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BROWN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS v. GARDNER

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OCTOBER TERM, 1994

Syllabus

BROWN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS v.

GARDNER

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT

No. 93-1128. Argued October 31, 1994-Decided December 12,1994

Mter respondent veteran had back surgery in a Department of Veterans Affairs facility for a condition unrelated to his military service, he developed pain and weakness in his left leg, which he alleged was the result of the surgery. He claimed disability benefits under 38 U. S. C. § 1151, which requires the VA to compensate for "an injury, or an aggravation of an injury," that occurs "as the result of" VA treatment. The VA and the Board of Veterans' Appeals denied the claim on the ground that § 1151, as interpreted by 38 CFR § 3.358(c)(3), only covers an injury if it resulted from negligent treatment by the VA or an accident occurring during treatment. The Court of Veterans Appeals reversed, holding that § 1151 neither imposes nor authorizes adoption of § 3.358(c)(3)'s fault-or-accident requirement. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed.

Held: Section 3.358(c)(3) is not consistent with the plain language of § 1151, which contains not a word about fault-or-accident. The statutory text and reasonable inferences from it give a clear answer against the Government's arguments that a fault requirement is implicit in the terms "injury" and "as a result of." This clear textually grounded conclusion is also fatal to the Government's remaining principal arguments: that Congress ratified the VA's practice of requiring a showing offault when it reenacted the predecessor of § 1151 in 1934, or, alternatively, that the post-1934 legislative silence serves as an implicit endorsement of the fault-based policy; and that the policy deserves judicial deference due to its undisturbed endurance. Pp. 117-122.

5 F.3d 1456, affirmed.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Edward C. DuMont argued the cause for petitioner.

With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Days, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, and Tresa M. Schlecht.cralaw


116

Joseph M. Hannon, Jr., argued the cause for respondent.

With him on the briefs was William S. Mailander. *

JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we decide whether a regulation of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 38 CFR § 3.358(c)(3) (1993), requiring a claimant for certain veterans' benefits to prove that disability resulted from negligent treatment by the VA or an accident occurring during treatment, is consistent with the controlling statute, 38 U. S. C. § 1151 (1988 ed., Supp. V). We hold that it is not.

I

Fred P. Gardner, a veteran of the Korean conflict, received surgical treatment in a VA facility for a herniated disc unrelated to his prior military service. Gardner then had pain and weakness in his left calf, ankle, and foot, which he alleged was the result of the surgery. He claimed disability benefits under § 1151,1 which provides that the VA will compensate for "an injury, or an aggravation of an injury," that occurs "as the result of hospitalization, medical or surgical treatment, or the pursuit of a course of vocational rehabilitation" provided under any of the laws administered by the VA, so long as the injury was "not the result of such veteran's own willful misconduct .... " The VA and the Board

*Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Texas by Dan Morales, Attorney General, and Jorge Vega, First Assistant Attorney General; for the National Veterans Legal Services Project by Ronald S. Flagg and Gershon M. Ratner; and for the Paralyzed Veterans of America et al. by Robert L. Nelson, Lawrence B. Hagel, and Irving R. M. Panzer.

1 Section 1151 is invoked typically to provide benefits to veterans for nonservice related disabilities, although it is not so limited by its terms. See Pet. for Cert. 6, n. 3. The statute's history begins in 1924 when Congress enacted § 213 of the World War Veterans' Act, 1924, ch. 320, 43 Stat. 623. Section 213 was repealed in 1933, as part of the Economy Act of 1933, ch. 3, Tit. I, § 17,48 Stat. 11-12, and reenacted in nearly the same form in 1934, Act of Mar. 28, 1934, ch. 102, Tit. III, § 31, 48 Stat. 526.cralaw


117
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