In a unanimous decision released Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that federal abstention under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) applies in only three “exceptional circumstances.”  The Court previously identified those exceptional circumstances in New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350 (NOPSI) (1989). This week, it confirmed, in Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs et al., that Younger abstention extends no further. Supreme Court The Court reaffirmed that Younger abstention is appropriate, and federal courts should defer to state courts, only when faced with:
  1.  “state criminal prosecutions,”
  2. “civil enforcement proceedings,” or
  3. “civil proceedings involving certain orders that are uniquely in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions.”
If none of those exceptional circumstances is present, the federal courts may not invoke Younger abstention. As we discussed previously, Sprint involved two separate actions that Sprint Communications, Inc. initiated against members of the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), one pending in Iowa state court and the other in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.  In both actions,

Here are published decisions involving local governments from the federal appellate courts from November 25, 2013 through December 6, 2013: Second Circuit American Petroleum and Transport v. City of New York, No. 12-4505 (Dec. 6, 2013) (finding that vessel owner may not be awarded damages for economic loss due to negligence in the absence of physical damage to property). Fourth Circuit Sandslands C&D LLC v. County of Horry, No. 13-1134 (Dec. 3, 2013) (affirming that County waste-disposal ordinance does not violate Dormant Commerce or...

If a public employee reports departmental-safety concerns to his supervisor, and the employee is removed from duty for raising those concerns, does the employee have a viable First Amendment retaliation claim?Policecar In Hagen v. City of Eugene, No. 12-35492 (Dec. 3, 2013), the Ninth Circuit ruled that a public employee did not have a viable First Amendment claim under the particular circumstances there. The court ruled that, viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the employee, he was speaking as a public employee, not a private citizen. The case involved a City police officer, Brian Hagen, who noticed that members of his SWAT team were often firing their weapons accidentally and negigently. Hagen tried to make his concerns about the team "as public as possible" by sending e-mails and raising the issue  in meetings. Eventually, Hagen was removed from the K-9 team. Hagen claimed that the City and senior officers had retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights.

A County ordinance provides that waste generated in the County can be disposed at only a single location -- a publicly owned landfill:Landfill
The dumping or depositing by any person at any place other than at the designated facilities of any acceptable waste generated within the County is prohibited.
The County crafted the ordinance to further many public benefits: to conserve resources, to prevent pollution, and to protect the public health, safety, and well-being. For the public landfill, the ordinance also ensured a revenue stream. But for a private landfill operator located just two miles from the County line, the ordinance was a real problem. The ordinance led to a significant decrease in its business. The operator sued the County. It argued that the County ordinance violates the dormant-commerce clause and the equal-protection clause of the federal constitution. Is the operator correct? In Sandlands C&D LLC v. County of Horry, No. 13-1134 (Dec. 3, 2013), the Fourth Circuit ruled against the operator. It upheld the district court's grant of summary judgment for the County. Applying the Supreme Court's decision in United Haulers Ass'n v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, 550 U.S. 330, 346 (2007), the court ruled that

A City ordinance bans smoking in most bars and taverns. Does this violate bar owners' federal constitutional rights? Not according to the Seventh Circuit's decision in Goodpaster v. City of Indianapolis, No. 13-1629, released today.Nosmoking The court rejected the bar owners' evidentiary claims and state-law claims. It also found that the ordinance does not violate the owners' substantive due process rights:

Because it does not infringe a fundamental right, the smoking ordinance will stand if it passes rational basis scrutiny. . . .The bar owners have failed to meet this heavy burden. There are numerous reasons the City may have chosen to limit smoking in enclosed public spaces, and the bar owners have failed to disprove all of them.

Here are published decisions involving local governments from the federal appellate courts from November 18, 2013 through November 22, 2013: First Circuit: Easthampton Savings Bank v. City of Springfield, No. 12-1917 (Nov. 22, 2013) (certifying state-law questions regarding municipal ordinances addressing foreclosures to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court). See our coverage here. Seventh Circuit: Hamilton v. Village of Oak Lawn, No. 12-3174 (Nov. 20, 2013) (affirming dismissal of 1983 challenge based on alleged unlawful detention under Fourth Amendment). ...

We've talked before about how Justice Kagan is one of the Supreme Court's most interesting writers. A thoughtful new article by Laura Krugman Ray, Doctrinal Conversation: Justice Kagan's Supreme Court Opinions, builds upon that topic by exploring some of Justice Kagan's most effective writing tools. Here are a few that make Justice Kagan's work so reader-friendly:Official Informal Portrait choice Kagan often opens a sentence with a direct invocation to the reader:
  • "Consider first what the two statutes tell a slaughterhouse to do"
  • "Imagine the converse of the statute described above"
  • "Pretend you are financing your campaign through private donations."
She uses a "generous sprinking" of informal and even colloquial diction:

Many cities have struggled with the effects of foreclosures. But given the complex mix of state laws that often governs the issue, how much authority do local governments have in this area? A First Circuit case, Easthampton Savings Bank v. City of Springfield, No. 12-1917 (Nov. 22, 2013) addresses that question. Six banks sued the City of Springfield, Massachusetts, after it had adopted two foreclosure ordinances. The ordinances require: banks to maintain property during the foreclosure process and to provide a $10,000 cash bond to the City; and banks and...

Yesterday, in a move with significant implications for appellate practice, the U.S. Senate modified its filibuster rules to allow a simple majority to approve individuals nominated to serve on district and appellate courts. This is likely to have a direct impact on President Obama's recent nominees to the D.C. Circuit: Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins. Ezra Klein provides 9 reasons why the change is a huge deal as a general matter. And Steve Klepper of the Maryland Appellate Blog suggests that the change may also have a...

A recent cert petition raises an important question about how the federal Constitution limits State and local taxing authority. In Maryland State Comptroller of the Treasury v. Wynne, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the dormant Commerce Clause requires every state and subdivision to give its residents a full tax credit for all income taxes that they pay in another state or subdivision. The U.S. Supreme Court has never applied the dormant Commerce Clause to reach that result, and it appears to conflict with...