Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Aviation
Fleming v. Cirrus Design Corp.
Cirrus petitioned for inter partes review of a patent that describes ballistic parachute systems that use a rocket to deploy a parachute, slowing the fall of a crashing aircraft. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board determined that the challenged claims are unpatentable as obvious over a combination of Cirrus Design’s Pilot Operation Handbook (POH) and the James patent. The POH describes the operation of a ballistic parachute system installed on the Cirrus SR22 airplane. The James patent, titled “Semiautonomous Flight Director,” describes a “device for programming industry-standard autopilots” to allow “for the safe operation of any aircraft by an unskilled pilot. The Board determined that proposed amended claims lacked written description.The Federal Circuit affirmed. The determination that the ordinarily skilled artisan would program James’s autonomous system to perform the claimed flight maneuvers suggested by POH is the result of a faithful application of precedent on obviousness, including a directive to consider the creativity of the ordinarily skilled artisan. That the prior art cautioned pilots not to use autopilot in some emergency situations on some aircraft does not mean that the skilled artisan would have been dissuaded from doing so in all emergency situations on all aircraft. Substantial evidence supports the finding of lack of written description. View "Fleming v. Cirrus Design Corp." on Justia Law
Taylor v. United States
In 1999, the Taylors purchased land near a New Mexico Air Force base to raise calves. The Air Force began flying training missions over the land, sometimes “no more than 20 feet . . . off the deck.” In 2008, the Taylors granted Wind Energy an exclusive five-year option for an easement on the Taylors’ property, for “wind resource evaluation, wind energy development, energy transmission and related wind energy development uses.” In 2012, Air Force employees suggested to Wind Energy that the FAA would not issue a “No Hazard” designation for the air space above the Taylors’ land, which would be “fatal to the construction of planned wind turbines.” Wind Energy exercised its contractual right to terminate the agreement.The Taylors sued, claiming that the Air Force’s informal advice to Wind Energy caused a regulatory taking of their property interest in their contract and that the flyovers effected a physical taking. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Wind Energy’s termination was not a breach of the agreement so the Taylors had no property right in the continuation of that agreement nor did they have any investment-backed expectations. Any advice given by Air Force employees did not amount to an FAA denial. The Taylors did not provide factual allegations of how the flights “directly, immediately, and substantially interfere” with their quiet enjoyment and use of the land View "Taylor v. United States" on Justia Law
Love Terminal Partners, L.P. v. United States
Plaintiffs leased part of Love Field airport from the City of Dallas and constructed a six-gate airline terminal. Plaintiffs claim that the Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006 (WARA), 120 Stat. 2011, effected a regulatory taking of their leases and a physical taking of the terminal because the statute codified a private agreement in which Dallas agreed to bar the use of plaintiffs’ gates for commercial air transit and to acquire and demolish plaintiffs’ terminal. The Claims Court found that WARA's enactment constituted a per se regulatory taking of plaintiffs’ leaseholds under Supreme Court precedent, Lucas, and a regulatory taking of the leaseholds under Penn Central, and a physical taking of the terminal. The Federal Circuit reversed. Noting the history of regulation of Love Field and limitations in place before WARA, the court stated there can be no regulatory taking because plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their ability to use their property for commercial air passenger service pre-WARA had any value. Plaintiffs’ reasonable, investment-backed expectations are limited by the regulatory regime in place when they acquired the leases. Rejecting a claim of physical taking the court reasoned that a requirement that federal funds not be used for removal of plaintiffs’ gates explicitly distances the federal government from Dallas’ intended action. View "Love Terminal Partners, L.P. v. United States" on Justia Law
MacLean v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec.
In 2003 Federal Air Marshals were told of a potential hijacking plot. Soon after that, the Agency sent an unencrypted text message to the Marshals’ cell phones temporarily cancelling missions on flights from Las Vegas. Marshal MacLean became concerned that this created a danger. He unsuccessfully complained to his supervisor and to the Inspector General, then spoke to an MSNBC reporter. MSNBC published an article, and the Agency withdrew the directive after members of Congress joined the criticism. In 2004, MacLean appeared on NBC Nightly News in disguise to criticize Agency dress code, which he believed allowed Marshals to be easily identified. During the subsequent investigation, MacLean admitted that he revealed the cancellation directive. MacLean was removed from his position for unauthorized disclosure of sensitive security information (SSI). Although the Agency had not initially labeled the message as SSI, it subsequently ordered that its content was SSI. The Ninth Circuit rejected MacLean’s challenge to the order. MacLean then challenged termination of his employment, arguing he had engaged in protected whistleblowing activity. An ALJ and the Merit Systems Protection Board concluded that the disclosure was specifically prohibited by 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8)(A) and that unauthorized disclosure of SSI was a non-retaliatory reason for removal. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, finding that the Board incorrectly interpreted the Whistleblower Protection Act. View "MacLean v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law