Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
by
New Jersey Law Enforcement Directive 2018-6, states “that individuals are less likely to report a crime if they fear that the responding officer will turn them over to immigration authorities,” and barred counties and local law enforcement from assisting federal immigration authorities by providing any non-public personally-identifying information regarding any individual, providing access to state, county, or local law enforcement equipment, office space, database, or property not available to the general public, providing access to a detained individual for an interview, without the detainee's written consent, or providing notice of a detained individual’s upcoming release from custody. The Directive prohibited local law enforcement agencies and officials from entering “any agreement to exercise federal immigration authority pursuant to Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act” and required them to “notify a detained individual” when federal immigration authorities requested to interview the person, to have the person detained past his release date, or to be informed of the person’s upcoming release.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of challenges to the Directive. For a federal law to preempt state law it must represent the exercise of a power conferred on Congress by the Constitution. Because the Constitution confers upon Congress the power to regulate individuals, not states, the federal law must be best read as one that regulates private actors, The cited federal laws, 8 U.S.C. 1373 and 1644, which regulate only state action, do not preempt the Directive. View "Ocean County Board of Commissioners v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

by
Three former Deputy Coroners claim their employer, the County of Schuylkill, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, by failing to pay them overtime and then firing them in retaliation for seeking overtime pay. The district court granted the county summary judgment, concluding that the plaintiffs were personal staff of the County’s elected Coroner and cannot bring an FLSA claim.The Third Circuit vacated. While the county did not forfeit the personal-staff-exception argument, granting summary judgment was premature, as there are still material factual disputes concerning the exception’s applicability to the plaintiffs. The relevant factors are whether the elected official has plenary powers of appointment and removal, whether the person in the position at issue is personally accountable to only that elected official, whether the person in the position at issue represents the elected official in the eyes of the public, whether the elected official exercises a considerable amount of control over the position, the level of the position within the organization’s chain of command, and the actual intimacy of the working relationship between the elected official and the person filling the position. It is impossible to conclude that the Deputy Coroners fall under the personal staff exception based on undisputed facts. View "Clews v. County of Schuylkill" on Justia Law

by
In 2003, Golden sought to construct a hotel and casino. Golden’s proposed development, located within St. Croix’s coastal zone, required a major Coastal Zone Management (CZM) permit. The CZM Committee held the statutorily required public hearing on January 8, 2004. VICS, an environmental group, appeared and submitted comments. On January 20, Golden wrote a formal request for an extension to respond to comments. The Committee construed the letter as “waiv[ing] [Golden’s] right to a decision" within 30 days. By the time Golden replied, disputing that position, that statutory period had elapsed. The Committee had difficulty meeting its quorum requirements and held the decisional meeting in May, concluding that its failure to act before the deadline meant that it had granted Golden a default permit. The Committee later rescinded the default permit but the Board of Land Use Appeals issued the permit.VICS filed a petition with the Superior Court, which affirmed the Board’s decision. In 2020, the Appellate Division affirmed the Superior Court’s 2006 decision that affirmed the Board’s grant of a default permit, without reaching the merits of VICS’s petition.The Third Circuit remanded an appeal. A party appealing from the decision of a territorial court must establish Article III standing when invoking federal circuit court jurisdiction, even though Article III standing is not required before the territorial courts. The record was insufficient to determine whether VICS has Article III standing; the Superior Court must supplement the record. View "Virgin Islands Conservation Society, Inc. v. Virgin Islands Board of Land Use Appeals" on Justia Law

by
On various dates between March and July 2020, the Governor and Secretary of Health of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania entered orders to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs, Pennsylvania citizens, elected officials, and businesses, challenged three pairs of directives: stay-at-home orders, business closure orders, and orders setting congregation limits in secular settings. The district court concluded that the orders violated the U.S. Constitution. While the appeal was pending, circumstances changed: more than 60% of Pennsylvanians have received a COVID vaccine. An amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution and a concurrent resolution of the Commonwealth’s General Assembly now restricts the Governor’s authority to enter the same orders. In addition, the challenged orders have expired by their own terms. The Third Circuit vacated the judgment and dismissed an appeal as moot. No exception to the mootness doctrine applies View "County of Butler v. Governor of Pennsylvania" on Justia Law

by
The New Jersey Attorney General issued Law Enforcement Directive 2018-6, the Immigrant Trust Directive. Concluding “that individuals are less likely to report a crime if they fear that the responding officer will turn them over to immigration authorities,” the Directive barred counties and local law enforcement from assisting federal immigration authorities by providing any non-public personally-identifying information regarding any individual; providing access to any state, county, or local law enforcement equipment, office space, database, or property not available to the general public; providing access to a detained individual for an interview unless the detainee signs a written consent; or providing notice of a detained individual’s upcoming release from custody. The Directive prohibited “any agreement to exercise federal immigration authority” and required local law enforcement to “notify a detained individual” when federal immigration authorities requested to interview the person, to have the person detained past his release date, or to be informed of the person’s upcoming release.Plaintiffs cited 8 U.S.C. 1373 and 1644, which bar government officials and entities from prohibiting or restricting, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from federal immigration authorities “information regarding the citizenship or immigration status . . . of any individual.” The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Federal law does not preempt the Directive; every form of preemption is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors, not the states. View "Ocean County Board of Commissioners v. Attorney General of New Jersey" on Justia Law

by
Dondero served as the Lower Milford Township Chief of Police from 2006-2016. Dondero’s relationship with the Township Supervisors was rocky. While on duty in 2015, Dondero, then the only active member of the police department, suffered temporary “serious and debilitating injuries” from entering a burning building. While incapacitated, Dondero received disability benefits under Pennsylvania’s Heart and Lung Act (HLA). He went more than two months without contacting his boss, Koplin. In 2016, Koplin requested updated medical documents to verify his continued qualification for HLA benefits. Weeks later, citing financial concerns, the Supervisors passed a resolution to disband the Township police department. From the date of Dondero’s injury through the elimination of the police department (more than nine months) the Pennsylvania State Police provided Township residents full-time police coverage at no extra cost to the Township taxpayers.Dondero filed suit, alleging First Amendment retaliation, violations of substantive and procedural due process, unlawful conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985, municipal liability based on discriminatory Township policies, and a violation of the Pennsylvania state constitution. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Township on all counts. No pre-termination hearing was required when the Township eliminated its police department and Dondero’s other claims lack merit. View "Dondero v. Lower Milford Township" on Justia Law

by
In 2002, Farfield contracted with SEPTA for improvements on Philadelphia-area railroad tracks. The federal government partially funded the project. Work concluded in 2007. As required by federal regulation, Department of Labor (DOL) prevailing wage determinations were incorporated into the contract. Farfield was required to submit to SEPTA for transmission to the Federal Transit Administration a copy of Farfield’s certified payroll, setting out all the information required under the Davis-Bacon Act, 40 U.S.C. 3142(a), with a “Statement of Compliance” averring that the information in the payroll was correct and complete and that each worker was paid not less than the applicable wage rates and benefits for the classification of work performed, as specified in the applicable wage determination. Falsification of a payroll certification could subject Farfield to criminal penalties or civil liability under the False Claims Act (FCA).A union business manager suspected that Farfield had won government contracts with low bids by intending to pay less-skilled workers to perform certain work that would otherwise have been the bailiwick of higher-skilled, higher-paid workers. Ultimately, the union filed a qui tam FCA complaint. The United States declined to intervene. The court entered a $1,055,320.62 judgment against Farfield: $738,724.43 to the government and $316,596.19 to the union, plus $1,229,927.55 in attorney fees and $203,226.45 in costs. The Third Circuit affirmed. In view of the totality of the circumstances, Farfield’s Davis-Bacon violations were not minor or insubstantial. View "International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Farfield Co" on Justia Law

by
The hospital, located in Philadelphia, received a reclassification into the New York City area, which would sizably increase the hospital’s Medicare reimbursements due to that area’s higher wage index, 42 U.S.C. 1395ww(d). Although a statute makes such reclassifications effective for three fiscal years, the agency updated the geographical boundaries for the New York City area before the close of that period and reassigned the hospital to an area in New Jersey with an appreciably lower wage index. The hospital successfully sued three agency officials in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal. The Medicare Act, 42 U.S.C. 1395oo(f)(1), channels reimbursement disputes through administrative adjudication as a near-absolute prerequisite to judicial review. The hospital did not pursue its claim through administrative adjudication before suing in federal court. By not following the statutory channeling requirement, the hospital has no valid basis for subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Temple University Hospital, Inc. v. Secretary United States Department of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

by
Following two fires at its steel plant, U.S. Steel polluted the air. Because that pollution violated its Clean Air Act permits and regulations, it reported the incidents to the local officials who enforce that Act, the Allegheny County Health Department. The Clean Air Council, an environmental watchdog, sued, arguing that under CERCLA, U.S. Steel should have reported the pollution to the federal government too. CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) exempts from reporting any “federally permitted” emissions, 42 U.S.C. 9603, including emissions “subject to” certain Clean Air Act permits and regulations. The Council argued that “subject to” means “obedient to” so that an emission cannot be “subject to” a permit or regulation that it violates.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. In context, “subject to” means “governed or affected by.” Since U.S. Steel’s emissions were governed by a Clean Air Act permit, that means they were “federally permitted” under CERCLA and exempt from federal reporting. View "Clean Air Council v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

by
Venoco operated a drilling rig off the coast of Santa Barbara, transporting oil and gas to its Onshore Facility for processing. Venoco did not own the Offshore Facility but leased it from the California Lands Commission. Venoco owned the Onshore Facility with air permits to use it. Following a 2015 pipeline rupture, Venoco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and abandoned its leases, relinquishing all rights in the Offshore Facility.Concerned about public safety and environmental risks, the Commission took over decommissioning the rig and plugging the wells, paying Venoco $1.1 million per month to continue operating the Offshore and Onshore Facilities. After a third-party contractor took over operations, the Commission agreed to pay for use of the Onshore Facility. The Commission, as Venoco’s creditor, filed a $130 million claim for reimbursement of plugging and decommissioning costs. Before the confirmation of the liquidation plan, Venoco and the Commission unsuccessfully negotiated a potential sale of the Onshore Facility to the Commission. The Commission stopped making payments, arguing it could continue using the Onshore Facility without payment under its police power.After the estates’ assets were transferred to a liquidation trust, the Trustee filed an adversary proceeding, claiming inverse condemnation, against California. The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s rejection of California's assertion of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed. By ratifying the Bankruptcy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, states waived their sovereign immunity defense in proceedings that further a bankruptcy court’s exercise of its jurisdiction over the debtor's and the estate's property. View "In re Venoco, LLC" on Justia Law