U.S. Supreme Court

Blown Deadline Doesn’t Necessarily Bar Veteran’s Appeal, Supreme Court Rules

The U.S. Supreme Court says the family of a Korean War veteran with paranoid schizophrenia may be entitled to appeal a denial of supplemental disability benefits even though he missed the filing deadline.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the unanimous opinion (PDF) for the court finding that the blown deadline was not an absolute bar to the appeal by veteran David Henderson, who was seeking additional benefits for home health care. Henderson’s lawyers had claimed he missed the deadline because of his mental illness.

Lawyers for the Department of Veterans Affairs had cited the 2007 Supreme Court ruling Bowles v. Russell, in which the Supreme Court barred a habeas appeal by a convicted murderer who filed late—but met an erroneous deadline set by a federal judge. The court in Bowles had ruled the deadline was jurisdictional in nature, and courts didn’t have authority to hear the appeal.

The Bowles decision is not controlling, Alito wrote in Henderson v. Shinseki. Veterans disability decisions are made under an administrative scheme that is unusually protective of claimants, Alito said, and the law establishing the deadline does not speak in jurisdictional terms.

“We hold that the deadline for filing a notice of appeal with the Veterans Court does not have jurisdictional attributes,” Alito wrote. “The 120-day limit is nevertheless an important procedural rule. Whether this case falls within any exception to the rule is a question to be considered on remand.”

Henderson died less then two months before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

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