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

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Cottingham sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-10, alleging that a Gardasil® vaccination received by her minor daughter, K.C., in 2012, for the prevention of HPV, caused K.C. injuries. The claim was filed immediately before the limitations period ran out.The government stated argued that a "reasonable basis for bringing the case may not be present.” Cottingham’s counsel was granted additional time but was unable to submit an expert opinion supporting her claim. The Special Master denied compensation. Cottingham sought attorneys’ fees and litigation costs ($11,468.77), 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1). The Master found no evidence to support the "vaguely asserted claims" that the vaccination caused K.C.’s headaches, fainting, or menstrual problems." While remand was pending the Federal Circuit held (Simmons) that although a looming statute of limitations deadline may impact the question of whether good faith existed to bring a claim, that deadline does not provide a reasonable basis for asserting a claim. The Master decided that Simmons did not impact his analysis, applied a “totality of the circumstances” standard, and awarded attorneys’ fees. The Claims Court vacated and affirmed the Special Master’s third decision, finding no reasonable basis for Cottingham’s claim.The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that there is no dispute that Cottingham filed her claim in good faith. Simmons did not abrogate the “totality of the circumstances inquiry.” K.C.’s medical records paired with the Gardasil® package insert constitute circumstantial, objective evidence supporting causation. View "Cottingham v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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In the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), Congress directed each state to establish an online exchange through which insurers may sell health plans if the plans meet certain requirements. One requirement is that insurers must reduce the “cost-sharing” burdens—such as the burdens of making co-payments and meeting deductibles—of certain customers. When insurers meet that requirement, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall reimburse them for those cost-sharing reductions, 42 U.S.C. 18071(c)(3)(A). In October 2017, the Secretary stopped making reimbursement payments, due to determinations that such payments were not within the congressional appropriation that the Secretary had, until then, invoked to pay the reimbursements. Sanford, a seller of insurance through the North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa exchanges, and Montana Health, a seller through the Montana and Idaho exchanges, sued.The trial courts granted the insurers summary judgment, reasoning that the ACA reimbursement provision is “money-mandating” and that the government is liable for damages for its failure to make reimbursements for the 2017 reductions. The court did not reach the contract claim in either case. The Federal Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2020 “Maine Community,” addressing a different payment-obligation ACA provision. Maine Community indicates that the cost-sharing-reduction reimbursement provision imposes an unambiguous obligation on the government to pay money; that obligation is enforceable in the Claims Court under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). View "Sanford Health Plan v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 124 Stat. 119, directed each state to establish an online exchange through which insurers may sell health plans that meet certain requirements. Insurers must reduce the “cost-sharing” burdens, such as co-payments and deductibles, of certain customers. When insurers meet that requirement, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) shall reimburse them for the required cost-sharing reductions, 42 U.S.C. 18071(c)(3)(A). In October 2017, the Secretary stopped making reimbursement payments, due to determinations that such payments were not within the congressional appropriation that the Secretary had invoked to pay the reimbursements. Insurers sued.The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the insurers on liability, reasoning that the ACA reimbursement provision is “money-mandating” and that the government is liable for damages. The court cited the Supreme Court’s 2020 “Maine Community,” addressing a different ACA payment-obligation as indicating that the cost-sharing-reduction reimbursement provision imposes an unambiguous obligation on the government to pay money; that obligation is enforceable through a damages action under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). The court remanded the issue of damages. The government is not entitled to a reduction in damages with respect to cost-sharing reductions not paid in 2017. As to 2018, the Claims Court must reduce the insurers’ damages by the amount of additional premium tax credit payments that each insurer received as a result of the government’s termination of cost-sharing reduction payments. View "Community Health Choice, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed.The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Decker developed the patented inventions while employed at the University of Texas and assigned the patents to UT. Gensetix obtained an exclusive license in the patents. The license agreement provides that, Gensetix must enforce the patents. The parties agreed to cooperate in any infringement suit and that nothing in the agreement would waive UT's sovereign immunity. Gensetix sued Baylor, alleging infringement and requested that UT join as a co-plaintiff. UT declined. Gensetix named UT as an involuntary plaintiff under FRCP 19(a). The district court dismissed, finding that UT is a sovereign state entity, so that the Eleventh Amendment barred joinder of UT, and that the suit could not proceed without UT.The Federal Circuit affirmed in part. UT did not voluntarily invoke federal jurisdiction; the Eleventh Amendment prevents “the indignity of subjecting a State to the coercive process of judicial tribunals” against its will. It is irrelevant that the license agreement requires the initiation of an infringement suit by Gensetix or cooperation by UT. The court erred in dismissing the suit without adequate analysis of Rule 19(b)'s factors: the extent to which a judgment might prejudice the missing required party or the existing parties; the extent to which any prejudice could be lessened; whether a judgment rendered in the required party’s absence would be adequate; and whether the plaintiff would have an adequate remedy if the action were dismissed. View "Gensetix, Inc. v. Baylor College of Medicine" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Avalos was confirmed as the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the USDA. Avalos met Trevino, also a USDA political appointee. Trevino later moved to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and was involved in developing a vacancy announcement and reviewing candidates for the Field Office Director position in HUD’s Albuquerque office. Avalos applied, but the certificate of eligible candidates from which selection would be made listed only a preference-eligible veteran. Treviño sought to consider additional candidates; she did not complete a pass-over request but let the certificate expire and began revising the vacancy announcement. HUD again announced the vacancy. Avalos applied and was the only candidate listed on the certificate. Avalos got the position.During a regular review of appointments, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) noted that HUD had appointed Avalos without OPM approval and advised HUD that it would not have approved the appointment. OPM instructed HUD to “regularize” the appointment. HUD reconstructed the hiring record and found no intent to grant an unauthorized preference but determined that it could not certify that the appointment met merit and fitness requirements because of Treviño’s involvement. Avalos received a Notice of Proposed Termination. The Merit Systems Protection Board upheld the termination. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Board correctly found that it had jurisdiction to review Avalos’s appointment and substantial evidence supports the decision to remove Avalos to correct his illegal appointment. View "Avalos v. Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law

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Water levels in Eagle Lake, near Vicksburg, are controlled by the Muddy Bayou Control Structure, part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi River flood control program. Eagle Lake's predictable water levels allowed the plaintiffs to build piers, boathouses, and docks. In 2010, the Corps determined that “sand boils” threatened the stability of the nearby Mississippi River Mainline Levee, a component of the same flood-control program. Unusually wet weather in 2011 exacerbated the problem. The Corps declared an emergency, finding that the rise in nearby water levels threatened the structural integrity of the levee and “that the likelihood of breach was over 95%.” The Corps decided to flood Eagle Lake to reduce pressures along the levee. Because of that action, the levee did not breach. A breach would have resulted in widespread flooding affecting “about a million acres and possibly between four thousand to six thousand homes and businesses.” The damage to the plaintiffs’ properties would have exceeded the damage caused by raising the lake level. The plaintiffs sued, seeking compensation. The Federal Circuit reversed the Claims Court’s finding that the government was liable and award of $168,000 in compensatory damages. The relative benefits doctrine bars liability. The plaintiffs were better off as a result of the Corps’ actions. If the government had not raised the water level, the levee would almost certainly have breached, and the plaintiffs would have suffered more damage. View "Alford v. United States" on Justia Law

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Young was serving a one-year probationary period working for the IRS when the agency removed her for misconduct. Young appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, challenging her removal as an unlawful adverse action and filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging that she had been terminated because of discrimination based on her national origin, disability, and prior protected EEO activity. An administrative judge (AJ) dismissed Young’s action, reasoning that Young was a probationary employee, not entitled to full appellate rights. Young filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, alleging whistleblower retaliation. The Office did not take action.Young then filed an Individual Right of Action (IRA) appeal, claiming that she had disclosed attendance violations and a hostile work environment, including refusal to accommodate her disabilities, and that she had been removed from her position in retaliation for those disclosures. The AJ ordered Young to make a nonfrivolous showing that she had made protected disclosures that led to her removal with detailed factual support. Young did not respond. The AJ dismissed her IRA appeal. Young contends that she was unable to file a timely response because of health issues, but she never sought an extension and she submitted other filings during the period she was given for filing a response. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Young failed to make nonfrivolous allegations that she made disclosures that the Board has jurisdiction to address in an IRA appeal, View "Young v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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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

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The plaintiffs each own a wind farm that was put into service in 2012. Each applied for a federal cash grant based on specified energy project costs, under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. The Treasury Department awarded each company less than requested, rejecting as unjustified the full amounts of certain development fees included in the submitted cost bases. Each company sued. The government counterclaimed, alleging that it had actually overpaid the companies.The Claims Court and Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the government. Section 1603 provides for government reimbursement to qualified applicants of a portion of the “expense” of putting certain energy-generating property into service as measured by the “basis” of such property; “basis” is defined as “the cost of such property,” 26 U.S.C. 1012(a). To support its claim, each company was required to prove that the dollar amounts of the development fees claimed reliably measured the actual development costs for the windfarms. Findings that the amounts stated in the development agreements did not reliably indicate the development costs were sufficiently supported by the absence in the agreements of any meaningful description of the development services to be provided and the fact that all, or nearly all, of the development services had been completed by the time the agreements were executed. View "California Ridge Wind Energy, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law