Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

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Sharpe checked in aboard the USS Carl Vinson in 2006. The aircraft carrier was undergoing an overhaul and was uninhabitable. Sharpe was instructed to report to the Media Department in the Newport News complex. Sharpe regularly reported to this onshore location throughout his assignment. He never performed regular duties onboard the Carl Vinson nor did he “eat, work, live, stand watch or serve any punishment aboard" any ship. In 2007, a reporter contacted the Fleet Forces Public Affairs Office about Sharpe’s alleged involvement in “hate group activity.” Sharpe was ordered to report to his home while NCIS investigated. Sharpe was informed that the Commanding Officer intended to impose a non-judicial punishment; the CO issued a punitive letter of reprimand. Sharpe inquired about demanding a trial by court-martial. The CO cited the “vessel exception,” which denies the right of a service member “attached to or embarked in a vessel” to refuse a non-judicial punishment and demand a trial by court-martial, 10 U.S.C. 815(a). The Assistant Secretary of the Navy approved a recommendation to discharge Sharpe. Sharpe formally separated from the Navy in 2009. In 2012, Sharpe submitted a successful application for Correction of Naval Record, requesting reinstatement and that his naval record be corrected by removing documentation pertaining to his non-judicial punishment. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s determinations with respect to back payment of regular and special pay, allowances, allotments, compensation, emoluments, and other pecuniary benefits. View "Sharpe v. United States" on Justia Law

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Cameo Williams, Sr. was a veteran of the United States Army, who spent his entire service stateside - never overseas or in combat. But for years, based on false statements about combat service, he obtained VA benefits for combat-related PTSD. The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in this case was whether it mattered about Williams’ lies about overseas service to obtain his PTSD benefits. The Court rejected Williams’s argument that his lie was not material under 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2), as well as his two challenges to evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the United States for negligent supervision and training. Plaintiff alleged that he suffered emotional and physical distress after the Veterans Administration (VA) sent him a letter erroneously stating that his corneal ulcerations were not service-connected. The court held that the Veterans' Judicial Review Act (VJRA) limits district courts' jurisdiction over suits involving a VA benefits determination. Therefore, the Board's determination that the February 2015 letter contained a "clear and unmistakable" error does not constitute an admission of negligence such that the district court would no longer need to review a benefits determination in deciding plaintiff's claim. Therefore, the action was properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Newcombe v. United States" on Justia Law

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A 1941 Executive Order, ordered into the service of the U.S. armed forces all of the organized military forces of the Philippines, a U.S. territory. Various Filipino military organizations and more than 100,000 members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army served the U.S. during World War II. After the war, Congress passed Surplus Appropriation Rescission Acts, 38 U.S.C. 107, providing that service in these Filipino military organizations “shall not be deemed to have been active military, naval, or air service.” Filipino veterans were not eligible for the same benefits as U.S. veterans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, 123 Stat. 115, 200–02, established a $198 million fund to provide one-time payments to Filipino veterans: $15,000 for U.S. citizens and $9,000 for non-citizens. The statute required Filipino veterans to apply for this payment within one year of the statute’s enactment. The VA required that the relevant service department verify the veteran’s service. The VA treats the service department’s decision as conclusive, regardless of other evidence documenting service. The VA denied Cruz’s application because the Army certified that Cruz did not have service as a member of the Philippine Commonwealth Army, including recognized guerillas, as “he was not listed in the Reconstructed Guerilla Roster” The Federal Circuit reversed in part. The VA can generally rely on the service department’s determination in deciding eligibility for payment but, in this context, must give the veteran a meaningful opportunity to challenge his service record through the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. View "Dela Cruz v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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While serving on a Navy aircraft carrier in 1969, Francway was hit by wind: “[t]he resulting fall caused him to injure his back.” He “was placed on bedrest for a week and assigned to light duty for three months.” In 2003, Francway filed a VA claim for service connection for his back disability. In 2003-2011, Francway was examined multiple times by an orthopedist and had his medical records separately reviewed by the orthopedist and an internist. They concluded that Francway’s current back disability was not likely connected to his 1969 injury. After multiple appeals and remands, Francway submitted new evidence from his longtime friend, attesting to Francway’s history of back disability. The Board again remanded, with instructions that Francway’s “claims file should be reviewed by an appropriate medical specialist” and that the examiner should reconcile any opinion with the statements from Francway's "buddy statement.” Francway was again examined by the orthopedist, who concluded that Francway’s symptoms were unlikely to be related to his injury but did not address the “buddy statement.” The internist reviewed Francway’s file and the “buddy statement,” and reached a similar conclusion. The Board concluded that there was insufficient evidence of a nexus between Francway’s 1969 injury and his current disability and that the VA had complied with the remand orders. The Veterans Court concluded that Francway had not preserved his claim that the internist who reviewed the “buddy statement” was not an “appropriate medical specialist” under the remand order. Francway had not challenged the examiner’s qualifications before the Board. The Federal Circuit affirmed, noting that the Board and Veterans Court properly apply a presumption of competency in reviewing the opinions of VA medical examiners. View "Francway v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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NOVA challenged a 2017 Veterans Administration (VA) amendment to 38 C.F.R. 3.321(b)(1), confining the preexisting regulation (as interpreted by a 2014 Federal Circuit ruling) and authorizing the VA “[t]o accord justice to the exceptional case where the schedular evaluation is inadequate to rate a single service-connected disability,” by adopting “an extra-schedular evaluation commensurate with the average impairment of earning capacity due exclusively to the disability.” The regulation does not permit the VA to award extra-schedular disability compensation by considering the synergistic impact of multiple disabilities together. The Federal Circuit upheld the regulation. The VA’s explanation for the change was adequate; the regulation is not on its face arbitrary and capricious. It does not limit “extraschedular rating to a single service-connected disability” but provides for combining multiple disabilities, but not in the manner opponents prefer. The VA explained that the amendment is consistent with the agency’s historical interpretation of the regulation and its predecessors. The VA reasonably concluded that determination of an extra-schedular rating with respect to a single disability is likely to result in a more logical and consistent system of extra-schedular rating than one in which the decision-maker must determine on an ad hoc basis whether extra-schedular rating is appropriate for the synergistic effect of combined disabilities. View "National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Hickle began working for AMC in 2004, while in high school. In 2006, he was promoted to Operations Coordinator. In 2008, he joined the Ohio Army National Guard. Before leaving for training, Hickle interviewed for a management position with Kalman, stating that he was going to have to leave for military training for approximately six months; Kalman ended the interview immediately. The person who got the promotion later told Hickle: “Thanks for joining the military. I just got promoted.” AMC promoted Hickle to management when he returned from training; in 2013 Hickle was again promoted. In the interim, Hickle continued his military service, including serving for over a year in Afghanistan. AMC never prevented Hickle from fulfilling his military obligations or denied him time off, but Senior Manager Adler repeatedly expressed disapproval. During meeting with Kalman and Adler, Hickle provided Kalman with a pamphlet on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Adler continued to insinuate that Hickle could or should be fired for taking time off for military duty. After an incident involving allegations of stealing food from the AMC kitchen, there was an investigation, performed by a Compliance Manager. Hickle was suspended and was ultimately fired for “unprofessional behavior.” The district court rejected Hickle’s USERRA suit. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Hickle gathered evidence during discovery that would allow a reasonable jury to find that military service was a motivating factor in AMC’s termination decision. View "Hickle v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc." on Justia Law

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Shea began serving in the Air Force in October 2006. Her pre-enlistment examination indicated a normal psychiatric condition. A January 2007 medical examination resulted in a diagnosis of an adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood. Days later, Shea was struck by a truck while on base and sustained multiple physical injuries. Her subsequent medical records report anxiety, depression, and impaired memory. A medical evaluation board recommended that Shea be discharged. Shea was transferred to Dover Air Force Base, where her then-husband was stationed, to continue her treatment. A physical evaluation board determined in May 2007 that Shea’s pelvic fractures and transverse process fracture were unfitting conditions that were compensable and ratable but that her adjustment disorder with depression and anxiety was not separately unfitting nor compensable or ratable. In July 2007, Shea was discharged because of her physical disabilities. She sought benefits in October 2007. The VA granted benefits for her physical and psychiatric conditions, but rejected a request for a 2007 effective date for the psychiatric-disability benefits. The Veterans Court affirmed. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded to allow the Veterans Court to articulate the correct legal standard in considering Shea’s October 2007 informal application for benefits. While a pro se claimant "must identify the benefit sought,” the identification need not be explicit and should be read in conjunction with other submissions and service treatment records. View "Shea v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Transgender individuals who serve in the military or seek to do so, joined by the State of Washington, filed suit alleging that the August 2017 Memorandum, implementing President Trump's Twitter announcement that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the military, unconstitutionally discriminated against transgender individuals. The district court issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the 2017 Memorandum and defendants appealed. In the meantime, the then-Secretary of Defense studied the issue and produced a report recommending that the President revoke the 2017 Memorandum in order to adopt the report's recommendation. The President revoked the 2017 Memorandum and authorized the Secretary to implement the policies in the report (the 2018 Policy). Defendants then requested that the district court resolve the preliminary injunction on the basis of the new 2018 Policy. The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order striking defendants' motion to dissolve the preliminary injunction and remanded to the district court for reconsideration. In light of the Supreme Court's January 22, 2019 stay of the district court's preliminary injunction, the panel stayed the preliminary injunction through the district court's further consideration of defendants' motion to dissolve the injunction. Furthermore, the panel issued a writ of mandamus vacating the district court's discovery order and directing the district court to reconsider discovery by giving careful consideration to executive branch privileges as set forth in Cheney v. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 542 U.S. 367 (2004), and FTC v. Warner Communications Inc., 742 F.2d 1156 (9th Cir. 1984). View "Karnoski v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, appearing in propria persona, appealed from the denial of his petition for a writ of mandate directing the California Army National Guard (CAARNG) to vacate an order separating him, a commissioned officer, from CAARNG. The Court of Appeal held that the Feres doctrine did not bar plaintiff's writ petition. The court also held that plaintiff failed to show that the trial court erred in concluding that CAARNG properly separated plaintiff based on federal regulations incorporated into state law, where states may incorporate federal law regarding appointment and termination of National Guard officers and plaintiff failed to show the trial court erred in concluding that the Military and Veterans Code incorporates NGR No. 635–100, subdivisions (5)(a)(8) and (5)(a)(22). Finally, plaintiff failed to show prejudice from any of the trial court's purported procedural errors. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "DiRaffael v. California Army National Guard" on Justia Law