Kisor v. Wilkie

(Slip Opinion) OCTOBER TERM, 2018 1 Syllabus NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES Syllabus KISOR v. WILKIE, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT No. 18–15. Argued March 27, 2019—Decided June 26, 2019 Petitioner James Kisor, a Vietnam War veteran, first sought disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 1982, alleg- ing that he had developed post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service. The agency denied his initial request, but in 2006, Kisor moved to reopen his claim. The VA this time agreed he was el- igible for benefits, but it granted those benefits only from the date of his motion to reopen, not (as Kisor had requested) from the date of his first application. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals—a part of the VA—affirmed that retroactivity decision, based on its interpretation of an agency rule governing such claims. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims affirmed. The Federal Circuit also affirmed, but it did so by applying a doc- trine called Auer (or sometimes, Seminole Rock) deference. See Auer v. Robbins, 519 U. S. 452; Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U. S. 410. Under that doctrine, this Court has long deferred to an agency’s reasonable reading of its own genuinely ambiguous regula- tions. The Court of Appeals concluded that the VA regulation at is- sue was ambiguous, and it therefore deferred to the Board’s interpre- tation of the rule. Kisor now asks the Court to overrule Auer, as well as its predecessor Seminole Rock, discarding the deference those de- cisions give to agencies. Held: The judgment is vacated and remanded. 869 F. 3d 1360, vacated and remanded. JUSTICE KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II–B, III–B, and IV, holding that Auer and Seminole Rock are not overruled. Pp. 11–19, 25–29. 2 KISOR v. WILKIE Syllabus (a) This Court’s deference doctrine is rooted in a presumption that Congress intended for courts to defer to agencies when they interpret their own ambiguous rules. The Court adopts that presumption for a set of reasons related to the comparative attributes of courts and agencies in answering interpretive questions. But when the reasons for the presumption do not hold up, or when countervailing reasons outweigh them, courts should not give deference to an agency’s read- ing. The Court has thus cabined Auer’s scope in varied and critical ways. First and foremost, a court should not afford Auer deference unless, after exhausting all the “traditional tools” of construction, Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, ...

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