Fourteen U.S. states sue Biden administration over oil and gas leasing pause

(Reuters) – Fourteen U.S. states including Louisiana and Wyoming filed lawsuits on Wednesday against President Joe Biden’s administration, challenging his pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.

The legal actions, which seek to restore regular federal drilling auctions, came a day before the administration is set to launch a review of the oil and gas leasing program.

Biden, a Democrat, in January signed an executive order putting on hold new leasing pending that review. During his election campaign, he pledged to end new federal leasing as part of a sweeping plan to address climate change.

The pause has triggered heavy criticism from the oil industry and producing states that receive half of the revenues generated from federal lands drilling within their borders.

“We believe that the president’s actions are illegal and unlawful, and we’re going to hold him accountable for them to try to make sure that the gains that we’ve made over the years to help protect domestic oil and gas and energy continue,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said in an interview.

A coalition of 13 states filed one lawsuit in federal court in Louisiana, while Wyoming filed its own lawsuit in federal court in that state.

The states joining Louisiana’s lawsuit included Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. All have Republican attorneys general. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is a Democrat.

The lawsuits allege the administration’s leasing pause violates the Mineral Leasing Act that requires quarterly lease sales.

In its lawsuit, Wyoming said the administration was also required to conduct an environmental review of the leasing suspension under the National Environmental Policy Act before taking action.

“The real consequences of the action are far from certain and far from uniformly environmentally friendly,” Wyoming said in its complaint.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, responding to a question about the lawsuits, said the Trump administration had “flooded the oil markets with cheap federal leases. This will not affect oil and gas markets for years to come.”

The Department of Interior, which oversees the federal leasing program, declined to comment.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Will Dunham, John Stonestreet and Richard Chang)

Tyson Foods suspends employees after lawsuit alleges managers bet on workers catching COVID-19

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Tyson Foods Inc. said on Thursday it suspended employees without pay and hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an investigation in response to a wrongful death lawsuit that alleges managers at an Iowa pork plant took bets on how many employees would catch COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the meatpacking industry, infecting thousands of workers since the spring and forcing companies like Tyson, Smithfield Foods and JBS to shut slaughterhouses hit by outbreaks.

The son of a worker at a Tyson facility in Waterloo, Iowa, who died in April of complications from the virus, filed a lawsuit that claims plant managers misled workers about COVID-19 and allowed sick employees to continue working.

The worker, Isidro Fernandez, got sick because of his job, according to the lawsuit that was amended on Nov. 11.

The Waterloo facility is Tyson’s largest U.S. pork plant, processing 19,500 hogs a day, or about 5% of total U.S. pork production.

COVID-19 infected more than 1,000 employees out of about 2,800 at the plant, and five died, the lawsuit says. Tyson idled the plant in late April because of an outbreak.

Earlier that month, manager Tom Hart “organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all meatpacking industry for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19,” according to the lawsuit.

Hart could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tyson said it suspended employees involved in the accusations and retained the law firm Covington & Burling to conduct an independent investigation led by Holder.

“If these claims are confirmed, we’ll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company,” the company said.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch first reported on the betting allegations in the lawsuit on Wednesday.

“This shocking report of supervisors allegedly taking bets on how many workers would get infected, pressuring sick workers to stay on the job, and failing to enforce basic safety standards, should outrage every American,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Trump campaign drops Michigan lawsuit: statement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign said on Thursday it was withdrawing its lawsuit disputing vote results in Michigan, in another legal attempt to challenge the Nov. 3 victory of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.

“This morning we are withdrawing our lawsuit in Michigan as a direct result of achieving the relief we sought: to stop the election in Wayne County from being prematurely certified before residents can be assured that every legal vote has been counted and every illegal vote has not been counted,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a statement.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump campaign loses legal fights in Georgia and Michigan, vows Nevada lawsuit

By Tom Hals and Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s campaign lost court rulings in the closely-contested states of Georgia and Michigan on Thursday, even as it vowed to bring a new lawsuit challenging what it called voting irregularities in Nevada.

In the Georgia case, the campaign alleged 53 late-arriving ballots were mixed with on-time ballots. In Michigan, it had sought to stop votes from being counted and obtain greater access to the tabulation process.

State judges tossed out both the suits on Thursday.

Judge James Bass, a superior court judge in Georgia, said there was “no evidence” that the ballots in question were invalid.

In the Michigan case, Judge Cynthia Stephens said: “I have no basis to find that there is a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”

Trump allies alleged that there had been voting irregularities in Nevada’s populous Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on the Michigan and Georgia rulings.

Votes are still being counted in all three states, among a handful of battleground states that could decide the presidency. Democratic challenger Joe Biden has a narrow lead in Nevada, Trump a narrow lead in Georgia, and Biden has been projected to win in Michigan.

At a news conference in Las Vegas on Thursday, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and other Trump campaign surrogates, including former administration official Richard Grenell, gave no evidence to support their allegations of irregularities and did not answer questions from reporters.

“We believe that there are dead voters that have been counted. We are also confident that there are thousands of people whose votes have been counted that have moved out of Clark County during the pandemic,” Laxalt said.

He said a lawsuit would be filed in federal court to ask the judge to “stop the counting of improper votes.”

Joe Gloria, an election official in Clark County, told reporters there was no evidence of improper ballots being processed.

Bob Bauer, a senior advisor to Biden’s campaign, called the various Trump lawsuits a “meritless” distraction and said the strategy was designed to undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

“This is part of a broader misinformation campaign that involves some political theater,” he said.

“They’re intended to give the Trump campaign the opportunity to argue the vote count should stop. It is not going to stop,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Election legal experts have said Trump’s legal strategy is unlikely to have a decisive impact on the outcome of the election.

Trump has repeatedly said that he expects the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority including three justices he appointed, to have a key role.

But it is unlikely the court would have the final word in any decisive way and any challenge would have to make its way through the usual court process, legal experts say.

In Pennsylvania, where Trump is narrowly leading but Biden is making gains, the Trump campaign and other Republicans have already filed various legal challenges.

An appeals court in Pennsylvania on Thursday ordered that Trump campaign officials be allowed to more closely observe ballot processing in Philadelphia, which led to a brief delay in the count.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Tom Hals, Karen Freifeld, Julia Harte, Jan Wolfe, Daphne Psaledakis and Lawrence Hurley; Writing by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Peter Graff, Sonya Hepinstall and Noeleen Walder)

GM asks judge to reinstate racketeering case against rival Fiat Chrysler

By Nick Carey and Sanjana Shivdas

(Reuters) – General Motors Co. on Monday asked a U.S. federal judge to reinstate a racketeering lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA), saying it has new information on foreign accounts used in an alleged bribery scheme involving its smaller rival and union leaders.

In its filing to U.S. District Judge Paul Borman, GM says the scheme, which it alleges occurred between FCA executives and former United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders, “is much broader and deeper than previously suspected or revealed as it involved FCA Group apparently using various accounts in foreign countries … to control corrupt individuals by compensating and corrupting those centrally involved in the scheme to harm GM.”

Last month, Borman threw out the racketeering lawsuit, saying the No. 1 U.S. automaker’s alleged injuries were not caused by FCA’s alleged violations.

GM alleged FCA bribed UAW officials over many years to corrupt the bargaining process and gain advantages, costing GM billions of dollars. GM was seeking “substantial damages” that one analyst said could have totaled at least $6 billion.

“These new facts warrant amending the court’s prior judgment, so we are respectfully asking the court to reinstate the case,” GM said in a statement.

“FCA will continue to defend itself vigorously and pursue all available remedies in response to GM’s attempts to resurrect this groundless lawsuit,” FCA said in a statement.

In affidavits accompanying GM’s filing, attorneys for the automaker said “reliable information concerning the existence of foreign bank accounts” used in the alleged scheme had only come to light recently.

“The UAW is unaware of any allegations regarding illicit off-shore accounts as claimed,” by GM, the UAW said in a statement. “If GM actually has substantive information supporting its allegations, we ask that they provide it to us so we can take all appropriate actions.”

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber, Aurora Ellis and Steve Orlofsky)

COVID-19 lawsuit takes on McDonald’s like it was a rowdy bar

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – As U.S. businesses reopen, worried workers and their advocates are borrowing a legal strategy commonly used to shut down rowdy topless bars to try and force employers to strengthen protection against further spread of the coronavirus.

Workers and their families at McDonald’s Corp’s Chicago restaurants have filed a class-action lawsuit against the fast-food chain that does not seek money for sick staff, but compliance with health guidance such as providing clean face masks.

The strategy was unsuccessful against a meatpacking plant but experts said it could work against McDonald’s and other companies, and a business group warned about a flood of cases.

“The damage done by inadequate safety practices is not confined to the walls of a restaurant but instead has broader public health consequences,” Tuesday’s lawsuit said.

Like an April lawsuit against a meatpacking plant, the case targets McDonald’s as a public nuisance, a legal strategy previously used to shutter strip clubs and the famed Limelight nightclub in Manhattan.

Typically, workplace safety is a matter for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has the authority to inspect businesses and issue citations. By focusing on community health, the lawsuit attempts to move outside OSHA’s jurisdiction and into the courts.

McDonald’s workers around the country have protested and demanded safety gear.

In Chicago, workers filed at least four complaints with OSHA, but the agency declined to inspect work sites, according to the lawsuit.

OSHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Unions have criticized the agency for lax enforcement and failing to issue mandatory standards for businesses to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“When you don’t have an assertive OSHA you get these creative approaches,” said Michael Duff, a professor at the University of Wyoming College of Law.

McDonald’s called the allegations inaccurate. The company criticized the SEIU service union that is supporting the plaintiffs and said the chain has issued a 59-page guide its restaurants must follow to protect staff and customers.

The Fight for $15 group, which campaigns to raise the U.S. minimum wage to $15 an hour, is also helping the workers.

OSHA has said it is investigating thousands of complaints nationwide and that flexible guidance is better than rigid standards.

The public nuisance doctrine stems from medieval England, where it was used to promote safer roads and to fight infectious diseases.

To prevail, plaintiffs must prove a defendant interfered with public good, like the community’s health. Unlike a typical lawsuit, it does not generally require proof that the defendant directly injured someone.

Rather than prove someone was infected with the coronavirus at McDonald’s, the workers must instead show the company created an unsafe workplace that posed an imminent threat of contributing to its spread.

A similar public nuisance lawsuit filed in April against a Smithfield Foods Inc meat processing plant in Missouri was dismissed because the judge said workplace safety was a matter for OSHA.

But Smithfield was already being investigated by OSHA and unlike McDonald’s, there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Missouri plant.

The Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group, has warned the pandemic could prompt a flood of “abusive” lawsuits, and cited the McDonald’s public nuisance case in a call with reporters this week.

“The danger is one case survives and like moths to light you’ll see cases all over the place,” said Michelle Richards, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Richard Ausness, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, downplayed the risk of a flood of cases, but said the mere filing of such a lawsuit could push a business to help its workers.

“Who wants to be accused of maintaining a public nuisance? It just sounds awful,” he said.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Noeleen Walder in New York)

In a first, Missouri sues China over coronavirus economic losses

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – Missouri on Tuesday became the first U.S. state to sue the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus, saying that China’s response to the outbreak that originated in Wuhan city led to devastating economic losses in the state.

The civil lawsuit, filed in federal court by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, alleges negligence, among other claims. The complaint alleges Missouri and its residents have suffered possibly tens of billions of dollars in economic damages, and seeks cash compensation.

“The Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease,” Schmitt, a Republican, said in a statement. “They must be held accountable for their actions.”

The lawsuit also accuses the Chinese government of making the pandemic worse by “hoarding” masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

U.S. President Donald Trump, also a Republican, initially lavished praise on China and his counterpart Xi Jinping for the official response to the outbreak, which has since spread to infect more than 2.5 million people worldwide. But he and other senior U.S. officials have also referred to it as the “Chinese virus” and in recent days have ramped up their rhetoric.

China is already facing similar lawsuits filed in U.S. courts on behalf of U.S. business owners.

International law experts told Reuters that efforts to hold China liable for the coronavirus in U.S. courts will likely fail.

A legal doctrine called sovereign immunity offers foreign governments broad protection from being sued in U.S. courts, said Tom Ginsburg, a professor of international law at the University of Chicago.

Ginsburg said he thought the recent flurry of lawsuits against China serve a political end for Republican leaders facing an election in November.

“We are seeing a lot of people on the political right focus on the China issue to cover up for the U.S. government’s own errors,” Ginsburg said.

Trump initially downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 43,000 people in the United States out of nearly 800,000 cases as of Tuesday.

The outbreak has also forced state governors to declare stay-at-home orders that have shuttered businesses and social activities, leading a record 22 million people to seek unemployment benefits in the past month.

“If the United States wants to bring claims against China, it will have to do so in an international forum,” said Chimène Keitner, an international law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. “There is no civil jurisdiction over such claims in U.S. courts.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. appeals court throws out Democrats’ lawsuit challenging Trump businesses

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out a lawsuit brought by Democratic lawmakers alleging President Donald Trump’s overseas business dealings violate the U.S. Constitution’s anti-corruption “emoluments” clauses.

Reversing a lower court judge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said a group of more than 200 Democratic lawmakers lacked legal “standing” to bring the case in the first place.

The three-judge panel said it was bound by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have limited the ability of individual members of Congress to litigate questions that affect the legislative branch as a whole.

The Democratic lawmakers “can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit,” the three-judge panel wrote. “But we will not—indeed we cannot—participate in this debate.”

“We’re disappointed in the panel’s decision and are considering next steps,” said Elizabeth Wydra, a lawyer who argued on behalf of the lawmakers.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which argued the case for Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was brought in 2017 by congressional Democrats including Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. It is one of a trio of cases against Trump over the rarely tested emoluments clauses, which prohibit presidents from taking gifts or payments from foreign and state governments.

One or more of the cases could end at the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts said.

The emoluments cases have largely centered on the Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, which the Republican president opened shortly before he was elected in November 2016.

Unlike past presidents, Trump has retained ownership of numerous business interests, including the hotel, while serving as president.

Since Trump’s election, the hotel has become a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting the U.S. capital.

The lawsuits alleged that, in failing to disengage from the hotel, Trump has made himself vulnerable to inducements by foreign governments seeking to curry favor.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

New Jersey mayor sues New York City over moving homeless with ‘offer they can’t refuse’

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration has sued New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, accusing the fellow Democrat of dumping his city’s population of homeless people on New Jersey’s biggest city.

The lawsuit naming the city of New York, its mayor and his homelessness czar, Steven Banks, accuses the de Blasio administration’s Special One-Time Assistance, or SOTA, program of using strong-arm tactics to send people across the Hudson River to find a place to live.

“This case concerns an unlawful program of ‘coerced’ migration,” Newark lawyers say in court documents filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey on Monday.

New York City officials are accused of “forcing SOTA recipients to accept the proverbial ‘offer they can’t refuse,'” the documents said, explaining that the phrase from the 1972 American Mafia film “The Godfather” is “really a command, ‘Do what we say or else.'”

The lawsuit accuses New York of violating federal commerce laws. It cites several former New York shelter residents who were hustled through tours of New Jersey apartments and pressured to quickly commit to one, with the SOTA Program paying landlords a full year’s rent up front.

“She was told by case managers in her shelter that she should look in New Jersey, in the cities of Newark or Paterson, because New York landlords were leery of the SOTA program and because she would find something quicker in New Jersey,” Newark’s lawyers said in court filings.

The de Blasio administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Baraka, Newark’s mayor since 2014 and the son of poet and African-American activist Amiri Baraka, and de Blasio, a former Democratic presidential candidate who touts himself as a progressive, appeared together in Newark last year to announce a tenant initiative aimed at keeping people in their homes, in part by ending illegal evictions. The New Jersey program was modeled after one in New York City and both mayors praised one another for pursuing the initiatives.

The vast majority of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness – over 63,000 homeless men, women and children – spend the night instead within the city’s shelter system where they remain unseen, according to The Bowery Mission nonprofit group. In a city of 8.5 million people, nearly one in every 121 New Yorkers is currently homeless.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Jussie Smollett sues Chicago for malicious prosecution

(Reuters) – The actor Jussie Smollett has sued the city of Chicago and multiple police officers for malicious prosecution, claiming they caused him economic harm, mental anguish and distress.

Smollett made his accusation in a counterclaim made public on Wednesday, in a lawsuit where the city sought to recoup costs for investigating his alleged false claim that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic beating on a Chicago street.

Chicago had sued Smollett in April, and the lawsuit is pending in Chicago federal court.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)