Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Plaintiffs Maralex Resources, Inc. (Maralex), Alexis O’Hare and Mary C. O’Hare (the O’Hares) filed this action against the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (Secretary), the Department of the Interior, and the United States seeking review of a decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) the upheld four Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance that were issued by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Tres Rios Field Office to Maralex for failing to allow a BLM representative to access certain oil and gas lease sites operated by Maralex on land owned by the O’Hares. The district court affirmed the IBLA’s decision. The Tenth Circuit determined the BLM, in issuing the Notices of Incidents of Noncompliance, lacked authority to require plaintiffs to provide BLM with a key to a lease site on privately-owned land or to allow the BLM to install its own locks on the gates to such lease site. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of plaintiffs on this “key or lock” issue. View "Maralex Resources v. Barnhardt" on Justia Law

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George Straub, an employee of BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”), injured his back and neck when, in the course and scope of his duties, he attempted to adjust the engineer’s chair of Locomotive #6295. Straub brought suit, asserting BNSF was (among other things) strictly liable for his injuries under the provisions of the Federal Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”). BNSF moved to dismiss; the district court concluded Straub’s injuries did not implicate LIA. The district court ruled the adjustment mechanism of the engineer’s seat was not an “integral or essential part of a completed locomotive.” Instead, according to the district court, the seat adjustment mechanism was a non-essential comfort device. In reaching this conclusion, the district court relied on the Tenth Circuit’s decision in King v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co., 855 F.2d 1485 (10th Cir. 1988). Straub appealed, arguing the district court’s reliance on King was misplaced. The Tenth Circuit held that the allegations set out in Straub’s complaint (i.e., that the engineer’s chair failed when moved initially and stopped abruptly as Straub was attempting to adjust it) stated a violation of LIA: “Once BNSF installed an engineer’s chair with a seat adjustment mechanism, 49 U.S.C. 20701(1) mandated that BNSF maintain the chair so that the seat adjustment device be ‘in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury’ and 49 C.F.R. 229.7 mandated that BNSF maintain the chair so that the seat adjustment mechanism was ‘in proper condition and safe to operate in service . . . without unnecessary peril to life or limb.’” The Court reversed the district court’s grant of BNSF’s motion to dismiss Straub’s claim to the extent it depended on LIA-based strict liability, and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Straub v. BNSF" on Justia Law

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Utah officials had interpreted its old law to require Plaintiff Rainbow Direct Marketing to register and obtain a permit in the State of Utah to be a professional fundraising consultant. Rainbow viewed these requirements as unconstitutional and unsuccessfully sued in district court. But during the appeal, Utah substantially revised its law, prompting officials to concede that the new restrictions did not apply to Rainbow. The Tenth Circuit concluded this change in the law rendered the appeal moot. View "American Charities v. O'Bannon" on Justia Law

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Winter wheat farmers could purchase insurance to protect against below-average harvests. The policies at issue here offered yield protection. On July 1, 2014, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (“FCIC”) published an interim rule to implement the 2014 Farm Bill. In that interim rule, the FCIC warned that the APH yield exclusion “may not be implemented upon publication” because “[p]roduction data availability and intensive data analysis may limit FCIC’s ability to authorize exclusions of yields for all APH crops in all counties.” Therefore, the FCIC amended the Common Crop Insurance Policy (CCIP) Basic Provisions (the actual terms of the insurance policy offered for sale) “to allow the actuarial documents to specify when insureds may elect to exclude any recorded or appraised yield.” The revised CCIP Basic Provisions stated that farmers “may elect” the APH yield exclusion “[i]f provided in the actuarial documents.” The deadline for winter wheat farmers to purchase insurance for the 2015 crop year was September 30, 2014. When Plaintiffs purchased insurance, they elected to use the APH yield exclusion. But in a letter dated October 31, 2014, the USDA notified insurance providers that the APH Yield Exclusion would not be available for winter wheat for the 2015 crop year. The letter stated that insurance providers could respond to farmers’ elections by pointing them to the USDA’s “actuarial documents,” which did not yet “reflect that such an election is available.” Plaintiffs sought review of this denial through the USDA’s administrative appeals process. An administrative judge determined that she lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ challenge because the October 2014 letter to insurance providers was not an adverse agency decision. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Director of the National Appeals Division. The Director found that the October 2014 letter was an adverse agency decision, but affirmed the FCIC’s decision not to make the APH yield exclusion available to winter wheat farmers for the 2015 crop year. Plaintiffs appealed the Director’s decision to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. The district court reversed the Director’s decision and remanded the case to the FCIC with instructions to retroactively apply the APH yield exclusion to Plaintiffs’ 2015 crop year insurance policies, reasoning the applicable statute unambiguously made the APH yield exclusion available to all farmers on the day the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ausmus v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Enable Oklahoma Intrastate Transmission, LLC (“Enable”), appealed the district court’s dismissal of its case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to join an indispensable party. Enable also challenged the amount of attorney fees the court awarded to the landowner defendants. Because the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Public Service Company of New Mexico v. Barboan, 857 F.3d 1101 (10th Cir. 2017), was dispositive of the subject matter jurisdiction issue, the Court affirmed the district court’s order dismissing the action. View "Enable Oklahoma Intrastate v. 25 Foot Wide Easement" on Justia Law

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A Settlement Agreement sought to end a longstanding, complex dispute dating from 2008. In 2008, environmental groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (collectively, “SUWA”) challenged six resource management plans (“RMPs”) and associated travel management plans (“TMPs”) adopted by the United States Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”). Six other parties intervened as respondents, including the State of Utah and several counties in Utah (collectively, “Utah”). When BLM, SUWA, and multiple intervenors entered into a settlement and sought to dismiss the case in January 2017, Utah challenged the settlement. Utah contended, among other arguments, that the Settlement Agreement illegally codified interpretative BLM guidance into substantive rules, impermissibly binds the BLM to a past Administration’s policies, infringes valid federal land rights (known as “R.S. 2477 rights”), and violated a prior BLM settlement. The district court disagreed and approved the Settlement Agreement. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Utah sought to reverse the district court for primarily the same issues raised at trial. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction over the claims and dismissed. View "Southern Utah Wilderness v. Burke" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Audubon Society of Greater Denver sought review of the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of a project to store more water in the Chatfield Reservoir in Colorado. Audubon argued the Corps’ review and approval of the project failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. The district court denied the petition for review after concluding that the Corps’ decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Audubon also moved to supplement the administrative record. The district court denied the motion because it found that the administrative record sufficiently informed the Corps’ analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Audubon Society v. US Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Omega Forex Group LC (Omega), appearing by and through partner Robert Flath (Flath), appealed a district court decision affirming two Notices of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA) issued by the Internal Revenue Service to Omega. The two FPAAs, on the basis of fraud at the partnership level, eliminated large losses reported by Omega on its tax returns for years 1998 and 1999, and imposed penalties on Omega. Flath was an endodontist in private practice in Utah. At some point in 1997 or 1998, one of the endodontists in Flath’s practice suggested that Flath meet with Dennis Evanson, an “expert in options trading and general business organization and planning, tax planning and asset protection.” Evanston was Omega’s managing partner. Through their business arrangement, Flath would make contributions or investments in Omega or other entities controlled by Evanston. Evanson, in exchange for Flath’s agreed payments, “manufactured fictitious transactions to conceal income [for Flath] and create apparent [tax] deductions [for Flath].” For the years at issue here, Flath or his endodontist practice would claim pass-through losses from Omega. Flath was not completely forthcoming with his tax accountant. In 2005, a grand jury indicted Evanson and other individuals related to Omega. In February 2008, Evanson was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, and assisting in the filing of false tax returns. Omega’s FPAAs were upheld. Flath, on behalf of Omega, raised three issues on appeal: (1) whether the district court erred in holding that the FPAAs issued by the IRS to Omega were not barred by the applicable statute of limitations; (2) even assuming the district court applied the proper statute of limitations, whether it incorrectly applied the legal standards for determining whether Flath had fraudulent intent as to his personal tax returns; and (3) whether the district court erred in determining the asserted fraud penalty at the partnership level. The Tenth Circuit rejected all of these arguments and affirmed the district court’s decision. View "Omega Forex Group v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Laurie Exby-Stolley sued her former employer, the Board of County Commissioners of Weld County, Colorado (the County), under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She alleged the County had failed to accommodate her disability, resulting in the loss of her job. The jury returned a verdict for the County. Exby-Stolley appealed, arguing: (1) the district court improperly instructed the jury that she needed to prove she had suffered an adverse employment action; (2) the district court refused to instruct the jury on a claim of constructive discharge or allow her to argue constructive discharge in closing argument; and (3) the district court misallocated the burden of proof in its undue-hardship jury instruction. The Tenth Circuit found no errors and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Exby-Stolley v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Charles Payan appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of United Parcel Service (“UPS”) in relation to his claims for racial discrimination and retaliation arising under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981, as well as his state law claims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Payan identified himself as Hispanic and worked for UPS since 1991. UPS uses the “Ready Now” list to determine candidates for promotions, so Payan’s removal from the list meant that he could no longer be considered for promotions. Charles Martinez, Payan's direct supervisor, continued thereafter to rate Payan’s promotion status as “Retain at Current Level,” meaning he believed Payan needed more time to develop before being promoted. After Payan’s downgrade, two UPS employees with similar credentials were promoted to Security Division Managers, positions that Payan wanted but was not eligible for in light of his promotion status downgrade. In November 2012, and in response to the recommendations of Martinez, UPS put Payan through a Management Performance Improvement Process (“MPIP”), designed to “help employees who are not performing well go through a formalized training with their manager to help them improve their skill sets so they could perform effectively and eliminate whatever those deficiencies are.” At some point, UPS determined Payan was not meeting the plan’s requirements. Shortly thereafter, Payan filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Payan alleged that he had been subjected to harassing and degrading behavior from Martinez and that his non-Hispanic coworkers were not treated in such a way. He also alleged that UPS retaliated against him by placing him on an MPIP. The EEOC ultimately dismissed Payan’s charge of discrimination and issued him a right-to-sue letter. Finding no reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to UPS, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Payan v. United Parcel Service" on Justia Law