Dixon v. McDonald, No. 15-7051 (Fed. Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Karen Dixon, recently substituted as appellant for her deceased husband Donald, and appealed a Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) decision dismissing her appeal based on a nonjurisdictional timeliness defense that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald waived. Mr. Dixon was diagnosed in 2003 with sarcoidosis of the lungs and transverse myelitis. He filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) seeking benefits for his sarcoidosis, which he alleged was connected to his service. A VA regional office denied Mr. Dixon’s claim, and the Board of Veterans Appeals affirmed. Acting pro se, Mr. Dixon filed a notice of appeal with the Veterans Court sixty days beyond the 120-day filing deadline set out in 38 U.S.C. 7266(a). The Veterans Court denied Mr. Dixon equitable tolling. He obtained pro bono counsel and filed a request for reconsideration of this denial, but the Veterans Court denied that request too. Mr. Dixon appealed, but then he died of his medical conditions while his appeal was pending. The Federal Circuit reversed because the Veterans Court’s denial of an extension of time had effectively denied Mr. Dixon’s new pro bono counsel access to evidence he would need to prove his claim. On remand, the Veterans Court substituted Mrs. Dixon and requested briefing from the parties on whether equitable tolling excused Mr. Dixon’s late filing. The Secretary responded by waiving his objection. Because the Veterans Court did not have the sua sponte authority to grant the Secretary relief on a defense he waived, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of Mrs. Dixon’s appeal and remanded for consideration on the merits.