SHINSEKI v. SANDERS

Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
07-1209
Petitioner 
Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veteran Affairs
Respondent 
Woodrow Sanders
Advocates
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner)
(argued the cause for the respondent Simmons)
(argued the cause for the respondent Sanders)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

While serving in the United States army in 1944, Woodrow Sanders had a bazooka explode near him, burning the right side of his face. Sanders also claimed that the explosion had damaged his right eye. However subsequent examinations by Veterans' Affairs ("VA") optometrists suggested that the cause of the condition was difficult to determine and was likely due to an infection. When Sanders appeared before the Board of Veterans' Appeals, arguing that the injury was service related and seeking cost-free treatment, the Board denied his claim, finding that the injury was not service related. On appeal to the Veterans Court, Mr. Sanders argued that the VA failed to provide notice as to who was responsible for obtaining the evidence necessary to substantiate his claim, as required by the notice provision of the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 ("VCAA"). The Veterans Court affirmed the Board, basing its decision on the fact that Sanders did not suffer any "specific prejudice" due to the VA's failure to notify.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the Veterans Court, finding that the VCAA does not require any showing of prejudice. Any failure to notify as required by the Act creates a presumption of prejudice that need not be alleged or proved by the veteran seeking medical assistance.

Question 

Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit err in presuming a prejudicial error when the VA fails to give notice to claimant as to who is responsible for obtaining evidence necessary to substantiate the claim?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Shinseki, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Review of Veterans Claims

Yes. The Supreme Court held that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit's framework for evaluating VA notice errors, conflicted with established law that the Veterans Court "take due account of the rule of prejudicial error.". With Justice Stephen G. Breyer writing for the majority and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito, the Court reasoned that the Federal Circuit's framework was too complex, rigid, and its presumption of prejudicial error imposed an unreasonable burden upon the VA. Rather, the Court stated the proper framework for the Veterans Court to apply is the "harmless-error" rule ordinarily applied in civil cases.

Justice David H. Souter dissented and was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He disagreed that a veteran claimant bore the burden of persuasion when mounting a claim against the VA. He reasoned prior practice indicated congressional favoritism of veterans and that statutory doubt should be resolved in the veteran's favor. Moreover, he disagreed with the majority in its finding that the Federal Circuit's framework was "complex" and "rigid," rather viewing it as "workable."

Cite this Page
SHINSEKI v. SANDERS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_1209>.
SHINSEKI v. SANDERS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_1209 (last visited June 20, 2014).
"SHINSEKI v. SANDERS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_1209.