CONLEY F. MONK, JR., Claimant-Appellant
DAVID J. SHULKIN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS Respondent-Appellee
Appeals from the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans
Claims in No. 15-1280, Judge Lawrence B. Hagel.
Giammatteo, Liang Shu, Jerome N. Frank Legal Services
Organization, New Haven, CT, argued for claimant-appellant.
Also represented by MICHAEL Joel Wishnie, Mario Gazzola,
Jason Parkin, Jessica Purcell.
Koprowski, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division,
United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued
for respondent-appellee. Also represented by BENJAMIN C.
MlZER, ROBERT E. Kirschman, Jr., Martin F. Hockey; Brian D.
Griffin, Amanda Blackmon, Office of General Counsel, United
States Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC.
Jonathan Freiman, Wiggin and Dana LLP, New Haven, CT, for
amici curiae William Gunn, Mary Lou Keener. Also represented
by Lora JOHNS.
F. Stichman, National Veterans Legal Services Program,
Washington, DC, for amici curiae The National Veterans Legal
Services Program, Veterans Law Institute, The American
Legion, The Military Order of the Purple Heart, Iraq and
Afghanistan Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America,
Hispanic American Veterans of Connecticut.
L. LiCHTMAN, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, New
York, NY, for amici curiae Administrative Law Professors,
Complex Litigation Law Professors. Also represented by
JONATHAN D. Selbin.
NEWMAN, Dyk, and Reyna, Circuit Judges.
appeal concerns whether the United States Court of Appeals
for Veterans Claims has authority to certify a class for
class action or for similar aggregate resolution procedures.
Conley F. Monk, Jr., petitioned the Veterans Court to certify
a class action and to otherwise aggregate for adjudication
the claims of thousands of veterans whose claims were
similarly situated to his own. The Veterans Court denied the
request on grounds that it lacks authority to certify classes
of claims, or to adjudicate disability claims on an aggregate
basis. We hold that the Veterans Court has the authority to
certify a class for a class action and to maintain similar
aggregate resolution procedures. We reverse the judgment of
the Veterans Court and remand for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
Monk served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. In
February 2012, Mr. Monk filed a claim for disability benefits
with the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA")
Regional Office in Hartford, Connecticut. His claim stems
from what he alleges are service-connected post-traumatic
stress disorder, diabetes, hypertension, and strokes. In
early 2013, the VA notified Mr. Monk that his claim had been
denied because his Marine Corps discharge was "other
than honorable." J.A. 138.
Monk challenged the VA decision by filing with the VA a
Notice of Disagreement ("NOD") and requesting a
hearing before a decision review officer. Separately, Mr.
Monk applied to the Board of Correction of Naval Records
("BCNR") to upgrade his discharge status.
February 2014, the regional office held the requested
hearing. In March 2015, the VA informed Mr. Monk that it
could not process his appeal until it received records from
the BCNR regarding his discharge status.
April 6, 2015, Mr. Monk filed a petition for a writ of
mandamus with the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans
Claims ("Veterans Court"). He requested the
Veterans Court to order the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
("Secretary") to promptly adjudicate both his
disability benefits application and the applications of
similarly situated veterans. Mr. Monk also requested that the
Veterans Court certify a class under a class action or
similar aggregate resolution procedure. He proposed that a
class be formed of all veterans who had applied for VA
benefits, had timely filed an NOD, had not received a
decision within twelve months, and had demonstrated medical
or financial hardship as defined by 38 U.S.C. §§
7107(a)(2)(B)-(C). Mr. Monk proposed that members of the
class include veterans in all stages of the VA appeals
process that otherwise met these requirements, from those
awaiting a Statement of the Case to those awaiting Board
adjudication. J.A. 18, ¶ 43.
Monk further alleged that members of the proposed class
shared questions of law and fact, including whether the VAs
delay in rendering decisions on disability benefits claims
violated the veterans' due process rights. On April 9,
2015, another veteran, Harold William Van Allen, filed a
motion to join Mr. Monk's petition as a class member.
8, 2015, the Veterans Court issued a non-dispositive order
both denying Mr. Monk's request for class certification
and ordering the Secretary to respond to the part of Mr.
Monk's petition regarding his appeal of the VAs denial of
his personal claim for disability benefits.
27, 2015, in order to permit Mr. Monk to immediately appeal
the class certification denial, the Veterans Court replaced
the non-dispositive order with a dispositive order denying
class certification and a non-dispositive order requiring the
Secretary to respond to Mr. Monk's individual mandamus
petition. In the same order, the Veterans Court denied Mr.
Van Allen's motion to join Mr. Monk's proposed class.
2015, the BCNR granted Mr. Monk's application for an
upgraded discharge status which resulted in an honorable
discharge status for Mr. Monk. In July 2015, the Veterans
Court issued an order denying Mr. Monk's individual
petition for mandamus relief. It found that the VA's
delay in adjudicating Mr. Monk's disability claim
resulted, at least in part, from the VA's need for
certain BCNR records.
Veterans Court also rejected Mr. Monk's request for a
class action or other aggregate relief on grounds that it
lacks authority to maintain class actions. The Veterans Court
stated that "Mr. Monk fails to appreciate the [Veterans]
Court's long-standing declaration that it does not have
the authority to entertain class actions." J.A. 3. The
Veterans Court concluded that "[i]n the absence of such
authority, no other arguments matter." J.A. 4.
27, 2015, and July 10, 2015, Mr. Monk filed two timely
appeals before this court, one challenging the Veterans
Court's decision to deny his individual disability claim
and the other to appeal the Veterans Court decision denying
his request for a class action. Though separate appeals, the
class certification appeal (No. 15-7092) was consolidated
with the individual petition appeal (No. 15-7106).
Mr. Monk appealed to this court, the Secretary determined
that Mr. Monk was eligible for full disability benefits for
his service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder and
diabetes. On or after November 19, 2015, Mr. Monk filed
before the VA administration a new NOD arguing that the
Secretary erred in determining the effective date for his
individual disability ...