488 U.S. 105 (1988), 87-821, Pittston Coal Group v. Sebben

Docket Nº:No. 87-821
Citation:488 U.S. 105, 109 S.Ct. 414, 102 L.Ed.2d 408, 57 U.S.L.W. 4029
Party Name:Pittston Coal Group v. Sebben
Case Date:December 06, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 105

488 U.S. 105 (1988)

109 S.Ct. 414, 102 L.Ed.2d 408, 57 U.S.L.W. 4029

Pittston Coal Group

v.

Sebben

No. 87-821

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 6, 1988

Argued October 3, 1988

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977 (BLBRA), in 30 U.S.C. § 902(f)(2), provided that, pending the issuance of permanent regulations by the Secretary of Labor, cases filed or pending, as well as certain claims required to be reopened or readjudicated, were to be assessed under "[c]riteria . . . not . . . more restrictive than the criteria applicable to a claim filed on June 30, 1973." As of that date, under interim regulations established by the Secretary of [109 S.Ct. 416] Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), a miner could establish presumptive entitlement to benefits if he submitted X-ray, biopsy, or autopsy evidence of pneumoconiosis, and showed either 10 years of mining service or that his impairment arose out of coal mine employment. In response to the BLBRA, the Secretary of Labor promulgated an interim regulation that accorded a presumptive claim of entitlement only to miners who had 10 years of experience and could satisfy one of several "medical requirements," including X-ray, biopsy, or autopsy evidence of pneumoconiosis identical to that required by the interim HEW regulation. In No. 87-1095, since neither claimant had worked 10 years in the mines, neither qualified for the presumptive entitlement under the interim Labor regulation, and their claims were adjudicated under more stringent permanent regulations originally promulgated by the Secretary of HEW. Their claims were administratively denied, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the unavailability of the interim Labor presumption to short-term miners violated § 902(f)(2). In Nos. 87-821 and 87-827, the Court of Appeals, having similarly found the interim Labor regulation invalid under § 902(f)(2), reversed the District Court's refusal to issue a writ of mandamus compelling the Secretary of Labor to readjudicate a class of claims previously considered under the interim Labor regulation, notwithstanding that the Secretary's decision in those cases had become final.

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Held:

1. The interim Labor regulation violates § 902(f)(2). Pp. 113-120.

(a) The Labor criteria are more restrictive than the interim HEW criteria, in that the latter permitted a miner to obtain a presumption of entitlement by establishing pneumoconiosis and either 10 years' coal mining experience or proof that the pneumoconiosis was caused by mining employment, whereas, under the interim Labor regulation, 10 years' experience is the exclusive element of the second factor. By making the criteria for proving causation "more restrictive" for miners who seek a presumptive entitlement and can establish pneumoconiosis, the interim Labor regulation necessarily applies "more restrictive" total disability criteria than those in the interim HEW regulation. Pp. 113-115.

(b) Even if the "criteria" in § 902(f)(2) consist solely of "medical criteria," as the Secretary asserts, the interim Labor regulation violates the statute. Under the interim Labor regulation, unlike the interim HEW regulation, claimants who submit X-ray, biopsy, or autopsy evidence of pneumoconiosis and can prove causation, but have worked fewer than 10 years in a coal mine, must in addition submit affirmative proof of total disability, which would principally involve submission of underlying medical proof of disability. Pp. 115-117.

2. The Court of Appeals in No. 87-1095 properly remanded the case to the Benefits Review Board for further proceedings. But the Court of Appeals' order in Nos. 87-821 and 87-827 was not proper, since mandamus does not lie to compel the readjudication of claims decided under erroneous standards where the cases had already become final by reason of the claimants' failure to pursue administrative remedies or to appeal directly to the courts within the prescribed time. Pp. 121-123.

Nos. 87-821 and 87-827, 815 F.2d 475, reversed and remanded; No. 871095, 824 F.2d 327, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 123.

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SCALIA, J., lead opinion

[109 S.Ct. 417] JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

These consolidated cases call into question the Secretary of Labor's interpretation of 30 U.S.C. § 902(f)(2), which, for specified categories of black lung benefit claimants, provides that

[c]riteria applied by the Secretary of Labor in the case of . . . any claim . . . shall not be more restrictive than the criteria applicable to a claim filed on June 30, 1973.

Respondents contend that interim regulations applied by the Secretary in adjudicating their claims, see 20 CFR pt. 727 (1988), did not comply with this provision. In Broyles v. Director, OWCP, 824 F.2d 327 (CA4 1987) (No. 87-1095), the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed, and directed the Secretary to adjudicate the claims pursued by respondents Broyles and Colley under the less restrictive standards in force on June 30, 1973. See 20 CFR § 410.490 (1973). In In re Sebben, 815 F.2d 475 (CA8 1987) (Nos. 87-821 and 87-827), the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit similarly found the interim Labor regulation invalid under § 902(f)(2), and reversed the District Court's refusal to issue a writ of mandamus compelling the Secretary to readjudicate a class of claims previously considered under the interim regulation, notwithstanding that the Secretary's decision in those cases had become final. We granted certiorari, 484 U.S. 1058 (1988), to decide the statutory issue, which is the subject of

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a Circuit conflict,1 and further to decide, in the event we find the Secretary's interpretation of the statute unlawful, whether mandamus will lie to compel the readjudication of claims decided under erroneous standards but not directly appealed to the courts within the time prescribed.

I

The black lung benefits program provides benefits to those who have become totally disabled because of pneumoconiosis, a chronic respiratory and pulmonary disease arising from coal mine employment. See Mullins Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP, 484 U.S. 135, 141 (1987). Originally enacted as Title IV of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 (FCMHSA), Pub.L. 91-173, 83 Stat. 792-798, the program has consisted of two separate parts. Under the original legislation, part B constituted a temporary program of federally financed benefits to be administered by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), and part C envisioned a more permanent program operating under the auspices of the Secretary of Labor and relying on state workers' compensation programs where possible.

For part B claims, the FCMHSA provided that the Secretary of HEW "shall by regulation prescribe standards for determining . . . whether a miner is totally disabled due to pneumoconiosis." FCMHSA § 411(b). The regulations relevant here consisted of "permanent" and "interim" components. The permanent HEW regulations generally prescribed methods and standards for establishing elements of statutory entitlement. See 20 CFR §§ 410.401-410.476 (1973). In addition, following (and in response to) the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972, Pub.L. 92-303, 86 Stat. 150, the

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Secretary of HEW adopted an interim regulation designed to "permit prompt and vigorous processing of the large backlog of claims" that had developed during the early phases of administering part B. See 20 CFR § 410.490(a) (1973). To deal with a perceived inadequacy in facilities and medical tests, this interim HEW regulation established two classes of presumptions. First, under the presumption at issue here, a claimant could establish presumptive entitlement [109 S.Ct. 418] by showing that "[a] chest roentgenogram (X-ray), biopsy, or autopsy establishes the existence of pneumoconiosis" and that "[t]he impairment . . . arose out of coal mine employment." §§ 410.490(b)(1)(i), (b)(2). The proof of causality required for this first presumption was to be established under §§ 410.416 or 410.456, both of which accorded a rebuttable presumption of causality to claimants with 10 years of mining service and also permitted claimants to prove causality by direct evidence. See § 410.490(b)(2). The second presumption (drafted in a most confusing manner) enables a claimant to obtain presumptive entitlement by establishing specified scores on ventilatory tests if the miner had "at least 10 years of the requisite coal mine employment." §§ 410.490(b)(1)(ii), (b)(3). Both presumptions were rebuttable by a showing that the miner was working or could work at his former mine employment or the equivalent. § 410.490(c). Miners unable to obtain either presumption had to proceed under the permanent HEW regulations. § 410.490(e). The term of the interim regulation coincided with the term of the part B program, and expired after June 30, 1973, for claims filed by living miners and after December 31, 1973, for survivors' claims. § 410.490(b).

The FCMHSA provided that, after part B ceased, part C would shift black lung benefits claims into state workers' compensation programs approved by the Secretary of Labor as "adequate" under statutory standards. FCMHSA § 421. If no statutorily approved program existed in a given State, the Secretary of Labor was to handle the benefits claims arising

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in that State directly, and was to prescribe regulations for assigning liability to responsible mine owners. See FCMHSA § 422(a). Events did not unfold as...

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