Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Military Law
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Sedric Ward, an Army reservist, worked at the Shelby County Jail. In 2015, the County fired Ward but later entered into a settlement agreement in which Ward released “any and all claims whatsoever” related to his termination. Despite this, Ward later sued the County under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The central issue was whether the settlement agreement effectively released Ward’s claim under the Act.The district court ruled in favor of Ward, asserting that the release’s scope—namely, “any and all claims whatsoever”—did not reach his USERRA claim. The case went to trial, and the jury found in Ward’s favor. The district court eventually ordered the County to pay Ward more than $1.5 million.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed with the district court's reasoning. The appellate court found that the release provision in the settlement agreement clearly encompassed Ward’s USERRA claim. However, the court also noted that USERRA imposes a second requirement for the release of a claim under the Act. Specifically, the Act requires that the agreement “establish” rights that are “more beneficial” for the servicemember than the ones he gives up. The court found that whether a particular settlement agreement provides greater benefits than a USERRA claim is for the servicemember to decide. Given the circumstances, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Ward’s decision to enter into the agreement reflected a considered decision on his part, or instead that it reflected only desperation. The appellate court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Ward v. Shelby County" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Jeffrey Boone, was charged with using a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing child pornography, distributing child pornography, and possessing child pornography. The minor in question was Boone's four-year-old daughter. Boone pleaded guilty to all three counts. The evidence against Boone included images and videos of his sexual abuse of his daughter, which he had shared via Kik Messenger. The FBI was alerted to Boone's activities by an online covert employee who had received the explicit images from Boone.Boone's case was heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The Presentence Investigation Report grouped Boone's three counts together and assigned a total offense level of 43, factoring in enhancements based on the victim's age and other offense characteristics. The report recommended a five-level increase due to Boone's pattern of activity involving prohibited sexual conduct. Boone did not object to the report. The district court imposed an 840-month sentence, comprised of consecutive terms of 360 months on Count 1 and 240 months each on Counts 2 and 3, followed by a lifetime of supervised release.Boone appealed his sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He argued that the district court erred at sentencing by applying a pattern-of-activity enhancement and considering his military service as an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor. The Court of Appeals affirmed Boone's sentence, finding no procedural or substantive error in the district court's decision. The court noted that Boone had invited the error he was alleging by expressly agreeing to the application of the pattern-of-activity enhancement. The court also found that the district court had acted within its discretion in considering Boone's military service as an aggravating factor. View "United States v. Boone" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the dispute between Daniel Bader, a military officer who previously held the rank of Colonel but had attained the rank of Brigadier General at the time of his application for retirement in 2012, and the United States. Bader was found to have violated ethical standards set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 207(c) and 5 C.F.R. § 2635, which led to his retirement at the rank of Colonel, affecting his rate of retirement pay. Bader brought suit in the Court of Federal Claims seeking compensation for his allegedly lost pay. The court, however, ruled against him, finding no error in the decision to retire him at the lower rank of Colonel.Bader appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that he was unfairly penalized for holding both a military and civilian employment concurrently, which was permissible. He also contended that he was acting in accordance with multiple ethics opinions that he believed permitted his actions, and that his employer's operation through an Other Transactions Authority allowed him to engage in the conduct he was penalized for.The Appeals Court, however, affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that Bader's simultaneous employment in military and civilian capacities did not exempt him from ethical obligations. His reliance on ethics opinions didn't change the fact that he used his government position to benefit his private employer. The court also clarified that the Other Transactions Authority doesn't exempt government employees from generally applicable ethics regulations. Therefore, Bader's retirement at the rank of Colonel was deemed appropriate given his violations of ethical standards. View "BADER v. US " on Justia Law

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This case revolves around Mr. Orville Thomas, a former U.S. Navy serviceman, who sought an earlier effective date for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claim connected to his service. Thomas had initially filed a claim for "depressive mania" in 1971, after surviving a plane crash during his service, which had been denied by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 2014, he requested to reopen his claim, submitting additional service department records not previously considered by the VA. While the VA granted service connection for PTSD in 2014, they denied an earlier effective date.Thomas appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, arguing the VA had overlooked certain service department records and regulations, specifically 38 C.F.R. § 3.156(c), which could have potentially allowed for an earlier effective date. However, the Board agreed with the VA’s denial. Thomas further appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, arguing that the Board failed to consider all potentially relevant issues, violating its statutory duty under 38 U.S.C. § 7104(d)(1).The Veterans Court affirmed the Board's decision, arguing that Thomas did not demonstrate the relevance of his service records to his 1971 claim. Thomas appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which found that the Veterans Court applied a more stringent legal standard than required under 38 U.S.C. § 7104. It ruled that the Board must consider all "potentially applicable" regulations raised in the record, not only those proven to be relevant or favorable by the veteran.The Federal Circuit court vacated the Veterans Court’s decision and remanded the case to the Board to provide an adequate written statement of its reasons for denying Thomas's claim for an earlier effective date for his PTSD, considering all relevant regulations and records. View "Thomas v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a lower court's ruling regarding a veteran, Bruce Hay, who was convicted of ten counts of stealing government property and six counts of wire fraud. The case centered around Hay's alleged exaggeration of his disability to gain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA conducted a six-year investigation, even installing a pole camera that recorded Hay's daily activities outside his house for 68 days.Hay appealed his conviction on three grounds: insufficient evidence supporting his conviction, violation of his Fourth Amendment rights by the VA's installation of the pole camera, and wrongful admission of evidence by the district judge. The court rejected all three arguments.First, the court ruled that Hay's fraudulent acquisition of government property constituted "stealing" under 18 U.S.C. § 641 and that sufficient evidence was presented at trial to support his conviction for stealing government property and wire fraud.Second, the court held that the use of the pole camera did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment as it only captured his activities in public view.Lastly, the court rejected Hay's claim that evidence post-dating the charging period was improperly admitted, finding that the district court acted within its discretion.In conclusion, the court affirmed the district court's denial of a judgment of acquittal and the admission of contested evidence. View "United States v. Hay" on Justia Law

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The case originates from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The appellant, Herbie D. Vest, served on active duty in the United States Army from 1966 to 1971. In 1971, Vest filed a claim for service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus, which was granted at a 0% rating. A subsequent request for an increased rating was denied. In 1972, Vest sent a letter to the Veterans Administration Regional Office (RO) expressing his belief of an error in their decision. In 2016, Vest submitted a claim for compensation for Meniere's disease and "ears-ringing," which was granted at a 60% disability rating, which Vest disputed.In 2020, Vest argued that his 1972 letter constituted a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and should be considered as such. However, the RO did not accept the letter as an NOD. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals found that the letter expressed dissatisfaction with the decision on his hearing loss disability, but did not express disagreement with the decision regarding tinnitus. The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims dismissed Vest's appeal, holding that they did not have jurisdiction to address the question of defective notice. The court noted that Vest did not argue that he had submitted an NOD with the initial decision concerning tinnitus, and he didn't challenge the Board’s determinations that the letter was not an NOD for the tinnitus decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the appeal by the Veterans Court due to lack of jurisdiction. The court reasoned that the absence of an NOD on the 1971 tinnitus claim and the lack of any decision by the Board on that claim defeat jurisdiction in the Veterans Court. View "Vest v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in a case involving Clark Calloway Jr., a former U.S. Marine convicted of several firearms offenses. Calloway had acquired a fully automatic AK-47, which was inoperable, from an FBI source after expressing violent intentions on social media, advocating for ISIS, and pledging to commit violence against non-Muslims. He was arrested upon possession of the firearm and was later convicted on three counts under 18 U.S.C. § 922 and § 924.At sentencing, the district court calculated Calloway's total offense level under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and found that he posed a serious risk to public safety, which justified an upward departure in his sentence. Calloway appealed this decision, arguing that the inoperability of the gun he received negated significant public endangerment, and that the upward departure was duplicative of a separate sentencing enhancement applied by the court.The Court of Appeals disagreed with Calloway's arguments. It held that the district court was correct in its findings of fact that Calloway was dangerous at the time of the offense, and that his possession of the firearm and his intent to use it for violent purposes posed a serious risk to public safety. The court also rejected Calloway's argument that the upward departure was duplicative of the sentencing enhancement, as the latter was applied due to Calloway's intent to use the firearm for another felony offense, while the former was due to the risk he posed to public safety. View "USA v. Calloway" on Justia Law

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Between 2010 and 2014, the United States Coast Guard convened Active Duty Enlisted Career Retention Screening Panels (CRSPs) to select enlisted service members for involuntary retirement. This process was carried out without following the procedures and standards of the then-applicable 14 U.S.C. § 357(a)–(h), which addressed involuntary retirement of certain Coast Guard service members with specified seniority. Several former Coast Guard service members, after being involuntarily retired through the CRSP process, brought a case against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims under the Tucker Act, asserting that their retirements were contrary to the law as the Coast Guard had not followed § 357(a)–(h). The government responded by invoking § 357(j), which stated that § 357(a)–(h) did not apply to a “reduction in force.” The issue of the applicability of that exception to the CRSPs was the primary topic of the appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court's decision that the involuntary retirements were unlawful because the CRSPs were not part of a “reduction in force.” The court concluded that a “reduction in force” as used in § 357(j) did not include actions to separate current occupants from their positions with the intent to refill those positions. The court rejected the government’s arguments for a different conclusion. Therefore, the court affirmed the Claims Court’s partial final judgment. View "TIPPINS v. US " on Justia Law

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In the case at hand, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed an employment discrimination case. The plaintiff, LuzMaria Arroyo, a military reservist, brought a lawsuit against her employer, Volvo Group North America, LLC, alleging discrimination based on her military status and her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After a jury ruled in Arroyo's favor and awarded her $7,800,000 in damages, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law to Volvo on Arroyo’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim, and ordered a new trial on the remaining Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) claim, where the jury found for Volvo. Arroyo appealed this decision.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Arroyo was not a "qualified individual" under the ADA as she failed to comply with Volvo's attendance policy, an essential job function. Arroyo's positive job performance reviews did not negate her violation of the attendance policy. The court also found no conflict with its previous decision in Arroyo I, which had reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Volvo on the ADA and USERRA claims.Further, the court upheld the district court's decision for a new trial on the USERRA claim. The court agreed that the jury’s verdict as to the ADA claim was influenced by passion and prejudice that also tainted the jury’s determination of USERRA liability. Finally, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision to exclude evidence of Arroyo’s PTSD in the new trial, as PTSD alone was not sufficient to raise a cognizable discrimination claim under USERRA. View "Arroyo v. Volvo Group North America, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reviewed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) that granted a petition for a writ of mandamus permitting the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) to hear appeals of adverse decisions rendered under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregiver Program). The claimants were Jeremy Beaudette, a Marine Corps veteran who was rated 100% disabled due to multiple concussions that resulted in traumatic brain injury and legal blindness, and his wife Maya Beaudette. They applied for benefits under the Caregiver Program in March 2013 and were found eligible. However, in February 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notified them that they were no longer eligible for Caregiver Program benefits. They appealed this decision through the VA Clinical Appeals process, but their appeals were denied. The Beaudettes then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Veterans Court to permit Board review of adverse Caregiver Program decisions. In April 2021, a majority of a three-judge panel granted the Beaudettes' petition and certified the request for a class.The Veterans Court held that Congress mandated Board review of all Caregiver Program decisions, disagreeing with the VA's position that the phrase "medical determination" in § 1720G(c)(1) is a reference to a longstanding VA rule excluding medical determinations from Board review. The VA appealed this decision to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Veterans Court's decision, holding that § 1720G(c)(1) of the Caregiver Act only bars judicial review of Caregiver Program decisions on the furnishing of assistance or support. The court concluded that the Beaudettes and other similarly situated veterans and caregivers have an indisputable right to judicial review of Caregiver Program decisions that do not affect the furnishing of support or assistance. View "BEAUDETTE v. MCDONOUGH " on Justia Law