Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
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
Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc.
Waymo sued Uber and Ottomotto for patent infringement and violations of trade secret laws, claiming that its former employee, Levandowski, improperly downloaded documents related to Waymo’s driverless vehicle technology, then left Waymo to found Ottomotto, which Uber subsequently acquired. Before that acquisition closed, counsel for Ottomotto and Uber retained Stroz to investigate Ottomotto employees previously employed by Waymo, including Levandowski. During discovery, Waymo successfully moved to compel the defendants to produce the Stroz Report. Waymo also subpoenaed Stroz to obtain the Report plus the communications, documents, and devices provided to Stroz. Levandowski, Ottomotto, and Uber unsuccessfully moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that the Report was subject to attorney-client privilege or work-product protection. The Federal Circuit denied Levandowski’s petition for mandamus relief. Levandowski failed to articulate any persuasive reasons why disclosure of the Report should be barred; the possibility of admissions against his interest is a valid function of civil discovery. The court rejected Levandowski’s “unsupported assertions” that the district court would be unable to “cleanse the trial of all taint from the improper disclosure,” noting that the court had examined the Report in camera and declined to exclude it. The district court properly determined that the common interest doctrine did not apply, found that Levandowski waived work-product protection, and rejected Levandowski’s claim of Fifth Amendment privilege. View "Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law
Harris v. United States
Lt. Harris has been an officer in the Navy since 2005. He was arrested by civilian authorities in 2013 for sexual offenses involving minors and was held in confinement until his 2015 conviction and sentencing. Between his arrest and conviction, the Navy withheld Harris’s pay pending the outcome of his criminal proceedings. Based on his conviction, the Navy determined that, under the Military Pay Act, 37 U.S.C. 204, and Department of Defense regulations, Harris’s absence was unexcused and he was not entitled to any pay for his absence during confinement. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of his suit, in which he sought back pay, challenged the civilian court’s jurisdiction to convict him, and claimed due process violations. Harris failed to state a claim under the Military Pay Act because he was convicted of his crimes, and was not entitled to pay during his unexcused absence. Harris failed to state a due process claim because he was not statutorily eligible to receive pay during his detention; the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments were not implicated. The Claims Court lacked jurisdiction to review the jurisdiction of civilian authorities to prosecute and convict him as a military service member. View "Harris v. United States" on Justia Law
Miller v. Department of Justice
Miller worked as the Superintendent of Industries at the Beaumont, Texas Federal Correctional Complex, overseeing a prison factory that produced ballistic helmets primarily for military use. Miller occasionally served associate warden and was described by Warden Upton as “a fantastic employee.” In 2009, Miller disclosed to the government-owned corporation that ran the prison and to Upton what he perceived to be mismanagement of factory funds. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an inspection. Upton asked Miller to not report to the factory that day. The next day, Miller reported that there had been “sabotage” at the factory, and urged that it be closed pending investigation. Hours later, Upton informed Miller that he was being reassigned. Upton later testified that OIG was concerned that Miller might compromise its investigation. Over the next four and a half years, Miller was assigned to low-level positions. Upton attributed his reassignments to unidentified OIG staff. Eventually, Upton reassigned Miller to sit on a couch in the lobby for eight months. Miller appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8). The Administrative Judge found that the government had rebutted his case. The Federal Circuit reversed. The government did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have reassigned Miller absent his protected disclosures. View "Miller v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law
Federal Education Association v. Department of Defense
Graviss has worked in education since 1978. In 2008, she became a pre-school special needs teacher at Kingsolver Elementary, part of Fort Knox Schools. Kingsolver’s principal, McClain, issued Graviss a reprimand based on an “inappropriate interaction with a student” and “failure to follow directives,” asserting that Graviss and her aide had physically carried a misbehaving pre-school student and Graviss had emailed concerns to the director of special education, although McClain had directed Graviss to “bring all issues directly to [her].” The union filed a grievance. Subsequently, one of Graviss’s students had an episode, repeatedly flailing his arms, kicking, and screaming. While the other students were out at recess, Graviss employed physical restraint to subdue the child. After an investigation, McClain submitted a Family Advocacy Program Department of Defense Education Activity Serious Incident Report and Alleged Child Abuse Report to the Family Advocacy Program (child protective services for the military). McClain forwarded the Report to her direct supervisor, who was later the decision-maker in Graviss’s termination. An arbitrator concluded that that Graviss's termination promoted the efficiency of the service and was reasonable. The Federal Circuit reversed, concluding that Graviss’s due process rights were violated by improper ex parte communication between a supervisor and the deciding official. That communication contained new information that the supervisor wanted Graviss terminated for insubordination. View "Federal Education Association v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law
Crooker v. United States
Crooker, who has a lengthy criminal history, pled guilty to charges of mailing a threatening communication and possession of a toxin without registration. He is serving a sentence of 15 years, having received credit toward that sentence for 2,273 days he spent imprisoned on a prior conviction for transportation of a firearm in interstate commerce by a convicted felon, which was overturned on appeal. Crooker filed suit under the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act, 28 U.S.C. 1495, 2513, seeking damages for the time he spent in prison on overturned conviction, despite the sentencing credit. The Court of Federal Claims awarded him the statutory maximum for the first 1,259 days, $172,465.75. The Federal Circuit reversed: the entirety of Crooker’s “unjust” imprisonment has been applied to a “just” conviction and, as a result, he will spend no more time in prison than he is legally required. Crooker is not entitled to any damages under the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act. View "Crooker v. United States" on Justia Law