Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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This appeal grew out of a dispute between a company and its former employee: CollegeAmerica Denver, Inc., and Debbi Potts. CollegeAmerica and Potts resolved a dispute by entering into a settlement agreement. But CollegeAmerica later came to believe that Potts breached the settlement agreement. This belief led CollegeAmerica to sue Potts in state court. That suit sparked the interest of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which believed CollegeAmerica’s interpretation and enforcement of the settlement agreement was unlawfully interfering with Potts’ and the EEOC’s statutory rights. Based on this belief, the EEOC sued CollegeAmerica in federal court. In response, CollegeAmerica disavowed the legal positions known to concern the agency. The company’s disavowal of these legal positions led the district court to dismiss the agency’s unlawful-interference claim as moot. CollegeAmerica then asserted a new theory against the former employee, which the agency regarded as a continuation of the unlawful interference with statutory rights. That change presented the question to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals of whether the EEOC’s unlawful-interference claim remained moot after the parties disputed if the company could lawfully assert its new theory against the former employee. The Tenth Circuit thought not and reversed the dismissal. View "EEOC v. CollegeAmerica Denver" on Justia Law

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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Kelcey Patton, a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (“DDHS”), was one of those responsible for removing T.D., a minor at the time, from his mother’s home, placing him into DDHS’s custody, and recommending T.D. be placed and remain in the temporary custody of his father, Tiercel Duerson. T.D. eventually was removed from his father’s home after DDHS received reports that T.D. had sexual contact with his half-brother, also Mr. Duerson’s son. DDHS later determined that during T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson, T.D. had suffered severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. T.D. sued Patton under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating his right to substantive due process, relying on a “danger-creation theory,” which provided that “state officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials created the danger that caused the harm.” Patton moved for summary judgment on the ground that she is entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "T.D. v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Defendants, various officials at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, appealed the district court’s entry of a permanent injunction related to the Department’s payment for air-ambulance services rendered to ill or injured individuals covered by the Wyoming Worker’s Compensation Act. Plaintiffs were several companies which provide air-ambulance services in Wyoming. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants, arguing that the federal Airline Deregulation Act impermissibly regulated the price of air-ambulance services. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court agreed “that the Airline Deregulation Act preempt[ed] Wyoming Statute section 27-14-401(e) and Chapter 9, Section 8 of the Rules, Regulations and Fee Schedules of the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Division to the extent the statute and regulation set compensation that air ambulances may receive for their services.” The court accordingly entered an injunction against Defendants. On appeal, Defendants challenge both the district court’s legal holding on the preemption question and the scope of the injunctive relief ordered in the amended judgment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s legal ruling that Wyoming Statute Section 27-14-401(e) and its associated rate schedule were precluded to the extent that they set forth a mandatory maximum reimbursement rate for air-ambulance claims. The Court also affirmed the initial order of injunctive relief entered in the district court’s initial judgment, permanently enjoining Defendants from enforcing the rate schedule against air-ambulance services. The Court reversed the amended judgment and the overbroad injunctive relief entered therein, leaving it for the state officials to determine, as a matter of state law, how Wyoming could and should administer its workers’ compensation program within the limitations set by federal law. View "EagleMed v. Cox" on Justia Law

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In an amendment to the Clean Air Act (CAA), Congress directed the EPA to operate a Renewable Fuel Standards Program (the RFS Program) to increase oil refineries’ use of renewable fuels. But for small refineries that would suffer a “disproportionate economic hardship” in complying with the RFS Program, the statute required the EPA to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Petitioner Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company owned and operated two refineries in Wyoming: one in Sinclair, and another in Casper. Both fell within the RFS Program’s definition of “small refinery” and were exempt from the RFS requirements until 2011. Those exemptions were extended until 2013 after the Department of Energy found Sinclair’s Wyoming refineries to be among the 13 of 59 small refineries that would continue to face “disproportionate economic hardship” if required to comply with the RFS Program. Sinclair then petitioned the EPA to extend their small-refinery exemptions. The EPA denied Sinclair’s petitions in two separate decisions, finding that both refineries appeared to be profitable enough to pay the cost of the RFS Program. Sinclair filed a timely petition for review with the Tenth Circuit court, which concluded the EPA exceeded its statutory authority under the CAA in interpreting the hardship exemption to require a threat to a refinery’s survival as an ongoing operation. Because the Court found the EPA exceeded its statutory authority, it vacated the EPA’s decisions and remanded to the EPA for further proceedings. View "Sinclair Wyoming Refining v. EPA" on Justia Law

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When a state fails to protect a foster child from harm, the foster child can sue the state under the special-relationship doctrine, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. The special-relationship doctrine provides an exception to the general rule that states aren’t liable for harm caused by private actors. This case is about the geographical reach of the special-relationship doctrine: whether the special relationship (and its accompanying duty to protect)—crosses state lines. James Dahn, a foster child, sued two Colorado social workers responsible for investigating reports that he was being abused, along with others involved with his adoption. Dahn had been in Oklahoma’s custody until, with Oklahoma’s approval, a Colorado-based private adoption agency placed him for adoption with a foster father in Colorado. The foster father physically abused Dahn before and after adopting him. The private adoption agency was responsible for monitoring Dahn’s placement. Together with Colorado, it recommended approval of his adoption by the abusive foster father. Dahn eventually escaped his abusive foster father by running away. Dahn then sued the private adoption agency, its employees, and the Colorado caseworkers who were assigned to investigate reports of abuse from officials at Dahn’s public school. The district court dismissed all of Dahn’s claims except a section 1983 claim against the two Colorado caseworkers and two state-law claims against the agency and its employees, concluding the special-relationship doctrine allowed Dahn to move forward with the 1983 claim, and it exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. The Colorado caseworkers appealed. Though the Tenth Circuit condemned their efforts to protect the vulnerable child, the Court concluded, under the controlling precedents, that the Colorado caseworkers were entitled to qualified immunity, and reversed. View "Dahn v. Amedei" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose from a government agency’s decision to recapture via administrative offset funds that the agency allegedly overpaid to multiple grant recipients. The grant recipients filed suit arguing in relevant part that the agency lacked authority to recapture the funds without first providing them with administrative hearings. The district court agreed and ordered the agency to repay the grant recipients. The agency appealed that order. The issues the appeal raised for the Tenth Circuit's review were: (1) did the agency recapture the funds pursuant to a statute or regulation that imposed a hearing requirement, thus rendering the recaptures illegal; (2) if the agency didn’t recapture the funds pursuant to such a statute or regulation, did it have authority to recapture the alleged overpayments at all; and (3) if not, must the agency reimburse the grant recipients for the amounts it illegally collected? The Court found the agency didn’t recapture the funds pursuant to a statute or regulation that imposes a hearing requirement, therefore, the district court erred in ruling that the recipients were entitled to hearings before the agency could recapture the alleged overpayments. Two members of the panel agreed the agency lacked authority to recapture the funds via administrative offset, and the Court affirmed the portion of the district court’s order that characterized the recaptures as illegal. The two other members of the panel agreed that if the agency no longer had the recaptured funds in its possession, then the district court lacked authority to order the agency to repay the recipients. Thus, the Court reversed that portion of the district court’s order and remanded for further factual findings. View "Modoc Lassen Indian Housing v. DOHUD" on Justia Law

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The City of Albuquerque (“the City”) provided public-bus services to Albuquerque residents. The City hired Soto Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Miracle Delivery Armored Services (“Soto”) to count the cash fares received money, transport it by armored car to the City’s bank for deposit, and verify the daily deposit amount with the City. In the second half of 2014, the City noticed irregularities between the amount of fare money that it internally recorded and the amount Soto deposited. After investigating these irregularities, the City sued Soto in New Mexico state court, alleging contract and tort claims. Though the City had not yet served process on Soto, Soto filed three documents in state court in response to the complaint. Then Soto filed an answer to the complaint, including a notice of removal to federal district court. In federal court, the City moved for a remand to state court, arguing that Soto had waived its right to remove the case to federal court after participating in the state court by filing the motion to dismiss. The district court agreed with the City’s position and remanded the case. The district court remanded this case after concluding that the defendant had waived its right to remove by filing a motion to dismiss in state court. Finding no reversible error with that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "City of Albuquerque v. Soto Enterprises" on Justia Law

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The Department of the Interior (“DOI”) adopted an administrative appeal requirement for agency actions under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (“SMCRA”). Following an initial decision by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), DOI regulations required an adversely affected party to concurrently file an appeal and a petition for stay pending appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (“IBLA”) to exhaust administrative remedies. However, an ALJ decision is not always rendered inoperative pending appeal: the IBLA retains discretion to grant or deny the stay. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether the IBLA’s denial of a stay rendered an ALJ’s decision final for purposes of judicial review, notwithstanding a pending IBLA appeal. The Tenth Circuit found that intra-agency review “is a prerequisite to judicial review only when expressly required by statute or when an agency rule requires appeal before review and the administrative action is made inoperative pending that review.” Because the ALJ’s decision in this case was not rendered inoperative pending appeal to the IBLA, it was final agency action. View "Farrell-Cooper Mining v. DOI" on Justia Law

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Under the federal environmental laws, the owner of property contaminated with hazardous substances or a person who arranges for the disposal of hazardous substances may be strictly liable for subsequent clean-up costs. The United States owned national forest lands in New Mexico that were mined over several generations by Chevron Mining Inc. The question presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the United States is a “potentially responsible party” (PRP) for the environmental contamination located on that land. The Tenth Circuit concluded that under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), the United States is an “owner,” and, therefore, a PRP, because it was strictly liable for its equitable portion of the costs necessary to remediate the contamination arising from mining activity on federal land. The Court also concluded the United States cannot be held liable as an “arranger” of hazardous substance disposal because it did not own or possess the substances in question. The Court reversed the district court in part and affirmed in part, remanding for further proceedings to determine the United States’ equitable share, if any, of the clean-up costs. View "Chevron Mining v. United States" on Justia Law