Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
by
Rickel, a Fire Protection Specialist at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, was Assistant Chief of Training, responsible for determining training requirements, reviewing training records, and ensuring that firefighters’ certifications were current. Rickel applied for the Deputy Fire Chief position. Fire Chief Brusoe selected Gray. Rickel questioned the promotion and Gray’s candor in his application, asserting that several unidentified candidates had been promoted without required credentials. Gray responded that Rickel should update the training records. Rickel questioned Gray’s authority as his supervisor and claimed that his position did not require him to do so. Chief Brusoe informed Rickel that Gray was his supervisor. Gray instructed Rickel to update the records and documented that such a task was within his job description. The due date passed. The Executive Officer of Naval Air Station Jacksonville confirmed that the task was within Rickel’s responsibilities. Rickel did not respond to requests for status updates nor did he complete the work. Gray undertook the project, noting that it took 16.5 hours.Chief Brusoe proposed to remove Rickel for failure to follow instructions. Rickel appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging unlawful retaliation for his protected disclosures. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s finding that Rickel had engaged in protected whistleblowing activity, which was a contributing factor in the removal decision but that the agency had proven “by clear and convincing evidence that it would have removed [Rickel] even in the absence of his protected activity.” View "Rickel v. Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

by
“Red Sun Farms” is the trade name under which various entities do business as “U.S. producers of fresh tomatoes grown in the United States, U.S. importers and resellers of fresh tomatoes from Mexico, and foreign producers and exporters of fresh tomatoes from Mexico.”Red Sun filed suit against the government based on an antidumping duty investigation to determine whether fresh Mexican tomatoes were being imported into the United States and sold at less than fair value. In its motion to dismiss, the government observed, with respect to the five identified entities doing business as “Red Sun Farms,” that “[i]t is unclear whether all of these parties possess standing or can be considered real parties in interest” and reserved its right to raise additional arguments on the subject. In a discovery filing, the government noted the varying singular/plural usage by Red Sun Farms and stated that “‘Plaintiff’ Red Sun Farms actually consists of several companies.”The Federal Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Red Sun challenged the Department of Commerce’s Final Determination resulting from a continued investigation under 19 U.S.C. 1516a(a)(2)(B)(iv); although no final antidumping order had been issued, its claims are not premature. Jurisdiction exists based on 28 U.S.C. 1516a(g)(3)(A)(i) and 1516a(a)(2)(B)(i). View "Red Sun Farms v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 2015, the Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment invalidating BriarTek’s patent claims, which BriarTek had asserted against DBN in a parallel investigation by the International Trade Commission (ITC). The court upheld the ITC’s imposition of a $6,242,500 civil penalty for DBN’s violation of a consent order, in which it agreed not to import or sell in the U.S. any two-way global satellite communication devices that infringe those claims. The court stated that the invalidation of the asserted claims did not negate DBN’s pre-invalidation violations of the consent order.DBN petitioned the ITC to rescind or modify the civil penalty order. Following a remand, the ITC again denied DBN’s petition. The ITC reassessed the relevant factors for determining civil penalties and concluded that the invalidation of the asserted claims did not change its original assessment, citing: the good or bad faith of the respondent, the injury to the complainant, respondent’s ability to pay, the extent to which respondent has benefited from its violations, the need to vindicate the ITC’s authority; and the public interest. The ITC again noted that the consent order expressly accounted for the subsequent invalidation of the patent claims. The Federal Circuit affirmed the determination as supported by substantial evidence. View "DBN Holding, Inc. v. International Trade Commission" on Justia Law

by
Congress established the Osage reservation in Oklahoma Territory in 1872. Years later, “mammoth reserves of oil and gas” were found. Congress severed the subsurface mineral estate, reserved it to the tribe, and placed it into trust with the federal government as trustee. Royalties are distributed to tribal members listed on an approved membership roll (a headright).In previous litigation, the Claims Court found the tribe had standing and found the government liable for breaching its fiduciary duties by failing to collect the full amount of royalties and failing to invest the royalty revenue. Individual headright owners (not the present plaintiffs) attempted to intervene. The Claims Court found that the individuals had no legal interest in the dispute because they were not a party to the trust relationship. The $380 million settlement agreement stated that the tribe, “on behalf of itself and the [h]eadright [h]olders,” waived any claims relating to the tribe’s trust assets or resources that were based on violations occurring before September 30, 2011. In a federal suit, filed by individual headright owners, the Tenth Circuit held that headright owners had a trust relationship with the federal government, which was ordered to provide an accounting.In 2019, based on allegations that the accounting revealed mismanagement of the trust fund, headright owners filed the present suit under the Tucker Act and the Indian Tucker Act, citing breach of statutorily imposed trust obligations. The Federal Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. A trust relationship exists between the headright owners and the government and the 1906 Act imposes an obligation on the federal government to distribute funds to headright owners in a timely and proper manner. View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Bryant was a VA police officer, assigned to the Columbus Community Based Out-Patient Clinic in Columbus, Georgia. The VA issued Bryant a notice of proposed removal under 38 U.S.C. 714 based on conduct unbecoming a federal employee. The notice alleged that while sheriff's officers were attempting to serve Bryant “with a Temporary Family Violence Order of Protection,” Bryant made inappropriate statements and displayed a lack of professionalism; Bryant “ma[de] threats” that “caused these [officers] to fear for their safety,” which was “unacceptable” and “inexcusable” for a “[f]ederal [p]olice [o]fficer entrusted with carrying a loaded firearm each day.”The deciding official found that the charge was supported by substantial evidence and decided to remove Bryant from employment. Bryant contested whether the charged conduct occurred and whether removal was an appropriate penalty under the Douglas factors, and alleged as an affirmative defense of reprisal for protected whistleblowing activity. The administrative judge found that “the agency proved the charge by substantial evidence.” The Federal Circuit vacated in part. The Merit Systems Protection Board applied the wrong standard and, on remand, must apply a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to determine whether the conduct occurred and apply the Douglas factors to the penalty. Bryant failed to prove his affirmative defense of whistleblower reprisal. View "Bryant v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

by
Bannister has been employed by the VA for over two decades. While working as a pharmacist at the Baton Rouge Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, Bannister received a notice of proposed removal under 38 U.S.C. 714 based on conduct unbecoming a federal employee. The notice alleged that Bannister had repeatedly spoken rudely and inappropriately to veterans and coworkers, had “yell[ed] and scream[ed]” at pharmacy personnel after being informed that she had been assigned to provide curbside triage to patients.The VA issued a final decision sustaining the charge but mitigating the proposed penalty to a 30-day suspension. After considering Bannister’s “written replies” “along with all the evidence developed and provided to [Bannister],” the deciding official “found that the charge as stated in the notice of proposed removal [was] supported by substantial evidence.” Bannister contested whether the charged conduct occurred, and she alleged as an affirmative defense that the VA suspended her in reprisal for protected whistleblowing activity. The Merit Systems Protection Board upheld Bannister’s suspension.The Federal Circuit rejected her whistleblower claim but found that the Board’s decision as to the underlying suspension rested on an incorrect statement of law. On remand, the Board should apply the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard of proof. View "Bannister v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

by
The Enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, suffered financial losses in 2008 when the housing market collapsed. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), created the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), an independent agency tasked with regulating the Enterprises, including stepping in as conservator, 12 U.S.C. 4511.With the consent of the Enterprises’ boards of directors, FHFA placed the Enterprises into conservatorship, then negotiated preferred stock purchase agreements (PSPAs) with the Treasury Department to allow the Enterprises to draw up to $100 billion in exchange for senior preferred non-voting stock having quarterly fixed-rate dividends. A “net worth sweep” under the PSPAs replaced the fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one that required the Enterprises to make quarterly payments equal to their entire net worth, minus a small capital reserve amount, causing the Enterprises to transfer most of their equity to Treasury, leaving no residual value for shareholders.Shareholders challenged the net worth sweep. Barrett, an individual shareholder, separately asserted derivative claims on behalf of the Enterprises. The Claims Court dismissed the shareholders’ direct Fifth Amendment takings and illegal exaction claims for lack of standing; dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction the shareholders’ direct claims for breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of implied-in-fact contract; and found that Barrett had standing to bring his derivative claims, notwithstanding HERA. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of shareholders’ direct claims but concluded that the shareholders’ derivatively pled allegations should also be dismissed. View "Fairholme Funds, Inc. v, United States" on Justia Law

by
The Enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, suffered financial losses in 2008 when the housing market collapsed. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), created the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), tasked with regulating the Enterprises, including stepping in as conservator, 12 U.S.C. 4511. FHFA placed the Enterprises into conservatorship, then negotiated preferred stock purchase agreements (PSPAs) with the Treasury Department to allow the Enterprises to draw up to $100 billion in exchange for senior preferred non-voting stock having quarterly fixed-rate dividends. A “net worth sweep” under the PSPAs replaced the fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one that required the Enterprises to make quarterly payments equal to their entire net worth, minus a small capital reserve amount, causing the Enterprises to transfer most of their equity to Treasury, leaving no residual value for shareholders.In a companion case, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of shareholders’ direct claims challenging the net worth sweep and concluded that the shareholders’ derivatively pled allegations should also be dismissed.The Washington Federal Plaintiffs alleged direct takings and illegal exaction claims, predicated on the imposition of the conservatorships, rather than on FHFA's subsequent actions. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of those claims. Where Congress mandates the review process for an allegedly unlawful agency action, plaintiffs may not assert a takings claim asserting the agency acted in violation of a statute or regulation. These Plaintiffs also lack standing to assert their substantively derivative claims as direct claims. View "Washington Federal v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Standley was employed by the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration. Standley contends that over several years he sought to ensure that the Space and Atmospheric Burst Reporting System (SABRS) for nuclear detection, was funded and supported, believing this was required under section 1065 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008. He claims his superiors attempted to block funding and his work on SABRS. In 2015, Standley sent an email entitled “Obstruction of Public law 110- 118, NDAA 2008, Maintenance of Space-based Nuclear Detonation Detection System” to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, with copies to Department of Defense representatives, and the Office of Special Counsel. Following several additional unsuccessful attempts to change DOE's position, Standley filed an unsuccessful appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging that DOE and its employees retaliated against him for his efforts to change the DOE policy by not selecting him for any of three DOE Director positions posted in 2014-2017. Standley claimed he was engaging in protected whistleblowing when he opposed efforts to defund SABRS. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s decision. Section 1065 does not require that the DOE provide its SABRS program to the Secretary of Defense. The court acknowledged “Standley’s well-intentioned beliefs about the mission,” and his pro se status, but found his challenges to a government policy decision with which he disagreed unavailing. View "Standley v. Department of Energy" on Justia Law

by
Ash challenged the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) denial of his application for disability retirement benefits. Ash asserted disparate treatment based on race and prior protected activity. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) affirmed. Ash appealed.The Federal Circuit transferred the case to the District of Maryland. Because this case involves an action that is appealable to the MSPB and a discrimination allegation, it is a mixed case. Under 5 U.S.C. 7703(b)(1)(A), an appellant generally must appeal a final MSPB decision to the Federal Circuit but if the appellant has been affected by an action that the appellant may appeal to the MSPB and alleges that a basis for the action was discrimination prohibited by enumerated federal statutes, then the appellant has a “mixed case” and must seek judicial review in federal district court. One of those enumerated federal statutes is 42 U.S.C, 2000e16, which prohibits racial discrimination with respect to “personnel actions.” An appeal arising from a benefits decision can be a “personnel action” giving rise to a mixed case. An OPM decision that adversely affects retirement “rights or benefits,” like the Ash decision, is a “personnel action,” 5 U.S.C. 8461(e), that is appealable to the MSPB and alleges discrimination. View "Ash v. Office of Personnel Management" on Justia Law