Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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SFM owns the federal registration for SPROUTS for use in connection with grocery store services. The SPROUTS mark was first used in commerce not later than April 2002. Corcamore owns a federal trademark registration for SPROUT for use in connection with vending machine services, claiming a first use date of May 2008. Corcamore’s SPROUT mark is used on a cashless payment card, an associated customer loyalty program, and a website for customers.SFM filed a petition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel Corcamore’s registration. Corcamore argued that SFM lacked standing. The Board determined that the Supreme Court’s Lexmark decision was not applicable; Lexmark was limited to civil actions for false advertising (15 U.S.C. 1125(a)) and does not extend to cancellation of registered marks (section 1064). The court concluded that SFM had standing because it sufficiently alleged a real interest in the proceeding and a reasonable belief of damage. Corcamore informed SFM’s counsel that it would bring “procedural maneuvers,” then proceeded to file motions in violation of Board orders, to refuse to cooperate with discovery, and to disregard Board-imposed sanctions.The Board granted SFM default judgment, citing 37 C.F.R. 2.120(h) and its inherent authority to control its docket. The Board concluded that a lesser sanction would be inappropriate because Corcamore had already violated sanctions and had engaged in willful, bad-faith tactics, consistent with its “procedural maneuvers” letter, taxing Board resources. The Federal Circuit affirmed. SFM was entitled to maintain a petition for cancellation of trademark registrations. The Board did not abuse its discretion in imposing default judgment. View "Corcamore, LLC v. SFM, LLC" on Justia Law

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Veterans sought certification for the class of veterans whose disability claims had not been resolved by the Board of Veterans Appeals within one year of the filing of a Notice of Disagreement (NOD), requesting judicial action to compel the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to decide all pending appeals within one year of receipt of a timely NOD. The Veterans Court requested that they separate or limit the requested class action into issues that meet the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) “commonality” standard. The veterans declined, stating that “systemic delay” exists in the VA claims system, and broad judicial remedy is required.The Veterans Court denied the requested class certification. While the case was pending, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, 131 Stat. 1105 purportedly improved processing times by allowing claimants to choose: higher-level review, a supplemental claim, board review with a hearing and opportunity to submit additional evidence, board review without a hearing, but with an opportunity to submit additional evidence, or board review without a hearing or additional evidence, based on their priorities on appeal.The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification, citing the lack of proof of commonality. When Congress has crafted a comprehensive remedial structure, that structure warrants evaluation in practice before judicial intervention is contemplated. View "Monk v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Mote served in the Air Force, 1961-1965, participating in missions to Vietnam, where Agent Orange was deployed. Mote later developed coronary artery disease and lung cancer. In 2010, Mote filed a disability claim based. In 2013, Mote filed his Notice of Disagreement with the denial of that claim. He died months later. Mrs. Mote substituted for his claim and filed a dependency-and-indemnity compensation claim. The VA denied Mrs. Mote’s claim in 2015; she filed her Notice of Disagreement and requested a Board of Veterans’ Appeals “Travel Board hearing.”Mote sought mandamus relief, 28 U.S.C. 1651, alleging unreasonable delay. The Veterans Court denied the petition, applying the “Costanza” standard. The government claimed, due to limited resources, it “could not predict how long” Mote might have to wait for a hearing. The Federal Circuit consolidated her appeal with others and held that the Veterans Court should use the Telecommunications Research & Action Center v. FCC (TRAC) standard to evaluate unreasonable-delay mandamus petitions rather than the Costanza standard. On remand, Mote requested a “reasoned decision” from the Board (within 45 days) and periodic progress reports. In March 2019. the Board scheduled her Travel Board hearing for May 2019. The Veterans Court dismissed Mrs. Mote’s mandamus petition without applying the TRAC standard. The Board subsequently remanded for further factual findings.The Federal Circuit again remanded, for a TRAC analysis, noting that Mote sought progress reports, in addition to a decision, and that the Veterans Court was not powerless to fashion other relief, such as a more lenient, specific, deadline. Whether a delay is so egregious as to justify the extraordinary writ depends on issues that are likely to arise frequently among veterans. The Veterans Court is uniquely well-positioned to address these issues first. View "Mote v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempts from overtime requirements those employed in an executive, administrative, or professional capacity, 29 U.S.C. 213(a)(1). If an employer violates the overtime requirement, it is liable for unpaid overtime compensation plus an equal amount as liquidated damages. If the employer shows “good faith and that [it] had reasonable grounds for believing that [its] act or omission was not a violation," the court may award no liquidated damages. The FLSA applies to civilian employees of the federal government. In 2007, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) classified Shea’s position, Investigations Specialist, as exempt from the overtime requirements.The Claims Court held that NCIS that it had not willfully misclassified Shea, so that the relevant period started in 2014, and found that Shea’s team leader duty was optional and comprised a minority of the Investigations Specialist position’s duties so that Shea’s primary duty was not management but was “conducting surveillance,” which would not qualify for the administrative exemption. The court awarded Shea compensatory damages and back pay but denied liquidated damages, finding NCIS’s classification decision objectively reasonable and in good faith. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The statute does not require documentation of the original classification decision and requiring frequent classification review would be untenable. Between the position description and the testimony of Shea, his supervisor, and NCIS’s classification witness, the evidence supports the holding that NCIS reasonably believed that Shea’s position had substantial managerial duties. View "Shea v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ramirez was a Customs Officer, required to remain medically qualified to carry a service firearm. His wife reported to the police that he had cocked his service weapon and pointed it at her head. The police concluded that the allegations were unfounded. Ramirez was not charged. The Agency temporarily revoked Ramirez’s authority to carry a firearm and ordered a fitness-for-duty evaluation, with a psychiatric evaluation. His first evaluation was inconclusive. A second psychiatrist was also unable to assess Ramirez’s dangerousness but recommended that Ramirez be restricted from weapons-carrying positions based on his “lack of full cooperativeness.” A third-party psychologist had determined that Ramirez’s Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory results were invalid due to “extreme defensiveness.” Ramirez answered every MMPI question; the finding was based on his answers. The Agency terminated him.In arbitration, the Agency denied Ramirez access to the MMPI assessments and interpretations. Ramirez offered the testimony of his own expert, who administered another MMPI and interpreted his scores as within a range typical among law enforcement personnel. After a fourth fitness-for-duty evaluation and MMPI assessment, the same psychologist again interpreted the results as invalid “because of high defensiveness.” The arbitrator affirmed Ramirez’s removal and denied Ramirez’s request to order the Agency to produce the records of his MMPI assessments.The Federal Circuit vacated. The arbitrator did not exceed his authority by seeking additional evidence after issuing his interim award but Ramirez was entitled to a meaningful opportunity to review and challenge the assessments underlying his adverse psychiatric evaluations. View "Ramirez v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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Taylor's leases for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), set to expire in 2007, incorporated Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1301, regulations. They required Taylor to leave the leased area “in a manner satisfactory to the [Regional] Director.” Taylor drilled 28 wells, each connected to an oil platform. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan toppled Taylor’s platform, rendering the wells inoperable. Taylor discovered leaking oil but took no action. In 2007, Taylor was ordered to decommission the wells within one year. Taylor sought extensions. The government required Taylor to set aside funds for its decommissioning obligations. For Taylor to receive reimbursement, the government must confirm the work was conducted “in material compliance with all applicable federal laws and . . . regulations" and with the Leases. The resulting Trust Agreement states that it “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of" Louisiana. Taylor attempted to fulfill its obligations. The government approved a departure from certain standards but ultimately refused to relieve Taylor of its responsibilities.Taylor filed claims involving Louisiana state law: breach of the Trust Agreement; request for dissolution of the trust account based on impossibility of performance; request for reformation for mutual error; and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. OCSLA makes federal law exclusive in its regulation of the OCS. To the extent federal law applies to a particular issue, state law is inapplicable. OCSLA regulations address the arguments underlying Taylor’s contract claims, so Louisiana state law cannot be adopted as surrogate law. View "Taylor Energy Co. LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud procurement is directed to the long-term provision of enterprise-wide cloud computing services to the Defense Department. Its solicitation contemplated a 10-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with a single provider. The JEDI solicitation included “gate” provisions that prospective bidders would be required to satisfy, including that the contractor must have at least three existing physical commercial cloud offering data centers within the U.S., separated by at least 150 miles, providing certain offerings that were “FedRAMP Moderate Authorized” at the time of proposal (a reference to a security level). Oracle did not satisfy the FedRAMP Moderate Authorized requirement and filed a pre-bid protest.The Government Accountability Office, Claims Court, and Federal Circuit rejected the protest. Even if Defense violated 10 U.S.C. 2304a by structuring the procurement on a single-award basis, the FedRAMP requirement would have been included in a multiple-award solicitation, so Oracle was not prejudiced by the single-award decision. The FedRAMP requirement “constituted a specification,” not a qualification requirement; the agency structured the procurement as a full and open competition. Satisfying the gate criteria was merely the first step in ensuring that the Department’s time was not wasted on offerors who could not meet its minimum needs. The contracting officer properly exercised her discretion in finding that the individual and organizational conflicts complained of by Oracle did not affect the integrity of the procurement. View "Oracle America Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2014-2018, Harris was the Branch Chief of the Continuity of Operations (COOP) branch, a division of the SEC’s Office of Support Operations (OSO) in Washington, D.C. In mid-2017, performance issues began to surface with respect to the Achieving Results in Occupation and Teamwork and Collaboration critical elements of her performance evaluations. The notice described examples such as disregarding supervisory guidance, coming to meetings unprepared, and demonstrating inflexibility. Harris had 90 days to improve her performance by satisfying 15 Performance Improvement Requirements (PIP). In January 2018, after that period ended, Harris received a notice of proposed removal, identifying eight instances of failing to meet the Performance Improvement Requirements. In February 2018, Harris was removed from the agency for “unacceptable performance” of her duties, 5 U.S.C. 4303(a).The Merit Systems Protection Board and Federal Circuit upheld her removal. Substantial evidence indicates that Harris was sufficiently warned of her inadequate performance. Harris has not shown that her PIP standards were unreasonable. None of the agency’s actions during the PIP amount to sufficient evidence of pretext to call into question the well-supported conclusion that Harris received a meaningful opportunity to improve her performance. The court noted that Harris had waived any claims of discrimination or retaliation. View "Harris v. Securities and Exchange Commission" on Justia Law

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The West Virginia adjutant general terminated Dyer from his position as a dual-status military technician with the U.S. Air Force. The National Guard Technicians Act of 1968 (NGTA) established authority for dual-status positions like Dyer’s. Under 32 U.S.C. 709, the NGTA requires dual-status technicians to maintain military membership with the National Guard. Dyer met this requirement by maintaining membership with the West Virginia Air National Guard (WVANG) until 2018 when Dyer was separated from the WVANG. The WV adjutant general terminated his dual-status position because he no longer met the military membership requirement of his employment.The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed, rejecting Dyer’s argument that he was not provided the due process he is entitled to under Title 5. The Federal Circuit directed the Board to dismiss the appeal. According to 32 U.S.C. 709, the Board does not have jurisdiction over the termination of a dual-status employee to the extent the termination was required under the statute because the employee had been separated from the National Guard. View "Dyer v. Department of the Air Force" on Justia Law

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Cottingham sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-10, alleging that a Gardasil® vaccination received by her minor daughter, K.C., in 2012, for the prevention of HPV, caused K.C. injuries. The claim was filed immediately before the limitations period ran out.The government stated argued that a "reasonable basis for bringing the case may not be present.” Cottingham’s counsel was granted additional time but was unable to submit an expert opinion supporting her claim. The Special Master denied compensation. Cottingham sought attorneys’ fees and litigation costs ($11,468.77), 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1). The Master found no evidence to support the "vaguely asserted claims" that the vaccination caused K.C.’s headaches, fainting, or menstrual problems." While remand was pending the Federal Circuit held (Simmons) that although a looming statute of limitations deadline may impact the question of whether good faith existed to bring a claim, that deadline does not provide a reasonable basis for asserting a claim. The Master decided that Simmons did not impact his analysis, applied a “totality of the circumstances” standard, and awarded attorneys’ fees. The Claims Court vacated and affirmed the Special Master’s third decision, finding no reasonable basis for Cottingham’s claim.The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that there is no dispute that Cottingham filed her claim in good faith. Simmons did not abrogate the “totality of the circumstances inquiry.” K.C.’s medical records paired with the Gardasil® package insert constitute circumstantial, objective evidence supporting causation. View "Cottingham v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law