Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The hotel occupancy tax applies only to the discounted room rate paid by the online travel company (OTC) to the hotel. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment in a class action asserting that the service fee an OTC charges for facilitating a hotel reservation was included in the "cost of occupancy", and thus subject to the municipalities' hotel occupancy tax ordinances. The court applied City of Houston v. Hotels.com, L.P., 357 S.W.3d 706, 707, and held that OTCs in this case were not liable because the only monetary amounts at issue in this class action were those not included in the scope of the hotel occupancy tax base. The Houston court explained that, under the plain meaning of the ordinance, the cost of occupancy was the amount for which three conditions were satisfied: the consideration at issue must have been paid or charged for the use or possession, or the right to use or possess, a hotel room; the amounts to be taxed must have been paid by the occupant of such room; and the amount to be taxed must have been paid to such hotel. Therefore, the court rendered judgment for the OTCs in this case. View "City of San Antonio, Texas v. Hotels.com, L.P." on Justia Law

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ExxonMobil’s 859-mile long Pegasus Pipeline transports crude oil from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas. In March 2013, it ruptured, spilling several thousand barrels of oil near Mayflower, Arkansas. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, within the U.S. Department of Transportation, conducted an investigation and concluded that ExxonMobil violated several pipeline safety regulations under the Pipeline Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 60101. Specifically, the agency found that the integrity management program (IMP) plan had not properly accounted for the risk of longitudinal seam failure and that this was a contributing factor in the Mayflower release. The agency assessed a $2.6 million civil penalty and ordered ExxonMobil to take certain actions to ensure compliance with those regulations. The Fifth Circuit vacated certain items in the order. Finding that it owed no deference to the agency’s interpretation of the regulation, the court concluded that ExxonMobil reasonably applied 49 CFR 195.452(e)(1)’s instruction to “consider” all relevant risk factors in making its pipeline susceptibility determination. The court remanded with an instruction to reevaluate the basis for the penalty associated with another violation. View "ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Claimants appealed the denial of civil claims under the Settlement Program that was established following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Claimants submitted Individual Economic Loss (IEL) claims for lost wages as employees of their architectural firm. The firm had already received a Business and Economic Loss (BEL) award under the Settlement Program. The Fifth Circuit held that the BEL framework, by compensating the business for the owners' lost wages through the fixed-cost designation of their wages, precluded compensating those same owners for the same wages through an IEL claim. Because the Settlement Program did not contemplate the requested compensation, the court affirmed the judgment. View "In Re: Deepwater Horizon" on Justia Law

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Maxmed sought judicial review of the Secretary of Health and Human Services' determination that the Medicaid program overpaid Maxmed by almost $800,000 for home health care services rendered to Medicare beneficiaries. The Fifth Circuit held that the failure to record the random numbers used in the sample did not necessarily invalidate the extrapolation methodology; the Secretary did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in rejecting the challenge to the independence of the sampling units; Congress clearly envisioned extrapolation in overpayment determinations involving home health agencies like Maxmed, and the Secretary's reliance on extrapolation as a tool was justified; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Maxmed's motion to amend or alter the judgment; and the district court properly rejected Maxmed's due process claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Secretary. View "Maxmed Healthcare, Inc. v. Price" on Justia Law

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Total Gas and two of its trading managers filed a declaratory judgment action against the Commission arguing that the Commission was precluded from adjudicating violations or imposing civil penalties because the Natural Gas Act (NGA) vests authority for those activities exclusively in federal district courts. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Commission's motion to dismiss, holding that Total's suit was not ripe for review in light of controlling precedent, Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. v. FERC. In this case, instead of objecting to any actions FERC has already taken, Total seeks to preemptively challenge a FERC order that may never be issued. The court explained that all of Total's arguments were predicated on future events and were brought before FERC has even scheduled the matter for a hearing—let alone issued an order finding a NGA violation and imposing a civil penalty. View "TOTAL Gas & Power North America, Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction the Association's appeal of the FMCSA's grant of permanent operating authority to two Mexico-domiciled motor carriers. The court held that the Association failed to file a timely appeal as required by statute. In this case, the orders rejecting and dismissing the Association's protest were final orders of the FMCSA, a fact that was unaffected by the Association's motion for reconsideration. View "Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Ass'n v. US DOT" on Justia Law

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The ATF revoked Cash Cow Pawn Shop's federal firearms license (FFL) after numerous violations of the Gun Control Act. The district court affirmed the revocation decision. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment against Cash Cow, holding that a single willful violation of the Act sufficed to sustain the ATF's revocation decision; in the alternative, the mere fact that Cash Cow's other violations were paperwork violations did not make them any less serious or less willful; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Cash Cow's motion to compel the ATF to turn over its internal investigation file on Cash Cow because the district court found that it needed no additional evidence beyond the administrative record to rule on the pending motion for summary judgment; and the court was unclear as to what relief Cash Cow was seeking by raising a challenge to the district court's decision to decline to enforce an automatic stay under FRCP 62(a). View "Fairmont Cash Management v. James" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured while riding her bicycle over a ramp at DeSoto National Forest, she filed suit against government officials under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671-2680. Plaintiff alleged that defendants failed to inspect and maintain the bicycle trails, and failed to warn her of the hazard. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. The court concluded that the FTCA's discretionary function exception barred plaintiff's claim. In this case, the relevant Manual and Handbook provisions contemplate an element of choice as to how USFS employees inspect and maintain the trails, and the manner in which the USFS officials inspected and maintained the trails was susceptible to policy considerations. In regard to plaintiff's failure to warn claim, the court explained that it was difficult to conceive of a provision mandating the USFS to take specific action to warn the public about unknown hazards. Even if the court did not accept the district court's findings with respect to the USFS having no knowledge of the bridge, the court concluded that the discretionary exception would still apply. Here, plaintiff failed to identify specific provisions that mandate an approach to creating or placing closure signs in these circumstances, and the USFS's decision about how to post notice of the closed trail was based on considerations of social, economic, or political public policy. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Gonzalez v. United States" on Justia Law

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Air Evac filed suit against state defendants, claiming that, as applied to air-ambulance entities, Texas' workers'-compensation system was federally preempted. Air Evac argued that, because the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), 49 U.S.C. 4173(b)(1), expressly preempted all state laws related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier, Texas may not use state laws to regulate air-ambulance services. The district court granted state defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). The court concluded that Air Evac had Article III standing because it had a pecuniary injury that could be redressed with injunctive and declaratory relief; Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. conferred federal-question jurisdiction because Air Evac's complaint sought injunctive relief on the basis that the ADA preempted Texas law; the Ex parte Young exception applied to this case where, to the extent Ex parte Young required that the state actor "threaten" or "commence" proceedings to enforce the unconstitutional act, state defendants' pervasive enforcement satisfied that test; and the court declined to exercise abstention under Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Air Evac EMS, Inc. v. State of Texas, Department of Insurance" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a national association of charter-bus companies, sought to enjoin regulations affecting their operations enacted by the City of Austin. At issue was whether federal law preempted the City's exercise of its regulatory authority over the intrastate operation of charter buses. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the regulations were not preempted. The arguments about preemption were based on a federal statute captioned "Federal authority over intrastate transportation." See 49 U.S.C. 14501. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that section 14501(c)(2)(A) may appropriately be considered in interpreting and applying section 14501(a)(2), because both subsections use identical language. The court concluded that the distinctions between sections 14501(a) and (c) do not persuade it to construe "safety regulatory authority" more narrowly in the former than in the latter. The court applied a test that was similar to the Ninth Circuit, concluding that, in light of the permitting regulation's expressed purpose and effect, there was a safety motivation for the ordinance, and there was a nexus between the permitting regulations and the safety concern. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United Motorcoach Association, Inc. v. City of Austin" on Justia Law