Ms. Burke’s arguments in Cioca gained no traction, because in her own words her case was “based on rocky legal terrain,” which I thought the memorable phrase of the day.  Prediction is denial.  Nothing from the argument appeared to leave or create a suitable gem that could regain traction for a grant of a writ of certiorari.  So this litigation is about to be over.

The court: Judges Agee (M/Bush2), Niemeyer (M/Bush1), and Thacker (F/Obama).  They were a hot bench.  Although Judge Thacker did not ask any questions she was clearly attentive.

As best we could tell Ms. Burke was the only person involved in the litigation who was there.  We had thought there would be a number of supporters and media.

Just as Ms. Burke began the argument with her first emotional pitch of the day Judge Agee asked about the Coast Guard litigants.  Ms. Burke argued, “it was a complex question, that there had been a declaration of war, and that her clients had told her they were subject to the UCMJ,” or words to that effect.  However, she conceded they were likely not proper parties.  If the court does as predicted and denies the appeal, the answer to the question becomes irrelevant.  Ms. Burke still does not get it that a declaration of war and an authorization to use military force comes from Congress, but that an authorization to use military force is not a declaration of war.  Also, it is true that active duty members of the Coast Guard are subject to the UCMJ.  But that doesn’t mean they are in the Navy and thus the Department of Defense.

The judges were focused about separation of powers and the abstention doctrine.  That was the bulk of the questions.  Much reference was made to Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), United States v. Stanley, 483 U.S. 669 (1987), and Chappell v. Wallace, 462 U.S. 296 (1983).  But at times Ms. Burke herself wandered into arguing matters that were APA or  injunctive relief related and other type claims not before the court.  The DOJ attorney took less than five minutes to make two points:  Ms. Burke had conceded everything, leaving some minor missed deadlines within DoD and some ignoring of Congressional directives as fault for the cause of action, and the APA related irrelevant arguments.  As counter-concessionary argument, Ms. Burke told the court DOJ had conceded everything she was raising, “at page 20 of their brief.”

Ms. Burke argued the case was unique (interspersed with emotional appeal) and in particular argued that the alleged offenses were not incident to service.  She also argued that money damages was a least intrusive remedy compared to injunctive relief.  To which Judge Niemeyer offered the idea that a Soldier hitting another in the jaw commits a crime, but the Secretary of Defense is not liable for that in his personal capacity for money damages.  Essentially Judge Niemeyer pointed out that there are processes in place to discipline and take care of these issues.  (There was no discussion or retort that current events show the in-house remedies ineffective and proof of the claim.)  Again the point was made that the litigants were asking for money not injunctive relief.  Judge Niemeyer acknowledged in some detail the sexual assault problem, which is where much of the discussion about the current fiascos came up.  (My Liege and I disagree a little on this.  His position, I think, is that the current matters are not relevant or evidence in the Cioca case.  My position is that while not formally announced, could not the court take appellate judicial notice of the ongoing crisis.)

The bulk of the questions highlighted concern that the courts were being asked to manage the day to day activity of the military.  As a basic principle courts don’t manage the day to day business of the military.  Questions emphasized that Congress is taking action, the military is taking action, and the President is taking action.  But, emphasized the questioners, Congress has not directed any judicial remedy in the federal courts relevant to the case before them.  The “go talk to Congress,” meme was clear if not directly said.  The judges’ views follow quite well this line from Stanley, “the fact that congressionally uninvited intrusion into military affairs by the judiciary is inappropriate.”  Stanley, 483 U.S. at 683.  And reading a little further into Stanley, and presaging DOJ’s counsel.

Similarly irrelevant is the statement in Chappell, erroneously relied upon by Stanley and the lower courts, that we have “never held, nor do we now hold, that military personnel are barred from all redress in civilian courts for constitutional wrongs suffered in the course of military service.”  As the citations immediately following that statement suggest, it referred to redress designed to halt or prevent the constitutional violation rather than the award of money damages.  Id., (citations omitted).

Ms. Burke raised the point that abstention is a prudential doctrine.  Again she was faced with questions that the Supreme Court has narrowed any exceptions to the doctrine, rehearsed the aversion to running the military on a day to day basis, and firmly restated the absence of a specific statutory remedy.  Toward the end of her argument Ms. Burke acknowledged that even if the case proceeded there may be “causation” problems in proving the case.

During Ms. Burke’s rebuttal there was an odd (I’ll call it odd) interchange where Judge Agee quoted from Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, (now at UC-Irvine, ML).  The judge asked her that a person such as Chemerinsky likely to be on her side.  And then he read a quote in which Chemerinsky is purported to have said that no Bivens action can ever lie for such military related cases.  The import being that even Dean Chemerinsky would deny the appeal.  To which Ms. Burke testified that she had talked to the Dean and he agreed with her position.

I commented on my own reactions to seeing Invisible War last year.  I noted a comment made by Ms. Kearl, a AAUW legal person involved and helping with the litigation of Cioca v. Rumsfeld.  The tenor of her remarks was that they did not expect to win.  And, she basically said, “She (meaning the attorney) doesn’t intend to win.  This is done for the media attention.”  The media attention is there, the litigation is not.  However, the litigation has certainly contributed to the effort to persuade Congress to act, even if current events had not been at the fore — “See Congresswoman, the courts won’t help us, please create a remedy, change the law, or something, the courts are closed to us, unbar the door,” or words to that effect.

Judge Niemeyer, observed that the D.C. court had just dismissed the Klay, et. al. v. Panetta, et. al.  Here is a link to the memorandum opinion of Judge Amy Jackson dated 7 February 2013, dismissing that case.

Accordingly, the Court will grant defendants’ motion to dismiss because Supreme Court precedent requires the Court to abstain from inferring a Bivens remedy for plaintiffs under these circumstances and plaintiffs have not overcome defendants’ entitlement to qualified immunity.8

(n.8.  While plaintiffs offered to amend their complaint during oral argument, Tr. at 31–32, they have never filed a motion to amend attaching any amended complaint, much less one that could – after the several chances they have had already – cure the problems at the heart of this action).

JOC, Judge Agee did ask Ms. Burke why neither Panetta nor Hagel were being sued, no good answer.

We will link to the audio when available – probably Tuesday.

Affirmative.  There is more to do on a road-trip than 25 minutes at the Fourth, besides it was an awesome top down day.  :-)

Here’s a link to some of the posts about TIW and Cioca.

10 Responses to “In the rocky legal terrain”

  1. ObservationPost says:

    What does “(N/Bush1)” mean after “Niemeyer” ?

  2. Christopher Mathews says:

    It means the “n” key is right next to the “m” on most keyboards.

  3. Phil Cave says:

    Thanks. A male appointed to the bench by the first President Bush.

  4. Contact Lawyer says:

    Agee was a reserve JAG. During Vietnam, he was a conciencious objector, so he joined the reserves to mitigate that issue. Agee is a former member of the Housenof Delegates who ran for AG and lost the nomination to Jim Gilmore. For what it is worth, Agee may have remembered a little bit about the UCMJ.

  5. Phil Cave says:

    CL, thanks.
    Dwight and I were trying to figure out how he’d be the one.  We’d try to guess that either Jim Wynn or Al Diaz had dropped a note.

  6. Dwight Sullivan says:

    CL, thanks for that intel.  Phil “My Liege” Cave and I thought he seemed more knowledgeable about military and military justice matters than the average bear.  Reserve JAG experience  helps to explain that.

  7. Charlie Gittins says:

    Agee lost to Gilmore?  That means you are really unelectable . . .  so appoint him to the bench.

  8. Contact Lawyer says:

    Agee lost the nomination to Gilmore at a convention. I am sure you see news this weekend of how conventions in Virginia work. Agee was actually a well respected legslator. Had he got the nomination, he would have probably been elected AG of Virginia and then had about a 50/50 shot at becoming governor.

    All in all, Agee was just kind of boring. As a legislator, he was very well respected in his district. He was succeeded by Morgan Griffith in the House of Delegates, who became its majority leader and is now the U.S. Rep in SW Va. He is also a conservative and not some nut.

  9. Ama Goste says:

    While Thacker doesn’t have military experience herself, her hubby has an incredible wealth of MJ and military civil litigation knowledge he could share with her.