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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Federal Circuit affirmed the U.S. Court of International Trade's decision sustaining the U.S. Department of Commerce's final results in the fifth administrative review of the antidumping duty order on large power transformers from the Republic of Korea. This case involves two categories of information that Commerce requested from Hyundai, namely product-specific cost information and cost-reconciliation information.The court held that Commerce's determinations to rely on facts otherwise available, to cancel verification, and to draw an adverse inference in selecting from among the facts otherwise available are supported by substantial evidence and otherwise not contrary to law. In this case, Hyundai's repeated disclosure of partial, aggregate, or sample information rather than complete and itemized information establishes that Commerce's decision to rely on facts otherwise available was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence. Furthermore, Commerce articulated sound reasons for seeking more detailed information regarding Hyundai's cost-shifting in this administrative review than in prior reviews, including its observation that cost shifting had a larger impact on this administrative review. The court explained that such concerns support the reasonableness of Commerce's requests for a greater amount of detail in this administrative review. Finally, to the extent that the shortcomings of Hyundai's responses are attributable to its record keeping, that alone does not avoid an adverse inference. Here, Commerce clearly and repeatedly requested the information and identified the defects in Hyundai’s responses, and the information that was ultimately missing from the record was foundational to Commerce's ability to perform the antidumping duty calculations in a sound manner. The court considered Hyundai's remaining arguments and found them unpersuasive. View "Hyundai Electric & Energy Systems Co., Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Bullock, a civilian employed by the Army, received a formal letter of reprimand from her supervisor. Bullock filed an EEO claim alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. In proceedings before the EEOC’s mediation program, Bullock was represented by her attorney, Elliott; the Army was represented by its management official Shipley, and attorney Lynch. According to Bullock, the parties reached agreement as to seven non-monetary demands on July 29 and reached an oral agreement regarding her monetary demands on August 27, 2015. The mediating administrative judge sent an email to the parties asking for the “agency’s understanding of the provisions of the settlement agreement” and noting that, “[o]nce we confirm that the parties are in complete agreement, the agency can begin work on the written settlement agreement.”. No written settlement agreement was executed. In September, the Army “rescinded its settlement offer.” Bullock continued to press her claims before the EEOC for a year, then filed a breach of contract claim regarding an oral settlement agreement.The Federal Circuit reversed the dismissal of the complaint, rejecting an argument that EEOC and Army regulations, requiring that settlement agreements be in writing, preclude enforcement of oral settlement agreements. The court remanded for a determination of whether the representative of the Army had the authority to enter a settlement agreement and whether the parties actually reached an agreement. View "Bullock v. United States" on Justia Law

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Imported goods are generally subject to tariffs, duties, fees, and taxes, such as an excise tax. A “drawback” is a customs transaction involving the refund of payments made upon the importation of a good. The most common drawback occurs when duties that are paid when a good is imported are refunded when the same good is exported. A “substitution drawback,” involves the refund of duties, taxes, or fees that were paid upon importation and refunded when similar goods, normally merchandise classified under the same tariff schedule subheading, are exported. Since 2008, substitution drawback has been allowed for wine where the imported wine and exported wine are of the same color and the price variation does not exceed 50 percent. Substitution drawbacks could result in a near-total refund of both tariffs and excise taxes paid on imported wine where the substituted exported wine was either not subject to excise tax (having been exported from a bonded facility) or had received a complete refund of previously paid excise taxes, a “double drawback.”Treasury and Customs promulgated Rule.1, an interpretation of 19 U.S.C. 1313(v), intended to prevent “double recovery,” limits drawbacks to the amount of taxes paid and not previously refunded. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Trade Court in finding the Rule invalid. The Rule is contrary to the clear intent and structure of the statute. View "National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of the Treasury" on Justia Law

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Rodriguez, a Supervisory Consumer Affairs Specialist with the VA Patient Advocate’s Office, engaged in a confrontation with a patient, yelling at the patient and using profanity. VA Police officers had to escort him back to his office. Rodriguez returned to the reception area, where he again confronted the patient. During an investigation, Rodriguez was temporarily relieved of his supervisory responsibilities. Rodriguez contacted one of his subordinates and asked her to modify her witness statement. The investigator made findings of patient abuse, violation of the VA Code of Conduct, failure to follow the officer’s instruction, attempted coercion, and lack of candor in Rodriguez’s accounts of the incident, and concluded that the appropriate penalty was removal. Rodriguez had a previous disciplinary incident. After Rodriguez was given an opportunity to reply, the Director issued a removal decision.The Merit Systems Protection Board administrative judge, citing 38 U.S.C. 714, found the charges supported by substantial evidence. The Federal Circuit reversed the removal order. the administrative judge misinterpreted section 714 when he ruled that “substantial evidence” is the proper standard for determining whether an employee has engaged in misconduct that justifies discipline; preponderance of the evidence is the minimal appropriate burden of proof in administrative proceedings. Although section 714 provides that the Board may not mitigate penalties, the Board has the authority to review penalties for substantial evidence. View "Rodriguez v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Connor began working as the Chief of Police Services for the Fayetteville, North Carolina VA Medical Center. After it was discovered that Connor had stored ammunition in a manner inconsistent with VA policy, the VA investigated allegations of mismanagement at Fayetteville, including the failure to inventory ammunition, misuse of government vehicles, lack of training, unfair hiring and promotion practices, employee misconduct, and lack of leadership. In 2019, Fayetteville's Executive Director sustained 27 specifications against Connor and the penalty of removal under 38 U.S.C. 714. The Merit Systems Protection Board determined that the VA had failed to prove 26 specifications by substantial evidence, upholding specification 25, regarding the improper storage of ammunition. The Board held that the “Douglas factors” remained applicable and upheld the VA’s charge and the penalty of removal.The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 714 of the 2017 Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act created an expedited procedure allowing the VA Secretary to remove, demote, or suspend VA employees for misconduct or substandard performance; it limits review of disciplinary actions by administrative judges and the Board. A disciplinary decision must be upheld if “supported by substantial evidence.” The administrative judge and the Board “shall not mitigate the penalty prescribed by the Secretary.” Section 714 does not alter the penalty review with respect to the Douglas factors. The court rejected Connor’s argument that the Board did not adequately consider those factors. View "Connor v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia 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