Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

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A United States military court-martial convicted Petitioner-Appellant Clint Lorance of murder (and a variety of lesser offenses) for actions he took while leading a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan. After exhausting his direct appeals, Lorance filed a federal habeas petition challenging his convictions. Lorance appealed the district court’s dismissal of that petition. The sole issue, and a matter of first impression for the Tenth Circuit's consideration was whether Lorance’s acceptance of a full and unconditional presidential pardon constituted a legal confession of guilt and a waiver of his habeas rights, thus rendering his case moot. The Court concluded Lorance’s acceptance of the pardon did not have the legal effect of a confession of guilt and did not constitute a waiver of his habeas rights. Despite Lorance’s release from custody pursuant to the pardon, he sufficiently alleged ongoing collateral consequences from his convictions, creating a genuine case or controversy and rendering his habeas petition not moot. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lorance v. Commandant" on Justia Law

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Larson served on active duty for training in the Navy Reserves in 1988 and on active duty in the Navy, 1989-1993. He gained a substantial amount of weight before, during, and after his active service. In 2009, Larson filed a claim for service connection for multiple conditions, including obesity and dysmetabolic syndrome (DMS). The VA denied the claims in 2010. The Board affirmed that denial in 2016, holding that neither DMS nor obesity was a disability because neither condition is ratable under the VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities. The Veterans Court affirmed the denial of service connection for DMS and obesity, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to review a Board determination of what constitutes a disability under 38 U.S.C. 1110 because such inquiry amounted to a review of the rating schedule, prohibited by 38 U.S.C. 7252(b).The Federal Circuit reversed, noting that it has previously held that the Veterans Court has jurisdiction to review a Board determination that a claimed condition did not constitute a disability for purposes of section 1110. Larson seeks only to establish a service connection for his conditions and is not asking the Veterans Court to invalidate or revise any portion of the rating schedule. View "Larson v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Miriyeva, a citizen of Azerbaijan, lawfully entered the U.S. and sought naturalization under 8 U.S.C. 1440. She enlisted in the U.S. Army through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, under which noncitizens have an expedited path to citizenship by serving honorably in the military without first having lawful permanent residence. In 2018, USCIS approved Miriyeva’s application. Before the agency scheduled Miriyeva’s oath of citizenship ceremony, the Army sent her to basic training. During training, a medical condition ended her service. The Army described Miriyeva’s separation as “uncharacterized” since her service ended while she was still at “entry-level.” After her medical discharge, Miriyeva scheduled her oath ceremony but the agency reversed its approval of her naturalization application because the military did not describe her separation as “honorable.”Miriyeva argued that the military refers to “uncharacterized” as “separated under honorable conditions,” when required to do so and that the Army’s policy of treating an uncharacterized separation as not under honorable conditions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Constitution’s Uniform Rule of Naturalization Clause, and the Due Process Clause. The district court dismissed Miriyeva’s declaratory judgment suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under 8 U.S.C. 1421(c), which precluded Miriyeva’s Administrative Procedure Act and constitutional claims; her Declaratory Judgment Act claim failed without a different, standalone source of jurisdiction. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. Miriyeva strayed from the statutory path for judicial review of claims intertwined with denied naturalization applications. View "Miriyeva v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services" on Justia Law

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In 1982, while serving in the Air Force in Germany, Jones was struck in the eye by the door of an armored personnel carrier. He developed intense headaches; it became increasingly difficult for Jones to perform his duties. A 1988 Clinical Resume reflects that Jones had developed “intermittent right cranial nerve 4th palsy associated with chronic right retro-orbital stabbing pain, usually occurring during the late afternoon or night.” Jones described "a nearly constant headache which was relieved only with repetitive doses of intramuscular Demoral.” A Physical Evaluation Board recommended that Jones be discharged with severance pay based on a 10% disability rating for “Post-traumatic pain syndrome manifest[ing] as headaches.”Jones was honorably discharged with severance pay. In 1989, his discharge was amended to reflect that his injury was combat-related. Effective in 2017, the VA awarded Jones a 100% disability rating. Jones petitioned the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records for changes to his record that would entitle him to a disability retirement dating back to 1988, when he was discharged, 10 U.S.C. 1201. The Board denied Jones’s petition. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court: the claim for disability retirement pay and benefits was a claim under a money-mandating statute, as required by the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), but jurisdiction was lacking because the claim was barred by the six-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 2501. View "Jones v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1982, a court-martial convicted Hubbard of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. He previously filed unsuccessful federal habeas petitions and, in 2019, sought DNA testing under the Innocence Protection Act (IPA), 18 U.S.C. 3600(a), to prove his innocence.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court was not the court that entered the judgment of conviction; Hubbard’s conviction was entered by a general court-martial, which has since dissolved, not in federal court. The court rejected Hubbard’s contentions that the district court had the power to grant his petition for DNA testing under the IPA or that the IPA should nonetheless be construed to allow him to petition for DNA testing in the district court because he would otherwise have no forum in which to seek his relief. The IPA, unlike the federal habeas statutes, does not provide a procedural mechanism for prisoners convicted by courts-martial to seek collateral relief in federal court. View "Hubbard v. United States" on Justia Law

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Travers served in the Naval Reserve. He also works for FedEx and fulfilled his Reserve duties during his leaves from work. Travers received no compensation from FedEx for those absences because the company does not pay employees for military leave. FedEx does pay employees who are absent for other reasons, like jury duty, illness, and bereavement. Relying on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), Travers challenged FedEx’s decision; 38 U.S.C. 4316(b)(1) entitles employees taking military leave to the “other rights and benefits” their employers give to employees taking similar kinds of leave. The district court dismissed Travers’s complaint, concluding that paid leave was not a “right and benefit” under USERRA.The Third Circuit vacated. USERRA directs employers to provide the benefit of compensation when they choose to pay other employees for comparable forms of leave. USERRA describes a process for evaluating an employer's alleged disparate treatment of service members on military leave. It does not create a class of rights and benefits. This is not a dispute about whether USERRA guarantees paid military leave; it concerns whether section 4316(b)(1) allows Travers to allege that FedEx extends a right and benefit in the form of pay to employees who miss work for non-military reasons, but then denies pay to those absent for military service. View "Travers v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the estates of crew members and pilots of a civilian flight that crashed into a mountain near Kabul Afghanistan International Airport, filed suit alleging state-law wrongful death claims against Midwest, the U.S. military contractor providing air traffic control services at the airport. Plaintiffs allege that an air traffic controller's negligent instructions to the pilot caused the fatal crash. The district court granted summary judgment to Midwest, holding that the estates' claims were preempted by the combatant activities exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act and, alternatively, that the contractor neither had a duty to provide "terrain separation" for the flight nor proximately caused the accident.With respect to the jurisdictional challenge, the Second Circuit applied de novo review and concluded that the district court correctly determined that this case could be removed to federal court under the federal officer removal statute. However, as to the challenge to the grant of summary judgment to Midwest, the court applied de novo review, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs and drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor, and concluded that plaintiffs' claims are not preempted and that there remain genuine disputes of material fact regarding Midwest's liability for the fatal crash. The court explained that Midwest, acting through the local air traffic controller, owed a duty of care to Flight 662, and plaintiffs have produced sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that this duty was breached and that such breach proximately caused the fatal crash. Finally, the court concluded that the parties' remaining arguments on appeal are without merit. The court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Badilla v. Midwest Air Traffic Control Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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Buffington served on active duty in the Air Force, 1992-2000. After leaving active duty service, Buffington sought disability benefits. The VA found that Buffington suffered from service-connected tinnitus, rated his disability at 10 percent, and awarded him disability compensation. In 2003, Buffington was recalled to active duty in the Air National Guard. He informed the VA of his return to active service, and the VA discontinued his disability compensation, 38 U.S.C. 5112(b)(3), 5304(c). In 2004, Buffington completed his active service in July 2005. Buffington did not seek to recommence his disability benefits until January 2009. The VA determined Buffington was entitled to compensation effective on February 1, 2008—one year before he sought recommencement; 38 C.F.R. 3.654(b)(2) sets the effective date for recommencement of compensation, at the earliest, one year before filing. Buffington challenged the effective-date determination.The VA Regional Office rejected his challenge, providing further reasoning for the February 2008 effective date. The Board of Veterans Appeals affirmed. The Veterans Court held that section 3.654(b)(2) was a valid exercise of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs rulemaking authority and was not inconsistent with 38 U.S.C. 5304(c). The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 3.654(b)(2) reasonably fills a statutory gap. View "Buffington v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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In July 2018, Leanne Hoff Bilger sued Joshua Bilger for legal separation. Bilger executed an admission of service, acknowledging he received the summons and complaint, settlement agreement and an exhibit relating to division of property and debts. The parties executed the settlement agreement which stated Bilger was a member of the armed forces. The district court issued an order for judgment, and the clerk of court entered a judgment granting the parties a legal separation. Joshua appealed a district court order denying his motion to dismiss and vacate the judgment for legal separation, arguing the court erred in finding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act did not apply. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Act applied; however, Bilger failed to invoke the protections of the Act. View "Bilger v. Bilger" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenged his discharge in federal court, but the district court held that it did not have jurisdiction to hear his claims brought pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Mandamus Act because the Veterans' Benefits Act (VBA) is a comprehensive statutory scheme governing the discipline of VA employees and was the exclusive remedy for review of plaintiff's employment discharge. The district court also held that while the VBA did not bar plaintiff's procedural due process claims, the claims were not colorable because he received all the process due to him.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over any claim under the APA because the VBA is a comprehensive statutory scheme that precludes APA review; the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear a constitutional claim because plaintiff did not present a colorable due process claim; and there is no basis for mandamus jurisdiction because plaintiff has not established a clear right to any relief or a clear duty of the VA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's decision but remanded solely so that the district court can amend its judgment to reflect that it is a dismissal without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. View "Hakki v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law