Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

by
The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established a system that includes the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and 12 regional Reserve Banks. The Board exercises broad regulatory supervision over the Reserve Banks, which serve as banks to the U.S. government and to commercial banks who are members of the Federal Reserve System. The Act set the statutory rate for dividend payments on Federal Reserve Bank stock at six percent per year, which remained in effect until 2016, when an amendment (12 U.S.C. 289(a)(1)) effectively reduced the dividend rate for certain stockholder banks to a lower variable rate. Plaintiffs argued that banks that subscribed to Reserve Bank stock before the amendment are entitled to dividends at the six percent rate and that, by paying dividends at the amended rate, the government breached a contractual duty or effected a Fifth Amendment taking. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. There is no “clear indication” of the government’s intent to contract in either the language of the Federal Reserve Act or the circumstances of its passage. Plaintiffs did not allege a legally cognizable property interest arising from its “statutory rights” and the requirement that member banks subscribe to reserve bank stock under the Act does not constitute a regulatory taking. View "American Bankers Association v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Moodys leased Pine Ridge Indian Reservation parcels for agriculture. The government has a trust responsibility for Indian agricultural lands, 25 U.S.C. 3701(2). The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to participate in the management of such lands, with the participation of the beneficial owners and has delegated some responsibilities to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). BIA regulations generally allow Indian landowners to enter into agricultural leases with BIA approval. Each Moody lease defined “the Indian or Indians” as the “LESSOR.” The Claims Court concluded that the Oglala Sioux Tribe signed the leases. Other lease provisions distinguished between the lease parties and the Secretary of the Interior/United States. Issues arose in 2012. The BIA sent letters canceling the leases, noting that the Moodys could appeal the decision to the Regional Director. Within the 30-day appeal period, the Moodys returned with a cashier’s check in the proper amount, which the BIA accepted. The BIA informed the Moodys that they need not appeal, could continue farming, and did not require written confirmation. Subsequently, the Moodys received trespass notices and were instructed to vacate, which they did. The Moodys did not appeal within the BIA but sued the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the written contract claims for lack of jurisdiction because the government was not a party to the leases, for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the Moodys did not have implied-in-fact contracts with the government, and for failure to raise a cognizable takings claim because their claim was based on the government’s alleged violation of applicable regulations. View "Moody v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Landowners inherited Welty Farm in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, bordered by the Whitewater River. Givens purchased a farm bordering and downstream from the Welty Farm in 1998. Givens maintains a drainage ditch and levee system near the River and is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), 16 U.S.C. 3831. Under the CRP, landowners can enter into contracts to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and to manage it in accordance with an approved conservation plan in exchange for monetary compensation from the USDA. Conservation plans for land adjacent to streams or rivers commonly require the maintenance of a “filter strip,” an area of vegetation adjacent to water to remove nutrients, sediment, organic matter, pesticides, and other pollutants from surface runoff and subsurface flow. In 2014, the Landowners sued Givens, alleging that his levee and ditch system resulted in the drainage of wetlands on Welty Farm and “caused unnatural flooding,” which rendered Welty Farm “unfit for cultivation.” The suit was dismissed. The Landowners sued the United States, claiming that the government had taken their property without just compensation by “requiring and/or approving the construction and maintenance” of the Givens levee. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Landowners pled no facts suggesting that the flooding was a direct and intended result of the government’s actions nor have they pled facts sufficient to show that Givens was “coerced” into constructing and maintaining his levee. View "Welty v. United States" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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