Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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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

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Citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, which entitles employees to overtime pay for their hours of work that exceed 40 hours per week, 29 U.S.C. 207(a)(1), a group of U.S. Border Patrol Agents sought compensation for activities they claim were performed during “hours of work” while attending a voluntary canine instructor course. Agents who do not seek canine instructor certification by attending that course do not suffer any adverse consequences with respect to their existing jobs. Agents are motivated to obtain canine instructor certification in order to “mak[e] that next step in [their] career” and to potentially become a “course development instructor or . . . to be maybe an assistant director, even director.” The Claims Court granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The course did not constitute “hours of work” under the Office of Personnel Management's regulations. The student instructors were not “directed to participate” in off-hours studying within the meaning of 5 C.F.R. 551.423(a)(2); the primary purpose for enrolling in the DCIC was for career advancement. View "Almanza v. United States" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Department of Treasury issues savings bonds, a type of debt security that never expires and may be redeemed at any time after maturity, 31 U.S.C. 3105(b)(2)(A). Federal law limits the ability to transfer bonds. Kansas and Arkansas passed “escheat” laws providing that if bond owners do not redeem their savings bonds within five years after maturity, the bonds are considered abandoned and title will transfer (escheat) to the state two or three years thereafter. The states sought to redeem an unknown number of bonds, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. When Treasury refused, they filed suit. The Court of Federal Claims held that Treasury must pay the proceeds of the relevant bonds, once identified, to the states. The Federal Circuit reversed. Federal law preempts the states’ escheat laws, so the bonds belong to the original bond owners, not the states. Even if the states owned the bonds, they could not obtain any greater rights than the original bond owners, and, under federal law, 31 C.F.R. 315.29(c), a bond owner must provide the serial number to redeem bonds six years or more past maturity, which includes all bonds at issue. The states do not have the physical bonds or their serial numbers. View "Laturner v. United States" on Justia Law

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Smith worked at the General Services Administration for nearly 30 years before GSA removed him. For most of his career, he received positive evaluations and faced no discipline. When Smith began to complain about GSA’s ineffective collection and management practices, his supervisor warned him to communicate his concerns only to his supervisor. He was eventually suspended for failure to follow that instruction and his relationship with his supervisor deteriorated. Smith was also disciplined for disrespect toward his supervisor and failing to remove his computer access card from his laptop, although Smith, a quadriplegic, was physically unable to remove the card. The Merit Systems Protection Board agreed that GSA retaliated against him for his repeated disclosure of gross mismanagement; Smith was a whistleblower, 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8), and his protected disclosures contributed to the decision to remove him. The Board nevertheless upheld the removal. Without addressing evidence relevant to GSA’s motive to retaliate or its treatment of other similarly situated non-whistleblowers, the Board ruled that because GSA had strong evidence of misconduct, removal was justified. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Board conflated two distinct inquiries: whether the penalty was reasonable and whether the agency would have imposed that same penalty absent Smith’s protected whistleblowing. Given Smith’s disability and his supervisors’ knowledge that he could not remove his computer access card, the GSA policy did not apply to him. View "Smith v. General Services Administration" on Justia Law

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Under a 2011 contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), HHL was to provide transportation services in Afghanistan. After the contract expired, HHL requested additional compensation based on alleged contract violations: suspension of work, changes to the contract requirements, and termination of the original contract. After various preliminary submissions, HHL submitted a “Request for Equitable Adjustment (REA)” with a sworn statement by HHL’s Deputy Managing Director having “full management [authority].” The submission requested that it be “treated as a[n] REA,” not as a claim, and requested $4,137,964 in compensation. HHL’s request was denied in what the contracting officer characterized as the “Government’s final determination in this matter.” The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals concluded that it did not have jurisdiction because “[a]t no point, in six years of communication with the [USACE], has HHL requested a contracting officer’s final decision” under 41 U.S.C. 7103(a)(1). The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that there was a request for a final decision by a contracting officer and a final decision entered by the contracting officer. A defect in the certification of a claim does not preclude jurisdiction over the claim; HHL can cure any issues with its certification on remand. View "Hejran Hejrat Co. Ltd v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law