485 U.S. 535 (1988), 86-622, Traynor v. Turnage

Docket Nº:No. 86-622
Citation:485 U.S. 535, 108 S.Ct. 1372, 99 L.Ed.2d 618, 56 U.S.L.W. 4319
Party Name:Traynor v. Turnage
Case Date:April 20, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 535

485 U.S. 535 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 1372, 99 L.Ed.2d 618, 56 U.S.L.W. 4319

Traynor

v.

Turnage

No. 86-622

United States Supreme Court

April 20, 1988

Argued December 7, 1987

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners in these cases are honorably discharged veterans who did not exhaust their "GI Bill" educational assistance benefits within 10 years following their military service, as required by 38 U.S.C. § 1662(a)(1). Under that section, veterans may obtain an extension of the delimiting period if they were prevented from using their benefits earlier by "a physical or mental [108 S.Ct. 1373] disorder which was not the result of [their] own willful misconduct." Petitioners sought to continue receiving benefits after the expiration of the 10-year period on the ground that they were disabled by alcoholism during much of that period. The Veterans' Administration (VA) found that, under its regulation defining "primary" alcoholism (that which is unrelated to an underlying psychiatric disorder) as "willful misconduct," petitioners were not entitled to the requested extensions. Petitioners filed separate federal court actions to review the VA's decisions. In No. 86-622, the District Court held that it was not foreclosed from exercising jurisdiction by 38 U.S.C. § 211(a), which bars judicial review of "the decisions of the Administrator on any question of law or fact under any law administered by the Veterans' Administration providing benefits for veterans." The court then concluded that alcoholism is a handicap within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and that the VA therefore violated § 504 of that Act, which requires that federal programs not discriminate against handicapped persons solely because of their handicap. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed on the ground that § 211(a) barred judicial review of the Rehabilitation Act claim. In No. 86-737, the District Court held that judicial review was not foreclosed by § 211(a), and then invalidated the VA's alcoholism regulation as being contrary to the Rehabilitation Act. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed that judicial review was not foreclosed by § 211(a), but reversed on the merits, holding that, consistently with the Rehabilitation Act, the VA could reasonably conclude,

Page 536

pursuant to its regulation, that primary alcoholism is a "willfully caused handicap."

Held:

1. The question whether the VA's alcoholism regulation violates the Rehabilitation Act is not foreclosed from judicial review by § 211(a). The presumption in favor of judicial review of administrative action may be overcome only upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence of a contrary legislative intent. The prohibitions of § 211(a) are aimed at review only of those decisions of law or fact that arise in the administration by the VA of a statute providing benefits for veterans. The text and legislative history of § 211(a) provide no clear and convincing evidence of any congressional intent to preclude a suit claiming that § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a statute applicable to all federal agencies, has invalidated an otherwise valid regulation issued by the VA and purporting to have the force of law. The present cases involve the issue whether the law sought to be administered is valid in light of a subsequent statute whose enforcement is not the exclusive domain of the VA. Permitting these cases to go forward will not undermine § 211(a)'s purposes. Pp. 541-545.

2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is not violated by the VA's characterizing, for purposes of 38 U.S.C. § 1662(a)(1), petitioners' primary alcoholism as "willful misconduct" precluding the allowance of petitioners' requested time extensions. Congress did not use the term "willful misconduct" inadvertently in 1977 when it amended § 1662(a)(1) to create the exception to the delimiting period. The same term had long been used in other veterans' benefits statutes, and the VA had long construed the term as encompassing primary alcoholism. The legislative history confirms that Congress intended that the VA apply the same test of "willful misconduct" in granting extensions of time under § 1662(a)(1). In 1978, when § 504 was amended to extend its discrimination prohibition to programs conducted by federal agencies, Congress did not affirmatively evince any intent to repeal § 1662(a)(1)'s "willful misconduct" provision. Moreover, petitioners have not overcome the cardinal rule that repeals by implication are not favored. The 1978 legislation did not expressly contradict the more narrow and [108 S.Ct. 1376] specific 1977 legislation, and is not rendered meaningless, even with respect to those who claim to have been handicapped as a result of alcoholism, if the "willful misconduct" provision of § 1662(a)(1) is allowed to retain the import originally intended by Congress. There is no inconsistency between § 504 and a conclusive presumption that alcoholism not motivated by mental illness is necessarily "willful." Pp. 545-551.

Page 537

No. 86-622, 791 F.2d 226, reversed and remanded; No. 86-737, 253 U.S. App.D.C. 126, 792 F.2d 194, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 552. SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases arise from the Veterans' Administration's refusal to grant two recovered alcoholics extensions of time in which to use their veterans' educational benefits. We must decide whether the Veterans' Administration's decision is subject to judicial review and, if so, whether that decision violates § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 87 Stat. 394, 29 U.S.C. § 794, which requires that federal programs not discriminate against handicapped individuals solely because of their handicap.1

Page 538

I

Veterans who have been honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces are entitled to receive educational assistance benefits under the Veterans' Readjustment Benefit Act of 1966 ("GI Bill") to facilitate their readjustment to civilian life. See 38 U.S.C. § 1661. These benefits generally must be used within 10 years following discharge or release from active duty. § 1662(a)(1). Veterans may obtain an extension of the 10-year delimiting period, however, if they were prevented from using their benefits earlier by "a physical or mental disability which was not the result of [their] own willful misconduct." Ibid.

Petitioners are honorably discharged veterans who did not exhaust their educational benefits during the decade following their military service. They sought to continue to receive benefits after the expiration of the 10-year delimiting period on the ground that they had been disabled by alcoholism during much of that period. The Veterans' Administration determined that petitioners' alcoholism constituted "willful misconduct" under 38 CFR § 3.301(c)(2) (1987),2 and accordingly denied the requested extensions.

Page 539

[108 S.Ct. 1377] Petitioner Traynor sought review of the Veterans' Administration's decision in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The District Court held that it was not foreclosed from exercising jurisdiction over the case by 38 U.S.C. § 211(a), which bars judicial review of

the decisions of the Administrator on any question of law or fact under any law administered by the Veterans' Administration providing benefits for veterans,3

because the complaint "requires us to examine constitutional and statutory questions, and not merely issues of VA policy." Traynor v. Walters, 606 F.Supp. 391, 396 (1985). The court rejected Traynor's claim that the Veterans' Administration's refusal to extend his delimiting period violated the Due Process Clause and the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.4 However, the court concluded that alcoholism is a handicap within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act, and that the Veterans' Administration therefore had engaged in the sort of discrimination on the basis of handicap that is forbidden by that Act.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed on the ground that § 211(a) barred judicial review

Page 540

of the Rehabilitation Act claim. Traynor v. Walters, 791 F.2d 226 (1986). The court reasoned that, while

many veterans have in the service of our country suffered injuries that qualify them as "handicapped individual[s]" for purposes of [the Rehabilitation Act],

Congress evinced no intent in enacting that statute "to grant to `handicapped' veterans the judicial review traditionally denied all other veterans" under § 211(a). Id. at 229.5

Meanwhile, petitioner McKelvey sought review of the Veterans' Administration's decision in the District Court for the District of Columbia. The District Court exercised jurisdiction over McKelvey's claims on the ground that § 211 (a) permits judicial review of decisions rejecting claims that Veterans' Administration regulations of general applicability violate a federal statute that is "completely independent of the complex statutory and regulatory scheme for dispersing veterans' benefits." McKelvey v. Walters, 596 F.Supp. 1317, 1321 (1984). The court then invalidated 38 CFR § 3.301(c) (2) (1987) as contrary to the Rehabilitation Act. The court ordered the Veterans' Administration to determine without resort to the regulation whether McKelvey had suffered a disability attributable to his own misconduct.

[108 S.Ct. 1378] On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the District of...

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