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Robert and Janice married in 1964; in 1986, they divorced. In the meantime, after 20 years of service, Robert had retired from the United States Air Force. In a stipulated judgment, the trial court awarded Janice her community property interest in Robert’s military retired pay. In 2012, it was determined that Robert had a combat-related disability. As a result, he became eligible to receive both veteran’s disability benefits and combat-related special compensation (CRSC); to do so, however, he had to waive his retired pay. Before the waiver, Robert received $791 a month and Janice received $541 in retired pay (taxable). After the waiver, Robert received $1,743 a month in veteran’s disability benefits and $1,389 a month in CRSC, for a total of $3,132 (tax-free); Janice received nothing. The trial court ordered Robert to start paying Janice $541 a month in permanent and nonmodifiable spousal support. Robert appealed, contending: (1) under federal law, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to make any award to Janice based on Robert’s receipt of either veteran’s disability benefits or CRSC; (2) the trial court erred by using spousal support as a remedy for the loss of a community property interest; (3) the trial court erred by making its award of spousal support nonmodifiable; (4) because the judgment dividing the community property was long-since final, the trial court could not give Janice any remedy for the loss of her community property interest in the retired pay; (5) all of Robert's income was exempt, therefore could not be required to satisfy Janice's claim; and (6) Janice was not entitled to spousal support, and the trial court abused its discretion by finding otherwise. The Court of Appeal agreed federal law prohibited the trial court from compensating Janice, in the form of spousal support or otherwise, for the loss of her share of Robert’s retired pay. However, it could properly modify spousal support, provided it did so based on the relevant factors and not as compensation. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with directions to hold a new trial on Janice’s request for a modification of spousal support. View "In re Marriage of Cassinelli" on Justia Law

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In November 2014, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied Bly’s request for service connection for bilateral hearing loss. Bly appealed to the Veterans Court. After his opening brief was filed, Bly and the government filed a joint motion for partial remand. The Veterans Court granted the motion, citing to Rule 41(b) of the Veterans Court’s Rules of Practice and Procedure, and noting that “this order is the mandate of the Court.” Bly applied for attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412, 31 days later. Remand orders from the Veterans Court may entitle veterans to EAJA fees and expenses. Under 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B), such EAJA applications must be made “within thirty days of final judgment in the action.” The Veterans Court reasoned that its judgment became final immediately because the order remanded the case on consent and stated that it was the mandate of the court. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of his application, reasoning that the consent judgment at issue became “not appealable” 60 days after the entry of the remand order under 38 U.S.C. 7292(a). View "Bly v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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In November 2014, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied Bly’s request for service connection for bilateral hearing loss. Bly appealed to the Veterans Court. After his opening brief was filed, Bly and the government filed a joint motion for partial remand. The Veterans Court granted the motion, citing to Rule 41(b) of the Veterans Court’s Rules of Practice and Procedure, and noting that “this order is the mandate of the Court.” Bly applied for attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412, 31 days later. Remand orders from the Veterans Court may entitle veterans to EAJA fees and expenses. Under 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B), such EAJA applications must be made “within thirty days of final judgment in the action.” The Veterans Court reasoned that its judgment became final immediately because the order remanded the case on consent and stated that it was the mandate of the court. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of his application, reasoning that the consent judgment at issue became “not appealable” 60 days after the entry of the remand order under 38 U.S.C. 7292(a). View "Bly v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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Petitioner alleged that the Army terminated him and excluded him from his work site because he had made complaints that were protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the petition for review of the Board's adverse decision, holding that the Army was the only proper respondent; petitioner received due process; and the Board's decision on the merits was supported by substantial evidence and was procedurally proper. Accordingly, the court denied in part and granted in part as to the petition for review of the Army's adverse decision, remanding for further proceedings. View "Johnen v. U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board" 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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At issue in this case is the scope of the Governor’s responsibilities upon receiving an allegation brought under the California Military Whistleblower Protection Act, Military and Veterans Code section 56 (Section 56), referred by the inspector general. Major Dwight Stirling, a part-time judge advocate in the California National Guard, brought a petition for writ of mandate in the trial court to compel Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. (the Governor) to act on Stirling’s whistleblower allegation in accordance with Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). Stirling argued that Section 56(e) required the Governor to undertake the same preliminary determination, investigation, and reporting that was required of the inspector general under Section 56, subdivisions (d) and (f)(1). The Attorney General, representing the Governor, argued Section 56(e) did not require the Governor to take any particular action on a whistleblower allegation and permitted the Governor to defer to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, who was a federal military officer responsible for heading the federal agency that controlled the United States Army National Guard. The trial court sustained without leave to amend the Attorney General’s demurrer to Stirling’s amended petition for writ of mandate. Because the Court of Appeal was reviewing a judgment following an order sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend, its analysis was necessarily limited to the pleadings and matters of which it could take judicial notice. The Court concluded Section 56 was unambiguous, and its plain language did not require the Governor to undertake the procedures required of the inspector general in response to a whistleblower allegation. The Court of Appeal also concluded, based on the appellate record, that Section 56 did not violate California’s equal protection clause because in all cases a whistleblower allegation is referred to an impartial decision maker who has discretion whether to undertake a full investigation. View "Stirling v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, employed by the Office of Air and Marine (OAM), within the Department of Homeland Security, alleged that the agency’s actions and policies violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301–4335. They were members of the Air Force and Navy Reserves. They subsequently resigned, claiming that they were “forced to quit.” An administrative judge (AJ) rejected Petitioners’ contention that the OAM violated USERRA by failing to grant them waivers from participating in training courses that conflicted with their military service dates, creating a hostile work environment, forcing them to surrender their badges and weapons during military leaves of 30 or more days, delaying within-grade pay increases, and requiring them to use annual, sick, or other leave in lieu of military leave. The AJ found “a legitimate basis for the [Agency’s] security policy,” and an “absence of any evidence that its [weapons] policy was adopted with discriminatory intent.” Allegedly hostile incidents were either “‘unavoidable’ workplace friction” or did not rise to the level of “humiliating,” “physically threatening,” or “so frequent and pervasive” to render their work environment hostile. They later filed a second complaint, alleging constructive discharge. The AJ, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Federal Circuit agreed that the constructive discharge claims were barred by collateral estoppel as “inextricably linked” to their previous hostile work environment claims. The standard for establishing constructive discharge is higher than that for hostile work environment, View "Bryant v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Crediford served with the Coast Guard in 1983-1985 and in 1990-1991. In 1985, he visited the VFW Club after work and drank alcohol, then was in a single-vehicle accident. A breath test registered a blood alcohol level of 0.12 percent, more than three hours later. The police charged him with DUI. Crediford's commanding officer’s report stated that fatigue and alcohol were responsible for the accident and that Crediford’s “injuries were not a result of his own misconduct and were incurred in the line of duty.” The conclusion was approved in an “ACTION OF THE CONVENING AUTHORITY.” In December 1985, the Commander of the Thirteenth Coast Guard District issued a Memorandum, that “approved a finding that injuries … were ‘not incurred in the line of duty and were due to his own misconduct.’” In 2004, Crediford sought compensation for chronic pain due to spinal and soft tissue injury resulting from the accident. The VA Regional Office denied compensation, characterizing the injuries as the result of willful misconduct, not occurring in the line of duty. Crediford argued that the Memorandum was issued “post-discharge, without notice that an investigation was ongoing. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Board erred in making its own findings when there were service department findings before it. VA regulations assign “binding” determination of “willful misconduct” and “line of duty” to the Service Department. The Coast Guard’s determinations, made in 1985, must be addressed. View "Crediford v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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Ebanks sought veterans benefits for service-connected posttraumatic stress disorder, hearing loss, and arthritis. His claim for an increased disability rating was denied by the VA Regional Office (RO) in October 2014; in December he sought Board of Veterans Appeals review, with a video-conference hearing (38 U.S.C. 7107). Two years later, the Board had not scheduled a hearing. Ebanks sought a writ of mandamus. The Veterans Court denied relief. While his appeal was pending, the Board held his hearing in October 2017. The Federal Circuit vacated, finding the matter moot so that it lacked jurisdiction. The delay is typical and any Board hearings on remand are subject to expedited treatment under 38 U.S.C. 7112. Congress has recently overhauled the review process for RO decisions, so that veterans may now choose one of three tracks for further review of an RO decision, Given these many contingencies, Ebanks has not shown a sufficiently reasonable expectation that he will again be subjected to the same delays. Even if this case were not moot, the court questioned “the appropriateness of granting individual relief to veterans who claim unreasonable delays in VA’s first-come-first-served queue.” The “issue seems best addressed in the class-action context,.” View "Ebanks v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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To receive disability compensation based on service, a veteran must demonstrate that the disability was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, 38 U.S.C. 101(16). Congress has enacted presumptive service connection laws to protect certain veterans who faced exposure to chemical toxins but would find it difficult to prove a “nexus” between their exposure and their disease. Under the Agent Orange Act, 38 U.S.C. 1116, any veteran who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam era and who suffers from any designated disease “shall be presumed to have been exposed during such service” to herbicides. The VA determines which diseases qualify for presumptive service connection and defines service in Vietnam. Absent on-land service, the VA concluded that the statute did not authorize presumptive service connection for veterans serving in the open waters surrounding Vietnam. The Federal Circuit upheld that position in 2007. In 2016, the VA amended its M21-1 procedures manual to also exclude veterans who served in bays, harbors, and ports of Vietnam. The VA did not implement this additional restriction by way of notice and comment regulation as it did its open waters restriction and has not published its view on this issue in the Federal Register. The Federal Circuit rejected a challenge for lack of jurisdiction. The VA’s revisions are not agency actions reviewable under 38 U.S.C. 502. The M21-1 Manual provisions are only binding on Veterans Benefits Administration employees. View "Gray v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law