Sneed v. Shinseki, No. 13-7029 (Fed. Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Sneed is the surviving spouse of Reginald, who served on active duty 1964-1968 and suffered service-connected disabilities, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, post-concussion syndrome, degeneration of the vertebrae, narrowing of the spinal column, tinnitus, a perforated tympanic membrane, and scarring of the upper extremities. In 2001, Reginald fell and suffered a spinal cord contusion, rendering him a quadriplegic. In 2003, he was living in a nursing home for paralyzed veterans. There was a fire and all of the residents died of smoke inhalation. Sneed sought dependency and indemnity compensation, 38 U.S.C. 1310, alleging that her husband’s service-connected disabilities were a cause of his death. The VA denied the claim. The Board affirmed. Sneed’s notice of appeal was due by August 3, 2011. Sneed retained attorney Eagle, communicated with Eagle’s office “for a year or longer” and stated that “Eagle knew that there was a deadline.” On August 2, 2011 Sneed received a letter stating that Eagle would not represent Sneed in her appeal. Failing to find new counsel, Sneed filed notice of appeal on September 1, 2011, with a letter explaining her late filing. The Veterans Court dismissed the appeal as untimely. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that attorney abandonment can justify equitably tolling the deadline for filing an appeal.