Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Military Law
Kientz v. Commissioner, SSA
Plaintiff Steven Kientz spent many years as a "dual status" technician with the Kansas Army National Guard, where he worked as a mechanic on electronic measurement equipment. Plaintiff’s position required him to simultaneously serve as a member of the National Guard, a second job with separate pay and separate responsibilities. In retirement, Plaintiff receives a monthly pension payment under the Civil Service Retirement System based on his service as a dual status technician. Plaintiff also receives Social Security retirement benefits based on contributions he made to the Social Security system from his separate pay as a National Guard member. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether a dual status service technician’s civil service pension was “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service” under 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A). After review, the Court concluded Plaintiff's civil service pension is not “wholly” based on service as a member of a uniformed service, and his pension payments were therefore subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision ("WEP"). Plaintiff’s dual status technician work was at least partially distinct from the performance of his military duties. And Plaintiff received separate compensation and separate pensions for his performance of those distinct roles. The Court concurred with the district court and Social Security Administration that Plaintiff's Social Security retirement benefits were subject to the WEP. View "Kientz v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law
United States v. Williams
Cameo Williams, Sr. was a veteran of the United States Army, who spent his entire service stateside - never overseas or in combat. But for years, based on false statements about combat service, he obtained VA benefits for combat-related PTSD. The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in this case was whether it mattered about Williams’ lies about overseas service to obtain his PTSD benefits. The Court rejected Williams’s argument that his lie was not material under 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2), as well as his two challenges to evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law
Ortiz v. United States
Captain Heather Ortiz was an active-duty service member in the United States Air Force. In March 2009, Captain Ortiz was admitted to Evans Army Community Hospital for a scheduled Caesarean section. Complications caused by the medical staff’s administering of drugs in preparation for the surgery caused a precipitous drop in Captain Ortiz’s blood pressure, leading to hypotension. As a result of Captain Ortiz’s hypotension, her baby, “I.O.,” was deprived of oxygen in utero, leading to severe injuries. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the federal government was immune from damages for injuries its agents caused to the baby during childbirth. Resolution of the issues in this case was controlled by the Supreme Court’s decision in "Feres v. United States," which found that military service members were barred from bringing claims against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for injuries incident to their military service. Under the Feres doctrine, federal courts lose their subject matter jurisdiction over claims like this because the Tenth Circuit concluded the injured child’s in utero injuries were unmistakably derivative of an injury to her mother, an active service-member who gave birth at an Army Base hospital. "Feres is not ours to overrule. Applying controlling law, the government is not liable under the FTCA for the claims of negligence in this case." View "Ortiz v. United States" on Justia Law
Newton v. Lee, et al
Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant Robert Newton alleged Major John R. Teter and Lieutenant Colonel Wayne E. Lee of the Utah Air National Guard violated his due process rights when they suspended and subsequently withdrew his Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS) certificate, and when they suspended his employment as an Air Traffic Control Supervisor at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on Plaintiff's due process claim regarding the suspension of his employment. It denied summary judgment on Plaintiff's due process claim regarding the withdrawal of his ATCS certificate, holding this claim was not barred by qualified immunity or by intramilitary immunity under the "Feres" doctrine. In this interlocutory appeal, Defendants challenged the denial of qualified immunity and intramilitary immunity on Plaintiff's ATCS certificate claim. Plaintiff cross-appealed the grant of summary judgment on his employment claim. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit held that Plaintiff's ATCS certificate was not barred by the "Feres" doctrine, and that the Court had no jurisdiction over the interlocutory appeal from the denial of qualified immunity to defendants. The Court declined to exercise pendent jurisdiction over Plaintiff's cross-appeal. View "Newton v. Lee, et al" on Justia Law
United States v. Strandlof
Appellant Rick Strandlof was charged under the Stolen Valor Act (18 U.S.C. 704(b)) which makes it illegal to falsely claim to have received a military award or honor. The issue before the Tenth Circuit was whether the Act is constitutional. Despite never having served in the armed forces, Appellant founded the Colorado Veterans Alliance, and frequently told veterans he graduated from the United States Naval Academy, was a former U.S. Marine Corps Captain, and had been wounded in combat in Iraq. He bragged of receiving a Purple Heart, and he boasted that he had been awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in battle. A number of local veterans found Appellant to be an unconvincing imposter. Angered by Appellant's lies, they contacted the FBI and reported their suspicion that Appellant was a phony. After military officials confirmed Appellant never attended the Naval Academy or served in the military, the government filed a criminal complaint in the District of Colorado charging him with making false claims about receipt of military decorations or medals, in violation of the Act. Reasoning that false statements are generally protected by the First Amendment, the district court declared the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional and dismissed the charges against Appellant. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with that reading of Supreme Court precedent and reversed: "[a]s the Supreme Court has observed time and again, false statements of fact do not enjoy constitutional protection, except to the extent necessary to protect more valuable speech. Under this principle, the Stolen Valor Act does not impinge on or chill protected speech, and therefore does not offend the First Amendment." View "United States v. Strandlof" on Justia Law
Triplett v. United States Dept. of Defense
Plaintiff Roy Triplett appealed pro se a district court's dismissal of his action for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In early 2011, Plaintiff filed a 189-page complaint that the district court found incomprehensible. Accordingly, the court ordered Plaintiff to show cause why the action should not be dismissed. Plaintiff filed a 512-page "brief" in response, equally "unintelligible." In an attempt to mitigate the "harsh sanction" of dismissal, the court ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint that conformed to Rules 8 and 12 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff filed a 26-page amended complaint along with a 637-page brief in support. The Tenth Circuit examined the "incomprehensible" brief Plaintiff submitted on appeal, and concluded it was "plainly evident that the district court did not err" by dismissing Plaintiff's case.
Bork v. Carroll
Plaintiff-Appellant Douglas Bork, a member of the United States Army Reserve, sought to challenge personnel decisions made by his sergeant, superior officers and the Secretary of Defense. Plaintiff sought to sue those individuals and have the Tenth Circuit enjoin their "putatively unlawful actions." The district court dismissed Plaintiff's claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Plaintiff argued that "Feres v. United States" gave him the legal authority to sue the United States. The Court found that "Feres" involved an express statutory waiver of sovereign immunity, but for claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Plaintiff did not bring an FTCA claim in this case. With no applicable legal authority under which Plaintiff could maintain his suit, the Court dismissed his case for lack of jurisdiction.