United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
Argued March 18, 2014
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:10-cv-00570 ).
Michael D.J. Eisenberg argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.
Benton G. Peterson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Ronald Machen, Jr., U.S. Attorney, and R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Before: HENDERSON and WILKINS, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge. Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge WILKINS.
Wilkins, Circuit Judge
Appellant Jeffry Schmidt, a Marine Corps veteran, was honorably discharged from the military in 1989 by reason of physical disability. In 1990, he filed an application with the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) seeking an increase in his disability rating. His request was denied. In 2008, he asked the BCNR to reconsider its earlier decision based, at least in part, on his having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). After the BCNR's Acting Executive Director denied his application, Schmidt filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, which later transferred one aspect of Schmidt's case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia: his claim that the BCNR's procedure allowing for the Acting Executive Director (rather than the Board) to render a decision on his application was improper. Following transfer, the parties agreed to a remand to the BCNR, whereupon the Board itself considered Schmidt's claim anew. It was denied. Schmidt then sought to challenge,
before the District Court, the merits of the BCNR's denial, filing an amended complaint without leave of court or the other side's consent. After disallowing the amended complaint, the District Court dismissed the case as moot, reasoning that Schmidt's only claim for relief had been fully resolved. Alternatively, the District Court ruled that Schmidt's challenge to the BCNR's 2011 decision would be time-barred and that, because he sought money damages, jurisdiction over the claim would lie with the Court of Federal Claims. Schmidt now appeals. Agreeing that the only claim ever properly placed at issue before the District Court was rendered moot by the stipulated remand to the BCNR, we affirm the District Court's dismissal on this basis and do not reach the other issues briefed on appeal.
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Jeffry Schmidt served in the U.S. Marine Corps from February 1983 until March 1989, when he was honorably discharged by reason of physical disability due to a lower back condition. Schmidt was given a 10% disability rating, entitling him to a one-time severance payment of about $13,000. Almost immediately after his discharge, Schmidt filed for disability benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the VA initially awarded Schmidt a 30% combined disability rating (accounting for his lower back issues and a few other medical conditions). Armed with this higher disability rating, Schmidt filed a request for correction of his records with the BCNR, arguing that he was given an unjust rating at the time of discharge. The Board denied Schmidt's request in March 1992, explaining that his new disability ratings were not dispositive " because the VA, unlike the military departments, may assign disability ratings without regard to the issue of fitness for military service." Joint Appendix (" J.A." ) 74.
Sixteen years later, in March 2008, Schmidt sought reconsideration of the BCNR's decision, raising what he believed to be new and material evidence. Specifically, he pointed to the fact that the VA had since diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and that his overall disability rating from the VA had increased even more since the Board's original decision, totaling 100% (full disability) by that time. J.A. 68-74. In May 2008, the Acting Executive Director of the BCNR denied Schmidt's application; according to the letter of decision, though some of Schmidt's evidence was seen as " new," it was not considered " material." J.A. 65.
Schmidt then filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, alleging that he was discharged from the Marine Corps with an incorrect disability percentage rating. He sought back pay and benefits in excess of $10,000, along with an order deeming him medically retired from the military at the disability rating assigned by the VA or, alternatively, a new medical examination board. In addition, Schmidt challenged the BCNR's denial of his reconsideration application, arguing that the decision was not only wrong on the merits, but also procedurally infirm under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) insofar as the Acting Executive Director--and not members of the Board--acted on his request. ...