National Min. Ass'n v. Department of Labor

Decision Date14 June 2002
Docket NumberNo. 01-5278.,01-5278.
Citation292 F.3d 849
PartiesNATIONAL MINING ASSOCIATION, et al., Appellants, v. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, et al., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 00cv03086).

Mark E. Solomons argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs was Laura Metcoff Klaus.

Sushma Soni, Attorney, United States Department of Justice, argued the cause for federal appellees. With her on the brief were Roscoe C. Howard, Jr., United States Attorney, and Mark B. Stern, Attorney, United States Department of Justice.

Thomas E. Johnson argued the cause for appellees United Mine Workers of America. With him on the brief were Grant Crandall and Judith Rivlin.

Before: EDWARDS and TATEL, Circuit Judges, and SILBERMAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed PER CURIAM.


This lawsuit challenges regulations issued by the Secretary of Labor pursuant to the Black Lung Benefits Act, as amended, 30 U.S.C. §§ 901-945 (1994) ("BLBA" or "Act"). The District Court upheld the regulations against all challenges. This appeal followed. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm in part and reverse in part. The case will be remanded to the District Court with instructions to remand the case to the Department of Labor for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


The BLBA is a federally administered law providing benefits to coal miners who are totally disabled due to pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease, and to the surviving dependents of miners who died of the disease. Under the Act, coal mine operators are responsible for paying benefits to miners whose death or total disability due to black lung disease arose out of employment in the mines. 30 U.S.C. § 932. Black lung disease encompasses a cruel set of conditions that afflict a significant percentage of the nation's coal miners with "severe, and frequently crippling, chronic respiratory impairment." Usery v. Turner Elkhorn Mining Co., 428 U.S. 1, 6, 96 S.Ct. 2882, 49 L.Ed.2d 752 (1976) (citing, inter alia, S. REP. NO. 91-411, at 6 (1969)). It is caused by the "long-term inhalation of coal dust." Id. A rare and serious form of the disease, known as "complicated pneumoconiosis," results in pulmonary impairment and respiratory disability. Id. at 7, 96 S.Ct. at 2888-89. It can lead to cardiac failure and can contribute to other causes of death. Id. The purpose of the BLBA "is to satisfy a specific need created by the dangerous conditions under which [coal miners have] labored—to allocate to the mine operator[s] an actual, measurable cost of [their] business." Id. at 19, 96 S.Ct. at 2894.

A miner or his survivor may seek benefits under the Act by filing a claim with the District Director in the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs ("OWCP"). After investigating the claim, the District Director determines whether the claimant is eligible for benefits and which employer will be held responsible. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 725.301-725.423 (2001) (all citations to the Code of Federal Regulations will be to the 2001 edition unless otherwise noted). If the employer cannot be identified, the claim is paid out of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund ("the Fund"), which is financed by a tax on coal. See 30 U.S.C. §§ 932, 934; 26 U.S.C. §§ 4121, 9501(d)(1). Either party may appeal the District Director's determination and request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 725.450-725.480. The ALJ's decision may be appealed to the Department of Labor's Benefits Review Board, id. § 725.481, and then to the Court of Appeals for the circuit in which the impairment occurred, 33 U.S.C. § 921(c); 20 C.F.R. § 725.482.

In 1997, the Secretary of Labor ("the Secretary," "the Department," or "the government") issued a notice of proposed revisions to the rules governing the adjudication of miners' claims under the BLBA. See Regulations Implementing the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, as Amended, 62 Fed. Reg. 3338-435 (proposed Jan. 22, 1997). The Secretary received approximately 200 comments and held two public hearings on the proposed rules. The Secretary also consulted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ("NIOSH"), the federal agency charged with researching occupational health. See 29 U.S.C. § 671. Congress directed the Secretary to consult with NIOSH to establish criteria for medical tests to determine whether coal miners are totally disabled. 30 U.S.C. § 902(f).

In 1999, the Secretary issued another notice, announcing revisions to certain proposed regulations. See Regulations Implementing the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, as Amended, 64 Fed. Reg. 54,966-55,072 (proposed Oct. 8, 1999). After receiving more comments and testimony and consulting NIOSH and other experts, the Secretary promulgated the final rule, which would go into effect on January 19, 2001. See Regulations Implementing the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, as Amended, 65 Fed. Reg. 79,920-80,107 (Dec. 20, 2000).

The appellants in this case include mine operators, insurance companies, and the National Mining Association (collectively "NMA"). The BLBA requires coal mine operators to purchase insurance to cover their liabilities under the Act. See 30 U.S.C. § 933 (governing employers' insurance arrangements); 20 C.F.R. Part 726 (entitled "Black Lung Benefits; Requirements for Coal Mine Operator's Insurance"). The Secretary of Labor anticipates that the new rules will impose costs on mine operators in the form of higher insurance premiums. See 65 Fed. Reg. at 80,030. The Secretary's initial analysis indicated that, in the long term, the new rules would cause operators' insurance premiums to go up by about 39.3%, resulting in total annual costs to the industry of approximately $57.56 million. Id. The Secretary's analysis also suggested that the overall approval rate for claims against responsible coal mine operators would increase from 7.33% to no more than 12.18%. Id. at 80,036. It is not clear how much of this anticipated increase is attributable to an anticipated increase in approval of claims that are already pending, and how much is attributable to claims that have not yet been filed.

Almost immediately after the final regulations were announced, appellants sought declaratory and injunctive relief in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. See Am. Compl. ¶ 1, reprinted in Joint Appendix ("J.A.") 1. They challenged many of the rules as impermissibly retroactive. See id. ¶¶ 19-23. They alleged that many of the rules violated the BLBA or applicable provisions of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act ("LHWCA" or "Longshore Act"), 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950, many provisions of which are incorporated by reference into the BLBA by 30 U.S.C. § 932(a). See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-26. They alleged that some of the rules impermissibly shifted the burden of proof. See id. ¶¶ 27-32. They alleged that certain rules ran afoul of the right to a full and fair hearing, treated parties unequally, or were arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion in contravention of the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"). See id. ¶¶ 33-43. Finally, they alleged that the rulemaking procedure was inadequate and that the rules violated the due process guarantee of the Constitution. Id. ¶¶ 44-52. The United Mine Workers of America and other black lung advocates, including miners, intervened on behalf of the Secretary.

The District Court granted the NMA limited injunctive relief, but ultimately granted the Secretary's motion for summary judgment, upholding the regulations in every respect. Nat'l Mining Ass'n v. Chao, 160 F.Supp.2d 47 (D.D.C.2001) (Mem. Op.) [hereinafter "NMA"]. Rejecting the Secretary's argument that the District Court lacked jurisdiction, the court first found that it had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because NMA challenged a rulemaking, rather than an "order," of DOL. Id. at 54-56. Black lung benefits determinations ("orders") may be challenged only in the Court of Appeals. 33 U.S.C. § 921(c), (e).

The District Court next addressed NMA's claim that many of the rules were impermissibly retroactive, in part because they applied to pending claims as well as claims filed after the effective date of the regulations. See NMA, 160 F.Supp.2d at 65. The court agreed with all parties that the Secretary was not authorized to promulgate retroactive regulations, but found that the challenged regulations were not retroactive, because some apply only to newly filed claims, while the remainder "simply clarify legal principles that were already in effect and [did] not change the substantive standards of entitlement." Id. Finally, the District Court upheld the regulations against the various substantive challenges. Id. at 69-90. Appellants now seek review of the District Court's determinations.

A. Jurisdiction

The government challenged the District Court's jurisdiction to hear appellants' broad-scale attack on the Department's regulations and reiterates that argument before us. It is the government's contention that the mining companies may only challenge the regulations piecemeal, insofar as particular provisions are brought into question, by an appeal directly to the Court of Appeals from a compensation order of the Benefits Review Board. That is so, according to the government, because the BLBA provides that a person "adversely affected or aggrieved by a final order of the Board may obtain review of that order in the United States court of appeals for the circuit in which the injury occurred..." 33 U.S.C. § 921(c) (emphasis added).

The obvious difficulty with the government's position is that this provision putting...

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