Governmental Operations

The Supreme Court issued a 4-4 ruling in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The Court’s decision leaves in place the Fifth Circuit’s ruling that in some instances nonmembers of Indian tribes (including state and local governments) can be sued in tribal court (as opposed to state or federal court) for tort (civil wrongdoing) claims.

John Doe, a thirteen-year-old tribe member, alleges that his supervisor sexually molested him while he was working as part of a job training program at a Dollar General located on a reservation. Doe sued Dollar General in tribal court alleging a variety of torts including negligent hiring, training, and supervision.

This theory may help states at least indirectly in some instances.  

Fraud against the federal government is a problem for the states in particular when the fraud involves money taken from a federal-state program like Medicaid, which is what was alleged to have happened in Universal Health Services v. U.S. ex. rel. Escobar. The Supreme Court adopted a new theory of liability under the False Claims Act in this case. 

There are two ways of looking at this case, both of which are hard to argue with: state aid to religious organizations means less money for secular causes, and all preschool students should have access to safe playgrounds no matter where they go to school.

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley the Supreme Court will decide whether Missouri can refuse to allow a religious preschool to receive a state grant to resurface its playground based on Missouri’s “super-Establishment Clause.”    

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers grants to “qualifying organizations” to purchase recycled tires to resurface playgrounds. The DNR refused to give a grant to Trinity Church’s preschool because Missouri’s constitution prohibits providing state aid directly or indirectly to churches.

The majority of the state constitutions contain “Blaine Amendments” or “super-Establishment Clauses” whose prohibitions against aid to churches and religious schools exceed the requirements of the federal Establishment Clause.     

Per federal employment discrimination laws timelines are short and decisive. If an employee misses a deadline his or her case is over. In Green v. Brennan the Supreme Court chose a deadline for constructive discharge cases, where an employee feels compelled to quit due to intolerable working conditions, more favorable to employees.

More specifically, in a 7-1 decision the Court held that the clock begins to run on when an employee must start the process of bringing a constructive discharge case after the employee resigns not after (the earlier date of) the employer’s last discriminatory act.

Rebuffed is enough the Supreme Court ruled in CRST Van Expedited v. EEOC.

More specifically, employers who prevail in Title VII employment discrimination cases may recover attorney’s fees if they are able to “rebuff” employee’s claims for any reason—including reasons not related to the merits of the claims.   

CSG Midwest
Voters in two Midwestern states may soon have the chance to take the power of drawing legislative districts out of the hands of their legislatures. In South Dakota, a proposed constitutional amendment has already been certified and will appear on the fall ballot. It calls for a nine-member, independent commission to handle the state’s redistricting process. No commissioners could have served in state political office or a political party’s office within the last three years. In addition, no more than three people from the same political party could be named to the commission. 

Special counsel, retained to collect debt on behalf of the Attorney General (AG) owed to the state, don’t violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when they use AG letterhead to communicate with debtors. The Supreme Court’s opinion in Sheriff v. Gillie written by Justice Ginsburg is unanimous.

An amicus brief filed by Michigan and 11 other states supporting Ohio cites a recent study concluding that all 50 states use “private collection agencies to some degree and ‘at some point in the process.’”

The Supreme Court sent Spokeo v. Robins, involving whether Thomas Robins may sue a search engine under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) for providing inaccurate information about him, back to the lower court to determine whether Robins suffered a “concrete” harm and therefore had “standing” to sue.

While this case does not sound relevant to state and local government it is. A number of federal statutes applicable to state and local government—the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA)—allow plaintiffs to sue even if they have not necessarily been harmed. Regardless, to bring a lawsuit in federal court a plaintiff must have “standing” per Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Injury-in-fact—including a concrete harm—is one of the requirements for “standing.”

In Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey the Supreme Court held 6-2 that a public employer violates the First Amendment when it acts on a mistaken belief that an employee engaged in First Amendment protected political activity. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief taking the opposite position.  

The Court assumed the following facts in this case:  Police officer Jeffery Heffernan worked in the office of the police chief. The mayor was running for reelection against a friend of Heffernan’s, Lawrence Spagnola. Heffernan was demoted after another member of the police force saw Heffernan picking up a Spagnola yard sign and talking to the Spagnola campaign manager and staff. Heffernan was picking up the sign for his bedridden mother.

The False Claims Act (FCA) allows private individuals to sue on behalf of the United States to recover money that has been defrauded from the federal government. While the Supreme Court has yet to rule whether states and local governments can bring FCA claims, local governments, but not state governments, can be sued for making false claims against the federal government.   

What exactly is a false claim? The question for the Supreme Court in Universal Health Services v. Escobar is whether a claim for reimbursement from the federal government containing no affirmative misstatements can be deemed false because the claimant failed to disclose that it has violated a requirement of the federal program. Technically, this is called the “implied certification” theory of legal falsity.

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