Director, OWCP v. Rasmussen
Annotate this Case
440 U.S. 29 (1979)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Director, OWCP v. Rasmussen, 440 U.S. 29 (1979)
Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs v. Rasmussen
Argued November 28, 1978
Decided February 21, 1979
440 U.S. 29
The Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (Act) Amendments of 1972, to combat inflation, replaced the Act's $70 maximum limitation on weekly disability benefits with a four-step limitation scheme tied to specified percentages of the "applicable national average weekly wage" determined annually by the Secretary of Labor. § 6(b)(1). At the same time, death benefits to surviving spouses and children were increased, respectively, from 35% to 50% and from 15% to 163% of the deceased's average weekly wages. Total weekly death benefits were still limited to 663% of the deceased's average weekly wages, but the former specific dollar minimum and maximum limitations on average weekly wages were replaced by a provision dealing only with a minimum limitation tied to the applicable national average weekly wage. Thus, as amended, § 9(e) provides that.
"[i]n computing death benefits the average weekly wages of the deceased shall be considered to have been not less than the applicable national average weekly wage as prescribed in section 6(b) but the total weekly benefits shall not exceed the average weekly wages of the deceased."
Respondents, the widow and son of a covered employee, claimed combined death benefits ($532 per week) equal to 663% of the deceased's average weekly wages. The employer, its insurance carrier, and the Director of the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (petitioners) contended that § 6(b)(1)'s limitation on disability payments (then $167 per week), was meant to apply to death benefits as well as disability benefits, and that Congress' failure to place a maximum on death benefits when it amended § 9(e) was inadvertent. An administrative decision in respondents' favor was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
Held: Death benefits payable under the Act are not subject to the maximum limitations placed on disability payments
by § 6(b)(1). This conclusion is supported by both the language and legislative history of the 1972 Amendments. Pp. 440 U. S. 35-47.
(a) That the omission of a maximum limitation on death benefits was inadvertent is disproved by the legislative history of the 1972 Amendments, especially the pertinent Committee Reports, which clearly reflect the Committees' understanding that the minimum and maximum limitations on death benefits of former § 9(e) were being eliminated and that only a minimum benefits provision tied to the applicable national average weekly wage was being substituted in their place. Pp. 440 U. S. 37-41.
(b) Section 6(d), which provides that "determinations" under § 6 "with respect to a period" shall apply to employees currently receiving disability benefits or survivors currently receiving death benefits during such period, does not render the maximum limitations contained in § 6(b)(1) applicable to death benefits. Congress' use of the word "determinations" in § 6(d) and of its verb form elsewhere in § 6 strongly suggests that it intended the term to refer only to the Secretary of Labor's annual determination under § 6(b)(3) of the national average weekly wage, not to the mathematical computation of disability benefit maximums contemplated under § 6(b)(1). This view is confirmed by § 6(d)'s legislative history. Pp. 440 U. S. 41-44.
(c) Since both the language and legislative history of the 1972 Amendments show that Congress' omission of a ceiling on death benefits was intentional, this Court must reject petitioners' suggested interpretation of the Act. Pp. 440 U. S. 45-47.
567 F.2d 1385, affirmed.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except POWELL, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.