in a way that would satisfy everybody's interests. Here's our last post on the case.
The ruling means that religious nonprofits and the government will have a chance to work out their differences and arrive at an accommodation that would both (1) "accommodate petitioners' religious exercise" and (2) "ensur[e] that women covered by petitioners' health plans 'receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'" But the parties will do this separately in the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits, leading to the possibility that the results will be different, and possibly come back to the Supreme Court next Term.
Whatever happens in the lower courts, however, today's ruling virtual ensures that the issue won't resurface for a ruling at the Supreme Court before the fall elections.
Today's result came about after the Court asked the parties, post-argument, to brief whether "contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners' employees, through petitioners' insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners." Both parties said this could happen. In particular, the non-profits said that their religious freedom wouldn't be infringed if they didn't have to do anything "more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception," even if their employees would receive free contraception coverage from the same insurance company. The government, for its part, said that it could modify its accommodation and still ensure that women get seamless contraceptive coverage.
The Court was quite careful to say that this is not a ruling on the merits.
Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, concurred, underscoring that this isn't a ruling on the merits--or even a signal on the merits--and that lower courts would be wrong to interpret it as such. She also underscored the Court's statements that the parties could fashion an accommodation seamlessly--that is, without establishing a new, separate policy for contraception.
The ruling sends the cases back to the lower courts, gives everyone a chance to figure out how to accommodate everyone's interests, and puts the issue off until after the fall elections (at least).
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled today that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges without a valid congressional appropriation. Judge Collyer enjoined any further reimbursements to insurers until a valid appropriation is in place, but she stayed that injunction pending appeal.
Because of the stay, the ruling will have no immediate effect on government subsidies to insurers (and thus no immediate effect on the overall ACA, reductions in cost-sharing for certain purchasers on exchanges, or any other feature of the Act). But if Judge Collyer's ruling is upheld on appeal, and if Congress fails to specifically appropriate funds for Section 1402 reimbursements, or if the stay is lifted, this could deal a significant blow to the ACA. That's because the Act would require exchange insurers to provide a cost-sharing break to certain purchasers on the exchange, but the government wouldn't be able to reimburse the insurers for those costs, as the Act assumes. This could drive up costs, or drive insurers off the exchanges, or both--in any event, undermining the goals of the ACA.
The case involves Section 1402 of the ACA, which provides reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges. Those reimbursements are designed to off-set reductions in deductibles, co-pays, and other cost-sharing expenses that the ACA requires exchange insurers to provide to lower-income insurance purchasers on an exchange. In other words, the ACA requires exchange insurers to cut cost-sharing costs for certain purchasers; and Section 1402 authorizes the government to reimburse insurers for those cuts.
But Congress didn't specifically appropriate funding for Section 1402. The administration nevertheless provided reimbursements on the theories that 1402 reimbursements are part of the integrated package that makes the ACA work, and that 1402 appropriations are covered in appropriations for other provisions in the Act.
Judge Collyer rejected these arguments. In particular, she wrote that Section 1402 is separate and distinct from other portions of the Act and requires its own, specific appropriation--not an inferred appropriation, based on a holistic reading of the Act, or based on appropriations for other features of the Act. (Behind these legal arguments is the idea that everyone understood that spending for Section 1402 reimbursements would be covered by appropriations for other portions of the Act. But "everyone understood" doesn't get very far in court.)
Moreover, she said that the government's attempts to leverage King v. Burwell to argue that Section 1402 funding is a necessary part of an integrated ACA fall flat:
This case is fundamentally different from King v. Burwell. There, the phrase "established by the State" . . . became "not so clear" when it was "read in context." . . . Simply put, the statute could not function if interpreted literally; it had to be saved from itself. . . .
The problem the Secretaries have tried to solve here is very different: it is a failure to appropriate, not a failure in drafting. Congress's subsequent inaction, not the text of the ACA, is what prompts the Secretaries to force the elephant into the mousehole.
Judge Collyer's ruling is obvious not the end of this matter: the government will surely appeal. In the meantime, her stay (alone) should allow government continued spending on insurer reimbursements, and thus (alone) won't have any significant impact on the ACA.
Judge Collyer earlier ruled that the House of Representatives had standing to bring this case, but that it lacked standing to challenge another administration act, delay of time when employers had to provide minimum health insurance to employees.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled in Jankovic v. International Crisis Group that a supporter of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic failed to make out a defamation case against the International Crisis Group for critical statements in an ICG report.
The ruling means that plaintiff Milan Jankovic's case against the ICG is dismissed. (Jankovic is also known as Philip Zepter.)
Zepter, a prominent Serbian businessman, sued the ICG for defamation after the organization published a report that said that Zepter was a member of the "New Serbian Oligarchy" and that he was "associated with the Milosevic regime and benefited from it directly." The ICG report also said that individuals like Zepter continued to be in positions of power and to enjoy access to public resources, and that few of the "crony companies" had been subject to legal action, despite promises by post-Milosevic reformers. The district court concluded that a reasonable reader could construe the statements as saying that Zepter was a crony of Milosevic and supported the regime in exchange for favorable treatment.
As an initial matter, the D.C. Circuit applied its three-part rule and concluded that Zepter was a limited-purpose public figure. The court said that (1) the controversy was public, (2) Zepter played a significant role in it, and (3) the defamatory statement was germane to Zepter's participation. As to (2), the court said that "[t]he evidence . . . shows that [Zepter] was an outspoken supporter, financial backer, and advisor of Prime Minister Djindjic [who] paid over $100,000 to a lobbyist to support [Djindjic's] effort to improve relations between the United States and Serbia." "The evidence shows that Zepter had voluntarily thrust himself into ensuring that Serbia underwent reforms in the post-Milosevic era."
If there seems to be a disconnect between Zepter's role as a Djindjic supporter and a Milosevic crony, here's what the court said: "Yet even if Zepter was an important figure in the Serbian reform effort mainly due to his relationship with Prime Minister Djindjic, his relationship to Milosevic is relevant to Zepter's role in the controversy. Linking Zepter to Milosevic would be relevant to understanding Zepter's role and why he wanted to be involved in the reform effort led by Prime Minister Djindjic."
The court went on to say that Zepter failed to show evidence of actual malice. "What is still missing is evidence that ICG had 'serious doubts' about the truth of the defamatory statement or that it published the statement with a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity, such that ICG acted with reckless disregard for the statement's truth."
The ruling ends Zepter's case against the ICG.
Friday, May 6, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled earlier this week that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act did not on its face preempt Arizona's laws banning the use of a false identity to obtain employment.
The ruling reverses a lower court's preliminary injunction against the Arizona laws (allowing them to go into effect), but leaves open the possibility that they could be preempted as applied in the next round of motions.
The case involves Arizona's efforts to regulate the use of identity theft to obtain employment. The state's bans were designed in part to clamp down on unauthorized aliens' use identity theft to obtain employment. But they were also designed to clamp down on U.S. citizens' use of identity theft to obtain employment.
The plaintiffs in the case--an advocacy organization and individual unauthorized aliens--sued, arguing that the federal IRCA preempted Arizona's laws, based on the Court's analysis striking much of S.B. 1070 in Arizona. (The Court in Arizona held that the state could not criminalize an unauthorized alien for working, because the state law would pose an obstacle to the federal objective, codified in the federal act, to criminalize only the employer (and not the employee).) The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction based on their facial preemption claim, and the district court granted it.
The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court held that IRCA didn't likely facially preempt Arizona's laws, because even under Arizona the laws could be applied in a constitutional way. In particular, Arizona's laws applied to U.S. citizens using identity theft to obtain employment, too--and nothing in federal law prohibits that. This constitutional application of Arizona's laws meant that they couldn't be facially preempted by IRCA, even if an application of the laws to unauthorized aliens would be preempted under Arizona.
The court noted that the Supreme Court hasn't squarely decided whether the facial-challenge standard in Salerno applied to preemption claims, or if a lower standard applied. (Salerno says that in order to succeed on a facial challenge a plaintiff has to show that "no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be invalid." That's a high bar.) Without guidance from the Court, the Ninth Circuit applied Salerno, consistent with circuit law.
The ruling is a setback for the plaintiffs. But it apparently leaves open the possibility that a court could hold that federal law preempts Arizona's laws as applied to unauthorized aliens. More to come . . . .
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Holmes v. FEC that a lower court erred in not certifying a challenge to federal base contribution limits to the en banc D.C. Circuit.
The ruling means that the full D.C. Circuit will take up the question whether federal base contribution limits violate the First Amendment.
The case arose when the plaintiffs challenged the federal base contribution limit of $2,600 "per election" as violating free speech. They wanted to contribute $5,200 to a congressional candidate in the general election, but the "per election" limit prohibited this. (They could have contributed $2,600 in the primary, then another $2,600 in the general, but they didn't want to contribute in the primary.) They argued that language in the plurality opinion in McCutcheon supported their claim: "Congress's selection of a $5,200 base limit [the combined limit for a primary and general election, according to the plaintiffs] indicates its belief that contributions of that amount or less do not create a cognizable risk of corruption."
The district court declined to certify the question to the D.C. Circuit, because the plaintiffs' argument contradicted "settled law," that is, Supreme Court precedent.
The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said,
We therefore do not think a district court may decline to certify a constitutional question simply because the plaintiff is arguing against Supreme Court precedent so long as the plaintiff mounts a non-frivolous argument in favor of overturning that precedent. That the plaintiff will be fighting a losing battle in the lower courts does not necessarily make the question "obviously frivolous," or "wholly insubstantial," or "obviously without merit." The plaintiff has to raise the question to ensure that it is preserved for Supreme Court review. And certifying the question fulfills Section 30110's evident purpose of accelerating potential Supreme Court review.
At the same time, the court declined to order certification for a related Fifth Amendment claim against base limits. The court said that this claim was based on regulations, not the Act, and therefore not subject to certification.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
A unanimous Supreme Court today upheld a redistricting plan drawn by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that included an 8.8% population deviation in order to comply with nonretrogression under the Voting Rights Act.
The ruling in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is a win for the controversial Independent Commission and its state legislative map. It's also a mark in favor of allowing relatively greater population deviations (up to 10%) to comply with the VRA. And the case reaffirms the 10% threshold for allowable population deviations under the one-person-one-vote principle.
This is the case where the Redistricting Commission took an initial cut at a state legislative map by drawing cookie-cutter boundaries that yielded a 4.07% population deviation. The Commission then tinkered with the boundaries in order to comply with nonretrogression (that is, to ensure that there was no diminution in the number of districts in which minority groups could elect their preferred candidate of choice) under Section 5 of the VRA (when that Section still had force, pre-Shelby County). The result was a second-draft map that complied with the VRA, but also yielded an 8% population deviation (increased over the 4.07% deviation in the first cut), and put in play a previously solid Republican district. The Commission voted 3-2 in favor of the revised plan, with the two Republican members dissenting.
A group of Arizona voters sued, arguing that the plan violated the one-person-one-vote rule, because the Commission increased the population deviation for partisan purposes.
The Court disagreed. Justice Breyer wrote for the unanimous Court that the plan didn't violate equal protection. Justice Breyer wrote that the plan fell within the presumptively allowable 10% population deviation for the one-person-one-vote rule, and that the plaintiffs therefore had to show that the deviation reflected the predominance of illegitimate reapportionment factors. But the plaintiffs couldn't meet their burden here. In particular, Justice Breyer wrote that the record reflected that the deviation was the result of the Commission's efforts to comply with the VRA by retaining the number of ability-to-elect districts in the state--a legitimate reapportionment factor.
Justice Breyer wrote that Shelby County had no bearing on this case, because it came down after the Commission issued its plan.
The Supreme Court ruled today in Bank Markazi v. Peterson that Congress did not tread on the courts' territory in violation of the separation of powers by enacting a statute that ensured that the plaintiffs in an enforcement action would get the assets that they sought (and therefore win).
The ruling backs off the rule in United States v. Klein--that Congress can't legislate a rule of decision in a case--and thus gives somewhat wider berth to Congress (relative to Klein) to enact laws that impact currently pending cases. At the same time, however, the ruling reiterates familiar limits on Congress's authority over the judiciary.
This is the case in which over 1,000 victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism and their families filed in the Southern District of New York to enforce their monetary judgments against Iran--through assets owned by Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, held in a New York bank account--for sponsoring terrorism.
While this claim was pending, Congress passed a law saying that, if a court makes specific findings, "a financial asset . . . shall be subject to execution . . . in order to satisfy any judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by" certain acts of terrorism. The law goes on to define available assets as "the financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Peterson et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., Case No. 10 Civ. 4518 (BSJ) (GWG), that were restrained by restraining notices and levies secured by the plaintiffs in those proceedings."
In other words, the newly enacted law, 22 U.S.C. Sec. 8772, ensured that the plaintiffs in this case would get these assets, notwithstanding the Bank's defenses.
The Bank claimed that the law violated the separation of powers--in particular, that Congress overstepped by directing the outcome of a case, in violation of United States v. Klein.
But the Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for all but Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor (and Justice Thomas, for a part of the opinion). She wrote that Congress may amend the law and apply the amendment to pending cases, even when the amendment is outcome determinative. She then said that's exactly what Congress did here: it wrote a law that covers all the various post-judgment execution claims that were consolidated in this case. She said it did not create a "one-case-only regime."
Justice Ginsburg also wrote that the law related to foreign policy--an area where the courts traditionally defer to the President and Congress. "The Executive has historically made case-specific sovereign-immunity determinations to which courts have deferred. Any exercise by Congress and the President of control over claims against foreign governments, as well as foreign-government-owned property in the United States, is hardly a novelty."
Along the way, Justice Ginsburg backed off on Klein. She wrote that Klein has been called "a deeply puzzling decision," and that "[m]ore recent decisions, however, have made it clear that Klein does not inhibit Congress from "amend[ing] applicable law." At the same time, she reiterated familiar limits: "Necessarily, [the courts' authority] blocks Congress from 'requir[ing] federal courts to exercise the judicial power in a manner that Article III forbids," "Congress, no doubt, 'may not usurp a court's power to interpret and apply the law to the [circumstances] before it," and "our decisions place off limits to Congress 'vest[ing] review of the decisions of Article III courts in officials of the Executive Branch.'" "Congress, we have also held, may not 'retroactively comman[d] the federal courts to reopen final judgments." Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc.
Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented. He argued, in short, "[n]o less than if it had passed a law saying 'respondents win,' Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties' specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents victory"--and therefore violates the separation of powers.
Friday, April 15, 2016
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Monday in United States v. Texas, the challenge to DAPA, the deferred action program for certain unauthorized aliens.The case involves two core issues: Does a state have standing to challenge DAPA; and does DAPA violate the APA or the Take Care Clause?
Here's my oral argument preview in the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
On November 20, 2014, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, issued a memorandum (called “guidance” by the government) that announced “new policies for the use of deferred action” for certain aliens who are not removal priorities for the Department. The memo directed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “to establish a process . . . for exercising prosecutorial discretion through the use of deferred action, on a case-by-case basis,” for certain parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The process is called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or “DAPA.” To qualify, an applicant must (1) be the parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident as of November 20, 2014; (2) have continuously resided in the United States since January 1, 2010, or before; (3) have been physically present here on November 20, 2014, and when applying for DAPA; (4) have no lawful immigration status on that date; (5) not fall within the Secretary’s enforcement priorities (which the Secretary set out in a companion memo, and which include removing aliens who are serious criminals and terrorists); and (6) “present no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, make the grant of deferred action inappropriate.” The Secretary’s memo also expanded the criteria for deferred action under the earlier 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or “DACA.”
The Secretary’s memo explained that DAPA would reach “hard-working people who have become integrated members of American society,” have not committed serious crimes, and “are extremely unlikely to be deported” given the Department’s “limited enforcement resources.” Moreover, it would advance “this Nation’s security and economic interests and make common sense, because [it] encourage[s] these people to come out of the shadows, submit to background checks, pay fees, apply for work authorization . . . and be counted.” The memo emphasized that DAPA does not establish any right to deferred action, and that deferred action “does not confer any form of legal status” and “may be terminated at any time at the agency’s discretion.”
Under longstanding federal law, which recognizes deferred action, an alien with deferred action may apply for work authorization based on economic need. In addition, an alien with deferred action may qualify for certain federal earned-benefit programs that come with lawful work, such as Social Security retirement and disability, Medicare, and railroad-worker programs. But an alien with deferred action is not eligible to receive food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, temporary aid for need families, and many other federal public benefits. And an alien with deferred action is not eligible for any “[s]tate or local public benefit,” although states may voluntarily extend certain benefits to aliens with deferred action. For example, Texas voluntarily permitted an alien with deferred action to apply for and receive a driver’s license, which Texas subsidized.
On December 3, 2014, Texas and other states sued the Department, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against implementation of DAPA. The plaintiffs alleged that DAPA violated the Take Care Clause of the Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act. The district court entered a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of DAPA.
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that at least one plaintiff, Texas, had standing, because state law would require it to subsidize a driver’s license for an alien with deferred action under DAPA. The court also ruled that the plaintiffs were substantially likely to succeed on their claim that the Department should have used notice-and-comment rulemaking (and not a mere memo by the Director) to implement DAPA. Finally, the court ruled that DAPA was “manifestly contrary” to the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
This appeal followed.
The case involves two principal issues. Let’s take them one at a time.
Under Article III of the Constitution, in order to bring this case in federal court, at least one state has to show (1) that it suffered an actual or imminent “injury in fact,” (2) that DAPA caused, or will cause, the injury, and (3) that the lawsuit will redress the injury. Moreover, in order to sue under the APA, the states’ interests have to fall within the “zone of interests” of the relevant statute, here the INA. The parties frame their arguments around these rules.
The government argues first that no state has Article III standing, because DAPA does not directly injure the states or require them to do anything. The government says that any injury that DAPA causes the states is only indirect and incidental, and that states cannot establish standing on the basis of an indirect or incidental injury from the operation of immigration law (which the Constitution assigns exclusively to the federal government). Moreover, the government asserts that the claimed injury here, Texas’s costs in subsidizing temporary visitor driver’s licenses for aliens, is entirely self-imposed. The government contends that recognizing these kinds of injuries would permit states to force cases over a wide swath of federal programs, essentially allowing states to challenge the federal government at nearly every turn.
The government argues next that the states cannot sue under the APA, because their interests are not within the zone of interests under the INA. The government says that the states’ asserted interests—“reserving jobs for those lawfully entitled to work” and “comment[ing] on administrative decisionmaking”—are different than their interests in Article III standing (discussed above), and that they therefore impermissibly mix-and-match their interests for standing and APA purposes. The government also claims that the states’ asserted interests for their APA challenge, if accepted, would effectively eliminate the zone-of-interest requirement under the INA and open the door to a federal suit by any state that is unhappy with federal immigration policy.
Finally, the government argues that the executive’s enforcement discretion, including the enforcement discretion reflected in DAPA, is traditionally immune from judicial review. The government says that the decision to permit aliens to work, as an attribute of enforcement discretion, is similarly unreviewable in court.
The states argue that they have Article III standing, because DAPA requires at least one of them, Texas, to incur costs in subsidizing driver’s licenses. The states say that this injury is legitimate and not manufactured (because the driver’s license subsidy was already on the books), and therefore satisfies the Article III injury requirement. The states contend that DAPA also requires them to incur costs related to healthcare, education, and law enforcement. And they assert that they have standing to protect their citizens from “labor-market distortions, such as those caused by granting work authorization to millions of unauthorized aliens.” The states contend that they are entitled to “special solicitude” in the standing analysis under Massachusetts v. EPA. 549 U.S. 497 (2007).
The states argue next that they can challenge DAPA under the APA, because their interests fall squarely within the zone of interests in the INA. They say that DAPA grants lawful presence and eligibility for work authorization and other benefits, the crux of their interests. They say moreover that the INA does not grant the Department discretion to do this. Thus, they claim that their interests fall squarely within the zone of interests protected by the INA.
Under basic separation-of-powers principles, Congress is charged with making the law, and the President is charged with executing it. This means that administrative action like DAPA cannot violate the INA. Under the APA, it also means that DAPA must go through notice-and-comment rulemaking, if DAPA is a new “rule” (although DAPA need not go through notice-and-comment rulemaking if it is merely a new policy). Finally, under the Take Care Clause, it means that DAPA must be a proper execution of federal law, again the INA. The parties touch on each of these principles.
The government argues that the INA provides the Secretary ample authority for DAPA. The government claims that under the INA Congress has directed the Secretary to focus limited resources on removing serious criminals and securing the border, and that DAPA, in deferring action for aliens who are not priorities for removal, is perfectly consistent with this. The government claims that DAPA serves the additional purposes of “extending a measure of repose to individuals who have long and strong ties to the community” and encouraging hard work, on the books, so as to minimize competitive harm to American workers.
The government argues next that DAPA has deep historical roots. It says that the Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service before it have adopted more than 20 similar policies in the last 50 years, deferring deportation for large numbers of aliens in defined categories. Since the early 1970s, each of these actions has also resulted in eligibility for work authorization—a practice that was codified in formal regulations in 1981. The government contends that Congress has repeatedly ratified the Department’s authority, with full knowledge of these policies.
Third, the government argues that the states are wrong to say that DAPA violates the INA. The government claims that the INA itself and past practice refute the states’ assertion that the Secretary can only authorize deferred action and work authorization for categories of aliens that Congress has specifically identified. Moreover, it claims that even the states agree that the Secretary could provide separate temporary reprieve for every one of the individuals covered by DAPA, so DAPA itself cannot be “too big.” And the government points out that longstanding regulations permit the Secretary to authorize lawful work for aliens covered by deferred action.
Fourth, the government argues that DAPA is simply a policy statement regarding how the Department will exercise discretionary authority—and not a binding rule that requires notice-and-comment procedures. Indeed, the government points out that no prior deferred action policy has been subject to notice-and-comment requirements. The government says that DAPA requires Department agents to exercise discretion in granting deferred action, and that DAPA is no less a “policy” than one that gives individual agents authority to be less forgiving for specific reasons in any individual case.
Finally, the government argues that the Take Care Clause provides the states with no basis for relief. The government claims that the Take Care arguments are simply dressed-up versions of their statutory arguments, and that in any event the Take Care Clause is nonjusticiable. But even if the Take Care Clause requires something different than the statutory analysis, and even if it is justiciable, the government says that the Secretary has complied with it by enforcing and executing the INA (for the reasons stated above).
The states argue that DAPA violates the INA. They say that Congress has to expressly authorize the executive to defer removal for whole categories of aliens, because this question is so central to the INA’s statutory scheme. But they claim that Congress has not done this. They also contend that DAPA flouts the 1996 amendments to immigration statutes that deny certain benefits to unlawfully present aliens whom the executive elects not to remove. And they say that DAPA would render meaningless Congress’s comprehensive framework, which “define[s] numerous categories of aliens that are entitled to or eligible for work authorization.”
The states argue next that DAPA is invalid, because it was promulgated without notice-and-comment procedures. The states claim that DAPA is a substantive binding rule, not a policy, and was therefore subject to notice-and-comment requirements. They say that the President compared DAPA to a military order and promised consequences for officials who defied it. They also say that it gives no discretion to Department officials in its enforcement. Moreover, the states contend that DAPA is a rule because it affects individual rights and obligations, using legislative-type criteria to determine whether an alien qualifies for substantial government benefits. The states assert that “[t]his change is immensely important to the Nation and requires at least public participation through notice-and-comment procedure.”
Finally, the states argue that DAPA violates the Take Care Clause. They claim that DAPA declares conduct that Congress has determined unlawful to be lawful. They say that this is precisely the kind of power grab that the Take Care Clause was designed to prevent.
At its core, this case is about the meaning and sweep of DAPA. By the Secretary’s reckoning, DAPA is merely a policy that guides the discretion of Department agents in enforcing the INA—the same way that any Department policy might guide an agent’s discretion, well within the discretion authorized by the INA. But by the states’ reckoning, DAPA is a new and binding rule that contradicts the INA: it represents the executive’s effort to change the law, not simply enforce it.
To sort this out, the Court will look at the precise language of the INA and DAPA itself, of course. But it will also look to other indicia of congressional intent to enforce the INA. These may include things like congressional awareness of and acquiescence to longstanding Department regulations that seem to assume that the Department may use deferred action, and which grant benefits as a result of it. These may also include congressional appropriations, which amounted to $6 billion in 2016. This was enough to deport only a small portion of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States, thus strongly suggesting that Congress intended the Department not to remove large populations of unlawfully present aliens. (The government points out that the Department has recently been setting records for removals in a year, but still only removing about 440,000 in 2013, for example.) Finally, the Court will look at the Department’s prior deferred action policies, which at different times since 1960 covered undocumented Cuban nationals after the Cuban Revolution, undocumented spouses and children of aliens with legalized status, individuals who sought lawful status as battered spouses or victims of human trafficking, foreign students affected by Hurricane Katrina, widows and widowers of U.S. citizens who had no other avenue of immigration relief, and certain aliens who came to the U.S. as children.
Here’s one thing the Court won’t look at: the Department’s actual enforcement of DAPA. That’s because the states filed suit before the Department implemented DAPA, and so there is no record of Department enforcement of DAPA. The states claim that Department agents will implement DAPA much as they implemented DACA, and that under DACA agents did not exercise discretion in individual cases (suggesting that DACA and DAPA are new rules, and not merely policies guiding individual agent’s discretion).
Aside from the merits, the first issue in the case, standing, could be dispositive. It is not at all obvious that the states have standing under Court precedent. In perhaps the closest case, Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held that the state had standing to challenge the EPA’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases, based on the state’s loss of coastline due to rising sea levels (due to increased greenhouse gases). But Massachusetts is hardly on all fours with this case. Still, it will likely play an important role in oral argument.
But it’s easy to think that these doctrinal issues are really just cover for underlying policy and political disputes. On the policy side, the case raises the important and contested questions of whether and how to deal with some of the 11 million unauthorized aliens in the United States. In particular: Should we protect certain classes of unauthorized aliens from immediate deportation for economic reasons (because they provide a net benefit to our economy), humanitarian reasons (to keep families together, for example), or just plain fairness reasons? The case also raises the important and contested question of who decides—the federal government, or the states. The Court answered that question unequivocally in favor of the federal government just four years ago in Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. ___ (2012), the SB 1070 case. This case gives the Court another crack at it.
On the political side, the case is (obviously) yet another battle in the continuing war between Republicans and President Obama over immigration and executive authority. All twenty-six states that brought the case are led by Republican governors. (Yet at least one state that has a far more sizeable portion of the unauthorized alien population in the U.S., California, led by a Democrat, is notably absent from the suit.) Moreover, President Obama said that he initiated DACA and DAPA in the first place as a reaction to congressional (Republican) failure to take up immigration reform. The case is thus at the center of the ongoing dispute between a Democratic President who in the face of congressional intransigence has governed by executive order, and the Republican opposition that claims that this represents “executive overreach.”
The Seventh Circuit ruled yesterday in Lewert v. P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Inc. that restaurant-goers had standing to pursue their case against the restaurant chain for actions they took to protect themselves after the chain revealed that it had been the victim of a computer-system hack.
The ruling is a win for consumers insofar as it lets them get beyond the pleadings in data-breach cases (so long as they plead that they took measures to protect themselves and will suffer an increased chance of fraudulent charges or stolen identity). (The plaintiffs here now have a chance to move the case forward.) But it says nothing on the merits.
The case arose after P.F. Chang's announced that its computer system had been breached and that some consumer credit- and debit-card data had been stolen. At first, the restaurant didn't know the extent of the breach, so switched to a manual card-processing system at all locations around the country. Later, it announced that data was stolen from just 33 restaurants, including one in Schaumburg, Illinois.
The plaintiffs, diners at P.F. Chang's Northbrook, Illinois, location, worried that their information may have been stolen. One of the plaintiffs noticed fraudulent charges on his card soon after P.F. Chang's announcement; he cancelled his card and purchased an identity-theft-protection service. The other plaintiff did not have fraudulent charges, but he took extra time to monitor his credit-card statement and credit report. Both plaintiffs claimed that they suffered an increased risk of fraudulent charges and stolen identity.
The plaintiffs brought a class action, and P.F. Chang's moved to dismiss for lack of standing. The Seventh Circuit sided with the plaintiffs.
The court said that the plaintiffs' actions to protect themselves were sufficient harms to establish standing: the plaintiffs suffered action harms by taking precautionary steps to protect themselves, and they suffered imminent harms of increased chances of fraudulent charges and stolen identities.
As to causation, the court said that any questions--whether the data breach caused the plaintiffs' injuries--went to the merits. As to redressability, the court said that monetary relief could redress the harms.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Chen v. Allstate Insurance that a defendant's unaccepted offer of full judgment on a plaintiff's individual claim does not moot the plaintiff's individual claim, or his class action.
The ruling means that plaintiff Florencio Pacleb's individual claim and his class-action complaint against Allstate can move forward at the district court. This is a significant win for Pacleb (and other Ninth Circuit class plaintiffs) and answers a question left open by the Supreme Court.
The case arose when Pacleb filed a class-action suit against Allstate for calls he received from the insurance company on his cell phone, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Before Pacleb moved for class certification (and shortly after the Supreme Court handed down Campbell-Ewald), Allstate tried to pick him off (and thus undermine his class action) by depositing full monetary judgment in escrow and promising to stop making calls to his cell phone. Allstate then moved to dismiss the case as moot.
Allstate's move was a clever exploitation of an open question from Campbell-Ewald. In that case, the Supreme Court held that "an unaccepted settlement offer has no force" and does not moot a claim. But the Court left open the question "whether the result would be different if a defendant deposits the full amount of the plaintiff's individual claim in an account payable to the plaintiff, and the court then enters judgment for the plaintiff in that amount." Allstate's move took up that open question.
But the Ninth Circuit didn't bite. The Ninth Circuit ruled first that Pacleb's individual claim wasn't moot, because he hadn't received full judgment. (The money was still in escrow, not in Pacleb's bank account.) The court went on to rule that circuit law allowed Pacleb to seek class certification, even if Allstate could fully satisfy Pacleb's individual claims. But the court said that even if circuit law didn't answer the question, language in Campbell-Ewald suggests that "when a defendant consents to judgment according complete relief on a named plaintiff's individual claims before certification, but fails to offer complete relief on the plaintiff's class claims, a court should not enter judgment on the individual claims, over the plaintiff's objection, before the plaintiff has had a fair opportunity to move for class certification."
In other words, a plaintiff's interest in class certification isn't satisfied by an offer of full judgment to the individual plaintiffs. And such an offer therefore doesn't moot the plaintiff's class claims.
The ruling is a victory for Pacleb and class plaintiffs in the Ninth Circuit (and maybe beyond), as it forecloses the latest pick-off gambit left open by the Supreme Court in Campbell-Ewald.
Monday, April 11, 2016
The Fifth Circuit ruled on Friday in Google v. Hood that a federal district court's injunction against Mississippi Attorney General James M. Hood III jumped the gun, and struck it. The ruling means that AG Hood's subpoena to Google remains live, and that he is not enjoined from bringing civil and criminal action against the web giant.
The case arose when AG Hood and certain other state AGs started expressing concerns that search engines weren't doing enough to stop copyright infringement, prescription drug and counterfeit product sales, and other "illegal and harmful" activity on the internet. Hood wrote to Google, and after some back-and-forth, issued a wide-ranging administrative subpoena, stating that there were "reasonable grounds to believe that Google Inc. may have violated . . . the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act."
Google sued in federal court, alleging that Hood's investigation violated Google's immunity under the Communications Decency Act, the Fourth Amendment, and the First Amendment rights of Google and its users, and seeking an injunction. The district court preliminarily enjoined Hood from enforcing the administrative subpoena and "bringing a civil or criminal charge against Google under Mississippi law for making accessible third-party content to Internet users (as threatened)."
Without touching the merits (even for likelihood of success, under the preliminary injunction standard), the Fifth Circuit struck the injunction. The court said that Google could bring the case in federal court, and that the district court did not err in not abstaining under Younger. But the court went on to say that Google's federal lawsuit was not ripe. That's because the subpoena was non-self-executing, and Hood had no independent authority to enforce it. (Instead, he has to enforce it through injunctive relief and a contempt motion in state court.) As to Hood's threats of civil or criminal enforcement: the court said that these were too "fuzzily defined," and that the court could not "on the present record predict what conduct Hood might one day try to prosecute under Mississippi law." In short: Google's case wasn't ripe, and the district court jumped the gun in issuing the injunction.
The ruling means that Hood can go ahead and try to enforce his subpoena in state court. He can also initiate any civil and criminal actions that Mississippi might allow. But when he does, he'll face Google's immunity and constitutional defenses in state court, and a likely second try in federal court.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in U.S. v. Fokker Services B.V. that a federal district court cannot deny an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act for a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) because the court disagrees with the government's charging decisions. The ruling, a victory for both parties, reverses the district court's decision on separation-of-powers grounds and remands the case.
The case arose when the parties asked the court for an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act in order to allow the defendant to meet the government's conditions under the DPA. (The DPA provided that the government would defer prosecution so long as Fokker met certain conditions over an 18-month period. But if Fokker failed to meet the conditions after 18 months, the Speedy Trial Act would have prevented the government to pursue prosecution. So the parties moved the court for an exclusion of time under the Act.) The court denied the motion, saying that it disagreed with the government's decision to charge only the corporation, and not its individual officers, with violations. Both parties appealed.
The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said that "[t]he Constitution allocates primacy in criminal charging decisions to the Executive Branch," and that "the Judiciary generally lacks authority to second-guess those Executive determinations, much less to impose its own charging preference." So when the court denied an exclusion of time because of its disagreement with the government's charging decision, it exceeded its own authority and intruded into the prerogative of the Executive.
The court said that "we construe [the Speedy Trial Act] in a manner that preserves the Executive's long-settled primacy over charging decisions and that denies courts substantial power to impose their own charging preferences."
The case now goes back to the district court for an order excluding time under the Speedy Trial Act and implementation of the DPA.
Check out Prof. Tim O'Neill's (John Marshall) excellent piece in the Cal. Law Review on Chief Justice Roberts's approach to deference in the Obamacare case, NFIB v. Sebelius: Harlan on My Mind: Chief Justice Roberts and the Affordable Care Act.
O'Neill notes that "Chief Justice Roberts has never been shy about finding acts of Congress to be unconstitutional," but that he nevertheless extolled the virtues of deference to the legislature and ultimately upheld the individual mandate in NFIB. O'Neill asks: Where did this "newly minted Thayerian justice" come from?
This essay will attempt to answer that question. It will begin by further examining Posner's article and the reasons he provided for the death of Thayerian review. It will then turn to an examination of one justice in particular whom Chief Justice Roberts has cited as his model: the younger Justice John Marshall Harlan, perhaps the last justice on the Court who exhibited Thayer-like restraint. It will conclude by contending that when faced with the most important case of his judicial career, Roberts took a Thayer-like approach that might have been similar to the approach his judicial model, Justice Harlan, would have taken. Thayer-like restraint may be dead, but it appears to have come back to life for at least one decision on June 28, 2012.
Monday, April 4, 2016
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today in Evenwel v. Abbott that states can use total population--and need not use voter-eligible population--to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle in drawing legislative districts.
The ruling is a setback for a group of conservative Texas voters that argued that states must use voter-eligible population in drawing legislative districts. Using voter-eligible population (as compared to total population) would benefit rural, and conservative, areas in a state like Texas, because urban areas contain a higher proportion of non-voter-eligible persons (who would count in measuring total population, but not voter-eligible population).
The case arose when a group of Texas voters argued that their votes were diluted as compared to the votes of eligible voters in other state senate districts, thus violating the one-person-one-vote principle. The state drew its state senate map based on total population, but the voters claimed that this resulted in inequalities. In particular, the voters claimed that their senate district contained a far greater eligible-voter population than other districts of equal total population. (The state senate map had a deviation between districts of 8.04 percent when measured by total population--the population that the state used in drawing the maps. This deviation is within the 10 percent deviation range that is presumptively permissible under the one-person-one-vote principle. But when measured by voter-eligible population, the map had a deviation of 40 percent--well outside that presumptively permissible point.) The voters argued that the state must use voter-eligible population in drawing districts.
The unanimous Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the Court, said that constitutional history, precedent, and practice show that a state may use total population in drawing legislative districts. In short: we've always done it this way, and we've said it's OK, so it's OK.
The Court declined to say whether a state may use voter-eligible population.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
An equally divided Supreme Court today affirmed the Ninth Circuit's ruling upholding public-sector union fair-share fees against a First Amendment challenge. The one-sentence per curiam ruling said nothing on the merits.
The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, almost surely represented the end of public-sector union fair-share fees. The Court had sent a couple signals in recent Terms that it was prepared to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 case upholding fair-share fees, and oral arguments earlier this year suggested that this was the case to do it.
But with Justice Scalia's passing (after oral arguments in the case), the Court divided four to four, upholding the lower court, which upheld fair-share fees.
The ruling today leaves fair-share fees on the books--at least for now, unless and until Justice Scalia's replacement votes with the four traditional conservatives to overturn it in a future case. But the Court's more recent cases--the ones that teed up the challenge in Friedrichs--also stay on the books. So Abood and the Ninth Circuit ruling in Friedrichs still represent the law, but under Harris and Knox, Abood is still hanging by a thread.
The new justice will be the swing vote on this issue, and will say whether public-sector union fair-share fees stay, or go.
Monday, March 28, 2016
The Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in Ross v. Blake, the case testing whether the Prison Litigation Reform Act includes a "special circumstances" exception to the exhaustion requirement that excuses an inmate's failure to exhaust when he had a reasonable, but mistaken, belief that no further administrative remedies were available.
The case raises important access-to-justice questions in the context of administrative exhaustion in PLRA litigation. Here's my preview, from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
Shaidon Blake is a prisoner serving a life sentence in the custody of the state of Maryland. In 2007, Blake was housed at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center.
On June 21 of that year, Lieutenant James Madigan and Sergeant Michael Ross, officers at the Center, attempting to relocate Blake to another cellblock, handcuffed Blake and removed him from his cell. As the two officers escorted Blake to his new cellblock, Madigan shoved Blake twice. He then wrapped a key ring around his fingers and struck Blake at least four times in the face.
Ross asked another officer to call for assistance. Ross and Madigan then lifted Blake and dropped him to the floor. Ross put his knee into Blake’s chest, and Madigan restrained Blake until other officers arrived.
The responding officers took Blake to the medical unit. Blake declined treatment, but was later diagnosed with nerve damage.
Blake reported the episode to senior corrections officers and provided a written account of the assaults. Captain Calvin Vincent conducted a preliminary investigation. Vincent concluded that Madigan used excessive force and recommended that Madigan be disciplined. (Madigan later resigned in order to avoid termination.)
Vincent referred the incident to the Internal Investigative Unit, or “IIU,” a division of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services charged with investigating criminal violations and serious misconduct of correctional officers. The IIU undertook a year-long investigation into Madigan’s behavior and issued a formal report concluding that Madigan used excessive force against Blake. The report did not assign any fault to Ross or Blake. The IIU did not otherwise provide any redress or compensation to Blake. (The IIU is a criminal investigative unit. It lacks authority to remedy a prisoner’s complaint, or to discipline a correctional officer.)
Blake sued Ross, Madigan, two supervisors, and two government entities in federal court for civil rights violations. The district court dismissed the claims against the two supervisors and the government entities, leaving only Ross and Madigan as defendants.
Ross then moved to dismiss the case against him, alleging that Blake failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or “PLRA,” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In particular, Ross claimed that Blake failed to use the administrative remedy process, or “ARP,” that the state created to address inmate grievances, including complaints about the use of force, and to provide redress and compensation to inmates. (Ross now claims that Blake alternatively could have filed a complaint with the Inmate Grievance Office, or “IGO,” an independent entity outside the prison that has authority to hear grievances in the first instance and award monetary damages, if the ARP was unavailable. When the ARP is available, the Inmate Grievance Office hears appeals from the ARP.) Ross said that Blake admitted having received a copy of the inmate handbook, which contains information about the ARP, but that Blake did not read those portions of the handbook and did not initiate an ARP grievance.
The district court granted Ross’s motion to dismiss. (The court at first dismissed Blake’s case against Madigan, too. But the court later reinstated that case, and Blake won a $50,000 judgment against Madigan. Madigan is not a part of this appeal.) Blake appealed, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed. This appeal followed.
The PLRA says that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This means that a prisoner like Blake has to pursue, and exhaust, any internal, administrative remedies that he has available before filing a civil rights suit in federal court. Congress adopted the measure in order to allow a prison to address complaints internally, to reduce litigation (at least to the extent that a prison can resolve complaints internally), and to improve litigation by allowing the parties to develop a useful administrative record before going to court.
The Supreme Court has said that exhaustion means “proper exhaustion.” In other words, a prisoner must use all the administrative steps that the prison makes available, and do so in compliance with the applicable deadlines and other critical procedural rules. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 (2006).
Still, some read more flexibility into the requirement. For example, Justice Breyer suggested in his concurrence in Woodford that well-settled exceptions to exhaustion in administrative law should also apply to the PLRA. Justice Breyer pointed to a Second Circuit case holding that “special circumstances” can excuse exhaustion (as in administrative law). The Second Circuit in that case concluded that a prisoner’s failure to exhaust “was justified by his reasonable belief” that no further remedies were available. Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670 (2004). The Fourth Circuit adopted this same approach in ruling for Blake.
The parties dispute whether the PLRA has a “reasonable belief” exception to exhaustion. But they also dispute whether Blake actually exhausted his remedies. Recall that Blake pursued his complaint through the IIU, and not the ARP or IGO. The parties disagree over whether the IIU process amounts to exhaustion, and whether the ARP and IGO processes were actually available.
Ross argues first that the plain language of the PLRA requires strict and mandatory exhaustion. Ross claims that the Supreme Court affirmed this reading through its “proper exhaustion” rule in Woodford. Ross says that the Fourth Circuit’s approach—adopting an exception to exhaustion based on a prisoner’s “reasonable belief”—conflicts with the PLRA’s strict approach to exhaustion, because it excuses a prisoner’s failure to use a particular remedy based only on the prisoner’s misunderstanding. Ross contends that the PLRA’s plain language is clear, and that the courts have no authority to create an extra-textual exception to its strict and mandatory exhaustion requirement.
Ross argues next that the Fourth Circuit’s approach conflicts with the history and purposes of the PLRA. Ross claims that Congress enacted PLRA’s exhaustion requirement in order to replace a prior, ineffective requirement that permitted courts to require exhaustion only if doing so would be in the “interests of justice” and that the remedies were “plain, speedy, and effective.” Ross says that the current PLRA was enacted in order to eliminate judicial discretion from the exhaustion inquiry. He contends that the Fourth Circuit’s approach takes us back to the old system, which Congress unambiguously superseded with the more recent mandatory exhaustion requirement. Moreover, Ross claims that the Fourth Circuit’s approach would undermine the purposes of the PLRA, because it would result in more lawsuits without affording the prisons an opportunity to resolve them in the first instance. According to Ross, the Fourth Circuit’s approach would also mire the courts in the nuances of a prison’s grievance system in order to determine the reasonableness of a prisoner’s belief as to available remedies within the prison.
Third, Ross argues that the Fourth Circuit wrongly interpreted traditional administrative law exceptions, and thus wrongly imported a “reasonable belief” exception into the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement. Ross claims that there are only three sets of traditional exceptions to administrative exhaustion—where exhaustion would cause irreparable harm, where exhaustion would be futile, and where an agency is biased. Ross says that none of these traditional categories includes a “reasonable belief” exception, and so the Fourth Circuit erred in importing that exception (even if traditional administrative law exceptions apply to PLRA exhaustion).
Finally, Ross argues that even if the Fourth Circuit were correct in applying a “reasonable belief” exception, Blake does not satisfy it. Ross points to the fact that Blake never read the state’s grievance procedures. Ross says that if Blake would have read them, he would have seen that the APR process was available and most relevant to his kind of complaint. (Ross claims that the IIU process that Blake used against Madigan is designed for a different purpose—investigation of wrongdoing, not redress and compensation—and therefore does not satisfy the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement.) Ross contends that Blake’s failure to read the processes cannot amount to a “reasonable belief,” even if there is a “reasonable belief” exception to PLRA exhaustion.
(The government weighs in as amicus curiae in favor of Ross and makes substantially similar arguments.)
Blake argues first that this case does not properly address the Question Presented, whether the PLRA exhaustion requirement bars a lawsuit by a prisoner who made an objectively reasonable mistake in pursuing his administrative remedies. This is because Blake says that he made no mistake. He claims that the ARP process was not available to him, because routine practice at the time was to dismiss an ARP complaint when (as here) an IIU investigation was pending. (Blake points to five separate cases, including one filed on the same day as his assault, in which ARP complaints were dismissed as procedurally improper because an IIU investigation was pending.) He contends that the IGO procedure was similarly unavailable to him. Because his case does not fall within the Question Presented, Blake says that the Court should either affirm the Fourth Circuit’s decision or dismiss the appeal (as improvidently granted).
In the alternative, Blake argues that he properly exhausted his administrative remedies, because the ARP process and the IGO procedure were unavailable to him. Blake says that for a remedy to be available under the PLRA, it must be “sufficiently clear so that an objectively reasonable prisoner would know which remedy to use and how to use it.” Blake asserts that the two processes here fail that test. He claims that even Ross (represented here by the state attorney general) fails to identify which of the two proffered processes were available to him, underscoring just how unclear the policies were. Moreover, Blake claims that Ross’s position that the exhaustion requirement applies whenever a prisoner makes an error—and that the clarity of the remedy is irrelevant to its availability—is untenable, and gives the prisons a perverse incentive to make their administrative processes unnecessarily complex.
This case tests the flexibility of the exhaustion requirement in the PLRA. It asks: Does the exhaustion requirement apply rigidly, so that a prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies, even if he reasonably, but mistakenly, thought he satisfied it? Or does the requirement have some give, so that a prisoner can satisfy it under those circumstances? The answer to these questions will also tell us when a federal judicial remedy is available to prisoners for civil rights violations. This is an important access-to-justice issue, and the Court’s ruling (one way or the other) will impact when and how prisoners can pursue a meaningful damages claim in court.
Whatever the Court says, however, Congress will have the last word. That’s because the case raises only a statutory question—interpretation of the PLRA—and not a constitutional one. Congress can always go back and undo through legislation anything the Court does through litigation.
Friday, March 25, 2016
Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled this week in Friends of Animals v. Ashe that Friends lacked standing to challenge a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits authorizing two American hunters to import the trophies they garnered in legal hunts of black rhinoceros in Namibia. The ruling means that the case is dismissed.
The ruling illustrates the barriers for plaintiffs in challenging this kind government action, even before they get to the merits. The core problem, according to the court, is that the Service didn't cause the rhino hunting--the government of Namibia did--and so the court was powerless to remedy the loss of rhinos.
Judge Jackson ruled that the plaintiff-organization demonstrated an injury, the first standing requirement, through one of its members--but barely. In particular, Judge Jackson wrote that a Friends of Animals member who lives in Namibia demonstrated an injury, because he claimed that he viewed, and would view, black rhinos in the Kunene region and Etosha National Park. But the rhinos in this case came from Mangetti National Park. Judge Jackson nevertheless said that the plaintiff alleged a sufficient injury--though "the thinnest reed of an injury"--based on the allegation that the import permits will affect rhinos in the future, throughout the country.
But Judge Jackson went on to rule that the injury lacked causation and redressibility. In particular, she said that the reduced viewing opportunities of rhinos was caused by the Namibian government's authorization of the hunt, not the Service's permits, and that an order halting the permits would do nothing to stop hunting (again, authorized by Namibia).
Finally, the court held that Friends' claim that the Service has a "policy and repeated practice of issuing permits to import sport-hunted trophies of endangered animals" in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the APA wasn't ripe for review.