Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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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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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of the government's motion to dismiss and, in the alternative, for summary judgment, on plaintiff's claims that the cadet separation procedures of the United States Military Academy at West Point fail to provide due process and that plaintiff's separation proceedings violated West Point's own regulations in a manner that substantially prejudiced him.The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that West Point's cadet separation procedures satisfy due process and that the intra military immunity doctrine, which bars judicial interference in discretionary military personnel decisions, renders plaintiff's regulatory claims nonjusticiable. The court explained that plaintiff was not substantially prejudiced by any purported regulatory deviation and the court may not circumvent the doctrine to engage in a fact-specific inquiry as to whether military personnel properly applied the military's own evidentiary standard. View "Doolen v. Wormuth" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for failure to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). Defendant was convicted of raping another member of his platoon in violation of Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and, after he was discharged from military service, he was designated as a Level Two sex offender.The court held that 34 U.S.C. 20911(5)(A)(iv)'s delegation to the Secretary of Defense to designate which military offenses constitute "sex offenses" under the statute does not violate the non-delegation doctrine. The court also held that the Secretary of Defense did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act in designating military offenses as sex offenses under SORNA. View "United States v. Mingo" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a legal permanent resident, sought review of an agency order of removal based on a finding that he committed an "aggravated felony" within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(G). Under section 1101(a)(43)(G), to establish an aggravated felony, the government must show by clear and convincing evidence that a noncitizen committed a "theft offense" that resulted in a term of imprisonment of "at least one year." Petitioner was a member of the U.S. Army when he pleaded guilty to four violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), one of which was larceny of military property. Under the military's customary practice of unitary sentencing at the time, the military judge issued a general sentence that imposed a punishment for all four of petitioner's convictions for 30 months' confinement.The Second Circuit held that, under the military's traditional unitary sentencing scheme, a military judgment in which a single sentence of confinement is imposed in connection with multiple counts of conviction may not be presumed to be equivalent to equal, full‐term, concurrent sentences as to each count of conviction. Because the government has not carried its burden, the court granted the petition for review and remanded for further proceedings. View "Persad v. Barr" 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