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Sebelius v. Cloer

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: May 20, 2013
Case #: 12-236
Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., joined, and in which Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined as to all but Part II–B.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/09-5052%20order.pdf

Attorney Fees: A claim under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), even if untimely, may qualify for an award of attorney’s fees so long as there is good faith and a reasonable basis for the claim.

Respondent received vaccinations which subsequently caused or exacerbated multiple sclerosis (MS). Upon discovering the link between the vaccinations and MS, Respondent filed a claim under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (NCVIA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 300aa–1 et seq. The claim was dismissed as untimely because it was filed outside the 36 month statute of limitations, and was not subject to equitable tolling.

Respondent appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the limitations period did not begin until “the medical community at large objectively recognize[d] a link between the vaccine and injury.”  In an en banc rehearing, the Court of Appeals vacated its earlier opinion, stating that although the Act’s limitation is non-jurisdictional and subject to equitable tolling in limited circumstances, such tolling did not apply and the limitation began to run upon the occurrence of Respondent's first injury.

Following an unsuccessful appeal, Respondent moved for an award of attorney’s fees. The lower court found that Respondent was eligible for such an award, in which the claim was brought under a reasonable basis and in good faith. Petitioner appealed arguing that a plain reading of the statute bars attorneys' fees because the fees section prevents untimely filing. Also, Petitioner argued that such an award given to unsuccessful claims would be unreasonably costly to the agency. The Supreme Court held that a claim under the NCVIA, even if untimely, may qualify for an award of attorney’s fees so long as there is a reasonable basis for the claim and such claim is filed in good faith.