514 U.S. 122 (1995), 93-1783, Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, Department of Labour v. Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co.

Docket Nº:No. 93-1783
Citation:514 U.S. 122, 115 S.Ct. 1278, 131 L.Ed.2d 160, 63 U.S.L.W. 4213
Party Name:DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR v. NEWPORT NEWS SHIPBUILDING & DRY DOCK CO. et al.
Case Date:March 21, 1995
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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514 U.S. 122 (1995)

115 S.Ct. 1278, 131 L.Ed.2d 160, 63 U.S.L.W. 4213

DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

v.

NEWPORT NEWS SHIPBUILDING & DRY DOCK CO. et al.

No. 93-1783

United States Supreme Court

March 21, 1995

Argued January 9, 1995

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATE COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Director of the Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs petitioned the Court of Appeals for review of a Benefits Review Board decision that, inter alia, denied Jackie Harcum full-disability compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). Harcum did not seek review and, while not opposing the Director's pursuit of the action, expressly declined to intervene on his own behalf in response to an inquiry by the court. Acting sua sponte, the court concluded that the Director lacked standing to appeal the benefits denial because she was not "adversely affected or aggrieved" thereby within the meaning of § 21(c) of the Act, 33U.S.C. § 921(c).

Held:

The Director is not "adversely affected or aggrieved" under § 921(c). Pp. 125-136.

(a) Section 921(c) does not apply to an agency acting as a regulator or administrator under the statute. This is strongly suggested by the fact that, despite long use of the phrase "adversely affected or aggrieved" as a term of art to designate those who have standing to appeal a federal agency decision, no case has held that an agency, without benefit of specific authorization to appeal, falls within that designation; by the fact that the United States Code's general judicial review provision, 5 U.S.C. § 702, which employs the phrase "adversely affected or aggrieved," specifically excludes agencies from the category of persons covered, § 551(2); and by the clear evidence in the Code that when an agency in its governmental capacity is meant to have standing, Congress says so, see, e.g ., 29 U.S.C. §§ 660(a) and (b). While the text of a particular statute could make clear that "adversely affected or aggrieved" is being used in a peculiar sense, the Director points to no such text in the LHWCA. Pp. 125-130.

(b) Neither of the categories of interest asserted by the Director demonstrates that "adversely affected or aggrieved" in this statute must have an extraordinary meaning. The Director's interest in ensuring adequate payments to claimants is insufficient. Agencies do not automatically have standing to sue for actions that frustrate the purposes

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of their statutes; absent some clear and distinctive responsibility conferred upon the agency, an "adversely affected or aggrieved" judicial review provision leaves private interests (even those favored by public policy) to be vindicated by private parties. Heckman v. United States, 224 U.S. 413; Moe v. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flat- head Reservation, 425 U.S. 463; Pasadena City Bd. of Ed. v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424; and General Telephone Co. of Northwest v. EEOC, 446U.S. 318, distinguished. Also insufficient is the Director's asserted interest in fulfilling important administrative and enforcement responsibilities. She fails to identify any specific statutory duties that an erroneous Board ruling interferes with, reciting instead conjectural harms to abstract and remote concerns. Pp. 130-136.

8 F.3d 175, affirmed.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 136.

Beth S. Brinkmann argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs were Solicitor General Days, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Allen H. Feldman, Steven J. Mandel, and Mark S. Flynn.

Lawrence P. Postol argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was James M. Mesnard.[*]

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us in this case is whether the Director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs in the United States Department of Labor has standing under § 21(c) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA or Act), 44 Stat. 1424, as amended, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq., to seek judicial review of decisions by the Benefits Review Board that in the Director's view deny claimants compensation to which they are entitled.

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I

On October 24, 1984, Jackie Harcum, an employee of respondent Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., was working in the bilge of a steam barge when a piece of metal grating fell and struck him in the lower back. His injury required surgery to remove a herniated disc, and caused prolonged disability. Respondent paid Harcum benefits under the LHWCA until he returned to light-duty work in April 1987. In November 1987, Harcum returned to his regular department under medical restrictions. He proved unable to perform essential tasks, however, and the company terminated his employment in May 1988. Harcum ultimately found work elsewhere, and started his new job in February 1989.

Harcum filed a claim for further benefits under the LHWCA. Respondent contested the claim, and the dispute was referred to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). One of the issues was whether Harcum was entitled to benefits for total disability, or instead only for partial disability, from the date he stopped work for respondent until he began his new job. "Disability" under the LHWCA means "incapacity because of injury to earn the wages which the employee was receiving at the time of injury in the same or any other employment." 33 U.S.C. § 902(10).

After a hearing on October 20, 1989, the ALJ determined that Harcum was partially, rather than totally, disabled when he left respondent's employ, and that he was therefore owed only partial-disability benefits for the interval of his unemployment. On appeal, the Benefits Review Board affirmed the ALJ's judgment, and also ruled that under 33 U.S.C. § 908(f), the company was entitled to cease payments to Harcum after 104 weeks, after which time the LHWCA special fund would be liable for disbursements pursuant to § 944.

The Director petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for review of both aspects of the Board's ruling. Harcum did not seek review and, while not

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opposing the Director's pursuit of the action, expressly declined to intervene on his own behalf in response to an inquiry by the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals sua sponte raised the question whether the Director had standing to appeal the Board's order. 8 F.3d 175 (1993). It concluded that she did not have standing with regard to that aspect of the order denying Harcum's claim for full-disability compensation, since she was not "adversely affected or aggrieved" by that decision within the meaning of § 21(c) of the Act, 33 U.S.C. § 921(c).[1] We granted the Director's petition for certiorari. 512 U.S. 1287 (1994).

II

The LHWCA provides for compensation of workers injured or killed while employed on the navigable waters or adjoining, shipping-related land areas of the United States. 33 U.S.C. § 903. With the exception of those duties imposed by §§ 919(d), 921(b), and 941, the Secretary of Labor has delegated all responsibilities of the Department with respect to administration of the LHWCA to the Director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP). 20 CFR §§ 701.201 and 701.202 (1994); 52 Fed. Reg. 48466 (1987). For ease of exposition, the Director will hereinafter be referred to as the statutory recipient of those responsibilities.

A worker seeking compensation under the Act must file a claim with an OWCP district director. 33 U.S.C. § 919(a); 20 CFR §§ 701.301(a) and 702.105 (1994). If the district director cannot resolve the claim informally, 20 CFR § 702.311, it is referred to an ALJ authorized to issue a compensation order, § 702.316; 33 U.S.C. § 919(d). The ALJ's decision is reviewable by the Benefits Review Board, whose members are appointed by the Secretary. § 921(b)(1). The Board's

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decision is in turn appealable to a United States court of appeals, at the instance of "[a]ny person adversely affected or aggrieved by" the Board's order. § 921(c).

With regard to claims that proceed to ALJ hearings, the Act does not by its terms make the Director a party to the proceedings, or grant her authority to prosecute appeals to the Board, or thence to the federal courts of appeals. The Director argues that she nonetheless had standing to petition the Fourth Circuit for review of the Board's order, because she is a "person adversely affected or aggrieved" under § 921(c). Specifically, she contends the Board's decision injures her because it impairs her ability to achieve the Act's purposes and to perform the administrative duties the Act prescribes.

The phrase "person adversely affected or aggrieved" is a term of art used in many statutes to designate those who have standing to challenge or appeal an agency decision, within the agency or before the courts. See, e.g ., federal Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. § 402(b)(6); Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. § 660(a); Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. § 816. The terms "adversely affected" and "aggrieved," alone or in combination, have a long history in federal administrative law, dating back at least to the federal Communications Act of 1934, § 402(b)(2) (codified, as amended, 47 U.S.C. § 402(b)(6)). They were already familiar terms in 1946, when they were embodied within the judicial review provision of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 702, which entitles "[a] person . . . adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action...

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