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Pinnacle Armor, Inc v. United States of America

October 26, 2012

PINNACLE ARMOR, INC.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence J. O'Neill United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S THIRD MOTION TO DISMISS; ANDDENYING IN PART AND DEFERRING IN PART DEFEDNANT'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 64)

I.INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Pinnacle Armor, Inc. ("Pinnacle") produces armor designed to protect buildings, vehicles, and the human body. Among Pinnacle's primary customers are local law enforcement agencies that often utilize federal subsidies to purchase body armor. Availability of at least one such subsidy is conditioned upon certification that the body armor was manufactured in compliance with the most recent standards set by the National Institute of Justice ("NIJ"), an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ"). In its Verified First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Pinnacle alleged that NIJ's decision to revoke certification for one of Pinnacle's products: (1) violated Pinnacle's procedural due process rights under the Fifth Amendment; and (2) was "arbitrary and capricious" in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Doc. 6.*fn1

On March 11, 2008, the district court dismissed both claims, holding that Pinnacle's interest in NIJ certification is not a protected property right under the due process clause, and that NIJ's certification decision is exempt from review under the APA because the certification process is "committed to agency discretion by law," 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(2). Doc. 22. Pinnacle appealed. Doc. 24.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed on the Fifth Amendment claim, but reversed and remanded on the APA claim, directing the district court to conduct further proceedings. Doc. 35, filed May 26, 2011, Pinnacle Armor, Inc. v. United States, 648 F.3d 708 (2011).

Defendant, the United States of America, previously moved to dismiss the remaining APA claim as moot pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Doc. 53. That motion was denied without prejudice. Doc. 61.*fn2

Before the Court for decision is Defendant's renewed motion to dismiss this case as moot. Doc. 64. In the alternative, Defendant moves for summary judgment that: (a) Plaintiff lacks standing, and (b) cannot prevail on the merits. Id. Defendant also filed the Declaration of George C. Tillery and related exhibits. Docs. 64-2 - 64-4. Plaintiff filed an opposition, along with the September 26, 2012 Declaration of Murray Neal and related exhibits. Docs. 66 - 66-2. Defendant replied and filed another Declaration from George C. Tillery. Docs. 67 - 67-1. The motion was originally set for hearing on October 10, 2012, but the matter was submitted for decision on the papers pursuant to Local Rule 230(g). Doc. 68.

II.BACKGROUND

A.Facts.

The pre-remand factual history is summarized succinctly in the Ninth Circuit's decision:

As part of the Department of Justice, the NIJ is authorized to "improv[e] Federal, State, and local criminal justice systems and related aspects of the civil justice system [by] identifying programs of proven effectiveness ... or programs which offer a high probability of improving the functioning of the criminal justice system." 42 U.S.C. § 3721. The NIJ, through its Office of Science and Technology ("OST"), establishes and maintains performance standards for bulletproof vests and other law enforcement technologies. 6 U.S.C. § 162(b)(3), (b)(6). The OST is charged with "establish[ing] and maintain [ing] a program to certify, validate, ... or otherwise recognize law enforcement technology products that conform to standards established and maintained by the Office...." Id. § 162(b)(4).

One of the programs the NIJ manages is the Body Armor Compliance Testing Program. Under this program, a manufacturer may submit its body armor to the NIJ for a determination of whether the armor complies with the NIJ's performance standards. If the product satisfies the standards, the NIJ includes it on a list of compliant body armor models. A product reaps a substantial benefit if it is found compliant: When state and local law enforcement agencies purchase body armor listed as "compliant" by the NIJ, the federal government subsidizes up to fifty percent of the purchase. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 3796ll, 3796ll--2.

The NIJ issued compliance standards in 2001. See Nat'l Institute of Justice, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Ballistic Resistance of Personal Body Armor, NIJ Standard-0101.04, Revision A (June 2001) [hereinafter "NIJ Standard-0101.04 "]. After it learned that certain body armor models could wear out prematurely and that its 2001 compliance requirements did not adequately address this concern, the NIJ issued supplemental performance standards for body armor in 2005. See Nat'l Institute of Justice, U.S. Dept. of Justice, NIJ 2005 Interim Requirements for Bullet--Resistant Body Armor (Sept. 26, 2005) [hereinafter "2005 Interim Requirements"], [internet citation omitted]. In order to maintain compliance, the 2005 Interim Requirements require the manufacturers of body armor to submit either "evidence ... that demonstrates to the satisfaction of the NIJ that the model will maintain ballistic performance (consistent with its originally declared threat level) over its declared warranty period," or a "written certification" by a manufacturer's officer stating that the officer believes the model will maintain ballistic performance; that the manufacturer has objective evidence to support that belief; and that the officer agrees to provide the NIJ with the evidence "promptly on demand" by the NIJ. The requirements provide that the NIJ will revoke a model's compliance status "at any time" if the evidence submitted by the manufacturer was "insufficient to demonstrate to the satisfaction of NIJ that the model w[ould] maintain its ballistic performance" over the model's declared warranty period.

Pinnacle manufactures body armor used by state and local government law enforcement agencies. One of its models, patented as "dragon skin," consists of overlapping ceramic discs, which allow the vest to be more flexible than other bulletproof vests. The parties do not dispute that dragon skin met the NIJ's 2001 requirements. See NIJ Standard- 0101.04. The issue here is dragon skin's compliance with the 2005 Interim Requirements. To comply with the 2005 Interim Requirements, Pinnacle's officer issued a written certification declaring that he believed the vests would maintain their ballistic performance over the warranty period, that he had objective evidence to support this belief, and that he would submit the evidence to the NIJ on demand. In December 2006, the NIJ issued a Notice of Compliance to Pinnacle certifying that dragon skin, which had a six-year warranty period, was compliant with the NIJ's 2005 standards. Relying on this notice, Pinnacle spent hundreds of thousands of dollars producing vests for law enforcement agencies.

Subsequently, the NIJ received information from the Department of Defense that questioned the dragon skin model's durability under environmental stressors. The NIJ was particularly concerned about the effects of "temperature extremes and cycling" on the dragon skin model over time. Consistent with the 2005 Interim Requirements, the NIJ asked Pinnacle in June 2007, to provide documentation of the "data or other objective evidence that supports Pinnacle Armor's belief that [the dragon skin] model ... will maintain its ballistic performance (consistent with its originally declared threat level) over its declared warranty period of six years." In response, Pinnacle submitted testimonials of those who wore the dragon skin vest for over one year, photographs of armor panels, and a test report on a vest that had been turned in after four years of service. The NIJ found that this evidence was "insufficient to demonstrate to the satisfaction of NIJ that the model ... will maintain its ballistic performance ... over its declared warranty period." The NIJ stated that as of August 3, 2007, the dragon skin model would no longer be deemed compliant with the NIJ requirements and published statements to that effect. 648 F.3d at 711-14.

Also on August 3, 2007, the NIJ, through DOJ's Office of Justice Programs, issued a press release stating that Plaintiff had not provided evidence sufficient to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the NIJ that the Dragon Skin armor would maintain its ballistic performance over its declared 6-year warranty period. FAC ¶ 35; Doc. 2, Ex. T. Pinnacle submitted additional information on several more occasions. Doc. 2 at Ex. N, O & P. After reviewing the additional evidence, NIJ nevertheless concluded that Pinnacle still had not sufficiently demonstrated that the dragon skin model would perform at the same level for six years. FAC ¶¶ 29-30. The NIJ identified several reasons why Pinnacle's evidence was insufficient and invited Pinnacle to provide additional evidence. Doc. 2 at Ex. R; see also Pinnacle Armor, 648 F.3d at 713. Pinnacle declined to submit any further evidence, choosing instead to file this lawsuit in November 2007.

B.Procedural History.

As discussed above, Pinnacle alleged that NIJ's decision to revoke certification for the Pinnacle' product in question: (1) violated its procedural due process rights under the Fifth Amendment; and

(2) was "arbitrary and capricious" in violation of the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Doc. 6. The district court dismissed both claims. Doc. 22. The Ninth Circuit affirmed on the Fifth Amendment claim, finding that the Due Process Clause does not require that NIJ grant a formal hearing before revoking a finding of compliance with its standards. 648 F.3d at 717. All that is required is "notice and an opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case." Id (emphasis in original). The Ninth Circuit found NIJ's procedures provided Pinnacle a "full and fair opportunity to be heard on its claims." Id.

The district court's found that because the then-operative 2005 Interim Requirements provided NIJ discretion to remove armor from its compliance list "without statutory restraint," the NIJ's actions in this case were unreviewable under 5 U.S.C. § 701(a)(2), which precludes review of "agency action [that] is committed to agency discretion by law." The Ninth Circuit reversed, reasoning that "together, the 2005 Interim Requirements and the statute supply [a] standard against which we can judge the agency's decision-making." Id. at 719-20. The Ninth Circuit also found that the FAC sufficiently set forth an APA claim because it "alleges that the methods the NIJ uses to test body armor bear no relation to the standard set out in the Requirements-namely, that the armor will maintain its ballistic integrity over the life of the warranty" and further "alleges that the NIJ violated the APA by failing to provide the data upon which revocation of the Notice of Compliance was based." Id. at 721

C.The "06 Standard" and Mootness on Appeal.

In 2008, during the pendency of the appeal, NIJ published a new set of requirements for the Body Armor Compliance Testing Program ("BACTP"). Id. at 714. The United States argued before the Ninth Circuit that the entire appeal was moot because the 2008 requirements, set forth in NIJ Standard -0101.06 (the "06 Standard"), superseded the 2005 Interim Requirements at issue in this case. Id.

Among other things, the 2008 requirements state:

Publication of this revision of the standard does not invalidate or render unsuitable any body armor models previously determined by NIJ to be compliant to either the NIJ 2005 Interim Requirements or the NIJ Standard-0101.04 Rev. A Requirements.

06 Standard, Doc. 53-3, at v. Focusing on this language, the Ninth Circuit refused to find the appeal moot:

In order to be listed as compliant with the 2008 requirements, body armor must be submitted to and tested by the NIJ. The NIJ's new requirements are accompanied by sample laboratory configurations to help manufacturers prepare their products for the NIJ's tests. Although the NIJ accepted a written certification from an officer or independent evidence to establish conformity with its requirements under the 2005 Interim Requirements, under the 2008 requirements it no longer does so. Importantly, the 2008 requirements do not "invalidate or render unsuitable any body armor models previously determined by NIJ to be compliant [under] the NIJ 2005 Interim Requirements," but advise agencies to "always require their procurements to meet or exceed the most recent and up-to-date version of this standard."

The 2008 Requirements explicitly state that they did not "invalidate or render unsuitable any body armor models previously determined by the NIJ to be compliant [under] the NIJ 2005 Interim Requirements." Thus, if Pinnacle succeeds on its claim and the court declares that its armor was compliant with the 2005 Interim Requirements, its armor will be presumptively compliant under the current standards. In this way, the 2005 Interim Requirements continue to have a "brooding presence, cast[ing] what may well be a substantial adverse effect on the interests of the petitioning parties." Headwaters, 893 F.2d at 1015 (quotation marks omitted).

The government argues that "any manufacturer wishing to participate in the Compliance Testing Program must submit its body armor for testing under the new [standards].... even if NIJ previously determined the body armor model compliant with the NIJ 2005 Interim Requirements." But this is a misstatement of the requirements. The 2008 requirements clearly state that if the armor was compliant under the 2005 Interim Requirements, it is still compliant under the 2008 requirements and does not need to be retested. Therefore, because the 2008 requirements do not require retesting of the armor deemed compliant under the 2005 Interim Requirements, whether the dragon skin model was compliant with the 2005 Interim Requirements remains a "present controversy." Feldman, 518 F.3d at 642 (citation omitted). The 2008 Requirements have no impact on this controversy.

Id. at 714-15 (emphasis added). In sum, the Ninth Circuit interpreted the 06 Standard's statement that "[p]ublication of this revision of the standard does not invalidate or render unsuitable any body armor models previously determined by NIJ to be compliant [under the 2005 Interim Requirements]" to mean that any armor compliant with the 2005 Interim Requirements was presumptively compliant with the 06 Standard.

D.Post-Remand Developments.

On June 29, 2011, in response to the Ninth Circuit's "presumptive compliance" holding in Pinnacle Armor, 648 F.3d at 715, the NIJ issued an "Administrative Clarification" of the 06 Standard. See Doc. 53-2, ¶ 5 & Ex. 2. The Administrative Clarification directly addresses the 06 Standard's statement that that "[p]ublication of this revision of the standard does not invalidate or render unsuitable any body armor models previously determined by NIJ to be compliant [under the 2005 Interim Requirements]," by clarifying that this language was intended "to make clear to criminal justice agencies that the release of a new standard should not be interpreted as a recommendation to remove body armor from service which had been previously found compliant by the NIJ [Compliance Testing Program] with a previous version of the standard." Id., Ex. 2. The NIJ reiterated: "an agency's older armor may be considerably preferably to no armor at all until new armor determined by the NIJ CTP to be compliant with the current standard can be obtained." Id. Critically, "[t]he statement that older armors may not necessarily be considered to be 'unsuitable' for continued use in service until replaced should not be read to suggest -- in any way -- that an armor model's compliance with a predecessor standard somehow equates to compliance under the most current, superseding standard." Id. (emphasis added).

Although the NIJ-administered Bulletproof Vest Partnership ("BVP") grant program does not prohibit participating state and local law enforcement agencies from using their own funds to procure armor that does not comply with the most current NIJ standard, federal BVP grant money can only be used to purchase armor models the NIJ has deemed in compliance with the most recent current standard. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. All armor models, including models found compliant under an old standard, must be tested against the 06 standard to be included on the Listing of Compliant Armor and thus eligible for federal grant money. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6.

E.Previous Motion to Dismiss

In its previous motion to dismiss, the United States argued Plaintiff's APA claim was rendered moot because the 2005 Interim Requirements are no longer in effect and the NIJ clarified that it does not consider an armor's compliance under a superseded standard to be "presumptively compliant" under the current, 06 Standard. As the present motion arises directly from the order denying this motion without prejudice, relevant portions of the Court's prior decision are discussed in detail below.

III.DISCUSSION

A.Motion to Dismiss APA Claim ...


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