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

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About 100 years ago, the then-owners of land abutting a 2.88-mile stretch of rail corridor near the City of South Hutchinson, Kansas granted deeds covering that land to the predecessor of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). The corridor was used by BNSF until 2004. It was then converted to a recreational trail pursuant to the National Trail Systems Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The current owners asserted that the conversion constituted a taking and sought compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The Court of Federal Claims entered summary judgment in favor of the government, finding that none of the plaintiffs possessed a fee-simple property interest in the land underlying the rail corridor that could be the subject of a taking because the land had been conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple and not by easements. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part, finding that some of the land was conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple, but that the railroad was only granted an easement over other land. With respect to others, the issue was clouded by chain-of-title questions. View "Biery v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act, 31 U.S.C. 6301, states that an executive agency must use: “a procurement contract . . . when . . . the principal purpose … is to acquire … property or services for the direct benefit or use” of the government and must adhere to the Competition in Contracting Act and the Federal Acquisition Regulation However, an “agency shall use a cooperative agreement . . . when . . . the principal purpose … is to transfer a thing of value … to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation … instead of acquiring . . . property or service” and can avoid procurement laws. Under Section 8 of the Housing Act, HUD provides rental assistance, including entering Housing Assistance Program (HAP) contracts and paying subsidies directly to private landlords. A 1974 amendment gave HUD the option of entering an Annual Contributions Contract (ACC) with a Public Housing Agency (PHA), which would enter into HAP contracts with owners and pay subsidies with HUD funds. In 1983, HUD’s authority was amended. HUD could administer existing HAP contracts, and enter into new HAP contracts for existing Section 8 dwellings by engaging a PHA if possible, 42 U.S.C. 1437f(b)(1). Later, HUD began outsourcing services and initiated a competition to award a performance-based ACC to a PHA in each state, with the PHA to assume “all contractual rights and responsibilities of HUD.” After making an award, HUD chose to re-compete, seeking greater savings, expressly referring to “cooperative agreements,” outside the scope of procurement law. The Government Accountability Office agreed with protestors that the awards were procurement contracts. HUD disregarded that recommendation. The Claims Court denied a request to set aside the award. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that the awards are procurement contracts, not cooperative agreements. View "CMS Contract Mgmt. Servs. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In the 1830s, the Army Corps of Engineers began constructing harbor jetties into Lake Michigan near the St. Joseph River. In 1950 the Corps began encasing the jetties in steel-sheet piling. The project was completed in 1989. Plaintiffs own land along the lake shore, south of the jetties. The shoreline is eroding naturally, but plaintiffs allege that the jetties block the flow of sand and sediment from the river and the lakeshore north of their properties, interrupting the natural littoral drift and leading to increased erosion on their properties. In 1958, the Corps released a study that documented increased erosion in certain areas. Following another study, a mitigation plan was implemented in 1976, using fine sand. After 15 years of beach nourishment, efforts shifted to using coarser sediment; in 1995, the Corps dumped large rocks into the lake. The Corps released reports in 1973, 1996, 1997, and 1999 on the erosive effects of the jetties and the progress of mitigation. There was also a 1998 newspaper article concerning the erosion. In 1999, plaintiffs filed suit, alleging takings, 28 U.S.C. 1491. The Claims Court dismissed the actions as time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the court clearly erred in finding that plaintiffs knew or should have known of their claims before 1952 and violated the mandate of a previous remand. View "Banks v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1941, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Prado Dam on the Santa Ana River near Corona, California. Plaintiffs’ predecessors purchased property in the flood control basin. The Corps anticipated inundation of property in that basin and paid for flowage easements to an elevation of 556 feet. In the 1970s, the Corps planned to modify the Dam, raising its height, increasing the size of the spillway, and enlarging the reservoir. The project was expected to raise the flood inundation line by 10 feet. Under a 1989 agreement, local agencies undertook to acquire or condemn needed property and easements. In 1999, the Orange County Flood Control District offered to purchase the plaintiffs’ property. No agreement was reached. In 2003 the Corps issued new flood-plain maps. Local governmental agencies recorded a survey showing the 566-foot flood inundation line and arranged for placement of small surveyor’s markers at the 566-foot line. Chino rezoned the plaintiffs’ property below the 566-foot line for “passive recreation and open space use.” There has not been any flooding above the 556-foot line before or after the dam level was raised. In 2011, the plaintiffs sued, claiming a taking of a flowage easement over their property between the 556-foot and 566-foot lines. The Claim Court Claims dismissed, holding that absent actual flooding, the plaintiffs could not sustain their claim. The governmental actions, at most, support apprehension of future flooding. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Stueve Bros. Farms, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 1993 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implemented temporary deviations from its 1953 Water Control Manual in operating the Clearwater Dam, to protect agricultural and other uses. Efforts to update the Manual were eventually abandoned. The state sought compensation for "taking" of its flowage easement based on flooding of the 23,000-acre Black River Wildlife Management Area, which resulted in excessive timber mortality. The Court of Claims awarded more than $5.5 million in damages. The Federal Circuit reversed, reasoning that temporary flooding, which is not "inevitably recurring," does not amount to a taking, but, at most, created tort liability. In 2012, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that government-induced flooding can qualify as a Fifth Amendment taking, even if temporary in duration. On remand, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court, after addressing the issues noted by the Supreme Court: whether the injury was caused by authorized government action, whether the injury was a foreseeable result of that action, and whether the injury constituted a sufficiently severe invasion that interfered with the owner’s reasonable expectations as to the use of the land. View "AR Game & Fish Comm'n v. United States" on Justia Law

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The federal government holds, in trust for three Indian communities, certain Minnesota land acquired in the late 1800s, with federal funds appropriated for a statutorily identified group of Indians. That beneficiary group and the three present-day communities that grew on the land overlapped but diverged. Many beneficiaries were part of the communities, but many were not; the communities included many outside the beneficiary group. In 1980 Congress addressed resulting land use problems by putting the land into trust for the three communities that had long occupied them. Since then, proceeds earned from the land, including profits from gaming, have gone to the three communities. Descendants of the Indians designated in the original appropriations acts allege that they, rather than the communities, are entitled to benefits. In earlier litigation the Federal Circuit rejected a claim that the appropriations acts created a trust for the benefit of statutorily designated Indians and their descendants. On remand, the Court of Federal Claims rejected several new claims, but found the government liable on a claim for pre-1980 revenues from the lands acquired under the 1888-1890 Acts. The Federal Circuit reversed in part, finding that the descendants had no valid claim. View "Wolfchild v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own properties surrounded by or adjacent to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the largest national forest in California, encompassing approximately 2.1 million acres. In 2008 the “Iron Complex” wildfires burned within the Forest. The U.S. Forest Service intentionally lit fires to reduce unburned timber that might fuel the fires, causing destruction of 1,782 acres of marketable timber on plaintiffs’ properties. Plaintiffs alleged a taking for which they should be compensated. The district court dismissed, citing the doctrine of necessity, which absolves the government from liability for any taking or destruction of property in efforts to fight fires. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, reasoning that not every action taken for the purpose of fire prevention is protected by the necessity doctrine. The facts pled in the complaint do not demonstrate that the Iron Complex fire created an imminent danger and an actual emergency necessitating the burning of 1,782 acres. View "TrinCo Inv. Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1903 the railroad acquired a right-of-way for a 100-foot wide, 76-mile long, strip across Arizona land near the Mexican border. After operating for about 100 years, the railroad initiated proceedings to abandon the railway with the Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board, which issued a Notice of Interim Trail or Abandonment (NITU) in 2006 authorizing conversion to a public trail under the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The landowners sued, alleging that issuance of the NITU constituted a compensable taking. The claims court dismissed, reasoning that the government had not physically invaded the property. The Federal Circuit reversed and held that the takings claim accrued when the 2006 NITU issued. During discovery on remand, the government produced a NITU affecting the property that had issued in 1998. There was no indication that the NITU was published; the landowners submitted declarations that they were not aware of the 1998 NITU. The claims court held that the limitations period began in 1998 and that the claims were time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed. In these circumstances, the government’s interest in bright-line legal rules must yield to the landowners’ right to receive actual or constructive notice that their claims have accrued. View "Ladd v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1908, the United States granted the railroad right-of-way to Pacific Railroad Company for railroad purposes. In 1976, the government conveyed 83.32 acres of land partially burdened by the right-of-way to Brandt’s parents, in fee simple, subject to the right-of-way. In 1987, WYCO acquired the railroad right-of-way and operated the rail line. In 1996, WYCO filed a Notice of Intent to Abandon Rail Service with the Surface Transportation Board. The STB approved abandonment in 2003, and, in 2004, WYCO notified the STB that it had completed abandonment. In 2006, the government sought declaratory judgment that title to the abandoned right-of-way had vested in the government under the National Trails System Improvements Act of 1988, 16 U.S.C. 1248(c). Brandt sought quiet title and argued that, to the extent the government acquired some interest in land formerly occupied by the easement, that interest would constitute a taking for which just compensation is owed. The Claims Court dismissed the takings claim for lack of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1500. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that Brandt did not have claims “pending” for purposes of section 1500 when he filed his takings complaint. View "Brandt v. United States" on Justia Law

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Rohrer Towers is a housing facility for low-income elderly residents in Haddon Township, Camden County, New Jersey. Haddon leased Rohrer Towers to Housing Authority of the Township of Haddon, which entered into a housing assistance payments contract (HAP) with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Housing Act of 1937, 88 Stat. 633, 662–66. Haddon sued in 2007 alleging that HUD breached the HAP Contract from 2001-2006 by requiring rent “comparability studies” to be submitted along with requests for annual rent adjustments and adopting a one-percent reduction of the annual adjustment factors for units occupied by the same tenants from the previous year. The Claims Court agreed and ordered rent adjustments for all years other than 2002. The government claimed that the complaint should have been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds and appealed the decision that regulatory imposition of a mandatory one-percent rent reduction for non-turnover units was arbitrary, and beyond HUD’s authority. The Federal Circuit reversed the holding that the prevention doctrine applied to the circumstances surrounding Haddon’s 2001 and 2003 rent adjustment, but affirmed the holdings with respect to the contract years 2002 and 2004-2006. View "Haddon Housing Assocs. v. United States" on Justia Law