Articles Posted in U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals

by
About 100 years ago, the then-owners of land abutting a 2.88-mile stretch of rail corridor near the City of South Hutchinson, Kansas granted deeds covering that land to the predecessor of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). The corridor was used by BNSF until 2004. It was then converted to a recreational trail pursuant to the National Trail Systems Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The current owners asserted that the conversion constituted a taking and sought compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The Court of Federal Claims entered summary judgment in favor of the government, finding that none of the plaintiffs possessed a fee-simple property interest in the land underlying the rail corridor that could be the subject of a taking because the land had been conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple and not by easements. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part, finding that some of the land was conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple, but that the railroad was only granted an easement over other land. With respect to others, the issue was clouded by chain-of-title questions. View "Biery v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Former GM and Chrysler dealers, whose franchises were terminated in the 2009 bankruptcies of those companies, sued, alleging that the terminations constituted a taking because the government required them as a condition of its providing financial assistance to the companies. The Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 363, 365, authorizes certain sales of a debtor’s assets and provides that a bankruptcy trustee “may assume or reject any executory contract or unexpired lease of the debtor.” Debtors-in-possession in chapter 11 bankruptcies, like GM and Chrysler, generally have a trustee’s powers. The Claims Court denied motions to dismiss. In interlocutory appeals, the Federal Circuit remanded for consideration of the issues of the “regulatory” impact of the government’s “coercion” and of economic impact. While the allegations of economic loss are deficient in not sufficiently alleging that the economic value of the franchises was reduced or eliminated as a result of the government’s actions, the proper remedy is to grant to leave to amend the complaints to include the necessary allegations. View "A&D Auto Sales, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In the 1830s, the Army Corps of Engineers began constructing harbor jetties into Lake Michigan near the St. Joseph River. In 1950 the Corps began encasing the jetties in steel-sheet piling. The project was completed in 1989. Plaintiffs own land along the lake shore, south of the jetties. The shoreline is eroding naturally, but plaintiffs allege that the jetties block the flow of sand and sediment from the river and the lakeshore north of their properties, interrupting the natural littoral drift and leading to increased erosion on their properties. In 1958, the Corps released a study that documented increased erosion in certain areas. Following another study, a mitigation plan was implemented in 1976, using fine sand. After 15 years of beach nourishment, efforts shifted to using coarser sediment; in 1995, the Corps dumped large rocks into the lake. The Corps released reports in 1973, 1996, 1997, and 1999 on the erosive effects of the jetties and the progress of mitigation. There was also a 1998 newspaper article concerning the erosion. In 1999, plaintiffs filed suit, alleging takings, 28 U.S.C. 1491. The Claims Court dismissed the actions as time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the court clearly erred in finding that plaintiffs knew or should have known of their claims before 1952 and violated the mandate of a previous remand. View "Banks v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 1941, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Prado Dam on the Santa Ana River near Corona, California. Plaintiffs’ predecessors purchased property in the flood control basin. The Corps anticipated inundation of property in that basin and paid for flowage easements to an elevation of 556 feet. In the 1970s, the Corps planned to modify the Dam, raising its height, increasing the size of the spillway, and enlarging the reservoir. The project was expected to raise the flood inundation line by 10 feet. Under a 1989 agreement, local agencies undertook to acquire or condemn needed property and easements. In 1999, the Orange County Flood Control District offered to purchase the plaintiffs’ property. No agreement was reached. In 2003 the Corps issued new flood-plain maps. Local governmental agencies recorded a survey showing the 566-foot flood inundation line and arranged for placement of small surveyor’s markers at the 566-foot line. Chino rezoned the plaintiffs’ property below the 566-foot line for “passive recreation and open space use.” There has not been any flooding above the 556-foot line before or after the dam level was raised. In 2011, the plaintiffs sued, claiming a taking of a flowage easement over their property between the 556-foot and 566-foot lines. The Claim Court Claims dismissed, holding that absent actual flooding, the plaintiffs could not sustain their claim. The governmental actions, at most, support apprehension of future flooding. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Stueve Bros. Farms, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Beginning in 1993 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implemented temporary deviations from its 1953 Water Control Manual in operating the Clearwater Dam, to protect agricultural and other uses. Efforts to update the Manual were eventually abandoned. The state sought compensation for "taking" of its flowage easement based on flooding of the 23,000-acre Black River Wildlife Management Area, which resulted in excessive timber mortality. The Court of Claims awarded more than $5.5 million in damages. The Federal Circuit reversed, reasoning that temporary flooding, which is not "inevitably recurring," does not amount to a taking, but, at most, created tort liability. In 2012, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that government-induced flooding can qualify as a Fifth Amendment taking, even if temporary in duration. On remand, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court, after addressing the issues noted by the Supreme Court: whether the injury was caused by authorized government action, whether the injury was a foreseeable result of that action, and whether the injury constituted a sufficiently severe invasion that interfered with the owner’s reasonable expectations as to the use of the land. View "AR Game & Fish Comm'n v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Based on misconduct that he allegedly committed in his previous positions as a police officer and deputy sheriff, the Transportation Security Administration suspended and ultimately revoked Gargiulo’s security clearance, which was necessary for his job as a Federal Air Marshall. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed. On appeal, Gargiulo argued that the agency deprived him of constitutional due process by not timely providing him with documentary materials relied upon in deciding to suspend his security clearance. Although he was given notice of the reasons for the suspension of his security clearance as early as August 2008, he was not provided with copies of the documentary materials until May 2009, three months after he was suspended from his job. The Federal Circuit affirmed, stating that security clearance decisions do not implicate any due process rights. View "Gargiulo v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs own properties surrounded by or adjacent to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the largest national forest in California, encompassing approximately 2.1 million acres. In 2008 the “Iron Complex” wildfires burned within the Forest. The U.S. Forest Service intentionally lit fires to reduce unburned timber that might fuel the fires, causing destruction of 1,782 acres of marketable timber on plaintiffs’ properties. Plaintiffs alleged a taking for which they should be compensated. The district court dismissed, citing the doctrine of necessity, which absolves the government from liability for any taking or destruction of property in efforts to fight fires. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, reasoning that not every action taken for the purpose of fire prevention is protected by the necessity doctrine. The facts pled in the complaint do not demonstrate that the Iron Complex fire created an imminent danger and an actual emergency necessitating the burning of 1,782 acres. View "TrinCo Inv. Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The companies, which import clothing and footwear, filed suit in the Court of International Trade, alleging that classifications in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States discriminated on the basis of age or gender in violation of the equal protection clause of the Due Process Clause. Those classifications assess different tariff rates depending on whether footwear or clothing is subcategorized as being for youth, men, or for women. The Trade Court dismissed for failure to state a claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Where a law is facially neutral, a party pleading discrimination under equal protection must show that the law has a disparate impact resulting from a discriminatory purpose. Proving discriminatory intent requires more than mere awareness of consequences; it would require proving that Congress enacted the classifications “because of, not merely in spite of, [their] adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” View "Rack Room Shoes v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 1903 the railroad acquired a right-of-way for a 100-foot wide, 76-mile long, strip across Arizona land near the Mexican border. After operating for about 100 years, the railroad initiated proceedings to abandon the railway with the Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board, which issued a Notice of Interim Trail or Abandonment (NITU) in 2006 authorizing conversion to a public trail under the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The landowners sued, alleging that issuance of the NITU constituted a compensable taking. The claims court dismissed, reasoning that the government had not physically invaded the property. The Federal Circuit reversed and held that the takings claim accrued when the 2006 NITU issued. During discovery on remand, the government produced a NITU affecting the property that had issued in 1998. There was no indication that the NITU was published; the landowners submitted declarations that they were not aware of the 1998 NITU. The claims court held that the limitations period began in 1998 and that the claims were time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed. In these circumstances, the government’s interest in bright-line legal rules must yield to the landowners’ right to receive actual or constructive notice that their claims have accrued. View "Ladd v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Smith was disbarred by the Tenth Circuit in 1996, followed by reciprocal disbarments by the Fifth Circuit, the U.S. District of Colorado and Northern District of Texas, and the Colorado Supreme Court. In 2007, the Tenth Circuit granted reinstatement, provided that Smith met conditions. The conditions were satisfied, and Smith was reinstated. The other courts then readmitted him to their bars, except the Colorado Supreme Court. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado then reversed itself and denied reinstatement, because Smith remained disbarred by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. Smith filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, seeking compensation and equitable relief, alleging violations substantive and procedural due process and of equal protection, and judicial takings of his private property right to practice law and make a living. The Claims Court dismissed, reasoning that absent a money-mandating statute providing for compensation for such government action, it had no jurisdiction and that because the revocation actions became final no later than 1999, suit under the Tucker Act was barred by the six-year limitations period, 28 U.S.C. 2501.. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Smith v. United States" on Justia Law