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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Between 2010 and 2014, the United States Coast Guard convened Active Duty Enlisted Career Retention Screening Panels (CRSPs) to select enlisted service members for involuntary retirement. This process was carried out without following the procedures and standards of the then-applicable 14 U.S.C. § 357(a)–(h), which addressed involuntary retirement of certain Coast Guard service members with specified seniority. Several former Coast Guard service members, after being involuntarily retired through the CRSP process, brought a case against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims under the Tucker Act, asserting that their retirements were contrary to the law as the Coast Guard had not followed § 357(a)–(h). The government responded by invoking § 357(j), which stated that § 357(a)–(h) did not apply to a “reduction in force.” The issue of the applicability of that exception to the CRSPs was the primary topic of the appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court's decision that the involuntary retirements were unlawful because the CRSPs were not part of a “reduction in force.” The court concluded that a “reduction in force” as used in § 357(j) did not include actions to separate current occupants from their positions with the intent to refill those positions. The court rejected the government’s arguments for a different conclusion. Therefore, the court affirmed the Claims Court’s partial final judgment. View "TIPPINS v. US " on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reviewed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) that granted a petition for a writ of mandamus permitting the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) to hear appeals of adverse decisions rendered under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregiver Program). The claimants were Jeremy Beaudette, a Marine Corps veteran who was rated 100% disabled due to multiple concussions that resulted in traumatic brain injury and legal blindness, and his wife Maya Beaudette. They applied for benefits under the Caregiver Program in March 2013 and were found eligible. However, in February 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notified them that they were no longer eligible for Caregiver Program benefits. They appealed this decision through the VA Clinical Appeals process, but their appeals were denied. The Beaudettes then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Veterans Court to permit Board review of adverse Caregiver Program decisions. In April 2021, a majority of a three-judge panel granted the Beaudettes' petition and certified the request for a class.The Veterans Court held that Congress mandated Board review of all Caregiver Program decisions, disagreeing with the VA's position that the phrase "medical determination" in § 1720G(c)(1) is a reference to a longstanding VA rule excluding medical determinations from Board review. The VA appealed this decision to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Veterans Court's decision, holding that § 1720G(c)(1) of the Caregiver Act only bars judicial review of Caregiver Program decisions on the furnishing of assistance or support. The court concluded that the Beaudettes and other similarly situated veterans and caregivers have an indisputable right to judicial review of Caregiver Program decisions that do not affect the furnishing of support or assistance. View "BEAUDETTE v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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In this case, the parents of W.J., a young man with a chromosomal abnormality and autism, brought a case under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 against the Secretary of Health and Human Services, claiming that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine administered to their son had caused or significantly aggravated his health issues. They filed their petition more than 15 years after the vaccine was administered, well beyond the Act's three-year statute of limitations. The parents argued that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled due to their son's mental incapacitation, his minority status, and the government's alleged fraudulent concealment of a connection between the vaccine and autism.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States Court of Federal Claims, which had denied the parents' petition for review and confirmed a special master’s decision to dismiss the case as untimely. The court concluded that the mental incapacitation of the son did not qualify as an "extraordinary circumstance" warranting equitable tolling because the parents, as his legal guardians, had failed to demonstrate that they were unable to file a claim on his behalf. The court also rejected the arguments for minority tolling and fraudulent concealment, finding no basis for these in the Vaccine Act or its legislative history. The court further held that the special master had not erred in raising the issue of the statute of limitations, nor in dismissing the claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. View "W. J. v. Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Great Northern Properties, L.P. ("GNP"), filed a lawsuit against the United States, alleging a Fifth Amendment taking of its coal leases on the Otter Creek property in Montana. GNP claimed that the federal government, through the Montana state regulatory authority, denied the necessary permits for coal mining. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the Court of Federal Claims, which dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court held that GNP could not establish that Montana's actions were coerced by the federal government or that Montana acted as an agent of the federal government. The court also noted that the federal government did not dictate the outcome in individual permitting cases and that state law governed the permitting process. Therefore, the federal government was not responsible for the permit denial, as Montana was not coerced to enact its own regulatory program following the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Furthermore, the court rejected GNP's claim that the existence of federal standards created an agency relationship between the federal government and Montana. View "GREAT NORTHERN PROPERTIES, L.P. v. US " on Justia Law

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In 2020, the law firm Chestek PLLC applied for a trademark for the mark "CHESTEK LEGAL" but provided only a P.O. box as its domicile address. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused the application because it did not comply with the domicile address requirement. Chestek argued that the rules enforcing this requirement were improperly promulgated under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed the examiner's refusal. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Chestek argued that the domicile address requirement was improperly promulgated for two reasons: the USPTO was required to comply with the requirements of notice-and-comment rulemaking under 5 U.S.C. § 553 but failed to do so because the proposed rule did not provide notice of the domicile address requirement adopted in the final rule, and the domicile address requirement is arbitrary and capricious because the final rule failed to offer a satisfactory explanation for the domicile address requirement and failed to consider important aspects of the problem it purports to address, such as privacy. The Federal Circuit found the domicile address requirement to be a procedural rule that is exempt from notice-and-comment rulemaking. Furthermore, the USPTO's decision to require the address provided by all applicants to be a domicile address was not arbitrary or capricious for failure to provide a reasoned justification. The court affirmed the Board's refusal to register Chestek's mark. View "In Re CHESTEK PLLC " on Justia Law

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In this case, the University of South Florida Board of Trustees (USF) sued the United States, claiming that the latter infringed a patent owned by USF regarding genetically modified mice for Alzheimer's Disease research. The USF contended that The Jackson Laboratory, with the government's authorization and consent, had been producing and using mice covered by the patent for the government. The government countered the claim by asserting it had a license to practice the patent under a provision of the Bayh-Dole Act, which addresses patent rights in work funded by the federal government. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined that the provision does apply and therefore affirmed the judgment of noninfringement. The court confirmed that the April 1997 work, the first actual reduction to practice of the invention, was "in the performance of work under a funding agreement." The court also rejected USF's contention that a funding agreement must be in place at the time of the relevant work, clarifying that the Act can cover work already performed before a funding agreement is executed or becomes effective. View "University of South Florida Board of Trustees v. United States" on Justia Law

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The appellants, Google LLC and ecobee, Inc. had appealed from a decision of the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board. The Board had found that the challenged claims of U.S. Patent No. 8,498,753, owned by EcoFactor, Inc., were not unpatentable. Google argued that the Board had made an erroneous claim construction of a limitation in Claim 1 and that Google had not been given notice or an opportunity to address the Board’s construction, thereby violating the Administrative Procedure Act. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the Board had indeed construed Claim 1 and that its construction was erroneous. The court vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings under the correct construction of the [1m] limitation in Claim 1. View "GOOGLE LLC v. ECOFACTOR, INC. " on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Vincent Curtis Conyers, an army veteran, sought employment benefits under the Veteran Readiness and Employment program, which is administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. His application was denied by the VA, and this denial was subsequently upheld by the Board of Veterans' Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. During his appeal, Mr. Conyers requested that certain documents be added to the administrative record under the doctrine of constructive possession. The Veterans Court denied his request, reasoning that the documents did not have a "direct relationship" to his claim, a standard of review that the court derived from a previous decision in Euzebio v. Wilkie.However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the Veterans Court applied an erroneous legal standard in its review of the doctrine of constructive possession. The Federal Circuit stated that the correct standard for constructive possession is one of "relevance and reasonableness," not the "direct relationship" standard applied by the Veterans Court. The Federal Circuit noted that its standard aligns with the VA's statutory duty to assist veterans in substantiating their claims and ensures that all record documents reasonably expected to be part of a veteran’s claim are included in the administrative record. Therefore, the court vacated the decision of the Veterans Court and remanded it for further proceedings, with the instruction to apply the correct standard of "relevance and reasonableness" in its review of the doctrine of constructive possession. View "CONYERS v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Jason Lambro, worked as a studio technician for the Voice of America (VOA), a federal agency, under a series of contracts. Lambro alleged that he should have been classified as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and thus entitled to benefits such as overtime pay. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the FLSA itself, through its definitional provisions, provides the applicable standard for recognizing an employment relationship for FLSA purposes. Therefore, the court had to evaluate whether Lambro was employed by VOA under the FLSA's own standard for being employed. The court rejected the lower court's conclusion that the FLSA does not cover a person asserting coverage as a federal government employee unless a congressional authorization outside the FLSA creates the asserted employment relationship with the federal government. The court vacated the lower court’s dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Lambro v. United States" on Justia Law

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Crispin Torres, a former employee of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), appealed an arbitration decision which upheld his removal from the agency for unauthorized travel and falsification of certified records. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the arbitrator did not provide substantial evidence for concluding that two key factors, consistency of penalty with similar offenses (Douglas factor 6) and potential for rehabilitation (Douglas factor 10), weighed in favor of Mr. Torres' removal. The court found that the arbitrator failed to fully consider comparator cases where similar misconduct by other ICE law enforcement officers resulted in suspension rather than removal, and did not adequately explain why Mr. Torres had no potential for rehabilitation. The court vacated the arbitrator's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "TORRES v. DHS " on Justia Law