Pittston Coal Gp. v. Sebben - 488 U.S. 105 (1988)


U.S. Supreme Court

Pittston Coal Gp. v. Sebben, 488 U.S. 105 (1988)

Pittston Coal Group v. Sebben

No. 87-821

Argued October 3, 1988

Decided December 6, 1988*

488 U.S. 105

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 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.

Page 488 U. S. 106

Held:

1. The interim Labor regulation violates § 902(f)(2). Pp. 488 U. S. 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. 488 U. S. 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. 488 U. S. 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. 488 U. S. 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. 488 U. S. 123.

Page 488 U. S. 107



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