King v. St. Vincent's Hospital, 502 U.S. 215 (1991)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 90-889. Argued October 16, 1991—Decided December 16, 1991

Petitioner King, a National Guard member, advised his civilian employer, respondent St. Vincent's Hospital, that he had accepted a 3-year full-time appointment with the Guard, and requested a leave of absence from his hospital job as ostensibly guaranteed by 38 U. S. C. 2024(d), which provides reemployment rights to service personnel in King's position. St. Vincent's denied King's request and brought suit in the District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Act does not provide reemployment rights after tours of duty as long as King's. The court granted the requested relief, ruling that service of the type in question was protected by 2024(d), but holding, under Circuit precedent, that leave requests under that subsection must be reasonable, and that King's request for a 3-year leave was per se unreasonable. A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 2024(d) does not limit the length of military service after which a member of the Armed Forces retains a right to civilian reemployment. Subsection (d)'s text—which specifies that any covered employee "shall . . . be granted a leave . . . for the period required to perform active duty [and] [u]pon . . . release from . . . such duty . . . shall be permitted to return to [his or her] position"—is utterly silent about any durational limit on the protection it provides. Reading the statute as a whole, it must be inferred that the unqualified nature of subsection (d)'s protection was deliberate, since other subsections of 2024, protecting other classes of full-time service personnel, expressly limit the periods of their protection. St. Vincent's argument that such limits reflect a hierarchy of reemployment rights—under which reservists subject to duty under subsection (d) are entitled to the least protection and are therefore subject to an imprecise durational limit of reasonableness—is unconvincing because its conclusion rests on circular reasoning, requiring the assumption of the point at issue: that 2024(d) reservists really do get less protection than the inductees, enlistees, and other veterans covered by the other subsections. Pp. 218-223.

901 F. 2d 1068, reversed and remanded.


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