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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Defreitas, an enforcement officer for the U.S. Virgin Islands (U.S.V.I.) Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, asked for sexual favors in exchange for not reporting a female immigrant who was unlawfully present in the U.S.V.I. Defreitas was convicted of soliciting a bribe, V.I. CODE tit. 14, 403, and violating the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(3) but was acquitted of a blackmail charge, 18 U.S.C. 873.The Third Circuit declined the request to certify any questions to the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands but vacated the convictions, holding hold that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove that Defreitas engaged in an “official act” under either statute. Custom may inform the understanding of official duties when those “duties [are] not completely defined by written rules,” but custom alone cannot establish what constitutes an “official act.” Even assuming that the testimony of Defreitas’s partner established a custom of reporting undocumented immigrants, that evidence was insufficient to prove that Defreitas’s decision not to report was an “official act.” There existed no internal regulation, guideline, or statute that advised the Department to engage in any activity related to the policing of immigration laws. View "United States v. Defreitas" on Justia Law

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Allinson was convicted of federal programs bribery, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(2), and conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, in connection with a pay-to-play scheme involving Pawlowski, the former Mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania.The Third Circuit affirmed. Sufficient evidence showed the parties’ plan to steer a Parking Authority contract to Allinson’s law firm in exchange for campaign contributions to support Allinson’s bribery conviction; it is an “official act” for a public official to use his power to influence the awarding of government contracts, even if the official lacks final decision-making power. The court rejected Allinson’s argument that the indictment, which alleged a single conspiracy among Allinson and others, impermissibly varied from the evidence at trial that, he claimed, proved only multiple, unrelated conspiracies. The charged conspiracy included over 10 alleged co-conspirators and seven distinct sub-schemes, only one of which involved Allinson but the government’s efforts at trial were reasonably calculated to prevent guilt transference. No constructive amendment of the indictment occurred. The prosecution’s statement in closing arguments that “Bribery happens with a wink and a nod and sometimes a few words, an understanding between two people,” was not improper. Allinson failed to show “clear and substantial prejudice” resulting from the joint trial. View "United States v. Allinson" on Justia Law

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Pawlowski, the former mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was convicted of federal programs bribery, 18 U.S.C. 666; Travel Act bribery, 18 U.S.C. 1952; attempted Hobbs Act extortion, 18 U.S.C. 1001; wire and mail fraud, honest services fraud, making false statements to the FBI, and conspiracy. The charges stemmed from a scheme in which Pawlowski steered city contracts and provided other favors in exchange for campaign contributions. The district court imposed a 180-month sentence.The Third Circuit affirmed. There was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find “quid pro quo” to support the bribery convictions. Any error caused by Pawlowski's inability to recross-examine a government witness was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Pawlowski’s sentence is procedurally and substantively reasonable. The case against Pawlowski was strong. The evidence showed a man eager to influence and be influenced if it would help him fund his political campaigns. View "United States v. Pawlowski" on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) ordered Altice, a cable service provider, to prorate its bills for the month in which a cable customer cancels his service, as required by New Jersey law. In federal court, Altice argued that the Proration Requirement is preempted by the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984.The district court granted Altice judgment on the pleadings, concluding that “Younger” abstention was not warranted and that the Proration Requirement was preempted. The Third Circuit vacated. The Younger ruling was incorrect. BPU’s civil enforcement proceeding was quasi-criminal in nature and, thus, the type of proceeding to which Younger applies. BPU commenced the action against Altice by filing a formal complaint, a Show Cause Order with attributes similar to the filing of formal charges, and did so in its sovereign capacity. The proceeding was judicial in nature and ongoing when the federal complaint was filed; the proceeding implicates important state interests; and Altice has an adequate opportunity to raise its federal claims in the state proceeding. View "Altice USA Inc v. New Jersey Board of Public Utilities" on Justia Law

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Delaware’s Unclaimed Property Law (UPL), Del. Code tit. 12 section 1101, allows the state to escheat certain types of unclaimed property held by businesses chartered in the state, if the particular business holding the property is not the owner of it, and if there has been no contact with the owner for a specified period of time. Delaware initiated an audit of Siemens, which is incorporated under Delaware law. After a near-decade-long audit process, Siemens sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of the audit and arguing that Delaware’s actions conflict with federal common law limiting the scope of any state’s escheatment authority.The district court dismissed most of Siemens’s claims and denied its motion for a preliminary injunction on the sole surviving claim, which alleged a violation of procedural due process. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court erred in concluding that Siemens failed to show irreparable harm based on its procedural due process claim, and in dismissing Siemens’s federal preemption claim as unripe. In considering the audit, the district court paid insufficient heed to a holder’s payment obligations with respect to interest and penalties under the statute and the consequences of not meeting those obligations. The court affirmed the dismissal of Siemens’s expedited-audit procedural due process claim. View "Siemens USA Holdings Inc. v. Geisenberger" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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