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Crediford v. Shulkin

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

December 18, 2017

MELVIN A. CREDIFORD, Claimant-Appellant
v.
DAVID J. SHULKIN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee

         Appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in No. 14-2018, Chief Judge Robert N. Davis.

          Kenneth M. Carpenter, Law Offices of Carpenter Chartered, Topeka, KS, for claimant-appellant.

          William James Grimaldi, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for respondent-appellee. Also represented by Benjamin C. Mizer, Robert E. Kirschman, Jr., Allison Kidd-Miller; Brian D. Griffin, Bryan Thompson, Office of General Counsel, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC.

          Before Newman, O'Malley, and Wallach, Circuit Judges.

          NEWMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Veteran Melvin A. Crediford appeals the decision of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ("Veterans Court"), upholding the Board of Veterans' Appeals ("Board") denial of service connection for his cervical spine condition.[1] Two issues are presented: first, the scope of Federal Circuit appellate jurisdiction as to the disputed issues of law and fact; and second, whether the Veterans Court applied the correct legal standards in reviewing the factual findings affecting Mr. Crediford. We vacate the Veterans Court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         Background

         Mr. Crediford served with the United States Coast Guard from August 1983 to August 1985, and again from January 1990 to March 1991. On January 20, 1985, Mr. Crediford worked from 6:30AM to 6:30PM in the galley at the Grays Harbor Station of the Westport, Washington, Coast Guard base. He then visited the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club in Westport, where he drank alcoholic beverages. After leaving the Club he was in an automobile accident, when his car did not negotiate a sharp turn, and rolled over. No other person or vehicle was involved.

         Mr. Crediford was first taken to a hospital. He was then taken to a police station, where a breath test registered a blood alcohol level of 0.12 percent, three and a half hours after he last drank alcohol. Vet. Ct. Op. at *1. The police entered a charge of driving while under the influence of alcohol.

         Mr. Crediford reported the accident to the Coast Guard, and the local commanding officer at the Grays Harbor Station issued a Report dated April 19, 1985. The Report stated that fatigue and alcohol were responsible for the accident, and concluded that Mr. Crediford's "injuries were not a result of his own misconduct and were incurred in the line of duty." J.A. 75-80 (Report of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bruce J. Spano, Investigation of Injuries Sustained by SA Melvin A. Crediford USCG, in Westport, WA on 20 Jan 85 (Apr. 19, 1985)). The Report included findings and conclusions, stating that SA Crediford did not commit willful misconduct and the injury was incurred in the line of duty. The Report recommended:

1. That no disciplinary action be taken against SA Crediford.
2. That all members of Station Grays Harbor undergo the Coast Guard's Driver Perception Course as soon as possible.
3. That the Coast Guard's policy on seatbelts and drinking and driving again be disseminated to the Station Grays Harbor crew and that it be incorporated into the quarterly training schedule.

J.A. 80.

         The April 19, 1985 Report, including the "findings of fact, opinions, and recommendations of the investigating officer, " was approved in an "ACTION OF THE CONVENING AUTHORITY" on May 7, 1985. The Convening Authority stated in the Action, "I have reviewed the general circumstances surrounding this incident with the crew of Station Grays Harbor. All personnel were made aware of the potential for serious injury or death as a result of driving while fatigued and/or intoxicated." J.A. 81. The Convening Authority further stated that "reviewed in detail were the serious consequences for service members involved in findings of misconduct and not in the line of duty, " that "the entire crew [of Station Grays Harbor] has completed the Coast Guard Driver Perception ...


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