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The Fourth Circuit held that the political question doctrine barred an action brought by United States military personnel, civilian contractors, and surviving family members against KBR for injuries allegedly caused by KBR's waste management and water services across Iraq and Afghanistan. The court held that the action presented a political question because the military's control over KBR was plenary and actual under the first Taylor v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 658 F.3d 402, 408–409 (4th Cir. 2011), factor. The court need not reach the Federal Tort Claims Act preemption issue and thus affirmed in part and vacated in part. View "Metzgar v. KBR, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Adjutant General of the Mississippi Military Department (Department) terminated Cindy King’s employment with the Department after conducting an investigation into some of King’s activities. King began working for the Department approximately twenty years ago, and her role was that of a supervisor in the Environmental Office at Camp Shelby. However, in late 2015, an officer was tasked with investigating whether King “utilized information garnered through her position as the Camp Shelby Environmental Officer to front run the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program for personal gain” by purchasing a specific piece of property located near Camp Shelby. King denied the claim against her, but after concluding the investigation, the Adjutant General terminated King’s employment with the Department. Aggrieved, King appealed her termination to the Mississippi Employee Appeals Board (Board); however, the Department challenged the Board’s jurisdiction to hear King’s appeal. The chief hearing officer assigned to King’s appeal agreed with the Department and dismissed King’s appeal. King then appealed for full Board review, and the Board affirmed the chief hearing officer’s determination. Next, King appealed to the Forrest County Circuit Court. The circuit court heard arguments and issued an opinion and judgment affirming the Board. Finally, King filed this appeal. The Mississippi Supreme Court held that, while King may be considered a state service employee as defined by the Legislature, the Adjutant General, by virtue of three statutory provisions, was not subject to review by the Board. View "King v. Mississippi Military Department" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Adjutant General of the Mississippi Military Department (Department) terminated Cindy King’s employment with the Department after conducting an investigation into some of King’s activities. King began working for the Department approximately twenty years ago, and her role was that of a supervisor in the Environmental Office at Camp Shelby. However, in late 2015, an officer was tasked with investigating whether King “utilized information garnered through her position as the Camp Shelby Environmental Officer to front run the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program for personal gain” by purchasing a specific piece of property located near Camp Shelby. King denied the claim against her, but after concluding the investigation, the Adjutant General terminated King’s employment with the Department. Aggrieved, King appealed her termination to the Mississippi Employee Appeals Board (Board); however, the Department challenged the Board’s jurisdiction to hear King’s appeal. The chief hearing officer assigned to King’s appeal agreed with the Department and dismissed King’s appeal. King then appealed for full Board review, and the Board affirmed the chief hearing officer’s determination. Next, King appealed to the Forrest County Circuit Court. The circuit court heard arguments and issued an opinion and judgment affirming the Board. Finally, King filed this appeal. The Mississippi Supreme Court held that, while King may be considered a state service employee as defined by the Legislature, the Adjutant General, by virtue of three statutory provisions, was not subject to review by the Board. View "King v. Mississippi Military Department" on Justia Law

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The VA denied the veterans’ claims for service-connected disability benefits. Based on delays in their cases, they sought writs of mandamus in the Veterans Court. The Federal Circuit vacated that court’s denial of relief, finding that the court did not apply the proper standard. The court noted the significant delays that occur in most cases and that the government has not explained the cause of the delays; the petitions alleged that a veteran whose disability benefits are denied waits, on average, 1448 days after the denial for a ruling on an appeal.” Whether the agency’s delay is so egregious as to warrant mandamus under the “TRAC” standard requires consideration of six factors: the time agencies take to make decisions must be governed by a “rule of reason”; where Congress has provided an indication of the speed with which it expects the agency to proceed, that statutory scheme may supply content for this rule of reason; delays that might be reasonable in the sphere of economic regulation are less tolerable when human health and welfare are at stake; the court should consider the effect of expediting delayed action on agency activities of a higher or competing priority and the nature and extent of the interests prejudiced by delay; and the court need not find “any impropriety lurking behind agency lassitude” in order to hold that agency action is unreasonably delayed. View "Martin v. O'Rourke" on Justia Law

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Four veterans appealed the VA's denial of their claims for service-connected disability benefits. Based on delays in their cases, they unsuccessfully sought writs of mandamus from the Veterans Court. The Federal Circuit remanded two cases, citing its 2018 decision, Martin v. O’Rourke, so that the mandamus petitions may be considered under the TRAC standard: “whether the agency’s delay is so egregious as to warrant mandamus.” The TRAC standard involves six factors: the time agencies take to make decisions must be governed by a “rule of reason”; where Congress has provided a timetable or other indication of the speed with which it expects the agency to proceed, that statutory scheme may supply content for this rule of reason; delays that might be reasonable in the sphere of economic regulation are less tolerable when human health and welfare are at stake; the court should consider the effect of expediting delayed action on agency activities of a higher or competing priority; the court should also consider the nature and extent of the interests prejudiced by delay; and the court need not find “any impropriety lurking behind agency lassitude” to hold that agency action is unreasonably delayed. One veteran had died, rendering his appeal moot and another had his claim for benefits granted. View "Rose v. O'Rourke" on Justia Law

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Acree served on active duty in the Navy from 1985-1989 and 2007-2008. He was deployed to Iraq and received Seabee Combat Warfare Medals. Acree was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while serving in Iraq. After leaving the service, Acree filed several claims for service-connected disability benefits and appealed 11 claims to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. A representative from the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization was present with Acree at the board hearing. Acree said “yes” when asked to withdraw seven issues. The board listed the four issues that would be discussed and would “continue to be in appellate status” and asked the DAV representative whether it had “correctly identified the issues.” The representative responded: “Yes.” The board remanded four and dismissed seven claims. Acree appealed, arguing that a veteran’s withdrawal of a claim “is not effective unless the withdrawal ‘is explicit, unambiguous, and done with a full understanding of the consequences’” and that since he “ha[d] a long history of taking psychotropic medications,” the hearing officer should have inquired as to his capacity to appreciate the consequences of dismissing the claims. The Veterans Court affirmed, citing the hearing transcript. The Federal Circuit vacated. Precedent (DeLisio) explicitly states that a withdrawal is effective only if undertaken with “a full understanding of the consequences of such action on the part of the [veteran].” The Veterans Court was required to make that determination even though a DAV representative was present. View "Acree v. O'Rourke" on Justia Law

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Robinson, a Marine Corps veteran, served in Vietnam from 1966-1969 and later had coronary problems. He sought treatment at a VA medical facility. In 2006, a VA cardiologist recommended that he undergo certain medical testing. The tests, performed 14 months later, revealed that Robinson suffered from left ventricular diastolic dysfunction. The VA granted Robinson a 60% disability rating effective April 2, 2007, the date he underwent cardiac testing. The Board denied Robinson entitlement to a higher rating. In the Veterans Court, Robinson argued for the first time—through the same counsel that represented him before the Board—that his rating should have been assigned an effective date in February 2006, when his doctor ordered tests. The court did not identify any error by the Board but “set aside” its decision and remanded for it to address Robinson’s argument in the first instance. Robinson sought attorney fees, arguing that, because he secured remand, he was a prevailing party under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The Federal Circuit affirmed denial of Robinson’s application. This particular remand did not confer prevailing party status on Robinson because it “was not predicated on administrative error by the Board,” did not materially alter the legal relationship of the parties, and was solely to allow the Board to consider an issue first raised on appeal. View "Robinson v. O'Rourke" on Justia Law

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Appellee, a United States citizen who has been detained by the United States military in Iraq for several months, sought release from military custody in a habeas corpus action. While the habeas petition remained pending, appellee argued that the government could not forcibly -- and irrevocably -- transfer him to the custody of another country. The DC Circuit sustained the district court's two orders: the first requiring the government to give 72 hours' notice before transferring appellee to the custody of another country; and the second enjoining the government from effecting a transfer to another country after the government reached an agreement with that country to transfer appellee to its custody. The court held that the government did not possess the authority to forcibly transfer a U.S. citizen to a different foreign country than the one in which she is already present nor to forcibly transfer as long as the receiving country has some legitimate sovereign interest in her (whether or not related to criminal prosecution). View "Doe v. James Mattis" on Justia Law

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Appellee, a United States citizen who has been detained by the United States military in Iraq for several months, sought release from military custody in a habeas corpus action. While the habeas petition remained pending, appellee argued that the government could not forcibly -- and irrevocably -- transfer him to the custody of another country. The DC Circuit sustained the district court's two orders: the first requiring the government to give 72 hours' notice before transferring appellee to the custody of another country; and the second enjoining the government from effecting a transfer to another country after the government reached an agreement with that country to transfer appellee to its custody. The court held that the government did not possess the authority to forcibly transfer a U.S. citizen to a different foreign country than the one in which she is already present nor to forcibly transfer as long as the receiving country has some legitimate sovereign interest in her (whether or not related to criminal prosecution). View "Doe v. James Mattis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's tort action against the United States for the tragic death of his wife. Plaintiff's wife was a lieutenant in the Navy and she died due to a complication following childbirth. The panel held that plaintiff's medical malpractice claims were barred under the Feres doctrine, which provided governmental immunity from tort claims involving injuries to service members that were incident to military service. View "Daniel v. United States" on Justia Law