449 U.S. 268 (1980), 79-816, Potomac Elec. Power Co. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation

Docket Nº:No. 79-816
Citation:449 U.S. 268, 101 S.Ct. 509, 66 L.Ed.2d 446
Party Name:Potomac Elec. Power Co. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation
Case Date:December 15, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 268

449 U.S. 268 (1980)

101 S.Ct. 509, 66 L.Ed.2d 446

Potomac Elec. Power Co.

v.

Director, Office of Workers' Compensation

No. 79-816

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 15, 1980

Programs, United States Department of Labor

Argued October 8, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, compensation for a permanent partial disability must be determined in one of two ways. First, if the injury is of a kind specifically identified in the schedule set forth in §§ 8(c)(1)-(20) of the Act, the injured employee is entitled to receive two-thirds of his average weekly wages for a specific number of weeks, regardless of whether his earning capacity has been impaired. Second, in "all other cases," § 8(c)(21) authorizes compensation equal to two-thirds of the difference between the employee's pre-injury average weekly wages and his post-injury wage-earning capacity, during the period of his disability. Respondent employee (an employee covered by the Act) in the course of his employment suffered a permanent partial loss of the use of his left leg, an injury specified in the statutory schedule. But the Administrative Law Judge, rather than awarding him compensation under the schedule, allowed him the larger recovery under § 8(c)(21), and the Benefits Review Board affirmed. The Court of Appeals also affirmed, concluding that the "all other cases" language in § 8(c)(21) provided a "remedial alternative" measure of compensation for cases in which the scheduled benefits failed adequately to compensate for a diminution in wage-earning capabilities.

Held: Respondent employee's recovery must be limited by the statutory schedule. Pp. 273-284.

(a) There is nothing in the language of the Act itself to support the view that the reference to "all other cases" in § 8(c)(21) was intended to authorize an alternative method for computing disability benefits in certain cases of permanent partial disability already provided for in the statutory schedule. Pp. 273-274.

(b) The Act's legislative history is entirely consistent with the conclusion that it was intended to mean what it says. Pp. 275-276.

(c) The weight of judicial authority also supports a literal reading of the Act. Pp. 276-280.

Page 269

(d) It is not correct to interpret the Act a6 guaranteeing a completely adequate remedy for all covered disabilities, but rather, like most workmen' compensation legislation, the Act represents a compromise between the competing interests of disabled laborers and their employers. The use of a schedule of fixed benefits as an exclusive remedy in certain cases is consistent with the employees' interest in receiving a prompt and certain recovery for their industrial injuries as well as with the employers' interest in having their contingent liabilities identified as precisely and as early as possible. Pp. 280-284.

196 U.S.App.D.C. 417, 606 F.2d 1324, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 284.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), 44 Stat. (part 2) 1424, as amended, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950 (1976 ed. and Supp. III), compensation for a permanent partial disability must be determined in one of two ways. First, if the injury is of a kind specifically identified in the schedule set forth in §§ 8(c)(1)-(20) of the Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 908(c)(1)-(20), the injured employee is entitled to receive two-thirds of his average weekly wages for a specific number of weeks, regardless of whether his earning capacity has actually been impaired. Second, in all other cases, § 8(c)(21), 33 U.S.C. § 908(c)(21), authorizes compensation equal to two-thirds of the difference between the

Page 270

employee's pre-injury average weekly wages and his post-injury wage-earning capacity, during the period of his disability.1 The question in this case is [101 S.Ct. 511] whether a permanently partially disabled employee, entitled to compensation under the statutory schedule, may elect to receive a larger recovery under § 8(c)(21) measured by the actual impairment of wage-earning capacity caused by his injury. Although Congress could surely authorize such an election, it has not yet done so.

Page 271

We therefore hold that respondent Cross' recovery must be limited by the statutory schedule.

Cross is employed by Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) as a cable splicer -- a job that requires strength and agility. In 1974, he earned a total of $21,959.38, including overtime pay of $8,543.30. In December of that year, he injured his left knee in the course of his employment, thereby suffering a permanent partial loss of the use of his leg. The physical impairment is described as a 5 to 20% loss of the use of one leg, but the resulting impairment of his earning capacity is apparently in excess of 40%.2 Although Cross has retained his job, he has not been able to perform all of the strenuous duties required of a cable splicer, and therefore he has received no overtime and has not qualified for certain pay increases.

Because he worked in the District of Columbia, respondent Cross is entitled to compensation under the LHWCA.3 It is undisputed that the injury to his leg is a "permanent partial disability" within the meaning of § 8(c) of the Act; he therefore has an unquestioned right to a compensation award measured by a fraction of his earnings for 288 weeks.4

Page 272

His claim, however, is for the larger amount measured by two-thirds of the difference between his average weekly earnings before the injury and his present wage-earning capacity, multiplied by the number of weeks that his disability continues.5

[101 S.Ct. 512] The Administrative Law Judge allowed the larger recovery. He held that an injured employee is not required to accept the specific amount authorized by §§ 8(c)(2) and (19) for the partial loss of the use of a leg, but instead may recover an amount based on the formula set forth in § 8(c)(21) for "all other cases." Using that formula, the Administrative Law Judge found that respondent Cross' permanent loss of earning capacity amounted to approximately § 130 per week, and ordered Pepco to pay him two-thirds of that amount each week for the remainder of his working life. The Benefits Review Board affirmed. Cross v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 7 BRBS 10 (1977).

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also affirmed. 196 U.S.App.D.C. 417,

Page 273

606 F.2d 1324 (1979). Recognizing that the Act "must be construed in light of its humanitarian objectives," and noting a "recent trend in workmen's compensation law away from the idea of exclusivity of scheduled benefits," the court concluded that the "all other cases" language in § 8(c)(21) provided a "remedial alternative" measure of compensation for cases in which "the scheduled benefits fail adequately to compensate for a diminution in [wage-earning] capabilities."6 While expressing sympathy for the result reached by the majority, one judge dissented.7

I

The language of the Act plainly supports the view that the character of the disability determines the method of compensation. Section 8 identifies four different categories of disability and separately prescribes the method of compensation

Page 274

for each.8 In the permanent partial disability category, § 8(c) provides a compensation schedule which covers 20 different specific injuries. It then adds an additional subparagraph, § 8(c)(21), that applies to any injury not included within the list of specific injuries. There is no language in that additional subparagraph indicating that it was intended to provide an alternative method of compensation for the cases described in the preceding subparagraphs; quite the contrary, by its terms, subparagraph (21) is applicable "In all other cases."9

It is also noteworthy that the statutory direction that precedes the schedule of specifically described partial disabilities mandates that the compensation prescribed by the schedule "shall be paid to the employee, [101 S.Ct. 513] as follows."10 We are not free to read this language as though it granted the employee an election. Nor are we free to read the subsequent words "all other cases" as though they described "all of the foregoing" as well; the use of the word "other" forecloses that reading.

In sum, we find nothing in the statute itself to support the view that the reference to "all other cases" in § 8(c)(21) was intended to authorize an alternative method for computation of disability benefits in certain cases of permanent partial disability already provided for in the schedule.

Page 275

II

The legislative history of the Act is entirely consistent with the conclusion that it was intended to mean what it says. Although that history contains no specific consideration of the precise question before us,11 one aspect of the Act's history is somewhat enlightening. The relevant language was enacted in 1927.12 It was patterned after a similar "scheduled benefits" provision in the New York Workmen's Compensation Law enacted in 1922.13 A few years after enactment of the LHWCA, the New York Court of Appeals was confronted with the same question of construction under the New York statute that is now presented to us under the federal statute. The New York Court of Appeals apparently considered the statutory language so clear on its face that little discussion of this issue was necessary:

Obviously, the phrase "in all...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP