Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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In 2006-2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded DAI developmental services contracts for Afghanistan. DAI subcontracted with EI, which employed over 1,000 individuals to provide security services. Afghanistan imposed a $2 million fine on EI based on the size and composition of EI’s private security workforce. EI paid the fine, allocating the expense among DAI’s contracts. In May 2017, DAI submitted EI’s claims to USAID. DAI’s cover letter characterized itself as a certification. DAI also included EI’s certifications stating that each claim was in good faith; 70 days after DAI submitted its claims, the contracting officer notified DAI that the submission did not contain a contractor certification. DAI filed appeals. The Board dismissed DAI’s claims for lack of jurisdiction based on DAI’s failure to certify the claims (41 U.S.C. 7103(a)(1)), stating that DAI’s May 2017 certification bore no resemblance to the required statutory language, that DAI made its certification with reckless disregard for the requirements, and that nontechnical mistakes in the certification and DAI’s recklessness rendered DAI’s purported certification unsalvageable. The Federal Circuit reversed. The statute provides that “[a] defect in the certification of a claim does not deprive a court or an agency board of jurisdiction over the claim.” EI’s certifications, which mirror the certification language of 48 C.F.R. 33.207(c), evidence an intent to certify the claims. Because the contracting officer failed to issue a decision within the statutory period, DAI’s claim was deemed denied and became appealable, 41 U.S.C. 7103(f)(5). View "DAI Global, LLC v. Administrator of United States Agency for International Development" on Justia Law

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Following a 2019 Federal Circuit decision and enactment of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 133 Stat. 966, the petitioners, who served on open sea ships off the Vietnamese shore during the Vietnam War believed that they may be entitled to a presumption of service connection for diseases covered by 38 U.S.C. 1116. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs stayed pending disability compensation claims until January 1, 2020. Petitioners assert that many Blue Water Veterans are dying and filed a petition for expedited review under 38 U.S.C. 502 challenging the Secretary’s authority to stay pending disability compensation claims. The Federal Circuit denied the petition. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(D) because the Secretary’s memorandum amounts to an “interpretation[] of general applicability formulated and adopted by the agency.” The Act unambiguously authorizes the Secretary to stay disability compensation claims described in section 2(c)(3)(B) of the Act “until the date on which the Secretary commences the implementation of [] section 1116A,” 133 Stat. at 968. View "Procopio v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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McCord injured his back while serving in the Army and was discharged with a 20% disability rating. Because his rating was below 30% and he served for less than 20 years, McCord received severance pay instead of ongoing military retirement pay and received monthly VA benefits. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records later corrected his record to reflect a 30% disability rating and entitlement to medical retirement pay, rather than severance pay. McCord later challenged the government’s calculation of his entitlement to military retirement back pay and its claimed right to recover the severance pay and requested damages for medical expenses that he incurred because he was not afforded TRICARE coverage before the correction. The Claims Court rejected McCord’s approach to back pay calculation as “double-dipping,” denied relief regarding the recoupment of severance pay “as not ripe,” and held that McCord failed to exhaust administrative procedures for securing TRICARE benefits. The Federal Circuit affirmed except as to the out-of-pocket medical expenses. The court cited 10 U.S.C. 1201, 1203, 1212(d)(a), and 2774, as defining entitlement to retirement pay or severance pay, VA benefits, and the circumstances for recoupment of severance pay. A veteran receiving VA benefits may face a disadvantage if he also secures an award of military retirement pay because he would not be entitled to severance pay but military retirement pay includes TRICARE coverage. View "McCord v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1980, Langkamp, then a toddler, suffered severe burn injuries on U.S. Army property. In a suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement. The government agreed to pay $239,425.45 upfront to cover attorney fees and costs, plus a structured settlement: $350.00 per month, 1985-1996; $3,100.00 per month, guaranteed for 15 years, beginning in 1996, and Lump Sum Payments of $15,000.00 in 1996, $50,000.00 in 2000, $100,000.00 in 2008, 250,000.00 in 2018, and $1,000,000.00 in 2028. The government issued a check for $239,425.45 to the parents and a check for $160,574.55 payable to JMW Settlements, an annuity broker. JMW purchased two single-premium annuity policies from ELNY to fund the monthly and periodic lump-sum payments. Until 2013, ELNY sent Langkamp the specified monthly and periodic lump-sum payments. Following ELNY’s insolvency and court-approved restructuring, Langkamp’s structured settlement payments were reduced to 40 percent of the original amount. The Claims Court rejected Langkamp’s argument that the government had continuing liability for the Settlement Agreement payments. The Federal Circuit reversed. The Settlement Agreement contains no reference to the purchase of an annuity from a third party but unambiguously obligates the government to ensure that all future monthly and periodic lump-sum payments are properly disbursed. The court noted that in 1984 it cost the government approximately $160,000 to obtain a promise from an insurance company to fund the future payments specified in the Settlement Agreement. View "Langkamp v. United States" on Justia Law

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McGuffin began his employment with SSA as a preference-eligible veteran, entitled to receive CSRA (Civil Service Reform Act, 92. Stat. 1111) protections after one year. During his first months, McGuffin had a low case completion rate and had cases that were past the seven-day benchmark. He requested training; SSA sent him to a training course. SSA was apparently otherwise satisfied with his work. About eight months after his hiring, SSA began to consider terminating McGuffin. It was noted that, as a preference-eligible veteran in the excepted service, McGuffin would acquire procedural and appellate rights after completing one year of service, so that “McGuffin must be terminated prior to the end of his first year” while another employee could be terminated "within her 2-year trial work period.” Although his work improved, four days before attaining full employee status, SSA terminated McGuffin for failure to “satisfactorily perform the duties” of the attorney advisor position. In a case under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301–35, which prohibits discrimination based on military service, the Federal Circuit reversed the Merit Systems Protection Board. SSA closed the door on McGuffin before the end of his first year to avoid the inconvenience of defending itself should McGuffin assert his procedural CRSA safeguards. McGuffin’s preference-eligible veteran status was a substantial factor in SSA’s termination decision. McGuffin was not performing so poorly as to justify the rush to remove him. View "McGuffin v. Social Security Administration" on Justia Law

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J.B. was born four weeks prematurely but progressed normally. At his four-month well-baby visit, J.B. was healthy, with normal chest and lungs and no fever, nasal congestion, or cough; J.B. received vaccinations for diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis, inactivated polio, pneumococcal conjugate, rotavirus, and Hepatitis B. That evening, J.B. reportedly had a fever. At 4:00 AM and 8 AM, J.B.’s parents gave him Advil. In the early afternoon, J.B.’s father put him down for a nap on his back in his crib. J.B.’s mother checked on him and found him unresponsive on his right side. At 2:39 PM, J.B.’s mother called 911 and attempted CPR. Responders transported J.B. to the hospital. J.B. was pronounced dead at 4:01 PM. His crib contained soft blankets and a flat soft pillow but no clutter or toys. The medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was SIDS. In a case under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-1, a Special Master found that the parents were entitled to compensation. The Claims Court reversed and the Federal Circuit agreed, holding that the Special Master erred by lowering the standard of proof for causation in a case involving an injury not listed on the Vaccine Act Injury Table. The parents failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that vaccinations can and did cause or contribute to J.B.’s SIDS death. View "Boatmon v. Secretary of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Northern California Power Agency and three California cities, Redding, Roseville, and Santa Clara (plaintiffs) purchase hydroelectric power that is generated by power plants under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The plaintiffs sought to recover payments that they claim were unlawfully assessed and collected by the Bureau in violation of the Central Valley Project (CVP) Improvement Act, 106 Stat. 4706, 4706–31. Section 3407(d) of the CVPIA requires that “Mitigation and Restoration” (M&R) payments made by recipients of power and water from the project be assessed in the same proportion, to the greatest degree practicable, as other charges assessed against recipients of water and power from the project. Although the power customers’ allocated share of the CVP repayment costs has been only about 25 percent of the total repayment costs, the Bureau in recent years has charged the customers nearly half of the total M&R payments. The Claims Court concluded that the Bureau’s interpretation of the statute was correct and dismissed the complaint. The Federal Circuit reversed. The proportionality requirement is a true “limitation” and takes priority over the $50 million collection target. The Bureau failed to take measures necessary to achieve the goal of proportionality “to the greatest degree practicable.” View "Northern California Power Agency, City of Redding v. United States" on Justia Law

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Arthrex’s patent is directed to a knotless suture securing assembly. On inter partes review, heard by a three-judge panel consisting of three Patent Trial and Appeal Board Administrative Patent Judges (APJs), several claims were found to be unpatentable as anticipated. Arthrex appealed and argued that the appointment of the APJs by the Secretary of Commerce, as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 6(a), violates the Appointments Clause, U.S. Const., art. II, section 2, cl. 2. The Federal Circuit agreed and vacated the decision. The statute as currently constructed makes the APJs principal officers, requiring appointment by the President as opposed to the Secretary of Commerce. The court considered review within the agency over APJ panel decisions, the Director’s supervisory powers, and that APJs can only be removed from service for “misconduct [that] is likely to have an adverse impact on the agency’s performance of its functions,” 5 U.S.C. 7513. Under existing law, APJs issue decisions that are final on behalf of the Executive Branch and are not removable without cause. To remedy the violation, the court concluded that severing the portion of the Patent Act restricting removal of the APJs is sufficient to render the APJs inferior officers and remedy the constitutional appointment problem. View "Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Army Corps of Engineers awarded Ikhana a contract to build a Pentagon facility by October 12, 2015. Ikhana procured required performance and payments bonds from GCNA, which required Ikhana to execute a general indemnity agreement, including a provision that assigned GCNA all rights under the contract if Ikhana defaulted or if GCNA made a payment on any bond. Each time Ikhana discovered a new worksite problem, it had to halt work until the Corps issued a unilateral contract change, causing significant delays and cost overruns. One modification required a power outage at the Pentagon, but the Corps never scheduled the outage. By mid-October 2015, construction stopped; Ikhana submitted claims seeking additional compensation and an extension of the deadline. Ikhana’s sub-contractors filed claims against GCNA’s bond. The Corps terminated Ikhana and made a claim on the bond. Ikhana appealed the termination and its claims to the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals. GCNA and the Corps negotiated for GCNA to tender a completion contractor. GCNA invoked the indemnity agreement and entered into a settlement with the Corps then sought a declaratory judgment that the agreement authorized it to settle Ikhana’s dispute with the Corps and dismiss the Board appeal. The district court stayed GCNA’s action pending resolution of Ikhana’s Board appeal. The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of GCNA’s motion to intervene and withdraw Ikhana’s Board appeal. GCNA lacked standing. A party seeking to supplant the plaintiff must be able to show that it could have initiated the complaint on its own. GCNA’s settlement agreement with the Corps, even if it constitutes a takeover agreement, does not entitle GCNA to assert claims that arose before the settlement. View "Guarantee Co. of North America USA v. Ikhana, LLC" on Justia Law

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Montelongo was a West Point student cadet, 1973-1977, then served in the Army 1977-1996, from which he retired. From June 21, 2001, to March 28, 2005, Montelongo served as a civilian presidential appointee in the Air Force. An Air Force human resources officer advised Montelongo that his time as a cadet could be “bought back” and credited toward an eventual civil service annuity under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), 5 U.S.C. 8401–8479. Montelongo made the small payment to “buy back” his four years at West Point and, in 2017, applied for a FERS annuity. The Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board concluded, and the Federal Circuit affirmed, that only his time as a presidential appointee (just under four years) counted as creditable civilian service. Montelongo did not satisfy the five-year threshold requirement for a FERS annuity. Montelongo’s cadet time was “military service” that was creditable service under 5 U.S.C. 8411(c)(1) but was not “civilian service” for which section 8410 sets a five-year minimum for annuity qualification. View "Montelongo v. Office of Personnel Management" on Justia Law