Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Military Law
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Plaintiff challenged his discharge in federal court, but the district court held that it did not have jurisdiction to hear his claims brought pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Mandamus Act because the Veterans' Benefits Act (VBA) is a comprehensive statutory scheme governing the discipline of VA employees and was the exclusive remedy for review of plaintiff's employment discharge. The district court also held that while the VBA did not bar plaintiff's procedural due process claims, the claims were not colorable because he received all the process due to him.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over any claim under the APA because the VBA is a comprehensive statutory scheme that precludes APA review; the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear a constitutional claim because plaintiff did not present a colorable due process claim; and there is no basis for mandamus jurisdiction because plaintiff has not established a clear right to any relief or a clear duty of the VA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's decision but remanded solely so that the district court can amend its judgment to reflect that it is a dismissal without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. View "Hakki v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that various medical professionals working for the VA breached their legal duty to exercise ordinary medical care and negligently failed to diagnose his throat cancer and immediately treat it. The district court dismissed plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that judicial review of his claims was precluded by the Veterans' Judicial Review Act (VJRA).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in pat, concluding that the district court did lack jurisdiction over some of plaintiff's claims but that it had jurisdiction over his tort claims alleging medical negligence or malpractice. To the extent that plaintiff alleges that any delay in his receipt of needed medical care was a result of the VA's failure to timely approve and/or authorize his care or payments therefore, the district court could not review those allegations without second-guessing a decision by the VA necessary to a benefits determination—when to grant the requested benefit. As for plaintiff's allegations related to the VA's failure to follow its own policies, procedures, and protocols, if the district court lacks jurisdiction to review the VA's approval, authorization, and scheduling decisions, it must also lack jurisdiction to determine whether the VA followed its own internal procedures in making those decisions. However, plaintiff's medical negligence and malpractice claims do not require the district court to decide whether plaintiff was entitled to benefits nor do they require the court to revisit any decision made by the Secretary in the course of making benefits determinations. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Smith v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking records related to the suicide of Admiral J.M. Boorda. Specifically, plaintiff sought six pages of handwritten notes regarding official business found in the backseat of Adm. Boorda's official vehicle and the suicide note to Adm. Boorda's wife. The Eleventh Circuit held that the Navy improperly withheld the backseat notes because it withheld the responsive records when plaintiff asked for them. The court also held that FOIA contained nothing that would allow an agency to withhold records simply because it had previously given them to the requester, and the court rejected the Navy's argument that plaintiff's claim as to the backseat notes was precluded by the parties' prior litigation. The court also held that the suicide note was subject to protection under exemption 7(c), which covers records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes if their production could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sikes v. United States Department of the Navy" on Justia Law

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After Cooks terminated him, plaintiff filed suit against the company, alleging claims under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301, 4302(b), and Alabama state law. The district court entered an order striking from the arbitration agreement two terms that violated USERRA, dismissing the suit without prejudice, and ordering plaintiff to submit his claims to arbitration. On appeal, plaintiff contends that the district court erred by failing to apply the plain language of USERRA’s non-waiver provision. The court concluded that the contract's arguable delegation clause - which would require that the arbitrator, rather than the court, determine whether the arbitration agreement is enforceable - does not control this appeal. The court also concluded that, in reaching whether the arbitration agreement is enforceable, section 4302(b) is not in conflict with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1, 2, and the district court properly determined the arbitration agreement is enforceable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's decision to compel arbitration. View "Bodine v. Cook's Pest Control" on Justia Law

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The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), 52 U.S.C. 20302(a)(8)(A), includes a variety of measures that states are required to adopt in order to accommodate military voters when they administer federal elections. At issue is section 20302(a)(8)(A)'s requirement that, when a qualifying military or overseas voter requests an absentee ballot for a federal election, a state must transmit a ballot to that voter forty-five days before the federal election. The United States filed suit against Alabama seeking to enjoin the State from holding federal runoff elections forty-two days after federal primary elections. When the court looked at the text of section 20302(a)(9), the court found that it directs states only to "establish a written plan" in preparation for runoff elections, and makes no claim that it abrogates the mandatory forty-five day transmission timeline. In light of the plain language of this substantive command - and Congress's clear intent to prioritize the empowerment of military voters through clear and accessible absentee voting procedures - the court concluded that section 20302(a)(9) does not alter the court's interpretation. Therefore, the court held that the State must transmit validly requested absentee ballots to eligible UOCAVA voters forty-five days before each federal election, whether that election is primary, general, special, or runoff. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the United States. View "United States v. Alabama" on Justia Law

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The United States brought an action against ADMH, claiming that ADMH violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301 et seq., when it failed to rehire longtime employee Roy Hamilton after his service in Iraq with the Alabama National Guard. The district court denied ADMH's motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity and found that ADMH had violated USERRA by not immediately rehiring Hamilton after his return from Iraq. The court held that ADMH was not entitled to sovereign immunity, and that the district court did not err in finding that ADMH violated USERRA and was required to pay money damages. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Ala. Dept. of Mental Health" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Parties, Gwinnett County, Georgia, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) appealed from a grant of summary judgment in this consolidated suit arising from more than 20 years of litigation between the parties. All of the underlying cases related to the Corps' authority to operate the Buford Dam and Lake Lanier, the reservoir it created, for local water supply. On appeal, the parties raised several jurisdictional matters and asserted a number of substantive claims. The court held that the district court erred in finding that it had jurisdiction to hear certain parties because the Corps had not taken final agency action. The court also held that the district court and the Corps erred in concluding that water supply was not an authorized purpose of the Buford Project under the Rivers and Harbors Act (RHA), Pub. L. No. 79-525, 60 Stat. 634. The court also held that the district court erred in finding that the 1956 Act expired after 50 years. The court also provided certain instructions to the Corps on remand and the Corps shall have one year to make a final determination of its authority to operate the Buford Project under the RHA and the Water Supply Act, 43 U.S.C. 390b(a).