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Almanza v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

August 21, 2019

UNITED STATES, Defendant-Appellee

          Appeal from the United States Court of Federal Claims in No. 1:13-cv-00130-EDK, Judge Elaine Kaplan.

          Daniel M. Rosenthal, James & Hoffman, PC, Washington, DC, argued for plaintiff-appellant.

          Also represented by Ryan Edward Griffin, Alice Hwang; David L. Kern, Kern Law Firm, El Paso, TX.

          Albert S. Iarossi, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for defendant-appellee.

          Also represented by Joseph H. Hunt, Steven John Gillingham, Robert Edward Kirschman, Jr.

          Before Newman, Clevenger, and Reyna, Circuit Judges.


         Manuel Almanza represents a group of United States Border Patrol Agents who seek compensation from the United States for activities they claim were performed during "hours of work" while attending a voluntary canine instructor course. The United States Court of Federal Claims granted summary judgment in favor of the government and denied Almanza's claims. Because the court correctly determined that Almanza is not entitled to compensation as a matter of law, we affirm.


         I. Border Patrol Agents, Canine Handlers, and Canine Instructors

         Border Patrol Agents ("agents") of the United States Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") are responsible for patrolling the international borders of the United States. In performing those responsibilities, some agents choose to be paired with a trained detection canine. Those agents are referred to as "canine handlers." Trained canines assist the canine handlers in detecting controlled substances and concealed individuals attempting to enter the United States illegally. Agents who wish to work with canines must attend a seven-week program of field and classroom training at a canine training program center. Successful graduates of the training program are certified canine handlers.

         Canine handlers perform the same duties as agents who do not work with canines. Canine handlers also receive the same compensation as agents who do not work with canines, except that canine handlers receive additional pay for hours dedicated to canine care and maintenance training.

         Certified canine handlers may seek additional certification as "canine instructors." Seeking canine instructor certification is voluntary. Certified canine instructors may take on collateral duties to help canine handlers maintain their certification, but canine instructors do not receive a pay raise, new title, or any other additional compensation absent a promotion. Agents who do not seek or secure canine instructor certification do not suffer any adverse consequences with respect to their existing jobs. They are not demoted, disciplined, or precluded from later seeking certification. Agents are nonetheless motivated to obtain canine instructor certification in order to "mak[e] that next step in [their] career" and to potentially become a "course development instructor or . . . to be maybe an assistant director, even director." J.A. 165-66 (Bordeaux Dep. Tr.).

         II. Detection Canine Instructor Course

         To obtain canine instructor certification, agents must enroll in CBP's Detection Canine Instructor Course ("DCIC"), a voluntary, twelve-week training program. CBP solicits interest in the DCIC by circulating memoranda that advertise the program and advise agents how to apply. Agents interested in attending the DCIC must submit an application and undergo a competitive interview process. The DCIC trains student instructors through a combination of classroom instruction, hands-on training, and field-work.

         During the time period relevant to this case, student instructors were required to meet certain performance standards and to pass all exams with a minimum score of 90%. Students were also graded on their completion of paperwork that certified instructors used to evaluate the performance of the detection canines ("white sheets") and canine handlers ("green sheets").

         A regular day at the DCIC lasted eight hours (6:00 am to 2:00 pm). Student instructors received their full compensation for those hours. But students testified that successful passage of the exams required substantial studying during off-hours. Students also testified that they spent substantial off-hours time completing green sheets and white sheets. Students were not compensated for any ...

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