Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who is challenging his 2012 court-martial conviction for one count of aggravated sexual assault and two counts of wrongful sexual conduct. In United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F.2016), which was decided after petitioner's conviction became final, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held unconstitutional a pattern jury instruction on Military Rule of Evidence (M.R.E.) 413 under which jurors may consider evidence of any one charged sexual offense as showing the defendant's propensity to have committed any of the other charged sexual offenses.Although Hills announced a new rule which held that the use of charged sexual offenses to show propensity to commit other charged sexual offenses violated the presumption of innocence and right to have all findings made clearly beyond a reasonable doubt, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, the panel held that the rule does not fall under either exception for nonretroactivity because it is neither a substantive rule nor a watershed rule of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding. Therefore, Hills does not apply retroactively in petitioner's case. View "Lewis v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. 2241 where petitioner was convicted in 2012, after trial by general court-martial, of rape committed in 1998. At the time of petitioner's conviction and direct appeals, there was no statute of limitations for prosecution of rape under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In 2018, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held for the first time that a five-year statute of limitations applied to rape in United States v. Mangahas, 77 M.J. 220, 222-24 (C.A.A.F. 2018). However, in United States v. Briggs, 2020 WL 7250099, at 2 (U.S. Dec. 10, 2020), the Supreme Court held that there is not a statute of limitations under the UCMJ for rapes committed between 1986 and 2006. Therefore, the court held that petitioner's conviction was not untimely. View "Hill v. Rivera" on Justia Law

by
Dual-status military technicians are “Federal civilian employees” but must maintain National Guard membership and wear the appropriate military uniform while performing civilian technician duties. They must meet certain military requirements.Newton worked as a National Guard dual-status technician, 1980-2013, also serving as a New Jersey Army National Guard member, receiving separate military pay. In 2013, Newton retired from both. He received a pension from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for his National Guard service and an annuity paid by the Office of Personnel Management for his dual-status technician service. The Social Security Administration (SSA) notified Newton that he qualified for retirement benefits, subject to a reduction under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A), because he received a separate pension payment “based in whole or in part upon" earnings not subject to Social Security tax, his civil service annuity. Newton argued that his civil service pension triggered an exception to the WEP for uniformed service.The Third Circuit held that Newton’s benefits are subject to a WEP reduction. Newton has always received two separate salaries and now receives two separate pensions. At most, Newton’s OPM civil service pension is based on service he provided while also serving in the National Guard, but not for “service as a member of a uniformed service.” View "Newton v. Commissioner Social Security" on Justia Law

by
Murphy served in the Army, 1971-1974. In 2003, he sought disability benefits for PTSD; the VA regional office (RO) denied this claim because Murphy lacked a PTSD diagnosis. A private doctor had diagnosed Murphy with schizophrenia in 1982. In 2006, Murphy submitted another claim for disabilities, including schizophrenia. He requested that the RO reopen his PTSD claim. The RO denied the claim for schizophrenia for failure to show service connection and declined to reopen the PTSD claim for lack of material evidence. In 2007-2012, the RO denied multiple requests to reopen both claims.A 2012 request to reopen listed only PTSD. The VA physician found no PTSD but noted the schizophrenia diagnosis. The RO denied Murphy’s request to reopen his PTSD claim. Murphy filed a Notice of Disagreement. The cover page referred to PTSD; a handwritten attachment mentions “schizophrenia” and “PTSD” multiple times. His Form 9 included numerous mentions of both “PTSD” and “schizophrenia.” The RO determined that Murphy was also seeking to reopen his schizophrenia claim but denied that request for lack of new and material evidence. Murphy did not appeal. The Board remanded the PTSD claim; the RO maintained its denial.The Veterans Court determined that the Board correctly found it lacked jurisdiction over the schizophrenia claim, which was a request to reopen, not an initial claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Murphy’s request to reopen cannot be construed as seeking to reopen his schizophrenia claim. Although the lenient-claim-scope rule applies to requests to reopen, Murphy demonstrated an understanding that the conditions would be addressed separately. View "Murphy v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
Perry served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard from January 1977 to March 1977, with active duty for training in February-March 1977. Active duty for training is “full-time duty in the Armed Forces performed by Reserves for training purposes,” 38 U.S.C. 101(22). Medical Board examiners at his March 1977 separation opined that enuresis and incontinence existed prior to service. Perry died in 2014. There was no claim for service-connected disability during his lifetime.The Board of Veterans’ Appeals held that Mrs. Perry was not eligible for nonservice-connected death pension benefits because Perry did not have active duty service during a period of war nor did he have a service-connected disability, as required by 38 U.S.C. 1541, that Mr. Perry did not attain veteran status, and that he “was not service-connected for any disability at the time of his death, and there is no evidence that his death was in any way related to" his 1977 military service. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed. Service in the state National Guard including a period of active duty for training, without disability incurred or aggravated in line of duty, does not achieve “veteran” status for these purposes. View "Perry v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
In 28 U.S.C. 2241 proceedings, petitioner sought habeas corpus relief from his military court convictions and sentence, claiming violations of his Fifth Amendment right to due process and Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the section 2241 petition, but recognized that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is the proper basis for the dismissal of both claims. In regard to petitioner's contention that his Fifth Amendment due process claim was not accorded full and fair consideration by the military court, the court held that dismissal of the claim was proper where the propensity instruction given during his court-martial proceedings was insufficiently prejudicial to entitle him to habeas corpus relief. For similar reasons, dismissal of the Sixth Amendment ineffective assistance claim is proper. In this case, petitioner cannot show a reasonable probability that a challenge to the propensity instruction on direct appeal would have been successful. View "Ward v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a military offense, “punishable by death, may be tried and punished at any time without limitation,” 10 U.S.C. 843(a). Other military offenses are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. Three military service members, each convicted of rape at a time when the UCMJ provided that rape could be “punished by death” argued that the five-year limitations period barred their prosecutions because the Supreme Court held in 1977 (Coker v. Georgia) that the Eighth Amendment forbids a death sentence for the rape of an adult woman.Reversing the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Supreme Court held that the prosecutions were timely. The UCMJ is a uniform code. The most natural place to determine whether rape was “punishable by death” within the meaning of section 843(a) is section 920’s directive that rape could be “punished by death,” regardless of the UCMJ’s separate prohibition on “cruel or unusual punishment.” If “punishable by death” requires consideration of all applicable law, the deadline for filing rape charges would be unclear. That deadline would depend on an unresolved constitutional question about Coker’s application to military prosecutions, on "evolving standards of decency” under the Eighth Amendment, and on whether UCMJ section 855 independently prohibits a death sentence for rape. The ends served by statutes of limitations differ from those served by the Eighth Amendment or UCMJ 855. Factors legislators may find important in setting a limitations period—such as the difficulty of gathering evidence and mounting a prosecution—play no part in an Eighth Amendment analysis. View "United States v. Briggs" on Justia Law

by
The National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates (NOVA), sought review under 38 U.S.C. 502. The Knee Joint Stability Rule, promulgated in 2018 and set forth in the Veterans Affairs Adjudication Procedures Manual, assigns a joint instability rating under Diagnostic Code (DC) 5257, 38 C.F.R. 4.71a, based on the amount of movement that occurs within the joint. The Knee Replacement Rule provides that evaluation under DC 5055, 38 C.F.R. 4.71a, is not available for partial knee replacement claims. The Replacement Rule was published in the Federal Register in 2015, stating that section 4.71a was amended to explain that “‘prosthetic replacement’ means a total, not a partial, joint replacement.” It was published in a 2016 Manual provision, which informs regional office staff that evaluation under DC 5055 is not available for partial knee replacement claims filed on or after July 16, 2015.The Federal Circuit referred the case for adjudication on the merits. NOVA has standing because it has veteran members who are adversely affected by the Rules. The Manual provision is an interpretive rule reviewable under 38 U.S.C. 502 and constitutes final agency action. The Knee Replacement Rule is a final agency action. The merits panel will determine whether the Manual provision or the Federal Register publication constitutes the reviewable agency action. The challenge is timely under the six-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 2401(a); Federal Circuit Rule 15(f), establishing a 60-day time limit for bringing section 502 petitions, is invalid. View "National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs" on Justia Law

by
Veterans sought certification for the class of veterans whose disability claims had not been resolved by the Board of Veterans Appeals within one year of the filing of a Notice of Disagreement (NOD), requesting judicial action to compel the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to decide all pending appeals within one year of receipt of a timely NOD. The Veterans Court requested that they separate or limit the requested class action into issues that meet the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) “commonality” standard. The veterans declined, stating that “systemic delay” exists in the VA claims system, and broad judicial remedy is required.The Veterans Court denied the requested class certification. While the case was pending, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, 131 Stat. 1105 purportedly improved processing times by allowing claimants to choose: higher-level review, a supplemental claim, board review with a hearing and opportunity to submit additional evidence, board review without a hearing, but with an opportunity to submit additional evidence, or board review without a hearing or additional evidence, based on their priorities on appeal.The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification, citing the lack of proof of commonality. When Congress has crafted a comprehensive remedial structure, that structure warrants evaluation in practice before judicial intervention is contemplated. View "Monk v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
Mote served in the Air Force, 1961-1965, participating in missions to Vietnam, where Agent Orange was deployed. Mote later developed coronary artery disease and lung cancer. In 2010, Mote filed a disability claim based. In 2013, Mote filed his Notice of Disagreement with the denial of that claim. He died months later. Mrs. Mote substituted for his claim and filed a dependency-and-indemnity compensation claim. The VA denied Mrs. Mote’s claim in 2015; she filed her Notice of Disagreement and requested a Board of Veterans’ Appeals “Travel Board hearing.”Mote sought mandamus relief, 28 U.S.C. 1651, alleging unreasonable delay. The Veterans Court denied the petition, applying the “Costanza” standard. The government claimed, due to limited resources, it “could not predict how long” Mote might have to wait for a hearing. The Federal Circuit consolidated her appeal with others and held that the Veterans Court should use the Telecommunications Research & Action Center v. FCC (TRAC) standard to evaluate unreasonable-delay mandamus petitions rather than the Costanza standard. On remand, Mote requested a “reasoned decision” from the Board (within 45 days) and periodic progress reports. In March 2019. the Board scheduled her Travel Board hearing for May 2019. The Veterans Court dismissed Mrs. Mote’s mandamus petition without applying the TRAC standard. The Board subsequently remanded for further factual findings.The Federal Circuit again remanded, for a TRAC analysis, noting that Mote sought progress reports, in addition to a decision, and that the Veterans Court was not powerless to fashion other relief, such as a more lenient, specific, deadline. Whether a delay is so egregious as to justify the extraordinary writ depends on issues that are likely to arise frequently among veterans. The Veterans Court is uniquely well-positioned to address these issues first. View "Mote v. Wilkie" on Justia Law