King v. St. Vincent's Hospital,
502 U.S. 215 (1991)

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No. 90-889. Argued October 16, 1991-Decided December 16,1991

Petitioner King, a National Guard member, advised his civilian employer, respondent St. Vincent's Hospital, that he had accepted a 3-year fulltime appointment with the Guard, and requested a leave of absence from his hospital job as ostensibly guaranteed by 38 U. S. C. § 2024(d), which provides reemployment rights to service personnel in King's position. St. Vincent's denied King's request and brought suit in the District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Act does not provide reemployment rights after tours of duty as long as King's. The court granted the requested relief, ruling that service of the type in question was protected by § 2024(d), but holding, under Circuit precedent, that leave requests under that subsection must be reasonable, and that King's request for a 3-year leave was per se unreasonable. A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 2024(d) does not limit the length of military service after which a member of the Armed Forces retains a right to civilian reemployment. Subsection (d)'s text-which specifies that any covered employee "shall ... be granted a leave ... for the period required to perform active duty [and] [u]pon ... release from ... such duty ... shall be permitted to return to [his or her] position" -is utterly silent about any durationallimit on the protection it provides. Reading the statute as a whole, it must be inferred that the unqualified nature of subsection (d)'s protection was deliberate, since other subsections of § 2024, protecting other classes of full-time service personnel, expressly limit the periods of their protection. St. Vincent's argument that such limits reflect a hierarchy of reemployment rights-under which reservists subject to duty under subsection (d) are entitled to the least protection and are therefore subject to an imprecise durationallimit of reasonableness-is unconvincing because its conclusion rests on circular reasoning, requiring the assumption of the point at issue: that § 2024(d) reservists really do get less protection than the inductees, enlistees, and other veterans covered by the other subsections. Pp. 218-223.

901 F.2d 1068, reversed and remanded.


SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except THOMAS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Amy L. Wax argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Gerson, Deputy Solicitor General Shapiro, and Michael Jay Singer.

Harry L. Hopkins argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.

JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether 38 U. S. C. § 2024(d), a provision of what is popularly known as the Veterans' Reemployment Rights Act, implicitly limits the length of military service after which a member of the Armed Forces retains a right to civilian reemployment. We hold that it does not.


In June 1987, petitioner William "Sky" King,l a member of the Alabama National Guard,2 applied to become command sergeant major in the Active Guard/Reserve (AGR) program, and thereby undertook to serve the 3-year tour of duty required by Army regulations 3 of the person holding that position.4 The next month King learned of his selection and advised his employer, respondent St. Vincent's Hospital, that he had accepted the Guard's 3-year full-time appointment.

1 How and why petitioner's nickname claimed a place in the caption of this case is a mystery of the record.

2 The Alabama National Guard is a militia under state control except under certain constitutionally defined circumstances. See U. S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 15. Because Congress nonetheless is authorized generally to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining" the Guard, cl. 16, federal law is at issue in this case.

3 Department of Army Reg. 135-18, ch. 2, § II, 2-9. Length of periods of AD or FTD (1985).

4 The AGR program was established by Congress in 1980. See Department of Defense Authorization Act, 1980, § 401(b), 93 Stat. 807.

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