Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

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Jackson served in the Marine Corps, 1977-1991. Almost 30 years after his honorable discharge, Jackson filed a pro se complaint alleging that toward the end of his military career, his supervising officers discriminated against him because he is a black male, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court inferred additional claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), and the Military Pay Act, 37 U.S.C. 204 but ultimately dismissed all of Jackson’s claims. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court noted the unanimous rulings of other sister circuits, concluding that Title VII does not apply to uniformed members of the armed forces. Jackson’s APA claim was untimely and, although the limitations period is no longer considered jurisdictional, the facts alleged were insufficient to apply equitable tolling. Jackson was able to manage his affairs and comprehend his rights; he alleged that at the time of the alleged discrimination, he knew that he “had been subjected to wrongdoing and strongly desired justice.” The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the dismissal of Jackson’s Military Pay Act claim; the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction of such claims. View "Jackson v. Modly" on Justia Law

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In 1999, while working at the San Juan VA Medical Center, Dr. Sanchez, a urologist, reported to his superiors what he believed to be improper practices. In 2000, Sánchez received a proficiency report prepared by his supervisor, indicating that his performance “ha[d] shown a significant [negative] change since his last evaluation.” Sánchez was reassigned to the Ambulatory Care Service Line, where he believed that he would not perform surgery, care for patients, or supervise other staff members. He concluded that these actions were retaliation for his whistleblowing activities. Sánchez and the VA entered into a settlement agreement under which Sanchez was to be reassigned to the Ponce Outpatient Clinic with a compressed work schedule of 10 hours per day for four days per week, to include three hours of travel per day. The parties adhered to the Agreement for 16 years. In 2017, Sánchez received a letter, informing him that he was required to be at the Ponce clinic from “7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. from Monday through Friday.” An AJ rejected his petition for enforcement with the Merit Systems Protection Board. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The background of the Agreement supports the conclusion that 16 years was a reasonable duration. As the party claiming a breach, Sánchez had the burden of proof but did not offer evidence that the claimed animosity persisted after that 16-year time period. View "Sanchez v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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O’Brien is a Vietnam veteran whose service-connected disabilities make him eligible to receive compensation for himself and for certain “dependents,” 38 U.S.C. 1115. Section 1115 does not define “dependents,” but lists specific allotments for veterans with “a spouse but no child,” “a spouse and one or more children,” “no spouse but one or more children,” and “a parent dependent upon such veteran for support.” Under title 38, a “child” is an unmarried person who meets certain age restrictions “and who is a legitimate child, a legally adopted child, a stepchild who is a member of a veteran’s household or was a member at the time of the veteran’s death, or an illegitimate child [in certain circumstances].” O’Brien took legal guardianship of D.B., his stepdaughter’s minor son, then requested dependency compensation. He and his late wife were D.B.’s caretakers since D.B.’s mother was in a nursing home and his father was absent. The VA denied compensation for D.B., indicating that O’Brien could reopen his claim with proof of D.B.’s adoption. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Veterans Court, and Federal Circuit upheld the denial as a matter of first impression. Despite not expressly defining “dependents,” Congress unambiguously limited that term to “spouses, children, and dependent parents” by specifying the amount payable for each. View "O'Brien v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Roe and Voe sought a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo while they challenged their discharges after the Air Force's determination that plaintiffs' chronic but managed illness—HIV—makes them unfit for military service. Determining that plaintiffs' claims presented a justiciable military controversy, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claims that their discharges were arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). In this case, if the deployment policies permit servicemembers to seek a waiver to deploy to CENTCOM's area of responsibility, the Air Force violated the APA because it discharged the servicemembers without an individualized assessment of each servicemember's fitness, instead predicting they could not deploy as a result of their HIV status. Furthermore, even if the Air Force was correct that CENTCOM's policies render the servicemembers categorically ineligible to deploy to its area of responsibility, plaintiffs have shown they are likely to succeed on their claim that the deployment policies at issue violate the APA because the Government has not—and cannot—reconcile these policies with current medical evidence. The court also held that the district court did not clearly err in its findings that the discharges would cause irreparable harm to plaintiffs, and the district court correctly determined that the balance of equities and the public interest favored a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo during litigation. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in crafting this preliminary injunction. Because plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their APA claim, the court need not address their equal protection claim. . View "Roe v. United States Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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Shealey served on active duty in Vietnam. He sought service connection for a cervical spine disability and major depressive disorder. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals held that Shealey was dishonorably discharged. Before Shealy filed his third motion for reconsideration, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records upgraded his discharge to “under honorable conditions.” The Board denied reconsideration. Shealey sought assistance from Veterans Legal Advocacy Group (VetLAG), a nonprofit law firm; VetLAG would not charge a fee and if the Veterans Court granted attorney’s fees, VetLAG could keep the full amount. Shealey agreed that VetLAG could apply for attorney’s fees and litigation expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d) (EAJA), and he would provide assistance. VetLAG represented Shealey before the Veterans Court for three months until a pre-briefing conference, where the government stated its intent to move for dismissal. The attorneys advised Shealey to file a new claim to reopen his case. Shealey disagreed, discharged them, and obtained new counsel. The court vacated the Board’s decision. The government did not dispute that Shealey was the “prevailing party” and did not oppose VetLAG's EAJA motion seeking $4,061.60. Shealey opposed the application. The court determined that VetLAG lacked standing. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Under EAJA’s plain text, the attorneys lack any substantive rights sufficient to confer standing. Affording standing to the attorneys over Shealey’s objections would contravene the policies on which the third-party standing doctrine is based. The fee agreement did not constitute an assignment. View "Shealey v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a putative class action under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), alleging that they and similarly situated individuals were on active duty with the military when defendants variously foreclosed on their properties through executory proceedings in Louisiana state courts based on mortgage, privilege, or security agreements each plaintiff and putative class member had entered with one of the defendants. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motions to dismiss and Trustmark National Bank's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court held that 50 U.S.C. 3931 does not encompass Louisiana executory proceedings where, as here, the debtors confessed judgment. The court explained that the SCRA's waiver requirements were thus inapplicable because there was nothing to waive where plaintiffs were never protected under section 3931. Therefore, the court rejected plaintiffs' argument that the state court orders authorizing seizure and sale of their respective properties constitute default judgments under the SCRA. View "Fodge v. Trustmark National Bank" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Anixter on plaintiff's claim that the company violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), by discriminating and retaliating against him on the basis of his prior service in the military and exercise of rights protected under the statute. The court held that plaintiff failed to show a genuine dispute of material fact that his military status was a motivating factor in Anixter's decision to fire him. The court noted that most of Anixter's actions that plaintiff claimed violated USERRA were not independently actionable under the statute. The court held that the order for plaintiff to perform some manual labor did not exceed his disability restriction and was therefore not materially adverse; Anixter's denial of plaintiff's request for a service dog was not sufficiently adverse; and defendant's discharge from Anixter four days after requesting PTSD accommodation did not create sufficient evidence of a genuine dispute of material fact regarding Anixter's unlawful motivation to fire plaintiff. Rather, the undisputed evidence indicated that plaintiff's temperament played a part in Anixter's decision to fire him, which was consistent with the company's explanation that it fired him due to this disagreement. View "McConnell v. Anixter, Inc." on Justia Law

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Following a 2019 Federal Circuit decision and enactment of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 133 Stat. 966, the petitioners, who served on open sea ships off the Vietnamese shore during the Vietnam War believed that they may be entitled to a presumption of service connection for diseases covered by 38 U.S.C. 1116. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs stayed pending disability compensation claims until January 1, 2020. Petitioners assert that many Blue Water Veterans are dying and filed a petition for expedited review under 38 U.S.C. 502 challenging the Secretary’s authority to stay pending disability compensation claims. The Federal Circuit denied the petition. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(D) because the Secretary’s memorandum amounts to an “interpretation[] of general applicability formulated and adopted by the agency.” The Act unambiguously authorizes the Secretary to stay disability compensation claims described in section 2(c)(3)(B) of the Act “until the date on which the Secretary commences the implementation of [] section 1116A,” 133 Stat. at 968. View "Procopio v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Sergeant Mueller took a leave of absence from the Joliet Police Department to report for active duty in the Illinois National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. The Department placed him on unpaid leave, Mueller resigned from his National Guard position and sued the city and his supervisors for employment discrimination, citing the Uniformed Service Members Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which prohibits discrimination against those in “service in a uniformed service.” The district court dismissed, finding that National Guard counterdrug duty was authorized under Illinois law and not covered by USERRA. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that “service in the uniformed services” explicitly covers full-time National Guard duty, including counterdrug activities, 38 U.S.C. 4303(13). USERRA does not limit protection to those in “Federal service” like the Army or Navy but to those in “service in a uniformed service,” which explicitly includes Title 32 full-time National Guard duty. The Posse Comitatus Act likewise only bars the Army and Air Force from domestic law enforcement, but does not apply to Title 32 National Guard duty, 18 U.S.C. 1385. View "Mueller v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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McCord injured his back while serving in the Army and was discharged with a 20% disability rating. Because his rating was below 30% and he served for less than 20 years, McCord received severance pay instead of ongoing military retirement pay and received monthly VA benefits. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records later corrected his record to reflect a 30% disability rating and entitlement to medical retirement pay, rather than severance pay. McCord later challenged the government’s calculation of his entitlement to military retirement back pay and its claimed right to recover the severance pay and requested damages for medical expenses that he incurred because he was not afforded TRICARE coverage before the correction. The Claims Court rejected McCord’s approach to back pay calculation as “double-dipping,” denied relief regarding the recoupment of severance pay “as not ripe,” and held that McCord failed to exhaust administrative procedures for securing TRICARE benefits. The Federal Circuit affirmed except as to the out-of-pocket medical expenses. The court cited 10 U.S.C. 1201, 1203, 1212(d)(a), and 2774, as defining entitlement to retirement pay or severance pay, VA benefits, and the circumstances for recoupment of severance pay. A veteran receiving VA benefits may face a disadvantage if he also secures an award of military retirement pay because he would not be entitled to severance pay but military retirement pay includes TRICARE coverage. View "McCord v. United States" on Justia Law