Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Safety Specialty Insurance Co. v. Genesee County Board of Commissioners
The Fox and Puchlak filed purported class actions, alleging that Michigan counties seized property to satisfy property-tax delinquencies, sold the properties, and kept the difference between the sales proceeds and the tax debts.. The suits assert that the counties committed takings without just compensation or imposed excessive fines in violation of the Michigan and federal constitutions. Genesee County’s insurance, through Safety, precludes coverage for claims “[a]rising out of . . . [t]ax collection, or the improper administration of taxes or loss that reflects any tax obligation” and claims “[a]rising out of eminent domain, condemnation, inverse condemnation, temporary or permanent taking, adverse possession, or dedication by adverse use.”Safety sought a ruling that it owed no duty to defend or to indemnify. The district court entered summary judgment, finding no Article III case or controversy between Safety and Fox and Puchlak. The court also held that Safety owes Genesee County no duty to defend. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Safety lacks standing to sue Fox and Puchlak over its duty to defend and its claim for the duty to indemnify lacks ripeness. Safety owes no duty to defend; the alleged tax-collection process directly caused the injuries underlying each of Fox’s and Puchlak’s claims. View "Safety Specialty Insurance Co. v. Genesee County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law
City of Ashdown, Arkansas v. Netflix, Inc.
The Arkansas Video Service Act of 2013 (VSA) establishes a statewide franchising scheme for authorizing video service providers to provide services in political subdivisions within the state. Netflix and Hulu were already providing online video streaming services prior to the passage of the VSA; they have not applied for certificates of franchise authority. The City of Ashdown, Arkansas, filed a putative class action against Netflix and Hulu in 2020, seeking both a declaration that they must comply with the VSA and damages for their failure to pay the required fee. The district court granted Netflix and Hulu’s motions to dismiss, concluding, among other things, that the VSA does not give Ashdown a right of action to bring this suit. Ashdown appealed, arguing that the district court misinterpreted the VSA. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the fact that the VSA does not “prevent” a party from exercising a right does not, itself, confer a right. This provision is more logically read to preserve existing rights of action. The reference to “other laws” in the section title supports this conclusion. Further, the court wrote that the VSA does not establish such a “high duty of care” for video service providers, nor does it signal a strong public policy of protecting municipalities. Thus, the court concluded that recognizing a right of action would circumvent the intent of the VSA. View "City of Ashdown, Arkansas v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law
Morgan v. Ygrene Energy Fund, Inc.
In 2008, California enacted a Property Assessed Clean Energy program (PACE) as a method for homeowners to finance energy and water conservation improvements. A PACE debt was created by contract and secured by the improved property. But like a tax, the installment payments were billed and paid as a special assessment on the improved property, resulting in a first-priority tax lien in the event of default. The named plaintiffs in these putative class actions were over 65 years old and entered into PACE contracts. The defendants were private companies who either made PACE loans to plaintiffs, were assigned rights to payment, and/or administered PACE programs for municipalities. The gravamen of the complaint in each case was that PACE financing was actually, and should have been treated as, a secured home improvement loan. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices by violating consumer protection laws, including Civil Code section 1804.1(j), which prohibited taking a security interest in a senior citizen’s residence to secure a home improvement loan. Generally, a taxpayer could not pursue a court action for a refund of property taxes without first applying to the local board of equalization for a reduction and then filing an administrative claim for a refund. Here, defendants demurred to the complaints on the sole ground that plaintiffs failed to allege they first exhausted administrative remedies. The trial court agreed, sustained the demurrers without leave to amend, and entered a judgment of dismissal in each case. On appeal, plaintiffs primarily contend they were not required to pursue administrative remedies because they have sued only private companies and do not challenge “any aspect of the municipal tax process involved.” The Court of Appeal found that despite their assertions to the contrary, plaintiffs did challenge their property tax assessments. And although they did not sue any government entity, the “consumer protection statutes under which plaintiffs brought their action cannot be employed to avoid the limitations and procedures set out by the Revenue and Taxation Code.” Thus, the Court concluded plaintiffs were required to submit their claims through the administrative appeals process in the first instance. "Their failure to do so requires the judgments to be affirmed." View "Morgan v. Ygrene Energy Fund, Inc." on Justia Law
ANDRE VERDUN, ET AL V. CITY OF SAN DIEGO, ET AL
Plaintiffs brought a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 alleging that tire chalking violated the Fourth Amendment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment for Defendants and held that municipalities are not required to obtain warrants before chalking tires as part of enforcing time limits on city parking spots. The panel held that even assuming the temporary dusting of chalk on a tire constitutes a Fourth Amendment “search,” it falls within the administrative search exception to the warrant requirement. Complementing a broader program of traffic control, tire chalking is reasonable in its scope and manner of execution. It is not used for general crime control purposes. And its intrusion on personal liberty is de minimis at most. View "ANDRE VERDUN, ET AL V. CITY OF SAN DIEGO, ET AL" on Justia Law
Tammie Thompson v. Ciox Health, LLC
Plaintiffs were injured in unspecified accidents and treated by South Carolina health care providers. Seeking to pursue personal injury lawsuits, Plaintiffs requested their medical records from the relevant providers. Those records—and accompanying invoices—were supplied by defendants Ciox Health, LLC and ScanSTAT Technologies LLC, “information management companies” that retrieve medical records from health care providers and transmit them to requesting patients or patient representatives. Claiming the invoiced fees were too high or otherwise illegal, Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Ciox and ScanSTAT in federal district court. The district court dismissed the complaint and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that South Carolina law gives patients a right to obtain copies of their medical records, while capping the fees “a physician, or other owner” may bill for providing them. However, the statutory obligations at issue apply only to physicians and other owners of medical records, not medical records companies. View "Tammie Thompson v. Ciox Health, LLC" on Justia Law
Steigerwald v. Commissioner of Social Security
Class Counsel discovered the Social Security Administration's (SSA’s) systemic failure to perform “Subtraction Recalculations” and recovered over $106 million in past-due disability benefits. After performing the Subtraction Recalculations for all the claimants, the SSA argued that the district court did not have authority under the Social Security Act’s judicial-review provision, 42 U.S.C. 405(g), to order the Subtraction Recalculations and that Class Counsel cannot recover attorney fees under section 406(b) for representation of the claimants.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the award of $15.9 million in attorney fees to Class Counsel. SSA “may not hide behind” the statutory provisions merely because it erred at the end, rather than at the beginning, of the benefits-award process. The district court appropriately exercised judicial review under section 405(g), properly ordered the SSA to perform the Subtraction Recalculations, and properly awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees. The SSA failed to award claimants additional past-due benefits to which they were entitled. Counsel successfully sought judicial assistance to obtain those benefits. Congress did not create a statute that allows attorneys to recover fees when the SSA initially fails to award benefits, only to foreclose fee recovery when the SSA later unlawfully withholds additional benefits. View "Steigerwald v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law
Duncan v. Governor of the Virgin Islands
In 2015, the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Guam taxpayers in their class action lawsuit against the territorial government. Guam had excessively withheld income taxes to support government spending. Some taxpayers got their refunds through an “expedited refund” process that devolved into arbitrariness and favoritism. The district court had certified a class of taxpayers who were entitled to but did not receive timely tax refunds.Duncan then filed a purported class action challenging the Virgin Islands' income tax collection practices. Duncan alleged that the Territory owed taxpayers at least $97,849,992.74 in refunds for the years 2007-2017, and that, for the years 2011-2017, the Territory failed to comply with the requirement in Virgin Islands Code title 33, section 1102(b), that the Territory set aside 10 percent of collected income taxes for paying refunds, leaving the required reserve underfunded by $150 million. The district court denied class certification, citing Duncan’s receipt of a refund check from the Territory during the pendency of her lawsuit; the check, while not the amount Duncan claims, called into question Duncan’s standing and made all of her claims atypical for the putative class. The Third Circuit vacated, rejecting the conclusion that the mid-litigation refund check deprived Duncan of standing and rendered all of her claims atypical. In evaluating whether Duncan was an adequate representative, the district court applied an incorrect legal standard. View "Duncan v. Governor of the Virgin Islands" on Justia Law
Hill & Stout, PLLC v. Mut. of Enumclaw Ins. Co.
In early 2020, to help curtail the spread of COVID-19, Washington Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-24 prohibiting non emergency dental care. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on the lost business income from the Proclamation and the interpretation of an insurance contract under which the insurance company covered lost business income for the “direct physical loss of or damage to Covered Property” and excluded coverage for loss or damage caused by a “virus.” Drs. Sarah Hill and Joseph Stout were dentists who operated two dental offices under their business Hill and Stout PLLC (HS). HS bought a property insurance policy from Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Company (MOE) that covered business income lost due to “direct physical loss of or damage to” the properties. HS sued MOE for coverage because of its inability to use its offices for nonemergency dental practice under the Proclamation and later amended to add a putative class action. MOE moved to dismiss, arguing that HS failed to show a “direct physical loss of or damage to” the property and that the virus exclusion applied. The trial court denied the motion. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of MOE. “It is unreasonable to read ‘direct physical loss of . . . property’ in a property insurance policy to include constructive loss of intended use of property. Such a loss is not ‘physical.’ Accordingly, the Proclamation did not trigger coverage under the policy.” View "Hill & Stout, PLLC v. Mut. of Enumclaw Ins. Co." on Justia Law
640 Tenth, LP v. Newsom
This putative class action against California and San Diego County officials challenged California Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency orders and related public health directives restricting business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs, owners of affected restaurants and gyms (Owners), primarily contended the orders were procedurally invalid because they were adopted without complying with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Furthermore, Owners contended that the business restrictions were substantively invalid because they effected a taking without compensation, violating the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rejecting these claims, the superior court sustained demurrers to the third amended complaint without leave to amend and dismissed the action. While the Court of Appeal sympathized with the position some Owners find themselves in and the significant financial losses they alleged, the unambiguous terms of the Emergency Services Act and controlling United States Supreme Court regulatory takings caselaw required that the judgment be affirmed. View "640 Tenth, LP v. Newsom" on Justia Law
Cisneros v. Elder
In November 2017, Saul Cisneros was charged with two misdemeanor offenses and jailed. The court set Cisneros’s bond at $2,000, and Cisneros’s daughter posted that bond four days later, but the County Sheriff’s Office did not release him. Instead, pursuant to Sheriff Bill Elder’s policies and practices, the Sheriff’s Office notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) that the jail had been asked to release Cisneros on bond. ICE then sent the jail a detainer and administrative warrant, requesting that the jail continue to detain Cisneros because ICE suspected that he was removable from the United States. Cisneros was placed on an indefinite “ICE hold,” and remained in detention. During his detention, Cisneros, along with another pretrial detainee, initiated a class action in state court against Sheriff Elder, in his official capacity, for declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the appellate court erred in concluding that section 24-10-106(1.5)(b), C.R.S. (2021), of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”) did not waive sovereign immunity for intentional torts that result from the operation of a jail for claimants who were incarcerated but not convicted. The Supreme Court concluded section 24-10-106(1.5)(b) waived immunity for such intentional torts. "In reaching this determination, we conclude that the statutory language waiving immunity for 'claimants who are incarcerated but not yet convicted' and who 'can show injury due to negligence' sets a floor, not a ceiling. To hold otherwise would mean that a pre-conviction claimant could recover for injuries resulting from the negligent operation of a jail but not for injuries resulting from the intentionally tortious operation of the same jail, an absurd result that we cannot countenance." Accordingly, the judgment of the division below was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Cisneros v. Elder" on Justia Law