Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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From December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, the federal government partially shut down because of a lapse in appropriations. Plaintiffs continued to work as “excepted employees” who work on “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” and whom the government can “require[] to perform work during a covered lapse in appropriations,” 31 U.S.C. 1341(c)(2), 1342. During the shutdown, the government was barred from paying wages to excepted employees by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the government from “authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation.” The government paid their accrued wages after the shutdown ended. Plaintiffs sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for failure “to timely pay their earned overtime and regular wages,” 29 U.S.C. 260; any employer who does not timely pay minimum or overtime wages is liable for liquidated damages equal to the amount of the untimely paid wages. The Claims Court has the discretion to award no liquidated damages if the employer shows “reasonable grounds for believing that [the] act was not a violation of the Act.”The Federal Circuit ordered the dismissal of the case. As a matter of law, the government does not violate the FLSA when it pays excepted employees for work performed during a government shutdown at the earliest date possible after a lapse in appropriations ends, View "Avalos v. United States" on Justia Law

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From December 22, 2018, to January 25, 2019, the government partially shut down because of a lapse in appropriations. Border Patrol Agents continued to work as “excepted employees” who work on “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” and whom the government can “require[] to perform work during a covered lapse in appropriations,” 31 U.S.C. 1341(c)(2), 1342. During the shutdown, the government was barred from paying wages to excepted employees by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits the government from “authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation.” The government paid their accrued wages after the shutdown ended. The agents sued, alleging that the government violated the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act (BPAPRA), 5 U.S.C. 5550, by not paying their wages on their regularly scheduled payday” for work they performed during the shutdown and that the late payments were unjustified personnel actions under the Back Pay Act, section 5596(b)); they sought interest and attorney fees.The Federal Circuit ordered the dismissal of the case. The government does not violate any implicit timely payment obligation in the BPAPRA and Back Pay Act when, as required by the Anti-Deficiency Act, it defers payments to excepted employees until after a lapse in appropriations ends. View "Abrantes v. United States" on Justia Law

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McIntosh, employed by the Department of Defense, was responsible for approving travel expenses for government contracts. McIntosh, on several occasions refused to approve invoices and refused to provide contract information to her coworkers. Her supervisor, Boswell, informed McIntosh that her actions amounted to a “refus[al] to perform [her] job requirements.” McIntosh filed grievances, alleging that she was being forced to disclose unauthorized information and was harassed. The agency investigated and denied McIntosh’s grievances. McIntosh took sick leave for the day of her scheduled performance review, before Boswell’s retirement. Boswell requested medical documentation. McIntosh returned to work after Boswell retired. Cohen became her supervisor. Upon her return, McIntosh submitted a letter from her doctor, stating that she “should be excused from work due to illness from 3/22/2017 through 3/24/2017.” Employee Relation determined that the documentation was not acceptable. McIntosh never provided additional documentation but reiterated her grievances and requested reassignment. She declined to speak to Cohen and went home. Cohen placed McIntosh on paid leave and issued a Notice of Proposed Removal. The deciding official, Van Winkle, sustained the removal.The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed, finding that the Department would have removed McIntosh even absent her protected whistleblowing activity. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the Board’s administrative judges are improperly appointed principal officers under the Appointments Clause and that substantial evidence did not support the Board’s decision. View "McIntosh v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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Hekmati, a Marine Corps veteran, completed two tours of service in Iraq from 2001-2005 and worked as a military contractor between 2005-2011, stationed in Afghanistan. On his way back to the U.S., Hekmati went to Iran, purportedly to visit family. In 2011, the Iranian government arrested Hekmati. For four years, the Iranian government detained and tortured Hekmati. In 2016, the U.S. secured Hekmati’s release in a prisoner exchange. Hekmati sued the Iranian government under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and obtained a default judgment ($63.5 million). Hekmati sought compensation from the Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, 34 U.S.C. 20144. The Fund's special master, Feinberg, approved Hekmati’s claim. Months passed. Hekmati received no money. The Fund’s interim special master informed Hekmati that the Department of Justice would seek reconsideration.Hekmati filed suit. Feinberg— whom the Department retained again to review Hekmati’s case—determined that Hekmati was not eligible for compensation because Hekmati’s application and accompanying documents contained material omissions and false statements. Feinberg determined that the primary purpose of Hekmati’s trip to Iran was “to sell classified U.S. national security information.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s decision that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Hekmati’s claim; 34 U.S.C. 20144 precludes judicial review of the special master’s reconsideration decision. View "Hekmati v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Indiana Southwestern Railway Company sought to abandon railway easements, in which the owners had reversionary interests. The Surface Transportation Board (49 U.S.C. 10903) issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use and Abandonment (NITU). Negotiations with potential railbanking sponsors failed. Eventually, the NITU expired, Railway abandoned its easements without entering into a trail use agreement, and the landowners’ fee simple interests became unencumbered by any easements.The landowners sought compensation for an alleged taking arising under the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), claiming that the government had permanently taken their property in April 2001, when the NITU became effective. The Claims Court found that the government had taken the property but that the taking lasted only from the date the NITU went into effect until it expired. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part. The landowner’s property was temporarily taken under the Trails Act. The NITU delayed the reversion of the owners’ interests. The Railway would have otherwise relinquished its rights to its right-of-way during the NITU period. The court remanded for a determination as to the compensation and interest to which the owners are entitled. View "Memmer v. United States" on Justia Law

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Johnson was a Dyess Air Force Base firefighter from 2017-2019. In 2018, Johnson’s mother came to live with Johnson's family. She took around 13 pills to treat health issues; Johnson was taking “seven or eight” pills. The Air Force subsequently selected Johnson for a mandatory random drug test. He tested positive for oxycodone and oxymorphone. Johnson told his supervisor, Ranard, that he had accidentally taken his mother’s pills instead of his own prescribed medication. Ranard proposed that Johnson be fired. The deciding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Fletcher, fired Johnson, explaining that he could not “risk the possibility of Johnson] coming to work again under the influence of illicit drugs.” At an arbitration hearing, Fletcher testified that he “just [didn’t] believe” that Johnson accidentally took his mother’s pill, having consulted his wife, a registered nurse, and his brother-in-law, a nurse practitioner, who “confirmed that the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.” The arbitrator denied Johnson’s grievance, affirming his termination.The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded. Fletcher’s ex parte communications violated Johnson’s right to due process. When Fletcher’s relatives allegedly “confirmed” that the chances of Johnson taking his mother’s pill were “slim to none,” they were not confirming information in the record; they were providing new opinions on the evidence. View "Johnson v. Department of the Air Force" on Justia Law

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Centripetal filed an infringement complaint against PAN, which then filed an inter partes review (IPR) petition for one patent and a post-grant review (PGR) petition for another. While the petitions were pending, the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) updated its interim guidance, noting that the agency “does not accept requests for Director review of decisions on institution.” The Patent Trial and Appeal Board denied institution. PAN filed Requests for Director Rehearing. The agency responded that USPTO "does not accept requests for Director review of decisions on institution ... parties may only request Director review of final written decisions" issued in IPR and PGR and that PAN’s “rehearing requests will not revert to the Board panel and there will be no further review of the Board’s decision.”PAN sought mandamus relief. A newly-appointed Director updated the interim guidance to state that “the Office does not accept requests for Director review of institution decisions” but that “the Director has always retained and continues to retain the authority to review such decisions sua sponte.” The Director has since exercised that authority. PAN argues that the Director’s current policy was contrary to the Appointments Clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in “Arthrex,” (2021). The Federal Circuit denied the petition. That the Appointments Clause requires that a Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed officer have review authority does not mean that a principal officer, once bestowed with such authority, cannot delegate it to other agency officers. View "In Re Palo Alto Networks, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the interim relief statute does not preclude a second removal action while a first removal action is still pending when the second action cures a procedural deficiency in the first action.The Department of the Treasury initiated a removal action against Petitioner charging him with misuse of government property. Treasury sustained the charge and removed Petitioner. A Board administrative judge (AJ) reversed based on a due process defect in the action. Treasury and Petitioner both petitioned for review. While that petition was pending, Treasury initiated a second removal action based on the same charge and specifications that cured the procedural deficiency in the first removal action. Treasury then removed Petitioner. An AJ upheld the second removal action, and that decision became the Board's decision. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that Treasury was not precluded from initiating the second action while the first action was still pending. View "Coy v. Dep't of Treasury" on Justia Law

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In this appeal from an antidumping investigation of biodiesel from Argentina the Federal Circuit affirmed the judgment of the United States Court of International Trade, holding that two challenged calculations Commerce used to determine antidumping duties were supported by substantial evidence.The two calculations at issue were export price and constructed value of the subject biodiesel, a renewable fuels subject to traceable tax credits. In calculating export price, Commerce subtracted the value of the traceable credits, calling them price adjustments under 19 C.F.R. 351.401(c). Calculating constructed normal value of the biodiesel, Commerce used an international market price for soybeans, the price of which is subsidized in Argentina. Appellant argued that correcting for the soybean subsidy in the export price constituted an improper double remedy. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding (1) substantial evidence supported the value Commerce used for the traceable "price adjustment" credits; and (2) substantial evidence supported the constructed value calculation, and the calculation did not result in a double remedy. View "Vicentin S.A.I.C. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the Court of International Trade determining that the United States Customs and Border Protection timely liquidated or reliquidated ten out of eleven entries of wooden bedroom furniture from China and that Customs' mislabeling of the notice of reliquidation for the remaining entry was harmless, holding that any error was harmless.Appellants, importers of wooden bedroom furniture from China, challenged the procedure by which Customs liquidated and/or reliquidated certain of its entires of wooden bedroom furniture. The Court of International Trade granted summary judgment in favor of the government. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the Court of International Trade (1) did not err in determining that there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to the date of notice and denying certain discovery; and (2) properly determined that Customs' mislabeling of a notice as "liquidation" as opposed to "reliquidation" was harmless error. View "Aspects Furniture International, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law