Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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Plaintiff filed suit seeking damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, alleging that IRS employees barred him from representing taxpayers before the Service without due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The district court dismissed the case because the Internal Revenue Code's remedial scheme for tax practicitioners foreclosed a Bivens action. The court did not reach the issue and ruled on the alternative ground that plaintiff failed to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because his complaint contains no allegation that defendants deprived him of a constitutionally protected interest. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Bowman v. Iddon" on Justia Law

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Two nonprofit organizations, ANSWER and MASF, challenge the District's sign-posting rule that requires removal of signs relating to an event within 30 days of the event, whether the 180-day period for signs on public lampposts had expired or not. The court concluded that the regulation does not impose a content-based distinction because it regulates how long people may maintain event-related signs on public lampposts, not the content of the signs’ messages; the "event-related" category itself is not content based; and therefore, under the intermediate First Amendment scrutiny that is applicable, the rule is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction. The court explained that the regulation is narrowly tailored to further a well-established, admittedly significant governmental interest in avoiding visual clutter, and the regulation’s definition of event-based signs also guides officials’ enforcement discretion sufficiently to avoid facial invalidation on due process grounds. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for MASF and remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of the District. However, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of ANSWER’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 damages claim that the District retaliated against it in violation of the First Amendment, and MASF’s claim that the District’s regulation imposes a system of strict liability the First Amendment does not allow. Finally, the court vacated the district court’s imposition of discovery sanctions against the District for seeking discovery without leave of court. View "Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Department of Justice issued a guidance memorandum, the Cole Memorandum, that addresses enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., in cases involving marijuana. Plaintiff filed a pro se suit against state officials claiming that the Cole Memorandum unconstitutionally commandeers state officials and institutions, and claiming that all defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before publishing the memorandum. The court agreed with the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on plaintiff's lack of standing because he has not sufficiently alleged that setting aside the Cole Memorandum would redress his alleged injuries from the wider availability of recreational marijuana and new restrictions on medical marijuana, and that any adverse environmental effects of recreational marijuana on his own particularized interests are traceable to the memorandum. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "West v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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The ANSWER Coalition challenges a 2008 Park Service regulation authorizing a priority permit setting aside a fraction of those spaces for identified Presidential Inaugural Committee uses on Inauguration Day. The Coalition contends that authorizing Freedom Plaza bleachers in the priority permit violates the Coalition's First Amendment right to instead use the same space for a mass demonstration. The court concluded that the regulation authorizing the priority permit, including the space on Freedom Plaza for the bleachers, is not a content- or viewpoint-based speech restriction, but a reasonable time, place, and manner regulation of the use of a public forum. The court explained that the regulation sets aside bleacher areas, including on Freedom Plaza, for the Inaugural Committee’s use as part of the package the rule reserves to the Committee as event organizer. However, the First Amendment does not support the Coalition's claim of a right to displace spectator bleachers with its own demonstration at Freedom Plaza. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Park Service. View "A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition v. Basham" on Justia Law

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This appeal arises from efforts to recover Secretary of State Clinton's private emails during her time at the State Department. Although the current Secretary (with the help of the National Archivist) has made efforts to recover those emails, neither the Secretary nor the Archivist has asked the Attorney General to initiate enforcement proceedings, as provided for in the Federal Records Act, 44 U.S.C. 3105(1). Appellants Judicial Watch and Cause of Action filed suit for agency action unlawfully withheld in violation of Section 706(1) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(1). The district court dismissed the suits as moot. The court concluded that, because the current Secretary and Archivist have neither asked the Attorney General for help nor shown that such a request could not lead to recovery of additional emails, the suits were not moot. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. The court remanded the case so that the district court can consider the merits in the first instance. View "Judicial Watch v. Kerry" on Justia Law

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Federally-registered lobbyists sued the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative, alleging that federal policy barring registered lobbyists from serving on the Industry Trade Advisory Committees “attaches an unconstitutional condition on the exercise of the First Amendment right to petition [the government],” and “draws an unconstitutional distinction between those who exercise their right to petition the government and those who do not.” The D.C. Circuit remanded after dismissal. Before the district court ruled on remand, the Office of Management and Budget revised the ban to apply only to lobbyists who serve on advisory committees in an individual capacity and the Department of Commerce issued an amended “Request for Nominations for the Industry Trade Advisory Committees.” The parties stipulated to dismissal, with lobbyists stating their intention to seek attorneys’ fees. The court denied that application under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412, reasoning that the remand did not ensure the lobbyists would enjoy a substantive victory, so they were not “prevailing parties.” The D.C. Circuit affirmed, noting that its earlier remand specified that dismissal might still be appropriate depending on the court’s analysis of whether the government’s interest in imposing the lobbyist ban “outweighs any impingement on Appellants’ constitutional rights.” View "Autor v. Pritzker" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a 59-year-old African-American, filed suit alleging that he was improperly terminated by his employer in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.; the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. 1981; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. 621. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Washington Post. The court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that the Washington Post’s proffered non-discriminatory reason – “willful neglect of duty and insubordination” – “was not the actual reason” for plaintiff's termination. Furthermore, a reasonable jury could conclude that, but for the fact that plaintiff was fifty-nine years old, he would not have been terminated. View "DeJesus v. WP Company LLC" on Justia Law

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After two warrantless searches of his home by MPD members, plaintiff filed suit against the District and individual MPD officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. The court concluded that, even assuming, without deciding, that the initial sweep of plaintiff's home by the MPD Emergency Response Team (ERT) was justified under the exigent circumstances and emergency aid exceptions to the warrant requirement, the second top-to-bottom search by the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit (EOD) after the MPD had been on the scene for several hours was not. In this case, the MPD had already secured the area and determined that no one else was inside plaintiff's home and that there were no dangerous or illegal items in plain sight; plaintiff had previously surrendered peacefully to MPD custody; and the information the MPD had about plaintiff failed to provide an objectively reasonable basis for believing there was an exigent need to break in plaintiff's home a second time to search for hazardous materials. And assuming, without deciding, that the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement applies to a home, the court concluded that the scope of the second search far exceeded what that exception would allow. Because the law was clearly established at the time that the law enforcement officers must have an objectively reasonable basis for believing an exigency justifies a warrantless search of a home, and because no reasonable officer could have concluded such a basis existed for the second more intrusive search, the court concluded that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity across the board. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Corrigan v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was terminated from his position as a police reserve officer for making harsh and accusatory statements to his superiors in emails with his co-workers cc’d. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that he was terminated in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech. The court concluded that, under Pickering v. Board of Education, plaintiff's emails are not protected under the First Amendment where his interest in sending them is outweighed by the police department’s interest in promoting office harmony and efficiency. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case and denial of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. View "LeFande v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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In the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, 12 U.S.C. 5491, Congress established a new independent agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent agency headed not by a multi-member commission but rather by a single Director. PHH is a mortgage lender that was the subject of a CFPB enforcement action that resulted in a $109 million order against it. PHH seeks to vacate the order, arguing that the CFPB’s status as an independent agency headed by a single Director violates Article II of the Constitution. The court concluded that CFPB’s concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decisionmaking and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The court noted that this new agency lacks that critical check and structural constitutional protection, yet wields vast power over the U.S. economy. The court concluded that, in light of the consistent historical practice under which independent agencies have been headed by multiple commissioners or board members, and in light of the threat to individual liberty posed by a single-Director independent agency, Humphrey’s Executor v. United States cannot be stretched to cover this novel agency structure. Therefore, the court held that the CFPB is unconstitutionally structured. To remedy the constitutional flaw, the court followed the Supreme Court’s precedents and simply severed the statute’s unconstitutional for-cause provision from the remainder of the statute. With the for-cause provision severed, the court explained that the President now will have the power to remove the Director at will, and to supervise and direct the Director. Because the CFPB as remedied will continue operating, the court addressed the statutory issues raised by PHH and agreed with PHH that Section 8 of the Act allows captive reinsurance arrangements so long as the amount paid by the mortgage insurer for the reinsurance does not exceed the reasonable market value of the reinsurance; CFPB’s order against PHH violated bedrock principles of due process; and the CFPB on remand still will have an opportunity to demonstrate that the relevant mortgage insurers in fact paid more than reasonable market value to the PHH-affiliated reinsurer for reinsurance, thereby making disguised payments for referrals in contravention of Section 8. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "PHH Corp. v. CFPB" on Justia Law