Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Then-New Jersey Governor Christie appointed Baroni as Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Baroni and Kelly, the Deputy Chief of Staff for New Jersey’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, engaged in a scheme to impose crippling gridlock on the Borough of Fort Lee after its mayor refused to endorse Christie’s 2013 reelection bid. Under the guise of conducting a “traffic study,” they conspired to limit Fort Lee motorists’ access to the George Washington Bridge (the world’s busiest bridge) over four days during the first week of the school year. Extensive media coverage of “Bridgegate” ensued. Baroni and Kelly were convicted of conspiracy to obtain by fraud, knowingly convert, or intentionally misapply property of an organization receiving federal benefits, 18 U.S.C. 371, and the substantive offense; conspiracy to commit wire fraud, section 1349, and the substantive offense; and conspiracy against civil rights, section 241, and the substantive offense. The Third Circuit affirmed the wire fraud convictions but vacated the civil rights convictions. The government presented evidence sufficient to prove defendants violated the wire fraud statute by depriving the Port Authority of, at a minimum, its money in the form of public employee labor. The court rejected an argument that Baroni possessed the unilateral authority to control Port Authority traffic patterns. There is no “clearly established” constitutional right to intrastate travel, so the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the civil rights claims. View "United States v. Baroni" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the U.S. government strove to rescue the collapsing economy, including by enacting the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, which authorized the government to act as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored enterprises with critical roles in the home mortgage market. Under that conservatorship, Fannie and Freddie made a deal with the Department of Treasury, guaranteeing those agencies access to hundreds of billions of dollars; they had to give their net profits to the Treasury—in perpetuity. Fannie’s and Freddie’s junior shareholders had expected to share in those future profits. The agreement wiped out that expectation. The Third Circuit rejected challenges by those junior shareholders. The Recovery Act gave the government broad, discretionary power to enter into the deal and the deal complies with the requirements of the Act, as well as Delaware and Virginia corporate law. In addition, the relief sought would “restrain or affect the exercise of [the government’s] powers” as conservator, which the Recovery Act forbids, 12 U.S.C. 4617(f). View "Jacobs v. Federal Housing Finance Agency" on Justia Law

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From 1910 until 1986, Greenlease Holding Co. (“Greenlease”), a subsidiary of the Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation (“Ampco”), owned a contaminated manufacturing site in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Trinity Industries, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Trinity Industries Railcar Co. (collectively, “Trinity”), acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. An investigation by Pennsylvania into Trinity’s waste disposal activities resulted in a criminal prosecution and eventual plea-bargained consent decree which required, in relevant part, that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. This appeal arose out of the district court’s determination that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (“HSCA”), Trinity was entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. The parties filed cross-appeals challenging a number of the district court’s rulings, including its ultimate allocation of cleanup costs. The Third Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court on several pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions, vacated the cost allocation determination and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co." on Justia Law

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Biear, a federal prisoner, mailed Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(7)(A), requests to eight components of the Department of Justice, seeking: “Any and all documents and electronic media assembled during any investigation (or review) containing the name James S. Biear (aka J. Steven Biear and James C. Biear), DOB [REDACTED], SSN: [REDACTED].” The Criminal Division replied by requiring him to certify his identity and submit additional information regarding the records. Biear completed the certification of his identity but did not further detail his request. The Criminal Division then denied Biear’s request; the Office of Information Policy affirmed. The FBI initially denied Biear’s request because the records were in an active investigative file, exempt from disclosure. After Biear filed suit, the FBI produced some documents in full and some with redactions; others were withheld as duplicative or containing exempt information that could not be reasonably segregated from nonexempt information. The Third Circuit reversed the district court, concluding that Biear exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to his Criminal Division request; Biear’s request was sufficiently specific. His challenge to the FBI’s response was not mooted by the FBI’s subsequent production of documents. The court should have continued to exercise jurisdiction over Biear’s claim regarding the sufficiency of the FBI’s response. View "Biear v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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The contracts between the Drivers and Joseph Cory, a motor carrier business, purported to establish that the Drivers would work as independent contractors. The Drivers claim the realities of the relationship made them employees under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA), 820 ILCS 115/1–115/15. The contracts expressly permitted Joseph Cory to take “chargebacks” for any expense or liability that the Drivers had agreed to bear, including costs for “insurance, any related insurance claims, truck rentals, . . . uniforms,” and “damaged goods,” from the Drivers’ paychecks without obtaining contemporaneous consent. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of Joseph Cory’s motion to dismiss the Drivers’ suit. The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA), 49 U.S.C. 14501–06, does not preempt the IWPCA. Wage laws like the IWPCA are traditional state regulations and part of the backdrop that all business owners must face. IWPCA does not single out trucking firms and its impact is too tenuous, remote, and peripheral to fall within the scope of the FAAAA preemption clause. IWPCA’s limited regulation of ministerial aspects of the manner in which employees are paid does not have a significant impact on carrier rates, routes, or services of a motor carrier and does not frustrate the FAAAA’s deregulatory objectives. View "Lupian v. Joseph Cory Holdings LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought to prevent the expansion of Transco’s interstate natural gas pipeline facilities, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) violated the Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717–717z and environmental protection statutes, by arbitrarily approving Transco’s proposed project. Petitioners also argued that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) violated state law by improperly issuing permits required under federal law before commencement of construction activities and by denying the petitioners’ request for an adjudicatory hearing to challenge the permits, based only on the NJDEP’s allegedly incorrect belief that the New Jersey regulations establishing the availability of such hearings were preempted by federal law. The Third Circuit concluded that the challenges to FERC’s orders lacked merit because no discharge-creating activity can commence without New Jersey independently awarding Transco with a Section 401 permit; no activities that may result in a discharge can follow as a logical result of just FERC’s issuance of the certificate. FERC adequately addressed the need for the project and its cumulative impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The court remanded to NJDEP. NJDEP misunderstood the scope of the NGA’s assignment of jurisdiction to the federal Courts of Appeals, rendering unreasonable the sole basis for its denial of the petitioners’ request for a hearing--preemption. View "Township of Bordentown v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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Adorers, a religious order of Roman Catholic women, owns land in Columbia, Pennsylvania affected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision under the Natural Gas Act, to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Transco, authorizing construction of a roughly 200-mile-long pipeline. Adorers claim that their deeply-held religious beliefs require that they care for the land in a manner that protects and preserves the Earth as God’s creation. Despite receiving notice of the proposed project, Adorers never raised this objection before FERC. More than five months after FERC granted the certificate, Adorers filed suit under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1. The district court dismissed, citing the Act: If FERC issues a certificate following the requisite hearing, any aggrieved person may seek judicial review in the D.C. Circuit or the circuit wherein the natural gas company is located or has its principal place of business. Before seeking judicial review, that party must, within 30 days of the issuance of the certificate, apply for rehearing before FERC. Anyone who fails to first seek a rehearing is barred from seeking judicial review, 15 U.S.C. 717r(a). The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal. A RFRA cause of action, invoking a court’s general federal question jurisdiction, does not abrogate or provide an exception to a specific jurisdictional provision prescribing a particular procedure for judicial review of an agency’s action. View "Adorers of Blood of Christ v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commisson" on Justia Law

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On January 6, 2016, in Newark, New Jersey, there was a collision between a car driven by Sconiers and a vehicle owned by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). About two weeks later, Sconiers submitted an administrative tort claim form to USPS seeking damages for injuries that she claimed she suffered in the accident. By letter dated July 14, 2016, addressed to Sconiers’s counsel, USPS denied her claim. The letter, citing the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) 28 U.S.C. 2401(b), informed Sconiers that if she was dissatisfied with the denial, she “may file suit in a United States District Court no later than six (6) months after the date the Postal Service mails the notice of that final action.” Sconiers filed suit eight months later. The district court found that Sconiers’s complaint was filed beyond the FTCA’s six-month statute of limitations and determined that she had not identified any extraordinary circumstance that justified equitable tolling of the deadline. The Third Circuit affirmed. Although the statute of limitations requires filing within two years, 28 U.S.C. §2401(b), the FTCA additionally requires claimants to file their claims within six months of an agency’s written denial. View "Sconiers v. United States" on Justia Law

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After a confrontational screening at Philadelphia International Airport in 2006, during which police were called, Pellegrino asserted intentional tort claims against TSA screeners. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government generally enjoys sovereign immunity for intentional torts committed by federal employees, subject to the “law enforcement proviso” exception, which waives immunity for a subset of intentional torts committed by employees who qualify as “investigative or law enforcement officers,” 28 U.S.C. 2680(h). The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Pellegrino’s suit, holding that TSA screeners are not “investigative or law enforcement officers” under the law enforcement proviso. They “typically are not law enforcement officers and do not act as such.” The court noted that the head of the TSA, the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security, has specific authority to designate employees to serve as “law enforcement officer[s]” 49 U.S.C. 114(p)(1). An employee so designated may carry a firearm, make arrests, and seek and execute warrants for arrest or seizure of evidence. Screening locations are staffed by both screening officers and law enforcement officers. View "Pellegrino v. United States Transportation Security Administration" on Justia Law

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"Immediate relatives” of U.S. Citizens can enter the United States without regard to numerical limitations on immigration. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, 120 Stat. 587 (AWA) amended the statute so that a citizen “who has been convicted of a specified offense against a minor” may not file any petition on behalf of such relatives “unless the Secretary of Homeland Security, in the Secretary’s sole and unreviewable discretion, determines that the citizen poses no risk to the alien.” The definition of a “specified offense against a minor,” includes “[c]riminal sexual conduct involving a minor, or the use of the Internet to facilitate or attempt such conduct.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memos state that “a petitioner who has been convicted of a specified offense against a minor must submit evidence of rehabilitation and any other relevant evidence that clearly demonstrates, beyond any reasonable doubt," that he poses no risk and that “approval recommendations should be rare.” In 2004, Bakran, a U.S. citizen, was convicted of aggravated indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor. In 2012, Bakran married an adult Indian national and sought lawful permanent resident status for her. USCIS denied his application citing AWA. Bakran claimed violations of the Constitution and Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. 701. The Third Circuit held that the protocols Bakran challenged simply guide the Secretary’s determination; courts lack jurisdiction to review them. The AWA does not infringe Bakran’s marriage right but deprives him of an immigration benefit to which he has no constitutional right. The Act is aimed at providing prospective protection and is not impermissibly retroactive. View "Bakran v. Secretary, United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law