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Becker v. Office of Personnel Management

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

April 7, 2017

AMANDA E. BECKER, Petitioner
v.
OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT, Respondent

         Petition for review of the Merit Systems Protection Board in No. CH-0831-15-0280-I-1.

          Janet A. Napp, Flood Law PLLC, Royal Oak, MI, argued for petitioner. Also represented by Todd F. FLOOD.

          Veronica Nicole Onyema, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for respondent. Also represented by BENJAMIN C. MlZER, ROBERT E. Kirschman, Jr., Allison Kidd-Miller.

          Before Taranto, Linn, and Chen, Circuit Judges.

          Chen, Circuit Judge.

         Amanda Becker appeals a decision from the Merit Systems Protection Board (Board) affirming the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) determination that she was ineligible to receive survivor benefits upon the death of her late husband, Todd Mayberry, under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Throughout the marriage, Mr. Mayberry was employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and was covered by FERS. OPM had denied her benefits because she had been married to Mr. Mayberry for less than nine months, which is the statutory minimum for a widow to receive survivor benefits as a result of the death of a civilian federal employee who has at least eighteen months of creditable service under 5 U.S.C. § 8442(b) (2012). Ms. Becker primarily challenges the constitutionality of the provision on appeal. In light of controlling precedent, we affirm the Board's decision.

         Background

         During Mr. Mayberry's tenure with the FBI, he elected Ms. Becker to receive survivor benefits in the event of his death. They were married for less than nine months and had no children together, when Mr. Mayberry passed away due to cancer complications.

         Ms. Becker applied for survivor benefits with OPM, but OPM denied her application on the ground that she did not meet the definition of a "widow" under 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1). That definition identifies a widow as a "surviving wife" who: (1) "was married to [the covered decedent] for at least [nine] months immediately before his death" (hereinafter, nine-month requirement); or (2) "is the mother of issue by that marriage" (hereinafter, child-bearing requirement). Id. § 8441(1)(A)-(B). She sought reconsideration of that decision, but OPM affirmed its initial decision.

         Ms. Becker then appealed to the Board, which referred the appeal to an administrative judge. In the course of her appeal, she attempted to seek discovery. She requested information regarding, inter alia, whether OPM had ever waived the nine-month requirement for prior applicants, and whether OPM had ever sufficiently explained the nine-month requirement to Mr. Mayberry. The administrative judge denied these requests and issued an initial decision, rejecting Ms. Becker's appeal and reiterating OPM's rationale for denying Ms. Becker's application in the first instance. That decision became the final decision of the Board.

         Ms. Becker now appeals to us, arguing that: (1) 5 U.S.C. § 8441(1) is unconstitutional; and (2) the Board improperly denied her discovery requests. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(9) (2012).

         Discussion

         We must affirm a decision of the Board unless it is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; obtained without procedures required by law, rule, or regulation having been followed; or unsupported by substantial evidence. 5 U.S.C. § 7703(c) (2012). We review "the Board's determinations of law for correctness, without deference to the Board's decision." Briggs v. Merit Sys. Prot. Bd., 331 ...


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