Thursday, December 1, 2016
The Eleventh Circuit ruled earlier this week that a police major was not entitled to qualified immunity for issuing a be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) advisory for another officer, recently fired for complaining about racial profiling and other constitutional violations by the local police department.
The ruling means that the officer's First Amendment case can move forward on the merits.
The case arose when Derrick Bailey, then an officer in the Douglasville Police Department, complained to his chief that other Douglasville officers and Douglas County Sheriff's Office deputies engaged in racial profiling and other constitutional violations. Bailey, who had an above-average record, was fired and harassed by other officers. Then Major Tommy Wheeler of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office issued the BOLO, saying that Bailey was a "loose cannon" who presented a "danger to any [law-enforcement officer] in Douglas County," and directing officers to "act accordingly." (According to the court, there was no evidence of any of this.)
Bailey sued for civil rights violations, and Wheeler moved to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds. The Eleventh Circuit rejected Wheeler's defense. It ruled that Bailey's speech was protected (Wheeler didn't contest this), that Wheeler's conduct adversely affected Bailey's speech, and that there was a causal connection between Bailey's speech and Wheeler's actions.
As to the second part, adversely affected, the court explained:
Let's pause for a moment to appreciate just how a reasonable law-enforcement officer may have understood that [BOLO] instruction. Under Georgia law, when a subject is armed and dangerous, an officer may shoot the subject in self-defense--a term Georgia construes as having justifiable intent to use such force as the officer reasonably believes to be necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury. So, in other words, Wheeler's BOLO gave all Douglas County law-enforcement officers a reasonable basis for using force--including deadly force--against Bailey if they reasonably misconstrued a single move Bailey made--such as reaching into his pocket when confronted by law-enforcement officers--as imperiling themselves or anyone else. We think that this situation, which potentially seriously endangered Bailey's life, easily would deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his First Amendment rights.
The court also ruled that Bailey's right to be free from retaliation for his speech was clearly established at the time that Wheeler issued the BOLO.
The court also denied Wheeler absolute immunity on Bailey's state-law defamation claim.
The ruling sends the case back to the trial court to go forward on the merits.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Each part of the ruling is important: the free speech ruling creates a circuit split; and the Eighth Amendment ruling implicates questions of supervisor liability for civil rights violations and access to justice for victims--issues now before the Supreme Court (in a different context).
The case arose when state prisoner Seyon Haywood alleged that his auto mechanic teacher attacked him. Guards charged Haywood with making a false statement, and a disciplinary panel found him guilty and sentenced him to two-month's segregation and revoked one month of good-time credit.
Haywood filed a federal civil rights case against the warden, alleging that his punishment violated his free speech rights, and that his segregated confinement violated the Eighth Amendment.
The Seventh Circuit dismissed the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that under Heck v. Humphrey and Edwards v. Balisok, Haywood couldn't bring a Section 1983 case for relief that would necessarily imply the invalidity of his disciplinary sentence, at least until he successfully challenged that disciplinary sentence. The court rejected Haywood's argument that Heck and Edwards don't apply, because he disavowed any challenge to the duration of his confinement. Haywood's argument drew on a Second Circuit ruling, Peralta v. Vasquez, which said just that. The Seventh Circuit's rejection of Haywood's claim sets up a circuit split on the question whether a prisoner can bring a 1983 case without successfully challenging a sentence, if the prisoner waives that challenge.
As to the Eighth Amendment claim, the court held that Haywood produced sufficient evidence to show that the warden (the only defendant in the case) was deliberately indifferent to Haywood's conditions of confinement to satisfy Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Farmer v. Brennan for direct (not vicarious) liability.
Judge Easterbrook dissented on this latter point. He argued that Haywood only showed that the warden knew of the conditions of his confinement, and, under Iqbal, knowledge is not enough. Judge Easterbrook also noted that the Supreme Court will weigh in on this soon enough, in the consolidated Turkmen cases, testing whether former AG Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller, among others, can be held liable for detention of alien detainees at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York, soon after 9/11.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Judge Christopher R. Cooper (D.D.C.) today rebuffed state arguments that a new Treasury rule governing state escheat claims of title and for payment of U.S. Treasury bonds did not violate the Constitution. The ruling ends this case (unless and until appealed) and means that the Treasury rule, designed to ensure that state judgments on the abandonment and ownership of Treasury bonds are accurate, stays in place.
The ruling is a blow to states like Kansas that sought to make it easier to show that a Treasury bond was abandoned, and that the state owned it, and therefore could redeem it.
The case came on the heels of some regulatory and judicial back-and-forth on the issues of whether and how states could take title to Treasury bonds under state escheat laws, redeem the bonds, and keep the proceeds. At one point in the back-and-forth, Kansas adopted a title-escheatment statute, which conveyed title of abandoned bonds to the state. Treasury agreed to redeem bonds in the state's possession, but, under its regs, not those escheated bonds not in its possession. So Kansas sued.
As that case was pending, Treasury enacted new regs. The new regs gave Treasure the "discretion to recognize an escheat judgment that purports to vest a state with title to a [matured by unredeemed] savings bond . . . in the state's possession" when there is sufficient evidence that the bond has been abandoned. But the rule does not recognize "[e]scheat judgments that purport to vest a state with title to bonds that the state does not possess." In short, in order for a state to claim payment, the rule provides that (1) states must have possession of the bonds, (2) they must have "made reasonable efforts to provide actual and constructive notice of the state escheatment proceeding" and an opportunity to respond to all interested parties, and (3) there must be sufficient evidence of abandonment.
Kansas and others sued again, this time arguing that the new rule was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA, that it violates the Appointments Clause and the Tenth Amendment, and that it illegal confers the power to review state court judgments to a federal agency.
As to Appointments, the plaintiffs argued that the Treasury official who signed and promulgated the rule, Fiscal Assistant Secretary David A. Lebryk, appointed as an inferior officer, exercised authority as a principal officer in violation of the Appointments Clause. The court disagreed, pointing to the Fiscal Assistant Secretary's work, including the work on the new rule, which "is directed and supervised at some level by others who were appointed by Presidential nomination with the advice and consent of the Senate."
As to review of state judgments, the plaintiffs argued that the new rule permits Treasury to judge the due process and sufficiency-of-evidence in state court proceedings under the three prongs listed above. But the court said that "[t]wo bodies of law are at issue: a state law of escheat and a federal law of bond ownership," and that "[s]tate court judgments are final regarding the former, but Treasury--by operation of the Supremacy Clause and pursuant to its statutorily-delegated authority--may promulgate rules to define the latter." The court also said that Treasury's due process review is not aimed at implementing constitutional protections (as an appellate court might), "but at facilitating reliable determinations of abandonment."
Finally, as to the Tenth Amendment, the court said that Treasury promulgated the rule pursuant to statutory authority from Congress, enacted within Congress's constitutional authority, and so the rule raised no Tenth Amendment problem.
(The court also rejected the plaintiffs' APA claim.)
Friday, November 25, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act preempted an Oregon state environmental measure as it related to repairs on a tourist rail line.
The ruling means that the state "removal-fill law," which requires a state permit for the removal of any amount of material from waters designated as Essential Salmonid Habitat, does not apply to the repair project.
The case arose when the Port of Tillamook Bay, which owns railways in Oregon, contracted with the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, which operates tourist trains on a portion of the Port's tracks, to repair some of the track. But when Oregon Coast started work, the Department of State Lands sent Oregon Coast a cease and desist order, alleging that the repair work would violate the state's removal-fill law. Oregon Coast sued, arguing that the federal ICCTA preempted Oregon's removal-fill law.
The Ninth Circuit agreed. The court ruled that the ICCTA preempts if an activity is (1) "transportation" (2) "by rail carrier" and (3) "as part of the interstate rail network." The court noted that the parties agreed that the activity was "transportation" under the ICCTA. It went on to say that the work was "by rail carrier," because "the repair work performed by Oregon Coast is 'an integral part of [the Port's] provision of transportation by rail carrier.'" Finally, the court held that the work was "part of the interstate rail network," because the line, while not currently attached to an interstate rail line, once was attached to an interstate rail line, and, when the repairs were finished, would once again be attached to an interstate rail line.
The court said that under ICCTA preemption, the work falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal Surface Transportation Board, and that state regulation--including environmental regulation--is preempted.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Judge Amos L. Mazzant (E.D. Tex.) granted a nationwide injunction today against the Obama Administration in enforcing its new overtime rules.
The ruling is a blow to President Obama's effort to update the overtime requirements through administrative rulemaking, and not legislation. The nationwide injunction seems extreme, but, as Judge Mazzant noted, this district-court-issuing-a-nationwide-injunction-thing seems to be a growing trend among district court judges striking President Obama's administrative initiatives.
At the same time, the new Trump Administration will almost surely undo these rules, anyway.
So the big loser is the lower-income (between $23,660 to $47,892 per year), salaried worker. That person, covered by the now-enjoined rule, won't qualify for overtime. (The court said that the FLSA requires a "duties" test. So if DOL can reissue regs around duties, some of these workers may still qualify. But don't count on this with the new administration.)
The government can appeal, but the conservative Fifth Circuit seems likely to affirm. And again: The Trump Administration will almost surely undo this, anyway.
Recall that DOL issued rules raising the "executive, administrative, and professional" exemption from the FLSA requirement that employers pay overtime to workers. In particular, DOL issued rules that said that employees who earn up to $47,892 per year (up from $23,660 per year) fell outside the exemption, and therefore qualified for mandatory overtime. The new rules also set an automatic update that adjusts the minimum salary level every three years.
States and business organizations sued, arguing that the rules violated the Administrative Procedures Act, because they weren't authorized by the FLSA. The state plaintiffs threw in a claim that the new rules and the entire FLSA violated the Tenth Amendment and federalism principles. Because this claim ran headlong into Garcia (which upheld the application of the FLSA to the states), the states, for good measure, went ahead and boldly argued that the court should overturn Garcia.
The court agreed with the APA claim, but disagreed about Garcia. As to the APA, the court said that the language of the FLSA--"executive, administrative, and professional" employees are exempt from the overtime mandate, and that DOL can promulgate regs to implement this exemption--required that the government consider employees' duties, and not just income, in determining whether an employee qualifies. Because the new regs only considered income, they violated the FLSA.
As to Garcia: the court flatly rejected the call to overturn it. This is hardly a surprise: It's still good law, after all. It seems the states were banking on a favorable ruling from the Fifth Circuit and a split Supreme Court. (That sounds familiar.)
Or they were banking on a differently comprised Court entirely--one friendly to their anti-Garcia claim. And who knows? Now they might get it.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly today dismissed Smith v. Obama, a case by a service-member challenging President Obama's authority to fight ISIS. The ruling ends the case, with little chance of a successful appeal, and frustrates anyone waiting for a court ruling on whether President Obama can use the AUMF to fight ISIS.
The plaintiff, a U.S. Army Captain, sued President Obama, arguing that neither the 2001 AUMF nor the 2002 AUMF authorized the President to order a military campaign against ISIS (Operation Inherent Resolve), and that the President violated the War Powers Resolution and the Take Care Clause in ordering the campaign.
The plaintiff, a supporter of Operation Inherent Resolve (not an opponent of the campaign, as is more usually the case in these kinds of challenges) who was deployed as part of that campaign, argued that he had standing, because President Obama's orders forced him to choose between two untenable options--following illegal orders (on the one hand) and disobey orders (on the other). The court rejected this claim. The court said that the plaintiff could follow orders without fear of punishment, even if the President acted illegally in ordering the campaign. The court also rejected the plaintiff's oath claim (that he'd violate his oath to protect the constitution by complying with illegal orders), again because he'd face no punishment.
The court went on to rule that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question:
Resolving this dispute would require the Court to determine whether the legal authorizations for the use of military force relied on by President Obama--the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs--in fact authorize the use of force against ISIL. With regard to the 2001 AUMF, the Court would have to determine whether the President is correct that ISIL is among "those nations, organizations, or persons" that "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons," and that Operation Inherent Resolve represents "necessary and appropriate force" against that group. With regard to the 2002 AUMF, the Court would have to determine whether the President is correct that operations against ISIL are "necessary and appropriate in order to . . . defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." For the reasons set out below, the Court finds that these are political questions under the first two Baker factors: the issues raised are primarily ones committed to the political branches of government, and the Court lacks judicially manageable standards, and is otherwise ill-equipped to resolve them.
The belt-and-suspenders ruling (dismissing for lack of standing and political question) seems unnecessary, given that the standing problems alone would seem to comfortably support dismissal. Moreover, the application of the political question doctrine seems at odds with the D.C. Circuit's post-Boumediene habeas cases. The court had something to say about this, in footnote 17:
Those courts were not asked to declare that an ongoing military operation, about which there appears to be no dispute between Congress and the President, was "illegal." They were asked to determine whether an individual should be accorded habeas corpus relief because his detainment had become illegal. This is a far more traditional and appropriate judicial role, which does not raise the same separation of powers issues present in this case.
Friday, November 18, 2016
The Sixth Circuit ruled today that a local "right-to-work" ordinance was not preempted under the National Labor Relations Act, but that provisions banning hiring-hall agreements and dues-checkoff requirements are preempted.
The mixed ruling hands a partial victory to union opponents (by upholding the local "right-to-work" ordinance) and a partial victory to unions (by striking the hiring-hall and dues-checkoff bans).
Hardin County, Kentucky, enacted a so-called "right-to-work" ordinance, which prohibited employers and unions from requiring union membership or dues as a condition of employment. The ordinance also prohibited "hiring-hall" agreements (which require prospective employees to be recommended, approved, referred, or cleared by a union) and "dues-checkoff" provisions (which require employers to automatically deduct union dues and fees). Unions sued, arguing that the ordinance was preempted.
The Sixth Circuit disagreed on "right-to-work" and agreed on hiring-hall and dues-checkoff provisions.
The court ruled that the "right-to-work" provision was saved from preemption and was not field-preempted. The court looked to Section 14(b) of the NLRA:
Nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the execution or application of agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment in any State or Territory in which such execution or application is prohibited by State or Territorial law.
The court held that Hardin County law is "State law" under this provision, and so saved from preemption by the plain terms of the Act. The court went on to say that it couldn't be field-preempted under the NLRA, because, well, it was saved under Section 14(b). ("It follows that Section 14(b)'s explicit exception of the state right-to-work laws from preemption trumps operation of implicit field preemption.")
As to the hiring-hall and dues-checkoff bans, the court held that these did not fall within the Section 14(b) exception. It held that the dues-checkoff ban was preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act, and that hiring-hall ban was explicitly permitted under the NLRA.
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Atay v. County of Maui that a local initiative to ban genetically engineered crops was preempted by federal and state law. The ruling ends this effort in Maui County, Hawaii, to ban GE crops.
The citizens of Maui County voted for an ordinance that banned the cultivation and testing of GE plants. The ordinance was designed "to protect organic and non-GE farmers and the County's environment from transgenic contamination and pesticides, preserve the right of Maui County residents to reject GE agriculture, and protect the County's vulnerable ecosystems and indigenous cultural heritage."
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the ordinance was preempted. The court held that the federal Plant Protection Act expressly preempted the GE ban as to crops that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has deregulated. The PPA preemption provision says that "no State or political subdivision of a State may regulate the movement in interstate commerce of any . . . plant . . . plant pest, noxious weed, or plant product in order to control . . . eradicate . . . or prevent the introduction or dissemination of a . . . plant pest, or noxious weed, if the Secretary has issued a regulation or order to prevent the dissemination of the . . . plant pest, or noxious weed within the United States." The Secretary, through the APHIS, has done just that, so the court said that Maui's ban was preempted. (As to the interstate commerce element, the court said that GE seeds and plants flow across state lines, and that Congress specifically recognized in the PPA that "all plant pests, noxious weeds, plant products, articles capable of harboring plant pests or noxious weeds regulated under this chapter are in or affect interstate commerce.")
As to those crops not regulated by the APHIS, the court said that the PPA didn't impliedly preempt the ban, but Hawaii state law did. The court looked to Hawaii preemption law, which applies a "comprehensive statutory scheme" test to determine field-preemption, and held that Hawaii's statutory scheme fit the bill. (The Ninth Circuit handed down another case today with a similar state preemption holding, that one striking Kauai County's pesticide regulations.)
The ruling ends this local effort to ban GE crops.
The Ninth Circuit ruled in Missouri ex rel. Koster v. Harris that six states lacked standing to sue California over its laws protecting hens that lay eggs. The ruling dismisses the case in favor of California (and its egg laws), unless and until the plaintiffs amend their complaint.
The plaintiffs, six egg-producing states, sued California after that state enacted a law setting certain standards for egg-laying hens. (The law bans the sale of eggs in the state by hens that are kept in cages where they can't lay down, stand up, extend their limbs, and turn around.) The plaintiffs alleged parens patriae standing on behalf of egg farmers in their states.
The Ninth Circuit ruled against them. The court said that the states couldn't show "an interest apart from the interests of particular private parties," the first of two additional elements of parens patriae standing (over and above the normal elements of standing). (The second additional element, not at issue here, is "[t]he State must express a quasi-sovereign interest.") The court held that the states didn't allege that California's law harmed their entire population, and that those affected (the egg farmers) could bring their own suit against California. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the California law would cause a fluctuation in the price of eggs and thereby harm all consumers. It also rejected the claim that the plaintiffs had standing because California's law was discriminatory. (It wasn't; it applies to all hens, wherever they live. The lack of discrimination in the law also goes to the merits (although not at issue yet): under the Dormant Commerce Clause, a nondiscriminatory law is upheld only if its burdens on interstate commerce outweigh its benefits--a relatively low standard.)
The court instructed the district court to dismiss the case without prejudice, however, allowing the states to amend their complaint.
Judge Rudolph Contreras (D.D.C.) ruled that a private citizen lacked standing to sue Senators McConnell and Grassley for failing to give President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, a vote in the Senate.
Plaintiff Steven Michel brought the action under the Seventeenth Amendment, arguing that McConnell's and Grassley's stonewalling resulted in a loss of voice of his own home-state senators, and therefore a violation of his own right to vote for his home-state senators under the Seventeenth Amendment.
The court said that Michel lacked standing:
Mr. Michel has not shown that he has suffered an individualized injury such that he can maintain this action. This alleged diminution of his vote for United States Senators is the type of undifferentiated harm common to all citizens that is appropriate for redress in the political sphere: his claim is not that he has been unable to cast votes for Senators, but that his home-state Senators have been frustrated by the rules and leadership of the United States Senate. This is far from the type of direct, individualized harm that warrants judicial review of a "case or controversy."
Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Tenth Circuit ruled last week in Felix v. City of Bloomfield that the city's monument to the Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause, even though the overall display included other, later-erected secular monuments.
The case arose when a city council member obtained council permission to place a Ten Commandments monument in front of city hall, along with other monuments that would celebrate the city's "history of law and government." The council member raised private money for the Ten Commandments monument (from churches, among other sources), and, after some fits and starts, placed the massive monument (over five feet tall, 3,400 pounds, sunk 14 inches into the ground) right in front of city hall. The city held an unveiling ceremony, which included religious references, statements, and the like, and some secular ones, too.
After this suit was filed, arguing that the Ten Commandments monument violated the Establishment Clause, the council member arranged for other monuments at city hall, including one for the Declaration of Independence, one for the Gettysburg Address, and one for the Bill of Rights.
The Tenth Circuit ruled that the Ten Commandments monument violated the Establishment Clause. The court wrote that an objective observer, reasonably informed about the monument, would have concluded that the city was endorsing religion. The court said that the text on the monument, its prominent location, the religious circumstances surrounding its financing and unveiling, and the timing of this lawsuit (just seven months after the monument's unveiling) all pointed toward endorsement.
The court recognized the city's effort to secularize the display with later, secular monuments, but said that this wasn't enough to scrub the religious history behind it.
The Tenth Circuit ruled in Mojsilovic v. State of Oklahoma that the state's sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' forced-labor claim under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The ruling ends this case.
The plaintiffs, Danijela and Aleksandar Mojsilovic, were hired by the University of Oklahoma on H-1B visas to conduct DNA sequencing and issue typing and to make transfectants and tissue cultures. Their supervisor, Dr. William Hildebrand, forced them to work longer hours than permitted by their visas, without pay, for his private corporation, Pure Protein, on threat of having their visas revoked. The Mojsilovic's sued under the TVPRA, seeking monetary damages under the Act; the University asserted sovereign immunity; and the district court dismissed the case.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that Congress enacted the TVPRA under its Commerce Clause authority (and not its Thirteenth Amendment authority), and so could not abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. In any event, the court said that any abrogation wasn't sufficiently clear in the language of the TVPRA. (The TVPRA applies to "whoever," without specifically naming "states.")
The ruling, while not surprising under the Court's abrogation doctrine, illustrates the impact of the rule that Congress cannot abrogate state sovereign immunity using its Commerce Clause authority. It means that states and state agencies can get away with trafficking, slavery, involuntary servitude, forced-labor, and the like without incurring TVPRA liability.
Congress could, of course, change this by making clear that the TVPRA is enacted under the Thirteenth Amendment and clearly abrogating state sovereign immunity.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The Sixth Circuit ruled this week that the Bankruptcy Code prevented citizens and organizations in Detroit, which is is Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings, from suing the city for certain constitutional violations.
The ruling gives Detroit a free pass on certain civil rights--because it is in bankruptcy. Indeed, the court goes so far as to say (based on almost no authority) that because the financial conditions in Detroit are so bad, federalism considerations even more support a reading of the Bankruptcy Code that bars certain civil rights actions against the city.
The lesson: If you're out to have your constitutional rights violated, do it in a city that's not in bankruptcy, with really big financial problems.
The case arose when Detroit citizens and organizations sued the city in the Eastern District of Michigan for turning off thousands of residents' water for nonpayment and refusing to negotiate. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief; they brought due process and equal protection claims (among others) under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and Monell.
The district court then transferred the case to bankruptcy court and consolidated it with Detroit's Chapter 9 case. The plaintiffs moved for a TRO, and the city moved to dismiss pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Sec. 904 (in the Bankruptcy Code). That section says:
Notwithstanding any power of the court, unless the debtor consents or the plan so provides, the court may not, by any stay, order, or decree, in the case or otherwise, interfere with--
(1) any of the political or governmental powers of the debtor;
(2) any of the property or revenues of the debtor; or
(3) the debtor's use or enjoyment of any income-producing property.
The Sixth Circuit ruled, with little analysis, that each of these three conditions applied, and therefore the bankruptcy court had no power to issue declaratory or injunctive relief, and therefore the case must be dismissed.
Along the way, the court had some pretty surprising things to say about federalism and protection of rights. For example, the court wrote that Section 904 is essentially a federalism protection for a city like Detroit, and a city in bankruptcy--and especially one with really bad financial problems--ought (perhaps paradoxically) to have more protection against constitutional-rights claims (than a city in a regular district court) because of it. Here's how the court put it:
That a federal court's power should be more constrained in the chapter 9 context than in a typical Monell action also makes sense. Monell plaintiffs may claim damages and prospective injunctive relief, such as the implementation of a training program that better protects citizens' constitutional rights, provided they make the appropriate showing. We agree that the Tenth Amendment is not a barrier to a federal court's authority over a municipality in that setting.
But a discrete change in policy in a particular office or department of local government is far removed from the complete financial overhaul undertaken in a municipal reorganization. Detroit's case is a good example. "At the time of filing, the City had over $18 billion in escalating debt, over 100,000 creditors, hundreds of millions of dollars of negative cash flow," failing infrastructure, and "a crumbling water and sewer system." The bankruptcy court bore responsibility for approving a plan of adjustment equally vast in its aim to remedy these conditions. Concerns for state sovereignty loom larger with so much at stake. "As a state-federal cooperative enterprise conducted in delicate circumstances in which state sovereignty must be respected, Congress has been sedulous to assure that the bankruptcy power not be used in municipal insolvencies in a manner that oversteps delicate state-federal boundaries." The massive scale of a municipal bankruptcy simply provides more opportunities for excessive federal court interference.
Apparently only one other court, a bankruptcy court, had used federalism in the way the Sixth Circuit did to support its Section 904 analysis, because that's the only case (in two versions) that the Sixth Circuit cited in support of its federalism claims.
Surprisingly, the court said that this reasoning applies equally to the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief. (It's not entirely clear how declaratory relief alone interferes with any of the three categories in Section 904.)
All this said, the ruling probably doesn't extend to other civil rights claims that don't involve a "contract" with the government. This case ended up in the bankruptcy court because the residents had a water-services "contract" with the city that fell under the city's bankruptcy. A different kind of claim (police brutality, for example) wouldn't involve a "contract," (hopefully) wouldn't get kicked to bankruptcy, and therefore wouldn't get dismissed under Section 904.
The Second Circuit last week rejected claims that the federal government exceeded its authority and violated the Enclave Clause in taking about 13,000 acres of land in central New York into trust on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.
The ruling is a victory for the Nation and its ability to self-govern. In particular, under federal land-into-trust law, it means that the Nation's land is not subject to state and local taxes and zoning and regulatory requirements, and that (unless the Nation consents) New York lacks criminal and civil jurisdiction over Nation members on the land.
The ruling is also a reaffirmation of the federal government's land-into-trust powers, by which the federal government can take state land into trust for Native American nations, and the very limited restrictions on federal power to take and regulate land under the Enclave Clause. (The Enclave Clause, Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 17, is a favorite of those who argue against federal authority to hold and regulate lands other than Washington, D.C., even though that reading is not supported by the text, history, or precedent of the Clause.)
The case arose when the federal government took about 13,000 acres of land in New York into trust on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation, pursuant to authority under the Indian Reorganization Act. (The dispute goes back much farther, however.) The Oneida Nation already owned the land--it purchased it on the private market--but sought the trust in order to govern itself and avoid state taxes and certain regulations. Plaintiffs (two towns, a civic organization, and some individuals) sued, arguing that the land-into-trust procedures violated the Indian Commerce Clause, state sovereignty, and the Enclave Clause. (Plaintiffs asserted that they'd be harmed by the Nation's casino, and the inability to collect taxes on the land where it sits.)
The Second Circuit flatly rejected those claims. The court ruled that under the Indian Commerce Clause the federal government has plenary authority to regulate with respect to Native American nations, including authority to take land in trust for nations, and that this authority wasn't correlated to the Interstate Commerce Clause or otherwise bound only to purely intra-state activities. The court also ruled that no constitutional provisions protected "state sovereignty" as against the land-into-trust procedures.
As to the Enclave Clause claim, the court, drawing on longstanding precedent, wrote that "state consent is needed only when the federal government takes 'exclusive' jurisdiction over land within a state." (This follows from precedent and the plain language of the Clause itself: "The Congress shall have Power . . . To exercise exclusive Legislative in all Cases whatsoever, over such District . . . as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings[.]") Because the federal government's land-into-trust procedures leave some authority to a state (like civil and criminal law as against non-members, and the power to impose a sales tax on sales to non-members), it did not need "Cession of" the state under the Enclave Clause.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) denied the group Catharsis on the Mall a preliminary injunction against the National Park Service from enforcing its regulation against certain bonfires on Park Service land in D.C.
The ruling, though preliminary, means that Catharsis on the Mall didn't get to burn its wooden Phoenix this weekend--symbolic speech in support of veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.
The case arose when Catharsis sought permission to hold its second annual 72-hour vigil near the Washington Monument, which was to culminate in the burning of a 24-foot tall Phoenix. The group sought to show its support for veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.
The NPS denied permission, however, citing a new regulatory scheme for outdoor events, including a regulation that bans burning structures by size.
But here's the problem: NPS granted a permit to the group to burn a structure during its vigil last year that was even bigger than this year's Phoenix. And the D.C. Fire Department didn't think the Phoenix burning would have been a problem.
Still, the court ruled that Catharsis didn't show a likelihood of success on the merits. In particular, the court wrote that the new bonfire regulation was a content-neutral time, place, manner regulation on speech in a public forum; that it was narrowly tailored to maintain safety; and that Catharsis had other ways to convey its message.
The ruling is only on Catharsis's motion for a preliminary injunction, but given the court's approach to the likelihood-of-success question, the final ruling will almost certainly be the same.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled this week in LeFande v. D.C. that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department did not violate an officer's First Amendment rights when the MPD fired the officer for internal e-mails critical of MPD operations and officers, and refusing to respond to a superior's request.
The ruling puts an end to this very long-running dispute, and the very long-running, and highly contentious, relationship between the officer, LeFande, and the MPD.
This piece of the case arose when Matthew LeFande, police reserve officer with the MPD (a volunteer position designed to assist full-time officers), wrote a series of internal e-mails highly critical of certain MPD operations and MPD officers, and declining to comply with a superior's request. (The case actually started much earlier, with a suit LeFande filed against the MPD, and the MPD fired him. He raised a First Amendment claim to his termination (based on his free speech in bringing the suit), but the MPD said it actually fired him for the e-mails--thus opening this latest chapter of the case.)
The court ruled that it didn't have to say whether the e-mails constituted citizen speech on matters of public concern (under Pickering), because the MPD's interest in efficiency outweighed LeFande's interests in free speech, anyway. The court held that LeFande's free-speech interest in sending e-mails criticizing MPD operations and officers "cannot outweigh the fact that their 'disruptive force' . . . threatens workplace efficiency." It further held that LeFande's interest in sending e-mails declining a superior's request were outweighed by the MPD's interest in efficiency, because "[i]f police department leadership faced opposition from employees after every routine request, the machinery of law enforcement would grind to a halt."
The court conceded that some of LeFande's speech (especially those e-mails criticizing MPD operations) implicated matters of public concern--perhaps more than the survey questions in Connick. But it ruled that the MPD's interest outweighed LeFande's, especially "given the 'special degree of trust and discipline required in a police force.'"
Sunday, November 6, 2016
The Supreme Court on Saturday stayed an injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit late last week halting enforcement of Arizona's ballot collection ban. The order means that Arizona can enforce its criminal ban on ballot collection pending appeal to the full Ninth Circuit--well after Election Day.
Recall that a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit denied a preliminary injunction against Arizona's 2016 ballot collection law. That law criminalized the collection and delivery of early ballots by anyone other than the voter. (Arizona had previously allowed certain persons other than the voter to collect and deliver a voter's ballot. This practice was used by minority communities in the state, including Native American, Hispanic, and African American communities that, for different reasons, lacked easy access to the polls.)
The full Ninth Circuit then agreed to hear the case. And the court issued an injunction against enforcement of the law pending appeal. As to any problems from enjoining a law so close to the election (like voter confusion)--the Purcell factors--the court wrote:
First, the injunction does not affect the state's election processes or machinery. . . .
Enjoining enforcement of H.B. 2023 will not have any effect on voters themselves, on the conduct of election officials at the polls, or on the counting of ballots. . . .
Here, the injunction preserves the status quo prior to the recent legislative action in H.B. 2023. Every other election cycle in Arizona has permitted the collection of legitimate ballots by third parties to election officials. . . .
Moreover, the court wrote that Arizona's first attempt at criminalizing ballot collection was stopped by DOJ--denied preclearance before Shelby County effective wiped preclearance off the books. But then Arizona re-enacted it in 2016, after Shelby County said that Arizona no longer had to preclear election-law changes. Thus, according to the Ninth Circuit, an injunction pending appeal didn't run into Purcell problems, because "[i]n the wake of Shelby County, the judiciary provides the only meaningful review of legislation that may violate the Voting Rights Act."
The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in January, but the Supreme Court's order on Saturday ensures that Arizona's ban on ballot collection will stay in place for this election cycle.
The order was unsigned, and there were no concurrences or dissents.
Friday, November 4, 2016
In her opinion in Hill v. Williams, United States District Judge Christine Arguello enjoined Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1), which prohibits a voter from “show[ing] his ballot after it is prepared for voting to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” In late October, the Denver District Attorney issued a news release reminding voters that posting an image of a completed ballot - - - a "ballot selfie" - - - was a misdemeanor. Two separate sets of plaintiffs thereafter sued to enjoin the Colorado statute as a violation of the First Amendment.
As Judge Argeullo explains,
Colorado uses an all mail-in ballot election. Every registered voter who registered to vote on or before October 31, 2016, has received a mail-in ballot to complete at home. Individuals who did not register by that date are allowed to register at the polling places and vote up to, and including, Election Day. Moreover, voters who have obtained ballots in the mail are still allowed to vote in person on Election Day. . . . The Deputy Secretary of State testified that she anticipates between 100,000 and 750,000 Coloradans will vote in person on November 8, 2016.
The ballot selfie prohibition thus included photographs at polling places as well as photographs of ballots completed for mailing.
The judge first rejected the state's arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing or that the case was already moot. The judge likewise rejected the argument that an injunction would alter election laws and procedures immediately before an election. Despite the timing, the judge stated that the plaintiffs' request (and her injunction) was narrowly crafted, and further noted that "if local rules at polling places prohibit the use of cameras due to privacy concerns, nothing in this Court’s Order prohibits the enforcement of those rules."
In the discussion of the First Amendment merits, the judge applied intermediate scrutiny for purposes of the preliminary injunction and concluded that the statute failed. The judge also accepted that voter fraud was a significant government interest. However, the judge found the means chosen were not sufficiently narrowly tailored to serve that interest: the statute prohibits a wide range of conduct and does not include a mens rea related to voter fraud. Moreover, other extant laws could achieve the purpose of preventing voter fraud.
Thus, the judge entered a preliminary injunction against the defendant prosecutors
from enforcing Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1) by prosecuting, referring for prosecution, and/or investigating violations thereof, or instructing any person to remove from publication any photograph or image of that person’s voted ballot, unless such violations or publication is in connection with violations of other criminal laws. Nothing in this Order shall alter the ability of Defendants or other officials to enforce any other laws, rules, or regulations related to the administration of the election, including those rules in effect at polling places.
This opinion contrasts with the opinion regarding the New York statute. Like the New York statute, the Colorado statute is longstanding (section § 1-13-712 was passed in 1891, but was most recently amended in 1980), and both lawsuits were filed close to the pending election. However, Judge Arguello balanced the First Amendment interests in favor of the individuals and issued a narrow but effective injunction.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
In his opinion in Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Cortes, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Gerald Pappert has rejected the Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment constitutional challenges to the state election code provision §2687(b) requiring poll watchers to be qualified electors of the county in which they serve.
The challenge argues that the code provision violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by hampering poll watchers’ fundamental right to vote. The "crux of this argument," as Judge Pappert states, is "that if a qualified, registered voter casts a valid ballot in one county and a fraudulent ballot is cast for a different candidate in another county, the fraudulent ballot effectively negates the valid ballot, and the qualified, registered elector’s vote is diluted." But Judge Pappert rejected any applicability of Reynolds v. Sims's vote-dilution, noting that the vote-dilution theory here is "based on speculation that fraudulent voters may be casting ballots elsewhere in the Commonwealth and the unproven assumption that these alleged instances of voter fraud would be prevented by the affected poll watchers were they not precluded from serving at these locations." Additionally, the challengers argued that the code provision arbitrarily distinguished between voters by county, a classification which the challengers conceded in the hearing would merit only rational basis scrutiny. Indeed, Judge Pappert found that the entirety of the Fourteenth Amendment challenge to the code provision was subject to rational basis scrutiny given that the fundamental right to vote was not actually being burdened.
Judge Pappert also rejected the claim that Section 2687(b) infringes on the rights to free speech and association under the First Amendment by narrowing the pool of potential watchers at any polling place to the county level. The judge noted that plaintiffs cited no authority for the proposition that poll-watching is protected by the First Amendment or that it constitutes "core political speech." Instead, it is a state-created function and is subject to limitations by the state. It is distinguished from petition-circulators, for example, because "poll watchers do not discuss or advocate for a political candidate or viewpoint, either explicitly or implicitly." Instead, poll watchers, whatever their private motivations may be, are "performing a public function delegated by the state."
In addition to finding that the constitutional claims failed to satisfy the likelihood of success on the merits necessary to warrant a preliminary injunction, Judge Pappert also found the other factors for preliminary injunction lacking. Additionally, Judge Pappert noted that the Plaintiffs "waited until eighteen days before the election to bring the case": "There was no need for this judicial fire drill and Plaintiffs offer no reasonable explanation or justification for the harried process they created." Moreover, should the code be enjoined, "poll watchers would be allowed to roam the Commonwealth on election day for the first time in the Election Code’s seventy-nine year history—giving the Commonwealth and county election officials all of five days’ notice to prepare for the change."
Judge Pappert, a former Attorney General of Pennsylvania, has authored a very well-reasoned 28 page opinion likely to withstand any appeal. And although the opinion does not mention it, election-watchers are well aware of the context of the Pennsylvania situation: As reported, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has exhorted people in the more rural portions of the state to "Go down to certain areas and watch and study make sure other people don't come in and vote five times." Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania Republican Party and the Trump Campaign for voter intimidation violating the Ku Klux Klan Act.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
In its opinion in Keefe v. Adams, a divided panel of the Eighth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a student from the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Central Lakes College (CLC) in Minnesota. Other students had complained about posts on Craig Keefe’s Facebook page and he was eventually removed from the program for :behavior unbecoming of the profession and transgression of professional boundaries." Keefe challenged the constitutionality of the dismissal based on the First Amendment and procedural due process. The district judge granted summary judgment for the university officials and the majority opinion, authored by Judge James Loken for the Eighth Circuit panel, affirmed.
The concerning posts involved other students in the class and group projects, including his objection to a fellow student changing the group presentation - "Not enough whiskey to control that anger" and calling another student a "bitch" for presumably reporting his Facebook posts.
Doesnt anyone know or have heard of mechanical pencils. Im going to take this electric pencil sharpener in this class and give someone a hemopneumothorax with it before to long. I might need some anger management.
In a footnote, the court helpfully explains:
a hemopneumothorax is a “trauma” where the lung is punctured and air and blood flood the lung cavity; it is not a medical procedure.
College officials discussed the posts and Keefe originally deflected. He was dismissed from the program under specific provisions in the Nursing Program Student Handbook which also refers to the Nurses Association Code of Ethics, including professional boundaries and "behavior unbecoming." He appealed within the the college, citing failures of procedural due process, but his appeal was denied.
On the procedural due process issue, the majority concluded:
Viewing the summary judgment record as a whole, we conclude that Keefe was provided sufficient notice of the faculty’s dissatisfaction, an explanation of why his behavior fell short of the professionalism requirements of the Program, an opportunity to respond to the initial decision-maker, and an opportunity to appeal her adverse decision. Nothing in the record suggests that Keefe’s removal from the Nursing Program was not a careful and deliberate, genuinely academic decision.
Dissenting in part, Judge Jane Kelly argued that the dismissal decision was not "academic." Instead, it was a disciplinary dismissal for which he argued the due process standard should be higher. Judge Kelly highlighted one of the meetings with Keefe in which he was not given all the posts beforehand with "time to review the posts and formulate a response." However, Judge Kelly contended that the college administrators were entitled to qualified immunity on the due process claim.
The First Amendment issue is the central one. As Judge Loken's opinion for the majority notes, Keefe frames the issue categorically: "a college student may not be punished for off-campus speech," unless that speech is "unprotected by the First Amendment." Judge Loken characterized this as an "extreme position" not adopted by any court.
The Eighth Circuit majority rehearsed some of the cases involving academic requirements for professionalism and fitness, including cases such as Ward and Keeton involving professional students' failure to comply with anti-bias requirements. These principles, the court held, were equally pertinent to off-campus speech, especially given that the off-campus speech was "directed at classmates, involved their conduct in the Nursing Program, and included a physical threat related to their medical studies."
For the dissenting judge, it was important that Keefe's Facebook posts "were not made as part of fulfilling a program requirement and did not express an intention to break specific curricular rules." As to the "threat," the dissenting judge argued that the district judge had failed to make findings that Keefe's statement qualified as a true threat. For the dissenting judge, summary judgment was improper.
The split opinion might indicate that the case is a good candidate for en banc review and there were First Amendment groups as amici on behalf of the dismissed student. Nevertheless, the Eighth Circuit opinion does comport with the trend of allowing professional educational programs latitude to "professionalize" students and to dismiss those who do not conform.