Joe Carson filed complaints for “prohibited activity” against his employer, the Department of Energy, with the Office of Special Counsel. OSC made a “jurisdictional investigation” of his complaints and determined that they were outside of its enforcement jurisdiction.
- –OSC is both an investigator and a prosecutor (i.e. both cop and district attorney);
- –OSC has no Inspector General;
- –MSPB has no Inspector General;
- –MSPB and Federal Circuit can curb OSC’s prosecutorial excesses, but no one (except for Congress and MSPB) can oversee OSC’s dereliction of its investigatory duties;
- –OSC has not, in 30+ years, ever made formal report of a determination per 5 U.S.C. §1214(e) (generally, that “there is reasonable grounds/cause to believe” that a violation of law, rule or regulation has occurred”)–not in about 50,000 investigations into complaints alleging about 100,000 specific violations within its jurisdiction.
- –In 30+ years, OSC has only made about 250 formal determinations that: 1) a violation within its jurisdiction occurred, and 2) the violation required corrective action;
- –The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board has also failed, for 30 years, to conduct, as required by 5 U.S.C. §1204(a)(3), any “special studies” of OSC’s compliance and performance of its nondiscretionary duties to protect federal employees from agency violations within its jurisdiction (note: Mr. Carson has sought judicial review of MSPB’s compliance with §1204(a)(3), but because MSPB’s reports go to Congress and the President, he does not have standing to obtain such a review);
- –Inadequate Congressional oversight of OSC’s compliance with §1214(e) and MSPB’s compliance with §1204(a)(3);
- –Dispositive judicial review of OSC’s compliance with §1214(e) and MSPB’s compliance with §1204(a)(3) has not occurred; and
- –Current “rules of professional conduct for attorneys” simply do not address whether attorneys employed at OSC and MSPB have any duty, as attorneys, to voice concerns about their agencys’ compliance with its nondiscretionary duties;
Therefore, the only remedy is the writ of mandamus.
Carson sued OSC in federal district court, alleging that OSC terminated its investigation based on the determination resulting from its screening investigation (a/k/a/ jurisdictional investigation) that it did not have jurisdiction to investigate the complaint.
Carson relied on Weber v. United States, a D.C. Circuit case that recognized the principle that a federal district court has jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus if it determines that OSC has failed to perform a non-discretionary statutory duty as an investigatory agency.
In Weber, Mr. Weber submitted a complaint to OSC, alleging violations of laws, rules, or regulations under its investigatory jurisdiction. OSC conducted a preliminary investigation (or inquiry) and determined it did not have jurisdiction to investigate and/or seek corrective action on his behalf (loss of security clearance). The Court reviewed OSC’s reasons for making its jurisdictional determination and agreed with them, it also made clear that if OSC’s jurisdictional determination had been incorrect, mandamus relief would be warranted to compel OSC to fully investigate his complaint.
OSC, through Loretta Harber, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Easter District of Tennessee, motioned the court to dismiss the writ of mandamus with prejudice. OSC argued that although OSC is obligated to investigate any allegation of a PPP that it receives, the scope of its investigations of such allegations is committed to its discretion. Moreover, “when the OSC decides to terminate an investigation that it began pursuant to a complaint, the decision is not reviewable.”
OSC relied on DeLeonardis v. Weiseman, a Fifth Circuit case that stands for the proposition that “when the OSC decides to terminate an investigation that it began pursuant to a complaint, the decision is not reviewable.” However, OSC claimed Weber was somehow irrelevant, even though it described its jurisdictional investigation of his complaints and their outcome:
For example, in Weber, OSC took the position that security clearance decisions, as a class, were not reviewable, regardless of the particular facts and circumstances of the case, and as a result, declined to investigate allegations concerning security clearance decisions. OSC did not consider the facts specific to Weber’s security clearance revocation or reach a decision to close the case based on the application of those specific facts to relevant legal standards, but rather closed the case based on its determination that it would not (and indeed could not) review security clearance decisions.
The District Court sided with OSC, ruling that in no circumstance could it review any OSC negative determination, whether jurisdictional or substantive, when used to terminate an investigation.
Carson appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In his appeal, Carson further elaborated his jurisdictional investigation argument.
In response, OSC significantly altered its argument, in ways contradicted by the undisputed facts in Weber. To the appellate court, OSC argued:
The D.C. Circuit’s analysis of the jurisdictional issue – i.e., whether OSC had jurisdiction to investigate allegations concerning security clearances – was undertaken for the purpose of determining whether OSC on a ministerial duty to the petitioner to investigate. Id. at 760. The D.C. Circuit concluded that OSC did not have a clearly established (i.e. “ministerial”) duty to act. ld. Further, because OSC had not, in fact, investigated (emphasis added), the appellate court had no occasion to address whether OSC’s decisions to terminate investigations would be subject to judicial review. Thus nothing about the Weber decision can be read to support the proposition that OSC’s decisions terminate investigations, if based on legal grounds, are subject to judicial review.
For whatever reason, OSC made this new, and factually erroneous, argument to the Sixth Court. As OSC’s “investigation termination letters” to Mr. Weber and Mr. Carson show, there is no difference in how OSC complied with its duties to “shall investigate the allegation” for Mr. Weber’s and Mr. Carson’s complaints – its CEU determined the complaints outside OSC’s enforcement jurisdiction and OSC terminated its investigations on that basis. As Carson stated in his reply brief,
To this Court, in its brief, OSC made the new and false claim of material fact and law that it had neither conducted an initial investigation of Mr. Weber’s complaints nor notified Mr. Weber, per 5 U.S.C. §1214(a)(2)(A), that it had terminated its investigation of his complaints and its reasons for doing so. Based on this false claim of material fact, OSC made the false claim of material law that Weber is not relevant to this case.
The Sixth Circuit recognized the D.C. Circuit’s holding but flatly disagreed with it, albeit without much support, stating:
We decline to rely on Weber to hold that district courts have authority to review the jurisdictional determinations of the Office of Special Counsel for a number of reasons.
However, the decision only mentions DeLeondaris as a reason. But DeLeonardis did not involve negative OSC jurisdictional determinations. In that case, OSC’s initial investigation determined OSC had jurisdiction over the alleged complaint, but the evidence for its occurrence was insufficient and OSC closed the complaint on that basis.
Carson then appealed to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Solicitor General waived response without consulting with its client, OSC. Carson and amici now wait to see if the Solicitor General will allow amici to file an amicus brief, waive his response, request the Court to extend a looming disposition deadline, allow OSC to file a confession of error, or allow OSC to moot the case by establishing policy consistent with Weber. Failure to consent to the amicus brief will be contested by motion.
What’s really at stake in this litigation?
1) OSC’s 33-year-long interpretation and application of its reporting requirements by §1214(e) is clearly wrong, but stating this would expose OSC as a fraud of a federal law enforcement agency, one that interpreted away, 33 years ago, its most important tangible nondiscretionary statutory duty. This would also expose the MSPB as having failed to comply, also for 33 years, with its nondiscretionary statutory duty to conduct “special studies” of OSC’s interpretation and compliance with its nondiscretionary statutory duties to protect federal employees from PPPs.
2) There is no statute of limitations for OSC’s enforcement jurisdiction, therefore many thousands of federal employees, who did not obtain the protection OSC owed them, per §1214(e), could re-file their complaints – and OSC has destroyed all its investigation files for them.
3) Thousands of other current and former federal employees who sought OSC’s protection since 1989 for PPPs could refile their complaints, alleging “other prohibited activities” in violation of §1216(a)(4).
Apparently, the Sixth Circuit decided it was better to “keep the lid on it.”