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

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The “effective date of an award” of disability compensation to a veteran “shall not be earlier than the date” the veteran’s application for such compensation is received by the VA. 38 U.S.C. 5110(a)(1). Section 5110(b)(1) provides an exception that permits an earlier effective date if the VA receives the application within one year of the veteran’s discharge from military service: under such circumstances, the effective date of the award shall date back to “the day following the date of the veteran’s discharge or release.”Arellano filed his application more than 30 years after he was discharged from the Navy, he argued that section 5110(b)(1)’s one-year period should be equitably tolled to afford his award an earlier effective date reaching back to the day after his discharge. The Veterans Court denied Arellano an effective date earlier than the date his disability benefits application was received by the VA. The Federal Circuit previously held that 5110(b)(1) is not a statute of limitations amenable to equitable tolling but merely establishes an effective date for the payment of benefits, thereby categorically foreclosing equitable tolling. The Federal Circuit affirmed as to Arellano, declining to overrule that precedent, stating that the statutory text evinces clear intent to foreclose equitable tolling of section 5110(b)(1)’s one-year period. View "Arellano v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Vestal was an IRS Agent and routinely had access to personally identifiable and other taxpayer information. She received annual “Privacy, Information Protection and Disclosure training.” In 2018, Vestal received a notice of proposed suspension for displaying discourteous and unprofessional conduct and for failing to follow managerial directives. In preparing her defense, she sent her attorney a record from a taxpayer’s file, which included personally identifiable and other taxpayer information. Vestal’s attorney was not authorized to receive such information. Vestal sent the record without obtaining authorization, without making redactions, and without relying on advice from legal counsel. Dubois, the deciding official, decided to remove Vestal from service, explaining in his removal letter “that a removal will promote the efficiency of the Service and that a lesser penalty would be inadequate.”The Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit affirmed an administrative judge in sustaining her removal. The disclosure was “very serious,” and intentional. The agency’s table of penalties recommends removal for any first offense of intentional disclosures of taxpayer information to unauthorized persons. While Vestal stated that she incorrectly believed that attorney-client privilege protected the disclosure, the administrative judge explained that Vestal nevertheless did “act[] intentionally.” Vestal’s prior suspension was aggravating; her job performance and her 10 years of service were mitigating though also supporting that she had ample notice of the seriousness of unauthorized disclosures of taxpayer information. View "Vestal v. Department of the Treasury" on Justia Law

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Yu sued for infringement of the 289 patent, titled “Digital Cameras Using Multiple Sensors with Multiple Lenses.” The district court dismissed the suit with prejudice after concluding that each asserted claim was patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101. The court found that the asserted claims were directed to “the abstract idea of taking two pictures and using those pictures to enhance each other in some way.” The court explained that “photographers ha[ve] been using multiple pictures to enhance each other for over a century” and that the asserted claims lack an inventive concept, noting “the complete absence of any facts showing that the[] [claimed] elements were not well-known, routine, and conventional.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. The claimed hardware configuration itself is not an advance and does not itself produce the asserted advance of enhancement of one image by another, which is an abstract idea. View "Yu v. Apple Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2006 Heat On-The-Fly began using a new fracking technology on certain jobs. Heat’s owner later filed a patent application regarding the process but failed to disclose 61 public uses of the process that occurred over a year before the application was filed. This application led to the 993 patent. Heat asserted that patent against several parties. In 2014, Phoenix acquired Heat and the patent. Chandler alleges that enforcement of the 993 patent continued in various forms. In an unrelated 2018 suit, the Federal Circuit affirmed a holding that the knowing failure to disclose prior uses of the fracking process rendered the 993 patent unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.Chandler filed a “Walker Process” monopolization action under the Sherman Act, which required that the antitrust-defendant obtained the patent by knowing and willful fraud on the patent office and maintained and enforced that patent with knowledge of the fraudulent procurement, and proof of “all other elements necessary to establish a Sherman Act monopolization claim.” The Federal Circuit transferred the case to the Fifth Circuit, which has appellate jurisdiction over cases from the Northern District of Texas. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because this case does not arise under the patent laws of the United States. View "Chandler v. Phoenix Services LLC" on Justia Law

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The Department of Commerce conducted an antidumping investigation into “Pneumatic Off-The-Road Tires" from China and published results in 2008. In investigations concerning countries with non-market economies (NMEs), such as China, Commerce applies a presumption that all exporters are subject to government control and uses a single antidumping rate for an NME-wide entity. Commerce found DC had overcome the presumption of government control and assigned a separate weighted-average margin. The “entity,” (exporters that failed to overcome the presumption) was assigned a rate of 210.48%, based on facts available with an adverse inference. DC’s assigned margin was 12.91%. During subsequent administrative reviews, those rates remained in place. DC fully cooperated during a fifth review but Commerce determined that it failed to demonstrate the absence of de facto government control and was not eligible for its separate rate. DC had provided its verified sales and production data (resulting in the calculated rate of 0.14%); no other portion of the entity had provided data. Commerce averaged the previous entity-wide rate and DC’s calculated rate, arriving at a final rate of 105.31% applicable to the entity, including DC. The Trade Court concluded that Commerce must assign DC the calculated individual rate.The Federal Circuit reversed. A country-wide NME entity rate may be an “individually investigated” rate under 19 U.S.C. 1673d(c)(1)(B)(i)(I), which Commerce may assign to the unitary group of exporters that have failed to rebut the presumption of government control. Commerce may carry forward an initial NME entity rate, including adverse inferences built into that rate, in subsequent reviews, even where a respondent cooperates but fails to rebut the presumption of government control. View "China Manufactureres Alliance v. United States" on Justia Law

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Anania served in the Army, 1972-1975. In 2008, Anania sought an increased evaluation for the degenerative joint disease of his spine and major depressive disorder, and entitlement to a total disability rating based on individual unemployability. The VA issued a rating decision. Anania filed a Notice of Disagreement. In December 2009, the VA denied Anania’s request, describing the process for appeal. Anania had until March 3, 2010—one year after the date of mailing of the notification of the VA’s decision—to file a substantive appeal with the Waco Regional Office. In June 2012, Anania’s counsel, Carpenter, sent a letter to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals requesting confirmation that it had docketed Anania’s substantive appeal of the rating decision.The Board concluded that Anania failed to timely file his substantive appeal, which “was not received into VA custody until June 29, 2012.” Anania urged the Board to find his appeal timely filed under the common law mailbox rule, submitting a signed affidavit from Carpenter, alleging that Carpenter had personally mailed the substantive appeal on January 18, 2010. On remand, the Board again determined that Anania’s appeal was not timely filed, stating that the mailbox rule’s presumption of receipt did not attach because Carpenter’s affidavit was “no more than self-serving testimony.” The Veterans Court affirmed. The Federal Circuit reversed. A party’s affidavit may provide credible evidence to satisfy the mailbox rule, and the government did not challenge the credibility of Carpenter affidavit. View "Anania v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Cameron filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) on behalf of an Army veteran in August 2005. The VA denied Cameron attorney’s fees under 38 C.F.R. 14.636(c), which permits an attorney to charge fees for services provided before a final Board decision only where a NOD was filed on or after June 20, 2007. Before the law was amended, attorneys representing veterans in veterans’ benefits cases before the VA were prohibited from charging fees for services provided before a final Board decision.The Veterans Court and the Federal Circuit affirmed the denial, holding that section 14.636(c) is consistent with its authorizing statute, 38 U.S.C. 5904. Congress considered eliminating all fee restrictions under section 5904(c)(1) by repealing subsection (c)(1) entirely but made a legislative choice between the competing purposes of liberalizing the availability of attorney’s fees and avoiding disruption to the veterans’ benefits system, and “adopted a delayed and staggered effective date . . . [to] allow a deliberate and gradual implementation of these policies in order to minimize any disruption to the VA system.” In denying Cameron attorney’s fees, the VA has done no more than give effect to that legislative choice. View "Cameron v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Snyder served in the Army for fewer than 50 days in 1974, during the Vietnam “period of war,” 38 C.F.R. 3.2(f). He received an honorable discharge when a knee injury rendered him unfit. Four decades later, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). He sought disability benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1110. The Veterans Court denied his claim, rejecting Snyder’s argument under a VA regulation, made final in 2009, that provides a presumption of service connection for veterans with ALS if specified preconditions are satisfied, 38 C.F.R. 3.318(a), (b).The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial. Snyder does not satisfy one of the preconditions—that the veteran “have active, continuous service of 90 days or more.” That precondition is not contrary to the statutory scheme nor arbitrary and capricious; 38 U.S.C. 501(a) supplies the required statutory authority for the regulation and section 3.318, as an exercise of that authority, is not contrary to other statutory provisions cited by Snyder. The Secretary found no reliable evidence of a correlation between ALS and service periods as short as 90 days; it was reasonable to choose a familiar short period to avoid too demanding an evidentiary standard (no presumption) or too lenient a standard (no minimum service period) for applying the statutory requirement of service connection to ALS. View "Snyder v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Langdon served on active duty in the Navy, 1980-1996. After leaving service, Langdon sought disability compensation for a “spine condition especially [the] thorac[ic] [and] lumbar regions.” The VA determined Langdon had a service-connected thoracic spine injury, a non-service-connected lumbar spine injury, and only 55 degrees of forward flexion for his thoracolumbar spine. It also determined that Langdon’s service-connected thoracic spine injury caused no functional impairment; the non-service-connected lumbar spine injury caused his reduced flexion. Because his service-connected injury caused no functional impairment, the VA assigned Langdon a zero percent disability rating under 38 C.F.R. 4.71a. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals rejected his claim of entitlement to a 20 percent rating based on his limited thoracolumbar flexion but increased Langdon’s rating to 10 percent based on upper back pain under a different regulation, 38 C.F.R. 4.45(f), 4.59. The Veterans Court affirmed.The Federal Circuit reversed. The VA’s regulation requires it to rate the thoracolumbar spine as a unit when applying the General Rating Formula. Under this interpretation, the VA does not dispute that Langdon has a service-connected thoracic injury with reduced thoracolumbar flexion that entitles him to a 20 percent disability rating under the General Rating Formula. View "Langdon v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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The Census Bureau issued a request for quotations seeking statistical analysis system and database programming support services. The Bureau intended to issue a time and materials task order, set aside for women-owned small businesses; the contract award would be made on a best-value basis, considering price and four nonprice factors. The Bureau’s technical evaluation team assigned Harmonia’s proposal nine strengths, no weaknesses, and two risks under factor one, the technical factor; its proposals to cross-train its development staff and to introduce an extract, transform, and load (ETL) automation tool could provide efficiencies but Harmonia’s proposed cross-training and use of an ETL automation tool could result in delays in contract performance. The contracting officer found no meaningful differences in the Harmonia and Alethix proposals with respect to factors two, three, and four; the tradeoff analysis was rooted in the technical factor: The Bureau awarded Alethix the contract.Harmonia filed a protest, challenging the technical evaluation, alleging that the contracting officer violated 48 C.F.R. 19.301-1(b) by failing to refer Alethix to the Small Business Administration for a size determination, and challenging the best-value determination, The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court in granting the government judgment on the administrative record with respect to Counts I and III and dismissing Count II for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Harmonia had not availed itself of the SBA’s procedures for bringing a size protest. View "Harmonia Holdings Group, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law