Thursday, August 12, 2021
The Third Circuit ruled yesterday that a case challenging COVID orders of Pennsylvania's governor and secretary of health was moot. The court then vacated the lower court's ruling in favor of the plaintiffs under Munsingwear.
The case, County of Butler v. Governor of Pennsylvania, challenged the defendants' stay-at-home orders, business closure orders, and orders setting congregation limits in secular settings. The district court ruled that the orders violated the Constitution.
But while the appeal was pending, things changed. An amendment to the state constitution and a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly now limit the governor's authority to issue these orders. And the orders expired by their own terms.
The court ruled that these changes mooted the case, and that no exception to mootness applied. It said that the voluntary cessation exception didn't apply, because the orders expired on their own terms, and not in response to litigation. And it said that the capable-of-repetition-but-evading-review exception didn't apply, because the orders were reviewed (and thus didn't evade review), and because there's no chance this'll happen again (and so isn't capable of repetition).
The court went on to rule that the case became moot because of circumstances outside the defendants' control--that they weren't mooting the case themselves in order to game the courts. As such, the court vacated the district court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs under Munsingwear.
Monday, April 27, 2020
In a brief per curiam decision, the United States Supreme Court has declared the controversy in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, New York moot.
Recall from our discussion of the oral argument that there was a substantial mootness question: the City of New York changed the regulation to allow for transport to another residence and a range or shooting club, whether or not those secondary places are within the City. Additionally, the state of New York amended its law to provide for the legality of transport. The Court had previously rejected a filed "Suggestion of Mootness" and instructed the parties to address the issue at oral argument.
Recall also that a unanimous panel of the Second Circuit, affirming the district judge, rejected a constitutional challenge to the New York City regulation regarding "premises license" for a handgun. Under the former 38 RCNY § 5-23, a person having a premises license “may transport her/his handgun(s) directly to and from an authorized small arms range/shooting club, unloaded, in a locked container, the ammunition to be carried separately.” The definition of "authorized" range/shooting club, however, includes a limit to facilities located in New York City and is the essence of the plaintiffs' challenge. The New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n, as well as three individual plaintiffs, argued that this limitation is unconstitutional pursuant to the Second Amendment, the dormant commerce clause, the right to travel, and the First Amendment. Their specific arguments centered on the two instances: that one plaintiff was prohibited from taking his handgun to his second home in Hancock, New York; and that all plaintiffs wanted to take their handguns to firing ranges and competitions outside of New York City.
The Supreme Court's decision vacates that previous Second Circuit judgment.
Dissenting, Justice Alito, joined by Gorsuch, and in part by Thomas, argued that the mootness determination was incorrect and "permits our docket to be manipulated in a way that should not be countenanced." After a discussion of the mootness question, Alito's dissent proceeds to the merits, arguing that the New York City ordinance violated the Second Amendment, which "is not a close question," following "directly from" District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and later discussing McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010). Alito wrote:
In sum, the City’s travel restriction burdened the very right recognized in Heller. History provides no support for a restriction of this type. The City’s public safety arguments were weak on their face, were not substantiated in any way, and were accepted below with no serious probing. And once we granted review in this case, the City’s public safety concerns evaporated.
We are told that the mode of review in this case is representative of the way Heller has been treated in the lower courts. If that is true, there is cause for concern.
In a brief concurring opinion, Kavanaugh stated he shared Alito's
concern that some federal and state courts may not be properly applying Heller and McDonald. The Court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases with petitions for certiorari now pending before the Court.
In terms of "proper" application, recall that the Second Circuit panel tracked the analytic structure articulated previously by the Second Circuit. Recall that in 2015, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n v. Cuomo, the Second Circuit developed a rubric, similar to the methodologies employed by other circuits. (SCOTUS denied certiorari in that 2015 case). The first inquiry in this rubric is whether the Second Amendment is applicable. If it is, then the court determines the level of scrutiny. And finally, the court would apply that level of scrutiny. The Second Circuit in this case had concluded that intermediate scrutiny was the appropriate standard based on its analysis of two factors: "(1) ‘how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right’ and (2) ‘the severity of the law’s burden on the right." It held the NYC law satisfied intermediate scrutiny.
Importantly for now, the methodology for determining what level of scrutiny should be applied in Second Amendment challenges remains unresolved by the Supreme Court.
Monday, December 2, 2019
The Court heard oral argument in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, New York regarding a New York City regulation that allows a person having a "premises license" — one the most restricted type of licenses — for handguns to “transport her/his handgun(s) directly to and from an authorized small arms range/shooting club, unloaded, in a locked container, the ammunition to be carried separately,” but further defines an "authorized" range/shooting club as limited to facilities located in New York City. Recall that the Second Circuit unanimously upheld the regulation.
There is a substantial mootness question here: the City of New York changed the regulation to allow for transport to another residence and a range or shooting club, whether or not those secondary places are within the City. Additionally, the state of New York amended its law to provide for the legality of transport. The Court had previously rejected a filed "Suggestion of Mootness" and instructed the parties to address the issue at oral argument.
Arguing for the NYSRPA, a state gun-rights organization, Paul Clement broached the subject of mootness in his introduction and Justice Ginsburg asked him "So what's left of this case? The Petitioners have gotten all the relief that they sought." While Clement argued they were entitled to an injunction, the mootness issue resurfaced again and again. Arguing for the United States, supporting the gun rights organization, Principal Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall contended the named plaintiffs could be entitled to damages and thus the case was not moot. On behalf of the City of New York, Richard Dearing argued that "changes in state and city law have given Petitioners everything they asked for and, indeed, more than that," and that rather than view the City's actions "skeptically," it is a "good thing and not a cause for concern when the government responds to litigation by resolving matters through the democratic process." As to any damages claim that might be added in the future by petitioners, Dearing argued that this would be a unique support for the courts exercising Article III power.
On the merits, an underlying argument concerns the level of scrutiny suitable for evaluating the law. The Second Circuit panel tracked the analytic structure articulated previously by the Second Circuit in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n v. Cuomo, decided in 2015. The Second Circuit concluded that intermediate scrutiny was the appropriate standard based on its analysis of two factors: "(1) ‘how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right’ and (2) ‘the severity of the law’s burden on the right.' " The level of scrutiny to be applied to gun regulations was a question left open by the Court's decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010). Yet the oral argument did not delve deeply into this issue. Wall argued that the Second Circuit had applied a "watered-down form of scrutiny" and the correct standard is simply that the "text, history, and tradition" mandate "real protection" for the Second Amendment, seemingly always strict scrutiny.
Justice Kavanuagh, like Justice Thomas, had no questions, and whether or not the Court will dismiss the case as moot is difficult to predict, although it would seem to be a likely outcome. Note also that the Court's legitimacy should it reach the merits in this case will certainly be questioned; an amicus brief by several Senators has made that point and attracted attention.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Almaqrami v. Pompeo that plaintiffs' claim against the government for denying them "diversity visas" was not moot, even though the plaintiffs are from countries covered by President Trump's travel ban, upheld under Trump v. Hawaii. The ruling sends the case back to the district court for a decision on the merits. By the plaintiffs' own reckoning, however, even a win (alone) wouldn't guarantee their admittance to the United States.
The plaintiffs, nationals of Iran and Yemen, won the 2017 diversity visa lottery. But they were denied visas pursuant to a State Department Guidance Memo, instructing consular officers about how to evaluate diversity visa applications in light of Trump v. Int'l Refugee Assistance Project (the Court's earlier ruling allowing President Trump's executive order (2) to take effect while the Court considered appeals of the preliminary injunctions against the travel ban). They sued, arguing that the relevant section of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorized the President to restrict only entry, not visas, and that their denial violated the INA provision that bans discrimination by nationality.
Just before the end of Fiscal Year 2017, the district court ordered State to "hold those [unused diversity] visa numbers to process [p]laintiffs' visa applications in the event the Supreme Court finds [EO-2] to be unlawful." (Recall that the President replaced EO-2 with the (third) version of the travel ban that ultimately went to the Court.)
After the Court upheld the travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii, the government moved to dismiss the case as moot, arguing that EO-2 and the guidance memo under which the consular officers denied the plaintiffs visas were now expired, and that the district court's order was conditioned on the Court ruling that EO-2 was unlawful (which didn't happen).
The district court accepted this argument and dismissed the case as moot, but the D.C. Circuit reversed.
The D.C. Circuit ruled that because the district court issued its order before the end of Fiscal Year 2017, it could still grant relief to the plaintiffs (by ordering State to grant the visas). As to that language that seems to condition relief on the Court striking the travel ban (which of course it didn't), the D.C. Circuit said that the district court's order could be read to mean (1) that State must hold unused diversity visas to enable a later court judgment and (2) that a specific judgment would issue if the Court ruled a certain way. (1) allows the district court to order State to issue the visas; (2) would've required it.
Moreover, the court said that the plaintiffs could still get the relief they sought. That's because the district court might agree with them that the travel ban only applied to entry, not visas, and that the INA prohibits discrimination in issuing visas by nationality--even under Trump v. Hawaii. The court didn't opine on those questions, however; instead, it sent the case back to the district court for a ruling on them.
A win in the district court (or on appeal) could mean that the plaintiffs get their visas, and even get consideration under exceptions to the travel ban. But actual entry will require more: a decision that they meet an exception to the travel ban.
Thursday, August 1, 2019
Judge Christopher R. Cooper (D.D.C.) dismissed as moot a case by Atlas Brew Works arguing that the government's inability to approve its beer label during the government shutdown earlier this year violated its First Amendment right to free speech. In particular, Judge Cooper ruled that Atlas's claim didn't meet the mootness exception for cases that are "capable of repetition but evading review."
The case, Atlas Brew Works v. Barr, arose during the government shutdown, when, because of a lack of appropriated funds, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (in Treasury) couldn't approve Atlas's pending application for a label, as required by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act. (The FAA requires Bureau approval of a label before a brewer can distribute its beer in interstate commerce. It provides criminal penalties for violators.) Atlas filed suit, arguing that the government's failure to approve its pending label infringed on its right to free speech, because the lack of approval meant that it couldn't legally distribute its seasonal beer, which, without an approved label, would go stale. (Atlas put it this way: "[i]t cannot be denied the right to speak for lack of meeting an impossible condition.") Atlas sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing the Justice Department from enforcing the FAA's criminal sanctions against it.
Once the shutdown ended, the government moved to dismiss the case as moot. Yesterday, the court agreed.
The court ruled first that Atlas's claim couldn't survive as a challenge to the government's policy, because, in short, there's no ongoing policy behind the shutdown that would infringe on Atlas's free speech.
The court ruled next that Atlas's claim was not capable of repetition but evading review. Judge Cooper explained:
To recap the boxes that must be checked for this dispute to recur: a lapse in appropriations must happen; the lapse must affect the Treasury Department; the lapse must last long enough to actually cause a shutdown; Treasury must respond to the shutdown by shuttering the [beer-label approval process under the FAA]; and Atlas must have a [label] application pending at the time the shutdown begins or file one shortly thereafter. In the Court's view, the combination of these contingencies takes this case beyond the limits of the capable-of-repetition exception to mootness.
Friday, June 14, 2019
D.C. Circuit Finds Federal Policy Barring Abortion for Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors Unconstitutional
In its opinion in Jane Doe v. Azar, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the trial court's injunction against the federal government's 2017 policy banning abortion access for any unaccompanied immigrant minor in federal custody. As the per curiam opinion for the majority explained:
The claim of one minor in this case brings the policy’s breadth and operation into stark relief. She had been raped in her country of origin. After her arrival here and her placement in government custody, she learned she was pregnant as a result of the rape. She repeatedly asked to obtain a pre-viability abortion, to no avail. She remained in government custody as an unaccompanied minor because there was no suitable sponsor to whom she could be released. Nor was there any viable prospect of her returning to her country of origin: indeed, she eventually received a grant of asylum (and lawful status here) due to her well-founded fear of persecution in her country of origin. Still, the government sought to compel this minor to carry her rape-induced pregnancy to term.
She is one of the named plaintiffs who brought this challenge to the government’s policy on behalf of a class of pregnant unaccompanied minors. The district court granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs, and the government now appeals. We initially agree with the district court that the case is not moot, and we find no abuse of discretion in the court’s certification of a plaintiffs’ class consisting of pregnant unaccompanied minors in the government’s custody. On the merits, we sustain the district court’s preliminary injunction in principal part.
The bulk of the per curiam majority's opinion is devoted to the class action certification and mootness issues. The government contended that because the named representatives had obtained abortions, their claims were moot, and rendered them inadequate class representatives (both because of the mootness and because not all pregnant minors would choose abortions). The government further contended that other requirements for class certification were not met and that the class should be narrowed so that joinder of individual plaintiffs seeking an abortion would be possible. The majority found the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class.
On the merits of the constitutional claim, the majority stated it was clear that there is a constitutional right to access abortion adjudicated under the undue burden standard and that it extends to minors, although there can be a parental consent requirement if there is a judicial bypass provision. The federal government agreed that a state could not simply ban a minor's access to abortion, but how then, the opinion asked, can the federal government defend the abortion ban policy of the ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a program in the Department of Health and Human Services, bears responsibility for the “care and placement” of unaccompanied immigrant minors (known as UACs, "Unaccompanied Alien Children")? The government offered three arguments, each of the which the majority rejected.
* "First, the government contends that permitting unaccompanied minors in its custody to access pre-viability abortions requires it to “facilitate” abortions, which the government says it is not obligated to do." The court, however, noted that the problem was not the government not wanting to remove barriers not of its own creation (such as poverty), but here the government creates the conditions itself: "an unaccompanied minor’s abortion hinges on ORR’s drafting and executing approval documents only because ORR itself has conditioned abortion access on its execution of approval documents." Further, the court ruled that what the government deems the “facilitation” that it wants to steer clear of giving to an unaccompanied minor, "is something it willingly gives to all others in federal custody."
* Second, the government asserts that unaccompanied minors may voluntarily depart the country and that the ban thus does not impose any cognizable burden. But, the court noted that"voluntary departure" is not freely available, but is at government discretion, and actually operates as a "second government veto." Moreover, even if the government were to grant a voluntary departure upon request, there is no indication of how long that process might take, and requires the minor to abandon all other requests for relief.
* Third, the government argues that, because many unaccompanied minors are released to sponsors, banning abortions while in ORR custody does not impose an undue burden. The court found that the sponsorship argument was "ultimately no more persuasive than its voluntary-departure one. Those arguments share important parallels. In both, the central idea is that an unaccompanied minor may find herself no longer in ORR custody—either because she voluntarily departs the country or because she is released to a sponsor—in which event she would be free to access an abortion without the burden of ORR’s policy."
Thus, the majority found that the ORR policy violated the Fifth Amendment right to due process and affirmed the district court's injunction against its enforcement.
The court remanded another portion of the district court's injunction, however, on the basis that the ORR policies involved were not necessarily clear. At issue were any policies that required disclosure of pregnancy or abortion access. This issue was at times conflated with the access to abortion issue, and the court remanded so that the district court could "give a more fulsome account of its findings and conclusions in that regard."
In a dissenting opinion, Senior Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman devoted most of his opinion to the class certification issue, but on the merits relied heavily on the dissenting opinion of then-judge and now-Justice Kavanaugh in Garza v. Hargan (2017), concluding that the majority is "endorsing abortion on demand – at least as far as the federal Government is concerned." Thus, the stage is set for the federal government's petition for certiorari.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
The D.C. Circuit ruled that a federal prisoner's civil rights claims didn't become moot simply because he was transferred to another prison. The ruling goes against the general principle that a prisoner's "transfer or release from a prison moots any claim he might have had for equitable relief arising out of the conditions of confinement in that prison." According to the D.C. Circuit, that's because this prisoner alleged that he had been subject to the practices in different facilities, and because he alleged a policy or practice of violating regulations that would apply to him in any facility.
The case, Reid v. Hurwitz, arose when federal prisoner Gordon Reid alleged that federal prison officials failed to deliver his magazine subscriptions and deprived him of outside exercise during his repeated stays in the special housing unit, and deprived him of meaningful access to administrative remedies. Importantly, he alleged that with each violation, prison officials cited "BOP policy." Reid sought declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief.
The district court dismissed the case, citing the "normal" rule that a prisoner's claims for equitable relief become moot when he or she leaves the prison. But the D.C. Circuit reversed, holding that Reid's harms are "capable of repetition but evading review." The court wrote that Reid alleged that he was in the SHU in different facilities, that he suffered the same harms in different SHUs, and that prison officials gave the same explanation: "policy." Add those up, and you get "capable of repetition but evading review." Here's the court:
The BOP's argument ignores that Reid's complaint identifies not only single instances but also BOP's alleged policy or practice or violating its own regulations to the detriment of Reid. In particular, Reid has alleged three key facts. First, he has been housed at eight different SHUs since 2008. Second, he has suffered a uniform set of deprivations at each SHU that contradict BOP's written regulations. Third, each time he has suffered a deprivation, he alleges that BOP officials justify the deprivations based on "BOP policy." Having been placed in a SHU in myriad different BOP institutions, subject each time to a restriction allegedly imposed under a purported BOP policy or practice contravening BOP regulations, Reid has proffered a logical theory that the challenged actions reasonably will recur despite his current transfer out of the SHU.
Both the District Court and the government on appeal have failed to grapple with Reid's claim that he was repeatedly subjected to deprivations in the SHU due to an ongoing policy or practice of the BOP.
At the same time, the court acknowledged that there may be several other reasons for the district court to dismiss the case on remand.
Judge Katsas dissented, arguing that "[w]e should reject Reid's conclusory allegation that BOP has implemented unlawful nationwide policies. And without such unifying policies, the specific disputes alleged here are not capable of repetition."
Friday, December 14, 2018
The Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court's preliminary injunction barring the government from enforcing its interim final rules allowing employers and organizations more freely to exempt themselves from the Affordable Care Act's contraception requirement. But at the same time, the court narrowed the nationwide injunction to just the plaintiff states.
The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs. But it may be short-lived, as the government moves to implement final rules (the same as the interim rules, published in November) in January.
The case, California v. Azar, involves several states' (California, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, and New York) challenge to the government's 2017 interim final rules substantially loosening the exemption standard for organizations and persons to get out from under the Affordable Care Act's contraception requirement. (Recall that the Supreme Court declined to rule on the government's prior exemption in Zubik v. Burwell.) The two IFRs categorically exempted certain religious employers and essentially made the requirement optional for anyone else who has a "sincerely held moral conviction" to contraception.
The plaintiffs argued that the IFRs violated the Administrative Procedure Act (because the agencies didn't use APA notice-and-comment procedures in implementing the IFRs), equal protection, and the Establishment Clause. The Northern District of California held that they were likely to succeed on their APA claim, and issued a nationwide injunction.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed, but limited the injunction to the plaintiff states.
The court first held that the case wasn't moot. The court said that while the agencies published final rules in November, those rules won't go into effect until January 14, 2019. In the meantime, the IFRs are in effect. And because the plaintiffs challenge the IFRs, their case isn't moot.
The court next held that the plaintiffs had standing, based on their increased costs for their already-existing contraception programs. "The states show, with reasonable probability, that the IFRs will first lead to women losing employer-sponsored contraceptive coverage, which will then result in economic harm to the states" because the states will have to fill the coverage loss through their existing free or subsidized contraceptive programs.
As to the APA, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed--that HHS violated notice-and-comment rulemaking under the APA. The court held that the government's interests in eliminating regulatory uncertainty, eliminating RFRA violations, and reducing the cost of health insurance were insufficient to bypass notice-and-comment procedures. As to regulatory uncertainty, the court said it "is not by itself good cause" to bypass APA procedures. As to RFRA, the court said that "the agencies' reliance on this justification was not a reasoned decision based on findings in the record." And as to reducing health insurance costs, the court said that "[t]his is speculation unsupported by the administrative record and is not sufficient to constitute good cause." The court also said that the agencies lacked statutory authority to bypass notice-and-comment procedures.
But the court narrowed the district court's nationwide preliminary injunction, and applied it only to the plaintiff states.
Judge Kleinfeld dissented, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing, because "their injury is what the Supreme Court calls 'self-inflicted,' because it arises solely from their legislative decisions to pay" for contraception-access programs.
Friday, September 28, 2018
In a Memorandum & Order in Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard, United States District Judge Allison D. Burroughs has denied the cross-motions for summary judgment in this closely-watched case challenging affirmative action admissions at Harvard as discriminating against Asian-American applicants.
Although Harvard is a private university and the claim is under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000d et. seq., the applicable precedent involves the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education under the Equal Protection Clause. As Judge Burroughs explained in footnote 16 of the opinion:
[Defendant] Harvard notes that the Supreme Court has only addressed race-conscious admissions policies of public universities, and suggests that there are “good reasons to think that” the applicable Supreme Court precedent does not apply in the same manner to private universities like Harvard that are subject to Title VI. Because Harvard does not identify any specific reasons for distinguishing public universities from federally-funded private universities, or explain how the analytical framework would differ for private versus public litigants, the Court at this stage places Harvard on equal footing with a public university in applying Grutter [ v. Bollinger (2003)] and its progeny. See Grutter, 539 U.S. at 343 (“[T]he Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body. Consequently, petitioner’s statutory claims based on Title VI . . . also fail.”); id. (“Title VI . . . proscribe[s] only those racial classifications that would violate the Equal Protection Clause or the Fifth Amendment” (citing Regents of Univ. of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 287 (1978))).
Thus, relying on Fisher v. University Texas at Austin (2013) (Fisher I) and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2016) (Fisher II), as well as Grutter, Judge Burroughs held that strict scrutiny should apply.
After detailing the Harvard admissions policy as implemented and concluding that the case is not moot, Judge Burroughs considered the four claims by SFFA: intentional discrimination, racial balancing, race as a plus factor, and race-neutral alternatives.
First, Judge Burroughs concluded that the dueling reports by experts regarding the presence or absence of a negative effect of being Asian-American on the likelihood of admission essentially precluded summary judgment. The experts' contradictory conclusions derived in part from their "divergent modeling choices" and the "credibility of the expert witnesses in making these critical modeling and analytical choices is best evaluated at the upcoming bench trial." Moreover, "stray" positive and negative remarks were also best evaluated at trial.
Second, Judge Burroughs states that while "racial balancing" has been deemed unconstitutional, the parties present "plausible but conflicting interpretations" of Harvard's use of its own admissions data from previous years. Again, the matter of credibility would be paramount.
Third, SFFA argued that Harvard was not specifically employing the notion of "critical mass" and Harvard was not considering race as a mere "plus factor." Judge Burroughs concludes that there is no requirement of "critical mass" to satisfy strict scrutiny — the use of "critical mass" was simply part of the admissions policies of the universities in Michigan (in Grutter) and Texas (in Fisher). However, as to the use of race as a plus factor, Judge Burroughs noted that under Fisher II (and Fisher I), the university is entitled to no deference in whether its means chosen is narrowly tailored and thus again the issue of credibility and fact were best determined at trial.
Fourth and finally, SFFA's argument that Harvard has failed to consider race-neutral alternatives, there was a factual dispute regarding the timing of Harvard's reconsideration of such alternatives which coincided with the imminence of the lawsuit in 2014. SFFA's expert argued that Harvard "can easily achieve diversity by increasing socioeconomic preferences; increasing financial aid; reducing or eliminating preferences for legacies, donors, and relatives of faculty and staff; adopting policies using geographic diversity; increasing recruitment efforts; increasing community college transfers; and/or eliminating early action." The Harvard Committee reached the opposite conclusion.
In short, the litigation seems set to proceed to trial perhaps with a path to the United States Supreme Court.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
The Ninth Circuit ruled in Fikre v. FBI that the plaintiff's due process challenges to his inclusion on the government's no-fly list were not moot, even though the government took him off the list during the litigation. The ruling means that the plaintiff's case challenging his inclusion on the no-fly list can move forward.
The case arose from Yonas Fikre's inclusion on the no-fly list and his several and significant resulting harms. Fikre alleged that his inclusion violated substantive and procedural due process, and he sought declaratory and injunctive relief. During the litigation, the government removed Fikre from the list, however, and moved to dismiss the case as moot. The district court granted the motion.
The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that Fikre's case came under the voluntary cessation exception to mootness--that signs pointed to the government opportunistically removing him, and that the government could reinstate him at any time. The court explained:
To begin, the FBI's decision to restore Fikre's flying privileges is an individualized determination untethered to any explanation or change in policy, much less an abiding change in policy. . . .
Moreover, the government has no assured Fikre that he will not be banned from flying for the same reasons that prompted the government to add him to the list in the first place, nor has it verified the implementation of procedural safeguards conditioning its ability to revise Fikre's status on the receipt of new information. . . .
Finally . . . we note that Fikre's removal from the No Fly List does not "completely and irrevocably eradicate the effects of the alleged violation[s]."
The ruling sends the case back to the district court for further proceedings.
Monday, August 6, 2018
United States District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelley has reaffirmed the injunction of the ban on transgender individuals in the military, first announced on Twitter by the President in Doe v. Trump in two opinions. Recall that in October, the judge issued a lengthy opinion and a preliminary injunction against the ban as likely to violate equal protection.
The case returned to Judge Kollar-Kotelley after an unsuccessful appeal and attempt to stay the preliminary injunction. The government moved to dismiss, essentially rearguing its contentions regarding standing.
In a 34 page opinion, the judge again rejected these arguments. But the government newly argued for dismissal and dissolution of the preliminary injunction because the 2018 "Mattis Implementation Plan" represents a “new policy” divorced and distinct from the President’s 2017 policy directives that were previously enjoined by this Court, and that the Mattis Implementation Plan does not harm the Plaintiffs in this case. However, the judge held that "whatever legal relevance the Mattis
Implementation Plan might have, it has not fundamentally changed the circumstances of this lawsuit such that Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, or that the need for the Court’s preliminary injunction has dissipated." In evaluating the Mattis Implementation Plan, the judge stated:
the Mattis Implementation Plan in fact prohibits transgender military service—just as President Trump’s 2017 directives ordered. It is true that the plan takes a slightly less direct approach to accomplishing this goal than the President’s 2017 tweet and memorandum. Instead of expressly banning all “transgender individuals” from military service, the Mattis Implementation Plan works by absolutely disqualifying individuals who require or have undergone gender transition, generally disqualifying individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and, to the extent that there are any individuals who identify as “transgender” but do not fall under the first two categories, only allowing them to serve “in their biological sex” (which means that openly transgender persons are generally not allowed to serve in conformance with their identity).
[emphasis in original]. In short, she concluded that "whatever legal relevance the Mattis Implementation Plan and associated documents might have, they are not sufficiently divorced from, or different than, the President’s 2017 directive."
However, in a separate and relatively brief opinion, she did grant the government's motion to dismiss Donald Trump as a defendant. The government moved to dismiss the president as a defendant and for a protective order regarding discovery. Judge Kollar-Kotelly concluded that
Through this lawsuit, Plaintiffs ask this Court to enjoin a policy that represents an official, non-ministerial act of the President, and declare that policy unlawful. Sound separation-of-power principles counsel the Court against granting these forms of relief against the President directly.
She noted that confrontation between the judicial and executive branch should be avoided whenever possible, but such confrontation
can be easily avoided here, because dismissing the President will have little or no substantive effect on this litigation. Plaintiffs argue that the acts of the President himself are central to this case, and the Court agrees. But dismissing the President as a Defendant does not mean that those acts will not be subject to judicial review. The Court can still review those acts and, if Plaintiffs are successful in proving that they are unconstitutional, Plaintiffs can still obtain all of the relief that they seek from the other Defendants.
Given that the President is no longer a defendant, the judge ruled the motion for a protective order regarding discovery was moot, but
the Court reiterates that dismissing the President as a party to this case does not mean that Plaintiffs are prevented from pursuing discovery related to the President. The Court understands that the parties dispute whether discovery related to the President which has been sought by Plaintiffs is precluded by the deliberative process or presidential communication privileges, and the Court makes no ruling on those disputes at this point.
While the plaintiffs had argued that dismissing the president was not warranted, Judge Kollar-Kotelly's dismissal has little bearing on the ultimate resolution of the case, a conclusion she reiterated several times. It also has little effect on the present status of the case; the accompanying order emphasized that "The injunction remains in force as it applies to all other Defendants" (italics in original).
Saturday, April 14, 2018
In her opinion and Order in Karnoski v. Trump, United States District Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington has reaffirmed her previous preliminary injunction (December 2017) on the basis of the plaintiffs' likelihood to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment claims in their challenge to the President's ban on transgender troops in the military, and further decided that the military ban is subject to strict scrutiny. (Recall that previous to Judge Pechman's preliminary injunction, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Doe v. Trump partially enjoined the president's actions and United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland in Stone v. Trump issued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures).
The government's motion for summary judgment and to dissolve the preliminary injunction relied in large part on the President's new policy promulgated in March 2018. As Judge Pechman phrased it, the 2018 Presidential Memorandum
purports to "revoke" the 2017 Memorandum and “any other directive [he] may have made with respect to military service by transgender individuals,” and directs the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to “exercise their authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.”
Rejecting the government defendants' argument that the controversy was now moot, Judge Pechman concluded that the 2018 Memorandum and Implementation Plan "do not substantively rescind or revoke the Ban, but instead threaten the very same violations that caused it and other courts to enjoin the Ban in the first place." The judge acknowledged that there were a few differences, but was not persuaded by the government defendants' argument that the 2018 policy did not now mandate a “categorical” prohibition on service by openly transgender people.
Similarly, Judge Pechman found that the individual plaintiffs, the organizational plaintiffs, and the plaintiff State of Washington continued to have standing.
Most crucial in Judge Pechman's order is her decision that transgender people constitute a suspect class and thus the ban will be subject to strict scrutiny. (Recall that in the previous preliminary injunction, Judge Pechman ruled that transgender people were at a minimum a quasi-suspect class). In this opinion, she considers four factors:
- whether the class has been “[a]s a historical matter . . . subjected to discrimination,”
- whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,
- whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define [it] as a discrete group,"
- whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.”
After a succinct analysis, she concludes that suspect class status is warranted and because the "Ban specifically targets one of the most vulnerable groups in our society," it "must satisfy strict scrutiny if it is to survive."
However, Judge Pechman did not decide on the level of deference the government defendants should be accorded. Instead, she concluded that
On the present record, the Court cannot determine whether the DoD’s deliberative process—including the timing and thoroughness of its study and the soundness of the medical and other evidence it relied upon—is of the type to which Courts typically should defer.
However, she did agree with the government defendants that President Trump was not subject to injunctive relief, but did remain as a defendant for the purpose of declaratory relief.
Thus, Judge Pechman directed the parties to "proceed with discovery and prepare for trial on the issues of whether, and to what extent, deference is owed to the Ban and whether the Ban violates equal protection, substantive due process, and the First Amendment."
[image, Revolutionary War era soldier, NYPL, via]
April 14, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Gender, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 25, 2017
The Supreme Court today took the travel ban arguments off its oral argument calendar. The Court also ordered the parties to submit short briefs on whether the case is moot in light of President Trump's new proclamation on travel restrictions.
Monday, June 26, 2017
When the Supreme Court granted certiorari and modified the lower courts' injunctions halting President Trump's travel ban today, it also directed the parties to brief this question: "Whether the challenges to Section 2(c) became moot on June 14, 2017."
The question matters, because June 14, 2017, is the date on which the 90-day ban would have expired under the order's stated effective date, March 16, 2017. In other words, the cases should have become moot on June 14, because that's when the ban, by the order's own terms, would end, anyway.
But that same day, President Trump issued an order stating that the new effective date for each enjoined provision of the travel ban would be the date on which the injunctions in those cases "are lifted or stayed with respect to that provision." The government argues that the order solves the mootness problem, because the enjoined provisions, including the 90-day ban wouldn't start until the injunctions go away.
But President Trump's order purporting to extend the effective date doesn't un-moot the case as of June 14, and it won't un-moot it when it goes to the Court in October.
As to June 14: The stated purpose for the 90-day ban was "[t]o temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the [20-day review period of foreign nations' practices], to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals, to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists . . . ." But none of these reasons supports extending the effective date while injunctions remained in place. In other words, the government could move forward with all of those things while the injunctions were in place, thus securing the nation's safety against nationals from the six identified countries (the other reason for the 90-day ban), and obviating the need for 90 days after the injunctions go away.
As to October: Even if the government and Court take the position that the circuits' injunctions applied to "ensur[ing] the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals" and "ensur[ing] that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltrating by foreign terrorists"--in other words, that the injunctions halted even the government's own review of its own processes, so that President Trump's subsequent order really did un-moot the case as of June 14--the case would seem to be moot by the time the Court hears it in October. That's because President Trump's subsequent order--the one purporting to extend the effective date--says that the ban again becomes effective when the injunctions "are lifted or stayed . . . ." It seems that the Supreme Court just "lifted or stayed" them, at least insofar as the government can re-start any stalled process to review government vetting standards. (The Court itself seems to have suggested so, when it wrote that "we fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of [the ban].") If so, 90 days will pass before the Court hears the case in October. In other words, it'll be moot in October.
Still, this can't be the result that the Court foresees. If it were, it wouldn't waste everybody's time and energy on briefing the mootness question as of June 14. So: Even if the case was, or becomes, technically moot, look for the Court to get to the merits.
In a per curiam opinion in the so-called "travel ban" or "Muslim ban" cases, Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawai'i, the Court has granted the federal government's petitions for certiorari and granted the stay applications in part. The Fourth Circuit en banc and the Ninth Circuit had both found that the challengers to the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), known as EO-2.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit en banc in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project affirmed the injunction against EO-2 based on the Establishment Clause. As the Supreme Court's opinion phrases it, the Fourth Circuit
majority concluded that the primary purpose of §2(c) was religious, in violation of the First Amendment: A reasonable observer familiar with all the circumstances—including the predominantly Muslim character of the designated countries and statements made by President Trump during his Presidential campaign—would conclude that §2(c) was motivated principally by a desire to exclude Muslims from the United States, not by considerations relating to national security. Having reached this conclusion, the court upheld the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of §2(c) [of EO-2] against any foreign national seeking to enter this country.
Recall also that the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel similarly affirmed a district judge's injunction against EO-2, but on the grounds that EO-2 likely exceeded the president's statutory authority, thus only implicitly reaching the constitutional issue.
In today's opinion from the Court, the Court granted the petitions for certiorari in both cases, consolidated the cases, and set them for the October 2017 Term, as well as directing briefing on the issues of mootness.
Importantly, the Court narrowed the injunctive relief imposed by the appellate courts. As to §2(c) of EO-2, which suspended entry in the United States, the Court found the injunction balanced the equities incorrectly as to "foreign nationals abroad who have no connection to the United States at all." Thus, "§2(c) may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of EO–2."
Similarly, as to §6(b) refugee cap enjoined by the Ninth Circuit, the Court found that refugees who lack connection to the United States should not be covered. However, EO §6 "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship" with the United States.
In discussing §2(c), the Court provided examples of the narrowed injunction:
The facts of these cases illustrate the sort of relationship that qualifies. For individuals, a close familial relation- ship is required. A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member, like Doe’s wife or Dr. Elshikh’s mother-in-law, clearly has such a relationship. As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO–2. The students from the designated countries who have been admit- ted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. Not so someone who enters into a relationship sim- ply to avoid §2(c): For example, a nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.
The Court's decision may give both "sides" a basis for claiming victory, but of course the decision is a temporary one and awaits a full decision on the merits.
June 26, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, June 23, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a class-action against the D.C. school system for failing to identify pre-school children with disabilities in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was not moot just because the children were no longer toddlers with a personal stake in the requested relief. The court went on to affirm the district court's class certification and its comprehensive injunction designed to bring the District into compliance with the IDEA.
The case arose when the parents of six children, then ages three to six, sued D.C., arguing that the District failed to identify children with disabilities in violation of the IDEA. The district court granted class certification to a broad class of "[a]ll children [between three and five] who are or may be eligible for special education and related services" in D.C. and whom the District failed or would fail to "identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services." The D.C. Circuit, however, vacated the class certification in light of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court case rejecting "one of the most expansive class[es] ever," and which came down during the district court trial. The district court then certified four subclasses, all including three-to-five year-olds alleging different IDEA violations. The court then issued a comprehensive injunction to bring the District in line with the IDEA.
On appeal, the district argued that the case was moot, because all of the plaintiffs had moved beyond preschool.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court held that the relation-back exception to the mootness doctrine in United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty applied, because the district court erroneously granted class certification, causing the litigation delay that resulted in the children aging out of their relief. The court explained: "Like the plaintiffs in Geraghty, the parents had live claims when they sought certification, and but for the district court's error, could have obtained proper class certification before their individual claims became moot."
The court noted that in Geraghty the district court erroneously denied class certification, whereas here the district court erroneously granted it. But the court said it didn't make a difference:
The point in Geraghty was that claims relate back when a trial court's error prevents a class from gaining independent status under Rule 23. Whether that error is the erroneous denial of class certification (as in Geraghty) or the erroneous certification of an excessively broad class (as here) makes no difference. What matters it that the named plaintiffs' claim became moot--and their class therefore never 'acquired . . . independent legal status'--due to the district court's mistake. In other words, but for the district court's error--certifying an overly broad class--the parents' claims would not have become moot. There is no legally relevant difference between this case and Geraghty.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
The Third Circuit last week dismissed a case challenging an elected candidate's qualifications for the Virgin Islands legislature. The ruling means that the elected candidate will not be seated.
The case arose when Kevin Rodriguez was elected to serve in the Virgin Islands Legislature. After the election, but before the swearing-in, a rival candidate, Janelle Sarauw, challenged Rodriguez's qualifications to serve, based on Rodriguez's prior representation in a bankruptcy case that he lived in Tennessee. (The VI Revised Organic Act requires that a person serving in the VI legislature reside in the VI for at least three years preceding the date of his or her election.) Sarauw sued in the VI courts and sought an injunction compelling the Board of Elections to de-certify Rodriguez as a qualified candidate, thus preventing him from taking a seat in the 32nd Legislature. (The Board, an independently elected body outside the legislature and judiciary, has authority under the ROA to determine qualifications of candidates before swearing in.)
While that case was moving up and down the VI courts, the 32nd Legislature was sworn in (without Rodriguez, because the courts were still working out how to deal with his qualification). Rodriguez then removed the case to federal court (remember, this is all federal law, including the ROA, because of the VI's status in relation to the US), asking for an injunction directing the 32nd Legislature to seat him.
The Third Circuit tossed the case. The court ruled that the courts lacked authority to rule a candidate qualified after the swearing in, because the ROA says that the legislature shall have the sole power to determine the qualifications of its members. In other words, the issue was textually committed to a coordinate branch of government--a political question. (The court ruled that the ROA contains separation-of-powers principles, which form the basis of the political question doctrine.) The court noted that separation-of-powers and the ROA would not prohibit the courts from ruling on a candidate's qualifications before swearing in, when the Board has authority to make such a determination, because the separation of powers don't apply to the Board, "a popularly elected and independent entity" that's not a part of the legislative or judicial branches. But Rodriguez only removed his case after the swearing-in, so his case was always a political question.
The court also ruled that the portion of the case brought by Sarauw, the "removed case," was moot, because the legislature had already been sworn in.
Along the way, the governor ordered a special election, and Sarauw won.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Backpage.com's challenge to a subpoena issued by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was moot. The court dismissed Backpage.com's case and vacated earlier district court rulings.
The case arose when the Subcommittee sought to enforce its subpoena for Backpage.com documents to aid its investigation into the web-site's facilitation of sex trafficking. While the case worked its way between the district court and the D.C. Circuit, Backpage.com voluntarily provided the Subcommittee with a good many of the documents the Subcommittee sought (but withheld some other documents under claims of privilege). Before the D.C. Circuit could rule on Backpage.com's challenge to the subpoena, the Subcommittee wrapped up its investigation based on the released documents and issued its final report. The Subcommittee then moved to dismiss the case as moot.
In its ruling yesterday, the D.C. Circuit agreed with the Subcommittee. The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the district court might still order some relief (for example, an order that the Subcommittee destroy or return the documents still in its possession), thus keeping the case alive, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering a congressional committee to release documents used in a lawful investigation. In particular, the court wrote that under circuit law "the Clause affords Congress a 'privilege to use materials in its possession without judicial interference,' even where unlawful acts facilitated their acquisition." (Unlawful acts did not facilitate their acquisition here; instead, Backpage.com provided them.) In short, once documents come into the hands of a committee, "the subsequent use of the documents by the committee staff in the course of official business is privileged legislative activity."
The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the Subcommittee waived its privilege by voluntarily subjecting itself to the court's jurisdiction (when it filed to enforce the subpoena): "[w]hen Congress petitions the court in a subpoena enforcement action, Congress does not waive its immunity from court interference with its exercise of its constitutional powers."
The court also rejected Backpage.com's argument that the case was capable of repetition but evading review. The court said a repeat was simply too speculative.
The ruling doesn't leave future subjects of congressional subpoenas without a remedy. According to the court, such subjects should refuse to comply during the legal proceedings so that the courts can hear their objections on the merits.
In other words, Backpage.com's mistake was voluntarily releasing the documents in the first place.
The separation-of-powers part of the ruling stands in contrast to the Court's holding in Church of Scientology of California v. United States, a case that the D.C. Circuit distinguished. In Church of Scientology, the IRS filed a petition to enforce a summons against a state-court clerk for tape recordings related to the Church in district court, and the Church intervened to oppose. While the case was on appeal, the clerk released the tapes to the IRS, at while point the appellate court dismissed the case as moot. The Supreme Court reversed, however, explaining that the case remained alive because the district court could still issue relief to the Church--a "destroy or return" order.
The D.C. Circuit said that Church of Scientology was different, however, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering that same kind of relief against Congress.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a damages claim against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple can move forward. The ruling reverses a lower court ruling that dismissed the case as moot and sends the case back for further proceedings.
This was one of three cases challenging Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of Obergefell. The other two sought declaratory and injunctive relief; this one sought monetary damages.
After Kentucky passed a law that permitted county clerks to issue licenses without their names--an accommodation to Davis's religious objection--same-sex couples, including the plaintiffs here, received their marriage licenses. Courts then dismissed the two cases seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as moot (because the plaintiffs received their licenses), and the lower court dismissed this case as moot, too.
The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court held that the plaintiffs' claim for monetary damages continued to be a live dispute, despite Kentucky's accommodation law, because it sought relief for past harms to the plaintiffs that weren't remedied by their eventual receipt of a license. The court noted that a claim for monetary damages for past harms can live on, even if other portions of a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief (or other, related suits for those forms of relief) become moot.
Judge Siler concurred, but added that Davis might argue on remand that she was protected by the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In particular, Judge Siler argued that the district court "should have the first opportunity upon remand to decide whether that or any other provision of the law would protect Davis as a qualified-immunity or absolute-immunity defense under the circumstances."
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a civil case involving the recovery of some unknown number of apparently not-yet-released Hillary Clinton e-mails is not moot. But the ruling carefully says nothing about the merits and other barriers to moving forward, so it's not yet clear that the ruling will result in any further investigation. It just means that the district court can move to the next steps.
The case arose when Judicial Watch sought a court order compelling Secretary of State Kerry to refer the effort to recover certain e-mails to the Attorney General. Judicial Watch relied on the Administrative Procedure Act and a portion of the Federal Records Act. That Act requires the relevant agency head (in mandatory, non-discretionary language), when he or she becomes aware of "any actual, impending, or threatened unlawful removal . . . or  destruction of [agency] records," to "notify the Archivist . . . and with the assistance of the Archivist [to] initiate action through the Attorney General."
The district court tossed the case on mootness grounds, ruling that Secretary Kerry and the Archivist had made a "sustained effort" to recover the e-mails, yielding "a very substantial harvest," even if they failed to refer the effort to the AG.
The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court ruled that there may still be some un-recovered e-mails out there that the Secretary's and Archivist's efforts haven't revealed--and that therefore require referral to the AG, under the Records Act. In particular, the court said that Clinton used yet different e-mail accounts (other than her private server account) during part of her tenure as Secretary, and that e-mails on these accounts haven't been recovered.
If appellants had only sought emails from the server account, a mootness argument based on the recovery of hte server might well succeed. But the server and the emails it housed do not tell the full story; Secretary Clinton used two nongovernmental email accounts during her tenure at the State Department. . . .
The complaints here sought to ensure recovery [of] all of the former Secretary's work emails, including [on these other accounts]. Because the complaints sought recovery of emails from all of the former Secretary's accounts, the FBI's recover of a server that hosted only one account does not moot the suits.
The ruling sends the case back to the district court. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the court will, or can, order Secretary Kerry to refer the matter to the AG, or that the AG must do anything. As the court wrote,
[W]e express no opinion on whether the Attorney General's action or inaction in response to a referral would be reviewable. Nor do we address possible constitutional defenses that the Secretary or Archivist might raise to the statutory command's constraint on their discretion; they have raised no such argument.