Justia Aerospace/Defense Opinion Summaries
Al Bahlul v. United States
Al Bahlul, a Yemeni national, was Osama bin Laden’s head of propaganda at the time of the September 11 attacks. After he was captured in Pakistan, Al Bahlul was convicted by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay of conspiracy to commit war crimes, providing material support for terrorism, and soliciting others to commit war crimes. The D.C. Circuit vacated two of his three convictions on ex post facto grounds. On remand, the Court of Military Commission Review, without remanding to the military commission, reaffirmed Al Bahlul's life sentence for the conspiracy conviction.The D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded. The CMCR failed to apply the correct harmless error standard, In reevaluating Al Bahlul’s sentence, the CMCR should have asked whether it was beyond a reasonable doubt that the military commission would have imposed the same sentence for conspiracy alone. The court rejected Al Bahlul’s remaining arguments. The appointment of the Convening Authority was lawful; there is no reason to unsettle Al Bahlul I’s ex post facto ruling, and the court lacked jurisdiction in an appeal from the CMCR to entertain challenges to the conditions of Al Bahlul’s ongoing confinement. View "Al Bahlul v. United States" on Justia Law
FastShip, LLC v. United States
The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed.The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law
Baker v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
From 1906 -1970, the companies manufactured industrial materials at an East Chicago, Indiana Superfund Site. In the 1970s, the East Chicago Housing Authority constructed “West Calumet,” a low-income residential building, on that site. In 2017, former West Calumet tenants sued the companies based on the tenants’ exposure to hazardous substances. Defendant Atlantic Richfield removed the case to federal court, asserting a government contractor defense because its predecessor, ISR, operated during World War II. ISR sold lead and zinc to entities who were under contract with the government to produce the goods for the military. ISR itself held five Army contracts. The materials made by ISR were critical wartime commodities that had to be manufactured according to detailed federal specifications. Other regulations effectively prevented ISR from selling to distributors for civilian applications. Defendant DuPont asserted that the government directed it to build a facility for the government and then lease it from the government to produce Freon-12 and hydrochloric acid solely for the government. The district court remanded, finding that most of the Companies’ government business occurred outside the relevant time frame.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Atlantic Richfield worked "hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a task that furthers an end of the federal government.” The Companies’ wartime production was a small but significant portion of their relevant conduct; the federal interest in the matter supports removal. Atlantic Richfield set forth sufficient facts regarding its government contractor defense. View "Baker v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law
Opati v. Republic of Sudan
In 1998, al Qaeda operatives detonated truck bombs outside the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Victims sued the Republic of Sudan under the state-sponsored terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA, 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(7)), which included a bar on punitive damages for suits under any of the sovereign immunity exceptions. In 2008, Congress amended the FSIA in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). NDAA section 1083(c)(2) creates a cause of action for acts of terror that provides for punitive damages; it gave effect to existing lawsuits that had been “adversely affected” by prior law “as if” they had been originally filed under the new section 1605A(c). Section 1083(c)(3) provided a time-limited opportunity for plaintiffs to file new actions “arising out of the same act or incident” as an earlier action and claim those benefits. The plaintiffs amended their complaint to include section 1605A(c) claims. The district court awarded the plaintiffs approximately $10.2 billion, including roughly $4.3 billion in punitive damages. The D.C. Circuit held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages because Congress had included no statement in NDAA section 1083 clearly authorizing punitive damages for pre-enactment conduct.The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. Even assuming that Sudan may claim the benefit of the presumption of prospective effect, Congress was as clear as it could have been when it expressly authorized punitive damages under section 1605A(c) and explicitly made that new cause of action available to remedy certain past acts of terrorism. The court of appeals must also reconsider its decision concerning the availability of punitive damages for state law claims. View "Opati v. Republic of Sudan" on Justia Law
General Electric Co. v. United Technologies Corp.
UTC’s patent is generally directed to a gas turbine engine having a gear train driven by a spool with a low stage count low-pressure turbine, designed for use in airplanes. GE sought inter partes review. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that the claims at issue were not unpatentable for obviousness. UTC moved to dismiss GE’s appeal for lack of standing, arguing that an appellant does not automatically possess standing to appeal an adverse Board decision.GE submitted a Declaration by Long, GE’s Chief IP Counsel, explaining that because the design of aircraft engines can take eight years or more, GE develops new engines based on old designs; in the 1970s, GE developed a geared turbofan engine for NASA. GE asserted that UTC's patent impedes its ability to use that design as a basis for future geared turbofan engine designs, thereby limiting the scope of GE’s engine designs and its ability to compete. Long declared that designing around the patent restricts GE’s design choices and forced GE to incur additional research and development expenses. Long declared that Boeing requested information from GE and its competitors for engine designs for future Boeing aircraft with information regarding designs for both geared-fan engines and direct-drive engines; GE researched a geared-fan engine design that would potentially implicate UTC’s Patent but chose not to submit a geared-fan engine design.The Federal Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of Article III standing. GE’s purported competitive injuries are too speculative to support constitutional standing. Long’s declarations are the only evidence of standing and neither shows concrete and imminent injury to GE related to the patent. View "General Electric Co. v. United Technologies Corp." on Justia Law
Crosby v. Twitter, Inc.
In June 2016, Mateen entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring another 53. Victims and family members of deceased victims brought sought damages, not from Mateen, nor from ISIS, the international terrorist organization that allegedly motivated Mateen through social media, but from social media giants Twitter, Facebook, and Google under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Plaintiffs alleged ISIS used those social media platforms to post propaganda and “virtually recruit” Americans to commit terrorist attacks. Mateen allegedly viewed ISIS-related material online, became “self-radicalized,” and carried out the shooting. Following the attack, ISIS claimed responsibility. The complaint alleged aiding and abetting international terrorism, 18 U.S.C. 2333; conspiracy in furtherance of terrorism; providing material support and resources to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. 2339A, 2339B(a)(1); negligent infliction of emotional distress; and wrongful death The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Plaintiffs’ complaint includes no allegations that Twitter, Facebook, or Google had any direct connection to Mateen or his action. Plaintiffs did not suggest that those defendants provided “material support” to Mateen. Without these connections, Plaintiffs cannot state a viable claim under the Act. View "Crosby v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Asgari
Asgari came to the U.S. for education, earning a doctorate in 1997. He returned to Iran and became a professor at Sharif University. His work involves transmission electron microscopy. Asgari traveled to the U.S. in 2011, stating on his visa application that he planned to visit New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles. He traveled to Cleveland to see an Iranian-American friend at Case Western’s Swagelok Center. They began collaborating. Asgari returned to Iran and obtained another visa for “temp[orary] business[/]pleasure,” identifying his destination as his son’s New York address. He applied for a job at Swagelok. The FBI investigated. The Center’s director stated that Asgari was on a sabbatical from Sharif University; that the Center conducted Navy-funded research; and that an opening had emerged on the project. Agent Boggs obtained a warrant to search Asgari’s personal email account for evidence that Asgari made materially false statements in his visa application and that Asgari violated the prohibition on exporting “any goods, technology, or services to Iran.” Based on information uncovered from that 2013 search, the government obtained another warrant to search Asgari’s subsequent emails. Indicted on 13 counts of stealing trade secrets, wire fraud, and visa fraud, Asgari successfully moved to suppress the evidence. The Sixth Circuit reversed, applying the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The affidavit was not “so skimpy, so conclusory, that anyone ... would necessarily have known it failed to demonstrate probable cause.” The sanctions on Iran are broad; probable cause is a lenient standard. View "United States v. Asgari" on Justia Law
Kaspersky Lab, Inc.v. United States Department of Homeland Security
Kaspersky, a Russian-based cybersecurity company, provides products and services to customers around the world. In 2017, based on concerns that the Russian government could exploit Kaspersky’s access to federal computers, the Secretary of Homeland Security directed federal agencies to remove the company’s products from government information systems. Congress later broadened and codified (131 Stat. 1283) that prohibition in the National Defense Authorization Act. Kaspersky sued, arguing that the prohibition constituted an impermissible legislative punishment, a bill of attainder prohibited by the Constitution, Article I, Section 9. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Kaspersky failed to adequately allege that Congress enacted a bill of attainder. The court noted the nonpunitive interest at stake: the security of the federal government’s information systems. The law is prophylactic, not punitive. While Kaspersky is not the only possible gap in the federal computer system’s defenses, Congress had ample evidence that Kaspersky posed the most urgent potential threat and Congress has “sufficient latitude to choose among competing policy alternatives.” Though costly to Kaspersky, the decision falls far short of “the historical meaning of legislative punishment.” Relying just on the legislative record, Kaspersky’s complaint fails to plausibly allege that the motivation behind the law was punitive. View "Kaspersky Lab, Inc.v. United States Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law
American Civil Liberties Union v. United States Department of Defense
The Army took photographs of detainees at military detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001. The ACLU sought records related to the treatment of detainees with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted to the Department of Defense (DoD) and filed suit in 2004, after receiving no response. The district court ordered the government to produce or identify all responsive documents and ordered the release of the photographs with redactions, rejecting arguments that the photographs could be withheld under three FOIA exemptions. A third party released the photographs without authorization. During the pendency of an appeal, the government identified additional photographs potentially responsive to the FOIA request and attempted to withhold them under the same three exemptions. The district court again rejected these arguments. The Second Circuit reversed, in favor of DoD. The Protected National Security Documents Act of 2009 (PNSDA), 123 Stat. 2142, permits the government to withhold disclosure of any photograph “taken during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, through January 22, 2009.” Regardless of whether PNSDA is an exemption under FOIA, the Secretary of Defense’s certification, following an extensive, multi-step review process including recommendations of several senior U.S. military commanders, and the information provided by the DoD, satisfied PNSDA. View "American Civil Liberties Union v. United States Department of Defense" on Justia Law
Bishop v. Air Line Pilots Association, International
United Airlines pilot instructors sued their union, ALPA, alleging that ALPA had breached its duty of fair representation in its allocation of a retroactive pay settlement among different groups of pilots. The district court dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit reversed. A claim of discrimination or bad faith must rest on more than a showing that a union’s actions treat different groups of employees differently and must be based on more than the discriminatory impact of the union’s otherwise rational decision to compromise. The Instructors sufficiently and plausibly pleaded that ALPA acted in bad faith in its allocation of retroactive pay between the line pilots and pilot instructors. A union may not make decisions “solely for the benefit of a stronger, more politically favored group over a minority group.” The plaintiffs have alleged that pilot instructors make up a minority of ALPA’s membership and that ALPA acted with the intent to appease its majority membership, the line pilots, after a lengthy and contentious CBA negotiation. View "Bishop v. Air Line Pilots Association, International" on Justia Law