On Petitions for Review of Orders of the Benefits Review Board (Benefits Review Board Nos. 92-2703/04/05/2685/86 & 93-252 BLA).
Before: Sloviter, Chief Judge, Hutchinson, Circuit Judge, and Diamond,*fn* District Judge
The issue presented by this appeal is a jurisdictional one pending as well in three other courts of appeals*fn1 - whether the administrative bodies that adjudicate black lung claims or the district courts have jurisdiction to resolve disputes regarding interest assessed against coal mine operators on reimbursements to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (the "Fund") for medical benefits that the Fund previously paid to or on behalf of claimants. Underlying this jurisdictional dispute is a significant legal issue, which is the authority of the Department of Labor (the "Department") to assess interest against operators and carriers on such claims for the period before the responsible party has had the opportunity to review the data supporting the medical benefit. Because of the jurisdictional dispute, the legal issue has not been presented here or in the other three circuits, despite the apparent agreement among the parties that there is not likely to be much litigation over the amount of interest once that underlying issue is finally resolved.
In the matter before us, the Benefits Review Board (the "Board" or "BRB") determined that these actions may only be heard by the district courts. Accordingly, it affirmed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge dismissing the actions. BethEnergy Mines, Inc. and Barnes and Tucker Company, coal mine operators, filed this petition for review as part of a series of test cases. This court has jurisdiction over petitions for review of final orders of the Benefits Review Board pursuant to 33 U.S.C. § 921(c) (1988).
The Black Lung Benefits Act ("the Act"), 30 U.S.C. § 901 et seq., establishes a comprehensive legislative scheme designed to compensate miners for medical problems and disabilities related to pneumoconiosis (black lung disease).
The Act incorporates by reference the claim management and adjudication procedures of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (the "Longshore Act") to govern the Department of Labor's administration of Part C of the Act (the employer-funded federal workers' compensation program applicable to employees who have become totally disabled or died due to pneumoconiosis.) See 30 U.S.C. § 932(a) (incorporating most of 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950); see also Louisville and Nashville R.R. Co. v. Donovan, 713 F.2d 1243, 1247 n.2 (6th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 936, 80 L. Ed. 2d 457, 104 S. Ct. 1908 (1984).
In this case, our concern is with claims made to the Department of Labor for medical benefits only. Therefore, there is no need to review the history of the involvement of the Social Security Administration and the manner of resolving claims made for miners' disability or death, all of which has been reviewed in prior cases. See, e.g., Pittston Coal Group v. Sebben, 488 U.S. 105, 102 L. Ed. 2d 408, 109 S. Ct. 414 (1988); Mullins Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP, 484 U.S. 135, 98 L. Ed. 2d 450, 108 S. Ct. 427 (1987); Elliot Coal Mining Co. v. Director, OWCP, 17 F.3d 616, 627-628 (3d Cir. 1994); Helen Mining Co. v. Director, OWCP, 924 F.2d 1269, 1271-72 (3d Cir. 1991).
As is set forth in these cases, the Act established the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which is financed by a manufacturer's excise tax on coal. That Fund pays benefits directly to claimants not only when there is no responsible operator, but also before a responsible operator is determined and in other circumstances established by law. See e.g., Elliot Coal, 17 F.3d at 628; Helen Mining, 924 F.2d at 1272; 20 C.F.R. § 725.522 (1993).
In certain circumstances, as those presented in these cases, when miners seek payment of medical expenses incurred for treatment of pneumoconiosis ("medical benefits only" or "MBO" claims), the Fund pays claimants before operator liability is determined, see 20 C.F.R. § 725.701A(b), and the Department will seek reimbursement from the responsible operator. Sometime in 1988, the Department adopted a new agency policy to collect interest on medical expenditures made by the Fund and later reimbursed by the operator or carrier. Pursuant to this policy, the date on which the Fund paid the medical bill is the accrual date for interest. See 20 C.F.R. § 725.608(b).