Rosinski v. Wilkie, docket no. 18-0678 (en banc) (Jan. 24, 2019)
HELD: Attorney challenging VA’s policy to provide draft rating decisions to VSOs, but not attorneys, has direct standing and third-party standing to bring the challenge, and the appropriate remedy is to order the Secretary to issue a decision on his request for access to draft rating decisions.
SUMMARY: Mr. Rosinski, veterans’ attorney, petitioned the Court for a writ of mandamus to compel VA to provide him with the same access to preliminary draft rating decisions that VA makes available to VSOs. This is the second petition filed on this issue. The Court dismissed the first one for lack of standing.
The Court now determined that Mr. Rosinski has direct standing to have the Court hear his petition because (1) he has a statutory right under 38 U.S.C. § 5904(a) to represent clients throughout the VA claims process and the Secretary’s policy violates that right; (2) the Secretary is required under 38 U.S.C. § 5701(b) to disclosed “files, records, reports, and other papers and documents” to the “duly authorized agent or representative of a claimant”; and (3) “the Secretary’s policy results in both tangible and intangible harm” to the petitioner.
The Court also determined that Mr. Rosinski has third-party standing on behalf of his clients to bring this petition. The Court noted that each of his clients “has a due process right to fair adjudication of his claim for benefits” and that while VA’s policy granting VSOs review of draft decisions is discretionary, “it results in a system where some veterans – those represented by attorneys – are deprived of a benefit afforded to others – those represented by VSOs.” The Court also found that because he has “existing attorney-client relationships with [his] clients, . . . he has a sufficiently close relationship to warrant third-party standing,” regardless of the fact that he “has not identified a specific client.” The Court further found that “there is a hindrance to the petitioner’s clients’ ability to protect their own interests . . . because of the structure of the VA adjudication system” and that the petitioner “is in a better position to assert his clients’ rights in this matter than any one of his clients is individually.”
While the Court found that Mr. Rosinski has standing to have his petition heard, the Court declined the address the merits of the petition because it determined that he has alternative means to obtain his relief – namely, by obtaining an appealable decision from VA. The Court granted the petition, in part, and directed the Secretary to issue an official, appealable decision on Mr. Rosinski’s request for access to draft rating decisions within 30 days. The Court noted that the Secretary “has the power to resolve this case with a single stroke of his pen” by changing the policy to allow ALL accredited representatives access to draft decisions. The Court added that the Secretary’s inaction in the year since the prior petition “is troubling” and that “the Secretary should consider whether he – and the veterans Congress charged him to assist – would be better served by voluntarily changing his policy, rather than by waiting for the lengthy appeals process to run its course.”