Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries
Moss v. United Airlines, Inc.
Under a 2014 policy, United pilots only accrued sick time during the first 90 days of military leave. Moss, a pilot and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves, sued, alleging violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301, which requires employers to provide employees on military leave any seniority-based benefit the employee would have accrued but for the military leave. He claimed that sick time is a seniority-based benefit that should have continuously accrued or sick-time accrual was available to pilots on comparable periods of leave.The district court granted United summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. For a benefit to be seniority-based, the benefit must be a reward for length of service. Sick leave is not such a reward but is "a future-oriented longevity incentive." United’s sick-time accrual policy contains a work requirement and is in the nature of compensation, not a reward for long service. . View "Moss v. United Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law
Scholz v. United States
Scholz was honorably discharged following her 2006-2008 Army tour of duty in Iraq but the mental and physical toll of her service continued. Scholz required a range of medical treatments. Scholz sought two courses of inpatient mental health treatment at the Tomah VA Medical Center in 2011. Later, while receiving outpatient mental health treatment through the Tomah VAMC, she consulted surgeons at the Zablocki VA Medical Center about elective breast reduction surgery. An unrelated psychological assessment performed at Zablocki VAMC raised concerns about Scholz’s mental health. Zablocki VAMC surgeons performed elective breast reduction surgery in 2012, igniting multiple complications. Scholz continued to receive outpatient mental health treatment, including prescription medications, from various VA providers through late 2018.Scholz has two lawsuits pending against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671–2680. The government argued that the second suit on the same, or essentially the same, operative facts, was precluded on claim-splitting grounds. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Scholz’s theory amounts to “arbitrarily splitting the treatment timeline.” In both suits, she mentions her treatment for mental health issues, her breast reduction surgery, the unsafe prescribing of medications, and improper record handling. Both suits arise out of Scholz’s treatment at various VA locations in 2011-2018 and mention the same alleged incidents. View "Scholz v. United States" on Justia Law
Philbrook v. McDonough
Philbrook served in the Army, 2000-2004, then was awarded disability compensation for PTSD. In 2011, Philbrook stipulated to a judgment of “guilty except for insanity” in connection with a felony. He was ordered into the custody of the Oregon State Hospital “under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board . . . for care, custody, and treatment for a maximum period not to exceed 20 years.” Philbrook then applied for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU).A VA regional office concluded that Philbrook’s PTSD did not entitle him to TDIU because it did not preclude gainful employment. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied TDIU “as a matter of law”; 38 U.S.C. 5313(c), precludes the assignment of a TDIU rating for any period “during which the veteran is incarcerated in a Federal, State, local, or other penal institution or correctional facility for conviction of a felony.” The Veterans Court affirmed.The Federal Circuit reversed. Philbrook was not confined in a “penal institution or correctional facility”; he was committed to a mental institution, “a hospital for people with mental or emotional problems.” The term “correctional facility” cannot encompass a hospital that treats civil patients, and a hospital cannot be a correctional facility for some patients and not others. View "Philbrook v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Lorance v. Commandant
A United States military court-martial convicted Petitioner-Appellant Clint Lorance of murder (and a variety of lesser offenses) for actions he took while leading a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan. After exhausting his direct appeals, Lorance filed a federal habeas petition challenging his convictions. Lorance appealed the district court’s dismissal of that petition. The sole issue, and a matter of first impression for the Tenth Circuit's consideration was whether Lorance’s acceptance of a full and unconditional presidential pardon constituted a legal confession of guilt and a waiver of his habeas rights, thus rendering his case moot. The Court concluded Lorance’s acceptance of the pardon did not have the legal effect of a confession of guilt and did not constitute a waiver of his habeas rights. Despite Lorance’s release from custody pursuant to the pardon, he sufficiently alleged ongoing collateral consequences from his convictions, creating a genuine case or controversy and rendering his habeas petition not moot. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lorance v. Commandant" on Justia Law
Larson v. McDonough
Larson served on active duty for training in the Navy Reserves in 1988 and on active duty in the Navy, 1989-1993. He gained a substantial amount of weight before, during, and after his active service. In 2009, Larson filed a claim for service connection for multiple conditions, including obesity and dysmetabolic syndrome (DMS). The VA denied the claims in 2010. The Board affirmed that denial in 2016, holding that neither DMS nor obesity was a disability because neither condition is ratable under the VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities. The Veterans Court affirmed the denial of service connection for DMS and obesity, holding that it lacked jurisdiction to review a Board determination of what constitutes a disability under 38 U.S.C. 1110 because such inquiry amounted to a review of the rating schedule, prohibited by 38 U.S.C. 7252(b).The Federal Circuit reversed, noting that it has previously held that the Veterans Court has jurisdiction to review a Board determination that a claimed condition did not constitute a disability for purposes of section 1110. Larson seeks only to establish a service connection for his conditions and is not asking the Veterans Court to invalidate or revise any portion of the rating schedule. View "Larson v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Miriyeva v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
Miriyeva, a citizen of Azerbaijan, lawfully entered the U.S. and sought naturalization under 8 U.S.C. 1440. She enlisted in the U.S. Army through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, under which noncitizens have an expedited path to citizenship by serving honorably in the military without first having lawful permanent residence. In 2018, USCIS approved Miriyeva’s application. Before the agency scheduled Miriyeva’s oath of citizenship ceremony, the Army sent her to basic training. During training, a medical condition ended her service. The Army described Miriyeva’s separation as “uncharacterized” since her service ended while she was still at “entry-level.” After her medical discharge, Miriyeva scheduled her oath ceremony but the agency reversed its approval of her naturalization application because the military did not describe her separation as “honorable.”Miriyeva argued that the military refers to “uncharacterized” as “separated under honorable conditions,” when required to do so and that the Army’s policy of treating an uncharacterized separation as not under honorable conditions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Constitution’s Uniform Rule of Naturalization Clause, and the Due Process Clause. The district court dismissed Miriyeva’s declaratory judgment suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under 8 U.S.C. 1421(c), which precluded Miriyeva’s Administrative Procedure Act and constitutional claims; her Declaratory Judgment Act claim failed without a different, standalone source of jurisdiction. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. Miriyeva strayed from the statutory path for judicial review of claims intertwined with denied naturalization applications. View "Miriyeva v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services" on Justia Law
Jones v. United States
In 1982, while serving in the Air Force in Germany, Jones was struck in the eye by the door of an armored personnel carrier. He developed intense headaches; it became increasingly difficult for Jones to perform his duties. A 1988 Clinical Resume reflects that Jones had developed “intermittent right cranial nerve 4th palsy associated with chronic right retro-orbital stabbing pain, usually occurring during the late afternoon or night.” Jones described "a nearly constant headache which was relieved only with repetitive doses of intramuscular Demoral.” A Physical Evaluation Board recommended that Jones be discharged with severance pay based on a 10% disability rating for “Post-traumatic pain syndrome manifest[ing] as headaches.”Jones was honorably discharged with severance pay. In 1989, his discharge was amended to reflect that his injury was combat-related. Effective in 2017, the VA awarded Jones a 100% disability rating. Jones petitioned the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records for changes to his record that would entitle him to a disability retirement dating back to 1988, when he was discharged, 10 U.S.C. 1201. The Board denied Jones’s petition. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court: the claim for disability retirement pay and benefits was a claim under a money-mandating statute, as required by the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), but jurisdiction was lacking because the claim was barred by the six-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 2501. View "Jones v. United States" on Justia Law
Hubbard v. United States
In 1982, a court-martial convicted Hubbard of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. He previously filed unsuccessful federal habeas petitions and, in 2019, sought DNA testing under the Innocence Protection Act (IPA), 18 U.S.C. 3600(a), to prove his innocence.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court was not the court that entered the judgment of conviction; Hubbard’s conviction was entered by a general court-martial, which has since dissolved, not in federal court. The court rejected Hubbard’s contentions that the district court had the power to grant his petition for DNA testing under the IPA or that the IPA should nonetheless be construed to allow him to petition for DNA testing in the district court because he would otherwise have no forum in which to seek his relief. The IPA, unlike the federal habeas statutes, does not provide a procedural mechanism for prisoners convicted by courts-martial to seek collateral relief in federal court. View "Hubbard v. United States" on Justia Law
Travers v. Federal Express Corp.
Travers served in the Naval Reserve. He also works for FedEx and fulfilled his Reserve duties during his leaves from work. Travers received no compensation from FedEx for those absences because the company does not pay employees for military leave. FedEx does pay employees who are absent for other reasons, like jury duty, illness, and bereavement. Relying on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), Travers challenged FedEx’s decision; 38 U.S.C. 4316(b)(1) entitles employees taking military leave to the “other rights and benefits” their employers give to employees taking similar kinds of leave. The district court dismissed Travers’s complaint, concluding that paid leave was not a “right and benefit” under USERRA.The Third Circuit vacated. USERRA directs employers to provide the benefit of compensation when they choose to pay other employees for comparable forms of leave. USERRA describes a process for evaluating an employer's alleged disparate treatment of service members on military leave. It does not create a class of rights and benefits. This is not a dispute about whether USERRA guarantees paid military leave; it concerns whether section 4316(b)(1) allows Travers to allege that FedEx extends a right and benefit in the form of pay to employees who miss work for non-military reasons, but then denies pay to those absent for military service. View "Travers v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law
Badilla v. Midwest Air Traffic Control Service, Inc.
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