Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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Hornseth worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, which houses nuclear-powered vessels; every position requires a security clearance. Hornseth attended rehabilitation for alcoholism and provided the Navy with documents regarding his treatment. From Hornseth’s rehabilitation discharge letter, the Navy learned that Hornseth had used marijuana during his employment. The Commander notified Hornseth that his security clearance was suspended and that the Navy proposed to indefinitely suspend his employment. Hornseth filed a reply. Combs, the deciding official, engaged in communications with the Shipyard’s Human Resources staff, primarily concerning positions that would not require a security clearance. The HR department drafted a “Decision on Proposed Indefinite Suspension” and forwarded it to Combs. Combs signed the decision. The Merit Systems and Protection Board ALJ affirmed, rejecting due process arguments that the reply process was an empty formality because Combs did not have the ability to take or recommend alternative agency action and Combs and the HR staff engaged in an improper ex parte communication. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Homseth received the procedural protections of 5 U.S.C. 7513(b); he received notice, had an opportunity to respond and to be represented, and was provided with a written decision with reasons. Although Hornseth had not seen the communication to Combs before the discovery process, the information it contained was already known to Hornseth or cumulative. View "Hornseth v. Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Do a government employee since 1990, was hired by HUD’s Information Systems Audit Division. She became Division Director. In 2006, Asuncion, then working as a Justice Department auditor, applied for a GS-11 position in Do’s Division. On her resume and Questionnaire, Asuncion claimed she had a college degree in accounting. A pre-employment investigation revealed that Asuncion did not have that degree. Asuncion explained that she had completed the required coursework but needed to take one additional course to raise her GPA. Asuncion claimed good-faith mistake and promised to secure her degree. After conferring with her supervisor, Do approved Asuncion’s hiring. Asuncion was eventually promoted. In 2009, Do posted two GS-14 auditor positions. Human resources flagged Asuncion “as a qualified candidate.” Do selected Asuncion, knowing that Asuncion still did not have an accounting degree. Do later was advised that Asuncion could continue as an auditor but must obtain her degree. Asuncion resigned in 2016. HUD demoted Do to Nonsupervisory Senior Auditor and suspended her for 14 days. The Federal Circuit reversed. Do’s due process rights were violated; the Board relied on a new ground to sustain the discipline. Do's notice alleged a single charge of “negligence of duty” in hiring and promoting Asuncion. The Board’s decision concluded that Do negligently failed to investigate whether Asuncion met alternative requirements. That alternative theory appears nowhere in the notice or in the deciding official’s decision. View "Do v. Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law

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Following a positive drug test, DHS removed Hansen from his position as an Information Technology Specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After failing the drug test, Hansen had submitted a letter to the agency, claiming that he had unknowingly consumed pot brownies prepared by a friend-of-a-friend’s neighbor, a stranger to him, at a barbeque. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed. Hansen appealed, arguing that the Board improperly assigned him the burden of proving that he inadvertently ingested marijuana, that it erred in finding his position was subject to random drug testing, and that even if it was subject to such testing, he lacked required notice of that fact. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that intent is not an element of the charged conduct and that the Board properly required Hansen to introduce rebuttal evidence to counter the government’s showing of nexus and choice of penalty. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that Hansen’s position was designated for random drug testing. View "Hansen v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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The Court of Federal Claims held that the government effected a physical taking of a 10-acre peninsula on the island of Culebra in Puerto Rico, when the Fish and Wildlife Service faxed its claim of ownership to a gun mount located on the peninsula to a potential purchaser. The location of the government’s claim had been disputed for many years. After the fax was sent, a potential buyer of the land around the claimed area backed out. The Federal Circuit reversed, first holding that the claim was not untimely under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491. Even if Plaintiffs “knew or had reason to know of the government’s claims" before 2006, a mere government assertion of ownership does not constitute a taking. The scope and location of the government’s alleged taking was not previously fixed as it was in the 2006 fax. The government’s mere sharing of information about its claim of ownership with a third party does not constitute a physical taking (or a per se regulatory taking) of that property; the government did not physically occupy part of Plaintiffs’ property, require Plaintiffs to suffer a permanent physical invasion, directly appropriate Plaintiffs’ property, constitute the functional equivalent of an ouster of Plaintiffs’ possession, or deprive Plaintiffs of all economically beneficial use of Plaintiffs’ property. View "Katzin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Inholders own patented mining and homestead claims within the Santa Fe National Forest. The 2011 Las Conchas Fire caused widespread destruction of vegetation within the forest. Forest Roads 89 and 268, which the Inholders had used to access their properties, were severely damaged by subsequent flooding. The Forest Service notified them that the roads were “impassible” and that it would provide them with limited access: “a combination of driving and hiking over specific routes and under specific weather conditions.” Later, the Service sent a letter stating that “public safety would be highly threatened by use of” the roads; that it would close the roads to public access for the foreseeable future; that because of continuing terrain instability, any reconstruction would likely be destroyed by future flooding; and, even if reconstruction were possible, the Service could not justify expending public funds when there is no general public need. The Service suggested that the Inholders work “collectively” to reconstruct the roads. The Inholders claimed that they held statutorily-granted easements. The USDA disagreed, citing 90 Stat. 2743, but acknowledged that the Inholders had a right to access their properties, “subject to reasonable regulations.” The Inholders claimed a compensable taking. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal, finding that the Inholders had not adequately pled a physical taking and that any regulatory taking claim was not ripe because the Inholders had not applied for a permit to reconstruct the roads. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Surface and Transportation Board (STB) has regulatory authority over rail carriers, 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). A "discontinuance" allows a rail carrier to preserve a rail corridor for possible reactivation of service; "abandonment" removes the line from the system and terminates the railroad’s common carrier obligation. The 1983 Amendments to the National Trails System Act created an alternative process, “railbanking,” 16 U.S.C. 1241, which maintains STB jurisdiction over the dormant corridor, but allows a third party to assume responsibilities for the right-of-way, preserve the right-of-way for future rail use, and, in the interim, convert the corridor into a recreational trail. The railroad first initiates abandonment proceedings; a party interested in acquiring the corridor then requests an STB Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU). If an agreement is reached, the STB suspends abandonment proceedings, preventing state law reversionary interests in the corridor from vesting. Property owners who believed they had a reversionary interest began claiming that railbanking constituted a taking: the threshold question is whether the claimant has a compensable property interest, which is often answered by analyzing the original deeds that conveyed the property to the railroad. In 2012, BNSF initiated proceedings to abandon a corridor. The Chicago Department of Transportation indicated interest in railbanking. The STB issued an NITU, giving BNSF until April 2014, to negotiate an agreement, after which the corridor would be abandoned. After numerous extensions, BNSF has neither reached an agreement nor abandoned the corridor. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court: the deeds between the predecessors-in-interest to the claimants and the original railroad conveyed the property to the railroad in fee simple rather than only an easement. There was no taking of any reversionary interest. View "Chicago Coating Co., LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Alimanestianu, a U.S. citizen, was killed in the 1989 bombing of Flight 772 by the Abu Nidal Organization. The State Department determined that the Libyan government sponsored the bombing. Libya was protected from suit in the U.S. under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA); in 1996, FSIA was amended to permit claims for personal injury or death caused by acts of foreign sovereigns designated as state sponsors of terrorism, 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(7). Libya had been designated in 1979. In 2002, the Alimanestianus and others sued Libya and obtained summary judgment in 2008, awarding $6.9 billion in total; the Alimanestianus received $1.297 billion. While the defendants appealed, the United States entered into a Claims Settlement Agreement with Libya. Libya agreed to deposit $1.5 billion into a humanitarian fund, $681 million of which was for claims by U.S. nationals for wrongful death or physical injury in pending case as “a full and final settlement.” The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission subsequently awarded the Alimanestianus $10 million. The Federal Circuit rejected a claim that vacating their judgment constituted a compensable taking. The court considered the Penn Central factors: the Executive has an overwhelming interest in conducting foreign affairs; the plaintiffs have no evidence that they had an investment-backed expectation in their claims and nonfinal judgment; plaintiffs’ claim that the Commission’s award was less than their nonfinal judgment does not refute that they received more than they would have without government action. View "Alimanesianu v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs leased part of Love Field airport from the City of Dallas and constructed a six-gate airline terminal. Plaintiffs claim that the Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006 (WARA), 120 Stat. 2011, effected a regulatory taking of their leases and a physical taking of the terminal because the statute codified a private agreement in which Dallas agreed to bar the use of plaintiffs’ gates for commercial air transit and to acquire and demolish plaintiffs’ terminal. The Claims Court found that WARA's enactment constituted a per se regulatory taking of plaintiffs’ leaseholds under Supreme Court precedent, Lucas, and a regulatory taking of the leaseholds under Penn Central, and a physical taking of the terminal. The Federal Circuit reversed. Noting the history of regulation of Love Field and limitations in place before WARA, the court stated there can be no regulatory taking because plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their ability to use their property for commercial air passenger service pre-WARA had any value. Plaintiffs’ reasonable, investment-backed expectations are limited by the regulatory regime in place when they acquired the leases. Rejecting a claim of physical taking the court reasoned that a requirement that federal funds not be used for removal of plaintiffs’ gates explicitly distances the federal government from Dallas’ intended action. View "Love Terminal Partners, L.P. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Saint Bernard Parish Government and other owners of real property in St. Bernard Parish or in the Lower Ninth Ward of the City of New Orleans sued under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), alleging a taking. They claimed that the government was liable for flood damage to their properties caused by Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes. Plaintiffs’ theory was that the government incurred liability because of government inaction, including the failure to properly maintain or to modify the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel, and government action (the construction and operation of the MRGO channel). The Claims Court found a taking occurred and awarded compensation. The Federal Circuit reversed. The government cannot be liable on a takings theory for inaction and the government action in constructing and operating MRGO was not shown to have been the cause of the flooding. The Claims Court failed to apply the correct legal standard, which required that the causation analysis account for government flood control projects that reduced the risk of flooding. View "St. Bernard Parish Government v. United States" on Justia Law

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Brunetti owns the clothing brand “fuct.” In 2011, individuals filed an intent-to-use application for the mark FUCT for items of apparel. The applicants assigned the application to Brunetti, who amended it to allege use of the mark. The examining attorney refused to register the mark under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), finding it comprised immoral or scandalous matter because FUCT is the past tense of “fuck,” a vulgar word, and is therefore scandalous. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed. The Federal Circuit reversed. While substantial evidence supports the Board’s findings and it did not err concluding the mark comprises immoral or scandalous matter, section 2(a)’s bar on registering immoral or scandalous marks is an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. The bar is a content-based restriction on speech; trademark registration is not a government subsidy program that could justify such a bar. Nor is trademark registration a “limited public forum,” in which the government can more freely restrict speech. The bar survives neither strict nor intermediate scrutiny. Even if the government had a substantial interest in protecting the public from scandalous or immoral marks, the regulation does not directly advance that interest because section 2(a) does not directly prevent applicants from using their marks. View "In re: Brunetti" on Justia Law