Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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Robinson became the Associate Director of the Phoenix Veterans Administration Health Care System in 2012, having started his VA career in 1987. Robinson was aware of scheduling issues, including that it often took more than 30 days for patients to receive new-patient appointments. In 2014, the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs alleged that veterans died while on “secret” waitlists at the Phoenix VA. Based on an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Justice, Robinson’s removal was proposed for “failure to provide oversight.” The Deciding Official did not take action. Robinson remained on administrative leave for two years, returning to duty in January 2016. The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs questioned why many senior executives were placed on paid leave instead of removed from office. In March 2016, a second proposal for Robinson’s removal issued. The Deciding Official sustained all charges. Robinson was removed. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed the removal, finding that Robinson was negligent in the performance of his duties and failed to provide accurate information to his supervisors but did not sustain a whistleblowing retaliation charge. The Federal Circuit affirmed the decision as supported by substantial evidence, rejecting Robinson’s claim that he was treated differently than other supervisors. Robinson had notice and a pre-termination opportunity to be heard. Robinson had a duty to ensure compliance with VA policy but the record demonstrated that he did not. View "Robinson v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Under the Medicare administrative contractor (MAC) program, 42 U.S.C. 1395kk1, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) use contractors to administer Medicare claims and benefits. CMS must use competitive procedures when entering into contracts with MACs, taking into account performance quality, price, and other factors. In 2010, CMS prepared solicitations to replace the original MAC contracts and implemented a policy in the solicitations for several jurisdictions, placing a limit on the amount of MAC contract responsibility that any single entity could win in a prime contractor capacity. CMS would not award more than 26% of the national A/B Medicare workload to any single contractor or more than 40% of the national A/B Medicare workload to any one set of affiliates. An “Exception” stated that, for the sake of continuity of service, CMS retained the discretion to award a particular prime contract to a particular contractor, even where doing so would exceed the policy workload. Because of the policy, with NGS’s current contracts, NGS cannot win the MAC contract for Jurisdiction H. NGS filed a pre-award protest. The Government Accountability Office rejected the protest. The Claims Court affirmed. The Federal Circuit reversed. The policy precludes “full and open competition through the use of competitive procedures,” 41 U.S.C. 3301(a)(1). Congress outlined the circumstances under which an agency may avoid the full and open competition requirement. The court rejected the government’s argument that the workload caps fall within an exception for “procurement procedures otherwise expressly authorized by statute.” View "National Government Services, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Amarin markets Vascepa®, a prescription drug consisting of eicosapentaenoic acid in ethyl ester form, synthetically produced from fish oil, intended to reduce triglyceride levels in adult patients with severe hypertriglyceridemia. Vascepa® is the only FDA-approved purified ethyl ester E-EPA product sold in the U.S. Amarin filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission (ITC) under 19 U.S.C. 1337 (Tariff Act), alleging that certain companies were falsely labeling and deceptively advertising their imported synthetically produced omega-3 products as “dietary supplements,” where the products are actually “new drugs” under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) that have not been approved for use in the U.S. Amarin claimed that their importation and sale was an unfair act or unfair method of competition because it violates the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and the Tariff Act “based upon" FDCA standards. The FDA urged the Commission not to institute an investigation and to dismiss Amarin’s complaint, arguing that the FDCA prohibits private enforcement actions and precludes any claim that would “require[] the Commission to directly apply, enforce, or interpret the FDCA.” The ITC and Federal Circuit agreed.Amarin’s allegations are based entirely on FDCA violations; such claims are precluded by the FDCA, where the FDA has not yet provided guidance as to whether violations have occurred. Although Amarin claimed violations of the Tariff Act, its claims constituted an attempt to enforce the FDCA. View "Amarin Pharma, Inc. v. International Trade Commission" on Justia Law

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The Virgin Islands is a U.S. territory that can set and receive proceeds from duties, Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) is authorized to “determine, fix, alter, charge, and collect reasonable rates, fees, rentals, ship’s dues and other charges.” Since 1968, VIPA has set wharfage and tonnage fees for Virgin Islands ports. Customs collected those fees from 1969-2011, deducting its costs. The remaining funds were transferred to VIPA. In 1994, the Virgin Islands and Customs agreed to “the methodology for determining the costs chargeable to [the Virgin Islands] . . . for operating various [Customs] activities.” The agreement cited 48 U.S.C. 1469c, which provides: To the extent practicable, services, facilities, and equipment of agencies and instrumentalities of the United States Government may be made available, on a reimbursable basis, to the governments of the territories and possessions of the United States. Customs increased collection costs, which outpaced the collection of the disputed fees starting in 2004, leaving VIPA without any proceeds. After failed efforts to resolve the issue, VIPA notified Customs in February 2011, that VIPA would start to collect the fees in March 2011. VIPA sued Customs to recover approximately $ 10 million in disputed fees that Customs collected from February 2008 to March 1, 2011. The Federal Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Customs. Customs had authority to collect the disputed fees during the time at issue under the 1994 agreement, in combination with 48 U.S.C. 1469c. View "Virgin Islands Port Authority v. United States" on Justia Law

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Montano, a service-disabled veteran, owns 51% of VCG, which qualified as a service-disabled-veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) under the VA system, 38 U.S.C. 8127(e)–(f), and appeared on the VetBiz database as eligible for set-aside contracts. VCG was the lowest bidder on an SDVOSB set-aside contract for an agency working with the Small Business Administration (SBA). Another bidder challenged VCG’s eligibility. The SBA determined that, because of the limitations on Montano's ownership in case of his death or incapacity, Montano did not “unconditionally” own his interest, and VCG did not qualify as an SDVOSB under 15 U.S.C. 657f. VA regulations required the removal from VetBiz of any business found ineligible in an SBA proceeding. Before VCG’s removal from VetBiz, the VA solicited bids for SDVOSB set-aside contracts for a roof replacement and for relocation. Hours before the deadline on the roof solicitation, VCG filed a bid protest in the Court of Federal Claims. Because VCG was not listed on VetBiz on the day bidding closed, the contracting officer could not consider VCG’s roofing bid and recommended cancellation and reposting. VCG sought a preliminary injunction. The VA finalized cancellation; hours later, the Claims Court entered a preliminary injunction restoring VCG to VetBiz, noting that the VA and SBA differ in defining unconditional ownership, but specifically declined to address relief related to the roofing solicitation. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the contracting officer acted rationally in requesting cancellation based on the record. View "Veterans Contracting Group, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ruel served in the Marine Corps, 1966-1969, including two tours in Vietnam; he was exposed to Agent Orange. He died in 1984. His wife, Teresa, sought benefits. In July 1984, the VA received her Form 21-534, which the VA treats as an application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) a benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, and for a Death Pension, a benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse of a deceased veteran with wartime service, 38 U.S.C. 5101(b)(1). The claim for pension benefits was denied based on her income; the denial did not mention a DIC claim. In response to Teresa's “Application for Burial Benefits,” the VA authorized payment of $150.00, stating: The evidence does not show that the veteran’s death was due to a service-connected condition. Teresa did not appeal. In 2009, ischemic heart disease was added to the presumptive list of diseases related to herbicide exposure while serving in Vietnam. Teresa submitted a new Form 21-534. Her claim was granted with an effective date of October 2009. Teresa sought an effective date of July 1984 arguing that the VA never adjudicated her 1984 DIC claim, which remained “pending.” The Federal Circuit reversed the Board and Veterans Court; proper notice of an explicit denial of a claim under 38 C.F.R. 3.103 requires an actual statement or otherwise clear indication of the claim being denied. View "Ruel v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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James served on active duty during the Vietnam War. He sought service-connected disability compensation for “a lumbar spine disability and cervical spine disability, as well as an increased rating claim for pseudofolliculitis barbae.” On January 28, 2016, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied his claims.. On Friday, May 27, James placed his notice of appeal (NOA) in a stamped envelope addressed to the Veterans Court in the mailbox at his residence and put the flag up for collection. James left town and did not return until late on Monday, May 30. James discovered the NOA still in his mailbox and deposited it that night at the post office. The next day, the Veterans Court received and docketed James’s NOA, which bore a postmark of May 31, more than 120 days after the Board mailed its decision. The court ordered James to “show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed.” James argued that the 120-day appeal window should be equitably tolled because an errantly lowered mailbox flag constituted an extraordinary circumstance beyond his control. The Veterans Court dismissed James’s appeal as untimely. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Veterans Court erred in creating a categorical ban by holding that equitable tolling can never apply to an entire category of cases involving a fallen mailbox flag. The extraordinary circumstance element necessarily requires a case-by-case analysis and not a categorical determination. View "James v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Sharpe has been a DEA employee since 1995. Until 2008, he was also a Navy reservist. While at the DEA, Sharpe was deployed three times, twice for six months. As of 2015, Sharpe had applied for 14 GS-14 positions since 2012. Since 2009, Sharpe has been supervised by Sherman, who is responsible for recommending agents for promotion. Because he scored 91 out of 100 on his examination, Sharpe was on the Best Qualified List for every GS-14 position for which he applied, but he was only selected by Sherman three times and never as Sherman’s first-ranked agent. The Career Board often selects Sherman’s first-ranked agent, absent an agent requiring a lateral transfer from abroad or for hardship. In 2015, Sharpe requested corrective action under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4311(a), asserting his non-selection was motivated by his military status and that Sherman was hostile towards reservist. Six other current and former reservists working as agents in San Diego, including Sorrells, also filed USERRA claims. Before the Merit Systems Protection Board Sharpe unsuccessfully sought to introduce an email sent to Sorrells by Tomaski, who reported directly to Sherman. At the hearing, Sharpe was not allowed to question Sherman about the email. The Federal Circuit vacated the MSPB’s denial of corrective action. Evidence of the Tomaski email and of Sherman’s response to it is relevant to Sherman’s potential hostility towards others’ military or USERRA activity. View "Sharpe v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Hornseth worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which houses nuclear-powered vessels; every position requires a security clearance. Hornseth attended rehabilitation for alcoholism and provided the Navy with documents regarding his treatment. From Hornseth’s rehabilitation discharge letter, the Navy learned that Hornseth had used marijuana during his employment. The Commander notified Hornseth that his security clearance was suspended and that the Navy proposed to indefinitely suspend his employment. Hornseth filed a reply. Combs, the deciding official, engaged in communications with the Shipyard’s Human Resources staff, primarily concerning positions that would not require a security clearance. The HR department drafted a “Decision on Proposed Indefinite Suspension” and forwarded it to Combs. Combs signed the decision. The Merit Systems and Protection Board ALJ affirmed, rejecting due process arguments that the reply process was an empty formality because Combs did not have the ability to take or recommend alternative agency action and Combs and the HR staff engaged in an improper ex parte communication. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Homseth received the procedural protections of 5 U.S.C. 7513(b); he received notice, had an opportunity to respond and to be represented, and was provided with a written decision with reasons. Although Hornseth had not seen the communication to Combs before the discovery process, the information it contained was already known to Hornseth or cumulative. View "Hornseth v. Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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Donaldson, a Capitol Police officer, was involved in an off-duty domestic incident. The Office of Professional Responsibility investigated and recommended termination. The Disciplinary Review Board agreed that Donaldson should be punished but recommended only a 45-day unpaid suspension. The Chief of Police decided to terminate Donaldson. After 30 days passed without intervention by the Capitol Police Board, the Chief’s decision was deemed approved and Donaldson was terminated (2 U.S.C. 1907(e)(1)(B)) Under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Chief’s termination decisions are subject to binding arbitration. The Union requested arbitration. The Police refused to select an arbitrator, arguing that it “would be in violation of a determination of the Capitol Police Board and its distinct statutory authority by consenting to the jurisdiction of any arbitrator.” The Union protested to the General Counsel for the Office of Compliance (OOC) that the Police violated section 220(c)(2) of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. 1301–1438, by refusing to arbitrate an unresolved grievance and therefore committed an unfair labor practice. A hearing officer granted OOC judgment. The Board of Directors of the Congressional Accountability Office of Compliance reasoned that the Police is obligated to arbitrate disputes arising under its CBA unless it can cite clearly-established law that removes the dispute in question from arbitration; the Police’s legal arguments fell short. The Federal Circuit rejected an appeal by the Police and granted the OOC’s petition for an order of enforcement. View "United States Capitol Police v. Office of Compliance" on Justia Law