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Ruel served in the Marine Corps, 1966-1969, including two tours in Vietnam; he was exposed to Agent Orange. He died in 1984. His wife, Teresa, sought benefits. In July 1984, the VA received her Form 21-534, which the VA treats as an application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) a benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, and for a Death Pension, a benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse of a deceased veteran with wartime service, 38 U.S.C. 5101(b)(1). The claim for pension benefits was denied based on her income; the denial did not mention a DIC claim. In response to Teresa's “Application for Burial Benefits,” the VA authorized payment of $150.00, stating: The evidence does not show that the veteran’s death was due to a service-connected condition. Teresa did not appeal. In 2009, ischemic heart disease was added to the presumptive list of diseases related to herbicide exposure while serving in Vietnam. Teresa submitted a new Form 21-534. Her claim was granted with an effective date of October 2009. Teresa sought an effective date of July 1984 arguing that the VA never adjudicated her 1984 DIC claim, which remained “pending.” The Federal Circuit reversed the Board and Veterans Court; proper notice of an explicit denial of a claim under 38 C.F.R. 3.103 requires an actual statement or otherwise clear indication of the claim being denied. View "Ruel v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Jones served in the Marine Corps, 1968-1970. A VA psychiatrist treated him and diagnosed him with PTSD in 2000. Jones formally applied for disability benefits for PTSD in 2011. In 2012, the VA Regional Office awarded him a 100% disability rating, effective April 2011, the date it received his formal application. Jones filed a notice of disagreement arguing that he should receive an earlier effective date that reflects VA medical treatment beginning in 2000. Jones asserted that he “did not file until 11 years later because the doctors did not explain to [him] what PTSD really was.” In 2015, the Board denied the claim, acknowledging the existence of “VA medical records showing treatment for mental health symptoms” in 2000, but finding that the records before it “[did] not indicate an intent to file a claim for benefits and are not considered an ‘informal claim’'.” The Veterans Court affirmed, finding no informal claim under 38 C.F.R. 3.155(a). Jones died in 2016; his wife substituted into the case, arguing that the Veterans Court applied a heightened standard to determine whether the VA was required to assist Jones in obtaining his treatment records, which might contain an earlier, informal claim. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial. The Veterans Court erred in ruling that the duty to assist only “includes obtaining records of treatment at VA facilities that are relevant to the claim.” View "Jones v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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James served on active duty during the Vietnam War. He sought service-connected disability compensation for “a lumbar spine disability and cervical spine disability, as well as an increased rating claim for pseudofolliculitis barbae.” On January 28, 2016, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied his claims.. On Friday, May 27, James placed his notice of appeal (NOA) in a stamped envelope addressed to the Veterans Court in the mailbox at his residence and put the flag up for collection. James left town and did not return until late on Monday, May 30. James discovered the NOA still in his mailbox and deposited it that night at the post office. The next day, the Veterans Court received and docketed James’s NOA, which bore a postmark of May 31, more than 120 days after the Board mailed its decision. The court ordered James to “show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed.” James argued that the 120-day appeal window should be equitably tolled because an errantly lowered mailbox flag constituted an extraordinary circumstance beyond his control. The Veterans Court dismissed James’s appeal as untimely. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Veterans Court erred in creating a categorical ban by holding that equitable tolling can never apply to an entire category of cases involving a fallen mailbox flag. The extraordinary circumstance element necessarily requires a case-by-case analysis and not a categorical determination. View "James v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Sharpe has been a DEA employee since 1995. Until 2008, he was also a Navy reservist. While at the DEA, Sharpe was deployed three times, twice for six months. As of 2015, Sharpe had applied for 14 GS-14 positions since 2012. Since 2009, Sharpe has been supervised by Sherman, who is responsible for recommending agents for promotion. Because he scored 91 out of 100 on his examination, Sharpe was on the Best Qualified List for every GS-14 position for which he applied, but he was only selected by Sherman three times and never as Sherman’s first-ranked agent. The Career Board often selects Sherman’s first-ranked agent, absent an agent requiring a lateral transfer from abroad or for hardship. In 2015, Sharpe requested corrective action under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4311(a), asserting his non-selection was motivated by his military status and that Sherman was hostile towards reservist. Six other current and former reservists working as agents in San Diego, including Sorrells, also filed USERRA claims. Before the Merit Systems Protection Board Sharpe unsuccessfully sought to introduce an email sent to Sorrells by Tomaski, who reported directly to Sherman. At the hearing, Sharpe was not allowed to question Sherman about the email. The Federal Circuit vacated the MSPB’s denial of corrective action. Evidence of the Tomaski email and of Sherman’s response to it is relevant to Sherman’s potential hostility towards others’ military or USERRA activity. View "Sharpe v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Kelley Kohler (Father) and Carolynn Chambers (Mother) were the biological parents of R.L.K., born April 17, 2012. Father received orders directing him to report for basic training and advanced individual training with the United States Army National Guard. Prior to leaving, Father filed a motion seeking an order authorizing the temporary transfer of his custody and visitation rights with R.L.K. to his spouse. Father maintained he was a "deploying parent" under the Oklahoma Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act. The trial court found the ODPCVA was controlling and vested Father's wife with the right to exercise visitation with R.L.K. during his absence. Mother appealed the judgment arguing the trial court erred as a matter of law by finding Father was a "deploying parent" as defined by the ODPCVA. In a case of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court, it reversed the trial court, finding Father was not a "deploying parent" because his temporary transfer was not "in support of combat, contingency operation, or natural disaster" as mandated by 43 O.S.2011 section 150.1. View "Kohler v. Chambers" on Justia Law

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Procopio served aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid in 1964-1967. In July 1966, the Intrepid was deployed in the waters offshore the landmass of the Republic of Vietnam, including its territorial sea. Procopio sought entitlement to service connection for diabetes mellitus in 2006 and for prostate cancer in 2007 but was denied service connection for both in 2009. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the unambiguous language of the Agent Orange Act, 38 U.S.C. 1116, entitles Procopio to a presumption of service connection for his prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus. The term “in the Republic of Vietnam,” unambiguously includes the territorial sea under all available international law. Congress indicated those who served in the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the “Republic of Vietnam” are entitled to section 1116’s presumption if they meet the section’s other requirements. View "Procopio v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Bolton petitioned the Board for Correction of Naval Records to expunge the summary-court martial from his military record based on his guilty plea to military charges related to his 2010 arrest for driving while drunk on the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Bolton completed his active duty service and was honorably discharged; he was eligible to reenlist. The Board held that it lacked the statutory authority to set aside the findings of a summary court-martial. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Bolton’s complaint. The Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 815-820, provides that summary court-martial occupies a position between informal nonjudicial disposition and the courtroom-type procedure of the general and special courts-martial “for relatively minor offenses.” Bolton did not state a claim for double jeopardy because neither the summary court-martial nor the base court conviction constituted a “criminal punishment” to which jeopardy attached. The Board lacked authority to grant Bolton’s requested relief. Congress clearly indicated "that the appellate procedures under the UCMJ provide the sole forum ... for a legal review of the legality of courts-martial” and limited the role of the Board, which “primarily involves a determination as to whether the sentences should be reduced as a matter of command prerogative (e.g., as a matter of clemency) rather than a formal appellate review.” View "Bolton v. Department of the Navy Board for Correction of Naval Records" on Justia Law

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Federal Rule of Evidence 601 requires federal courts to apply state rules of witness qualification when determining the competency of expert witnesses to testify regarding medical malpractice claims that turn on questions of state substantive law. Plaintiff filed suit challenging the district court's grant of summary judgment on some of her claims and the dismissal of her other claims brought against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Fifth Circuit held that the district court was correct in its determination that Rule 601 requires that plaintiff's proffered expert witness must satisfy the state law standards for expert witness competency in addition to the Federal Rule of Evidence 702 standards for the admissibility of expert witness testimony. However, the district court erred in its assertion that it was "undisputed" that the expert was not "practicing medicine" as the term is used in Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 74.401. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's judgment deeming it to be undisputed that the expert was not competent to testify as a medical expert and remanded for the dispute to be adjudicated in the first instance. The court also held that the district court erred in analyzing plaintiff's privacy-related allegations as federal Privacy Act claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but the district court nonetheless did not err by dismissing the claims. The district court did not err by granting summary judgment for the government on the three privacy-related claims that it construed as Privacy Act claims and considered on the merits. Although the district court erred by holding plaintiff's claim of assault and battery was jurisdictionally-barred, summary judgment was nevertheless appropriate. View "Coleman v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2009, U.S. Army Specialist Schaefer was killed by a roadside bomb while serving a tour of duty in Iraq. Those directly responsible for such attacks are often unidentifiable or beyond the reach of a court’s personal jurisdiction. Secondary actors, such as the organizations that fund the terrorists, are often amorphous. Despite Congress’s effort to make state sponsors of terrorism accountable in U.S. courts (28 U.S.C. 1605A) any resulting judgment may be uncollectible. Spc. Schaefer’s mother claimed that the bomb that killed her son was a signature Iranian weapon that traveled from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to Hezbollah to Iraqi militias, who then placed it in the ground and that Deutsche Bank, a German entity with U.S. affiliates, is responsible for her son’s death under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 18 U.S.C. 2333. She argued that the Bank joined an Iranian conspiracy to commit acts of terror when it instituted procedures to evade U.S. sanctions and facilitate Iranian banking transactions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of her suit, which “failed to plead facts that plausibly indicated that Deutsche Bank’s actions caused her son’s death.” The Bank’s conduct was not “violent” or “dangerous to human life” as the ATA requires, nor did it display the terroristic intent. To the extent Deutsche Bank joined any conspiracy, it joined only a conspiracy to avoid sanctions, distinct from any of Iran’s terrorism-related goals. View "Kemper v. Deutsche Bank AG" on Justia Law

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Hansen served in the Army National Guard for six years, which included, at the start of his service in 1959, 182 days of active duty for training. Hansen died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1998. In 2009, his widow applied to the VA for benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1310(a), which provides that “[w]hen any veteran dies after December 31, 1956, from a service-connected or compensable disability, the Secretary shall pay dependency and indemnity compensation to such veteran’s surviving spouse, children, and parents.” A 2008 regulation declares that “the development of [ALS] manifested at any time after discharge or release from active military, naval, or air service is sufficient to establish service connection for that disease.” 38 C.F.R. 3.318(a) (ALS Rule). The Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Veterans Court held that Hansen’s “active duty for training” service does not qualify as active duty, and denied the benefits claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The 38 U.S.C.101(24) definition of “active military, naval, or air service” has been interpreted as excluding training in these circumstances. View "Hansen-Sorensen v. Wilkie" on Justia Law