Walters v. Radiation Survivors - 473 U.S. 305 (1985)
U.S. Supreme Court
Walters v. Radiation Survivors, 473 U.S. 305 (1985)
Walters v. National Association of Radiation Survivors
Argued March 27, 1985
Decided June 28, 1985
473 U.S. 305
Title 38 U.S.C. § 3404(C) limits to $10 the fee that may be paid an attorney or agent who represents a veteran seeking benefits from the Veterans' Administration (VA) for service-connected death or disability. Appellees (two veterans' organizations, three individual veterans, and a veteran's widow) brought an action in Federal District Court claiming that the fee limitation denied them any realistic opportunity to obtain legal representation in presenting their claims to the VA, and hence violated their rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and under the First Amendment. The District Court agreed and entered a nationwide "preliminary injunction" barring appellants from enforcing the fee limitation.
1. This Court has jurisdiction of the appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1252, which grants the Court jurisdiction over an appeal
"from an interlocutory or final judgment, decree or order of any court of the United States . . . holding an Act of Congress unconstitutional in any civil action . . . to which the United States or any of its agencies, or any officer or employee thereof, as such officer or employee, is a party."
McLucas v. DeChamplain, 421 U. S. 21. The injunction at issue creates precisely the problem to which § 1252 was addressed -- to have this Court directly review decisions involving the exercise of judicial power to impair the enforcement of an Act of Congress on constitutional grounds, where the decision has effects beyond the controversy before the court below -- since it enjoins the operation of the fee limitation on constitutional grounds across the country and under all circumstances. Whether or not the injunction is framed as a "holding" of unconstitutionality is irrelevant, as long as it enjoined the statute's operation. Pp. 473 U. S. 316-319.
2. The fee limitation provision of § 3404(c) does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 473 U. S. 319-334.
(a) Invalidation of the fee limitation would frustrate Congress' principal goal of wanting the veteran to get the entirety of the benefits award without having to divide it with an attorney. Invalidation would
also complicate a process that Congress wished to be as informal and nonadversarial as possible. Pp. 473 U. S. 321-326.
(b) It would take an extraordinarily strong showing of probability of error in the VA's present benefits claim procedures -- and the probability that the presence of attorneys would sharply diminish that possibility -- to warrant a holding that the fee limitation denies claimants due process of law. No such showing was made out on the record before the District Court in this case. In light of the Government interests at stake, the evidence before the District Court as to the success rates in claims handled with or without lawyers shows no such great disparity as to warrant the inference that the fee limitation violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. And what evidence there is regarding complex cases falls far short of the kind that would warrant upsetting Congress' judgment that the present system is the manner in which it wished claims for veterans' benefits adjudicated. Pp. 473 U. S. 326-334.
3. Nor does the fee limitation violate appellees' First Amendment rights. Appellees' First Amendment arguments are inseparable from their due process claim, which focused on the question whether the present process allows a claimant to make a meaningful presentation. Pp. 473 U. S. 334-335.
589 F.Supp. 1302, reversed.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 336. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 338. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 358.