Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Plaintiff Courthouse News is a national “news service that reports on civil litigation in state and federal courts throughout the country.” When Missouri switched to an e-filing system, same-day access became the exception, not the rule. Newly filed petitions remain unavailable until court staff processes them, which can sometimes take “a week or more.” Courthouse News sued the Circuit Clerk for St. Louis County and the Missouri State Courts Administrator, alleging First Amendment violations. In their motion to dismiss Defendants asked the district court to either abstain under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), or rule that Courthouse News’s complaint failed to state a First Amendment claim. The district court decided to abstain and never ruled on the merits.   At issue on appeal is: First, does sovereign immunity protect state-court officials who run an e-filing system that delays public access to newly filed civil petitions? Second, should federal courts abstain from hearing this type of case anyway? The Eighth Circuit reversed concluding that the answer to both is no. The court explained that the case-at-issue does not resemble the classic Younger situation: a litigant runs to federal court to cut off an impending or actual state-court proceeding that is unlikely to go well. Here, the dispute about who gets to see newly filed petitions and when, and neither is the subject of any pending state-court proceeding. The court reasoned that if Courthouse News eventually prevails on its constitutional claim, declaratory relief would mitigate this concern to some degree by giving Missouri courts “the widest latitude in the ‘dispatch of [their] own internal affairs.’” View "Courthouse News Service v. Joan Gilmer" on Justia Law

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The Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority is a public corporation created to handle wastewater treatment for municipalities in northwest Arkansas. After a series of pipeline failures, the Authority sued the pipeline contractor and its surety, alleging deficient construction. The Authority sued outside the time periods specified in the relevant statutes of limitations and repose, but asserted that the time did not run against its claims, because the Authority was suing as a public entity seeking to vindicate public rights. The district court concluded that the rights the Authority sought to enforce were merely proprietary and that its claims were therefore time-barred.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the relevant proprietary interests are not transformed into public rights just because the Authority spent public money to repair the pipeline. Every action by a public entity impacts the public fisc to some degree. But if financial implications alone were enough to invoke nullum tempus, then the public-rights exception would swallow the general rule that statutes of limitations and repose run against municipal entities. Here, the damages sought would replenish the public entity’s coffers, but the relief would not vindicate a distinct public right. The Authority therefore cannot invoke nullum tempus to avoid the statutes of limitations or repose. View "NW AR Conservation Authority v. Crossland Heavy Contractors" on Justia Law

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Northshore Mining Company filed a petition for review of a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) order stating that Northshore had failed to maintain the walkway in good condition after an employee was injured in 2016. The order attributed the violation to Northshore’s reckless disregard of and unwarrantable failure to comply with the walkway-maintenance mandatory standard. In addition, MSHA designated the violation as “flagrant.” Commission’s conclusions on reckless.The Secretary cross-petitioned for review of the Commission’s conclusions on the flagrant designation and individual liability. The Eighth Circuit denied Northshore’s petition on the issue of the company's reckless disregard and unwarrantable failure and granted the Secretary’s cross-petition for review of the Commission’s conclusions on the flagrant designation and individual liability. View "Northshore Mining Company v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Mount Rushmore played host to Fourth of July fireworks shows. Unfortunately, visitor safety and fire-danger concerns put the practice on hold. The Park Service later changed course and granted a permit that said it was for the “year 2020 and [did] not mean an automatic renewal of the event in the future.” South Dakota tried again. This time, the Park Service denied the request, citing COVID-19 risks, concerns about tribal relationships, effects on other Mount Rushmore visitors, a then-in-progress construction project, and ongoing monitoring of water-contamination and wildfire risks. The denial led South Dakota to sue the agency on two grounds. South Dakota asked the court to convert its order denying a preliminary injunction into a final judgment. Despite having doubts about whether the continuing dispute over the permit denial was still live (given that the Fourth of July had already passed), the court went ahead and granted the request because the non-delegation issue presented a “non-moot appealable issue.   On appeal, the Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and dismissed the appeal. The court explained that it cannot change what happened last year, and South Dakota has not demonstrated that deciding this otherwise moot case will impact any future permitting decision. The court explained that the problem for South Dakota is redressability. The declaration it seeks is that “the statutes granting [the Park Service] permitting authority are unconstitutional for want of an intelligible principle.” But it cannot identify how the “requested relief will redress [its] alleged injury,” which is not being able to hold a Fourth of July fireworks show at Mount Rushmore. View "Kristi Noem v. Deb Haaland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was removed from a political rally and arrested for violating a St. Louis, Missouri ordinance that prohibits disturbing the peace. After Plaintiff was acquitted of that charge in state court, he brought claims against, as pertinent to this appeal, three St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the officers, and Plaintiff appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed holding that it was objectively reasonable for the officers to mistakenly believe, under the totality of the circumstances that Plaintiff was engaged in acts or conduct inciting violence or intended to provoke others to violence. The court explained that two of the officers had arguable probable cause to arrest and then initiate prosecution against Plaintiff meaning that it was not clearly established that doing so would violate Plaintiff’s right to be free from unlawful seizure, malicious prosecution, or First Amendment retaliation. Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to those officers. Further, the court wrote that the district court properly granted qualified immunity to the remaining officer because it was not clearly established that initiating prosecution against Plaintiff would violate his Fourth Amendment right to be free from malicious prosecution or his corresponding right under Missouri law. View "Rodney Brown v. Matthew T. Boettigheimer" on Justia Law

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Missouri challenged the Secretary of the Treasury’s implementation of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), Pub. L. No. 117-2, 135 Stat. 4. Missouri argues that the Secretary’s “erroneously broad interpretation” of a provision in ARPA—the “Offset Restriction”—is unconstitutional. The district court dismissed the case, finding that Missouri lacked standing and that Missouri’s claims were not ripe for adjudication.   On appeal, Missouri identifies five specific ways it has been injured: (1) the broad interpretation of the Offset Restriction punishes Missouri for exercising its constitutional right to set taxes; (2) the Secretary’s “embrace of the broad interpretation” has harmed Missouri’s interest in the offer Congress provided to the State; (3) Treasury’s regulations make ARPA’s requirement more onerous, leading to greater compliance costs; (4) under the broad interpretation, there is an increased chance Missouri will lose ARPA funds; and (5) under the pre-enforcement test, Missouri has alleged an intention to engage in conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but proscribed by statute, with a credible threat of enforcement hanging over it.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that Missouri has not alleged an injury in fact. The court explained that Missouri has only alleged a “conjectural or hypothetical” injury, not one that is actual or imminent. It has also not alleged a future injury that is “certainly impending” or even likely to occur. Instead, Missouri asked the court to declare, in the abstract, what a statute does not mean. It asked the court to enjoin a hypothetical interpretation of the Offset Restriction that the Secretary has explicitly disclaimed, without alleging any concrete, imminent injury from the Secretary’s actual interpretation. View "State of Missouri v. Janet Yellen" on Justia Law

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A sheriff’s deputy sexually abused J.T.H.’s 15-year-old son. J.T.H., who also worked in law enforcement, threatened to sue for the abuse. Before long, Spring Cook, a child-welfare investigator, showed up at his door after someone had apparently called the child-abuse hotline and accused J.T.H. (and his wife) of neglect. The parents asked for the case to be reassigned to an investigator from another county, but Cook kept it for herself. Cook ultimately issued a preliminary written finding of neglect. Unsatisfied with the outcome, the parents requested a formal administrative review. Cook was the circuit manager, so she reviewed and upheld her own finding. The second step required Cook, the parents, and their attorney to appear before Missouri’s Child Abuse and Neglect Review Board. Following that meeting, the Board concluded that Cook’s findings of “neglect were unsubstantiated.” The parents sued Cook for allegedly retaliating against them for exercising their First Amendment rights. The magistrate judge, acting by consent of the parties, concluded that neither absolute nor qualified immunity applied. The Eighth Circuit reversed: "the availability of absolute immunity depends on 'the nature of the function performed,' not the type of claim brought. ... So even if there is a general right to be free of retaliation, the law is not clearly established enough to cover the 'specific context of the case': retaliatory investigation. Cook is entitled to qualified immunity for both investigative acts." View "J.T.H. v. Cook" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that a Sheriff of Harrison County, Missouri, forced her into a sexual relationship that included giving her drugs, directing her to sell them, and protecting her from prosecution. After Doe ended the relationship, the Sheriff pursued criminal charges against her, resulting in felony convictions. Defendant was Doe’s probation officer. According to Doe, Defendant invited the Sheriff to her probation meetings, where the Sheriff threatened  Doe not to disclose the relationship. Doe asserted a state claim against Defendant for intentional infliction of emotional distress (in addition to claims against the Estate of the Sheriff, who died in 2020). Defendant moved to dismiss based on official immunity and a “statutory” immunity under Revised Statutes of Missouri section 105.711.5. For her defense of statutory immunity, Defendant asserted that subsection 105.711.5 bars individual-capacity claims against state employees, such as herself. The district court held that section 105.711 “applies to final judgments”   The Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that by its plain text, section 105.711 does not create a new immunity. The word “immunity” does not appear in section 105.711. Further, the 2005 amendment also amended section 105.726 to add: “Sections 105.711 to 105.726 do not waive the sovereign immunity of the State of Missouri.” Construing the additions to subsection 105.711.5 and subsection 105.726.1 together, the 2005 amendment preserves immunities already in place for the State and its employees, and it does not create a new, statutory immunity. View "Jane Doe v. Lisa Worrell" on Justia Law

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City Union Mission is a Kansas City, Missouri nonprofit organization located near Margaret Kemp Park that provides food, shelter, employment, and a Christian discipleship program to poor and homeless individuals. A Missouri law prohibits persons convicted of certain sex offenses (Affected Persons) from being present in or loitering within 500 feet of any public park containing playground equipment. After the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office informed City Union Mission that the statute prohibited some of its guests from being present within 500 feet of the park, even when receiving City Union Mission’s charitable services, City Union Mission filed suit, bringing 12 claims against the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson County, and the Sheriff in his official capacity (collectively, the County), as well as one claim against the Sheriff in his individual capacity. The State of Missouri (the State) intervened, and the district court dismissed City Union Mission’s 12 claims against the County and granted summary judgment on City Union Mission’s claim against Sheriff Sharp in his individual capacity, finding that Sheriff Sharp was entitled to qualified immunity.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed and concluded that City Union Mission’s claims seeking broad injunctive relief prohibiting Sheriff Sharp and Jackson County from “enforcing or threatening to enforce” Section 566.150 against City Union Mission or Affected Persons are moot. Further, City Union Mission did not direct the court to any case that clearly establishes its constitutional right to provide services to Affected Persons within 500 feet of a park with playground equipment. View "City Union Mission, Inc. v. Mike Sharp" on Justia Law

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The United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) adopted a rule eliminating processing-line-speed limits in pork plants. Unions representing pork-processing-plant workers sued to vacate the rule as arbitrary and capricious. The district court granted summary judgment for the unions and vacated the rule. Two months later, Appellants—pork-processing companies affected by the rule and vacatur—moved to intervene. The district court denied the motion as untimely, noting that Appellants had participated in the summary judgment briefing eight months earlier. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained to assess the timeliness of a motion to intervene courts consider four factors: “(1) the extent the litigation has progressed at the time of the motion to intervene; (2) the prospective intervenor’s knowledge of the litigation; (3) the reason for the delay in seeking intervention; and (4) whether the delay in seeking intervention may prejudice the existing parties.”Here, Appellants sought to intervene over a month after the court entered summary judgment and the full vacatur the unions had sought. Next, Appellants had knowledge of the case and proposed relief well before the court entered summary judgment. Appellants’ reason for delay is unpersuasive. Their proffered reason—that USDA’s interests in defending NSIS aligned with theirs—fails because USDA’s interests did not align. Appellants’ core concern is having the district court return them to the HIMP waiver system. But neither the unions nor the USDA ever pursued this. Appellants suffered little prejudice because all four of their relevant plants received line-speed permits. This factor also weighed against intervention. View "United Food and Commercial Workers Union v. Quality Pork Processors, Inc." on Justia Law