Tuesday, September 2, 2014
A sharply divided three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit today upheld Indiana's "right to work" law against federal preemption and other constitutional challenges. The ruling means that Indiana's law stays on the books--a serious blow to unions in the state. But the division invites en banc review and even Supreme Court review of this bitterly contested issue.
The case, Sweeney v. Pence, tested the constitutionality of Indiana's "right to work" law, enacted in February 2012. That law prohibits any person from requiring an individual to join a union as a condition of employment. As relevant here, it also prohibits any person from requiring an individual to "[p]ay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization" as a condition of employment. In short, it prohibits mandatory "fair share" fees--those fees that non-union-members have to pay for the collective bargaining activities of a union (but not the union's political activities), in order to avoid free-riding.
The law deals a blow to unions, because it allows non-members to escape even representational fees (or "fair share" fees, those fees designed to cover only a union's collective bargaining and employee representational costs, but not political expenditures), even as federal law requires unions to provide "fair representation" to all employees, union or not. This encourages "free riders," non-member employees who take advantage of union activities but decline to pay for them.
The plaintiffs, members and officers of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, AFL-CIO, argued that the National Labor Relations Act preempted Indiana's law and that the law violated various constitutional individual-rights protections. The preemption argument turned on two provisions of the NLRA, Sections 8(a)(3) and 14(b). Section 8(a)(3) provides,
It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer . . . by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure or employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization.
Provided, That nothing in this subchapter, or in any other statute of the United States, shall preclude an employer from making an agreement with a labor organization (not established, maintained, or assisted by any action defined in this subsection as an unfair labor practice) to require as a condition of employment membership therein . . . .
Section 14(b) says,
Nothing in this subchapter 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 Union argued that under this language a state may ban an agency-shop agreement (a requirement that all employees pay full union dues, whether or not they are members), but not a lesser union-security arrangement (like a fair share requirement).
The majority disagreed. The court said that Indiana had broad rights to restrict union-security agreements, including fair share. It first pointed to Supreme Court cases (Retail Clerks I and II) that held that Section 14(b) allowed a state to ban an agency-shop agreement. It then read the term "membership" in Section 14(b) quite narrowly, to include non-members who were required to pay fair share fees. (That's right: the court said that non-members were part of the "membership" under Section 14(b).) The court said that the final clause of Section 14(b) therefore leaves room for states to ban complete union-security agreements (like agency shops) and also lesser union-security agreements (like fair share). It said that some states had these laws on the books when Congress passed Section 14(b), and that some states have them on the books today. "The longevity of many of these statutes, coupled with the lack of disapproval expressed by the Supreme Court, suggests to us that Indiana's right-to-work law falls squarely within the realm of acceptable law."
The majority also rejected the plaintiffs' individual-rights arguments, under the Takings Clause, the Contracts Clause, the Ex Post Facto Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Free Speech Clause.
Judge Wood dissented. She argued that under the majority's approach, Indiana's law amounted to an unconstitutional taking (because, along with the duty of fair representation, it required the union to do work for non-members without pay). She said the better approach (under constitutional avoidance principles)--and the one more consistent with the language of the NLRA and Retail Clerks I and II)--said that the NLRA preempted Indiana's law.
The sharp disagreement on the panel, the uncertain state of the law, and the contentiousness of the underlying issue all suggest that this case is ripe for en banc review and, ultimately, Supreme Court review. If so, this case could be the next in a recent line of anti-union rulings chipping away at fair share.
Monday, July 7, 2014
Ninth Circuit Finds DACA Plaintiffs Entitled to Preliminary Injunction to Receive Drivers' Licenses in Arizona
The Ninth Circuit's opinion in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer reversed the denial of a preliminary injunction finding that the plaintiffs had a substantial likelihood of success on their equal protection claim.
The plaintiffs challenged an Executive Order by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that prohibits recipients of the federal program called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) from obtaining driver’s licenses by using Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States. The Ninth Circuit panel of judges - - - Harry Pregerson, Marsha S. Berzon, and Morgan Christen - - - in an opinion authored by Pregerson held that even under a rational basis standard of equal protection review, there was no legitimate state interest that was rationally related to defendants’ decision to treat DACA recipients disparately from other noncitizens who were permitted to use their Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States when applying for driver’s licenses.
The major rationale proffered by Arizona for its disparate treatment between classes of noncitizens was that "it is rational to accept (c)(9) and (c)(10) Employment Authorization Documents as proof that the holder’s “presence . . . is authorized under federal law,” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-3153(D), because persons with (c)(9) and (c)(10) documents “[are] on a path to lawful status,” while DACA recipients are not." The court was "unconvinced" that Arizona "defined 'a path to lawful status' in a meaningful wa," reasoning that "noncitizens’ applications for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal are often denied, so the supposed 'path' may lead to a dead end."
But even so, the court - - - in what could be considered a back door preemption argument - - - noted that states, including Arizona, “enjoy no power with respect to the classification of aliens,” citing Plyler v. Doe, "so their attempt to distinguish between these noncitizens on the basis of an immigration classification that has no basis in federal law is not likely to withstand equal protection scrutiny."
The court likewise rejected the other four rationales raised by Arizona:
- that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might expose the Arizona Department of Transportation to legal liability “for issuing driver’s licenses to 80,000 unauthorized immigrants;”
- that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might allow DACA recipients to access state and federal benefits to which they are not entitled;
- that the DACA program might be canceled, requiring Arizona to revoke DACA recipients’ driver’s licenses;
- that DACA recipients may have their authorized presence revoked at any time, and thereafter may be quickly removed from the United States, leaving those they may have injured in automobile accidents with no financial recourse.
The district judge had similarly found these rationales were not persuasive, but had denied the preliminary injunction for failure to show sufficient irreparable harm. The Ninth Circuit found there was such harm, faulting the district judge for seeking to "evaluate the severity of the harm to Plaintiffs, rather than simply determining whether the harm to Plaintiffs was irreparable."
The panel split on the viability of the plaintiffs' preemption claim, with Judge Christen concurring separately to contended that plaintiffs' also had a viable preemption claim.
This is an important case for state benefits including licenses that are being denied to DACA receipients, including licenses to practice law.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
In a very brief order in Zogenix v. Patrick, federal district judge Rya Zobel enjoined the Massachusetts Emergency Order prohibiting prescriptions of "hydrocodone bitartrate product in hydrocodone only extended release formulation," i.e., the controversial opiate Zohydro ER.
Judge Zobel wrote:
The FDA endorsed Zohydro ER’s safety and effectiveness when it approved the drug. When the Commonwealth interposed its own conclusion about Zohydro ER’s safety and effectiveness by virtue of DPH’s emergency order, did it obstruct the FDA’s Congressionally-given charge?
I conclude that it did. The FDA has the authority to approve for sale to the public a range of safe and effective prescription drugs—here, opioid analgesics. If the Commonwealth were able to countermand the FDA’s determinations and substitute its own requirements, it would undermine the FDA’s ability to make drugs available to promote and protect the public health.
Thus, the judge found that it was preempted. Judge Zobel issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing its emergency order, although it stayed its injunction until April 22, 2014.
Does this mean that no state can further regulate any FDA approved drug? Even in the contraception area?
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In a divided opinion in Korab v. Fink, a Ninth Circuit panel upheld the constitutionality of Hawai'i's health benefits for a certain class of "nonimmigrant aliens" against an equal protection challenge. The court reversed the preliminary injunction entered by the district judge.
There are several layers of complexity in the case. There is the immigration scheme, including a particular one involving specific nations; the health benefits schemes of both the federal government and the state; and the equal protection doctrine applicable to immigrant status fluctuating depending upon whether the government regulation is federal or state.
Judge Margaret McKeown's relatively brief majority opinion does an excellent job of unweaving and weaving these various strands of complexities in 22 pages. As she explains, in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Congress classified "aliens" into three categories for the purpose of federal benefits, including Medicaid: eligible aliens, ineligible aliens, and a third category which allowed state option. The "aliens" at issue are citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who, under the Compact of Free Association (“COFA”) with the United States, may enter the United States and establish residence as a “nonimmigrant. The "COFA aliens" are in the third category of state option. At one point, Hawai'i included coverage for the COFA "nonimmigrants," but with the advent of Basic Health Hawai'i, its 2010 program, the COFA "nonimmigrants" were excluded. It is the COFA "nonimmigrants" who challenge their exclusion from Basic Health Hawai'i on the basis of equal protection.
Given the federal and state interrelationships, the question of the level of scrutiny that should apply is pertinent. As Judge McKeown explains, "states must generally treat lawfully present aliens the same as citizens, and state classifications based on alienage are subject to strict scrutiny review." In contrast, she states, "federal statutes regulating alien classifications are subject to the easier-to-satisfy rational-basis review." What standard should apply to a "hybrid case" such as Basic Health Hawai‘i, in which a state is following a federal direction? Judge McKeown's majority concludes that rational-basis review applies to Basic Health Hawai'i "because Hawai‘i is merely following the federal direction set forth by Congress under the Welfare Reform Act."
Judge Bybee's concurring opinion, slightly longer than the majority opinion he joined, is an extended argument against equal protection doctrine's applicability in favor of a preemption doctrine.
Judge Richard Clifton, who was appointed to the bench from a private practice in Honolulu, argued that the higher level of scrutiny should be applied essentially because it is Hawai'i that is exercising its state power when in makes the choice.
I acknowledge there is something paradoxical and more than a little unfair in my conclusion that the State of Hawai‘i has discriminated against COFA Residents. The state responded to an option given to it by Congress, albeit an option that I don’t think Congress had the power to give. Hawai‘i provided full Medicaid benefits to COFA Residents for many years, entirely out of its own treasury, because the federal government declined to bear any part of that cost. Rather than terminate benefits completely in 2010, Hawai‘i offered the BHH program to COFA Residents, again from its own pocket. The right of COFA Residents to come to Hawai‘i in the first place derives from the Compacts of Free Association that were negotiated and entered into by the federal government. That a disproportionate share of COFA Residents, from Pacific island nations, come to Hawai‘i as compared to the other forty-nine states is hardly a surprise, given basic geography. The decision by the state not to keep paying the full expense of Medicaid benefits for those aliens is not really a surprise, either. In a larger sense, it is the federal government, not the State of Hawai‘i, that should be deemed responsible.
While Judge Clifton's remarks concluding his dissent focus on the paradox in his opinion, his observations also implicitly point to the paradox at the heart of the majority's decision given that the federal scheme gives the state choices - - - and it was the state that chose to exclude certain "nonimmigrants" from the South Pacific.
April 1, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Disability, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, February 10, 2014
The Michigan Supreme Court last week unanimously upheld Michigan's medical marijuana law, and struck a Michigan town's ordinance that purported to apply the federal Controlled Substances Act against it, in a two-step, federal-state-local preemption ruling. The net result: Michigan's medical marijuana law stays on the books exactly as is, and the City of Wyoming's ordinance against it is struck. And of course: Michigan medical marijuana users could still be prosecuted by federal authorities under the Controlled Substances Act.
The case, Ter Beek v. City of Wyoming, involved a challenge to Wyoming's ordinance that was adopted to allow city authorities to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act (the "CSA") against Michigan's medical marijuana law. Wyoming's ordinance read:
Uses not expressly permitted under this article are prohibited in all districts. Uses that are contrary to federal law, state law or local ordinance are prohibited.
That last sentence would ban marijuana that violates the CSA in the city.
But a city resident challenged it as preempted by the Michigan medical marijuana law under the Michigan Constitution. The city argued in reply that Michigan's medical marijuana law was itself preempted--by the CSA under the federal Constitution.
The court ruled first that the CSA did not preempt the Michigan medical marijuana law. The reason is simple: nothing in the Michigan law prohibits federal enforcement of the CSA. There's no conflict preemption and no obstacle preemption. Moreover, the CSA "explicitly contemplates a role for the States" in regulating medical marijuana.
The court held next that the Michigan medical marijuana law did preempt Wyoming's ordinance. Again, the reason is simple: the ordinance, by allowing enforcement of the terms of the CSA by local officials, conflicts with the Michigan law. The Michigan Constitution says that the City's "power to adopt resolutions and ordinances relating to its municipal concerns" is "subject to the constitution and the law." Art. 7, Sec. 22. That means that local laws can't conflict with state laws. And the court said that Wyoming's did.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Julie Ebenstein of the ACLU writes on Jurist.org that the dual system of voter registration in Kansas unlawfully denies citizens the right to vote. Ebenstein outlines the Kansas case challenging the dual system under state constitutional provisions, filed last November and now pending in state court.
As we wrote, two states, Arizona and Kansas, adopted a dual system of voter registration in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. In that case, the Court held that the requirement under the National Voter Registration Act that states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. (The NVRA form requires applicants simply to attest to their citizenship, not to provide additional documentation.)
Arizona and Kansas then announced that they would require voters to register separately for state and federal elections. This created a dual system of voter registration: NVRA and state-form registrants before January 1, 2013, can vote in both state and federal elections; but NVRA registrants after January 1, 2013, can vote in only federal elections. (NVRA registrants after that date also can't sign petitions.) Now only state-form registrants who provide the additional proof of citizenship can vote in state elections. State-form registrants who fail to provide the additional proof of citizenship cannot vote at all.
The ACLU and ACLU of Kansas filed suit last November challenging the dual registration system. The complaint, filed in state court, alleges that the system violates state constitutional equal protection by distinguishing between classes of voters in the state, that state officials exceeded their state constitutional authority, and that the system wasn't properly promulgated as a rule or regulation under Kansas law.
January 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Preemption, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
The Supreme Court heard arguments today in Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, the case testing whether the Airline Deregulation Act preempts a state-law claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising out of an airline's termination of a customer's membership in its frequent flyer program. Our argument preview is here.
Given that the Court has ruled in Wolens that the ADA does not preempt an ordinary breach-of-contract claim, arguments today turned on whether the claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is simply an incorporated contract requirement or a rule of contract interpretation (so that it's actually part of the contract, and thus not preempted), or whether it's an additional state-imposed obligation on top of the plain terms of the contract (and thus preempted). This question is informed by the deregulatory purpose of the ADA. Justice Breyer framed the issue this way:
I absolutely agree wtih you that--that a free market in price is at the heart of the Deregulation Act. Given.
I also think frequent flyer programs are simply price discounts. Given.
I also think that if you don't have contracts, you can't have free markets. Given.
But I also think the State cannot, under the guise of contract law, regulate the prices of airlines. If you allow that, you're going to have worse than we ever had. It'll be 50 different systems, all right?
Justice Kagan framed it this way, suggesting a solution that would preserve the implied covenant claim:
I guess what I'm suggesting is that the implied covenant here, it's just an interpretive tool. It says that there are certain kinds of provisions that are written very broadly or very vaguely, and an implied covenant comes in to help us interpret those kinds of provisions. And viewed in that way, it's just a contractual device that in light of Wolens ought to be permitted.
Justice Sotomayor said it this way, and proposed a standard for distinguishing between ordinary breach-of-contract claims and implied covenant claims:
My simpler standard comes from quoting Hennepin: "Does the implied covenant claim extend to actions beyond the scope of the underlying contract, or can it override the express terms of the agreement? If the answer is no, it's not preempted."
The question is complicated by the fact that the frequent flyer program in this case gave Northwest the "sole discretion" to terminate. So: Is an implied covenant part of that contract, or is it an additional state-law requirement? And what's the standard for sorting that out?
As an initial matter, any standard may not answer the preemption question categorically. That's because different states interpret their implied covenant laws differently. This gave the Court another problem: Does it have to sort out the particular state law on implied covenants in order to determine whether a claim in a particular state is preempted? And might the answer change depending on the state, leading to inconsistent results and undermining the deregulatory purpose of the ADA? Justice Scalia put this point on it:
Wow, somebody's really been given a raw deal. You know, that's still going to be possible even if we rule for [Ginsberg] here. It depends on what State he's from, right?
Complicating things yet more, the answer may turn on the implied covenant's waivability. Justice Kagan made this point:
But if it can't be waived, it sure seems as though it is operating independently of the parties' reasonable expectations.
It may also turn on the fact that frequent flyer programs work for airline miles, but also for other goods and services--and thus state regulation of them may not amount to a regulation of airline price, in violation of the ADA. Justice Alito put it this way:
I don't want to take up your rebuttal time, but if the facts were that under a particular program 90 percent of the miles were earned by purchasing things other than flying and 90 percent of the miles were spent on things other than flying, wouldn't that be very different?
This could give the Court a way out of the problem, by ruling that state implied-covenant claims based on frequent flyer programs aren't preempted because they don't regulate the price of airline tickets. This seems unlikely, though: even if frequent flyer programs work for other goods and services, they still also work for airline tickets.
Finally, there's the presumption against preemption--and whether it has any bearing on this case. Chief Justice Roberts seemed to think so:
I do agree, it seems pretty inconsistent with the normal presumption against preemption that we apply out of respect for the State legal regimes to say we're going to adopt a broad prophylactic rule.
But Justice Scalia thought not:
But the whole purpose of the ADA was to preempt State laws. I mean, I can understand applying that presumption to other statutes which say nothing about preemption. The whole purpose of the ADA was to deregulate airlines, was to say there was going to be no Federal regulation. Let the free market handle it and there will be no State regulation.
On the one hand, a narrow ruling in this case--one that address Ginsberg's particular claim, under Minnesota law, recognizing that this particular program gave the airline "sole discretion" to terminate--seems both likely and appropriate, especially given the particularities of this case. But on the other hand, as at least some on the Court suggested, an overly narrow ruling, without a broader standard, leaves open the possibility (or even probability) that this very same issue, or one like it, could give the lower courts a headache in the 49 other states (where implied covenant claims might work differently).
If Ginsberg loses, and his claim is preempted, the U.S. Department of Transportation can still investigate Northwest's frequent flyer program. But that remedy doesn't do anything for Ginsberg.
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, the case testing wether the federal Airline Deregulation Act preempts a state-law claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising out of an airline's termination of a customer's membership in its frequent flyer program. Here's my preview of the oral argument from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court cases, with permission:
S. Binyomin Ginsberg was an active member of WorldPerks, the Northwest Airline’s frequent flyer program, since 1999. Ginsberg, an expert in education and administration, travelled frequently on Northwest to give lectures, conduct seminars and workshops, and advise other educators and administrators. In 2005, Ginsberg earned Platinum Elite Status in the WorkPerks program, the highest level of benefits available.
But in June 2008, Northwest revoked Ginsberg’s WorldPerks membership. A Northwest representative explained by phone that Northwest was revoking his membership because he had abused the program by complaining too many times and strategically booking himself on full flights in order to get bumped. A Northwest Customer Care Coordinator later sent Ginsberg an e-mail citing Paragraph 7 of the WorldPerks General Terms and Conditions and saying that “[a]buse of the WorldPerks program . . . may result in cancellation of the member’s account and future disqualification from program participation, forfeiture of all mileage accrued and cancellation of previously issued but unused awards.” The e-mail also said that Northwest may determine “in its sole judgment” whether a passenger has abused the program. The e-mail did not give any specific information about how Ginsberg had abused the program.
Ginsberg filed suit on January 8, 2009, asserting four causes of action: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) negligent misrepresentation; and (4) intentional misrepresentation. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that Ginsberg failed to show sufficient facts to support his breach-of-contract claim, and that the federal Airline Deregulation Act preempted Ginsberg’s other three claims.
Ginsberg appealed, but only as to his claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, and this appeal followed.
Congress enacted the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) in 1978, concluding that “maximum reliance on competitive market forces” would best further “efficiency, innovation, and low prices” as well as “variety [and] quality . . . of air transportation services.” As part of the Act, and in order to ensure that states would not frustrate deregulation by enacting their own regulations, Congress included a preemption provision barring any state from “enact[ing] or enforce[ing] a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” At the same time, Congress retained the Act’s already-existing “savings clause,” which preserved common law and statutory remedies.
The Supreme Court addressed the ADA’s preemption clause in two important cases. In the first case, Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374 (1992), the Court ruled that the ADA preempted state regulation of airlines’ fare advertisements. The Court held that the preemption clause’s phrase “related to” was quite broad, and that the ADA sought to preempt any state enforcement actions “having a connection with or reference to airline ‘rates, routes, or services’ . . . .” The Court had little trouble concluding that state regulation of airlines’ fare advertisements fell comfortably within that definition.
In the second case, American Airlines, Inc. v. Wolens, 513 U.S. 219 (1995), a case very similar to Ginsberg’s, the Court ruled that the ADA preempted state enforcement suits against an airline arising under state-imposed obligations (as in a state law regulating an airline), but not under an airline’s breach of its own, self-imposed obligations (as in the airline’s own contract with its customers). According to the Court, “[a] remedy confined to a contract’s terms simply holds parties to their agreement,” and does not impose additional obligations related to a price, route, or service. Wolens sued American Airlines for making retroactive changes to the terms and conditions of its frequent flyer program. The Court held that the ADA preempted Wolens’s claim under the state Consumer Fraud Act, but that it did not preempt Wolens’s claim for routine breach of contract.
Considering the broad reading of the preemption clause in Morales, the parties here argue whether Ginsberg’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing looks like more a state-imposed obligation or whether it looks more like an airline-imposed obligation under Wolens.
Northwest argues first that the plain language of the ADA preempts Ginsberg’s claim. It says that Ginsberg’s suit, which seeks reinstatement of program membership and renewed access to the reduced prices and enhanced services that come with it, is plainly “related to” Northwest’s prices, routes, and services, especially given the Court’s broad approach to the ADA’s preemption provision. Moreover, Northwest contends that Ginsberg’s claim seeks to enlarge the program’s General Terms and Conditions, a voluntary agreement between the parties, by invoking state law that is external to the agreement. In other words, Northwest says that Ginsberg’s implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim is no ordinary breach-of-contract claim, designed simply to enforce the terms of the agreement between the parties. Instead, it says that Ginsberg’s claim goes above-and-beyond simple enforcement of the agreement and, if allowed, would enforce state policies outside the four corners of the agreement, external to the contract. Northwest argues that this violates the Court’s rule in Wolens.
Next, Northwest argues that preemption of Ginsberg’s claim is consistent with the policies underlying the ADA. Northwest contends that Ginsberg’s implied covenant claim is amorphous and subject to different interpretations, and, if enforced here and elsewhere, would lead to a patchwork of state regulations over agreements like this. (In contrast, Northwest says that simple breach-of-contract claims are uniform enough across jurisdictions to avoid a patchwork result.) Moreover, Northwest argues that Ginsberg’s claim, if recognized, would create a risk of state interference with competition and commercial activity in the airline industry by substituting state law for market forces. Northwest claims that the patchwork result and state interference are both inconsistent with the goals of the ADA, to further “efficiency, innovation, and low prices” in the airline industry through “maximum reliance on competitive market forces.” (Northwest also notes that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has authority to investigate unfair practices in frequent flyer programs, so that Ginsberg and others like him may seek federal administrative relief.)
The federal government weighed in to support Northwest. Like Northwest, the government argues that the ADA preempts Ginsberg’s claim, because Ginsberg’s claim is external to his contract with Northwest. The government contends that because the district court rejected Ginsberg’s breach-of-written-contract claim on the basis that it gave Northwest complete discretion to determine Ginsberg’s status in the program, and because Ginsberg did not appeal that portion of the ruling, Ginsberg’s implied-covenant claim necessarily seeks to impose an additional, non-contractual obligation on Northwest. The government says that under Wolens this claim is preempted. But unlike Northwest the government does not argue for a categorical rule that all implied-covenant claims are preempted by the ADA, because, it says, some implied-covenant claims may require only adjudication of routine breach-of-contract claims, consistent with Wolens. The government says that only those implied-covenant claims that seek to enforce policies outside the contract, like Ginsberg’s, are preempted.
Ginsberg argues first that his implied covenant of good faith claim is not preempted under Wolens. Ginsberg says that his claim does not look outside the contract; instead, it stays within the contract. According to Ginsberg, that’s because a contract includes both express and implied terms, and his claim simply seeks to put an implied-obligation-of-good-faith gloss on the contract language that gives Northwest “sole judgment” to determine whether he abused the program. Ginsberg claims that this gloss is no extra-contractual obligation; rather, it is part-and-parcel of the contract itself. He says that courts read in an implied covenant of good faith to a contract in order to protect the contract’s express terms, and not to add an additional or external obligation or policy. Moreover, Ginsburg contends that his decision not to appeal the dismissal of his claim for a breach of the written contract does not transform his implied covenant of good faith claim into one based on extra-contractual policies, as argued by the federal government. Again, he says that the contract includes both express and implied terms, and his implied claim simply seeks to enforce the contract itself. Ginsberg says that holding Northwest to implied terms furthers the aims of the ADA, because enforcement in good faith increases the stability of contracts and reduces the costs of entering into them. Ginsberg claims that DOT enforcement does not replace the role of the courts in resolving contract disputes, whether they involve express or implied terms of a contract.
Ginsberg argues next that his claim is not preempted because it does not seek to “enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision.” Ginsberg says that the Court unanimously held that a statutory provision in the Federal Boat Safety Act that preempts enforcement of “a law or regulation” does not preempt common-law claims. For the same reasons that that provision did not preempt, Ginsberg contends that the ADA should not preempt. He also says that the word “provision” does not extend to common-law duties. As a result, Ginsberg contends that the ADA’s preemption clause does not apply, even aside from his Wolens argument.
Finally, Ginsberg argues that his claim is not preempted because it does not relate to airline prices, routes, or services. He says that his claim, unlike the claim in Wolens, does not challenge access to flights and upgrades or the number of miles needed to obtain a ticket. Instead, Ginsberg argues that his claim goes only to the termination of his WorldPerks membership. He says that this claim does not reference, does not seek to regulate, and will not affect the price, route, or service of air transportation. (Ginsberg argues that the WorldPerks program is not a “service” within the meaning of the ADA.) Ginsberg underscores this point by noting that frequent flyer miles can be earned and spent on many things other than air transportation, and that consumers can participate in a frequent flyer program without buying a single airline ticket. Finally, Ginsberg says that the DOT advises consumers to “consider legal action through the appropriate civil court” if they are unhappy with the way a frequent flyer program is administered. He says that is exactly what he did here.
On one level, this case simply addresses a claim that falls between the cracks of the sharp distinction between contract-based claims and extra-contractual claims that the Court drew in Wolens. By this reckoning, the case is only another opportunity for the Court to round out its analysis of ADA preemption and to give guidance to lower courts and litigants for the next round of claims against the airlines. The case is significant, but only insofar as it deals with ADA preemption of a particular kind of claim. The parties do not argue that the Court should overturn Wolens, and they do not argue that the ADA does not preempt an ordinary breach-of-contract claim. Thus, whatever the Court likely rules in this case, Ginsberg and plaintiffs like him will continue to be able to assert an ordinary breach-of-contract claim against an airline, even if they cannot assert more. (The fact that Ginsberg appealed his implied covenant claim, but not his breach-of-contract claim, says that the implied covenant claim sweeps more broadly, and could be easier to prove, than the breach-of-contract claim. If so, a ruling favoring preemption could mean that plaintiffs would lose a broader class of claims (implied covenant claims), even if they would retain a basic breach-of-contract claim.)
On another level, the case, like many preemption cases, pits significant considerations of federal-state relations against an individual plaintiff’s ability to seek redress for injuries under state law against a corporation. In this way, the case is significant for how it balances federalism against state law remedies against corporations. To put a finer point on it, this case, like some other recent federalism cases, is likely to be seen in pro-corporation or pro-plaintiff terms, depending on the outcome.
These cases involving federalism and individual state-law remedies sometimes come down with surprising alliances among the justices. In Wolens, for example, Justice Ginsberg wrote the Court’s opinion; it was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer. But the composition of the Court has changed in critical ways since Wolens, making predictions here even more difficult than usual. Look to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy as the likely pivotal votes.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
But preemption was not the only constitutional attack on SB1070; and these challenges are slowly but surely making their way to the Ninth Circuit. In March, a panel of the Ninth Circuit rendered its opinion in Valle Del Sol v. Whiting and upheld District Judge Susan Bolton's preliminary injunction against enforcement of the day labor regulations of SB 1070 as violative of the First Amendment.
Today, the Ninth Circuit again rendered an opinion upholding Judge Bolton's preliminary injunction; and although the case is again styled Valle Del Sol v. Whiting, the provisions of SB 1070 at issue, codified as Arizona Revised Statutes §13-2929, are the ones that attempted to "criminalize the harboring and transporting of unauthorized aliens" within Arizona.
Authored for the panel by Judge Richard Paez, and joined by John T. Noonan, with a concurring opinion and minimal dissent by Judge Carlos Bea, the opinion devoted about 10 of its 45 pages to the issue of standing, concluding that there was both individual and organizational standing.
On the merits, the panel found a due process violation:
Section 13-2929 states that “[i]t is unlawful for a person who is in violation of a criminal offense” to knowingly or recklessly transport, conceal, harbor, or shield an unauthorized alien. We conclude that the phrase “in violation of a criminal offense” is unintelligible and therefore the statute is void for vagueness.
Interestingly, the footnote to this passage explains:
The plaintiffs did not originally raise this issue. But in order to address the plaintiffs’ preemption claim, we must first interpret the statute’s provisions. In attempting to do so, we are confronted with this incomprehensible element of § 13-2929. Thus, we resolve the vagueness issue because it is both “antecedent to . . . and ultimately dispositive of” the appeal before us.
The court stated that "Arizona makes no claim that 'in violation of a criminal offense' makes any sense as written." The panel rejected Arizona's arguments to "save" the statute's wording, stating that Arizona would have the court "replace a nonsensical statutory element with a different element" rather than engage in the more permissible approach of adopting a limiting construction.
The court then engaged with the preemption challenge, stating that even if it were to accept Arizona's proposed interpretation of the statute, the statute is also preempted by federal law, under the doctrines of field preemption and conflict preemption. It was from this analysis that Judge Bea dissented, saying that because the case is "resolved on other grounds, namely vagueness, I believe the court should not reach the preemption issue."
The mistake - - - carelessness? - - - in the drafting of this provision was a fatal flaw. While the legislature could redraft legislation, as the court notes, perhaps the political will in Arizona for bills such as SB1070 has diminished.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The First Circuit upheld bans in the City of Providence, Rhode Island, on accepting coupons or otherwise selling tobacco products at a discounted rate and on selling flavored tobacco products (other than cigarettes) against First Amendment and preemption challenges.
The City imposed the "Price Ordinance" and "Flavor Ordinance" in order to reduce youth tobacco use. Tobacco manufacturers and trade organizations sued, arguing that the Price Ordinance violated free speech and that both ordinances were preempted by federal and state law. The First Circuit rejected the challenges and upheld the ordinances in Nat'l Ass'n of Tobacco Outlets v. City of Providence.
The court ruled that the Price Ordinance didn't violate free speech, because the ordinance "'only precludes licensed tobacco retailers from offering what the Ordinance explicitly forbids them to do,' and that offers to engage in banned activity may be 'freely regulated by the government.'" Op. at 13-14 (quoting the district court).
The court also held that the Price Ordinance wasn't preempted by the Federal Cigarette Advertising and Labeling Act. The preemption provision of the Labeling Act says that "[n]o requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes[,] the packages of which are labeled in conformity with the provisions of this chapter." But Congress enacted an exception in 2009 (in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Lorrilard) that says that a state or locality "may enact statutes and promulgate regulations, based on smoking and health . . . imposing specific bans or restrictions on the time, place, and manner, but not content, of the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes."
The court ruled that the Price Ordinance met the content-neutrality requirement in the exception, because "it merely regulates certain types of price discounting and offers to engage in such price discounting," not the content relating to health claims or warnings. Moreover, the court held that the Price Ordinance met the time, place, manner requirement. The court said that minimum price regulations met that standard (they were common when Congress enacted the exception, and the plaintiffs conceded that they met the standard), and that the Price Ordinance is wasn't materially different.
The court held that the Flavor Ordinance wasn't preempted by federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The preemption clause of that Act prohibits states and localities from regulating "tobacco product standards" and "good manufacturing standards." The Act also includes a savings clause, however, which allows regulations "relating to" the sale of tobacco products. The court said that the Flavor Ordinance fell within the savings clause, because it's not a blanket prohibition (which, the plaintiffs claimed, was more than merely "relating to") but instead allows the sale of flavored tobacco products in smoking bars.
Finally, the court ruled that the Price Ordinance wasn't field-preempted by Rhode Island law, because Rhode Island hasn't occupied the field. The court also said that the ordinances didn't violate the state constitution, which prohibits local licensing measures, because the ordinances aren't licensing measures (and because the plaintiffs didn't challenge the City's licensing measure).
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The en banc Sixth Circuit divided sharply today over whether Michigan workers could sue their employer, claims manager, and employer's doctor under federal civil RICO for engaging in a fraudulent scheme involving the mail to deny the workers state workers' compensation benefits.
The case, Jackson v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., arose when employees of Coca-Cola applied for, and were denied, workers' compensation benefits under Michigan law. The employees sued Coca-Cola, Coke's claims management service, and a cooperating doctor under federal civil RICO for colluding to deny them their benefits. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim wasn't cognizable.
The en banc Sixth Circuit agreed. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to allege that they were "injured in [their] business or property" as required by RICO for civil damages.
But then the court went on to say that this conclusion "is confirmed by" the clear-statement principle in Gregory v. Ashcroft. The majority said that under the clear-statement principle Congress must make clear when it intends federal law to displace state law in an area traditionally regulated by the states. Here, the majority held that RICO doesn't have a sufficiently clear statement of intent to displace state workers' compensation law, and so the clear-statement principle confirms the court's conclusion that the plaintiffs can't use federal civil RICO to attack the state workers' compensation scheme.
Judge Moore dissented, joined by four other judges. Judge Moore argued that "the majority makes the erroneous assumption that the clear-statement rule would even apply in this context." She argued that the majority's approach is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's clear instruction to read RICO broadly.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Judge Thomas Durkin (N.D. Ill.) ruled last week in Federal Housing Finance Agency v. City of Chicago that a Chicago ordinance that requires mortgagees of vacant buildings in the city to register with the city, pay a registration fee, and maintain the building under certain standards cannot apply to the FHFA or to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The court held that the Chicago ordinance was preempted by federal law and constituted an impermissible tax against the federal government.
The ruling means that Chicago cannot apply its vacant-building requirements to the FHFA or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the city can still apply the ordinance to private mortgagees of vacant (that is, abandoned or foreclosed) properties.
The ruling is significant, because Fannie and Freddie together hold about 258,000 loans secured by properties in the city. The ruling means that the city cannot compel the FHFA to include Fannie- and Freddie-backed properties in its vacant-property registry, cannot collect a registration fee from the FHFA (or its servicers), and cannot fine the FHFA (or its servicers) for violation of the city's maintenance standards. On the other hand, Fannie and Freddie have their own standards for continuing maintenance of vacant properties. So for Fannie- and Freddie-backed properties, federal standards, not the city's, apply.
The ruling is also significant, because it telegraphs a federalism concern to the thousand or so local governments around the country that have adopted similar vacant-property ordinances. While the ruling doesn't directly touch ordinances outside the City of Chicago, other local governments will do well to revisit their ordinances in light of the ruling.
The FHFA challenged the city's ordinance as running up against the federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, or HERA. HERA gives the FHFA authority to place Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship "for the purpose of reorganizing, rehabilitating, or winding up [their] affairs." It also empowers the FHFA to "preserve and conserve the assets and properties of [Fannie and Freddie]."
The FHFA directed Fannie and Freddie to implement consistent mortgage loan servicing and delinquency management requirements and authorized them to contract with servicers who perform activities related to loan defaults, consistent with those requirements. HERA includes a preemption clause that says that the FHFA "shall not be subject to the direction or supervision of any other agency of the United States or any State in the exercise of the rights, powers, and privileges of [the FHFA]."
The FHFA sued the city, arguing that HERA preempted the city's vacant-property ordinance and seeking a declaration and injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing the ordinance against it, or Fannie or Freddie. The court agreed with the FHFA that HERA preempted the city's ordinance and awarded the requested relief.
The court held that Chicago's Ordinance was field- and conflict- preempted by federal law. As to field preemption, Judge Durkin ruled that HERA's charge to the director of the FHFA to take care of Fannie's and Freddie's assets occupies the field, even if HERA's express preemption provision doesn't mention municipal ordinances:
Here, in contrast, it is evident that the Ordinance encroaches on an area of regulation that Congress reserved exclusively for FHFA. As applied to FHFA as conservator and mortgagee, the Ordinance regulates how FHFA manages its collateral, including specifically how this collateral--which FHFA does not actually own--should be preserved. For instance, when FHFA issues guidelines and instructions to servicers regarding the nature and frequency of inspections of vacant and abandoned properties, it is taking those steps it believes necessary to preserve and conserve Fannie and Freddie's assets and property.
HERA expressly prohibits other federal agencies and states from interfering with actions taken by FHFA as conservator. Although HERA's preemption provision . . . does not expressly include laws enacted by municipalities . . . Congress enacted an extensive federal statutory scheme which specifically requires the Director of FHFA to "establish risk-based capital requirements for [Fannie and Freddie] to ensure that [they] operate in a safe and sound manner, maintaining sufficient capital and reserves to support the risks that arise in the operations and management of [Fannie and Freddie]." HERA sets forth various grounds for the Director of FHFA to exercise his discretion to appoint FHFA as conservator of Fannie and Freddie. Once placed in conservatorship, Congress intended for FHFA to be the sole entity responsible for operating Fannie and Freddie's nationwide business of purchasing and securitizing mortgages.
Op. at 24-25.
As to conflict preemption, Judge Durkin held that Chicago's Ordinance "obstructs Congress's intent to have one conservator take control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and take action as may be 'appropriate to carry on [their business] and preserve and conserve [their] assets and property' without being 'subject to the direction or supervision of any other agency of the United States or any States . . . ." Op. at 29.
Finally, Judge Durkin ruled that Chicago's registration fee was an impermissible tax on the federal government, in violation of McCulloch v. Maryland.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
The Third Circuit has had yet another opportunity to review the constititionality of the city of Hazleton's extensive immigration ordinances in its new opinion in Lozano v. City of Hazleton [Pennsylvania]. Recall that the United States Supreme Court granted the City's petition for a writ of certiorari and vacated the Third Circuit's previous decision in light of Chamber of Commerce of United States of America v. Whiting.
In 2010, the Third Circuit panel, affirming the district court, had rendered an extensive 188 page opinion in unanimously finding that the two ordinances of Hazleton, Pennsylvania regulating immigration were pre-empted by the federal immigration scheme. The employment provision in Hazleton made it unlawful “for any business entity” to “recruit, hire for employment, or continue to employ” or “permit, dispatch, or instruct any person” who is an “unlawful worker” to perform work within Hazleton, and required employer affidavits. The ordinances also had a housing provision making it unlawful for landlords to rent to unlawful residents.
In its new opinion, the panel - - - again consisting of Chief Judge McKee and Judge Nygaard, with the previous designated judge now replaced by Judge Vanaskie - - - found that Whiting, as well as the Court's subsequent decision in Arizona v. United States regarding the notorious SB1070, did not command a different result. Instead, the court again concluded that " both the employment and housing provisions of the Hazleton ordinances are pre-empted by federal immigration law.”
Regarding the employment provisions of the Hazleton ordinance, the Third Circuit panel found that the Court's opinions in Whiting and Arizona did alter some of its previous analysis, but that the employment provisions of the Hazleton ordinance were so broad in their coverage of both actors and activities that they were an obstacle to the federal immigration law and were thus pre-empted.
As to the housing provisions, the court found:
No part of Whiting or Arizona considered provisions of a state or local ordinance that, like the housing provisions here, prohibit, and define “harboring” to include, allowing unauthorized aliens to reside in rental housing. Moreover, nothing in Whiting or Arizona undermines our analysis of the contested housing provisions here. On the contrary, the Court‟s language reinforces our view that Hazleton‟s attempt to prohibit unauthorized aliens from renting dwelling units in the City are pre-empted.
Thus, the Third Circuit reaffirmed its view that the Hazelton ordinance is unconstitutional as pre-empted.
In considering whether or not to pursue a second petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, the City of Hazleton will undoubtedly be considering the extensive litigation costs it has already expended and deciding whether it should spend even more, although reportedly some costs have been paid by private contributions.
Monday, June 24, 2013
A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled (5-4) today in Mutual Pharmaceutical Co., Inc. v. Bartlett that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, or FDCA, preempted a state-law design-defect claim against a generic drug manufacturer. Our last post on the case is here.
The ruling means that the plaintiff's state-law design-defect case against the drug manufacturer, in which she received a jury award over $21 million for severe disfigurement and permanent disabilities after taking a generic version of the pain reliever "sulindac," is dismissed--a big victory for Mutual, and a huge victory for generic drug manufacturers in general. It also forecloses another state-law cause of action against a generic drug manufacturer, coming, as it does, just two years after the Court in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing (2011) held that the FDCA preempted a state-law failure-to-warn claim against a generic manufacturer. Under these rulings, a state law could only escape preemption by establishing a liability scheme that's not tied to a standard of care that would require changing the composition or label of a drug--perhaps an absolute liability scheme that imposes liability without any showing of breach of duty (as opposed to a strict liability scheme, like this one, according to the Court, that is tied to a breach of duty, even if not negligence). It may be hard to imagine this scheme, however, after today's ruling. The dissenting Justices and Barlett read the state-law claim here as an absolute liability scheme; the majority disagreed.
Of course, Congress could change this result. Congress could simply re-write the FDCA in a way that would explicitly allow state-law claims to complement the FDCA scheme for generic manufacturers, or to otherwise provide for manufacturer-paid compensation for those injured by generic drugs.
According to the majority, Bartlett's claim ran right into PLIVA. That's because the Court today said that (1) the state design-defect law imposed a duty on drug manufacturers to design their drugs reasonably safely, (2) both the FDCA and the drug's simple composition prevented Mutual from changing the design of the drug (to comply with that state-law standard), and (3) therefore the only way for Mutual to satisfy the state-law standard was to strengthen its warning. But a label change for a generic manufacturer is foreclosed by PLIVA. Thus, according to the Court, the state-law design-defect claim conflicts with the FDCA, and it is preempted.
(The Hatch-Waxman Act, part of the FDCA, provides a easy path for generic manufacturers to put their drugs on the market, provided they show that their drugs are identical to branded equivalents and provided that they use equivalent labels. Once approved, generic manufacturers cannot change the composition of their drug or their label without prior FDA approval. The whole purpose of Hatch-Waxman was to ease entry into the market for generics and thus make less expensive drugs more widely available.)
Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Kagan. Justice Breyer wrote that it was not impossible for Mutual to comply with both the FDCA and the state-law design-defect judgment: Mutual could have declined to do business in the state entirely, or it could simply pay the judgment (without altering its drug's composition or label). Moreover, Justice Breyer wrote that there was no sign that the design-defect claim stood as an obstacle to FDCA objectives.
Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the FDCA allows room for state law to complement federal law and to provide remedies in cases like this. In particular, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the state law at issue did not require Mutual to violate federal law to comply, because state law did not depend on meeting a different state standard, that is, even if it encouraged a different design it didn't require a different design.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
A divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit this week upheld Arizona's Proposition 100, a ballot measure passed by Arizona voters that amended the state constitution to preclude bail for persons charged with certain serious felonies if the person entered or remained in the United States without proper authorization.
The ruling gives states some space for regulating unauthorized immigrants through the state criminal justice system, even as it reaffirms federal authority over immigration matters generally. What makes Prop 100 valid, according to the court, is that (1) it's not punitive (it's regulatory), (2) it's reasonably related to the state's interest in preventing flight of individuals charged with crimes, and (3) it piggy-backs on federal immigration determinations (and doesn't make those determinations itself).
The court in Valenzuela v. County of Maricopa ruled that Prop 100 didn't violate due process, Eighth Amendment excessive bail, or the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and that it wasn't preempted by federal immigration law.
As to due process, the court held under the two-prong test in United States v. Salerno (1987) (1) that there was no punitive purpose (the purpose was regulatory) and (2) that Prop 100 wasn't excessive in relation to its legitimate alternative purpose (because states often categorically deny bail for classes of charges). The court upheld Prop 100 as reasonably related to the state's (more than) legitimate interest in controlling flight risk. (The court upheld Prop 100 against the Eighth Amendment challenge based on the same balance.) The court also upheld Prop 100 against a procedural due process challenge.
As to the right to counsel, the court held that the initial appearance isn't a critical stage of prosecution triggering the right, and that "[b]oth we and the Supreme Court of Arizona have held that there is no constitutional right to an attorney at initial appearances." Op. at 27.
Finally, with regard to preemption, the court held that Prop 100 doesn't regulate immigration or impermissibly create a state-law immigration classification (because it piggy-backs on the federal determination of immigration status); that Prop 100 isn't field-preempted, because it deals with bail determinations for state-law crimes (that Congress didn't intend to preempt); and that Prop 100 isn't conflict-preempted, because pretrial detention without bail does not impose incarceration for federal immigration law violations--"such detention is not meant to punish an alleged immigration violation but rather to ensure presence in Arizona to stand trial for alleged state-law crimes." Op. at 35.
Judge Fisher dissented, arguing that Prop 100 is clearly punitive and is too rough a cut at achieving the state's interest: Without any evidence that unauthorized immigrants released on bail have been or are less likely to appear for trial compared to arrestees who are lawful residents, the majority accepts Arizona's unsupported assertion that all unauthorized immigrants necessarily pose an unmanageable flight risk." Op. at 37.
June 23, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Procedural Due Process, Sixth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 17, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled today in Arizona v. InterTribal Council of Arizona, Inc. that the federal requirement under the National Voter Registration Act, NVRA, that the states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. The ruling strikes Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement for users of the federal form, but also invites Arizona to try to get the federal Election Assistance Commission to provide state-specific instructions requiring proof of citizenship through an administrative process. We posted on the case earlier here; our argument preview is here; our argument review is here.
The ruling is a strong statement of federal authority over the states when Congress acts pursuant to its Elections Clause power. But the case doesn't change the basic federalism framework that the Court uses in its ordinary preemption cases (under the Supremacy Clause)--including its presumption against preemption in those cases--and it of course says nothing about the likely direction the Court will take in Shelby County, the pending decision on the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Justice Scalia wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Kennedy, writing separately, concurred in part and concurred in the judgment.
The case arose out of Arizona's Proposition 200, a ballot initiative that required county recorders to reject any voter registration application not accompanied by a proof of citizenship. The problem is that the NVRA requires states to "accept and use" a uniform federal form designed by the Election Assistance Commission; and the federal form only requires an applicant to attest, under penalty of perjury, that he or she meets the state voting requirements (including citizenship). (The EAC rejected Arizona's request to include a state-specific instruction on the federal form that applicants must provide proof of citizenship.)
So the question in InterTribal was whether the NVRA requirement that states "accept and use" the federal form preempted Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement. The Court ruled that it did.
Congress enacted the NVRA pursuant to its authority under the Elections Clause. The Elections Clause, Article I, Sec. 4, cl. 1, provides:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the places of chusing Senators.
The Court recognized that the Clause was designed to give Congress certain authority over federal elections in order to ensure that states wouldn't undercut the federal government by refusing to provide for the election of representatives to Congress. Thus, the preemptive power of the Clause, even if a "default," is sweeping:
In practice, the Clause functions as "a default provision; it invests the States with responsibility for the mechanics of congressional elections, but only so far as Congress declines to pre-empt state legislative choices." . . . The power of Congress over the "Times, Places and Manner" of congressional elections "is paramount, and may be exercised at any time, and to any extent which it deems expedient; and so far as it is exercised, and no farther, the regulations effected supercede those of the State which are inconsistent therewith."
Op. at 5-6 (citations omitted). More, the Court rejected Arizona's argument that there is a presumption against preemption in the Elections Clause context. It said that when Congress regulates under the Elections Clause, "it necessarily displaces some element of a pre-existing legal regime erected by the States." Op. at 11 (emphasis in original). "Moreover, the federalism concerns underlying the presumption in the Supremacy Clause context are somewhat weaker here. Unlike the States' 'historic police powers,' . . . the States' role in regulating congressional elections--while weighty and worthy of respect--has always existed subject to the express qualification that it 'terminates according to federal law.'" Op. at 12 (citations omitted).
Thus, the Court said that there was no reason not to give the congressional requirement that states "accept and use" the federal form its plain meaning. And that meaning prohibits the states from adding a proof-of-citizenship requirement over and above what the federal form already requires.
The Court noted that the "alternative means of enforcing its constitutional power to determine voting qualifications"--petitioning the EAC to alter the federal form, and challenging the EAC's rejection of a petition under the Administrative Procedures Act--"remains open to Arizona here." Op. at 16.
Justice Kennedy concurred, but wrote separately to take issue with the Court's creation of "a hierarchy of federal powers so that some statutes pre-empting state law must be interpreted by different rules than others, all depending upon which power Congress has exercised." He would have applied a presumption against preemption in this case--and any case involving federal legislation under the Elections Clause--but thought that that presumption was satisfied here.
Justice Thomas dissented, arguing that the Voter Qualifications Clause and the Seventeenth Amendment reserve the power to the states to determine qualifications of voters in federal elections. The Voter Qualifications Clause, Article I, Sec. 2, cl 1., says that "the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature" in elections for the federal House of Representatives. The Seventeenth Amendment contains similar language for elections for the Senate. Because both parties' interpretations of the "accept and use" language were plausible, according to Justice Thomas, these other provisions tilt the scale in favor of Arizona--and state determination of voter qualifications.
Finally, Justice Alito dissented, arguing that the NVRA language is ambiguous, but "their best reading is that the States need not treat the federal form as a complete voter registration application."
The Supreme Court ruled today in Arizona v. InterTribal Council of Arizona, Inc. that the National Voter Registration Act, NVRA, preempts Arizona's requirement that voters show evidence of citizenship before registering to vote using the federal form. Justice Scalia wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Kennedy joined in part. Justices Thomas and Alito dissented.
The Court held that the NVRA's requirement that states "accept and use" the federal form preempted, under the Elections Clause, Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled today in American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, the FAAAA, preempted certain requirements of a concession agreement between the Port of Los Angeles and short-haul truck drayage companies that was adopted as part of the Port's Clean Truck Program. The Court held that the placard and off-street parking provisions of the agreement were preempted, but it declined to rule that the financial capacity and truck-maintenance requirements were preempted.
The ruling halts components of the Port's broader efforts to address community concerns about traffic, clean air and the environment, and safety, even as it leaves two disputed provisions in place, as the Port looks to expand. (It's already the largest port in the United States.) The ruling may thus set back negotiations between the Port and the local community and environmental groups--already tied up in lawsuits for almost 10 years--and ultimately throw a wrench into further Port development. Our argument preview is here.
The case arose when the Port required drayage truck operators to enter into a standard-form concession agreement as part of the Port's Clean Truck Program in 2007. Under the agreement, truck operators had to affix a placard on each truck with a phone number for reporting environmental or safety concerns, and submit a plan listing off-street parking locations for each truck when not in service. They also had to comply with financial capacity and truck-maintenance requirements. Under the plan, the Port would ban trucks that hadn't registered under an agreement and impose a criminal violation for trucks that entered the Port without an agreement.
Drayage truck operators sued to enjoin enforcement, arguing that the terms were preempted by the FAAAA. The FAAAA preemption clause says,
[A] State [or local government] may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.
49 U.S.C. Sec. 14501(c)(1). Operators also argued that even if the terms were valid, the Port couldn't enforce them by withdrawing a defaulting company's right to operate at the Port. This argument turned on Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc. (1954), which held that a state couldn't entirely bar a federally licensed motor carrier from its highways for prior violations of state safety regulations.
The Court, in a uninamous ruling by Justice Kagan, held that the FAAAA preemption clause expressly preempted the placard and parking requirements. In particular, it said that the concession agreement had the "force and effect of law" (in violation of the FAAAA preemption clause) because the Port required the agreement and enforced it with criminal sanctions. That is, the Port adopted the agreement pursuant to its regulatory authority of the state, and not in its position as a market participant. "So the contract here functions as part and parcel of a governmental program wielding coercive power over private parties, backed by the threat of criminal punishment. That counts as action 'having the force and effort of law' if anything does." Op. at 8.
As to the financial capacity and truck-maintenance requirements, the Court held that in the pre-enforcement posture of the case, it was impossible to tell whether the Port would enforce those provisions in violation of Castle or not. Those two provisions thus stay in place, at least for now.
Justice Thomas concurred in full, but wrote separately to express his doubt that Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate the placards and parking arrangements of drayage trucks in the first place.
Monday, June 3, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled today in Hillman v. Maretta that the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, or FEGLIA, preempted Virginia's effort to prioritize the widow or widower of a deceased federal employee over the employee's designated beneficiary. The Court ruled that Virginia's law conflicted with congressional purposes and objectives in enacting FEGLIA. The judgment was unanimous, but Justices Thomas and Alito wrote separate concurrences.
The ruling means that a state cannot upset or side-step a deceased federal government employee's designation of beneficiary on his or her life insurance plan, even if the state prioritizes a current spouse over a former spouse.
The case pitted the widow of a federal employee, Hillman, against the employee's former spouse, Maretta, who was also the designated beneficiary on the employee's FEGLIA plan. Maretta, as designated beneficiary, collected $124,558.03 from the plan upon the employee's death. But Hillman sued, arguing that Maretta was liable to her under Secion 20-111.1(D), or just Section D, of the Virginia Code. Section D said that when a former spouse receives a death benefit, that former spouse is liable to "the person who would have been entitled to it were [Section A, another Section within the Viginia Code] not preempted"--in this case, Hillman, the widow.
Maretta argued that FEGLIA preempted Section D. FEGLIA says that life insurance proceeds go first to the employee's designated beneficiary. It allows proceeds to go to another person, if "expressly provided for in the terms of any court decree of divorce, annulment, or legal separation," so long as the decree is received by the government before the employee's death. Finally, FEGLIA has an express preemption provision that says that federal law preempts state law "to the extent that the law or regulation is inconsistent with the contractual provisions."
The Court ruled for Maretta, and struck Section D. Justice Sotomayor, for the Court, wrote:
Section D interferes wtih Congress' scheme, because it directs that the proceeds actually "belong" to someone other than the named beneficiary by creating a cause of action for their recovery by a third party. . . . It makes no difference whether state law requires the transfer of the proceeds . . . or creates a cause of action, like Section D, that enables another person to receive the proceeds upon filing an action in state court. In either case, state law displaces the beneficiary selected by the insured in accordance with FEGLIA and places someone else in her stead.
Op. at 10.
Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to emphasize his view that the majority's "purposes and objectives" approach is "illegitimate," but that FEGLIA nevertheless preempts Section D, because the ordinary meaning of Section D directly conflicts with the plain language in FEGLIA. Justice Alito also concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to argue that the majority's analysis swept too broadly. Justice Alito said that FEGLIA preempted, because Section D overrides the insured's actual and articulated choice of beneficiary. He said that the majority's approach went too far, because it prioritizes the designated beneficiary "even if the insured's contrary and expressed intent is indisputable."
Monday, May 13, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled today in Dan's City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey that federal law does not preempt a plaintiff's state law claim against a towing company for the illegal sale of his car. The ruling affirms the New Hampshire Supreme Court's ruling in favor of the plaintiff and settles a split among state high courts on the question. Otherwise, the ruling doesn't break any new ground, and it's not a particular surprise.
The case arose when Dan's City towed Pelkey's car from his landlord's parking lot and later traded it away without compensating Pelkey. (Pelkey was suffering with a serious medical condition for which he was later hospitalized, and thus left his car in the parking lot during a snow--a towing offense under the landlord's rules.) Pelkey sued for wrongful sale (but not wrongful towing) under state law. The lower state court said that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, FAAAA, preempted Pelkey's suit and dismissed the case. (The FAAAA applies to motor carriers.) The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed, and this appeal followed.
The FAAAA preemption clause says,
[A] State . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.
In an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the unanimous Supreme Court held that Pelkey's suit wasn't "with respect to the transportation of property," because it was based on the allegedly wrongful sale of his car after it was transported--that is, post-towing. The Court said that this result is consistent with congressional purposes is enacting the FAAAA preemption clause.