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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order directing the DOE to publish four energy conservation standards in the Federal Register and rejected DOE's challenges to the district court's assertion of jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. 6305(a)(2). The panel held that DOE relinquished whatever discretion it might have had to withhold publication of the rules when it adopted the error-correction rule. Furthermore, the absence of genuine ambiguity in the rule's meaning precluded the panel from deferring to DOE's contrary interpretation. The panel also held that section 6305(a)(2) provides the necessary "clear and unequivocal waiver" of sovereign immunity from citizen suits predicated on a non-discretionary duty imposed either by statute or regulation. Therefore, plaintiffs properly invoked the Energy Policy and Conservation Act's citizen-suit provision to challenge DOE's failure to perform its nondiscretionary duty to submit the four rules at issue. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. Perry" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an action challenging the BIA's decision to approve an industrial-scale wind facility in Southern California. The panel held that the BIA was not required to explain why it did not adopt a mitigation measure that it did in fact follow. Similarly, the panel rejected plaintiffs' related argument that the BIA should have explained why its record of decision (ROD) found no significant impact to eagles where the environmental impact statement (EIS) considered the entire project and its impact on eagles. The panel also held that the BIA's consideration of five action alternatives was sufficient. The panel was not persuaded that additional environmental review was required and rejected plaintiffs' five grounds in support of their contention that the BIA should have prepared a supplemental EIS. The panel rejected plaintiffs' final two challenges to the BIA's decision concerning the agency's decision not to require Tule to obtain a Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act permit from FWS. Therefore, the panel held that, under the total circumstances of this case, the EIS analysis was sufficient to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act. View "Protect Our Communities Foundation v. LaCounte" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and his attorney filed an ex parte application for discovery pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1782, which permits certain domestic discovery for use in foreign proceedings. The district court quashed the subpoenas after concluding that not all the discovery sought was subject to the state secrets privilege. Although the Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that certain information requested was not privileged because it was not a state secret that would pose an exceptionally grave risk to national security and that the government's assertion of the state secrets privilege was valid over much of the information requested, the panel held that the district court erred in quashing the subpoenas in toto rather than attempting to disentangle nonprivileged from privileged information. In this case, the underlying proceeding was a limited discovery request that could be managed by the district court. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Husayn v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted the Secretary's petition for review of the Commission's decision interpreting a provision of the Respiratory Protection Standard promulgated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The panel adopted the Secretary's interpretation of section 1910.134(d)(1)(iii) of the Act to require covered employers to evaluate the respiratory hazards at their workplaces whenever there is the "potential" for overexposure of employees to contaminants, in order to determine whether respirators are "necessary to protect the health" of employees. The panel explained that the text, structure, purpose, and regulatory history of the Standard all point in the same direction as the Secretary's interpretation. View "Secretary of Labor v. Seward Ship's Drydock, Inc." on Justia Law

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Unless a record is pertinent to an ongoing authorized law enforcement activity, an agency may not maintain it under section (e)(7) of the Privacy Act. After plaintiff discovered that he and the website Antiwar.com had been the subject of two separate threat assessment memos, he sought expungement of the memos under the Privacy Act. After addressing discovery and evidentiary challenges, the Ninth Circuit held that the FBI had not met its burden of demonstrating that the 2004 memo was pertinent to an ongoing law enforcement activity and thus it must be expunged. However, the Halliburton Memo need not be expunged because it was pertinent to an ongoing law enforcement activity. In this case, the Halliburton Memo, which primarily describes security preparations for an oft-protested meeting, only incidentally includes protected First Amendment activity, and is relevant to preparations for future iterations of the annual shareholders' meeting. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions to expunge the 2004 Memo. View "Garris v. FBI" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the drainage system managed by defendants discharged pollutants into surrounding waters, in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly interpreted "discharges . . .from irrigated agriculture," as used in 33 U.S.C. 1342(l)(1), to mean discharges from activities related to crop production. However, the panel held that the district court erred by placing the burden of demonstrating eligibility for the permit exception on plaintiffs, rather than on defendants, and by misinterpreting "entirely," as used in section 1342(l)(1). In this case, the district court's interpretation of the word "entirely" to mean "majority"— which both parties now concede was erroneous—was thus the but-for cause of the dismissal of plaintiffs' Vega Claim. The panel also held that the district court erred by placing the burden on plaintiffs to demonstrate that the discharges were not covered under section 1342(l)(1), rather than placing the burden on defendants to demonstrate that the discharges were covered under section 1342(l)(1). Furthermore the district court erred by striking plaintiffs' seepage and sediment theories of liability from plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment because the first amended complaint encompassed those claims. Accordingly, the panel reversed and remanded. View "Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations v. Glaser" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the Freedom of Information Act's (FOIA) reading room provision requires APHIS to post all of the documents at issue, because they are "frequently requested." Plaintiffs also alleged that APHIS must affirmatively disclose inspection reports, Letters of Information, official warning letters, and pre-litigation settlement agreements for the additional reason that these records constitute final agency orders. The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Determining that plaintiffs have standing, the Ninth Circuit reversed in part. Looking to text, structure, and precedent, the panel held that 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(B) vests in district courts the jurisdiction to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the complainant. The panel held that section 552(a)(4)(B) provided district courts with the authority to order an agency to post records in an online reading room. The panel left it to the district court on remand to decide in the first instance whether plaintiffs have exhausted their reading room claim, or whether such exhaustion would be futile. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Administrative Procedure Act claims. View "Animal Legal Defense Fund V. USDA" on Justia Law

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The term "individual" as used in the Freedom of Information Act's expedited processing provisions does not include an animal as well as a human being. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the USDA in an action brought by the ALDF under FOIA. Determining that the district court had jurisdiction to review the FOIA suit, the panel held that ALDF's action was not moot where ALDF asserted a pattern or practice FOIA claim alleging that the agency's policy or practice would impair ALDF's lawful access to information in the center. The panel also held that, where, as here, "individual" is used as a noun with no corresponding group or category, its plain meaning is "human being." Therefore, the panel rejected ALDF's assertion that the term "individual" in these circumstances included animals. View "Animal Legal Defense Fund v. US Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order refusing to compel the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs to place the Aqua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians on a list of federally recognized tribes published in the Federal Register. The panel held that the Tribe failed to exhaust the regulatory process under 25 C.F.R. 83 to obtain federal recognition. Instead, the Tribe argued that the Part 83 process did not apply because they sought "correction" of the list, not recognition. However, the panel held that framing the issue as one of "correction" was unsupported by the applicable regulations and case law. In regard to the Tribe's equal protection and Administrative Procedure Act claims, the panel held that Interior had a rational basis for not making an exception to the Part 83 process for the Tribe. The panel concluded that it was rational for the Interior to ask the Tribe to demonstrate through the Part 83 process how they are a "distinct Community" from the Pala Band of Mission Indians and "politically autonomous" so that Interior may make the federal-recognition determination, and Interior's explanation for treating the Tribe differently from other tribes passed muster. View "Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians of the Pala Reservation v. Sweeney" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the City in an action challenging the DOJ's use of certain factors in determining scores for applicants to a competitive grant program. The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program allocates a limited pool of funds to state and local applicants under the Public Safety Partnership and Community Policing Act, enacted as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. In this case, the DOJ gives additional points to an applicant that chooses to focus on the illegal immigration area (instead of other focus areas) and gives additional points to an applicant who agrees to the Certification of Illegal Immigration Cooperation. After determining that the case was not moot and that the City had Article III standing, the panel held that the DOJ's use of these two factors in evaluating for the competitive grant program did not violate the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution, did not exceed the DOJ's statutory authority, and did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act. View "City of Los Angeles v. Barr" on Justia Law