Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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Kitlinski, employed by the DEA and a Coast Guard reservist, was recalled to active duty. For an extended period, he served full-time at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. He filed complaints under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301-35, and an equal employment opportunity complaint against DEA, based on DEA’s responses to his requests to be transferred from DEA’s San Diego office to Arlington, Virginia, where Kitlinski’s wife worked. After a deposition, Kitlinski returned to his car, in a secure DEA parking lot, and discovered a Blackberry device bearing a DEA sticker under his car's hood. He suspected that it was intended to track his location and record his conversations. Kitlinski reported his discovery to the FBI. Kitlinski’s wife was interrogated and was threatened with discipline if she did not turn over the Blackberry. Kitlinski filed an action with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging that the placement of the Blackberry and his wife's interview violated USERRA as discrimination and by creating a hostile work environment. He also alleged retaliation and a hostile work environment in retaliation for his exercise of his USERRA rights. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s dismissal of various claims but remanded in part because the Board did not make a finding on Kitlinski’s claim that DEA had created a hostile work environment in retaliation for his USERRA activities. View "Kitlinski v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Mid Continent Nail requested that the Department of Commerce initiate a third administrative review of its anti-dumping duty order covering certain steel nails from China. Mid Continent did not serve the request directly on Suntec, a Chinese exporter and producer named in the antidumping order and in the request. When Commerce actually initiated the review about a month after receiving the request, it published a notice in the Federal Register, as provided in 19 U.S.C. 1675(a)(1). Despite that publication, however, Suntec did not participate in the review. Because of a lapse in its relationship with the counsel who had been its representative for years in the steel-nail proceedings, Suntec remained unaware of the review until Commerce announced the final results. The Court of International Trade declined to set aside the results of the review as applied to Suntec. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that Suntec had failed to demonstrate that it was substantially prejudiced by the service error as to the request for the review because the Federal Register notice constituted notice to Suntec as a matter of law and fully enabled Suntec to participate in the review. View "Suntec Industries Co., Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (VACAA) provisions vesting significant authority in administrative judges violates Appointments Clause. In 2014, Congress investigated reports that senior executives in the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) had manipulated hospital performance metrics by maintaining secret wait lists of veterans who needed care. The resulting VACAA established new rules for the removal of DVA Senior Executive employees, 38 U.S.C. 713. Previously, senior DVA executives could only be removed under the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. 1101, and were entitled to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), to a hearing, and to attorney representation. Section 713 created an accelerated timeline for MSPB appeals and required the MSPB to refer all appeals to an administrative judge (AJ) for decision within 21 days. Helman, the Director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, was removed from her position under section 713. An MSPB AJ affirmed. Helman sought review from the full Board. Citing section 713(e)(2), the Board refused to take any further action. The Federal Circuit remanded, holding that, by prohibiting Board review under section 713(e)(2), Congress vested significant authority in an AJ in violation of the Appointments Clause. Section 713(e)(2) and two related sections are severable, leaving the remainder of the statute intact. View "Helman v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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The 2013 Department of Defense (DOD) budget was cut by $37 billion halfway through Fiscal Year 2013. The Secretary of Defense directed DOD managers to prepare to furlough most civilian employees for up to 11 workdays, with exceptions for employees deployed to a combat zone, those whose jobs are necessary to protect safety of life and property, Navy Shipyard employees, National Intelligence Program employees, Foreign Military Sales employees, political appointees, non-appropriated fund instrumentality employees, foreign national employees, and various employees not paid directly by DOD Military accounts. Snyder, a civilian engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (Dahlgren) received a Notice of Proposed Furlough. Snyder worked on an Advanced Shipboard Weapons Control project, governed by a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between Dahlgren and Lockheed. Lockheed was solely responsible for funding and paid $2.6 million in 2012 to the U.S. Treasurer. Unused funds were to be remitted to Lockheed. Lockheed and Snyder requested that Dahlgren employees supporting the CRADA be exempt from furlough. The Navy denied the request. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Merit System Protection Board in upholding Snyder’s furlough. An agency may furlough an employee for lack of work or funds or other non-disciplinary reasons, 5 U.S.C. 7511(a)(5), 7512(5) if the furlough “will promote the efficiency of the service.” The court found the furlough decision to “be a reasonable management solution to the financial restrictions placed on the agency.” View "Snyder v. Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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Banks was hired by the VA in July 2015. Her appointment was in the excepted service and was subject to a one-year probationary period. In March 2016, the VA notified Banks that it planned to terminate her due to performance issues. Rather than wait for the agency to terminate her, Banks resigned. Banks appealed to the Merit Systems Board, asserting that her resignation constituted a constructive removal. An administrative judge found that Banks was not preference eligible, that the record contained no evidence of prior federal service, and that Banks was within her probationary period, and concluded that Banks was not an “employee” under 5 U.S.C. 7511(a)(1) with the right to appeal to the Board. The AJ concluded that Banks’s allegations of a hostile work environment and retaliation did not provide jurisdiction under 5 U.S.C. 7702(a), absent non-frivolous allegations of an agency action independently appealable to the Board. The Board upheld the dismissal after considering new evidence indicating that, before being hired by the VA, Banks had been currently and continuously employed by the U.S. Postal Service for three years. The Board concluded that this prior federal service did not give Banks a right to appeal because the Postal Service is not an “Executive agency” under 5 U.S.C. 7511(a)(1)(C)(ii). The Federal Circuit affirmed, agreeing that the Board lacked jurisdiction. View "Banks v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Boyd worked for the Postal Service, 1985-2010. In 2011, she sought disability retirement benefits under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approved her application, stating it would provide interim FERS benefits; that she would not receive FERS benefits until OPM received confirmation that she had applied for Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits; that her FERS benefits would be offset by SSDI benefits; and that Social Security checks should not be negotiated until the FERS benefit had been reduced. Boyd provided OPM with notice of her SSDI award but cashed the SSDI checks. Five months later, OPM notified Boyd that she had been overpaid by $3,322, which it would recover by offsetting 36 monthly FERS benefits by $92.27. Boyd requested a waiver or a reduced payment based on financial hardship. Boyd completed a Financial Resources Questionnaire but did not provide a later-requested update. OPM denied a waiver but reduced the monthly offset to $40. Boyd appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, pro se, but did not file evidence nor respond to a show-cause order. The ALJ affirmed, finding that she was “not without fault” and did not refute the reasonableness of the reduced payment schedule. The Board affirmed. The Federal Circuit vacated, citing erroneous application of the overpayment recovery statute, 5 U.S.C. 8346(b), and remanded for determination of whether Boyd knew or suspected that she had been overpaid, and, if not, whether the recovery would be against equity and good conscience. View "Boyd v. Office of Personnel Management" on Justia Law

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Fedora began working for the Postal Service in 1980 and retired in 2012, then filed an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board alleging that his retirement was involuntary and amounted to constructive discharge. He claimed that he was forced to perform work in violation of his medical restrictions, was harassed, and was threatened with loss of his pension. An administrative judge found that Fedora had failed to make a non-frivolous allegation and dismissed. The Board issued a final order affirming the AJ’s decision, stating that the Federal Circuit “must receive [his] request for review no later than 60 calendar days after the date of [the Board’s] order.” . He filed a petition for review on October 20, 2014, within 60 days of his receipt of the order (August 19), but not within 60 days of issuance of the notice (August 15). Fedora argued that the Board’s final order directed him to the court's “Guide for Pro Se Petitioners and Appellants,” which incorrectly instructed that a petitioner “may file a petition for review in this court within 60 days of receipt of the Board’s decision.” The Federal Circuit dismissed his petition for lack of jurisdiction, 5 U.S.C. 7703(b)(1)(A), stating that it lacks authority to equitably toll the filing requirements. View "Fedora v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Utah Trooper Swenson attempted to stop a car near the Uncompahgre Ute Reservation. The car entered the reservation. About 25 miles later, it stopped. Kurip, age 17, and Murray emerged and ran. Swenson caught Kurip and requested back-up. Vernal City Officer Norton and others responded. Norton claims that Murray shot at Norton, then shot himself. The officers found an illegally-purchased gun near Murray. No officer administered medical assistance to Murray while waiting for an ambulance. FBI agents took charge, and, with local officers, allegedly denied a tribal officer access. After Murray was declared dead (off-reservation), an officer allegedly photographed Murray nude and manipulated his remains. After an external examination, the medical examiner concluded that the bullet entered the back of Murray’s head, above and behind his left ear. Murray was right-handed. No soot was found on Murray’s hands. When the investigation into the gun concluded, the FBI destroyed it. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court held that there was no seizure, that the pursuit was reasonable, and that Murray had fired at Norton. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, plaintiffs sued the United States in the Claims Court, alleging violations of an 1868 Treaty and of the government’s trust obligations. The Claims Court concluded that the Treaty was limited to affirmative criminal acts committed on reservation lands and dismissed allegations regarding failure to take custody of and secure Murray’s body against desecration, spoliation of evidence, failure to ensure a proper autopsy, and failure to protect the Tribe’s reservation boundary and sovereign interest in the crime scene. The court found allegations concerning acts on the reservation barred by issue preclusion. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court improperly limited the scope of claims cognizable under the Treaty and erred in applying issue preclusion without considering a spoliation issue. View "Jones v. United States" on Justia Law

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Kennedy enrolled at George Washington University (GWU) in 2003. He obtained a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship in 2005, agreeing to complete Officer Candidate School (OCS), a requirement which is not waivable. The scholarship provided that if Kennedy failed to complete the requirements, he could become liable to reimburse the program. Kennedy subsequently suffered trauma and began to act abnormally. During his OCS course, his platoon commander recommended that Kennedy be disenrolled as emotionally unstable. In June 2006, a Commanding Officer’s Board disenrolled Kennedy from OCS without opportunity to return. NROTC stopped funding Kennedy’s education. In February 2007, the Assistant Secretary approved disenrollment with recoupment of $50,675. After graduation from GWU in 2007, Kennedy graduated from law school, was admitted to the bar, and filed suit. The Claims Court directed the case to the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR), a civilian body that exists to correct Naval Records. The BCNR upheld Kennedy’s disenrollment, but held that Kennedy should be relieved from reimbursement because he had been dissuaded from appearing at a hearing. The Claims Court held that Kennedy’s disenrollment was lawful and that his breach-of-contract claims for monetary relief lacked merit. The Federal Circuit reversed. Given the government’s concession that Kennedy’s due process rights were violated when he was dissuaded from attending his hearing, the Claims Court erred in concluding that Kennedy’s disenrollment was inevitable. The court directed the case be returned to the BCNR. View "Kennedy v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Budget Control Act of 2011 established spending limits for federal agencies and required automatic spending cuts (sequestration) if certain deficit reduction legislation was not enacted. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 required the President to issue a sequestration order near the middle of fiscal year 2013. Under President Obama’s sequestration the Department of Defense (DOD) 2013 budget was cut by approximately 37 billion dollars, to be absorbed over six months. The DOD reprogrammed funds, reduced facility maintenance, eliminated some military training exercises, and furloughed civilian workers. Calhoun is a non-excepted civilian Doctrine Defense Specialist for the Army Cyber Command (ACC). ACC Commander Lt. Gen. Hernandez, the deciding official, delegated that authority to his Chief of Staff, Col. Sanborn. Calhoun received a Notice of Proposed Furlough. Calhoun replied, including budget proposals she asserted would prevent furloughs. In responses to Calhoun, Col. Sanborn stated that he had read her submissions and that “[t]he furlough guidance … is clear.” Calhoun was furloughed for six nonconsecutive days. An administrative judge found that delegation to Col. Sanborn did not violate DOD policy; that Col. Sanborn appropriately considered Calhoun’s reply; and that evaluation of the merits of her proposals was beyond the scope of his review. The Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit affirmed, finding no due process violation because Col. Sanborn considered Calhoun’s written reply and because a summary of her oral reply would not have altered the furlough decision. View "Calhoun v. Department of the Army" on Justia Law