Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Military Law
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The Air Force ordered over 500,000 service members to get COVID-19 vaccinations. About 10,000 members requested religious exemptions; about 135 of these requests were granted, only to those planning to leave the service. It has granted thousands of exemptions for medical or administrative reasons. The Plaintiffs allege that the vaccine mandate substantially burdens their religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The district court granted a preliminary injunction that barred the Air Force from disciplining the Plaintiffs for failing to take a vaccine, then certified a class of thousands of similar service members and extended this injunction to the class.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In opposing class-action certification, the Air Force argued that RFRA adopts an individual-by-individual approach: it must show that it has a compelling interest in requiring a “specific” individual to get vaccinated based on that person’s specific duties. In challenging the injunction, however, the Air Force failed to identify the specific duties or working conditions of any Plaintiff, citing the “general interests” underlying the mandate. The court reasoned that it could uphold the injunction based on RFRA alone but also noted common questions for the class: Does the Air Force have a uniform policy of relying on its generalized interests in the vaccine mandate to deny religious exemptions regardless of individual circumstances? Does it have a discriminatory policy of broadly denying religious exemptions but broadly granting secular ones? View "Doster v. Kendall" on Justia Law

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Air Force veteran Skaar was exposed to ionizing radiation while participating in a cleanup operation in Palomares, Spain following a 1966 midair collision involving a plane carrying nuclear weapons. In 1998, he was diagnosed with leukopenia. His doctor opined that exposure to ionizing radiation “appear[s] to be the positive agent” that historically causes leukopenia. Skaar filed an unsuccessful claim with the VA for service-connected benefits. Before the Veterans Court, he challenged the radiation dose estimates provided by the Air Force. The Veterans Court certified a class of similarly situated veterans who had participated in the Palomares cleanup operation, including veterans who had not received a Board decision but excluding veterans whose claims had been denied but not timely appealed.The Federal Circuit vacated. The Veterans Court lacked authority to certify a class that includes veterans who had not received a Board decision, a statutory prerequisite for the court’s jurisdiction, 38 U.S.C. 7252(a). Jurisdiction over Skaar’s individual claim did not create further jurisdiction over similarly situated veterans whose individual claims were beyond the court’s jurisdiction. The court rejected Skaar’s argument that the Veterans Court should have equitably tolled the appeal period for veterans whose claims had been denied but not timely appealed and should have included such veterans as members of the certified class. None of the claimants alleged the requisite due diligence in pursuing their rights. View "Skaar v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Monk served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. In 2012, Monk sought VA disability benefits, alleging service-connected PTSD, diabetes, hypertension, and strokes. The VA denied the claim, finding that his discharge was “other than honorable.” Monk filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and separately applied to the Board of Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) to upgrade his discharge status. In 2015, the VA informed Monk that it could not process his appeal until it received BCNR records. Monk sought a writ of mandamus with Veterans Court and requested that the court certify a class of all veterans who had applied for VA benefits, had timely filed an NOD, had not received a decision within 12 months, and had demonstrated medical or financial hardship (38 U.S.C. 7107(a)(2)(B)–(C)). The Veterans Court denied the request for class certification, denied another veteran’s request to join the action, and ordered the VA to respond to Monk’s petition regarding the denial of disability benefits. BCNR then granted Monk an upgraded discharge status. The Federal Circuit reversed the denial of class certification, finding that the Veterans Court has authority to certify a class for a class action and to maintain similar aggregate resolution procedures with respect to benefit denials. View "Monk v. Shulkin" on Justia Law