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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

by
In 2002, at the age of seven, Sanchez, a citizen of Mexico, entered the U.S. without inspection. In 2012, he obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status; DHS periodically granted him renewals. In 2019, Sanchez was charged in New Jersey with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. USCIS revoked Sanchez’s DACA status. DHS took him into custody and charged him as being present without having been admitted or paroled, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(ii).Sanchez applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and for relief under the Convention Against Torture. The IJ denied asylum, finding that Sanchez failed to meet the one-year filing deadline or show extraordinary circumstances; denied withholding of removal, finding the proposed social group was not cognizable; and denied his CAT claim, finding he did not demonstrate at least a 50 percent chance he would be tortured upon his return to Mexico. Two weeks after the IJ ordered Sanchez’s removal, his state criminal charges were dismissed.The BIA denied remand, citing then-Attorney General Sessions’ 2018 Castro-Tum holding that, under the regulations governing the Executive Office of Immigration Review, IJs and the BIA do not have the general authority to indefinitely suspend immigration proceedings by administrative closure unless a regulation or a previous judicially approved settlement expressly authorizes such an action. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The relevant regulations confer the general authority to administratively close cases to IJs and the BIA. View "Sanchez v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

by
For decades, the U.S. Virgin Islands Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) experienced annual deficits between its assets and projected liabilities to participants. Its aggregate shortfall is now about three billion dollars. The Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) has sometimes failed to remit to GERS all the employer contributions it is statutorily mandated to make. GERS sued GVI for these contributions, first in 1981, resulting in a consent judgment, and most recently in 2016, when GERS sought to enforce that judgment. GERS claimed that, as far back as 1991, GVI had contributed tens of millions of dollars less than required by the statutory percentages of employee compensation. GERS also claimed that independent of these fixed-percentage contributions, GVI must fund GERS to the point of actuarial soundness.The district court awarded GERS an amount calculated to reflect GVI’s historical percentage-based under-contributions. The Third Circuit affirmed that award of principal but vacated an enhancement of the award that applied late-arriving interest and penalty statutes, enacted in 2005, retroactively. The consent judgment does not require GVI to fund GERS for the gap between its assets and liabilities. Virgin Islands law apparently fails to obligate anyone to fund GERS when employee-compensation-based contributions and associated investment returns fall short of the assets required, based on actuarial assessments, to meet future pension commitments. The citizens of the Virgin Islands (population 106,4052) simply cannot pay the necessary billions. The cure for GERS’s chronic underfunding is legislative. View "Government Employees Retirement System of the Virgin Islands v. Government of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law

by
Simko began working for U.S. Steel in 2005. In 2012, Simko successfully bid on a new position. During training, Simko requested a new two-way radio to accommodate his hearing impairment. U.S. Steel did not provide the new radio or any other accommodation. Although Simko completed the training, he alleges that his trainer refused to “sign off” that he was able to perform the position’s duties because of his disability. Simko resumed working at his former position.In May 2013, Simko signed an EEOC charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101, asserting discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation In December 2013, U.S. Steel discharged Simko after an incident. In May 2014, Simko was reinstated but was discharged again in August 2014, based on a safety violation. About three months later, the EEOC received Simko's handwritten claim that he was discharged in retaliation for his EEOC filing. In December 2015, the EEOC communicated to Simko’s counsel that it had notified U.S. Steel that an amended charge was pending. In January 2016, Simko’s counsel filed an amended EEOC charge. In February 2019, the EEOC issued a determination of reasonable cause. A right-to-sue letter issued in April 2019.In June 2019, Simko filed suit, asserting only retaliation, without alleging disability discrimination or failure to accommodate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Simko failed to file a timely EEOC charge asserting retaliation. His amended charge claiming retaliation was filed 521 days after his termination. Simko was not entitled to equitable tolling; he was not misled by the EEOC or prevented from filing the amended charge and offered no reason why he could not file a timely claim. View "Simko v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) solicited bids for a Shenango Township Youth Development Center, closed since 2013. HIRA, a consultant for Islamic educational groups, submitted the highest bid, $400,000, planning to establish a youth intervention center and Islamic boarding school. DGS and HIRA entered into a contract. Legislators sent a letter to Governor Wolf, claiming HIRA was not in a financial position to turn the property into an economic driver, that New Jersey had revoked HIRA’s corporate status, that HIRA reported low income, that HIRA had not returned their phone calls, and that contract paperwork remained incomplete. When Governor Wolf did not act, the Legislators spoke with the press and at a community meeting where some participants made comments about Muslims. Lawrence County opened a criminal investigation into the bidding process. The Legislators tried, unsuccessfully, to pass a law divesting DGS of authority to sell the property, then tried to persuade DGS to halt the sale. Shenango Township rezoned the property.The sale fell through. DGS solicited new bids. HIRA offered $500,000; another group offered $2,000,000. Legislators promised to ensure the new purchaser secured funding. HIRA sued the officials, including the Legislators in their individual capacities, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court denied the Legislators’ motions to dismiss. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Whether HIRA alleged conduct outside the sphere of legitimate legislative activities or that violates clearly established law is a question of law over which it had jurisdiction. Some of the allegations concerned “quintessentially legislative activities” for purposes of absolute immunity. Other allegations fell “well short of showing that the rights [HIRA] seeks to vindicate here were clearly established” for purposes of qualified immunity. View "HIRA Educational Services North America v. Augustine" on Justia Law