Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the BLM's approval of a right-of-way on federal lands in Nevada for the construction of an industrial solar project known as Silver State South. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants and its conclusion that the Biological Opinion (BiOp) analyzing the effect of Silver State South on the desert tortoise fully complied with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq., and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706. The panel held that the BiOp's "no jeopardy" determination was neither arbitrary nor capricious; the BiOp's determination that Silver State South was "not likely to adversely affect the critical habitat of the desert tortoise," which permitted the FWS to forego an adverse modification analysis, was neither arbitrary nor capricious; the BiOp's failure to address the FWS comments to the SEIS was not arbitrary or capricious; the BiOp's consideration of Silver State South's edge effects was not arbitrary or capricious; the BiOp does not rely on an impermissibly vague "new information" reinitiation trigger; and thus the BLM permissibly relied upon the BiOp in approving of the right-of-way for Silver State South. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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Alliance filed suit under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), seeking to enjoin the Forest Service from constructing new roads in the Kootenai National Forest. The Ninth Circuit held that the 4.7 miles of roads at issue will not violate the Kootenai National Forest Plan because they will be blocked to prevent motorized access upon completion of the project; it was not arbitrary and capricious for the Forest Service to conclude that roads closed to motorized access by berms or barriers do not count toward linear miles of total roads under Standard II(B) of the Access Amendments; and because the Forest Service's interpretation of its own Forest Plan was reasonable, Alliance could not prevail on its NFMA, ESA, and NEPA claims. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of defendants. View "Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court's opinion in CRST Van Expedited Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 136 S. Ct. 1642, 1646 (2016), effectively overruled Branson v Nott's holding that when a defendant wins because the action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction he is never a prevailing party. In this case, Amphastar filed a qui tam action against Aventis under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C 3730, alleging that Aventis obtained an illegal monopoly over the drug enoxaparin and then knowingly overcharged the United States. The district court dismissed the suit based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit held that Amphastar's allegations were based on publicly disclosed information, and it lacked the direct and independent knowledge needed to be an original source. Therefore, the panel upheld the district court's judgment on the merits. However, the panel held that the district court erroneously concluded that it could not award attorneys' fees, because the FCA's fee-shifting provision contained an independent grant of subject matter jurisdiction and because a party who wins a lawsuit on a non-merits issue is a "prevailing party." The panel remanded for resolution of the attorneys' fees issue. View "Amphastar Pharmaceuticals v. Aventis Pharma" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of plaintiff's application for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), holding that the Commissioner's litigation position was substantially justified. Plaintiff had successfully challenged the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability benefits and obtained a remand of her claim to the agency for further consideration. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the Commissioner's position was substantially justified because the Commissioner's opposition to remand the claim on the merits was reasonable, even though it turned out to be unsuccessful. Finally, plaintiff's new evidence, though sufficient in the end to persuade the district court to remand the case, did not make that the only reasonable result. View "Decker v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of plaintiff's application for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). Plaintiff presented new evidence to the Appeals Council after she lost her claim for social security disability benefits before the ALJ. The district court remanded for further consideration and the Commissioner did not appeal. The district court denied plaintiff's request for attorney's fees, concluding that the Commissioner was substantially justified in arguing that the new evidence did not undermine the ALJ's denial of benefits. The issue that was before the district court on the original merits appeal of the ALJ's denial of benefits was not whether there was other evidence that could support a denial of benefits to plaintiff, or whether the Commissioner's denial of benefits might ultimately be sustained. The Ninth Circuit explained that it was whether the actual decision that was made by the ALJ could be affirmed at that time by the district court in light of the new evidence in the record. In this case, it should have been plain that it could not have been affirmed, because the ALJ's decision failed to provide a reason that was still viable for giving the opinion of the treating doctor little weight. The doctor's final report, if credited, would have undermined the ALJ's original finding that plaintiff was not disabled. Even if the Commissioner might have had a legitimate basis for opposing plaintiff's claim, she did not have a basis to oppose remand and to argue that the district court should affirm the existing ALJ opinion. View "Gardner v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit withdrew its previous opinion and dissent, filing a superseding opinion and dissent. The Ninth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs in their suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552 et seq., against the DOD, seeking the names of foreign students and instructors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The Ninth Circuit held that the disclosure of the names would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Applying a two-step test to determine whether disclosing the names would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under FOIA Exemption 6, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the affidavits and other evidence submitted by the DOD were sufficient to carry the DOD's burden to establish that disclosure of the requested information gave rise to a nontrivial risk of harassment and mistreatment. Furthermore, the public interest did not outweigh the serious risks that would result from disclosure where any incremental value stemming from the disclosure of the names was small. View "Cameranesi v. US Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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The court affirmed the FWS's finding that listing the whitebark pine as a threatened or endangered species was "warranted but precluded." Wildwest asserted that FWS's decision was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. Determining that the case was not moot, the court concluded that FWS was not bound to list species based solely on the degree of threat they face as demonstrated by the assigned Listing Priority Number (LPN), that instead it could properly consider factors outside of those listed in the guidelines, and further that FWS's decision contained a sufficient “description and evaluation of the reasons and data on which the finding was based” to satisfy the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544. View "Wildwest Institute v. Kurth" on Justia Law

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This petition for review returned to a long series of administrative cases arising out of the California energy crisis of 2000 and 2001 all centering on whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) acted arbitrarily or capriciously in calculating certain refunds. FERC that FERC had acted outside its jurisdiction when ordering governmental entities/non-public utilities to pay refunds, the Commission vacated each of its orders in the California refund proceeding to the extent that they ordered governmental entities/nonpublic utilities to pay refunds. In sum, although the tariffs were not specific, the Ninth Circuit could not concluded FERC acted arbitrarily or capriciously in its construction of the tariffs. View "California Pub. Util. Comm'n v. Federal Energy Reg. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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A City of Berkeley ordinance required cell phone retailers to inform prospective cell phone purchasers that carrying a cell phone in certain ways may cause them to exceed Federal Communications Commission guidelines for exposure to radio-frequency radiation. CTIA, a trade association, challenged the ordinance on two grounds: (1) the ordinance violated the First Amendment; and (2) the ordinance was preempted. CTIA requested a preliminary injunction staying enforcement of the ordinance. The district court denied CTIA’s request, and CTIA filed an interlocutory appeal. Finding no reversible error, the Ninth Circuit affirmed. View "CTIA Witeless Ass'n v. City of Berkeley" on Justia Law

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SCAP petitioned for review of an objection letter sent by the EPA regarding draft permits for water reclamation plants in El Monte and Pomona, California. The court concluded that neither 33 U.S.C. 1369(b)(1)(E) or (F) provides the court subject matter jurisdiction to review the Objection Letter. The court explained that even when a state assumes primary responsibility for issuing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, EPA retains supervisory authority over state permitting programs under 33 U.S.C. 1342(d). In this case, the L.A. Board chose to revise the Draft Permits and retain control of the NPDES permitting process for the Plants, and the permits were issued through the State of California, not EPA. The court concluded that the appropriate avenue for SCAP to seek redress was through the State's review process. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition for review. View "Southern California Alliance of Publicly Owned Treatment Works v. EPA" on Justia Law