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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The 2017 Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (AMA) reforms the VA's administrative appeals system, 131 Stat. 1105, replacing the existing system, which had shepherded all denials of veteran disability claims through a one-size-fits-all appeals process. Under the AMA, claimants may choose between three procedural options: filing a supplemental claim based on additional evidence, requesting higher-level review within the VA based on the same evidentiary record, and filing a notice of disagreement to directly appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. The VA promulgated regulations to implement the AMA. Veterans’ service organizations, a law firm, and an individual (Petitioners) filed separate petitions raising 13 rulemaking challenges to these regulations under 38 U.S.C. 502.1The Federal Circuit concluded that two veterans’ service organizations had associational standing based on claimed injuries to their members to collectively bring three of their challenges. No Petitioner demonstrated standing to raise any of the remaining challenges. The regulations the organizations have standing to challenge are invalid for contravening the unambiguous meaning of their governing statutory provisions: 38 C.F.R. 14.636(c)(1)(i), limiting when a veteran’s representative may charge fees for work on supplemental claims; 38 C.F.R. 3.2500(b) barring the filing of a supplemental claim when adjudication of that claim is pending before a federal court; and 38 C.F.R. 3.155 excluding supplemental claims from the intent-to-file framework. View "Military-Veterans Advocacy v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Under 19 U.S.C. 1862, if the President receives, and agrees with, a finding by the Secretary of Commerce that imports of an article threaten to impair national security, the President shall take action to alleviate the threat. Section 1862(c)(1) specifies a period within which the President is to concur or disagree with the Secretary’s finding and to determine the necessary action and another period within which the President is thereafter to implement the chosen action.In January 2018, the Secretary found that imports of steel threatened to impair national security by causing domestic steel-production capacity to be used less than the level needed for operation of the plants to be profitably sustained. In March 2018, within the period prescribed, the President agreed with that finding and announced a plan (Proclamation 9705) that imposed some tariffs immediately, announced negotiations with specified nations, and stated that the immediate measures might be adjusted as necessary. Within months, the President determined that imports were still too high to meet the Secretary’s identified target and raised the tariff on steel from Turkey, Proclamation 9772.The Trade Court found Proclamation 9772 unlawful. The Federal Circuit reversed. The President did not depart from the Secretary’s finding of a national-security threat; the March 2018 presidential action announced a continuing course of action that could include adjustments. The President’s decision to take one of several possible steps to achieve the goal of increasing utilization of domestic steel plants’ capacity for national security reasons meets the rational-basis standard. View "Transpacific Steel LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Adams, a member of the Arizona Air National Guard, worked in human resources for Customs and Border Patrol (the agency). In 2018, Adams performed three periods of National Guard military service. Between April 11 and July 13, Adams was activated under 10 U.S.C. 12301(d) to support a military personnel appropriation (MPA) tour in support of Twelfth Air Force; July 18-July 30, he was ordered to attend annual training under 32 U.S.C. 502(a). Between July 28 and September 30, Adams was again activated under section 12301(d) to support an MPA tour. Both 12301(d) orders stated that they were “non-contingency” activation orders.Under 5 U.S.C. 5538(a), federal employees who are absent from civilian positions due to certain military responsibilities may qualify to receive the difference between their military pay and what they would have been paid in their civilian employment during the time of their absence (differential pay). Adams requested differential pay for each of his periods of service. Adams appealed the agency's denials. The Merit Systems Protection Board held that the denials did not violate the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, 38 U.S.C. 4301–4335). The Federal Circuit affirmed. Entitlement to differential pay requires service under a call to active duty that meets the statutory definition of a contingency operation. None of Adams’s service meets the statutory requirements for differential pay, View "Adams v. Department of Homeland Security" 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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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

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When a Colorado court ordered Colorado Health Insurance Cooperative into liquidation, the government owed Colorado Health $24,489,799 for reinsurance debts under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 42 U.S.C. 18061. The reinsurance program, which only lasted three years, collected yearly payments from all insurers and made payments to insurers of particularly costly individuals that year. Colorado Health owed the Department of Health and Human Services $42,000,000 for debts under ACA’s risk adjustment program, which charges insurers of individuals who had below-average actuarial risk and pays insurers of individuals who had above-average actuarial risk. The government attempted to leapfrog other insolvency creditors through offset, rather than paying its debt and making a claim against Colorado Health’s estate as an insolvency creditor.The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court in ordering the government to pay. Neither state nor federal law affords the government a right to offset. Colorado law concerning the liquidation of insurance companies is limited to offsetting debts and credits in contractual obligations. ACA does not preempt Colorado insolvency law; a “Netting Regulation” is directed to an ancillary issue, payment convenience. The government has not shown a “significant conflict between an identifiable federal policy or interest and the operation of state law.” View "Conway v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the Navy published a job announcement for an Event Forum Project Chief, a full-time, permanent, GS-13/14-grade position. Two candidates—Beck and Wible—were certified as qualified for the position. Captain Payton selected Wible. Beck, had been in active Navy service from 1984 until his retirement in 2005 and had been promoted through a series of jobs relevant to the posted position. In 2001, Beck earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a GPA of 3.91; he earned a master’s degree in Human Resource Management and Development in 2002. In 2006, Beck rejoined the Navy workforce as a civilian Special-Events Planning Officer (SEPO), a GS-13-1 grade position. Beck had trained Wible. Payton had apparently first shown animosity toward Beck during a meeting in 2010.Beck filed a formal EEO action alleging discrimination based on race, gender, age, and disability, which engendered a retaliatory and hostile work environment. Beck resigned and unsuccessfully eventually sought corrective action from the Merit Systems Protection Board under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.The Federal Circuit reversed in part. Preselection of the successful candidate can buttress an agency’s personnel decision to hire a less qualified candidate only when the preselection is not tainted by an unlawful discriminatory intent. The Board erred in finding that Beck’s non-selection would have occurred regardless of his prior military service as required under 38 U.S.C. 4311(c)(1). View "Beck v. Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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New Vision sued SG in the federal district court in Nevada. SG then filed Patent Trial and Appeal Board petitions. The Board declined to respect the forum selection agreement in the parties’ license agreement, which referred to “exclusive” jurisdiction in the appropriate federal or state court in the state of Nevada, and proceeded to a final decision, finding the claims at issue as well as proposed substitute claims, patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101.The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the Board’s decisions for consideration of the forum selection clause in light of its 2019 “Arthrex” decision. Because Arthrex issued after the Board’s final-written decisions and after New Vision sought Board rehearing, New Vision has not waived its Arthrex challenge by raising it for the first time in its opening brief. The Board’s rejection of the parties’ choice of forum is subject to judicial review; section 324(e) does not bar review of Board decisions “separate . . . to the in[stitu]tion decision.” View "New Vision Gaming & Development, Inc. v. SG Gaming, Inc." on Justia Law

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Morse served in the Navy, 1970-1972; including six months in Da Nang, Vietnam. In 1999, Morse filed a claim for compensation, listing several disabilities, including PTSD. A VA regional office granted him a nonservice-connected pension in 2001, based on joint disease. He later obtained Social Security disability benefits. In 2002, the regional office denied Morse’s claim of service connection for PTSD, finding "no credible evidence of verification of the claimed stressors.” In 2004, Morse sought to reopen his PTSD claim. The regional office received service department records in 2005, showing that in 1972 a psychiatrist reported that Morse appeared “moderately depressed” about personal problems. An examiner concluded that Morse was unable to provide convincingly relate symptoms to his reported military exposure. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals affirmed.In 2009, Morse sought to reopen his claim. A VA examiner diagnosed Morse as suffering from PTSD. The Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) coordinator's memo noted that the events “reported by the veteran" are "consistent" with the conditions of service "even though we were unable to locate official records of the specific occurrence.” Morse was granted service connection for PTSD, effective in 2009. The Board in 2016 affirmed; because no additional service records had been obtained since the Board’s 2008 decision, the VA was not required to conduct another reconsideration. In 2018, the Board found that the 2010 JSRRC memorandum did not constitute an “official service department record”; Morse was “essentially attacking the merits of" the 2008 Board decision, "which is final.”The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed; the “VA’s obligation to reconsider the PTSD claim upon receipt of new service department records was exhausted in 2008.” The 2010 JSRRC memorandum did not constitute a service department record that triggered a renewed obligation to reconsider Morse’s claim. View "Morse v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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The Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 1437g, provides funds for public housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocates amounts in the fund to eligible public housing agencies (PHAs). Each of the 553 plaintiff-PHAs executed an Annual Contributions Contract (ACC) with HUD, which requires HUD to “provide annual contributions to the [PHA] in accordance with all applicable statutes, executive orders, regulations, and this ACC” and requires the PHA to develop and operate covered projects in compliance with the ACC and all applicable statutes, executive orders, and regulations. The standard form ACC incorporates 24 C.F.R. 990.210(c), which provides HUD with “discretion to revise, on a pro-rata basis, the amounts of operating subsidy to be paid to PHAs” where “insufficient funds are available.”In 2012, Congress funded only 80% of the total operating subsidies and directed HUD to “take into account" PHA excess operating fund reserves in determining their 2012 operating subsidy. HUD considered the excess reserves and did not prorate the available funding under 24 C.F.R. 990.210(c) and the ACCs. Some PHAs received more funding than they would have if HUD prorated the available funding. The plaintiffs received less than they would have and brought suit under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the PHAs. Their claim was contract-based and the “strings-attached” nature of the operating subsidy did not preclude the court from exercising Tucker Act jurisdiction over the claim. The PHAs sought compensatory damages for their losses from the government’s failure to meet a past-due obligation and not equitable relief to enforce a regulatory obligation; their claim is based on a breach of contract and not a statute. View "Boaz Housing Authority v. United States" on Justia Law