Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

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Monk served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. In 2012, Monk sought VA disability benefits, alleging service-connected PTSD, diabetes, hypertension, and strokes. The VA denied the claim, finding that his discharge was “other than honorable.” Monk filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and separately applied to the Board of Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) to upgrade his discharge status. In 2015, the VA informed Monk that it could not process his appeal until it received BCNR records. Monk sought a writ of mandamus with Veterans Court and requested that the court certify a class of all veterans who had applied for VA benefits, had timely filed an NOD, had not received a decision within 12 months, and had demonstrated medical or financial hardship (38 U.S.C. 7107(a)(2)(B)–(C)). The Veterans Court denied the request for class certification, denied another veteran’s request to join the action, and ordered the VA to respond to Monk’s petition regarding the denial of disability benefits. BCNR then granted Monk an upgraded discharge status. The Federal Circuit reversed the denial of class certification, finding that the Veterans Court has authority to certify a class for a class action and to maintain similar aggregate resolution procedures with respect to benefit denials. View "Monk v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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This appeal and cross-appeal relate to the district court's orders releasing video recordings made at Guantanamo Bay, depicting military personnel removing a detainee, Abu Wa'el (Jihad) Dhiab, from his cell, transporting him to a medical unit, and force-feeding him to keep him alive while he was on a hunger strike. The government classified these recordings as "SECRET" because disclosing them could damage the national security, but the district court determined that the public had a constitutional right to view the recordings because the detainee's attorney filed some of them under seal, at which point the recordings became part of the court's record. The government appealed, arguing that the public has no such constitutional right. The Intervenors cross-appealed, arguing that several categories of redactions the court approved prior to public release were too extensive. The court concluded that Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court did not apply to this case and neither the intervenors nor the public at large have a right under the First Amendment to receive properly classified national security information filed in court during the pendency of Dhiab's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court further explained that, even if the intervenors had a qualified First Amendment right of access to the Dhiab recordings, the court would still reverse the district court's decision, because the government identified multiple ways in which unsealing these recordings would likely impair national security. Because the recordings will remain sealed, the intervenors' cross-appeal about the extent of the redactions was dismissed as moot View "Dhiab v. Trump" on Justia Law

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KPCC filed suit against KBR, a general contractor supporting the Government's military operations in Iraq, alleging claims for breach of contract, fraud, and promissory estoppel. At issue was a 2010 contract for, inter alia, KBR's leasing, with an option to purchase, a dining facility constructed by KPCC in Iraq. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the political-question doctrine rendered nonjusticiable the contract dispute at issue. Applying de novo review, under the discriminating inquiry required by Baker v. Carr, the court concluded that the claims presented required resolution of contractual disputes for which there existed judicially manageable standards. Therefore, there was no justiciable political question. The court disposed of KBR's remaining claims regarding the act-of-state doctrine and regarding a contractor's defense from its strict execution of a constitutionally authorized government order. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded. View "Kuwait Pearls Catering Co. WLL v. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Air Force Captain Meredith Morris and her husband filed suit against Air Force Captain Michael Thompson for injuries Captain Morris sustained on Randolph Air Force Base. The district court granted Thompson's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on the Feres doctrine. The court concluded that plaintiffs' claims were incident to service and thus the Feres doctrine applied regardless of the rank of the parties or the bringing of state-law claims; the court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the application of the Feres doctrine would interfere with their constitutional rights; the husband's loss of consortium claim was consequently barred; and the failure to seek certification under the Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. 2679(b)(1), did not divest the court of the jurisdiction to resolve what was brought to it on this appeal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Morris v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the Board of Veterans Appeals denied Parrott’s claims for benefits on account of her veteran husband’s esophageal adenocarcinoma, with liver and peritoneal metastasis, and his ensuing death. The Veterans Court vacated and remanded. Parrott then timely sought attorney fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412. The Veterans Court awarded her $4,050. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that, in arriving at its award of attorney fees, the Veterans Court misinterpreted EAJA and adopted an incorrect approach for determining the cost of living adjustment to be used in calculating her attorney’s hourly rate and that the court then abused its discretion by not allowing her to resubmit her application using the approach the court had adopted. EAJA states that “attorney fees shall not be awarded in excess of $125 per hour unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living . . . justifies a higher fee.” The court properly rejected Parrott’s request for a cost of living increase, based on Washington D.C., based on the location of the Veterans Court and applied rates based on the locations of her attorney’s offices in San Francisco, Dallas, and Little Rock. View "Parrott v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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Chavez-Alvarez, a citizen of Mexico, became a lawful permanent resident in 1989, then served in the U.S. Army. In 2000, Chavez-Alvarez penetrated the vagina of an intoxicated platoon member with his fingers and performed oral sex without consent. He initially denied the allegations, but later admitted the assault and was convicted under the Code of Military Justice: 10 U.S.C. 907, 925, and 934 for making false official statements; sodomy; and adultery and indecent assault. He was discharged and confined for 18 months. Chavez-Alvarez was charged as removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227, having been convicted of an aggravated felony with a term of imprisonment of at least one year and of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude not arising out of a single scheme. An IJ determined he was ineligible for a waiver of inadmissibility. Following a remand, the BIA concluded that Chavez-Alvarez was removable under the moral-turpitude provision, rejecting his argument that he was only convicted of sodomy, a constitutionally protected activity under Supreme Court precedent. The BIA disagreed, reasoning that Chavez-Alvarez’s crime was subject to a sentence enhancement, having been committed forcibly, which was the “functional equivalent” of a conviction for forcible sodomy, a crime involving moral turpitude, and that his two false-statements convictions were separate crimes of moral turpitude. The Third Circuit reversed, rejecting the BIA’s reasoning that “for immigration purposes a sentence enhancement can serve as the functional equivalent of an ‘element’ of an offense.” View "Chavez-Alvarez v. Attorney General , United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, who had endured many hardships in 2003 while trying to leave Baghdad, alleged, in a purported class action, that former officials of the President George W. Bush administration engaged in the war against Iraq in violation of the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. 1350. The district court held that plaintiff had not exhausted her administrative remedies as required by the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, holding that the individual defendants were entitled to official immunity under the Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. 2679(d)(1), which accords federal employees immunity from common-law tort claims for acts undertaken in the course of their official duties. The court upheld the Attorney General’s scope certification (determining that the employees were acting within the scope of their employment so that the action was one against the United States). The court rejected an argument that defendants could not be immune under the Westfall Act because plaintiff alleged violations of a jus cogens norm of international law from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law. Congress can provide immunity for federal officers for jus cogens violations. View "Saleh v. Bush" on Justia Law

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Within the Department of Defense, DRMS disposes of surplus military property at Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices (DRMOs). Property that cannot be reutilized is demilitarized and/or reduced to scrap that can be sold. A 2007 DRMS Request for Proposals sought performance of DRMO activities for up to five years. A referenced website showed DRMS’s historical workload and scrap weight; an amendment indicated that “the contractor may experience significant workload increases or decreases” and outlined a process to “renegotiate the price” if workload increased. DRMS awarded its first contract to Agility to operate six DRMOs for one base year with four option years at a fixed price of $45,233,914.92 per year. Upon commencing work in Arifjan, the largest of the DRMOs, Agility immediately fell behind. It inherited a backlog of approximately 30 weeks. From the start, the volume received at Arifjan was greater than Agility anticipated. The parties terminated their contract for convenience in 2010. Agility thereafter requested funding for its additional costs, claiming DRMS provided inaccurate workload estimates during solicitation. The contracting officer awarded Agility only $236,363.93 for its first claim and nothing for the second, noting that Agility received an offset from its scrap sales. The Federal Circuit reversed, as “clearly erroneous,” the Claims Court’s findings that DRMS did not inadequately or negligently prepare its estimates and that Agility did not rely on those estimates. Agility’s receipt of scrap sales and the parties’ agreement did not preclude recovery. View "Agility Defense & Government Services, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Kays served in the Navy, 1972-1976. In 2005, he sought benefits for disability caused by PTSD, allegedly caused by two non-combat stressors during his service. He was stabbed during a fight as he left an Enlisted Men’s Club, and while off-duty and taking diving lessons, he was asked to help with the recovery effort of a downed civilian helicopter; in the water, he was separated from the group and became stressed. Kays submitted a newspaper article, statements, records, and in-person testimony about those events. In 2005, the VA Regional Office denied Kays’s claim. The Board of Veterans Appeals remanded for further development of the record. The Regional Office again denied the PTSD claim. The Board affirmed. Meanwhile, the pertinent regulation, 38 C.F.R. 3.304(f), was amended and the Veterans Court held that the amendments were retroactive. On remand, the Board again denied Kays’s claim, finding that statements by Kays and his former spouse about the alleged stabbing were unsupported and contradicted by other evidence and that Kays’s testimony about the search and rescue was not credible because of the lack of supporting detail in the article, his delay in reporting the event, and his changing story. The Veterans Court found the Board’s decision to be a question of fact reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the Veterans Court applied the correct standard of review and correctly determined that the regulations require credible supporting evidence. View "Kays v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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Kennedy enrolled at George Washington University (GWU) in 2003. He obtained a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship in 2005, agreeing to complete Officer Candidate School (OCS), a requirement which is not waivable. The scholarship provided that if Kennedy failed to complete the requirements, he could become liable to reimburse the program. Kennedy subsequently suffered trauma and began to act abnormally. During his OCS course, his platoon commander recommended that Kennedy be disenrolled as emotionally unstable. In June 2006, a Commanding Officer’s Board disenrolled Kennedy from OCS without opportunity to return. NROTC stopped funding Kennedy’s education. In February 2007, the Assistant Secretary approved disenrollment with recoupment of $50,675. After graduation from GWU in 2007, Kennedy graduated from law school, was admitted to the bar, and filed suit. The Claims Court directed the case to the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR), a civilian body that exists to correct Naval Records. The BCNR upheld Kennedy’s disenrollment, but held that Kennedy should be relieved from reimbursement because he had been dissuaded from appearing at a hearing. The Claims Court held that Kennedy’s disenrollment was lawful and that his breach-of-contract claims for monetary relief lacked merit. The Federal Circuit reversed. Given the government’s concession that Kennedy’s due process rights were violated when he was dissuaded from attending his hearing, the Claims Court erred in concluding that Kennedy’s disenrollment was inevitable. The court directed the case be returned to the BCNR. View "Kennedy v. United States" on Justia Law