Traynor v. Turnage - 485 U.S. 535 (1988)


U.S. Supreme Court

Traynor v. Turnage, 485 U.S. 535 (1988)

Traynor v. Turnage

No. 86-622

Argued December 7, 1987

Decided April 20, 1988*

485 U.S. 535

Syllabus

Petitioners in these cases are honorably discharged veterans who did not exhaust their "GI Bill" educational assistance benefits within 10 years following their military service, as required by 38 U.S.C. § 1662(a)(1). Under that section, veterans may obtain an extension of the delimiting period if they were prevented from using their benefits earlier by "a physical or mental disorder which was not the result of [their] own willful misconduct." Petitioners sought to continue receiving benefits after the expiration of the 10-year period on the ground that they were disabled by alcoholism during much of that period. The Veterans' Administration (VA) found that, under its regulation defining "primary" alcoholism (that which is unrelated to an underlying psychiatric disorder) as "willful misconduct," petitioners were not entitled to the requested extensions. Petitioners filed separate federal court actions to review the VA's decisions. In No. 86-622, the District Court held that it was not foreclosed from exercising jurisdiction by 38 U.S.C. § 211(a), which bars judicial review of "the decisions of the Administrator on any question of law or fact under any law administered by the Veterans' Administration providing benefits for veterans." The court then concluded that alcoholism is a handicap within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and that the VA therefore violated § 504 of that Act, which requires that federal programs not discriminate against handicapped persons solely because of their handicap. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed on the ground that § 211(a) barred judicial review of the Rehabilitation Act claim. In No. 86-737, the District Court held that judicial review was not foreclosed by § 211(a), and then invalidated the VA's alcoholism regulation as being contrary to the Rehabilitation Act. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed that judicial review was not foreclosed by § 211(a), but reversed on the merits, holding that, consistently with the Rehabilitation Act, the VA could reasonably conclude,

Page 485 U. S. 536

pursuant to its regulation, that primary alcoholism is a "willfully caused handicap."

Held:

1. The question whether the VA's alcoholism regulation violates the Rehabilitation Act is not foreclosed from judicial review by § 211(a). The presumption in favor of judicial review of administrative action may be overcome only upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence of a contrary legislative intent. The prohibitions of § 211(a) are aimed at review only of those decisions of law or fact that arise in the administration by the VA of a statute providing benefits for veterans. The text and legislative history of § 211(a) provide no clear and convincing evidence of any congressional intent to preclude a suit claiming that § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a statute applicable to all federal agencies, has invalidated an otherwise valid regulation issued by the VA and purporting to have the force of law. The present cases involve the issue whether the law sought to be administered is valid in light of a subsequent statute whose enforcement is not the exclusive domain of the VA. Permitting these cases to go forward will not undermine § 211(a)'s purposes. Pp. 485 U. S. 541-545.

2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is not violated by the VA's characterizing, for purposes of 38 U.S.C. § 1662(a)(1), petitioners' primary alcoholism as "willful misconduct" precluding the allowance of petitioners' requested time extensions. Congress did not use the term "willful misconduct" inadvertently in 1977 when it amended § 1662(a)(1) to create the exception to the delimiting period. The same term had long been used in other veterans' benefits statutes, and the VA had long construed the term as encompassing primary alcoholism. The legislative history confirms that Congress intended that the VA apply the same test of "willful misconduct" in granting extensions of time under § 1662(a)(1). In 1978, when § 504 was amended to extend its discrimination prohibition to programs conducted by federal agencies, Congress did not affirmatively evince any intent to repeal § 1662(a)(1)'s "willful misconduct" provision. Moreover, petitioners have not overcome the cardinal rule that repeals by implication are not favored. The 1978 legislation did not expressly contradict the more narrow and specific 1977 legislation, and is not rendered meaningless, even with respect to those who claim to have been handicapped as a result of alcoholism, if the "willful misconduct" provision of § 1662(a)(1) is allowed to retain the import originally intended by Congress. There is no inconsistency between § 504 and a conclusive presumption that alcoholism not motivated by mental illness is necessarily "willful." Pp. 485 U. S. 545-551.

Page 485 U. S. 537

No. 86-622, 791 F.2d 226, reversed and remanded; No. 86-737, 253 U.S. App.D.C. 126, 792 F.2d 194, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 485 U. S. 552. SCALIA and KENNEDY, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.



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