Argument Preview

As we’ve been reporting, five cases being argued in March at the Federal Circuit attracted amicus briefs. One of these cases is Ireland v. United States. In it, the Federal Circuit will review a decision by the Western District of Texas to grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in an unemployment benefits case under the Little Tucker Act. This is our argument preview.

In their opening brief, the appellants argue the district court erred in dismissing their case. They say the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act (PUA) “required the Secretary to provide PUA to all covered individuals through September 6, 2021.” Appellants argue the plain language of the statute created a “mandatory payment obligation” to all “covered individuals,” which includes “anyone in the United States unemployed due to COVID-19 and ineligible for state unemployment benefits.” Appellants further claim “Texas’s withdrawal from the PUA program did not prevent the Secretary from fulfilling his obligation.” 

In its response brief, the United States contends the district court correctly in found “nothing in the CARES Act requires (or even permits) the United States to make payments of PUA benefits directly to individuals.” The government argues the statute indicates the Secretary provides unemployment benefits “through agreements with the states.” Additionally, the government argues, 15 U.S.C. § 9021(b) “does not authorize payments by the United States to individuals where a state declines to administer the program.” According to the government, if Congress intended to authorize direct payments, it would have done so. Finally, the government asserts that, even if the appellants could show “another state could have administered the PUA program on Texas’s behalf,” the Little Tucker Act applies only to payments the Secretary was required to make directly. 

In their reply brief, the appellants argue the PUA statute alone “gives rise to a Tucker Act claim” because the law mandates payment from the federal government. They contend “Congress deliberately differentiated the PUA statute from related programs,” such as voluntary state grant programs. Additionally, they maintain, the government’s other arguments fail because “[c]ross-state administration was permitted and practicable.” Moreover, they say, the Secretary may have used “Congress appropriated funds” to pay persons affected directly.

Unemployed Workers United filed an amicus brief in support of reversal. It argues the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance “provided a vital lifeline for low-wage workers at an especially precarious point” and that early termination of those benefits caused harm. Additionally, it argues, when faced with other times of disaster where unemployment benefits might be affected, “the federal government has previously allowed cross-state administration of benefits.”

Oral argument will be heard on Friday, March 8. We will keep track of this case and report on any developments.