Oral argument: Dec. 6, 2010
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Dec. 17, 2009)
VETERANS AFFAIRS, DISABILITY BENEFITS, EQUITABLE TOLLING
David Henderson, a veteran of the Korean War, was discharged after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. After receiving a final decision from the Department of Veterans Affairs denying his request for home care, Henderson had 120 days to file notice of his intent to appeal. Henderson failed to file until 15 days after the deadline had passed and claimed that his illness prevented him from filing on time. Appearing pro se, Henderson requested the Veterans Court apply equitable tolling to permit his appeal. The court denied Henderson’s request but then requested pro bono counsel to assist Henderson in filing for rehearing. While the request for rehearing was in process, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Bowles v. Russell. The lower courts interpreted Bowles to mean that all statutory deadlines for filing appeals are jurisdictional, and therefore Henderson’s request for equitable tolling was rejected because the court could not hear the case. The Supreme Court’s decision will clarify how lower courts should evaluate statutory time limits and will help determine which procedural limits are jurisdictional and thus not subject to equitable tolling.