LOURIE, Circuit Judge.
Thomas M. Nyeholt petitions this court under 38 U.S.C. § 502 for review of the recently amended portion of the Schedule for Rating Disabilities in 38 C.F.R. § 4.114 addressing disabilities of the liver, Diagnostic Code ("DC") 7351. Nyeholt asserts that DC 7351 is unconstitutionally vague, and as a result requests that it be declared invalid. Because we conclude that Nyeholt's challenge is without merit, we deny his petition.
On August 7, 2000, the Department of Veterans Affairs ("DVA") issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend the portion of the digestive-system rating schedule pertaining to liver disabilities. Schedule for Rating Disabilities: Disabilities of the Liver, 65 Fed.Reg. 48,205 (Aug. 7, 2000). The final rule, which includes DC 7351, was published on May 31, 2001, and became effective on July 2, 2001. Schedule for Rating Disabilities: Disabilities of the Liver, 66 Fed.Reg. 29,486 (May 31, 2001) (codified at 38 C.F.R. § 4.114). DC 7351 reads as follows:
For an indefinite period from the date of hospital admission for transplant surgery 100 Minimum 30
38 C.F.R. § 4.114 (2001).
Mr. Nyeholt is currently assigned a one hundred percent evaluation rating for residual conditions resulting from a March 1, 1991, liver transplant. On August 30, 2001, Nyeholt petitioned this court for review of DC 7351 pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 502, asserting that DC 7351 is unconstitutional under the void-for-vagueness doctrine.
As a preliminary matter, we must determine whether we have jurisdiction to entertain Nyeholt's petition under 38 U.S.C. § 502. Section 502 provides in relevant part that:
38 U.S.C. § 502 (2000) (emphasis added).
Nyeholt argues that we have jurisdiction to hear his void-for-vagueness challenge to DC 7351 because, although § 502 excludes "actions relating to the ... schedule of ratings" from its grant of jurisdiction, it does not specifically preclude constitutional challenges from being brought under that provision. Nyeholt argues that under the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 361, 94 S.Ct. 1160, 39 L.Ed.2d 389 (1974), which addressed an earlier statute delineating the scope of review of a decision of the DVA, "clear and convincing evidence" is needed in order to overcome the presumption that judicial review is available for constitutional challenges to the schedule of ratings. Nyeholt contends that neither the language of § 502 nor its legislative history provides such evidence, and further argues that the only relevant legislative history addressing the issue, a statement in a report issued by the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, is directly to the contrary.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs responds that the statutory scheme created by the text and legislative history of § 502, when read in conjunction with those of 38 U.S.C. § 7252(a)
We conclude that we have jurisdiction to review constitutional challenges to the schedule of ratings under § 502. Only upon a showing of "clear and convincing evidence" of congressional intent may access to judicial review be restricted. Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 141, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 18 L.Ed.2d 681 (1967). The evidence relied upon by the Secretary in arguing that we lack jurisdiction under § 502 over constitutional challenges relating to the schedule of ratings falls short of that standard.
Although § 502 plainly excepts from appealability "actions relating to the ... schedule of ratings" from its jurisdictional grant, nowhere in the text of that provision are constitutional challenges mentioned. The Secretary acknowledges that fact, but argues that the express provision for review of constitutional challenges in 38 U.S.C. § 7292(c) and (d)(1), and the absence of any corresponding reference in § 502, demonstrates that Congress did not intend to provide this court with the power to review such challenges under § 502. He thus in effect argues that the implication created by the presence of a provision in one portion of a statute (here, § 7292) and the absence of that provision in another (here, § 502) can constitute the clear and convincing evidence of jurisdictional restriction needed to arrive at the conclusion that Congress intended to preclude this court from reviewing constitutional challenges. However, aside from the fact that adopting the Secretary's argument would act to reverse the presumption that review of constitutional challenges is available under § 502, the only relevant legislative history is directly to the contrary.
As noted by Nyeholt, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's report made clear that it intended to "expressly preclude review of the schedule in the bill (except for challenges to the constitutionality of the schedule)." H.R.Rep. No. 100-963, at 28 (1988), reprinted in 1988 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5782, 5810 (emphasis added). This statement, although not conclusive of the intent of Congress, indicates that review of constitutional challenges to the schedule of ratings was to be preserved. Furthermore, the fact that the corresponding Senate report does not include a similar statement cannot be interpreted as evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption that judicial review of constitutional challenges is available. Rather, absent an express provision that such review is prohibited, we read the legislative history, such as it is, as confirming our view that Congress did not intend to preclude constitutional challenges from review under § 502. Cf. Griffith v. Fed. Labor Relations Auth., 842 F.2d 487, 495 (D.C.Cir.1988) (holding that a conference committee's deletion of a provision in the original Senate bill expressly providing for review of constitutional claims did not support an inference strong enough to satisfy the "clear and convincing evidence" standard for precluding constitutional challenges).
Furthermore, our conclusion that we have jurisdiction to hear constitutional
38 U.S.C. § 211(a) (1972). The veteran in Johnson was a Class I O conscientious objector whose application for educational assistance under the Veterans' Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 was denied as a result of his objector status. 415 U.S. at 363, 94 S.Ct. 1160. The veteran sought a declaratory judgment that the statutory provisions precluding him from obtaining educational assistance on account of his conscientious objector status violated his First Amendment right to religious freedom and his right to equal protection under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Id. The Veterans' Administration argued that such a challenge was barred under § 211(a). Id.
The Court held that the veteran's constitutional challenges were not precluded from review under § 211(a). Id. at 373-74, 94 S.Ct. 1160. At the outset, the Court noted that a construction of § 211(a) that barred any federal court from reviewing constitutional challenges to veterans' benefits legislation would "raise serious questions [of] constitutionality." Id. at 366-67, 94 S.Ct. 1160. The Court also observed that such challenges were not expressly prohibited by the language of § 211(a) or its legislative history, and that the administrative practice of the Veterans' Administration was to disclaim authority to address those claims. Id. at 367-373, 94 S.Ct. 1160. Considering all of the above factors, the Court determined that nothing in the text or legislative history of § 211(a) provided the "clear and convincing evidence" of congressional intent necessary to restrict access to judicial review of constitutional challenges. Id. at 373-74, 94 S.Ct. 1160.
Our analysis of the text and legislative history of § 502 leads us to the same conclusion reached by the Court in Johnson. As discussed above, nothing in the text of § 502 addresses the reviewability of constitutional claims, and the only relevant legislative history suggests that Congress intended that review of constitutional challenges to the ratings schedule be preserved. Although the "serious questions" referred to by the Supreme Court posed by the lack of any federal judicial forum for review of constitutional claims do not seem to be implicated here in light of the possible alternative means of review available to veterans seeking to bring constitutional challenges to the schedule under § 7292(d)(1),
Moreover, we are not persuaded by the Secretary's argument that the analysis in Johnson does not apply to the facts of this case because review of an administrative enactment, as opposed to legislation, is at issue here. Rather, we agree with the conclusion of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that it is irrelevant whether Congress attempts to insulate its own enactments from review or those of the agencies that it charges with the duty to administer those enactments. Ralpho v. Bell, 569 F.2d 607, 620 (D.C.Cir.1977) (concluding that "a statute purporting to foreclose judicial redress of constitutional violations allegedly perpetrated by an administrative agency must be construed in accordance with the standards articulated in Johnson v. Robison"); Ungar v. Smith, 667 F.2d 188, 193 (D.C.Cir.1981) ("[T]he same standard will be applied when the Government asserts that Congress intended a general proscription of judicial review to bar judicial cognizance of a claim that an administrative agency, in applying the statute, acted unconstitutionally.") (citing Ralpho; Devine v. Cleland, 616 F.2d 1080, 1084-85 (9th Cir.1980)). We therefore conclude that we have jurisdiction under § 502 to consider Nyeholt's constitutional claim, and thus we turn next to the merits of his petition.
B. The Merits of Nyeholt's Constitutional Challenge
"Petitions under 38 U.S.C. § 502 are reviewed `in accordance with chapter 7 of title 5,' i.e., under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") standard of review," Disabled Am. Veterans v. Gober, 234 F.3d 682, 691 (Fed.Cir.2000) (citations omitted), The APA requires a reviewing court to determine whether an agency's action or rule at issue is, inter alia, "contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity," 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(B) (2000).
Nyeholt argues that DC 7351 is contrary to his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment in that it is unconstitutionally vague. He asserts that DC 7351 should be held to be void for vagueness because it provides no standards whatsoever to govern the assignment of any rating evaluation greater than thirty percent, and because it is unclear what a veteran is required to do in order to retain a one hundred percent disability rating. Nyeholt further contends that if DC 7351 is applied to him, he has no chance of retaining his one hundred percent rating because, unless he undergoes a second liver transplant, he will never be admitted to a hospital for transplant surgery, as DC 7351 requires.
The Secretary responds that Nyeholt has failed to assert a challenge that is cognizable under the void-for-vagueness doctrine because that doctrine relates only to regulations or statutes involving prohibited
We conclude that Nyeholt's petition fails on the merits. The Supreme Court set forth the general standard governing void-for-vagueness challenges in Grayned v. City of Rockford: "It is a basic principle of due process that an enactment is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined." 408 U.S. 104, 108, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972) (emphasis added). The Court in Grayned explained the basic policies underlying that doctrine as follows:
Id. at 108-109, 92 S.Ct. 2294 (emphases added). Thus, the void-for-vagueness doctrine was held to relate to prohibitions, not to entitlements, which are at issue here. Consistent with that approach, the Court has steadfastly applied the void-for-vagueness doctrine only to statutes or regulations that purport to define the lawfulness of conduct or speech. See, e.g., Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 103 S.Ct. 1855, 75 L.Ed.2d 903 (1983) (applying the doctrine to a California statute requiring an individual to present "credible and reliable" information when requested by a police officer who has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity); Village of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U.S. 489, 102 S.Ct. 1186, 71 L.Ed.2d 362 (1982) (applying the doctrine to village ordinance requiring a business to obtain a license if it sells any items that are "designed or marketed for use with illegal cannabis or drugs"); Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 92 S.Ct. 839, 31 L.Ed.2d 110 (1972) (applying the doctrine to a vagrancy ordinance); Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290, 71 S.Ct. 312, 95 L.Ed. 280 (1951) (applying the doctrine to an ordinance making it unlawful to hold public worship on the streets of New York City without first obtaining a permit from the police commissioner); Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242, 57 S.Ct. 732, 81 L.Ed. 1066 (1937) (applying the doctrine to a Georgia statute defining criminal offense of attempting to incite an insurrection). We are unable to find, and Nyeholt has not pointed us to, any controlling precedent holding or any case in any other jurisdiction supporting the notion that a statute or regulation that does not purport to define the lawfulness or unlawfulness of either conduct or speech can be challenged under the void-for-vagueness doctrine. Furthermore, no precedent applying the doctrine to legislative entitlements to benefits has been cited.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was confronted with the scope of the void-for-vagueness doctrine in Woodruff v. United States, 954 F.2d 634 (11th Cir.1992). In that case, the appellant alleged that, inter
In the case at hand, it is clear that DC 7351 does not purport to define what is lawful and unlawful conduct, nor does it relate to speech. Rather, DC 7351 merely serves as a guide that medical examiners employed by the DVA use in determining whether and to what degree a veteran is disabled for purposes of awarding benefits. That is to say, regardless of the thoroughness of the rating scheme set forth in DC 7351, a veteran's physical condition is what it is. Accordingly, we conclude that Nyeholt's petition fails to present a constitutional challenge that is cognizable under the void-for-vagueness doctrine.
Nevertheless, at oral argument, counsel for Nyeholt argued that DC 7351 in fact regulates conduct in that a veteran's presentation of evidence will be dependent upon the standards set forth in DC 7351. However, standards of proof that must be satisfied in order to obtain government benefits are not analogous to standards that inform the public what one can or cannot do without incurring civil and/or criminal penalties, and the policies underlying the void-for-vagueness doctrine, see Grayned, 408 U.S. at 108-09, 92 S.Ct. 2294, are simply not implicated by statutes and regulations containing the former category of standards. We therefore conclude that whatever arguments one may assert regarding the validity of DC 7351, they do not include a challenge under the void-for-vagueness doctrine. Consequently, we deny his petition on the merits.
Because we conclude that Nyeholt's petition is without merit, his petition is
38 U.S.C. § 7292(a) (2000) (emphasis added).
38 U.S.C. § 7252(b) (2000) (emphasis added).
38 U.S.C. § 7292(c), (d)(1)(B) (2000) (emphases added).