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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
by
The case involves a dispute over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) allowing a new auction rule to apply retroactively to a pending auction. This auction was administered by PJM Interconnection L.L.C., an entity responsible for running the auction. The petitioners, electric suppliers and their trade associations, contended that FERC's orders violated the filed rate doctrine, which forbids retroactive rates.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the Tariff Amendment was retroactive because it altered the legal consequence attached to a past action when it allowed PJM to use a different Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement than the one it had calculated and posted. The court noted that the Tariff Amendment, therefore, violated the filed rate doctrine.The court ruled that the doctrine's predictability is crucial because electricity markets depend on it. FERC’s disregard of the filed rate doctrine created unpredictability in the markets, potentially eroding confidence in the markets and ultimately harming consumers who buy electricity in those markets.The court granted the petitions for review and vacated the portion of FERC’s orders that allowed PJM to apply the Tariff Amendment to the 2024/25 capacity auction. View "Constellation Energy Generation LLC v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
A group of power providers contested orders from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that permitted a new auction rule to retroactively apply to a pending auction. The petitioners argued that this violated the filed rate doctrine, which forbids retroactive rates. The auction, administered by the PJM Interconnection LLC (PJM), aimed to ensure reliable electric supply at competitive prices. PJM halted the auction, seeking FERC's permission to amend certain auction parameters it had already posted, which, if left uncorrected, might have led to a high clearing price for a specific region. FERC approved the amendment and allowed it to apply to the halted auction, which the petitioners challenged. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with the petitioners, stating that the amendment was retroactive as it altered the legal consequence attached to PJM's past action in the auction. The court granted the petitions and vacated the portion of FERC's orders that allowed the amendment to apply to the auction in question. View "NRG Power Marketing v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
Several power providers and their associations challenged orders from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that retroactively permitted a new auction rule to apply to a pending auction. The rule was implemented by PJM Interconnection L.L.C., the entity responsible for the auction, to determine the auction's results. The petitioners claimed FERC's orders violated the filed rate doctrine, which prohibits retroactive rates. The case background involves the Federal Power Act (FPA), which grants FERC exclusive jurisdiction over rates for the transmission and wholesale of electric energy in interstate commerce. The FPA requires all related rates, rules, and regulations to be "just and reasonable" and not unduly preferential.The petitioners and FERC agreed that the filed rate was the PJM Open Access Transmission Tariff, which sets the procedures governing PJM’s capacity auctions. PJM administered a capacity auction in December 2022 for capacity in the June 2024 – May 2025 period. A dispute arose when PJM sought to adjust the Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement due to perceived anomalies in the auction results, which would have resulted in a high clearing price for a certain region. FERC approved the proposed adjustment, which was challenged by the petitioners.The court agreed with the petitioners and held that the orders of FERC were retroactive and thus violated the filed rate doctrine. The court granted the petitions and vacated the orders in the relevant part. The court emphasized that the equities play no role in the application of the filed rate doctrine and that predictability is of paramount importance in electricity markets. It concluded that FERC’s disregard of the filed rate doctrine creates unpredictability in the markets and may ultimately harm consumers who buy electricity in those markets. View "Electric Power Supply Association v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
In this case, a group of electricity suppliers and their trade associations challenged orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that permitted PJM Interconnection L.L.C., a wholesale market operator, to apply a new auction rule retroactively to a pending auction. The petitioners argued that FERC's orders violated the filed rate doctrine, which prohibits retroactive rates. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed and granted the petitions, vacating the relevant parts of the orders.The central issue revolved around the Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement, a key parameter in PJM's auction process. Prior to the auction, PJM had miscalculated the LDA Reliability Requirement, which led to a potential price increase for a specific region. To correct this, PJM sought FERC's permission to amend the tariff to allow for a downward adjustment of the LDA Reliability Requirement. FERC granted this permission, allowing the new rule to apply to the ongoing auction, which the petitioners argued was a retroactive change in violation of the filed rate doctrine.The court found that the tariff amendment was indeed retroactive as it altered the legal consequence attached to a past action, specifically, PJM's calculation and posting of the LDA Reliability Requirement. The court held that the filed rate doctrine did not yield to equities and that the tariff amendment's retroactivity created instability in the electricity market. Consequently, the court vacated the portion of FERC's orders that allowed PJM to apply the tariff amendment to the 2024/25 capacity auction. View "NRG Business Marketing LLC v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
This case involved several petitioners challenging orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which allowed a new auction rule to retroactively apply to an auction that was already underway. The auction was managed by PJM Interconnection L.L.C. (PJM), which ran the auction based on a tariff (filed rate) that set out specific procedures. The petitioners argued that FERC's orders violated the filed rate doctrine, which prohibits retroactive rates.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with the petitioners. The court found that the new rule was retroactive because it altered the legal consequences attached to past actions. Specifically, the rule allowed PJM to use a different Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement than the one it had calculated and posted.The court noted that, while FERC's orders were seemingly intended to prevent potential economic harm to consumers, the filed rate doctrine's emphasis on predictability and the necessity of adherence to approved rates were paramount. The court concluded that FERC's orders, by allowing a change to the rules of an auction already in progress, introduced unpredictability into the electricity market, potentially eroding market confidence.Therefore, the court granted the petitions for review and vacated the portion of FERC's orders that allowed PJM to apply the new rule to the auction that was already underway. The court did not strike down the rule entirely, leaving open the possibility of it being applied to future auctions. View "Electric Power Supply Association v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
In a case involving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and a group of petitioners, the petitioners challenged FERC's decision to allow a new auction rule to be applied retroactively. The auction in question, run by PJM Interconnection LLC, determines the selling price for electricity. The petitioners argued that the retroactive application of the new rule violated the filed rate doctrine, which prohibits retroactive rates.The court agreed with the petitioners, granting their petitions and vacating the orders in question. The court found that the new rule was retroactive because it changed the legal consequence of a past action, specifically the calculation and posting of the Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement. The LDA Reliability Requirement is a parameter used in the auction to determine the amount of electricity that must be produced to meet peak demand.The court noted that while the new rule allowed PJM to adjust the LDA Reliability Requirement downward to account for certain resources' lack of participation in the auction, the original tariff did not provide for this adjustment. Therefore, the new rule altered the legal consequence of the past action of calculating and posting the LDA Reliability Requirement.The court concluded that the retroactive application of the new rule violated the filed rate doctrine, and therefore FERC's approval of the rule was not in accordance with the law. The court emphasized that the doctrine's goal of predictability is of utmost importance and that FERC and the courts must respect the doctrine to ensure stability in the markets. As a result, only the portion of FERC's orders that allowed the new rule to be applied to the specific 2024/25 capacity auction was vacated. View "PJM Power Providers Group v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled on a case involving the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and a group of trusts associated with the National Collegiate Student Loan Trust. The central questions in the case were whether the trusts were "covered persons" under the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), and whether the CFPB was required to ratify the underlying action.The CFPB had initiated enforcement proceedings against the trusts for alleged violations related to servicing and collecting student loans, which the trusts had contracted out to third parties. The trusts argued that they were not "covered persons" under the CFPA and that the CFPB's action was untimely because it was initiated when the CFPB director was unconstitutionally insulated from presidential removal and ratified after the statute of limitations had expired.The Third Circuit held that the trusts were indeed "covered persons" under the CFPA because they were engaged in offering or providing a consumer financial product or service. The court also held that the CFPB was not required to ratify the action before the statute of limitations had run, following the Supreme Court's decision in Collins v. Yellen. The court concluded that there was no indication that the unconstitutional limitation on the President's authority to remove the CFPB Director harmed the Trusts, and thus no need for ratification. Therefore, the case was affirmed and remanded to the lower court for further proceedings with these determinations in mind. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. National Collegiate Master Student Loan Trust" on Justia Law

by
In this case, a group of energy providers and their trade associations challenged orders by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which permitted a new auction rule to be applied retroactively to a pending auction. The auction was run by PJM Interconnection L.L.C., an entity that administers capacity auctions to ensure a reliable electric supply at competitive prices. PJM had applied the new rule to determine the auction results, but the petitioners argued that FERC's orders violated the filed rate doctrine, which forbids retroactive rates.The Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the petitioners. It found that the new auction rule, which allowed for an adjustment to the Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement (a key parameter in the auction process) after it had been calculated and posted, was retroactive. This was because it altered the legal consequence attached to a past action, in violation of the filed rate doctrine. The court ruled that FERC's orders were arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the law, and therefore vacated the portion of FERC's orders that allowed PJM to apply the new rule to the 2024/25 capacity auction. View "PJM Power Providers Group v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

by
In this case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Danny Cruz, a prisoner, hatched a plan to smuggle cell phones into prison and sell them to fellow inmates by bribing a prison guard. Upon being caught, Cruz was charged with conspiring to violate the Travel Act under 18 U.S.C. § 371. Facing an additional five years in prison, Cruz entered a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty in exchange for the prosecution's agreement to recommend that the total offense level is 14. However, the Probation Office called for a four-level enhancement because the crime involved a public official in a sensitive position, leading to a dispute over whether this enhancement should apply.Cruz argued that if the government endorsed the enhancement, it would contravene the plea agreement, and the prosecution initially supported the enhancement during a presentence conference. Subsequently, the prosecution changed its stance in a brief, taking no position on the enhancement, and reiterated this at the start of the sentencing hearing. Despite this, the District Court found that the four-level enhancement did apply, leading to a final offense level of 15 and a final Guidelines range of 41 to 51 months.The Third Circuit Court concluded that the prosecution breached the plea agreement when it initially supported the four-level enhancement, as it had promised to recommend a total offense level no higher than 14. The Court further ruled that the prosecution's later neutral stance did not unequivocally retract its erroneous position, and thus did not cure its breach. Accordingly, the Third Circuit Court vacated Cruz's sentence and remanded the case, instructing that a different judge should decide whether to grant specific performance or allow withdrawal of the plea. View "United States v. Cruz" on Justia Law

by
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reviewed a decision of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding unfair labor practices alleged against New Concepts for Living, Inc. New Concepts sought review of an NLRB order determining that it engaged in unfair labor practices by pushing to decertify its employees' union. The NLRB affirmed the administrative law judge's dismissal of three charges against New Concepts but reversed his dismissal of five others.New Concepts, a nonprofit corporation providing services for people with disabilities, had been in a stalemate with its employees' union after the most recent collective bargaining agreement expired. Due to the union's inactivity, many employees expressed dissatisfaction and began a decertification movement. During this period, New Concepts suspended bargaining and issued memorandums to its employees about their right to resign from the union and stop the deduction of union dues. The NLRB found that these actions, as well as New Concepts' conduct during collective bargaining negotiations and a poll to assess union support, constituted unfair labor practices.The Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that the NLRB's determinations were not supported by substantial evidence. The court found that New Concepts had both contractual and extracontractual bases for distributing the memorandums, did not unlawfully track employee responses, and provided adequate assurances against reprisals. Additionally, the court determined that New Concepts did not engage in bad faith bargaining and that its poll and subsequent withdrawal of recognition from the union were lawful. The court thus granted New Concepts' petition for review and denied the NLRB's cross-application for enforcement. View "New Concepts for Living Inc v. NLRB" on Justia Law