Articles Posted in U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals

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The survivors of eight firefighters who died in 2003 sought survivors’ benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act, 42 U.S.C. 3796. The eight were employed by First Strike, a private company that works with governmental and private entities to help suppress wildfires, under agreements that characterized them as independent contractors. The Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Office denied the claims, and they requested redetermination by the Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which also denied the claims. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the BJA did not err in concluding that the firefighters were not public safety officers within the meaning of the Benefits Act. View "Moore v. Dep't of Justice" on Justia Law

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Erickson was a U.S. Postal Service employee from 1988 to 2000, and also a member of the Army National Guard Reserve. He was absent from the Postal Service for lengthy periods while on active duty with the National Guard. Between 1991 and 1995 he was absent for more than 22 months, and between 1996 and 2000, he worked at the Postal Service for only four days. The Postal Service inquired whether he intended to return. Erickson replied that he would not return until he completed his tour of duty in September 2001. The Postal Service removed him for excessive use of military leave. Erickson re-enlisted with the Guard and remained on active duty through 2005. In 2006, he appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board alleging violation of his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The Board rejected his claim under 38 U.S.C. 4312, holding that he had not made a timely request for reemployment and that military service was not a motivating factor in the termination. The Federal Circuit affirmed with respect to his reemployment claim, but reversed with respect to his discrimination claim. On remand, the Board found that Erickson had waived his USERRA rights by abandoning his civilian career, but on a second remand, ruled in favor of Erickson and granted him reinstatement with back wages and benefits. The Federal Circuit denied his application for recovery of attorney fees and expenses for the two appeals. View "Erickson v. U.S. Postal Serv." 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

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Cunningham worked for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in 2004-2005. He appealed his termination to the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging discrimination based on marital status. Cunningham agreed to withdraw his appeal; OPM agreed to pay him $50,000. The agreement designated the OPM’s director of human resources as the contact for reference inquiries and permitted disclosure of dates of service only. The termination letter was to be removed from the personnel file and both parties were prohibited from disclosing the agreement or the grievance. In 2006, Cunningham accepted a position with USIS, a private company that contracts with federal agencies to perform background investigations. A week after Cunningham began training USIS suspended him without pay at the direction of OPM's security office. OPM employees (not the Director of Human Resources) had discussed Cunningham’s termination. An administrative judge found that OPM had breached the agreement, but that MSPB could not award damages. Cunningham was only entitled to rescind the agreement, reinstate his appeal, and return the $50,000 payment. MSPB adopted the findings. Cunningham did not want his appeal reinstated and sought breach-of-contract damages. The Claims Court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, but dismissed based on res judicata. The Federal Circuit vacated, agreeing that the court had jurisdiction, but holding that res judicata did not apply because jurisdictional limits on the MSPB did not permit him to seek damages in the prior matter. View "Cunningham v. United States" on Justia Law

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Biggers had been employed by the Navy for 29 years and in 2007 was Security Manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center. The position required him to maintain a top secret security clearance. In 2008, a duty officer found that an outer vault door of the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network room was left open. Biggers notified the Commanding Officer of the potential violation. After an investigation, the Command Evaluator recommended that all security personnel (including Biggers) have their access to classified material suspended because “the investigation revealed numerous systemic problems, violations and deficiencies.” Biggers’ security clearance was suspended pending a final determination by the Department of Navy Central Adjudication Facility (DONCAF) pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 7513. Ultimately, DONCAF concluded that the information provided by Biggers and the Center “sufficiently explained, mitigated, or provided extenuating circumstances,” and Biggers was found eligible for a Top Secret clearance and assignment to a sensitive position and returned to duty status.. His suspension had lasted nine months. The Navy did not provide back pay or treat him as employed for calculation of retirement benefits. Biggers alleged that the suspension was motivated by retaliatory animus arising from his participation in an EEOC proceeding. An AJ determined that the Merit Systems Protection Board may not review the merits of a security clearance revocation or suspension. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that Biggers was not entitled to back pay. View "Biggers v. Dep't of the Navy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are or were air-traffic-control specialists or traffic-management coordinators with the Federal Aviation Administration and alleged that the FAA’s policies governing how to compensate them when they worked overtime did not comply with the time-and-a-half- payment requirement of the Fair Labor Standards Act 29 U.S.C. 207. They sought damages under 29 U.S.C. 216(b) and invoked jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C.1491. The Claims Court ruled in their favor, holding that the agency’s personnel policies are contrary to the FLSA and are not authorized by any other provision of law. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that the FAA has such authority under the federal personnel laws, 5 U.S.C. 5543 and 6120-6133. The court remanded for determination of whether the challenged FAA policies are fully, or only partly, within the authority of those title 5 exemptions from the FLSA. View "Abbey v. United States" on Justia Law

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DeLeon and Williams were separated from their jobs as cooks at a facility at Fort Riley installation, for allegedly removing government-owned food from the facility without authorization. The facility was a non-appropriated fund instrumentality (NAFI), and DeLeon and Williams were paid with non-appropriated funds. After denial grievances, filed under the collective bargaining agreement with their union, an arbitrator upheld the charges and removal penalties. The Federal Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, citing 5 U.S.C. 2105(c), which excludes NAFI employees from appealing adverse actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board As NAFI employees, DeLeon and Williams had no route available other than the grievance process; 5 U.S.C. 7121 (f) does not establish jurisdiction. View "Deleon v. Dep't of the Army" on Justia Law

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The Job Corps program, a national residential training and employment program administered by the Department of Labor, was reformed by the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, which authorized the Secretary of Labor to enter into agreements with government agencies or private organizations to operate “Job Corps centers,” 29 U.S.C. 2887. Adams is the incumbent contractor for the Gadsden and the Shriver Job Corps Centers. When the contracts expired, Adams was disqualified from renewal because of the small business limitation imposed by the Department on the bids. Adams cannot does not qualify as a small business. The limit is $35.5 million in annual receipts, 13 C.F.R. 121.201. After unsuccessful bid protests, the Claims Court and the Federal Circuit upheld the administrative actions against challenges that they were arbitrary. View "Adams & Assocs., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Mitchell began working as a Social Security Administration lawyer in 1998. The Department of Justice appointed her as a Special Assistant United States Attorney in 2006, a one-year appointment during which she remained an employee of and was paid by, the SSA. The Department extended that appointment, so that she served more than two years in the Special Assistant position. Effective December 21, 2008, the Department hired Mitchell as an AUSA in the same office. The Department’s form 50-B cited 28 U.S.C. 542, which authorizes AUSA appointments generally. The form stated that the appointment was not to exceed 18 months, was “temporary” and “subject to” successful completion of a pending background investigation. The background check concluded in July 2009. In August 2009, the Department provided Mitchell another form 50-B, citing 28 U.S.C. 542, but stating that Mitchell was subject to a two-year trial period beginning August 2, 2009, during which she could be removed without cause or appeal. The Department fired Mitchell days before that period was to end, without notice or opportunity to respond. The Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction, concluding that Mitchell was not an “employee” under 5 U.S.C. 7511(a). The Federal Circuit reversed, reasoning that Mitchell had “completed 2 years of current continuous service in the same or similar positions in an Executive agency under other than a temporary appointment limited to 2 years or less,” considering the time during which the background check was performed. View "Mitchell v. Merit Sys. Protection Bd." on Justia Law

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Nguyen is an employee at the Department of Homeland Security. In his former position as a Deportation Officer, GS-12, he worked closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and was often required to testify as a witness during grand jury proceedings and criminal prosecutions. In 2008, Nguyen was subject to an Office of Professional Responsibility investigation and admitted to making false statements during a police investigation. DHS initiated a removal proceeding, ultimately imposing a 14-day suspension after three of the five charges were sustained. Two years later, the USAO determined that Nguyen’s disciplinary history impaired his credibility as a witness and notified DHS that it would no longer allow Nguyen to testify in criminal prosecutions or swear out complaints. DHS initiated another removal proceeding, charging “Inability to Perform Full Range of Duties.” Finding the charge was sustained, DHS mitigated the proposed penalty and demoted Nguyen to Detention and Removal Assistant, GS-7. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed, holding DHS did not impermissibly subject Nguyen to double punishment, and that Nguyen’s due process rights were not violated. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Nguyen v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law