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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Young Israel of Tampa, Inc., an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, sued the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) for rejecting its proposed advertisement for a Chanukah on Ice event. The synagogue argued that HART’s policy, which prohibited advertisements that “primarily promote a religious faith or religious organization,” violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Young Israel on two grounds: 1) HART’s policy violated the First Amendment because it discriminated on the basis of viewpoint, and 2) even if the policy was viewpoint neutral, it was unreasonable because it lacked objective and workable standards and was inconsistently and haphazardly applied. The court subsequently issued a permanent injunction against HART, prohibiting it from rejecting any advertisement on the ground that it primarily promotes a religious faith or religious organization, including any future policies.On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, but on narrower grounds. The appellate court concluded that HART's policy was unreasonable under the Supreme Court's decision in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky because it failed to define key terms, lacked any official guidance, and vested too much discretion in those who applied it. The court declined to address the question of whether the policy constituted impermissible viewpoint discrimination. However, the court concluded that the permanent injunction issued by the district court needed to be revised to apply only to HART’s current policy, rather than any future policies, and remanded the case to the district court for that purpose. View "Young Israel of Tampa, Inc. v. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed an appeal of a lower court's denial of qualified immunity to a jail intake officer, Keyvon Sellers. The case arose from an incident in which a black man, Jayvon Hatchett, attacked and killed his white cellmate, Eddie Nelson, in county jail. Before the attack, Hatchett had told Sellers that he had previously stabbed a white man after watching videos of white police officers shooting black men. Despite this admission, Sellers did not inform other jail staff of Hatchett's racially motivated violence. Nelson's survivors sued Sellers, alleging that his failure to share this information constituted deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to Nelson, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, finding that a reasonable jury could conclude that Sellers violated Nelson's clearly established constitutional right by failing to protect him from a known risk of harm. The court concluded that Sellers had fair warning that his inaction was unconstitutional. Therefore, he was not entitled to qualified immunity. View "Nelson v. Sellers" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, Marcus Raper contested the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) 2020 denial of his claim for disability insurance benefits. Raper raised three arguments: (1) that the administrative law judge's (ALJ) initial lack of constitutional appointment under the Appointments Clause tainted his later constitutionally appointed review of his case, (2) that the ALJ failed to clearly articulate good cause for not fully crediting his treating physician’s medical opinion, and (3) that the ALJ wrongly discredited his subjective complaints of pain by not properly considering evidence other than objective medical evidence.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. First, the court found no Appointments Clause violation as the ALJ's initial decision, made when he was unconstitutionally appointed, had been vacated on the merits and the case was remanded to the same ALJ who was then constitutionally appointed. Second, the court held that the ALJ articulated good cause for discounting Raper's treating physician’s opinion, finding the opinion inconsistent with the record. Lastly, the court found that the ALJ had properly considered Raper’s subjective complaints in light of the record as a whole and adequately explained his decision not to fully credit Raper’s alleged limitations on his ability to work. View "Raper v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered an appeal by Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump, who sought to move his state criminal prosecution to federal court. The state of Georgia had indicted Meadows for crimes related to alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election. Meadows argued that because these actions were taken in his official capacity, they should be heard in federal court according to the federal-officer removal statute (28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1)). The district court denied this request because Meadows' charged conduct was not performed under the color of his federal office. The court of appeals affirmed this decision. It ruled that the federal-officer removal statute does not apply to former federal officers and even if it did, the alleged actions leading to this criminal action were not related to Meadows’ official duties. The court concluded that the former chief of staff’s role does not include influencing state officials with allegations of election fraud or altering valid election results in favor of a particular candidate, regardless of the chief of staff's role with respect to state election administration. Therefore, Meadows was not entitled to invoke the federal-officer removal statute. View "The State of Georgia v. Meadows" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the United States District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) denial of a church's petition for a religious exemption from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Soul Quest Church of Mother Earth, Inc. petitioned the DEA for an exemption to the CSA so it could lawfully use and handle a sacramental tea known as ayahuasca, which contains a controlled substance, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The DEA denied the petition, concluding that the church had not met its burden under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to show that its members' beliefs were sincerely held and that its use of ayahuasca was part of a religious exercise. The DEA also found compelling governmental interests in maintaining public safety and preventing diversion of the tea into improper channels. The DEA's denial of the petition was deemed a final decision made under the CSA, thereby triggering the jurisdictional bar of 21 U.S.C. § 877. The court ruled that because the DEA's decision was made under the CSA, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the denial on the merits. The court also held that Soul Quest's additional constitutional, statutory, and procedural claims were "inescapably intertwined" with the DEA's final decision, making the CSA's jurisdictional bar applicable to those claims as well. View "Soul Quest Church of Mother Earth, Inc. v. Attorney General of the United States" on Justia Law

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Governor DeSantis signed into law the Individual Freedom Act, also called the Stop W.O.K.E. Act. Seven professors and one student from public universities in Florida challenged the law in the district court as violative of their civil rights. Plaintiffs served subpoenas on fourteen non-party legislators—thirteen co-sponsors of the Act and one legislator who supported the bill during a Florida House of Representatives debate. The district court partially granted and partially denied the legislators’ motion. After the legislators appealed, the district court stayed the discovery order pending the resolution of this appeal. At issue on appeal is whether a common-law privilege shields state legislators from a discovery request made for the purpose of determining the legislators’ motives in passing a law.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that factual documents are within the scope of the privilege, which is unqualified in this kind of lawsuit. The court explained that according to Plaintiffs’ response to the Florida legislators’ motion to quash the subpoena, the plaintiffs served the subpoenas on the legislators to “determine whether there was a discriminatory motive behind the [Act].” By Plaintiffs’ own admission, the subpoenas’ purpose was to uncover the legislators’ motives in passing the law. “The privilege applies with full force against requests for information about the motives for legislative votes and legislative enactments.” So, the privilege applies with its usual force against the discovery of even the factual documents in the Florida legislators’ possession. Accordingly, the court held that the district court abused its discretion when it determined otherwise. View "Leroy Pernell, et al. v. Robert Alexander Andrade, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioners, a group of five individuals, filed this petition for review, claiming that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) during its Phase II approval process. Petitioners assert that the FAA violated NEPA by (1) segmenting its review of a single Airport development project into multiple, smaller projects to make the project’s environmental effect appear less significant, (2) failing to consider the project’s cumulative effects, and (3) failing to analyze all air quality impacts. The FAA responds that, as an initial matter, Petitioners cannot bring this petition for review because they lack standing and did not exhaust their administrative remedies. Alternatively, the FAA contends that it did not violate NEPA, and the petition for review should be denied.   The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition. The court held that Petitioners have standing and did not fail to exhaust their administrative remedies. Petitioners, however, fall short on the merits because it is clear that the FAA satisfied NEPA’s requirements. The court explained that Petitioners are unhappy that the FAA greenlighted Phase II (as well as the Airport developments preceding Phase II). However, the court does not vacate agency decisions over mere policy disagreements. Accordingly, the court held that the FAA did what it was supposed to do, and its review processes were not arbitrary and capricious. View "John S. Lowman, IV, et al v. Federal Aviation Administration, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s affirmance of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) denial of his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) following the Appeals Council’s remand. He argued that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred on remand by reconsidering a prior finding of Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (RFC) after the prior decision had been vacated, in violation of the law-of-the-case doctrine and the mandate rule.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the mandate rule, which is “a specific application” of the law-of-the-case doctrine, binds a lower court to execute the mandate of the higher court without further examination or variance. The court wrote that even assuming the law-of-the-case doctrine and mandate rule apply, the ALJ was free to reconsider Plaintiff’s RFC because the 2018 Decision was vacated. The court reasoned that the district court order made no findings about how the ALJ erred in his determination on Plaintiff’s disability. Instead, the district court remanded the case on a motion from the Commissioner without making specific factual findings, including whether or not the ALJ properly determined Plaintiff’s RFC. As a result, the Appeals Council had no factual findings in the remand order from which it could deviate. Additionally, the Appeals Council explained that Plaintiff filed a new SSI claim in 2019, and it consolidated that claim with his initial claims, which stemmed from the same disabilities. The SSA regulations allow an ALJ to consider any issues relating to the claim, whether or not they were raised in earlier administrative proceedings. View "George Weidner, III v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs worked as detention officers for Glynn County under Sheriff Jump’s supervision. Although it is unclear from the record whether the Officers are formally deputy sheriffs, it is undisputed that they are, at minimum, direct employees of Sheriff Jump, in his official capacity, akin to deputies. The Officers brought a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action alleging that the County “illegally calculated their and other detention officers’ overtime wages.” The County moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In response, the Officers amended their complaint to include Sheriff Jump in his individual capacity. The County and Sheriff Jump then moved to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, arguing that neither defendant was the Officers’ employer under the FLSA.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed both the district court’s denial of the Officers’ motion for leave to amend and its ultimate dismissal of the amended complaint. The court held that the district court correctly dismissed the Officers’ complaint against Sheriff Jump in his individual capacity because he is not an “employer” under the FLSA. Further, the court agreed with the district court that Sheriff Jump would be entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity when making compensation decisions for his employees. Further, the court held that Georgia “retained its Eleventh Amendment immunity” from suits in federal court for breach-of-contract claims because no statute or constitutional provision “expressly consents to suits in federal court. View "Langston Austin, et al. v. Glynn County, Georgia, et al." on Justia Law

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After eight years of litigation involving ten different parties, Continental Holdings, Inc. (Continental) appealed the district court’s denial of its November 2015 motion to voluntarily dismiss Houston Pipe Line Company, L.P. and HPL GP, LLC (collectively, Houston) from the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). Continental argues that we should reverse the district court’s Rule 41(a)(2) decision and vacate all of the subsequent orders governing its dispute with Houston.   The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal. The court explained that over the course of this litigation, many parties filed motions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) in an attempt to voluntarily dismiss their claims against another party. For each motion, fewer than all parties involved in the litigation provided a signature. Yet, Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) only permits a plaintiff to dismiss an action without a court order by filing “a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared. The court explained that because multiple motions made under this Rule were not signed by all parties who appeared in the lawsuit, they were ineffective, and the claims they purported to dismiss remain pending before the district court. Consequently, there has not been a final judgment below, and the court explained that it lacks jurisdiction to consider the merits of this appeal. View "City of Jacksonville v. Jacksonville Hospitality Holdings, L.P., et al" on Justia Law