Rose v. O'Rourke, No. 17-1762 (Fed. Cir. 2018)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Four veterans appealed the VA's denial of their claims for service-connected disability benefits. Based on delays in their cases, they unsuccessfully sought writs of mandamus from the Veterans Court. The Federal Circuit remanded two cases, citing its 2018 decision, Martin v. O’Rourke, so that the mandamus petitions may be considered under the TRAC standard: “whether the agency’s delay is so egregious as to warrant mandamus.” The TRAC standard involves six factors: the time agencies take to make decisions must be governed by a “rule of reason”; where Congress has provided a timetable or other indication of the speed with which it expects the agency to proceed, that statutory scheme may supply content for this rule of reason; delays that might be reasonable in the sphere of economic regulation are less tolerable when human health and welfare are at stake; the court should consider the effect of expediting delayed action on agency activities of a higher or competing priority; the court should also consider the nature and extent of the interests prejudiced by delay; and the court need not find “any impropriety lurking behind agency lassitude” to hold that agency action is unreasonably delayed. One veteran had died, rendering his appeal moot and another had his claim for benefits granted.

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United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ______________________ EDWARD THOMAS ROSE, Claimant-Appellant v. PETER O’ROURKE, ACTING SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee --------------------------------------------------------------------------------LESLIE PUNT, Claimant-Appellant v. PETER O’ROURKE, ACTING SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee --------------------------------------------------------------------------------TAYLOR DANIELS, Claimant-Appellant v. PETER O’ROURKE, ACTING SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2 ROSE v. O’ROURKE HERBERT MITCHELL MILLER, Claimant-Appellant v. PETER O’ROURKE, ACTING SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee ______________________ 2017-1762, 2017-1789, 2017-1796, 2017-1926 ______________________ Appeals from the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Nos. 16-2494, 16-2498, 16-2505, 162510, Chief Judge Robert N. Davis. ______________________ Decided: June 7, 2018 ______________________ JOHN AUBREY CHANDLER, King & Spalding LLP, Atlanta, GA, argued for claimants-appellants. Also represented by ELIZABETH VRANICAR TANIS; CHRISTOPHER ROBERT HEALY, Washington, DC; THOMAS G. HENTOFF, LIAM JAMES MONTGOMERY, STEPHEN RABER, Williams & Connolly LLP, Washington, DC. ALEXANDER ORLANDO CANIZARES, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for respondent-appellee. Also represented by CHAD A. READLER, ROBERT E. KIRSCHMAN, JR., MARTIN F. HOCKEY, JR.; BRIAN D. GRIFFIN, JONATHAN KRISCH, Office of General Counsel, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC. ______________________ ROSE v. O’ROURKE 3 Before PROST, Chief Judge, SCHALL and MOORE, Circuit Judges. PROST, Chief Judge. The four individual appellants in this consolidated appeal are veterans who have appealed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (“VA”) denial of their claims for service-connected disability benefits. Based on delays that have occurred in each of their cases, Appellants petitioned for writs of mandamus, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (“Veterans Court”) for relief. The Veterans Court denied the petitions. For the reasons stated in our decision in Martin v. O’Rourke, No. 17-1747, we remand the appeals of Mr. Rose and Ms. Punt so that their mandamus petitions may be considered under the TRAC standard. Regretfully, the parties have informed us that Mr. Miller passed away during the course of this appeal. ECF No. 77-1 at 2. As such, his appeal in this case is moot. With respect to Mr. Daniels, the VA granted his claim for benefits in December 2017. ECF No. 77-1 at 2. To the extent Mr. Daniels intends to file a Notice of Disagreement with that recent decision, he remains free to, in the future, file a mandamus petition based on delay, should the need arise. His currently pending appeal, however, is moot. Accordingly, we vacate and remand the appeals of Mr. Rose and Ms. Punt for reconsideration under the TRAC standard, and we dismiss the appeals of Mr. Miller and Mr. Daniels as moot. DISMISSED-IN-PART, VACATED-IN-PART, AND REMANDED COSTS Costs to Appellants.

Primary Holding

Federal Circuit remands mandamus petitions based on delays in processing denials of claims for VA benefits.

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