Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Aerospace/Defense
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After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Agility was awarded a contract for support of staging area operations (PCO Contract). Under the Contract, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) could issue individual task orders to Agility. Funds obligated under the contract were sourced from the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI). The CPA controlled the DFI, which consisted of Iraqi money. The Contract provided that “[n]o funds, appropriated or other, of any Coalition country are or will be obligated under this contract” and recognize[d] that a transfer of authority from the CPA to the interim Iraqi Governing Council (IIG) would occur in June 2004. The contracting parties were the CPA and Agility. The Contract expressly preserved the right of the United States to assert claims against Agility. A Contract amendment provided that any claim Agility had after the transfer to IIG could not be brought before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals but could only be brought in an Iraqi court. The U.S. Army was designated as the administrator of the PCO contract.In 2010, following an audit of the PCO Contract, the Army contracting officer sent demand letters for overpayments allegedly made under 12 task orders. The Claims Court upheld the offsets, holding that the United States (rather than Iraq) was owed the alleged overpayment and the United States was authorized to offset the alleged overpayment. The Federal Circuit in part and vacated in part. The Claims Court did not evaluate the merits of the offset determination nor the procedures required by law. View "Agility Public Warehousing Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Al Bahlul, a Yemeni national, was Osama bin Laden’s head of propaganda at the time of the September 11 attacks. After he was captured in Pakistan, Al Bahlul was convicted by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay of conspiracy to commit war crimes, providing material support for terrorism, and soliciting others to commit war crimes. The D.C. Circuit vacated two of his three convictions on ex post facto grounds. On remand, the Court of Military Commission Review, without remanding to the military commission, reaffirmed Al Bahlul's life sentence for the conspiracy conviction.The D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded. The CMCR failed to apply the correct harmless error standard, In reevaluating Al Bahlul’s sentence, the CMCR should have asked whether it was beyond a reasonable doubt that the military commission would have imposed the same sentence for conspiracy alone. The court rejected Al Bahlul’s remaining arguments. The appointment of the Convening Authority was lawful; there is no reason to unsettle Al Bahlul I’s ex post facto ruling, and the court lacked jurisdiction in an appeal from the CMCR to entertain challenges to the conditions of Al Bahlul’s ongoing confinement. View "Al Bahlul v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed.The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Army took photographs of detainees at military detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001. The ACLU sought records related to the treatment of detainees with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted to the Department of Defense (DoD) and filed suit in 2004, after receiving no response. The district court ordered the government to produce or identify all responsive documents and ordered the release of the photographs with redactions, rejecting arguments that the photographs could be withheld under three FOIA exemptions. A third party released the photographs without authorization. During the pendency of an appeal, the government identified additional photographs potentially responsive to the FOIA request and attempted to withhold them under the same three exemptions. The district court again rejected these arguments. The Second Circuit reversed, in favor of DoD. The Protected National Security Documents Act of 2009 (PNSDA), 123 Stat. 2142, permits the government to withhold disclosure of any photograph “taken during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, through January 22, 2009.” Regardless of whether PNSDA is an exemption under FOIA, the Secretary of Defense’s certification, following an extensive, multi-step review process including recommendations of several senior U.S. military commanders, and the information provided by the DoD, satisfied PNSDA. View "American Civil Liberties Union v. United States Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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On September 11, 2012, President Obama published notice “continuing for [one] year the national emergency . . . with respect to the terrorist attacks.” In April 2013, O’Farrell, an Army Reservist, received an order directing him to replace another Reservist, an attorney, who had been deployed. After reaching his maximum total years of active commissioned service (28 years), O’Farrell was transferred to the Army Reserve Retired List in October 2013. O’Farrell served his active duty as legal counsel until September 30, 2013. By August 26, 2013, O’Farrell had used his 15 days of military leave, most of his accrued annual leave, and advance annual leave. To avoid being placed on Military Leave Without Pay for the remainder of his active duty service, O’Farrell (unsuccessfully) requested an additional 22 days leave under 5 U.S.C. 6323(a)(1). O’Farrell did not cite any statutory provision that would qualify him as "called to full-time military service as a result of a call or order to active duty in support of a contingency operation." He argued that he was “serving . . . during a national emergency." O’Farrell sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301– 4333. The Federal Circuit reversed. Section 6323(b) does not require that “a specific contingency operation" be identified in military orders when an employee is activated; “in support of” includes indirect assistance to a contingency operation, 5 U.S.C. 6323(b)(2)(B), which includes a military operation that results in service members being called to active duty under any law during a national emergency, 10 U.S.C. 101(a)(13). A service member’s leave request need not use particular language. View "O'Farrell v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, who had endured many hardships in 2003 while trying to leave Baghdad, alleged, in a purported class action, that former officials of the President George W. Bush administration engaged in the war against Iraq in violation of the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. 1350. The district court held that plaintiff had not exhausted her administrative remedies as required by the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, holding that the individual defendants were entitled to official immunity under the Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. 2679(d)(1), which accords federal employees immunity from common-law tort claims for acts undertaken in the course of their official duties. The court upheld the Attorney General’s scope certification (determining that the employees were acting within the scope of their employment so that the action was one against the United States). The court rejected an argument that defendants could not be immune under the Westfall Act because plaintiff alleged violations of a jus cogens norm of international law from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law. Congress can provide immunity for federal officers for jus cogens violations. View "Saleh v. Bush" on Justia Law

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Within the Department of Defense, DRMS disposes of surplus military property at Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices (DRMOs). Property that cannot be reutilized is demilitarized and/or reduced to scrap that can be sold. A 2007 DRMS Request for Proposals sought performance of DRMO activities for up to five years. A referenced website showed DRMS’s historical workload and scrap weight; an amendment indicated that “the contractor may experience significant workload increases or decreases” and outlined a process to “renegotiate the price” if workload increased. DRMS awarded its first contract to Agility to operate six DRMOs for one base year with four option years at a fixed price of $45,233,914.92 per year. Upon commencing work in Arifjan, the largest of the DRMOs, Agility immediately fell behind. It inherited a backlog of approximately 30 weeks. From the start, the volume received at Arifjan was greater than Agility anticipated. The parties terminated their contract for convenience in 2010. Agility thereafter requested funding for its additional costs, claiming DRMS provided inaccurate workload estimates during solicitation. The contracting officer awarded Agility only $236,363.93 for its first claim and nothing for the second, noting that Agility received an offset from its scrap sales. The Federal Circuit reversed, as “clearly erroneous,” the Claims Court’s findings that DRMS did not inadequately or negligently prepare its estimates and that Agility did not rely on those estimates. Agility’s receipt of scrap sales and the parties’ agreement did not preclude recovery. View "Agility Defense & Government Services, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Zafer, an Ankara, Turkey, contractor, and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) entered into a firm-fixed-price contract to construct the MILCON Support Facility at the Bagram Air Force Field in Afghanistan. Zafer was responsible for delivering materials to the site, and assumed the risk “for all costs and resulting loss or profit.” After issuing notice to proceed, USACE recognized that it could not make the project site available immediately and increased the contract price and set a new completion date. In November 2011, Pakistan closed its border from the seaport city of Karachi along the land routes into Afghanistan in response to a combat incident with the U.S. and NATO. The route remained closed for 219 days, Zafer notified USACE that the closure would greatly impact its delivery of materials and requested direction on how to proceed. USACE replied that the closure was “purely the act of Pakistan governmental authorities,” that the U.S. government was “not responsible” and denied further compensation. Zafer subsequently, repeatedly, asked for payment for additional costs. In 2013, Zafer submitted an unsuccessful request for an equitable adjustment. The contracting officer found no evidence supporting a constructive change claim. The Claims Court granted USACE summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Zafer failed to designate specific facts to establish a constructive change claim based on either a constructive acceleration theory or on a government fault theory. View "Zafer Taahhut Insaat v. United States" on Justia Law

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The National Federation of Federal Employees Local 1442 filed a group grievance on behalf of 138 NFFE bargaining unit employees at Letterkenny Army Depot (LEAD); Local 2109 filed two grievances on behalf of all of bargaining unit employees at Watervliet Arsenal (WVA). In both grievances, the Union challenged the furloughing of bargaining unit employees for six discontinuous days between July and September in Fiscal Year 2013. The furloughs were the result of an automatic process of federal agency spending reductions called “sequestration.” Arbitrator Kaplan ruled that the furloughs of the employees at LEAD were in accordance with law. Months later, Arbitrator Gross ruled that the furloughs of WVA security employees were not in accordance with law, but that the furloughs of non-security bargaining unit employees at WVA were in accordance with law. The Federal Circuit upheld both decisions. Arbitrators Kaplan and Gross had substantial evidence before them demonstrating that the furlough decisions were reasonable management solutions to the financial restrictions placed on DOD by the sequester, thus promoting the efficiency of the service. View "Nat'l Fed'n of Fed. Employees v. Dep't of the Army" on Justia Law

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In a 2011 memorandum, the Secretary of the Navy explained that the Navy would be “challenged to reduce enlisted manning to meet future planned end strength controls due to record high retention in the current economic environment.” To address these concerns and to “optimize the quality” of the Navy, the Secretary initiated an Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) to identify 3,000 sailors for separation. The Navy notified all personnel, outlined a timeline, and identified particular pay grades and occupational classifications or specialties that would be subject to review. Sailors were informed that if their job rating was over-manned and slated for review, they could apply for conversion to an undermanned rating that would not be subject to review. The Navy also published the quotas for each overmanned rating that would be subject to the ERB to give the sailors information about competition among the different ratings and to enable them to make informed decisions about their careers. The ERB selected 2,946 sailors for honorable discharge. A putative class of about 300 of those discharged challenged their dismissal and sought back pay. The Court of Federal Claims dismissed the merit-based claims as nonjusticiable and denied remaining claims on the administrative record. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Anderson v. United States" on Justia Law