Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Hamid Sow, a citizen of Guinea, sought review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) denial of his motion to remand based upon ineffective assistance of counsel, and motion to reopen based upon new evidence. In December 2016, Sow entered the United States and immediately applied for asylum because he was a homosexual, and the stigma of being a homosexual in a devout Muslim community in his homeland meant danger for himself and his family. Sow only spoke French, and relied on other detainees to relate information to his attorney. Without a translator, Sow's counsel did not fully understand Sow’s concerns: Sow tried to communicate to his counsel that the content of affidavits counsel “did not match up with what happened.” When asked about discrepancies in facts from the affidavits presented, Sow responded he could not explain them because he did not have an opportunity to read them. In his oral decision, the IJ said that he “unfortunately” had to deny Sow’s application based solely on an adverse credibility finding. In coming to this conclusion, the IJ specifically highlighted the inconsistencies in statements made in affidavits. He noted that, if it were true that Sow were a homosexual, then he “clearly should get” asylum. Sow, represented by new counsel, appealed to the BIA. He argued that the IJ erred in failing to assess Sow’s well-founded fear of future persecution. The BIA denied Sow’s motion to remand. It held that the IJ did not clearly err in making an adverse credibility determination and the record did not establish that Sow was entitled to relief “independent of his discredited claim of past harm.” It also denied Sow’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, reasoning that counsel “reasonably relied on, and submitted the evidence provided by, the respondent and his friends.” The Eleventh Circuit concluded the BIA abused its discretion in denying Sow’s motion to remand based on ineffective assistance of counsel. It therefore granted Sow’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s decisions, and remanded to the BIA with instructions to remand to the IJ for reconsideration of Sow’s asylum application. View "Sow v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA) and Georgia law, alleging that the county had engaged in a fraudulent scheme related to billing for ambulance services and had fired him in retaliation for his whistleblowing. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment to the county on the FCA claim. The district court concluded that although plaintiff had engaged in "protected conduct" he had not created a genuine issue of material fact that he had been fired because of that conduct. The Eleventh Circuit held that the but-for causation standard applies to claims under the antiretaliation provision of the FCA just as it does to the antiretaliation provision of Title VII and the antidiscrimination provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The court declined to apply the motivating factor standard of causation to the FCA, explaining that it did not want to use legislative history to get around the plain meaning of a statute's text. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that the harm would not have occurred but for his protected conduct. View "Nesbitt v. Candler County, Georgia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the Association filed suit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against several Florida entities and officials, challenging defendants' failure to provide captioning for live and archived videos of Florida legislative proceedings. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that Congress validly abrogated defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity for the claims under Title II regardless of whether the right is "fundamental." The court agreed with the district court's holding that Congress validly abrogated defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity because a fundamental right was at stake and, in the alternative, Congress validly abrogated defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity even if a fundamental right was not at stake. Furthermore, Congress's identification of discrimination in public services and voting establishes the necessary history of discrimination for the rights implicated here: access to public legislative information relevant to voting, and Title II is an appropriate response to this history and pattern of unequal treatment. The court also affirmed the district court's holding that plaintiffs were entitled to pursue declaratory and injunctive relief against state officials under the doctrine of Ex parte Young for allegedly ongoing violations of Title II. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse is discretion in ordering discovery prior to resolving the question of sovereign immunity. View "National Association of the Deaf v. Florida" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the town on plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim and to Wantman on the Florida malicious prosecution claim. In a prior lawsuit, the town and its contractor, Wantman, filed suit against the plaintiff in this case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for a fraud and extortion scheme. After the prior lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, plaintiff then filed this action. The court held that, as with section 1983 First Amendment retaliation claims arising in the criminal prosecution and arrest context, the presence of probable cause will generally defeat a section 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim based on a civil lawsuit as a matter of law. Furthermore, the court held that the town had probable cause to file the civil RICO lawsuit. In this case, plaintiff and others sustained a pattern of abusive requests and lawsuits against the town and the town's elected officials had a legitimate, objective reason to take legal action in response to the conduct. Finally, the court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to Wantman on plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim because Wantman, like the town, had probable cause to file the RICO suit against her. View "DeMartini v. Town of Gulf Stream" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Corps, holding that the district court properly determined that it was reasonable for the Corps to conclude that environmental effects of phosphogypsum production and storage fell outside the scope of its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. The court held that the Corps otherwise complied with NEPA by issuing an area-wide environmental-impact statement, which served as the mine-specific impact statement for each of the four proposed mine sites, and following that up with a supplemental environmental assessment of the South Pasture Mine Extension, before issuing the Section 404 permit related to that mine in a record of decision. Finally, the court held that the Corps did not violate section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, which requires each agency to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before taking an "action" to ensure that such action was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or its habitat. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Immigration Services violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in two ways: when it used a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard rather than a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard to evaluate his I-130 petition for sponsorship of close relatives, and when it did not allow him to offer rebuttal evidence. In this case, plaintiff had been convicted of possession of child pornography, which put him outside the bounds of the visa-sponsorship program unless he could show that he posed no risk to his wife, the person he was trying to sponsor. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action, holding that courts lack jurisdiction to review either the process or the outcome of the no-risk decision. Under the Adam Walsh Act, the USCIS has "sole and unreviewable discretion" to determine if citizens like plaintiff pose "no risk" to their foreign relatives. Therefore, the district court correctly held that the Adam Walsh Act prevented it from exercising jurisdiction over plaintiff's APA claim. View "Bourdon v. United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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Four liver-transplant candidates and more than a dozen transplant hospitals challenged HHS's adoption of a new policy for allocating donated livers. The Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiffs have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their first claim—their allegation that the Secretary failed to follow legally required procedures under 42 C.F.R. 121.4(b) during the new liver-allocation policy's development. The court held that section 121.4(b) does not require the Secretary to take two procedural steps that all agree he did not: (1) referral of the new liver allocation policy to an entity called the Advisory Committee on Organ Transplantation and (2) publication of the new policy in the Federal Register for public comment. The court remanded for the district court to consider plaintiffs' remaining Administrative Procedure Act and Fifth Amendment claims that it failed to address in the first instance. View "Callahan v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved two requests for documents by Broward Bulldog under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking documents reviewed by the 9/11 Review Commission. The government disclosed hundreds of documents, bur redacted some information. The Eleventh Circuit held that the FBI established that it performed an adequate search; the district court had an adequate factual basis to render a decision; Broward Bulldog has abandoned its challenge of the denial of its request to depose an agent; the district court did not err in most of its rulings on the applicable exemptions, with the exception of its rulings regarding redactions under Exemptions 7(C), 7(D), and 7(E); the district court did not err when it failed to make express findings of segregability; and the district court did not err when it refused to entertain a request for documents that were already the subject of a separate, nearly identical lawsuit. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Broward Bulldog, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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The Department of Justice filed suit against the State of Florida, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and 28 C.F.R. 35.130(d). The Department alleged that Florida was failing to meet its obligations under Title II by unnecessarily institutionalizing hundreds of children with disabilities in nursing facilities. The Department also alleged that Florida's Medicaid policies and practices placed other children who have "medically complex" conditions, or who are "medically fragile," at risk of unnecessary institutionalization. The Eleventh Circuit held that the Attorney General has a cause of action to enforce Title II of the ADA. The court held that when Congress chose to designate the "remedies, procedures, and rights" in section 505 of the Rehabilitation Act, which in turn adopted Title VI, as the enforcement provision for Title II of the ADA, Congress created a system of federal enforcement. The court also held that the express statutory language in Title II adopts federal statutes that use a remedial structure based on investigation of complaints, compliance reviews, negotiation to achieve voluntary compliance, and ultimately enforcement through "any other means authorized by law" in the event of noncompliance. Therefore, courts have routinely concluded that Congress's decision to utilize the same enforcement mechanism for Title II as the Rehabilitation Act, and therefore Title VI, demonstrates that the Attorney General has the authority to act "by any other means authorized by law" to enforce Title II, including initiating a civil action. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded. View "United States v. State of Florida" on Justia Law

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The EPA has discretion not to commence withdrawal proceedings under 40 C.F.R. 123.64(b) even if it finds that a state's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program has not always complied with the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the EPA's decision affirming its previous refusal to commence withdrawal proceedings against Alabama. In regard to the four alleged violations, the court held that the EPA reasonably construed the statutory and regulatory text. The court also held that the EPA's decision not to commence withdrawal proceedings in the face of these alleged violations was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. View "Cahaba Riverkeeper v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law