Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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In 2005, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) awarded Supreme a contract to provide food to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. During negotiations concerning deliveries to forward operating bases, Supreme submitted inflated cost proposals. Supreme threatened to withhold payments to subcontractors (potentially cutting off supplies to troops), The parties executed a Modification, including Supreme’s proposed rates, subject to verification. The Defense Contract Audit Agency concluded that Supreme’s documentation was not adequate and questioned more than $375 million of claimed costs. The contracting officer, in 2011, determined that DLA had overpaid Supreme by $567,267,940. DLA withheld $540 million from Supreme’s monthly payments. Supreme submitted unsuccessful “reverse image” claims. In 2014, Supreme pled guilty to fraud and entered into a civil settlement in a False Claims Act suit. During the investigations, with Supreme’s contract expiring, the parties entered into two extensions. In 2015, based on Supreme’s guilty plea, DLA demanded the return of all money paid under the contract. In 2020, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals concluded that Supreme’s contract claims against the government were barred by Supreme’s prior material breach.The Federal Circuit affirmed. The government did not waive its prior material breach defense. While DLA had some notice of Supreme’s fraudulent behavior in 2009, it had no “known right” until Supreme’s guilty plea, after which DLA never extended Supreme’s contract. Supreme cannot treat the bridge contracts as separate only to evade the government’s affirmative defenses. The parties treated the original contract and the extensions as inextricably intertwined; DLA’s prior material breach defense applies to those contracts. View "Supreme Foodservice GmbH v. Director of the Defense Logistics Agency" on Justia Law

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Dr. Edenfield is a VAMC anesthesiologist. VAMC physicians had obtained informed consent for endoscopic procedures on the day of the procedure. A 2016 policy allowed mid-level practitioners (nurse practitioners, physician assistants) to obtain informed consent from patients. The change was approved by the National Center for Ethics in Health Care, the Credentialing Committee (several Quillen VAMC service chiefs), the Medical Executive Board (20 physicians), the Medical Center Director, and the regional Veteran Integrated Service Network. Edenfield argued that it was against VA policy for midlevel practitioners to obtain informed consent for endoscopic procedures, quoting the Veterans Health Administration Handbook. Edenfield resigned as the supervisor of the Pre-Operative Clinic. Two years later, although his supervisor recommended that Edenfield receive a pay increase, a VAMC panel denied him a raise. Edenfield alleged retaliation and resigned as Chief of Anesthesiology, then filed an unsuccessful complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, citing the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Merit Systems Protection Board denied Edenfield’s request for corrective action, finding that his statements were not protected disclosures under 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8).The Federal Circuit reversed. Edenfield’s interpretation reflected an ambiguity In the Handbook and was reasonable; the Board erred in holding that Edenfield did not have a reasonable belief that he was making a protected disclosure and erred by relying on information that would not have been readily ascertainable by a disinterested observer. Such information cannot support a finding that Edenfield’s belief was unreasonable. View "Edenfield v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Gudinas served in the Army, 1966-1968. In 2005, the VA determined that Gudinas suffered from service-connected PTSD and awarded him a 50 percent disability rating plus a 10 percent disability rating for service-connected tinnitus. In 2014, Gudinas filed an unsuccessful claim for service-connected sleep apnea. Gudinas timely filed a notice of disagreement. Gudinas sent a letter indicating that the claim was secondary to his service-connected PTSD, requested increased compensation for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU), and sought to increase his PTSD disability rating. The VA denied the TDIU claim but increased his PTSD disability rating to 100 percent, effective October 2015. Gudinas argued that 38 C.F.R. 3.156(b) entitled him to an effective date of May 2014, because his October 2015 submission constituted new and material evidence relating to his May 2014 claim.The Board of Veterans’ Appeals rejected that argument, noting that Gudinas’s May 2014 claim did “not mention a psychiatric disability” (PTSD), and that the claim contained no reference to an increase in the PTSD rating. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed. Even if Gudinas’s claim for sleep apnea were considered secondary to his PTSD claim, the two claims would not need to be treated as the same claim for purposes of determining their effective dates; the Board is not required to explicitly determine whether a submission constitutes “new and material evidence” where, as here, the conditions underlying the two claims have no apparent connection. View "Gudinas v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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From December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, the federal government partially shut down because of a lapse in appropriations. Plaintiffs continued to work as “excepted employees” who work on “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” and whom the government can “require[] to perform work during a covered lapse in appropriations,” 31 U.S.C. 1341(c)(2), 1342. During the shutdown, the government was barred from paying wages to excepted employees by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the government from “authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation.” The government paid their accrued wages after the shutdown ended. Plaintiffs sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for failure “to timely pay their earned overtime and regular wages,” 29 U.S.C. 260; any employer who does not timely pay minimum or overtime wages is liable for liquidated damages equal to the amount of the untimely paid wages. The Claims Court has the discretion to award no liquidated damages if the employer shows “reasonable grounds for believing that [the] act was not a violation of the Act.”The Federal Circuit ordered the dismissal of the case. As a matter of law, the government does not violate the FLSA when it pays excepted employees for work performed during a government shutdown at the earliest date possible after a lapse in appropriations ends, View "Avalos v. United States" on Justia Law

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From December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, the government partially shut down because of a lapse in appropriations. Border Patrol Agents continued to work as “excepted employees” who work on “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” and whom the government can “require[] to perform work during a covered lapse in appropriations,” 31 U.S.C. 1341(c)(2), 1342. During the shutdown, the government was barred from paying wages to excepted employees by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the government from “authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation.” The government paid their accrued wages after the shutdown ended. The agents sued, alleging that the government violated the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act (BPAPRA), 5 U.S.C. 5550, by not paying their wages on their regularly scheduled payday” for work they performed during the shutdown and that the late payments were unjustified personnel actions under the Back Pay Act, section 5596(b)); they sought interest and attorney fees.The Federal Circuit ordered the dismissal of the case. The government does not violate any implicit timely payment obligation in the BPAPRA and Back Pay Act when, as required by the Anti-Deficiency Act, it defers payments to excepted employees until after a lapse in appropriations ends. View "Abrantes v. United States" on Justia Law

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Treehouse sued Valve for infringement of its patent, which discloses a method of collecting data from an information network in response to user choices of a plurality of users navigating character-enabled network sites on the network. Valve owns two accused video games that involve team-based competitions. The parties adopted the interpretation of the “CE limitation” that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board reached in a previous inter partes review: “A network location, other than a user device, operating under control of a site program to present a character, object, or scene to a user interface.” Treehouse’s infringement expert, Friedman, submitted a report that applied the plain and ordinary meaning for the CE limitation rather than the agreed-upon construction,The district court ruled in favor of Valve, striking every paragraph of Friedman’s report that Valve requested and finding noninfringement because Treehouse failed to offer admissible evidence showing that Valve’s video games operated the CE limitation. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in striking expert testimony that did not rely upon the parties’ own agreed-upon construction, that the court adopted, nor err in finding that Treehouse failed to rebut Valve’s evidence of noninfringement. View "Treehouse Avatar LLC v. Valve Corp." on Justia Law

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Correctional officers at the Michigan federal prison typically work eight-hour shifts. Prison shifts are scheduled in advance; hospital shifts are scheduled differently because they arise only when an inmate is transferred to a hospital for care. Since the need for hospital shifts varies, supervisors create hospital shifts as needed. They use a list of correctional officers who volunteered to be contacted about these shifts, which provide overtime pay. It takes about 20 minutes to drive from the prison to each local hospital; prison shifts and hospital shifts are currently staggered by one hour. Officers claimed that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Office of Personnel Management regulations, the prison must compensate them for the travel time between a prison shift and a hospital shift, where these shifts are back-to-back and the hospital shift is voluntary. They asserted that this travel time is a “principal activity,” travel during a “continuous workday,” or other “hours of work,” for which the FLSA mandates compensation.The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. Travel between a regular prison shift and an immediately following voluntary hospital shift is not a principal activity; it does not occur during either shift or during a “continuous workday.” View "Bridges v. United States" on Justia Law

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Rhone served in the military 1950-1953 and 1959-1988. In 1986, Rhone and JoAnne, divorced; the Florida Divorce Decree stated that JoAnne would receive 40% of Rhone’s military retirement benefits. In 1988, Rhone left military service due to disability. To receive disability compensation, Rhone waived part of his military retirement pay (38 U.S.C. 5305). The state court denied Rhone’s motion to modify the Divorce Decree, stating that the payment of retirement benefits constituted alimony, not a property division. The state court issued a Continuing Writ of Garnishment directing the VA to withhold that payment from Rhone’s retirement pay. The VA determined that the order obliged the VA to make payments from Rhone’s disability compensation. After Rhone attempted to avoid garnishment by renouncing benefits, in 2002 the VA determined that Rhone's compensation benefits were not subject to garnishment and had been erroneously withheld. Rhone was reimbursed for $27,664. In 2005, the VA determined that it must comply with the alimony award and resumed garnishing Rhone’s disability compensation.The Board of Veterans’ Appeals issued a 2020 decision, finding the 1991 order “valid on its face” and providing for “permanent periodic alimony” so that the VA legally garnished Rhone’s disability compensation under 42 U.S.C. 659(a); (h)(1)(A)(ii)(V). The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed, finding no due process violation. The statutes authorize the VA to withhold a portion of a veteran’s VA disability payment for alimony or child support pursuant to legal process when a veteran has waived a portion of military retirement pay to receive VA benefits. The VA lacks jurisdiction to decide questions associated with a state garnishment order. View "Rhone v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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CUPP’s patents share a common name and priority date and address the problem of malicious attacks aimed at mobile devices. They generally concern systems and methods for waking a mobile device from a power-saving mode and then performing security operations on the device, “such as scanning a storage medium for malware, or updating security applications.” In inter partes review (IPR), the Patent Trial and Appeal Board concluded that the challenged claims in CUPP’s patents were unpatentable as obvious over two prior art references.The Federal Circuit affirmed, upholding a claim construction determination involving the limitation concerning a “security system processor,” which appears in every independent claim in the patents. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that either prior art renders obvious a claimed “security agent” on a mobile device, which “perform[s] security services.” View "CUPP Computing AS v. Trend Micro Inc." on Justia Law

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VLSI sued Intel for infringing a patent, directed to “[a] technique for alleviating the problems of defects caused by stress applied to bond pads” of an integrated circuit. The district court construed the term “force region,” which appears in two independent claims, to mean a “region within the integrated circuit in which forces are exerted on the interconnect structure when a die attach is performed.” In the meantime, Intel sought inter partes review (IPR), and proposed the construction of “force region,” consistent with the construction that the district court adopted. The parties disagreed as to the meaning of the term “die attach.” In its Institution Decisions, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board stated that it disagreed with VLSI that the method of performing a “die attach” cannot include the method of wire bonding. In its Final Decision, the Board did not resolve the meaning of “die attach” but construed the term “force region” as “including at least the area directly under the bond pad.” The Board found that the patent specification made clear that the term “force region” was not limited to flip chip bonding, but could include wire bonding and concluded that the challenged claims were unpatentable for obviousness.The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s treatment of the “force region” limitation but held that the Board erred in construing the phrase “used for electrical interconnection” to encompass a metallic structure that is not connected to active circuitry. View "VLSI Technology LLC v. Intel Corp." on Justia Law