Court Week

This week is Court Week at the Federal Circuit.  As in the past several months, the court will hear all of its oral arguments telephonically given the coronavirus pandemic. The court will convene 14 panels to consider about 66 cases. Of these 66 cases, the court will hear oral arguments in 34. Of the argued cases, only one–Arellano v. Tran, an en banc veterans case–attracted amicus briefs. Here’s what you need to know about this case.

Arellano v. Tran

One initial point about this case is that the name of the appellee recently changed with the resignation of Robert Wilkie as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dat Tran is serving as the Acting Secretary, and so until a successor is confirmed by the Senate the case will be known as Arellano v. Tran.

As discussed in our argument preview, the court, in an en banc session, will consider the availability of equitable tolling in the context of disability benefits based on applications filed within one year from the date of the veteran’s discharge or release.

Arellano urges the court to reverse the “Veterans Court’s holding that equitable tolling is categorically unavailable for the filing deadline of [38 U.S.C.] § 5110(b)(1) under any circumstances.” Moreover, Arellano argues the court should take the opportunity, “while sitting en banc, to overrule or clarify Andrews [v. Principi] to make clear that it does not categorically preclude the application of equitable tolling to § 5110(b)(1).”

In response, the government asserts that “[n]o presumption in favor of equitable tolling applies to 38 U.S.C. § 5110(b)(1).” According to the government, “[p]ursuant to [Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs], courts are to presume, absent evidence of contrary congressional intent, that a Federal statute of limitations is amenable to equitable tolling, even if that limitations statute is invoked for the protection of the interests of the United States as a defendant.” The government explains that § 5110(b)(1), however, “does not function as a statute of limitations, and so does not fall within the ambit of that presumption.” Instead, according to the government, it “operates as a rule of decision on the merits of a successful claim for benefits.”

Three amicus briefs were filed, all in support of Arellano. 

James R. Barney will argue for Arellano.

Barbara E. Thomas will argue for the government.

This argument will take place on Thursday, February 4 at 10:00 A.M.