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

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the plaintiff, Dr. Leslie Boyer, alleged that a violation of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) occurred when the United States government set her pay lower than a male comparator in the same job role. The Court of Federal Claims had granted a summary judgment in favor of the United States, stating that the pay differential was justified by a “factor other than sex,” namely Dr. Boyer’s prior salary. The Court of Federal Claims relied on the pay-setting statutes, 5 U.S.C. § 5333 and 38 U.S.C. § 7408, which allow consideration of prior pay in hiring, to arrive at this conclusion.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed this judgment, stating that the EPA applies equally to the United States as to other employers and that mere reliance on prior compensation alone is not an affirmative defense to a prima facie case under the EPA unless the employer can demonstrate that the prior pay itself was not based on sex. The court concluded that the employer can only rely on prior pay if either (1) the employer can demonstrate that prior pay is unaffected by sex-based pay differentials or (2) prior pay is considered together with other, non-sex-based factors. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this interpretation. View "BOYER v. US " on Justia Law

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In 1882-1883, the Railway acquired property and constructed the now-abandoned railroad line. In 2008, the Railway filed a notice of exemption from formal abandonment proceedings with the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The Illinois Department of Natural Resources showed interest in railbanking and interim trail use under the 1983 National Trails System Act Amendments, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The STB issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU). The owners of property adjoining the railroad line sued, alleging takings by operation of the Trails Act with respect to 51 parcels; 22 parcels were conveyed by instruments including the words “right of way” (ROW Agreements); three were conveyed by instruments including the words “for railroad purposes” (Purpose Agreements); and three are those for which no instruments were produced.The Claims Court granted the government summary judgment, finding that the Railway held the ROW Agreement and Purpose Agreement parcels in fee simple and that the owners failed to show that they had cognizable property interests in the non-instrument parcels. The Federal Circuit reversed. The court rejected the government’s argument that using the term “right of way” in the ROW Agreements referred to the land conveyed, not a limitation on the interest conveyed. For the Purpose Agreements, the Claims Court mistakenly relied on cases discussing deeds that did not include an expression of purpose in the granting clause. Illinois law indicates that the Railway obtained, at most, an easement over the non-instrument parcels. View "Barlow v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1907, the then-owner executed the “Stimson deed,” transferring to the Railroad “its successors and assigns, the right to cross said right of way at any point or points where such crossing is desired” the land at issue. POTB later took ownership of the railroad. A 2007 storm caused severe damage to the railroad tracks. POTB did not repair the damage, resulting in the disbandment of the Oregon Tillamook Railroad Authority. POTB, with governmental entities, established the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency, to construct “a new multi-use trail” that would “connect[] to a wide network of existing recreation[al] trails and parks, educational opportunities, and heritage sites” over portions of the railroad line. In 2016, POTB filed a notice of intent to abandon service of the portions of the railroad line at issue with the Surface Transportation Board, which issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) allowing interim trail use and railbanking under the National Trails System Act Amendments, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d).The Claims Court and Federal Circuit rejected Stimson’s claim that the creation of the trail constituted a Fifth Amendment taking. Railbanking and interim trail use are within the scope of the easement. Stimson failed to show abandonment for all purposes and had no compensable property interest in the land to which the deed pertained. View "Stimson Lumber Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Jenkins purchased a 1987 Oldsmobile and a 2001 Chevrolet and transferred the titles to his mother, Buchanan, retaining exclusive use of both vehicles. The DEA, investigating Jenkins for drug conspiracy crimes, seized the vehicles, which were towed to an impound lot. The DEA obtained a search warrant, which was executed in October 2012. In April 2013, Jenkins pled guilty and was sentenced to 252 months of imprisonment. In October, the impound lot sent letters to the address on file for Buchanan notifying her that the vehicles could be reclaimed upon payment of towing and storage charges. Buchanan did not receive the letters, having moved. No letter was addressed to Jenkins. Jenkins acknowledged that he “was informed" to pick up the vehicles. In February 2014, the impound lot sent final notices to Buchanan, who was incarcerated, then sold the vehicles, retaining the proceeds.In 2017, Jenkins moved in his criminal case for the return of the cars (FRCP 41(g)). The government responded that the cars “are available for return.” The court dismissed the motion. In 2019, Jenkins unsuccessfully sought monetary compensation in excess of $10,000, then filed a civil action under the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(2), alleging a physical taking of his vehicles. The Sixth Circuit vacated summary judgment. While the government’s police power may preclude liability for an initial seizure, there is no police power exception that precludes takings liability for the period after the property is not needed for criminal proceedings. The court noted a factual issue of abandonment and affirmed the dismissal of the due process clause for lack of jurisdiction, without prejudice. View "Jenkins v. United States" on Justia Law

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Moore is a male Examination Manager at the SEC's Washington, D.C. headquarters. Two women Examination Managers in that office perform the same work as Moore under similar working conditions. In 2014, the SEC initiated a Pay Transition Program to recalibrate its employees’ pay so that they could receive credit for years of relevant work experience regardless of their SEC hire date. The Program was open to all SEC employees from September 14-October 14, 2014. The women applied for the Program during this open period. Moore did not, due to family-related issues occupying his attention. The SEC permitted 10 other employees with extenuating circumstances to apply for the Program in November-December 2014. Program pay adjustments began taking effect around June 2015; the women’s salaries were increased. In August-September 2016, Moore unsuccessfully tried to apply for the Program.Moore's Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 206(d), lawsuit argues that the SEC lacks justification for any Program-related pay differential between him and the women because the application process was unnecessary, given that the SEC always had the necessary information in its records and the SEC had no valid basis for creating, or not extending, an application deadline. The Federal Circuit vacated the dismissal of Moore’s complaint, first overruling its own 2009 decision, Yant, which added an element to the prima facie case–a showing that the pay differential “is either historically or presently based on sex.” The court remanded for consideration on non-Yant grounds. View "Moore v. United States" on Justia Law

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The 1976 Magnuson–Stevens Act contemplated “[a] national program for the conservation and management of the fishery resources of the United States,” 16 U.S.C. 1801(a)(6), and established the United States 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). A 2007 amendment established national criteria for quota-based fishing programs, (limited access privilege programs) and authorized the quota-based fishing permits and licenses at issue in this Fifth Amendment takings claim, in which fishing businesses challenged four different permitting, licensing, and endorsement requirementsThe Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of a cognizable property interest in the fishing endorsements, licenses, and permits, separate from or appurtenant to their fishing vessels. Precedent establishes that fishing permits and licenses issued under the Act are revocable privileges, not compensable property interests. The Magnuson–Stevens Act refers to “congressional intent not to confer any right, title, or interest, and to preserve the government’s authority to revoke privileges enjoyed in” fishing licenses and permits. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s regulations did not create compensable property rights in permits or licenses. licenses; permits did not have the essential characteristics of compensable property—transferability and the right to exclude others. There is no inherent right in vessel ownership to fish within the EEZ. View "Fishermen's Finest, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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