Wilson v. Dir., Office of Workers’ Comp. Programs, No. 19-3542

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtRESTREPO, Circuit Judge.
Citation984 F.3d 265
Docket NumberNo. 19-3542
Decision Date31 December 2020
Parties Richard J. WILSON, Petitioner v. DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, United States Department of Labor; Creamer-Sanzari Joint Venture ; Arch Insurance Company

984 F.3d 265

Richard J. WILSON, Petitioner
v.
DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, United States Department of Labor; Creamer-Sanzari Joint Venture ; Arch Insurance Company

No. 19-3542

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

Argued: September 16, 2020
Filed: December 31, 2020


Nicholas P. Giuliano [ARGUED], Matthew M. Gorden, Stanton J. Terranova, Giuliano McDonnell & Perrone, LLP, 170 Old Country Road, Suite 608, Mineola, New York 11501, Counsel for Richard J. Wilson

Kate S. O'Scannlain, Barry H. Joyner, Gary K. Stearman, William M. Bush [ARGUED], U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Solicitor, 200 Constitution Ave, NW, Room N-2119, Washington, D.C. 20210, Counsel for Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs

Gabriel E.F. Thompson [ARGUED], Rabalais Unlad, 1404 Greengate Drive, Suite 110, Covington, LA 70433, Counsel for Creamer-Sanzari Joint Venture

Before: KRAUSE, RESTREPO, and BIBAS, Circuit Judges

OPINION OF THE COURT

RESTREPO, Circuit Judge.

Petitioner Richard Wilson sustained hearing loss while working on a marine construction project and subsequently sought compensation benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act ("LHWCA"), 33 U.S.C. §§ 901 – 50. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and the Benefits Review Board ("Board") dismissed Wilson's claim, finding that he was not covered under the LHWCA because he was not injured on navigable waters of the United States. Because we conclude that the ALJ and Board misconstrued the definition of navigable waters and that the waters where Wilson was injured were in fact navigable, we will reverse and remand for a determination of benefits.

I. BACKGROUND

Congress enacted the LHWCA to provide compensation for maritime workers who are injured on the job. Pa. Tidewater Dock Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers’ Comp. Programs , 202 F.3d 656, 658 (3d Cir. 2000). To be eligible for coverage, the LHWCA requires (1) that a worker be "engaged in maritime employment," 33 U.S.C. § 902(3) ; and (2) that his injury occur on "navigable waters of the Unites States" or an "adjoining [land] area," id.

984 F.3d 269

§ 903(a). These two requirements are respectively known as the "status" and "situs" requirements. Ne. Marine Terminal Co. v. Caputo , 432 U.S. 249, 265, 97 S.Ct. 2348, 53 L.Ed.2d 320 (1977). If "a worker is injured on the actual navigable waters in the course of his employment on those waters," then he also "satisfies the status requirement," for he was "required to perform [his] employment duties" "in a historically maritime locale." Dir., Office of Workers’ Comp. Programs v. Perini N. River Assocs. , 459 U.S. 297, 324, 103 S.Ct. 634, 74 L.Ed.2d 465 (1983). Because this case does not concern any injury on land, the success of Wilson's claim hinges on whether he satisfied the situs requirement, i.e. , whether the waters on which he was injured were in fact navigable.

The facts are not disputed. From approximately 2010 to 2014, Respondent Creamer-Sanzari Joint Venture ("Creamer") employed Wilson as a marine construction worker on the New Jersey Route 3 bridge replacement project. The Route 3 Bridge spans the Lower Passaic River from Clifton to Rutherford, New Jersey at River Mile 11.8. At that location, the navigation channel was authorized to be 150 feet wide and ten feet deep. Wilson's primary job on that project was to drive steel piles for a cofferdam, which is a watertight structure that allows for construction below the waterline. From a float stage on the river, Wilson positioned and secured piles while a crane operator hammered the piles into the riverbed. This process routinely exposed Wilson to extremely loud working conditions and, in 2014, he was diagnosed with a permanent hearing impairment resulting from such conditions.

A few days after his diagnosis, Wilson filed a claim for benefits under the LHWCA. Creamer disputed Wilson's claim and the case was referred to an ALJ. Although the ALJ found that Creamer was a responsible employer and that Wilson's injuries were caused by his work on the Route 3 bridge, she dismissed Wilson's claim after finding that he was not covered under the LHWCA. Specifically, the ALJ concluded that Wilson failed to show that the Lower Passaic River was navigable at River Mile 11.8. Wilson appealed the ALJ's decision and the Board affirmed. Wilson now seeks judicial review of the Board's order.

II. DISCUSSION

Wilson raises two issues on appeal. First, he asserts that § 920(a) of the LHWCA creates a situs presumption and argues that the ALJ erred by failing to apply it in her situs analysis. Second, Wilson argues, even if situs is not presumed, he provided sufficient evidence to show that the Lower Passaic River was navigable at River Mile 11.8, and that the ALJ and Board incorrectly reached the opposite conclusion by applying too narrow a definition of navigable waters. Although we find Wilson's presumption argument unavailing, we agree with Wilson that the ALJ and Board erred in finding that the Lower Passaic River was not navigable at River Mile 11.8.

A. Standard of Review

We have appellate jurisdiction over this case under 33 U.S.C. § 921(c). We review the Board's decision only "to determine whether the Board acted in conformance with applicable law and within its proper scope of review." Consolidation Coal Co. v. Benefits Review Bd. , 629 F.3d 322, 326 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted). We exercise plenary review of the Board's legal conclusions, Del. River Stevedores v. DiFidelto , 440 F.3d 615, 619 (3d Cir. 2006), and "must independently review the record and decide whether the ALJ's [factual] findings are rational, consistent

984 F.3d 270

with applicable law and supported by substantial evidence" if those findings are challenged by a petitioner, Helen Mining Co. v. Elliott , 859 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2017) (citations omitted).

B. Situs Requirement

We can preliminarily dispose of Wilson's presumption argument. Section 920(a) states: "it shall be presumed, in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary[,] ... [t]hat [a] claim [for compensation under this chapter] comes within the provisions of this chapter." 33 U.S.C. § 920(a). Wilson argues (1) that § 920(a) creates a situs presumption for claimants, and (2) that it shifts the burden of proving (or disproving) situs to respondents.

Both arguments are unavailing. First, situs is a threshold issue that must be resolved before § 920(a) can be applied. Congress enacted the LHWCA under its "admiralty and maritime jurisdiction," which gives it the authority to "alter or revise the maritime law...

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1 practice notes
  • Omega SA v. 375 Canal, LLC, No. 19-969-cv
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • January 6, 2021
    ...might have waited to file a notice of appeal until the entry of a final judgment. Of course, that is what Canal did, only to have the 984 F.3d 265 majority dismiss its challenge to the denial of summary judgment for failure to file the notice of appeal within thirty days of the denial. See ......
1 cases
  • Omega SA v. 375 Canal, LLC, No. 19-969-cv
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • January 6, 2021
    ...might have waited to file a notice of appeal until the entry of a final judgment. Of course, that is what Canal did, only to have the 984 F.3d 265 majority dismiss its challenge to the denial of summary judgment for failure to file the notice of appeal within thirty days of the denial. See ......

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