Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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This appeal arose out of a private enforcement action under Section 505 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365. Defendant-Appellant Ozark Materials River Rock, LLC, appealed a district court’s order approving Plaintiff-Appellee David Benham’s proposed restoration plan of unlawfully filled wetlands in Saline Creek. Ozark was a sand and gravel mining company that operated on property adjacent to Saline Creek in Oklahoma. Benham recreates in Saline Creek and claimed Ozark’s operations degraded his ability to do so. In March 2011, Benham served Ozark with a notice letter pursuant to Section 505, informing the company that it was violating Section 404 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. 1344. Section 404 required a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to discharge dredge or fill material into navigable waters if the activity disturbed more than one-half acre of wetland, and Ozark did not have a Section 404 permit. The Army Corps of Engineers had inspected Ozark’s operations in 2010 (again in 2012 and 2013) by driving through the property, but it found no CWA violations. Nevertheless, after receiving Benham’s notice, Ozark hired an environmental consulting firm to perform a Section 404 impact analysis of Ozark’s Saline Creek operations. By June 1, 2011, Ozark had not addressed the CWA violations that Benham alleged in his notice, so he filed the underlying citizen suit, as authorized by Section 505. The district court held a bench trial and found that Ozark’s construction of a roadway in Saline Creek and the filling of its surrounding wetlands without a permit constitute a continuing violation of the CWA. The district court imposed a civil penalty of $35,000 and ordered briefing on a restoration plan for the unlawfully filled wetlands. On June 1, 2017, the district court issued an order adopting (substantially all of) Benham’s proposed restoration plan; one element of the plan created a conservation easement for the restoration site. Ozark raised several issues on appeal challenging the district court’s order and underlying findings of fact and conclusions of law. But finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Benham v. Ozark Materials River Rock" on Justia Law

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At issue here was Utah State Bill SB54, the Utah Elections Amendments Act of 2014 (“SB54”) which reorganized the process for qualifying for a primary ballot in Utah, most importantly, by providing an alternative signature-gathering path to the primary election ballot for candidates who were unable or unwilling to gain approval from the central party nominating conventions. Prior to the passage of SB54, the Utah Republican Party (“URP”) selected its candidates for primary elections exclusively through its state nominating convention, and preferred to keep that process. In this litigation, the URP sued Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox in his official capacity (“the State”), alleging that two aspects of SB54 violated the URP’s freedom of association under the First Amendment, as applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. The two challenged sections: (1) required parties to allow candidates to qualify for the primary ballot through either the nominating convention or by gathering signatures, or both (the “Either or Both Provision”); and (2) required candidates pursuing the primary ballot in State House and State Senate elections through a signature gathering method to collect a set number of signatures (the “Signature Requirement”). In two separate orders, the United States District Court for the District of Utah balanced the URP’s First Amendment right of association against the State’s interest in managing and regulating elections, and rejected the URP’s claims. Re-conducting that balancing de novo on appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. View "Utah Republican Party v. Cox" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Paulo Afamasaga was a native and citizen of Samoa who entered the United States on a nonimmigrant tourist visa and remained beyond the date authorized. After he pleaded guilty to making a false statement when applying for an American passport, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated removal proceedings against him. Petitioner applied for cancellation of removal under 8 U.S.C. 1229b, but the immigration judge (IJ) deemed him ineligible on the ground that violating Section 1542 was a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) agreed and dismissed his appeal. “Exercising jurisdiction to review questions of law decided in BIA removal orders (see Flores-Molina v. Sessions, 850 F.3d 1150 (10th Cir. 2017)), the Tenth Circuit upheld the BIA’s determination that petitioner was not eligible for cancellation of removal. View "Afamasaga v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Market Synergy Group appeals from the district court’s judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee United States Department of Labor. This case stemmed from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) final regulatory action on April 8, 2016, as it applied to fixed indexed annuity (FIA) sales. Plaintiff-Appellant Market Synergy Group (MSG) was a licensed insurance agency that works with insurers to develop specialized, proprietary FIAs and other insurance products for exclusive distribution. It partnered with independent marketing organizations (IMOs) to distribute these products. MSG did not directly sell FIAs but conducted market research and provided training and products for IMO member networks and the independent insurance agents that IMOs recruit. In April 2015, the DOL issued a proposed rule redefining who is a “fiduciary” of an employee benefit plan under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, which would “update existing rules to distinguish more appropriately between the sorts of advice relationships that should be treated as fiduciary in nature and those that should not.” The final rule contained two changes important to this case: (1) it created a new exemption, with added regulatory requirements, the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE), which imposed a more stringent set of requirements on prohibited transactions than those required under PTE 84-24; and (2) the DOL removed FIAs (as well as variable annuities) from the PTE 84- 24 exemption and placed them in the newly created BICE. MSG filed this suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claiming the DOL violated the APA: (1) by failing to provide adequate notice of its intention to exclude transactions involving FIAs from PTE 84-24; (2) arbitrarily treated FIAs differently from other fixed annuities by excluding FIAs from PTE 84-24; and (3) by not adequately considering the detrimental economic impact of its exclusion of FIAs from PTE 84-24. MSG alleged that it would lose 80% of its revenue if the new regulation were to be enforced and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the DOL from implementing the new regulation. The district court denied the preliminary injunction. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the DOL, finding that there was adequate notice, no arbitrary treatment of FIAs as compared to other fixed annuities, and an adequate economic impact analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Market Synergy Group v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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Paul Knopf, the former Director of the Planning and Development Department (“City Planner”) in Evanston, Wyoming (“City”), sued Mayor Kent Williams under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Knopf claimed Mayor Williams did not reappoint him to his position as City Planner because he had sent an email to the City Attorney raising concerns about impropriety relating to a City project. Thus, Knopf alleged that Mayor Williams retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Mayor Williams moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, which the court denied. In this interlocutory appeal, the Mayor asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse that denial, arguing that a reasonable person in his position would not have understood Knopf to have spoken outside of his official duties, and that a “reasonable official: would have believed the email at issue here exceeded the scope of Knopf’s official duties. A split panel concluded Knopf failed to show a violation of clearly established federal law on an essential element of his claim, thus the Court reversed the district court’s denial of sovereign immunity to Mayor Williams. View "Knopf v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jimmy Vasquez, an inmate in the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”), filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, contending CDOC medical providers were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Vasquez specifically alleged Defendants delayed treating him for the hepatitis C virus (“HCV”), resulting in his suffering life-threatening permanent liver damage. In appeal No. 17-1026, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to grant Defendants summary judgment, concluding Vasquez’s claims against Defendants Davis, Webster, Melloh, and Chamjock were time-barred, and Vasquez failed to present sufficient evidence that Defendant Fauvel acted with deliberate indifference. In appeal No. 17-1044, the Court vacated an injunction requiring the CDOC to test Vasquez’s liver function every three months. View "Vasquez v. Davis" on Justia Law

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NDSC Industrial Park, LLC (“NDSC”) appealed a district court order dismissing its “Consent Decree Order Motion.” In the late 1990s, the United States and the State of Colorado each filed complaints against Colorado & Eastern Railroad Company (“C & E”) under CERCLA. These complaints sought reimbursement of response costs associated “with the release or threatened release of hazardous substances at the Sand Creek Industrial Site located in Commerce City and Denver, Colorado.” In an effort to avoid protracted litigation, the parties entered into a partial consent decree (the “Consent Decree”) on April 13, 1999. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, C & E agreed to sell two parcels of land, the OU3/6 Property and the OU1/5 Property (collectively the “Properties”), and pay the net proceeds of the sales to the United States and Colorado. In 2002, the remediated OU1/5 and OU3/6 Properties were put up for auction by the United States pursuant to the Consent Decree. NDSC was the winning bidder. Prior to closing on the purchase of the Properties, NDSC was made aware that C & E had already conveyed its fee interest in a right-of-way. In 2014, NDSC filed suit in Colorado state court to quiet title to the railroad right-of-way against C & E, and other interested parties in the Properties. The district court dismissed the motion because NDSC lacked standing to enforce the terms of the consent decree. On appeal, NDSC claimed the district court erred in concluding it: (1) was attempting to enforce the consent decree, as opposed to seeking a limited declaration regarding the meaning of the consent decree; and (2) did not have standing to seek a declaration that a conveyance of property violated the terms of the consent decree. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Colorado & Eastern Railroad Co" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Kansas sent notices of decisions to terminate its Medicaid contracts with two Planned Parenthood affiliates, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri (“PPGP”), and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region (“PPSLR”). The notices cited concerns about the level of PPGP’s cooperation in solid-waste inspections, both Providers’ billing practices, and an anti-abortion group’s allegations that Planned Parenthood of America (“PPFA”) executives had been video-recorded negotiating the sale of fetal tissue and body parts. Together, the Providers and three individual Jane Does (“the Patients”) immediately sued Susan Mosier, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (“KDHE”), under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(23) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction enjoining Kansas from terminating the Providers from the state’s Medicaid program. "States may not terminate providers from their Medicaid program for any reason they see fit, especially when that reason is unrelated to the provider’s competence and the quality of the healthcare it provides." The Tenth Circuit joined four of five circuits that addressed this same provision and affirmed the district court’s injunction prohibiting Kansas from terminating its Medicaid contract with PPGP. But the Court vacated the district court’s injunction as it pertained to PPSLR, remanding for further proceedings on that issue, because Plaintiffs failed to establish standing to challenge that termination. But on this record, the Court could not determine whether PPSLR itself could establish standing, an issue the district court declined to decide but now must decide on remand. View "Planned Parenthood v. Andersen" on Justia Law