Lindahl v. OPM
470 U.S. 768 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lindahl v. OPM, 470 U.S. 768 (1985)

Lindahl v. Office of Personnel Management

No. 83-5954

Argued December 3, 1984

Decided March 20, 1985

470 U.S. 768

Syllabus

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) "determine[s] questions of disability and dependency" in administering the Federal Government's disability retirement program. 5 U.S.C. § 8347(c). Its "decisions . . . concerning these matters are final and conclusive, and are not subject to review," ibid., except to the extent that administrative review by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is provided by § 8347(d)(1). In 1979, petitioner, who was employed as a security guard at a naval shipyard, was informed by the Navy that he was to be retired on disability resulting from acute and chronic bronchitis, and he did not contest this assessment. But several months after petitioner had been retired, OPM denied his application for a disability retirement annuity on the ground that the evidence failed to establish that his disability was severe enough to prevent him from performing his job. Petitioner appealed to the MSPB, which sustained the denial. He then filed a complaint in the Court of Claims, invoking jurisdiction under 5 U.S.C. § 7703 (which at the time provided for review of MSPB decisions in that court and the regional courts of appeals) and the Tucker Act. He alleged that the MSPB had violated its regulations by placing the burden of proving disability on him, rather than requiring the Navy to disprove disability, and that the Navy had dismissed him while he was attempting to obtain disability retirement benefits, in violation of regulations requiring an agency that initiates a disability retirement action to retain the employee pending OPM's resolution of the employee's disability status. After § 7703 was amended in 1982, the case was transferred to the Federal Circuit, which dismissed the complaint as barred by § 8347(c). The court concluded that the plain words of § 8347(c), along with the structure of the civil service laws and the import of a 1980 amendment adding § 8347(d)(2) -- which provides for both MSPB and judicial review of involuntary mental disability retirement decisions -- overcome the usual presumption favoring judicial review of administrative action, and, except as qualified by § 8347(d)(2), preclude any judicial review of OPM decisions in voluntary disability retirement cases. While acknowledging that courts had previously interpreted § 8347(c) to permit judicial review

Page 470 U. S. 769

of alleged legal and procedural errors, the court found that such interpretation was wrong and, in any event, overruled by the 1980 amendment.

Held:

1. Section 8347(c) does not bar judicial review altogether of an MSPB judgment affirming OPM's denial of a disability retirement claim, but bars review only of factual determinations, while permitting review to determine whether

"there has been a substantial departure from important procedural rights, a misconstruction of the governing legislation, or some like error 'going to the heart of the administrative determination.'"

Pp. 470 U. S. 778-791.

(a) It is "only upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence' of a contrary legislative intent" that access to judicial review will be restricted. Whether a statute precludes judicial review

"is determined not only from its express language, but also from the structure of the statutory scheme, its objectives, its legislative history, and the nature of the administrative action involved."

Pp. 470 U. S. 778-779.

(b) While § 8347(c) plausibly can be read as imposing an absolute bar to judicial review, it also quite naturally can be read as precluding review only of OPM's factual determinations about questions of disability and dependency. Under this latter reading, the factual "question" whether an applicant is disabled is quite distinct from questions of what laws and procedures OPM must apply in administering the Civil Service Retirement Act. In addition, the application of § 8347(c) as completely preclusive is problematic when a disability applicant, as here, challenges not only OPM's determinations but also the standards and procedures used by the MSPB in reviewing those determinations. Finally, Congress' failure to use the unambiguous and comprehensive language in § 8347(c) that it typically uses when intending to bar all judicial review reinforces the possibility that the finality bar may extend only to OPM's factual determinations with respect to disability questions. Pp. 470 U. S. 779-780.

(c) Under the Scroggins standard (so-called after Scroggins v. United States, 184 Ct.Cl. 530, 397 F.2d 295, cert. denied, 393 U.S. 952), courts prior to the 1980 amendment had interpreted § 8347(c) as allowing for review of legal and procedural errors in disability retirement decisions. There is nothing in the legislative history of the 1980 amendment adding § 8347(d)(2) to suggest that Congress intended to discard the Scroggins standard. To the contrary, the legislative history demonstrates that Congress was well aware of the Scroggins standard, amended § 8347 on its understanding that that standard applied to judicial review of disability retirement decisions generally, and intended that Scroggins review continue except to the extent augmented by the more exacting standards of § 8347(d)(2). Pp. 470 U. S. 780-791.

Page 470 U. S. 770

2. The Federal Circuit has jurisdiction directly to review MSPB disability retirement decisions pursuant to the jurisdictional grants in 5 U.S.C. § 7703(b)(1), providing that a petition to review a final decision of the MSPB shall be filed in the Federal Circuit, and 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(9), providing the Circuit with exclusive jurisdiction of an appeal from a final decision of the MSPB. Pp. 470 U. S. 791-799.

(a) An applicant, such as petitioner, whose appeal is rejected by the MSPB is not required to file a Tucker Act suit in the Claims Court or a district court, and then seek review of any adverse decision in the Federal Circuit. To require such a two-step judicial process would not accord with the jurisdictional framework established by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) and the Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1982 (FCIA). Sections 7703(b)(1) and 1295(a)(9) together provide the Federal Circuit with exclusive jurisdiction over MSPB decisions, and do not admit any exceptions for disability retirement claims. Pp. 470 U. S. 791-796.

(b) Congress in the FCIA intended to channel those Tucker Act cases in which the Court of Claims performed an appellate function into the Federal Circuit, and to leave cases requiring de novo factfinding in the Claims Court and district courts. Review of an MSPB order involving a disability retirement claim not only is explicitly encompassed in the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction, but also makes logical sense, given that the court considers only legal and procedural questions, and does not review the factual bases of the administrative decision. A contrary conclusion would result in exactly the sort of "duplicative, wasteful and inefficient" judicial review that the CSRA and FCIA were intended to eradicate. Pp. 470 U. S. 796-799.

718 F.2d 391, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 470 U. S. 800.

Page 470 U. S. 771

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