Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Clyde Carter, Jr. injured his shoulder and neck while working as a carman at BNSF Railway Company’s yard in Kansas City, Kansas. Carter immediately reported the injury to BNSF. The following year, he filed a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) damage action, alleging that BNSF’s negligence caused his injury. BNSF’s discovery in defending the FELA lawsuit included a July 2009 deposition of Carter. In January 2012, as trial approached, a BNSF manager reviewed discovery materials provided by BNSF’s attorneys. He discovered discrepancies between Carter’s deposition testimony and information provided on his employment application and medical questionnaire submitted to BNSF in 2005. Thompson initiated a disciplinary investigation into potentially dishonest statements. Later, BNSF opened a second disciplinary investigation to determine if Carter signed a false statement that he arrived at work on time on February 5, 2012. The investigations culminated in two "on-property" evidentiary hearings, the conclusions of which found Carter committed dishonesty violations and recommended discipline in accordance with BNSF’s Policy for Employee Performance Accountability (PEPA). It was recommended Carter be terminated for dishonesty, a "stand alone" violation that could result in dismissal without regard to an employee's prior disciplinary history. Following termination, Carter filed an FRSA complaint with the Department of Labor, alleging that BNSF initiated the investigations leading to his dismissal in retaliation for Carter reporting the August 2007 work-related injury. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration dismissed Carter’s complaint, finding he committed the violations, and BNSF proved by clear and convincing evidence that "other employees who had not engaged in protected activity have been dismissed from service for dishonesty." Carter filed objections. After an evidentiary hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that BNSF violated 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4) and awarded reinstatement, back pay, attorneys’ fees, and $50,000 punitive damages. BNSF filed an administrative appeal. The Secretary’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirmed the ALJ. BNSF appealed. The Eighth Circuit found the ALJ's reasoning was based on a flawed interpretation of the FRSA; though the Administrative Review Board did not rely on the ALJ's chain-of-events causation theory, it affirmed based on findings which were either non-existent or insufficient to support the Board's contributing factor and affirmative defense rulings. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with instructions. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. LABR" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment to Bi-State in a False Claims Act (FCA), action brought by a private actor. Bi-State is an interstate compact entity that owns and operates public transportation services. After determining that the Barket factors point in two different directions, the court turned to the "Eleventh Amendment's twin reasons for being" as its "prime guide" in determining whether Bi-State was more like an arm of the state or a local government entity. In this case, the twin reasons for being, respect for the dignity of the states as sovereigns and the prevention of federal-court judgments that must be paid out of a State's treasury, weigh in favor of finding that Bi-State was more like a local government entity. Therefore, Bi-State does not enjoy the special constitutional protection of the States themselves and was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. View "United States ex rel Fields v. Bi-State Development Agency" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of the FCC's order governing the rates that utility companies may charge telecommunications providers for attaching their networks to utility-owned poles. The Eighth Circuit denied the petition, holding that the term "cost" in the Pole Attachments Act, 47 U.S.C. 224, was ambiguous and the same "cost" definition need not be used to determine the upper bound for cable rates under section 224(d) and the rate for telecommunications providers under section 224(e). Therefore, the statute permits, but did not require, the Cable Rate and the Telecom Rate to diverge. The court rejected petitioners' argument that the FCC's interpretation of the statute rendered section 224(e) superfluous; concluded that the order constituted a reasonable interpretation of the ambiguity in section 224(e); and denied the petition for review. View "Ameren Corp. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a commercial photographer, filed suit against the Village for injunctive and declaratory relief after the Village passed a municipal ordinance prohibiting all commercial activity in its neighborhood park without a permit. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of her Free Speech rights claims, holding that the ordinance met constitutional scrutiny as applied to plaintiff because it was content neutral, was narrowly tailored to serve the Village's significant government interests, left ample alternatives for her to communicate her message, and did not provide the Village with unbridled discretion. View "Josephine Havlak Photographer, Inc. v. Village of Twin Oaks" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit granted consolidated petitions for review of the Board's Final Rule, holding that the Board exceeded its authority by promulgating a rule defining "on-time performance" under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-432, 122 Stat. 4907, after the Act's delegation to another agency was invalidated. In this case, the Final Rule expressly bases its authority on the need to fill the vacuum created by the invalidation of the on-time performance rule announced by the FRA and Amtrak under section 207 of the Act; the gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another; Congress likely did not give the FRA/Amtrak and the Board separate authority to develop two potentially conflicting on-time performance rules; and on-time performance in section 213(a) means on-time performance as developed by the FRA and Amtrak under section 207(a). View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. STB" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to uphold an arbitration award reinstating an employee to his job as a security officer at Entergy's nuclear power plant. The employee has chronic folliculitis, and Entergy thought this would keep him from shaving often enough to properly wear a full-face gas mask in the event of a chemical attack. The arbitrator ordered reinstatement because Entergy never fit-tested the employee with facial hair before concluding that it disqualified him from the position. The Eighth Circuit held that the arbitrator's order requiring that the employee be reinstated with backpay and subject to an acceptable respirator or a reasonable accommodation was not against public policy nor exceeded the arbitrator's authority. In this case, the arbitrator did not stray outside his authority to interpret and apply the contract, and the award was within the range of possibilities Entergy bargained for. View "Entergy Operations v. United Government Security Officers" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of relator's False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729 et seq., suit based on the public disclosure bar. Relator alleged that CSL Behring conspired with pharmacies to submit false claims to the United States for reimbursement for prescription drugs. The Eighth Circuit concluded that, viewed collectively, the public disclosures provided enough information about the participants in the scheme to directly identify the defendants and the subject drugs; the disclosures would have set the government squarely on the trail of the defendants' participation in the purported fraudulent reporting; and the essential elements of relator's claims -- the purported fraud -- were publicly disclosed prior to him filing suit. View "Lager v. CSL Behring" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought review of the Board's decision and order affirming the ALJ in petitioner's Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109, retaliatory termination action. The court concluded that the ALJ correctly applied the background evidence rule enunciated by the Supreme Court in National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, which held that an employee can use prior acts as background evidence for a timely claim even when those same acts are time-barred; the court rejected petitioner's argument that hearsay evidence at the hearing undermines the ALJ's ultimate conclusions where the evidence was not offered to prove the truth of the matters asserted, but instead, to show the effect of the assertions on the decision maker; and the ALJ's determination that petitioner's protected acts were not a contributing factor in his termination was supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court denied the petition and affirmed the final decision and order. View "Mercier v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of drivers, filed suit against the City and Gatso, alleging that the Automatic Traffic Enforcement (ATE) system violates their right to procedural due process, their fundamental right to travel, Iowa Code 602.6101, and causes unjust enrichment for the City and Gatso. The City contracted with Gatso to install and operate the ATE system. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims. The court concluded that the district court did not err by determining that plaintiff Hughes lacks Article III standing where he does not allege that he has incurred any costs to mitigate or avoid the threat of ATE enforcement, or that the threat of an ATE citation is sufficiently imminent, and plaintiff Mazgaj lacks third party standing where he failed to show a hindrance to his wife’s ability to protect her own interests. The court concluded, however, that plaintiff Lee's claims are ripe where he was found guilty of violating the ordinance and no further factual development is necessary. Thus, Lee has the hardship of citation and the cost of litigation. The court further concluded that the district court never had jurisdiction of Hughes and Mazgaj’s claims and therefore their claims should be remanded to state court. Plaintiffs Robinson, Sparks, Northrup, Yarpezeshkan, French, and Stimpson have established standing to bring procedural-due-process claims. However, these plaintiffs failed to state a violation of their procedural due process rights. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the system violated their substantive rights, Equal Protection claim, and unjust enrichment claim. Because the City’s appeal of the IDOT’s ruling is still pending, this claim is not ripe. Therefore, the district court should dismiss without prejudice the drivers’ state-law claims based on the alleged violation of IDOT rules. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Hughes v. City of Cedar Rapids" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, six drivers, filed suit against the City alleging that the Automatic Traffic Enforcement (ATE) system violates federal and state law. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs argue that the district court should not have relied on Hughes v. City of Cedar Rapids because the facts here are materially different. The court concluded that Cedar Rapids and Des Moines offer direct access to the district court or an optional administrative proceeding with de novo appellate review. Based on this court’s holding, the other differences that the drivers allege are irrelevant. Therefore, plaintiffs' claims are addressed in the Hughes opinion. The court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Brooks v. City of Des Moines" on Justia Law