Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Johnson v. Department of the Air Force
Johnson was a Dyess Air Force Base firefighter from 2017-2019. In 2018, Johnson’s mother came to live with Johnson's family. She took around 13 pills to treat health issues; Johnson was taking “seven or eight” pills. The Air Force subsequently selected Johnson for a mandatory random drug test. He tested positive for oxycodone and oxymorphone. Johnson told his supervisor, Ranard, that he had accidentally taken his mother’s pills instead of his own prescribed medication. Ranard proposed that Johnson be fired. The deciding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Fletcher, fired Johnson, explaining that he could not “risk the possibility of Johnson] coming to work again under the influence of illicit drugs.” At an arbitration hearing, Fletcher testified that he “just [didn’t] believe” that Johnson accidentally took his mother’s pill, having consulted his wife, a registered nurse, and his brother-in-law, a nurse practitioner, who “confirmed that the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.” The arbitrator denied Johnson’s grievance, affirming his termination.The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded. Fletcher’s ex parte communications violated Johnson’s right to due process. When Fletcher’s relatives allegedly “confirmed” that the chances of Johnson taking his mother’s pill were “slim to none,” they were not confirming information in the record; they were providing new opinions on the evidence. View "Johnson v. Department of the Air Force" on Justia Law
Anderson v. United States
The Landowners own parcels of land adjacent to a 2.45-mile strip of a Union Pacific railroad line in McLennan County, Texas. Union Pacific’s predecessor in interest, Texas Central originally acquired the Line in 1902 through multiple deeds executed by the Landowners’ predecessors in interest. The Landowners sued, seeking compensation based on a theory that their predecessors in interest had conferred only easements to Texas Central, and that the Surface Transportation Board (STB) enforcement of the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 1241, by “railbanking” amounted to a “taking” of their property. Railbanking involves the transition of unused railroad corridors into recreational hiking and biking trails, generally by a transfer of an interest in the use of a rail corridor to a third-party entity. The Claims Court interpreted the deeds as having conveyed fee simple estates, not easements.The Federal Circuit affirmed. No takings from the Landowners occurred when the government later authorized conversion of the railroad line to a recreation trail; the granting clauses of the subject deeds unambiguously conveyed fee simple interests in the land and not easements despite contradictory language elsewhere in the deeds. View "Anderson v. United States" on Justia Law
McCutchen v. United States
Plaintiffs filed suit in Claims Court under the Tucker Act, alleging that the DOJ's Final Rule regarding bump-stock-type devices effected a taking for public use of their bump-stock-type devices by requiring the devices' destruction or surrender to the ATF. The Final Rule was promulgated after the massacre in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, where a lone shooter, using rifles with attached bump-stock-type devices, fired several hundred rounds of ammunition in a short period of time into a crowd, killing and wounding numerous people. Plaintiffs seek just compensation under the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. The Claims Court granted the government's motion to dismiss under Court of Federal Claims Rule 12(b)(6) and dismissed the takings claim.The Federal Circuit affirmed on a threshold ground different from, though related to, the Claims Court's grounds. The court explained that the takings claim depends on plaintiffs having an established property right in continued possession or transferability even against a valid agency implementation of the preexisting statutory bar on possession or transfer. However, plaintiffs' title, which the court assumed is otherwise valid under state law, was always inherently limited by 18 U.S.C. 922(o), a very specific statutory prohibition on possession and transfer of certain devices defined in terms of physical operation, together with a congressional authorization of a (here undisputedly) valid agency interpretation of that prohibition. The court concluded that that title-inheriting limit means that plaintiffs lacked an established property right in continued possession or transferability. Consequently, plaintiffs' takings claim fails. View "McCutchen v. United States" on Justia Law
Straw v. United States
Straw claims that he was injured as an infant by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and that his injury resulted in a mental disability. Straw previously sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). That action was combined with similar cases in a Multidistrict Litigation proceeding in the Northern District of Georgia, which ruled that Straw’s FTCA claims were barred by North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed; the Supreme Court denied certiorari.Straw then filed suit, seeking $6,000,000 in compensatory damages, arguing that the rulings of the Georgia district court constituted a judicial taking of his tort claims and the damages he sought in that action. The Claims Court dismissed his complaint, citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit affirmed. By claiming that the Georgia district court and the Eleventh Circuit had caused a taking of his personal-injury cause of action, Straw was effectively asking the Claims Court to overturn the decisions of those courts that his FTCA claim was time-barred. The court noted that Straw’s claim sounded in tort, given the underlying personal bodily harm; tort claims are expressly excluded from the jurisdiction of the Claims Court under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491. View "Straw v. United States" on Justia Law
Cap Export, LLC v. Zinus, Inc.
Zinus’s patent is directed to “[a]n assemblable mattress support” that “can be shipped in a compact state with all of its components compactly packed into the headboard.” Cap sought a declaratory judgment that the patent was invalid and not infringed. Zinus counterclaimed, alleging infringement and unfair business practices under California state law. The district court granted summary judgment that claims 1 and 3 were invalid as obvious over prior art. The Federal Circuit vacated. The district court subsequently granted partial summary judgment that claims 1–3 were not invalid, in part because Cap had abandoned the “bed in a box” prior art reference that the court had relied on in its previous determination. Cap stipulated to the entry of a final judgment in favor of Zinus, with $1.1 million in damages and a permanent injunction.Thereafter, Cap discovered evidence (in an unrelated suit) that the deposition testimony of Zinus's then-president had been false concerning the prior art. Cap successfully moved to vacate the judgment and injunction under Rule 60(b)(3), which provides grounds for relief for “fraud . . . , misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. The court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the misrepresentations prevented Cap from fully and fairly presenting its case and that Cap satisfied the due diligence requirement. View "Cap Export, LLC v. Zinus, Inc." on Justia Law
Caquelin v. United States
Caquelin's land was subject to a railroad easement. The Surface Transportation Board granted the railroad permission to abandon the line unless the process (16 U.S.C. 1247(d)) for considering the use of the easement for a public recreational trail was invoked. That process was invoked. The Board issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment (NITU), preventing effectuation of the abandonment approval and blocking the ending of the easement for 180 days, during which the railroad could try to reach an agreement with two entities that expressed interest in the easement for trail use. The NITU expired without such an agreement. The railroad completed its abandonment three months later.Caquelin sued, alleging that a taking occurred when the government, by issuing the NITU, prevented the termination of the easement during the 180-day period. Following a remand, the Claims Court again held that a taking had occurred. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting the contention that the multi-factor approach adopted for government-created flooding in the Supreme Court’s 2012 “Arkansas Game” decision displaced the categorical-taking analysis adopted in Federal Circuit precedents for a NITU that blocks termination of an easement. The categorical taking analysis is applicable even when that NITU expires without a trail-use agreement. A NITU does not effect a taking if, even without a NITU, the railroad would not have abandoned its line during the period of the NITU. Here, the evidence permits a finding that abandonment would have occurred during the NITU period if the NITU had not issued. View "Caquelin v. United States" on Justia Law
Fourstar v. United States
Fourstar, a federal prisoner, filed a Tucker Act Complaint with a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. He claimed that the government is mismanaging certain Indian properties and resources. The Claims Court denied his motion to proceed in forma pauperis, citing 28 U.S.C. 1915(g), which provides: In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal ... under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury,” Prison Litigation Reform Act, 110 Stat. 1321. Fourstar did not pay the filing fee. The court dismissed his complaint. Fourstar was released from prison and later filed a Notice of Appeal. He later filed a statement that he was subsequently arrested and detained and unsuccessfully moved to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal. Because Fourstar was not a prisoner at the time of filing his appeal, section 1915 is not applicable. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the three-strikes rule was met by Fourstar’s litigation history and that Fourstar was not subject to the “imminent danger” exception. View "Fourstar v. United States" on Justia Law
Westech Aerosol Corp. v. 3M Co.
Westech sued 3M in the Western District of Washington, alleging infringement. 3M moved to dismiss the original and amended complaints. While 3M’s motion was pending, the Supreme Court decided, in TC Heartland, that under the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. 1400(b), a corporation “resides” only in its state of incorporation. 3M amended its motion to argue improper venue. Westech sought to amend its complaint and argued that the presence of sales representatives and 3M’s sales in Washington supported venue and that 3M had a “principal place of business” and other business locations at various Washington addresses. At the time of the original complaint, 3M did not own, lease, use, or maintain property at any of the specified locations, and, at the time of the motion did not occupy any of the locations. The district court denied 3M’s motion without prejudice and allowed Westech amend its complaint. In the interim, the Federal Circuit held that section 1400(b) requires a defendant to have a physical place in the district that serves as a regular and established place of business. The district court then dismissed the case. On appeal, 3M sought attorneys’ fees and double costs, arguing that Westech’s appeal was frivolous. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal but denied the motion for fees and costs. Westech’s behavior on appeal bordered on sanctionable, but Westech pursued the appeal when the question of who shoulders the burden of establishing proper venue was unanswered. View "Westech Aerosol Corp. v. 3M Co." on Justia Law
Do v. Department of Housing and Urban Development
In 1998, Do a government employee since 1990, was hired by HUD’s Information Systems Audit Division. She became Division Director. In 2006, Asuncion, then working as a Justice Department auditor, applied for a GS-11 position in Do’s Division. On her resume and Questionnaire, Asuncion claimed she had a college degree in accounting. A pre-employment investigation revealed that Asuncion did not have that degree. Asuncion explained that she had completed the required coursework but needed to take one additional course to raise her GPA. Asuncion claimed good-faith mistake and promised to secure her degree. After conferring with her supervisor, Do approved Asuncion’s hiring. Asuncion was eventually promoted. In 2009, Do posted two GS-14 auditor positions. Human resources flagged Asuncion “as a qualified candidate.” Do selected Asuncion, knowing that Asuncion still did not have an accounting degree. Do later was advised that Asuncion could continue as an auditor but must obtain her degree. Asuncion resigned in 2016. HUD demoted Do to Nonsupervisory Senior Auditor and suspended her for 14 days. The Federal Circuit reversed. Do’s due process rights were violated; the Board relied on a new ground to sustain the discipline. Do's notice alleged a single charge of “negligence of duty” in hiring and promoting Asuncion. The Board’s decision concluded that Do negligently failed to investigate whether Asuncion met alternative requirements. That alternative theory appears nowhere in the notice or in the deciding official’s decision. View "Do v. Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law
Allied Mineral Products, Inc. v. OSMI, Inc.
Stellar and Allied are American companies. Stellar sent Allied's Mexican distributors notice letters accusing them of infringing Stellar’s Mexican Patent. Allied manufactures the accused products in the U.S., which are then sold in Mexico by the distributors. Allied sells the same product in the U.S. under a different name. Allied’s U.S. counsel responded to Stellar’s notice letters on behalf of the distributors, arguing that the products did not infringe. Stellar did not respond but filed infringement actions in Mexico. Allied then sought a declaratory judgment against Stellar in the Southern District of Florida, of non-infringement, invalidity, unenforceability due to inequitable conduct, and tortious interference with business relationships. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, stating: “Stellar’s decision to enforce its Mexican patent under Mexican law against separate entities cannot, without further affirmative action by Stellar, create an actual controversy with Allied with regard to its U.S. Patent,” and that the complaint was “devoid of any allegations that Stellar has done anything to give Allied a reasonable belief that Stellar intends to enforce its 974 Patent in the United States.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. Stellar’s actions do not create a justiciable case or controversy. View "Allied Mineral Products, Inc. v. OSMI, Inc." on Justia Law