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Woman may seek attorney's fees even if original suit was filed late

May 20, 2013 at 2:43 PM

WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- A woman may seek attorney's fees from the U.S. government despite a ruling that her suit seeking compensation was filed late, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, ruled Melissa Cloer could seek attorney's fees under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 even though her original lawsuit was dismissed because it was filed after the statute of limitations expired.

In her lawsuit seeking compensation under the act, Cloer claimed soon after receiving her third Hepatitis-B vaccine she began experiencing symptoms that later were diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. The court ruled the 36-month window began when she had her first MS symptoms in 1997; she filed a compensation claim in 2005.

Cloer then filed to collect costs and attorney's fees, but the government argued she shouldn't get anything because of the time limit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit disagreed, saying she was entitled to recover the fees.

"The government's argument that the 36-month [limitation] period is a statutory prerequisite for filing lacks textual support," the opinion said.

In affirming the appeals court decision, Sotomayor wrote, "We hold that an NCVIA petition found to be untimely may qualify for an award of attorney's fees if it is filed in good faith and there is a reasonable basis for its claim."

Joining in the entire opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined in all but one section.

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