Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Military Law
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In 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the disorderly conduct convictions of Jamison Krahenbuhl, an Air Force veteran. Krahenbuhl had been convicted following an incident at the Milo C. Huempfner Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Green Bay, Wisconsin. During a respiratory therapy appointment, Krahenbuhl became agitated and engaged in abusive language and disruptive behavior that led to the clinic staff summoning VA police. He was subsequently charged with two counts of disorderly conduct under 38 C.F.R. § 1.218(a)(5), (b)(11) and was found guilty on both counts.On appeal, Krahenbuhl argued that his convictions violated his First Amendment rights, and that the government failed to prove all the elements of the crimes. The appellate court, however, disagreed. It determined that the clinic was a nonpublic forum, where greater regulation of speech is permissible. The court found that the regulation under which Krahenbuhl was convicted was viewpoint neutral and reasonable, given the clinic's primary aim of providing medical care to veterans. The court also rejected Krahenbuhl's argument that the government failed to prove that the clinic was under the charge and control of the VA and not under the charge and control of the General Services Administration, finding that this was an invited error. Consequently, Krahenbuhl's convictions were affirmed. View "USA v. Krahenbuhl" on Justia Law

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Dr. Dubnow, a board-certified physician with more than 40 years of experience, was Chief of the Emergency Department at Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC). In 2017, he diverted an ambulance transporting an infant to Lake Forest Hospital, located a few minutes away from the FHCC. Lake Forest has a Level-II trauma center and is staffed with pediatric specialists. The child was pronounced dead upon arriving at Lake Forest. The FHCC, a VA hospital, investigated Dubnow’s diversion decision. This investigation eventually resulted in his removal. A review board concluded that none of the grounds for his removal were supported but the final reviewing authority reversed the review board’s decision. The district court affirmed the VA’s removal decision.The Seventh Circuit vacated the removal. The VA failed to properly apply the deferential “clearly contrary to the evidence” standard when reviewing the board’s decision to overturn Dubnow’s removal; the decision was arbitrary. The relevant question was whether the diversion was appropriate; if so, Dubnow’s removal could not be sustained. To conclude that treating the patient at the FHCC was possible, or even appropriate, is not to conclude that diverting the ambulance to a better-equipped hospital was inappropriate. A “conclusion that there was ‘no need’ to divert the patient is two steps removed from the analysis” under 38 U.S.C. 7462(d). View "Dubnow v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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White has been employed as a commercial airline pilot since 2005 and has also served in the U.S. Air Force since 2000, first on active duty and now on reserve duty. As a reservist, he is required to attend periodic military-training sessions. White has taken periods of short-term military leave, usually for a day or two at a time, during which he did not receive pay from United. Under United’s collective bargaining agreement, pilots receive pay when they take other short-term leaves of absence, such as jury duty or sick leave. United also maintains a profit-sharing plan for its pilots that is based on the wages they earn; pilots who take paid sick leave or paid leave for jury duty earn credit toward their profit-sharing plan, while pilots who take short-term military leave do not. White initiated a class action under the 1994 Uniformed Services Employee and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which is intended to prevent civilian employers from discriminating against employees because of their military service, 38 U.S.C. 4301(a). The district court dismissed White’s complaint.The Seventh Circuit reversed. USERRA’s mandate that military leave be given the same “rights and benefits” as comparable, nonmilitary leave requires an employer to provide paid military leave to the same extent that it provides paid leave for other absences. Paid leave falls within the “rights and benefits” defined by the statute. View "White v. United Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Hackett, a South Bend patrolman and an Air National Guard reservist, applied to become a bomb squad technician. Membership on the squad did not constitute a promotion or immediately affect an officer’s pay but could lead to additional work and specialty pay. Hackett was not among the three officers selected. He testified that the director of human resources said that he was the most qualified candidate but was not selected because of his pending seven-month deployment. Hackett filed complaints with the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Labor. The city then offered Hackett a bomb squad position. Other squad members were informed that one would have to give up his position for Hackett. Hackett claims he was never allowed to complete the training. Around the same time, Hackett applied for a promotion. Hackett was deployed when applicants were scheduled to interview. The department moved Hackett’s interview but Hackett was unable to timely submit his work sample.Hackett sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city, rejecting a new hostile work environment claim as forfeited. Hackett failed to challenge findings that his exclusion from the bomb squad did not constitute a materially adverse employment action and that no reasonable jury could find that the promotion process was tainted by any impermissible motive. View "Hackett v. City of South Bend" on Justia Law

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Sergeant Mueller took a leave of absence from the Joliet Police Department to report for active duty in the Illinois National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. The Department placed him on unpaid leave, Mueller resigned from his National Guard position and sued the city and his supervisors for employment discrimination, citing the Uniformed Service Members Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which prohibits discrimination against those in “service in a uniformed service.” The district court dismissed, finding that National Guard counterdrug duty was authorized under Illinois law and not covered by USERRA. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that “service in the uniformed services” explicitly covers full-time National Guard duty, including counterdrug activities, 38 U.S.C. 4303(13). USERRA does not limit protection to those in “Federal service” like the Army or Navy but to those in “service in a uniformed service,” which explicitly includes Title 32 full-time National Guard duty. The Posse Comitatus Act likewise only bars the Army and Air Force from domestic law enforcement, but does not apply to Title 32 National Guard duty, 18 U.S.C. 1385. View "Mueller v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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In 2009, U.S. Army Specialist Schaefer was killed by a roadside bomb while serving a tour of duty in Iraq. Those directly responsible for such attacks are often unidentifiable or beyond the reach of a court’s personal jurisdiction. Secondary actors, such as the organizations that fund the terrorists, are often amorphous. Despite Congress’s effort to make state sponsors of terrorism accountable in U.S. courts (28 U.S.C. 1605A) any resulting judgment may be uncollectible. Spc. Schaefer’s mother claimed that the bomb that killed her son was a signature Iranian weapon that traveled from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to Hezbollah to Iraqi militias, who then placed it in the ground and that Deutsche Bank, a German entity with U.S. affiliates, is responsible for her son’s death under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 18 U.S.C. 2333. She argued that the Bank joined an Iranian conspiracy to commit acts of terror when it instituted procedures to evade U.S. sanctions and facilitate Iranian banking transactions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of her suit, which “failed to plead facts that plausibly indicated that Deutsche Bank’s actions caused her son’s death.” The Bank’s conduct was not “violent” or “dangerous to human life” as the ATA requires, nor did it display the terroristic intent. To the extent Deutsche Bank joined any conspiracy, it joined only a conspiracy to avoid sanctions, distinct from any of Iran’s terrorism-related goals. View "Kemper v. Deutsche Bank AG" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff began his military career in 1983, serving in the Indiana National Guard, the Army, and the Army Reserve. He was a Captain and served in combat in Iraq. In 2007-2011 he sustained several injuries and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He was placed on reserve status while a Physical Evaluation Board evaluated his fitness for continued military service. When retired from the army on grounds of physical disability in 2014, Futrell became eligible for a monthly government pension. Had paperwork been processed, he would have also received incapacitation payments during the gap between his release from duty and his retirement; he received no government payments between December 2011 and January 2013, causing him severe financial and emotional distress. In 2013, the government paid him an amount that covered the incapacitation payments that he should have received, but did not compensate for his distress. He filed suit against under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2674. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit as barred by a Supreme Court holding that the Act is unavailable to a member of the armed forces who “while on active duty and not on furlough, sustained injury due to negligence of others in the armed forces.” The alleged harms all relate to military benefits and were committed by military base staff. That he was on reserve status is irrelevant. View "Futrell v. United States" on Justia Law

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Arroyo worked as a Volvo material handler, 2005-2011. Arroyo was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. She deployed twice to Iraq and Kuwait: 2006-2007 and 2009-2010 and took leave for training and other military activities. She received more than 900 days of military leave from Volvo. There is evidence, including internal emails, suggesting that her supervisors were frustrated from the beginning about her absences. After her 2009-2010 deployment Arroyo declined a voluntary severance package and returned to work. Arroyo was diagnosed with PTSD. Arroyo took three months FMLA and disability leave. Volvo granted accommodations, including: a quiet place to meditate; a mentor; time off for counseling; and breaks and support during anxiety attacks. Other requested accommodations—a more flexible schedule, use of earplugs or headphones in both ears, day-to-day guidance, putting all communications in writing, and disability awareness training—were under review when she was terminated for violation of Volvo’s attendance policy. The district court rejected her claims for discrimination, retaliation, and failure to provide reasonable accommodations in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 791 , and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The Seventh Circuit reversed with respect to discrimination claims under USERRA and the ADA, stating that Arroyo raised genuine, material factual issues. View "Arroyo v. Volvo Grp. N. Am., LLC" on Justia Law