Porriello: CUE, res judicata

Porriello v. Shulkin, 30 Vet.App. 1 (Mar. 12, 2018)

HELD: A challenge to the Board’s jurisdiction to address a specific allegation of clear and unmistakable error (CUE) must be raised during the appeal period of the relevant decision and cannot later be challenged on the basis of CUE when the appeal period has passed and additional appellate tribunals have already issued final decisions on the matter.

 SUMMARY: Mr. Porrriello’s enlistment examination noted no conditions, but he was hospitalized in service for ulcerative colitis, which was determined to have pre-existed service by a 1961 Medical Board. Shortly after separation, he applied for disability benefits and was denied in March and July 1961. He did not appeal, but did file another claim in 1967, which was denied in June 1968. In January 2005, he was finally granted benefits based on new medical evidence. One month later, he submitted a statement, asserting his belief that his claim was “erroneously denied” 40 years ago.

In October 2005, the veteran’s DAV representative characterized the statement as a Notice of Disagreement, but later withdrew the appeal and instead stated that he had argued CUE in the June 1968 decision. There was no mention of the 1961 decision. The RO denied an earlier effective date, but did not mention any specific CUE theory. The veteran appealed, and the RO issued a Statement of the Case stating that he had not provided rationale to support his CUE allegation, but still found no CUE in 1961 and 1968. The veteran filed a VA Form 9. He did not provide any specific theory of CUE, but referred to his entrance examination showing no evidence of a pre-existing condition. The DAV representative then submitted a document identifying the issue as CUE in the 1961 decision. The representative described a specific theory of CUE based on a private doctor’s diagnosis of the pre-service symptoms that was different from the in-service diagnosis of ulcerative colitis.

In May 2008, the Board addressed and rejected this CUE theory. Mr. Porriello appealed to this Court, through counsel, and the Court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Federal Circuit, in turn, affirmed this Court’s decision.

In May 2013, Mr. Porriello filed, through counsel, a request for revision of the 1961 decision on the basis of CUE, arguing that the RO failed to properly apply the presumption of soundness. The RO denied the request, noting that the 2008 Board already considered the application of the presumption of soundness. He appealed to the Board and the Board found that it lacked jurisdiction to address his arguments since the 2008 Board decision had considered the presumption of soundness and “the 1961 and 1968 rating decisions were subsumed by the 2008 Board decision.”

 On appeal to the Court, Mr. Porriello argued that the 2008 Board lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider any CUE allegation in the 1961 and 1968 rating decisions because he never raised any specific CUE allegation “at the outset of proceedings leading to that decision.” Because the Board lacked jurisdiction, he further asserted that neither this Court nor the Federal Circuit had jurisdiction to review the Board’s decision.

 This Court found that Mr. Porriello’s “jurisdictional arguments might have force and weight” – but that “[t]he time for raising such jurisdictional objections, however, has passed” and that he should have raised these issues during his appeal of the May 2008 Board decision. The Court agreed that the Board erred in determining that the 1961 and 1968 RO decisions were subsumed by the May 2008 Board decision. However, Mr. Porriello’s “failure to raise any jurisdictional challenge on direct appeal means that the decisions of the Board, this Court, and the Federal Circuit are both final and valid.” The Court held that “the doctrine of res judicata precludes raising the same CUE theory again,” and affirmed the Board’s decision.