US Supreme Court Rules Today in Favor of Arnold & Porter's Client in Henderson v. Shinseki

March 1, 2011

Washington, DC, March 1, 2011 -- Today, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Arnold & Porter's client in Henderson v. Shinseki (No. 09-1036), a case of vital importance to the nation's veterans who challenge the denial of benefits from The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In a decision written by Justice Alito, the Court held that a veteran who misses the statutory time limit to challenge an agency denial of service-connected disability benefits is not automatically barred from obtaining judicial review from the Veterans Court.

The case involved David Henderson, a disabled veteran of the Korean War, who missed the appeal deadline by fifteen days while he was bedridden suffering from the same disability for which he sought benefits. The Veterans Court dismissed the appeal, concluding that it was powerless to consider the equitable reasons for Mr. Henderson's untimely filing. The Federal Circuit affirmed in a divided en banc decision, holding that the case was indistinguishable from the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Bowles v. Russell, which held that the appeal deadline for ordinary civil litigants is jurisdictional and not subject to any equitable exception. In reversing the Federal Circuit's decision, however, the Supreme Court concluded that "[t]he contrast between ordinary civil litigation -- which provided the context of our decision in Bowles -- and the system that Congress created for the adjudication of veterans' benefits claims could hardly be more dramatic."

Lisa Blatt, the head of Arnold & Porter LLP's Appellate and Supreme Court practice, argued the case in December 2010. "We are tremendously gratified that the courthouse doors remain open to the veterans who miss the filing deadline through no fault of their own," Ms. Blatt said. "The Court properly recognized the untold sacrifices of our nation's veterans and that Congress could not have intended for them the harsh and unfair results of a rigid jurisdictional bar."

The firm handled the case pro bono, devoting more than 2,000 hours in 2010. Mr. Henderson died in October 2010, and the firm has continued representing his wife, Doretha Henderson, in pursing his disability benefits claim. On the briefs with Ms. Blatt were Thomas Stoever, Anthony Franze, Stanton Jones, Robert Katerberg, and Reeves Anderson.

The decision can be found here.


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