Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Regional transmission organizations manage the interstate grid for electricity, conduct auctions through which many large generators of electricity sell most or all of their power, and are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Illinois subsidizes nuclear generation facilities by granting “zero emission credits,” which generators that use coal or gas to produce power must purchase from the recipients at a price set by the state. Electricity producers and municipalities sued, contending that the price‐adjustment aspect of the system is preempted by the Federal Power Act because it impinges on the FERC’s regulatory authority. They acknowledge that a state may levy a tax on carbon emissions; tax the assets and incomes of power producers; tax revenues to subsidize generators; or create a cap‐and‐trade system requiring every firm that emits carbon to buy credits from firms that emit less carbon. They argued that the zero‐emission‐credit system indirectly regulates the auction by using average auction prices as a component in a formula that affects the credits' cost. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Illinois has not engaged in discrimination beyond that required to regulate within its borders. All Illinois carbon‐emitting plants need to buy credits. The subsidy’s recipients are in Illinois. The price effect of the statute is felt wherever the power is used. All power (from inside and outside Illinois) goes for the same price in an interstate auction. The cross‐subsidy among producers may injure investors in carbon‐ releasing plants, but only plants in Illinois. View "Village of Old Mill Creek v. Star" on Justia Law

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In 2002, officers seized $100,120 in U.S. currency from an Amtrak train passenger. The federal government initiated a civil forfeiture proceeding against the currency. The passenger and the owner of the funds, neither of whom were charged with committing any crime related to the funds, joined the suit as claimants. After 14 years and two appeals, a jury found the currency was substantially connected to a drug transaction and entered a verdict for the government. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the denial of the claimants’ motion to have dog-sniff evidence excluded on spoliation grounds based on claimants' argument that the government intentionally converted the currency to a cashier’s check, depriving them of the opportunity to perform chemical tests to determine the presence or absence of drugs. The judge accepted the government’s contention that the officers deposited the currency in conformity with a Justice Department policy not to hold large amounts of cash and found no bad faith. The jury instructions were not confusing; they told the jury to determine whether the money was substantially connected to some unlawful drug transaction and fit within certain statutory categories, regardless of the claimants’ personal participation in any such drug transaction. The verdict was supported by evidence concerning the drug-courier profile, the drug dog’s alert, and the claimants' implausible explanations for being on the train and having the cash. View "Marrocco v. Funds in the Amount of One Hundred Thousand and One Hundred Twenty Dollars" on Justia Law

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Moreland worked as a FEMA Disaster Assistance Employee. Such employees to respond to events declared disasters by the president. Their work is intermittent. They are paid only for hours worked when they are “deployed.” When they are not deployed, they are “reservists” and are not paid. Moreland, who lives in Texas, filed a discrimination charge and requested a hearing. The ALJ scheduled her hearing in Wisconsin. Moreland, who was on reserve status, asked to be deployed to Wisconsin so that she would receive pay for her time and reimbursement for her travel expenses. After consulting with its Office of Equal Rights, the agency declined to deploy her to the hearing. While on reserve status, Moreland attended and testified. The agency required that two supervisors testify at the hearing, so it deployed them and paid for their time and expenses. At least one of the witnesses was on reserve status; the agency deployed her solely to testify. Moreland claims that the agency’s decision not to deploy her for the hearing was retaliation for her previous discrimination grievance. On remand, the district court granted the government summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Moreland failed to provide evidence that she suffered an adverse action and did not rebut the government’s legitimate reason for not reimbursing her--a reasonable interpretation of its own regulation. View "Moreland v. Nielsen" on Justia Law

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Spicher suffers from osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, fibromyalgia, and morbid obesity. In 2010, Spicher applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income dating back to 2003. After a 2012 hearing, an ALJ found that Spicher was not disabled from 2003-2012. The district court remanded because the ALJ had not properly considered the limitations imposed by Spicher’s obesity, independently and in combination with her other impediments. On remand, Spicher focused on whether she had been disabled since December 2008, when her insured status expired. The ALJ consulted a second doctor who essentially adopted the findings of the medical reports already in the record. The ALJ stated that further consideration of Spicher’s obesity had not motivated her to change her conclusion, finding that Spicher could hold a sedentary position and perform three jobs identified by a vocational expert, and could occasionally crouch, crawl, balance, stoop, and kneel. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the decision was not supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ did not address contradictory medical evidence when determining the types of sedentary jobs that Spicher could hold and failed to consider the interaction between her obesity and her non‐severe impairments. The court rejected a claim that the ALJ displayed antagonism toward Spicher in violation of her due process rights. View "Spicher v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Chavez, then 21, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent five surgeries. Chavez experienced depression and anxiety. She struggled to maintain concentration to complete simple household tasks and suffered from migraine headaches, back pain (caused by degenerative disc disease), and numbness in her feet and hands. Chavez had no prior work experience. In 2010 Chavez applied for Social Security supplemental security income. Chavez could perform only simple, routine tasks with significant restrictions on how much she could lift. The vocational expert enlisted by the agency to estimate the number of jobs suitable for Chavez testified that for one particular job there were either 800 or 108,000 existing positions but preferred the larger estimate. The administrative law judge agreed and denied Chavez’s claim. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The decision was not supported by substantial evidence; the ALJ failed to ensure that the vocational expert’s job estimates were reliable. The vocational expert offered no explanation for why his estimates (or his method) were reliable, instead reaching a conclusion by determining that the estimates yielded by an alternative method seemed too low. By affording such broad deference to the vocational expert’s chosen estimates, the ALJ relieved the agency of its evidentiary burden at the final step of the analysis, impermissibly shifting the burden to Chavez. View "Chavez v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Kaminski fell down a flight of stairs, suffering a head wound that caused a traumatic brain injury and a seizure disorder. He applied under the Social Security Act for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income 13 years later. The Social Security Administration denied his applications; the district court upheld the denial. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the administrative law judge improperly rejected his treating physician’s opinions. The treating physician’s opinions and the testimony of the vocational expert together show that Kaminski is disabled. View "Kaminski v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, “Class III” medical devices are those that support or sustain human life, that are of substantial importance in preventing impairment of human health, or that present a potential, unreasonable risk of illness or injury, 21 U.S.C. 360c(a)(1)(A), and must undergo scientific and regulatory review before they are marketed. Henson, a diabetic, sent the Food and Drug Administration requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, seeking documents related to the premarket approval process for a glucose monitoring system, claiming to have observed deficiencies with his monitor. The agency produced documents. Henson was not satisfied with the response, so he sued. The agency reprocessed Henson’s requests and provided him with responsive documents totaling 8,000 pages plus a “Vaughn index,”listing each redacted or withheld document cross-referenced with the FOIA exemption that the FDA asserted was applicable. The FDA explained that it did not respond to all of Henson’s requests because the requested materials were either outside of the Act’s scope, duplicative of Henson’s other requests, or available on the agency’s website. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Henson’s suit on summary judgment. The agency’s search for responsive documents and the application of exemptions were reasonable. View "Henson v. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Ramos, filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding her severance agreement's broad release of claims and covenant not to sue, with exceptions for “rights that Employee cannot lawfully waive” and for participation “in a proceeding with any appropriate federal, state or local government agency enforcing discrimination laws.” The EEOC abandoned Ramos’s charge by issuing her a right-to-sue letter and, eight months later, filed suit under section 707(a), which it believed granted independent litigation authority for suits against “any person or group of persons … engaged in a pattern or practice ....” 42 U.S.C. 2000e-6(a). While section 707(e)’s incorporation of section 706’s procedural requirements generally requires the EEOC to follow the same pre-suit procedures whether the suit is an individual one or a pattern-or-practice action, the EEOC believed that a distinction between section 707’s subsections excused it from doing so. Section 707(a), unlike section 707(e), gives the EEOC a right to litigate without an underlying charge or unlawful employment practice, and (EEOC thought) by extension, without first conciliating. The EEOC distinguished between section 707(a)’s reach to “any person or group of persons” and section 707(e)’s limitation to employers. In 2015, the Seventh Circuit held that conciliation is necessary under both sections. The district court subsequently awarded $307,902.30 in attorneys’ fees, finding that EEOC had taken a position contrary to its own regulations. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the Sevdecision impermissibly rested on hindsight. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Mayle, an adherent of “non-theistic Satanism,” sued to enjoin the printing of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on U.S. currency. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his complaint, rejecting claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Free Speech, Free Exercise, and Establishment Clauses. The Supreme Court has observed that the motto “In God We Trust” merely acknowledges a part of our nation’s heritage (albeit a religious part) and does not “pose a real danger of establishment of a state church.” Mayle has not been coerced into participating in Christianity; “no one walking down the street who saw Mayle would have the faintest idea what Mayle had in his pocket—currency or plastic payment cards or perhaps just a smartphone.” The motto’s placement on currency has the secular purpose of recognizing the religious component of our nation’s history and does not affect current religious practices. The motto is generally applicable and no reasonable person would believe that using currency has religious significance. Mayle has not suffered a financial burden because of his religious beliefs, nor has he altered his behavior to avoid violating his religious beliefs. View "Mayle v. United States" on Justia Law

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Schock resigned from Congress in 2015, after disclosures about trips he took at public expense, the expense of his elaborate office furnishings, and how he had applied campaign funds. Schock was charged with mail and wire fraud, theft of government funds, making false statements to Congress and the Federal Elections Commission, and filing false tax returns. Schock moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the charges are inconsistent with the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause and with the House of Representatives’ constitutional authority to determine the rules of its proceedings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. The indictment arises out of applications for reimbursements, which are not speeches, debates, or any other part of the legislative process. Submitting a claim under established rules differs from the formulation of those rules. The foundation for Schock’s rule-making” argument—the proposition that if Body A has sole power to make a rule, then Body A has sole power to interpret that rule—does not represent established doctrine. “ Judges regularly interpret, apply, and occasionally nullify rules promulgated by the President or another part of the Executive Branch, as well as statutes enacted by the Legislative Branch; why would reimbursement rules be different?” View "United States v. Schock" on Justia Law