Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Federal regulations establish a compensation formula for the payment of certain health care providers—a formula that changes once a year. However, each formula takes effect on January 1 and runs until January 1 of the following year. On January 1, two competing formulas purport to apply, making it unclear which one governs: the new one, or the one from the preceding year.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government, holding that the context of the rule makes clear that the court should construe the 2005 rule to give effect to the new formula, and not the formula from the preceding year, when presented with a cost report that begins on January 1. View "Greenbrier Hospital, LLC v. Azar" on Justia Law

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After TABC investigated Spec's and brought a largely unsuccessful administrative action against it, Spec's filed suit against TABC. The district court dismissed the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), reasoning that defendants were entitled to various forms of immunity.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court correctly determined that defendants are entitled to absolute immunity from Spec's' 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims regarding administrative holds, protests of applications, and denials of renewals. However, the district court erred by concluding that defendants are absolutely immune from Spec's' section 1983 individual-capacity claim regarding the concealment of evidence. The court also held that the district court correctly determined that sovereign immunity bars Spec's' official-capacity claims for damages and for injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court also correctly held that defendants are entitled to state-action immunity from Spec's' antitrust claims, and that Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code 102.07(a)(7) is not a per se violation of the Sherman Act. Finally, the court held that the district court's decision to decline supplemental jurisdiction over Spec's' state-law malicious prosecution claim must be vacated because the grounds for that decision are no longer applicable. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Spec's Family Partners, Ltd. v. Executive Director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and substituted the following opinion.After ExxonMobil sought a revised Title V permit under the Clean Air Act concerning an expansion of a plant in Baytown, Texas, petitioners asked EPA to object on the grounds that the underlying Title I preconstruction permit allowing the expansion was invalid. EPA rejected petitioners' arguments and declined to object.The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that EPA's interpretation that Title V permitting is not the appropriate vehicle for reexamining the substantive validity of underlying Title I preconstruction permits is independently persuasive. Therefore, EPA's interpretation is entitled to the mild form of deference recognized by Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). View "Environmental Integrity Project v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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OSHA found that Echo violated 29 C.F.R. 1926.964(b)(1), the tension-stringing regulation, when two employees were electrocuted while rehanging a line. After the ALJ upheld the citation, Echo petitioned for review.The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the tension-stringing provision is sufficiently precise to repel Echo's vagueness challenge. In this case, the express language of the provision afforded Echo "sufficiently definite warning" of the conduct required. The court also held that the evidence of industry custom was unnecessary to establish Echo's violation where the provision is not unconstitutionally vague and instructs the employer about specific methods to use in order to comply. Therefore, the provision is not a performance standard and the ALJ did not err by declining to consider evidence that Echo's method complied with industry custom. View "Echo Powerline, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

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A federal agency may not create an "aquaculture," or fish farming, regime in the Gulf of Mexico pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the Fisheries' challenged aquaculture rule exceeds the agency's statutory authority. The court explained that the Act neither says nor suggests that the agency may regulate aquaculture; the court rejected the agency's interpretation of Congress's silence on the matter as an invitation; explained that Congress does not delegate authority merely by not withholding it; and the court rejected the agency's argument that the Act's definition of "fishing" gives it authority to regulate aquaculture. The court noted that if anyone is to expand the forty-year-old Magnuson-Stevens Act to reach aquaculture for the first time, it must be Congress. View "Gulf Fishermens Ass'n v. National Marine Fisheries Service" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of HHS's motion for summary judgment in an action where HHS concluded that Dominion must return approximately $1.3 million in Medicare payments. The Secretary argues that a physician certification statement is necessary but not sufficient to establish that nonemergency, scheduled, repetitive ambulance transportation is covered by Medicare, as the contrary interpretation would render the phrase "medically necessary" in 42 C.F.R. 410.40(d)(2) superfluous.The court held that the Secretary's interpretation is neither plainly erroneous nor inconsistent with the regulation, and Dominion's arguments to the contrary are unavailing. Furthermore, HHS's statement in 2012 when it amended the regulation supports its position that HHS did not consider a physician certification statement conclusive. Therefore, the district court properly deferred to the agency's reasonable interpretation. Finally, the court assumed, without deciding, that the district court had jurisdiction to review the timeliness of the decision to reopen the initial determination, and held that the decision to reopen was timely. View "Dominion Ambulance, LLC v. Azar" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of Article III standing, a petition for review of the TCEQ's decision granting air permits to Rio Grande LNG. Petitioners, two membership organizations, ask the court to vacate the agency's decision and order either a contested-case hearing before the SOAH or the denial of the permits.The court held that petitioners have not satisfied their burden to show their members' injuries in fact. In this case, petitioners' claims -- that their individual members who live, work, and drive within a roughly fourteen-mile radius of the proposed facility will suffer an increased risk of harm that those living further away will not suffer -- are too generalized and petitioners have not produced enough evidence to show an actual or imminent harm. The court also held that, even if petitioners' members did identify specific risks, there is no evidence of the extent to which those risks would be increased for those members by the expected emissions. Furthermore, petitioners' claim that the proposed facility would cause ozone levels to be very close to violating the federally mandated levels failed to identify what specific health risks their members expect to suffer. Finally, to the extent petitioners argue that the denial of a contested-case hearing is a procedural harm separate and distinct from the harms they expect to be caused by the proposed facility, the court rejected that alleged injury as a basis for standing. View "Shrimpers and Fishermen of the RGV v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The States filed suit raising constitutional challenges to Section 9010 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the Certification Rule. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the States had standing to raise their Certification Rule claims; reversed the district court's ruling that the States' Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claims were not time-barred; and dismissed those claims for lack of jurisdiction.On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's judgment on the Section 9010 claims, holding that the Provider Fee is a constitutional tax that does not violate the Spending Clause and that Section 9010 satisfies both the requirements under the Tenth Amendment doctrine of intergovernmental tax immunity. In this case, the Provider Fee does not discriminate against states or those with whom they deal because it is imposed on any entity that provides health insurance (with certain exclusions). Furthermore, the legal incidence of the Provider Fee does not fall on the states because Congress expressly excluded states from paying the fee. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment that the Certification Rule violated the nondelegation doctrine, holding that HHS did not unlawfully delegate to a third party its authority to approve state managed-care organization (MCO) contracts. Accordingly, the court rendered judgment in favor of the United States. Because neither the Certification Rule nor Section 9010 are unlawful, the court vacated the district court's grant of equitable disgorgement to the States. View "Texas v. Rettig" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the Commission's decision affirming the application of OSHA's commercial diving safety regulations to the dives its staff members perform to feed animals housed at the Aquarium and to clean the facility's tanks. A majority of the Commission panel affirmed the ALJ's determination that feeding and cleaning dives did not fall within the "scientific diving" exemption to the commercial standard.The court held that the ALJ did not err in crediting the compliance officer's testimony about the Commercial Diving Operations (CDO) standard as lay opinion testimony; even if the compliance officer testified to some matters that fell outside the realm of lay opinion testimony, the admission of the testimony was harmless; and the Aquarium's witnesses were properly treated as lay witnesses. Under a plain reading of the entire definition of "scientific diving," as well as the regulation guidelines and regulatory history, the court held that the activities performed during the feeding and cleaning dives fall within the plain text of the exemption. In this case, the Aquarium has shown that feeding and cleaning dives are a necessary component of its scientific research. View "Houston Aquarium, Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for review of the Commission's determination that Sanderson violated various regulations of the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).The court held that the ALJ's determination that the compressor cutouts and the emergency stops are subject to the mechanical integrity program was not an abuse of discretion or otherwise contrary to law; the ALJ's determination that Sanderson failed to rebut the presumption of exposure to a hazard was not an abuse of discretion or otherwise contrary to law; and the Secretary bore his burden with respect to all elements of a violation regarding Items 5a and 5b. View "Sanderson Farms, Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law