Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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Attorney Ravin represented veteran Cook on a claim for past-due disability benefits. Their agreement provided for a contingent fee and contemplated that VA would withhold the fee from any past-due benefits awarded and pay that amount directly to Ravin under 38 U.S.C. 5904(d)(3). Within days of executing that agreement, Ravin sent a copy to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, where it was date-stamped on December 11, 2009. No copy of the agreement was submitted to the Regional Office (RO) “within 30 days of the date of execution,” as required by 38 C.F.R. 14.636(h)(4). The RO awarded Cook past-due benefits in April 2010. On April 13, 2010, the RO’s Attorney Fee Coordinator searched for any attorney fee agreement and determined that “no attorney fee decision is required” and “[a]ll retroactive benefits may be paid directly to the veteran.” The RO paid the past-due benefits to Cook. On April 27, 2010, Ravin mailed a copy of Cook’s direct-pay fee agreement to the RO. The RO informed Ravin that it had not withheld his attorney’s fees because the agreement was “not timely filed.” The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s denial of Ravin’s claim. Section 5904(d)(3) does not mandate withholding and direct payment; 38 C.F.R. 14.636(h)(4)'s submission requirement is valid. Ravin’s fees have not been forfeited; he may use all available remedies to obtain them from Cook, per their agreement. View "Ravin v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Under the Arizona-Florida Land Exchange Act (AFLEA), 102 Stat. 4571, 72 acres of the Phoenix Indian School Property were conveyed to Collier in exchange for Collier’s Florida lands plus $34.9 million. The Arizona InterTribal Trust Fund (AITF) was established for the benefit of ITCA-member Arizona tribes for “the cash amount required to be paid . . . by Collier upon closing.” In 1991, over ITCA's objections, the Secretary of the Interior agreed to allow Collier to make annual payments rather than full payment at closing. For several years, the Government released its liens on the Phoenix property. In 2013, Collier stated its intent to “no longer make payments” because the value of the remaining 15-acre Phoenix Property had decreased. Under a 2017 settlement agreement, Collier paid $16 million to the Government, which then sold the 15-acre Property for $18.5 million. ITCA sued, alleging that the Government breached its AFLEA fiduciary duties. The Claims Court dismissed in part. The Federal Circuit reversed in part. The Claims Court erred in dismissing the failure-to-maintain-sufficient-security portion of Claim I but properly dismissed the portion of that claim regarding the Government’s alleged failure to ensure adequate security when it negotiated the TFPA. The court properly dismissed Claim II, which alleged that the AFLEA “required the [Government] to collect from Collier all Trust Fund Payments required under the [AFLEA], and that the [Government’s] failure to collect all of the payments is a breach of trust.” View "Inter-tribal Council of Arizona v. United States" on Justia Law

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Higgins began working at the Memphis VA Medical Center (VAMC) in 2007. Throughout his employment, Higgins reported unlawful activity ranging from misuse of agency letterhead to improper disposal of biohazardous material. Higgins had a history of conflict with his supervisors and coworkers. In 2016, a psychologist diagnosed Higgins as meeting the criteria for PTSD, chronic, concluding that “Higgins cannot work, even with restrictions, and this is permanent.” In March 2017, the VAMC suspended Higgins for using profanity with his supervisor. It was “the third incident of a similar type.” Because of his whistleblower status and PTSD, Higgins was offered a suspension without loss of pay. In June 2017, the VAMC removed Higgins based on charges of disruptive behavior and the use of profane language during three incidents. The VAMC’s Chief of Police considered Higgins’s statements a valid threat and recommended that the Director wear a bulletproof vest and receive a police escort to and from his car. The Director successfully filed a workers’ compensation claim for PTSD. An Administrative Judge determined that removal was “within the range of reasonableness” and promoted “the efficiency of the service.” Higgins had established a prima facie whistleblower retaliation defense but the agency would have removed Higgins even absent his protected whistleblowing activity. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the Board improperly discounted evidence of Higgins’s PTSD and that the AJ abused his discretion by excluding testimony relevant to institutional motive to retaliate. View "Higgins v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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The Patent Trial and Appeal Board conducted covered business method (CBM) review and found all of the claims of Bozeman’s patents, directed to methods for authorizing and clearing financial transactions to detect and prevent fraud, ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101.1. Bozeman challenged the Board’s authority to decide the petitions, arguing that the Federal Reserve Banks are not “persons” under the America Invents Act (AIA). The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the Banks are “persons” who may petition for post-issuance review under the AIA. While the Supreme Court has held that federal agencies are not “persons” able to seek post-issuance review of a patent under the AIA, the Banks are distinct from the government for purposes of the AIA. They are operating members of the nation’s Federal Reserve System, which is a federal agency, but they are not government-owned and are operationally distinct from the federal government. The claims at issue are directed to the abstract idea of “collecting and analyzing information for financial transaction fraud or error detection” and do not contain an inventive concept sufficient to “transform the nature of the claims into patent-eligible applications of an abstract idea.” View "Bozeman Financial LLC v. Federal Reserve Bank" on Justia Law

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Golden, pro se, filed this suit in 2019, under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a), seeking “reasonable and entire compensation for the unlicensed use and manufacture” of his “inventions described in and covered by” various patents. He had filed an unsuccessful patent infringement suit against the government in 2013; a fifth amended complaint had alleged “Fifth Amendment Takings.” In 2014, the government sought inter partes review (IPR) of the patents; Golden is challenging an unfavorable decision as “ultra vires.” The Claims Court dismissed Golden’s 2019 complaint as largely duplicative of the 2013 suit. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Claims Court did not have jurisdiction over these section 1491 claims because patent infringement claims against the government are to be pursued exclusively under 28 U.S.C. 1498. A patent owner may not pursue an infringement action as a taking under the Fifth Amendment. With respect to claims arising from the IPR proceedings, the court noted that Golden voluntarily filed a non-contingent motion to amend the claims on which the IPR was instituted. His substitute claims were found unpatentable. The claims at issue were canceled as result of Golden’s own voluntary actions; cancellation of the claims in the government-initiated IPR cannot, therefore, be chargeable to the government under any legal theory. View "Golden v. United States" on Justia Law

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Air Force officers who hold the grade of major must appear before a promotion board, 10 U.S.C. 611(a), 628(k); an officer who is twice passed over for promotion is typically discharged. An officer who would otherwise be discharged may remain in active service upon selection by a continuation board. Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1320.08 provides that an officer “shall normally be selected for continuation if the officer will qualify for retirement . . . within 6 years… [except] in unusual circumstances.” In 2011, then-Major Engle, who had served in active duty for over 14 years, was passed over for promotion for the second time. A Selective Continuation Board met. Engle would have been within DoDI 1320.08’s protective window and had no disqualifying information in his record. The Secretary of the Air Force had, however, instructed Boards to decrease the protective threshold and reversed the presumption in favor of continuation. Engle was discharged. Months later, Engle was involuntarily called up from the reserves, deployed to Kyrgyzstan, and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Engle continues to serve, without the retirement benefits and additional active duty pay for which he would have qualified if he had been continued. The Federal Circuit reversed with respect to Engle’s claim, citing the Administrative Procedures Act. The Secretary does not have the discretion to rewrite the DoDI. While the military has wide decision-making discretion, it is not wide enough to justify the process employed here. The regulation is meant to protect individuals who have spent most of their lives in service to this country View "Baude v. United States" on Justia Law

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In an earlier appeal from inter partes review, the Federal Circuit vacated-in-part the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s decision denying Nike’s motion to amend and remanded for the Board to address errors underlying its conclusion that Nike’s proposed substitute claims 47–50 were unpatentable for obviousness. On remand, the Board denied Nike’s request to enter substitute claims 47–50 of its patent on the ground that those claims are unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. 103. Nike asserts that the Board violated the notice provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act by finding that a limitation of substitute claim 49 was well-known in the art based on a prior art reference that, while in the record, was never cited by Adidas for disclosing that limitation. Nike also challenged the Board’s finding that Nike’s evidence of long-felt but unmet need was insufficient to establish the nonobviousness of substitute claims 47–50. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part. Substantial evidence supports the finding that Nike failed to establish a long-felt need for substitute claims 47–50. The court vacated in part. No notice was provided for the Board’s theory of unpatentability for substitute claim 49. View "Nike, Inc. v. Adidas AG" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Sistek was appointed as a director at the VA’s Chief Business Office Purchased Care. Sistek subsequently made several protected disclosures to the VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) questioning various financial practices and perceived contractual anomalies. Sistek’s supervisor became aware of Sistek’s concerns. Sistek was subsequently subjected to an investigation. Sistek filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) alleging whistleblower reprisal based on several personnel actions, including the letter of reprimand. Sistek later filed an individual right of action appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Administrative Judge declined to order any corrective action, finding that a retaliatory investigation, in itself, does not qualify as a personnel action eligible for corrective action under the Act. The OIG subsequently confirmed that the concerns raised by Sistek were justified. Sistek retired from the VA in 2018. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Act defines qualifying personnel actions at 5 U.S.C. 2302(a)(2)(A); retaliatory investigations, in and of themselves, do not qualify. The Act provides that a retaliatory investigation may provide a basis for additional corrective action if raised in conjunction with one or more of the qualifying personnel actions. View "Sistek v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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The VA promoted Dr. Sayers to Chief of Pharmacy Services for the Greater Los Angeles (GLA) Health Care System in 2003. In 2016, a VA site-visit team discovered violations of policy in the pharmacies under Sayers’s supervision. When Sayers failed to follow orders to immediately correct the violations, the VA detailed him from his position pending review. Months later, the VA sent another team to the GLA pharmacies, discovering numerous, serious policy violations. Because compliance fell within Sayers’s purview, the GLA Chief of Staff proposed Sayers’s removal. The GLA Health Care Director acted as the deciding official and sustained the charges. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and the Administrative Judge affirmed his removal, finding that substantial evidence supported factual specifications that Sayers failed to perform assigned duties and failed to follow instructions. The AJ declined to consider Sayers’s argument that his removal constituted an unreasonable penalty, inconsistent with the VA’s table of penalties and violating the VA’s policy of progressive discipline. The Federal Circuit vacated his removal. The basis for Sayers’s removal, the 2017 Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, 38 U.S.C. 714, which gives the VA a new, streamlined authority for disciplining employees for misconduct or poor performance, and places limitations on MSPB review of those actions, cannot be retroactively applied to conduct that occurred before its enactment. View "Sayers v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) notified Ricci that she had been “tentatively” selected for a Criminal Investigator position; she was required to satisfactorily complete a background investigation before receiving a final offer of employment. ICE subsequently sent Ricci a “Notice of Proposed Action,” stating that her background investigation had revealed information serious enough to warrant that she be found unsuitable for the position and possibly denied examination for all ICE positions for up to three years. ICE alleged that Ricci had engaged in numerous acts of misconduct while employed with the Boston Police Department. Ricci filed an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, claiming that ICE’s claim was based upon bad intelligence and that ICE was “continuing the . . . discrimination.” The administrative judge explained that the board generally lacks jurisdiction over an individual’s non-selection for a specific position, even if that non-selection is based upon the suitability criteria set out in 5 C.F.R. 731.202. Ricci asserted that ICE’s actions "effectively constitute[d] a suitability action of debarment.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the AJ's dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. ICE’s action was a non-selection for a specific vacant position. ICE did not take any “broader action” against Ricci, such as “debarring her from future agency employment.” Regardless of the impact on an applicant’s ability to secure future federal employment, the board may only review actions designated as appealable. View "Ricci v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law