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Sweeney v. United States Postal Service

October 19, 1998

LON R. SWEENEY, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, RESPONDENT.



Before Rich, Newman, and Lourie, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Newman, Circuit Judge.

Appealed from: Merit Systems Protection Board United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Opinion for the court filed by Circuit Judge Newman. Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge Lourie.

Lon R. Sweeney, appearing pro se, petitions for review of the decision of the Merit Systems Protection Board, Docket No. CH0752970390- I-1, wherein the Board dismissed Mr. Sweeney's request for consideration of the actions of the Postal Service in asserted contravention of a settlement agreement. We vacate the dismissal and remand for consideration of the issues raised by petitioner.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Sweeney was suspended indefinitely by the Postal Service on February 25, 1997 by notice dated February 26, based on specified charges. On March 11, 1997 he filed an appeal with the Board. On April 21, 1997 the Postal Service issued a Notice of Proposed Removal, reciting the incident on which he had been suspended. On June 26, 1997 Mr. Sweeney and the Postal Service entered into a written settlement agreement, as follows:

"1. This agreement shall not serve as a precedent for resolving any other complaints. 2. It is understood by the parties that this Agreement is in full and complete settlement of all EEO complaints or appeals, in this or any other forum, filed by the appellant or on his behalf relating to this matter. The Settlement resolves all the issues related to Appellant's Merit Systems Protection Board Appeal, Docket No. CH-0752-97-0390-I-1 and Appellant withdraws his MSPB appeal. It is understood that in withdrawing all appeals and complaints, appellant waives his right to an oral hearing or further appeal on the matters raised. It is further stipulated that such withdrawals are made without threat, coercion, intimidation, promise, or inducement other than the terms set forth in the Agreement. 3. It is agreed that the notice of emergency off duty placement dated 2/26/97 is expunged from Appellant's record and he shall be paid backpay from 2/25/97 through 3/10/97."

The agreement was signed on June 25, 1997 by Mr. Sweeney and his designated representative, Velma Chism; and on June 26, 1997 by Elaine Dombin, the Postal Service's representative. It was promptly sent to the Board for entry. A letter from the Postal Service dated June 27, 1997, referring to the Notice of Proposed Removal, informed Mr. Sweeney that he was removed from the Postal Service, effective July 2, 1997.

On June 30, 1997 the administrative Judge (AJ) issued an order determining that the settlement agreement was lawful and freely made, and entered it into the record for enforcement purposes. The AJ then dismissed Mr. Sweeney's appeal.

On July 25, 1997 Mr. Sweeney petitioned the Board to review the AJ's June 30, 1997 order, stating "I have been fired after this was expunged from my record." Mr. Sweeney stated that the settlement "was the result of fraud," and asked to "reopen" his case and to be returned to work. The Board denied the petition, suggesting that if the agency's action was "a subsequent action," it required a separate appeal to the Board. The Board gave 30 days for filing a new appeal. Mr. Sweeney appeals the Board's decision.

DISCUSSION

We affirm a Board decision unless it is (1) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law; (2) obtained without adherence to procedures required by law, rule, or regulation; or (3) unsupported by substantial evidence. 5 U.S.C. §7703(c). Interpretation of a settlement agreement is a question of law receiving plenary review. King v. Department of Navy, 130 F.3d 1031, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

Mr. Sweeney, in his appeal to this court, expresses general concern and dismay as to the procedures followed and actions taken. He stresses that his removal was on the same grounds that had been, by the settlement agreement, expunged from his record. He states that the agreement by its terms settled all issues related to his appeal, and required him to withdraw all appeals and complaints on these matters. Mr. Sweeney states: "The agreement was supposed to be in good faith by order of the Judge, but it was not. Two days after the agreement was signed, June 25, 1997, I was discharged."

The agency's only response is that Mr. Sweeney was required to file a separate appeal, and that it is now too late for him to do so. Mr. Sweeney disputes the assertion that he should have filed another appeal. He points to the settlement agreement, wherein he agreed that he would file "no further appeals on the matters raised." He suggests that the settlement was a "fraud," and that he ...


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