Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Hardy, a 55-year old man who worked previously as a maintenance mechanic, had a discectomy in 2005 and a lumbar spinal fusion in 2006. His previous application for Disability Insurance Benefits was denied in 2012. Hardy filed another application for DIB benefits, claiming an onset date of April 2012. The agency denied Hardy’s claim; state-agency doctors reviewed Hardy’s file and determined that he had postural limitations, could frequently lift up to 10 pounds and could stand or walk for six hours during a workday so that Hardy could perform light work. His treating doctors reported that Hardy was unable to work and that his “legs give out and he tends to fall.” In concluding that Hardy was not disabled, an ALJ determined that Hardy had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since his alleged onset date; that his conditions were severe impairments; that these conditions did not equal a listed impairment; that he had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with limitations; and that he could work as a wire assembler, assembly press operator, circuit board screener, or finish assembler. The Seventh Circuit vacated the denial of benefits. A treating doctor’s opinion generally is entitled to controlling weight if it is consistent with the record, and it cannot be rejected without a “sound explanation.” The ALJ impermissibly discounted the opinions of Hardy’s treating neurosurgeon. View "Hardy v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Lincolnshire's Ordinance 15-3389-116 Section 4 bans union-security agreements within the village by forbidding any requirement that workers join a union, compensate a union financially or make payments to third parties in lieu of such contributions and bars any requirement that employees “be recommended, approved, referred, or cleared for employment by or through a labor organization.” Section 5 prohibits employers from making payments to unions on a worker’s behalf except under a “signed written authorization” that may be revoked by the employee at any time by written notice. The Ordinance provides civil remedies and criminal penalties for its violation. Unions sued, asserting preemption by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The district court entered summary judgment, finding that all of the unions had standing to challenge the membership and fee provisions and the checkoff regulation (section 5), but that only one union could challenge the section 4 prohibition of hiring halls. The Seventh Circuit agreed. The district court also held that all three provisions were preempted and that the unions failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Localities may not address the subjects of hiring halls or dues checkoffs. The authority conferred in 29 U.S.C. 14(b)), allowing states to bar compulsory union membership as a condition of employment, does not extend to political subdivisions. View "International Union of Operating Engineers v. Village of Lincolnshire" on Justia Law

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The Affordable Care Act’s three premium‐stabilization programs were designed to redistribute money among insurance companies and mitigate each company’s exposure to market risks, 42 U.S.C. 18061–18063. The Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) intended to implement these programs in a budget‐neutral way paying out only the funds that each program had taken in from other insurance companies. Land of Lincoln participated in these premium‐stabilization programs and incurred a debt of roughly $32 million but HHS owed Land of Lincoln over $70 million. HHS was not able to pay what it owed because it was taking in far less money than expected, and it refused to dip into its discretionary funds. Like other insurance companies, Land of Lincoln sought the overdue payments in an unsuccessful suit. Land of Lincoln became insolvent and began liquidation. Despite an Illinois court order, HHS began to offset its overdue payments against Land of Lincoln’s debt, as its own regulations permitted. The Director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, Land of Lincoln’s appointed liquidator, asked the state court for a declaration that HHS violated the order, but HHS removed the motion to federal district court arguing that the federal government was not subject to state court jurisdiction. The district court remanded the case back to state court relying on a narrow reading of 28 U.S.C. 1442, and principles of abstention. The Seventh Circuit reversed on both grounds and remanded to the district court. View "Hammer v. United States Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia 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