Revised August 29, 2001
IN THE UNITED STATES
COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
TEMPORARY EMPLOYMENT SERVICES; MARYLAND
DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKER'S COMPENSATION
US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
TRINITY MARINE GROUP, INC
Petition for Review of a Final Order
of the Benefits Review Board
August 7, 2001
Before KING, Chief Judge, and ALDISERT(1) and BENAVIDES, Circuit Judges.
KING, Chief Judge:
Petitioners Temporary Employment
Services, Inc. and Maryland Casualty Company appeal from the
final order of the Benefits Review Board holding them liable
for compensation owed to Leroy Ricks under the Longshore and
Harbor Workers' Compensation Act and advocate a reversal of the
Benefits Review Board's decision on the merits. Respondent Director,
Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, United States Department
of Labor, urges reversal on the ground that the administrative
tribunal lacked jurisdiction to resolve the contractual dispute
in this case. Respondent Trinity Marine Group, Inc. requests
affirmance of the Benefits Review Board's decision on the merits.
For the following reasons, we GRANT
the petition for review, VACATE the Benefits Review Board's decision,
and REMAND with instructions to reinstate the original decision
of the Administrative Law Judge holding Respondent Trinity Marine
Group, Inc. alone liable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers'
Compensation Act and to dismiss without prejudice the claims
regarding the contractual indemnification provisions for lack
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL
Petitioner Temporary Employment
Services, Inc. ("TESI") provides temporary employees
and payroll services to various businesses, including shipyards.
TESI and Respondent Trinity Marine Group, Inc. ("Trinity")
entered into a contract in which TESI agreed to provide temporary
workers to Trinity. Pursuant to this agreement, Leroy Ricks,
a TESI employee, was assigned to work for Trinity.
While working for Trinity, Ricks
was injured at Trinity's shipyard on January 11, 1993. From January
15, 1993 through April 24, 1994, Petitioner Maryland Casualty
TESI's workers' compensation insurance carrier under the Longshore
and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (the "LHWCA"),
33 U.S.C. §§ 901-950, voluntarily paid Ricks's temporary
total disability compensation and medical benefits. Thereafter,
Maryland controverted the claim on the basis of a doctor's medical
opinion that Ricks could return to work. Ricks then filed a claim
for workers' compensation benefits under the LHWCA against TESI
and Maryland. Subsequently, at the request of TESI and Maryland,
Trinity was added as an additional alleged employer to the action.
A formal hearing was held before
an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 10,
1996. The ALJ issued a decision on November 26, 1996, awarding
Ricks certain benefits; holding Trinity, as Ricks's "borrowing
employer," solely responsible for those benefits; and ordering
Trinity to reimburse Maryland for benefits that Maryland had
previously paid to Ricks.
Trinity appealed the ALJ's decision
to the Benefits Review Board (the "Board"), and on
December 26, 1997, the Board issued a decision remanding the
matter to the ALJ and directing him to consider whether a valid
contractual obligation between TESI and Trinity obligated TESI,
rather than Trinity, to pay the benefits owed to Ricks. On remand,
the ALJ held that TESI had agreed to indemnify Trinity and that
Maryland's insurance policy contained a waiver of subrogation
in favor of Trinity. Accordingly, Maryland reimbursed Trinity
for the amounts Trinity had paid to Ricks and to Maryland. TESI
and Maryland then appealed the merits of this ALJ decision to
the Board. The Respondent Director, Office of Workers' Compensation
Programs, United States Department of Labor (the "Director")
challenged the jurisdiction of the administrative tribunal to
decide these contractual issues. Rejecting the Director's jurisdictional
challenge, the Board affirmed the merits of the ALJ's decision
on June 8, 1999. Subsequently, the Board denied a motion by TESI
and Maryland for reconsideration.
TESI and Maryland timely appealed
to this court, urging reversal on the merits. The Director has
also filed in this court urging reversal, but on jurisdictional
We have jurisdiction over petitions
for review of final orders of the Board pursuant to 33 U.S.C.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
"The Supreme Court has instructed
us that the preferred starting point in reviewing an administrative
order is to satisfy ourselves that the agency whose order we
are asked to review 'had jurisdiction over the matter in dispute.'"
Harmar Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs,
U.S. Dep't of Labor, 926 F.2d 302, 307 (3d Cir. 1991) (quoting
Cardillo v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 330 U.S. 469, 473 (1947)).
"Jurisdiction is a question of law which we review de
novo." Groome Res. Ltd., L.L.C. v. Parish of Jefferson,
234 F.3d 192, 198 (5th Cir. 2000).
"This court reviews the [Board's]
interpretation of the LHWCA, an issue of law, de novo,
affording no special deference to the [Board's] construction
because it is not a policymaking agency." Equitable Equip.
Co. v. Dir., Office of Worker's Comp. Programs, U.S. Dep't of
Labor, 191 F.3d 630, 631 (5th Cir. 1999); see also
Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U.S. 469,
476 (1992) (stating that "the [Board] is not entitled to
any special deference"); H.B. Zachry Co. v. Quinones,
206 F.3d 474, 478 (5th Cir. 2000) ("Indeed, deference is
owed to the Director's views and not the views of the [Board].");
Ceres Gulf & ESIS/INA v. Cooper, 957 F.2d 1199, 1204
(5th Cir. 1992) (stating that "[s]ubject matter jurisdiction
is a question of law[, and] our review is plenary").
Due to the maritime character of
their employment, longshore workers(4)
were precluded from participating in state workers' compensation
schemes. See S. Rep. No. 973, at 16 (1926); 1 Thomas J.
Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law § 7-1, at 380 (3d
ed. 2001). Therefore, in order to protect longshore workers,
Congress enacted a federal no-fault workers' compensation system
-- the LHWCA. See 33 U.S.C. § 904; 1 Schoenbaum,
Admiralty and Maritime Law § 7-1, at 380-81 ("In return
for compelling the employer to pay compensation without proof
of negligence, [the LHWCA] provides a statutory scheme of benefits
which are substantially less than tort damages, and grants the
employer immunity from tort liability, regardless of how serious
its fault may have been.").
"A fundamental aspect of [this
system] is the expectation that employers will pay compensation
promptly and directly, without the necessity of a formal award."
1 Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law § 7-1, at 381.
However, when a worker's benefits are controverted, a claim for
compensation may be filed and heard before an ALJ, see
33 U.S.C. § 919, and appealed to the Board, see id.
Under the LHWCA, an ALJ has jurisdiction
over a "claim for compensation" and has "full
power and authority to hear and determine all questions in
respect of such claim." Id. § 919(a)(5) (emphasis added); see also
id. § 919(d) (vesting the powers, duties, and responsibilities
of the deputy commissioners with respect to hearings in the ALJ).(6) The threshold issue we must decide
is whether the parties' claims regarding their indemnification
contractual provisions are "questions in respect of"
an LHWCA compensation claim and thus questions over which the
ALJ has jurisdiction. As we explain below, we find the contractual
issues in this case are beyond the scope of the authority granted
to the LHWCA administrative tribunals.
A. The Question Presented
Before addressing the jurisdictional
question, we make clear precisely what the parties are asking
us to decide in this case. A body of law has developed under
the LHWCA in response to situations in which multiple employers
and carriers possibly played a role in the worker's employment.
The "borrowed employee" doctrine deals with one such
situation. This doctrine is applicable in cases where one employer
"loans" or "lends" employees to another employer.
The instant case required application
of this doctrine because, as described supra in Part I,
TESI "loaned" Ricks to Trinity. We have determined
that the "borrowing employer" is the employer for purposes
of the LHWCA and, as such, is responsible for the payment of
the worker's compensation benefits. See Total Marine
Services, Inc. v. Dir., Office of Worker's Comp. Programs, U.S.
Dep't of Labor, 87 F.3d 774, 779 (5th Cir. 1996). Therefore,
Trinity, as the borrowing employer, is solely liable for Ricks's
This determination was made in the
initial ALJ decision and affirmed by the Board. It is not being
contested in this appeal. What is at issue here is Trinity's
contention that a contract exists between itself and TESI pursuant
to which TESI has agreed to indemnify it from any claims arising
from Ricks's employment (i.e., the worker's compensation benefits)
and that Maryland's insurance policy contains a waiver of subrogation
in favor of Trinity. In essence, Trinity is claiming that, although
the LHWCA places liability on its shoulders, it has contracted
around that rule via the Maryland-TESI/Trinity agreement. Trinity's
claims are dependent, therefore, upon contractual provisions
that are not governed by the LHWCA. These issues are the ones
addressed by the ALJ on remand, an action that the Board affirmed.
B. Scope of Authority
of LHWCA Adjudicative
in this Case
1. Jurisdictional Arguments
The Board held that the ALJ "acted
within his authority in resolving the issue of whether Maryland
is liable for [Ricks's] disability compensation, based on his
interpretation of the relevant contracts." Ricks v. Temp.
Employment Servs., Inc.,  33 Ben. Rev. Bd. Serv. (MB)
81, 84, available at 1999 WL 648934, at *3. To support
its holding, the Board referenced Pilipovich v. CPS Staff
Leasing, Inc.,  31 Ben. Rev. Bd. Serv. (MB) 169, 171-72,
available at 1997 WL 764428, in which it had held that
an ALJ should resolve contractual indemnity and insurance issues
between the lending employer, its insurer, and the borrowing
employer. The Board also relied on this court's holding in Total
Marine, in which we stated: "[W]e conclude that a borrowing
employer is required to pay the compensation benefits of its
borrowed employee, and, in the absence of a valid and enforceable
indemnification agreement, the borrowing employer is required
to reimburse an injured worker's formal employer for any compensation
benefits it has paid to the injured worker." 87 F.3d at
779 (emphasis added). The Board stated further that it was not
in the interest of judicial economy to defer consideration of
the contractual issues "to another place and time."
Ricks,  33 Ben. Rev. Bd. Serv. (MB) at 83, available
at 1999 WL 648934, at *3.
Objecting to the Board's determination,
the Director argues that the LHWCA does not give ALJs the authority
to determine common law contractual rights and liabilities. He
asserts that an ALJ can decide only whether a valid compensation
claim exists and, if so, the amount of that claim and which insurer
is responsible for making that payment under the LHWCA. In essence,
the Director maintains that, by its terms, § 919(a) only
grants authority to ALJs to determine issues under LHWCA law
as they relate to compensation claims. The Director argues that
questions relating to who may be liable under non-LHWCA law is
beyond the purview of LHWCA adjudicative administrative tribunals.
In this regard, the Director points out that reading § 919(a)
to grant expansive adjudicative powers to LHWCA administrative
tribunals could violate Article III. The Director also states
that the principles guiding our decision in Equitable Equipment
Co. v. Director, Office of Worker's Compensation Programs, U.S.
Department of Labor, 191 F.3d 630, 632 (5th Cir. 1999), in
which we held that an ALJ lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate an
employer's claim against its insurers for attorneys' fees, command
a finding that no jurisdiction exists in this case. As for the
Board's reliance on its decision in Pilipovich(7) and Total Marine, the Director
contends that Pilipovich was wrongly decided and that
the Total Marine language on which the Board relied is
dictum (i.e., that the panel in the case was merely reserving
a question not presented on the facts before it).
In addition, the Director points
out that placing non-LHWCA contractual issues within the ambit
of the ALJ's authority will result in an erosion of the objectives
of the LHWCA. He states that the critical, central theme of the
LHWCA is to get benefits (to which the claimant is entitled)
to the claimant promptly. This objective would be frustrated
when ALJs attempt to decide common law contract issues, questions
that are beyond their expertise, and when the claimant must rely
on non-LHWCA-approved entities, which are not set up to make
such payments, to produce those disbursements. Thus, the Director
argues that finding that ALJs do not have authority to interpret
non-LHWCA indemnity agreements supports the public policy justification
of the ready determinability of who it is that owes LHWCA benefits.
The parties all disagree with the
Director that the ALJ did not have authority to consider the
contractual indemnification dispute in this case.(8)
TESI and Maryland conclusorily state that the ALJ does have authority
to decide their contract issues and that it would be inefficient
to have to litigate these issues in another forum. The public
policy considerations of avoiding multiplicity of litigation
and efficacy underpin TESI's and Maryland's arguments.
Trinity argues that the import of
Total Marine is that it is proper for ALJs to consider
whether a valid and enforceable indemnification agreement exists
between the employers. Trinity notes that, as in this case, an
allocation question (i.e., which of two employers is responsible
for the compensation benefits) was at issue in Total Marine.
Trinity also states that consideration of the indemnification
dispute conforms to § 919(a)'s requirement that the issues
are "in respect of" a compensation claim because the
ALJ would be determining who pays the claimant's benefits. Finally,
Trinity objects to the Director's reliance on Equitable Equipment
Co., stating that, while attorneys' fees are clearly ancillary
to the compensation determination, the responsible payer inquiry
2. Analysis of Jurisdiction
in this Case
We begin, of course, with the text
of § 919(a). SeeLandreth Timber Co. v. Landreth,
471 U.S. 681, 685 (1985) ("It is axiomatic that '[t]he starting
point in every case involving construction of a statute is the
language itself.'" (alteration in original) (citation omitted)).
The relevant language states that an ALJ has authority "to
hear and determine all questions in respect of such claim"
and the phrase "such claim" references "a claim
for compensation." 33 U.S.C. § 919(a). Thus, a plain
reading of the text indicates that the ALJ's authority extends
only to questions that are in respect of the LHWCA claim
of an injured or deceased worker.
The Supreme Court has not looked
beyond the text of § 919(a) to discern its meaning. In Cardillo
v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., the Court stated simply
that "questions as to whether an injury arose out of and
in the course of employment necessarily fall within the scope
of [the administrative tribunal's] authority." 330 U.S.
469, 477 (1947); see alsoCrowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22,
62 (1932) (finding that the LHWCA withstood various constitutional
challenges and stating that the "such claim" language
in § 919(a) meant "the claim for compensation under
the [LHWCA] and by its explicit provisions is that of an 'employee,'
as defined in the [LHWCA], against his 'employer'"). This
court has, however, provided some guidelines regarding the jurisdictional
reach of § 919(a).
In interpreting § 919(a), we
have explained that the disputed issue must be "integral
to deciding the compensation claim." Equitable Equip.
Co., 191 F.3d at 632, 633 (stating that § 919(a) "does
not vest jurisdiction in ALJs to decide a contract dispute between
an employer and its carriers when the cause of action is wholly
unrelated to an underlying claim for compensation"). We
held, therefore, that "a state law breach of contract claim
between an insurer and its insured . . . . is beyond the jurisdictional
reach of § 919(a), particularly when the underlying compensation
claim has been resolved and no factual dispute regarding the
compensation claim itself must be decided." Id. at
632; see also Restatement (Second) of Judgments §
83 cmt. g (1982) (stating that an administrative tribunal "ordinarily
lacks authority to adjudicate claims arising out of the transaction
in question but based upon other substantive legal premises").
Equitable Equipment Co. essentially echoed the approach to §
919(a) taken by other courts. For instance, in BethEnergy
Mines, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs,
U.S. Department of Labor, the Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit held that administrative bodies under the Black Lung
Benefits Act (which incorporates by reference the claim management
and adjudication procedures of the LHWCA, such as § 919(a))
lacked jurisdiction to resolve disputes regarding interest assessed
against employers on reimbursements to the black lung disability
trust fund for medical benefits that the fund had previously
paid into on behalf of the claimants. See 32 F.3d 843,
845-48 (3d Cir. 1994). Agreeing with the Director's construction
of § 919(a) in the case, the court stated that "[b]ecause
the 'claim' to which [the LHWCA] sections refer is that of the
injured or deceased [worker], the administrative procedure .
. . is available only to a party . . . who seeks to challenge
some aspect of the [worker's] 'claim,' such as the [worker's]
eligibility for some or all of the compensation sought or granted."
Id. at 847. The court contrasted "underlying liability
determinations" (i.e., "[p]roceedings before the ALJ
and the Board . . . [which] center on the evaluation of the claimant's
entitlement to payments"), id. at 847-48 (emphasis
added), and interest assessments, which do not benefit the claimant
and are not sought on behalf of the claimant. See id.
Thus, the court concluded that "although the demand for
interest is predicated in the first instance on the fact that
the [worker] filed the claim, it cannot be said to raise any
'questions in respect of such claim,' all of which have been
resolved by then." Id. at 848.
Also regarding interest assessments
in Black Lung Benefits Act cases, the Court of Appeals for the
Fourth Circuit held that such disputes were not within the cognizance
of the ALJ and the Board. See Sea "B" Mining
Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, U.S. Dep't of
Labor, 45 F.3d 851, 854-56 (4th Cir. 1995). Relying on BethEnergy,
the court noted that because "underlying liability"
was not at issue, "'all questions in respect of such claim'
have been resolved." Id. at 855; see also
Indian Mountain Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp.
Programs, U.S. Dep't of Labor, No. 96-2262, 1998 WL 382630,
at *5 (4th Cir. June 11, 1998) (reaffirming Sea "B"
Mining and stating that questions "collateral to"
an underlying claim for benefits are those that do not involve
the claimant's eligibility for some or all of the compensation
sought or granted). Other circuits have also similarly resolved
the extent of administrative adjudicatory authority under §
919(a) in this regard. See, e.g., Peabody Coal Co.
v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, U.S. Dep't of Labor,
40 F.3d 906, 908-09 (7th Cir. 1994) (stating that "all questions
in respect of such claim" had been resolved because underlying
liability was not at issue); B & S Coal Co. v. Dir., Office
of Workers' Comp. Programs, U.S. Dep't of Labor, 35 F.3d
1041, 1045-46 (6th Cir. 1994).
Thus, while no court has apparently
considered the precise question facing us today (i.e., whether
issues involving contractual indemnification provisions are "questions
in respect of" a worker's compensation claim), courts have
repeatedly rejected attempts to read the "in respect of"
language expansively; rather, courts have focused on the fact
that the disputed issue must be essential to resolving the rights
and liabilities of the claimant, the employer, and the insurer
regarding the compensation claim under the relevant statutory
law.(9) As in cases involving
the Black Lung Benefits Act (which incorporates, inter alia,
§ 919(a)) and other analogous circumstances, we are presented
today with a dispute that does not involve the claimant's
entitlement to benefits or the question who, under the LHWCA,
is responsible for paying those benefits.
Our Total Marine case is
not to the contrary because it does not stand for the
proposition that any contractual indemnification issues may be
adjudicated by the administrative tribunal. To restate, we held
in Total Marine: "[W]e conclude that a borrowing
employer is required to pay the compensation benefits of its
borrowed employee, and, in the absence of a valid and enforceable
indemnification agreement, the borrowing employer is required
to reimburse an injured worker's formal employer for any compensation
benefits it has paid to the injured worker." 87 F.3d at
779. Thus, we held that, in the borrowed-employee context, the
borrowing employer is the entity responsible for the payment
of the claimant's benefits. This holding was the result of an
analysis regarding how the LHWCA determines the responsible employer
in borrowed employee situations. As such, the administrative
tribunal properly adjudicated questions arising under the LHWCA
that bore directly on the compensation claim. Furthermore, the
language in Total Marine regarding "the absence of
a valid and enforceable indemnification agreement" was not
dispositive of the issues presented in that case because no such
agreement even existed. We agree with the Director that Total
Marine merely reserved a question not presented, a question
we resolve today.
Interpreting § 919(a) authority
as not extending to the contractual issues in this case is faithful
not only to the language of the statutory provision and the cases
interpreting that language, but also to the objectives and policy
considerations underlying the LHWCA. As mentioned briefly at
the outset of this section, the LHWCA is a no-fault compensation
scheme, in return for which employers are immune from tort liability.
The basic structure of the LHWCA provides that the employer and
its insurance carrier are responsible for the claimant's compensation
benefits. The insurance relationship under the LHWCA is closely
regulated for the security, prompt provision, and convenient
supervision of payments of benefits to the worker. See
33 U.S.C. §§ 932, 935-936; see also, e.g., id.
§ 914(a), (b) (stating payments must be paid promptly, periodically,
and directly to the claimant). See generally 20 C.F.R.
pt. 703 (2001). The carrier of record for the entity ultimately
determined to be the responsible employer under the LHWCA must
bear the liability for the compensation of the claimant. See
id. § 932(a)(1); 20 C.F.R. §§ 703.003,
.115 (2001); see also 33 U.S.C. § 932(a)(2) (stating
the requirements for an employer to be authorized as a self-insurer
and thus its own carrier and the attending obligations); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 703.002, .301-.312 (2001) (same). The convenient
and effective administration of the LHWCA intended to be provided
by the LHWCA's terms and implementing regulations depends in
significant measure on the prompt, accurate identification of
the liable employer and its carrier to whom the compensation
system is entitled to look for the prompt and continuing payment
of all benefits. SeeRodriguez v. Compass Shipping Co., Ltd.,
451 U.S. 596, 612 (1981) (stating that "the general policy
of the [LHWCA is] to encourage the prompt and efficient administration
of compensation claims").
Once all the LHWCA issues in respect
of the compensation claim have been adjudicated (as they have
been in this case), an adjudication of who else may be liable
on other grounds is, therefore, unnecessary to the objective
of the LHWCA proceedings. Moreover, such resolution is potentially
destructive to the security of future payments, which has been
accomplished by identifying and ordering payments from an LHWCA-authorized
carrier. This is because a party deemed to be ultimately responsible
on contractual or other grounds may have far less financial stability
and long-term reliability than is required of LHWCA carriers.
Not only could security and prompt
administration of the LHWCA be impaired if ALJs resolve questions
such as the contractual agreement at issue in this case, but
ALJs would be acting beyond their expertise, thus further hindering
the mission of the LHWCA. As the Supreme Court stated: "[T]he
obvious purpose of the [LHWCA is] to furnish a prompt, continuous,
expert and inexpensive method for dealing with a class of questions
of fact which are peculiarly suited to examination and
determination by an administrative agency specially assigned
to that task." See Crowell, 285 U.S. at 46
(emphasis added). The "judicial economy" rationale
on which the parties and the Board heavily rely in their argument
to permit the ALJ to make the contractual indemnification determinations
in this case is unpersuasive: "It cannot be regarded as
an impairment of the intended efficiency of an administrative
agency that it is confined to its proper sphere[.]" Id.
at 65. Therefore, the policy considerations underlying the LHWCA
provide further support for the determination that Congress did
not grant administrative tribunals authority in § 919(a)
to adjudicate the contractual issues in this case because such
a grant would undermine the very goals it was attempting to achieve
in creating and structuring the LHWCA as it did.
Because we conclude that administrative
tribunals under the LHWCA have not been granted adjudicatory
authority by Congress to resolve the parties' claims, we need
not reach the question whether such an adjudication would violate
Article III of the Constitution under Northern Pipeline Construction
Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50 (1982), and its
progeny. We note, however, that common law contract disputes
generally "involve 'private rights' which are at the 'core'
of 'matters normally reserved to Article III courts [and thus
beyond the purview of non-Article III entities].'" Coit
Indep. Joint Venture v. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ins. Corp.,
489 U.S. 561, 578-79 (1989) (quoting Commodity Futures Trading
Comm'n v. Schor, 478 U.S. 833, 853 (1986)). In this regard,
"statutes can and should be read to avoid [serious constitutional]
difficulties." Id. at 579 (citing Schor, 478
U.S. at 841, and Crowell, 285 U.S. at 62); see also
Equitable Equip. Co., 191 F.3d at 632 ("Underpinning
. . . cases is a concern . . . that the jurisdiction of a non-article
III tribunal like those under the LHWCA workers compensation
statute should be consistent with . . . [Northern Pipeline].").
We reaffirm, therefore, the principles
put forth in our Equitable Equipment Co. case and determine
that those principles dictate that the ALJ and Board overstepped
their statutory authority in this case by deciding questions
that are not "integral to" the compensation claim,
see Equitable Equip. Co., 191 F.3d at 633. In essence,
whether TESI agreed to indemnify Trinity for workers' compensation
claims relates to the compensation claim only in the sense that
the question would not arise but for Ricks's compensation claim.
This "but for" approach to § 919(a) casts too
wide a net, and for the reasons discussed above, we decline to
rest administrative jurisdiction "on too thin a reed,"
id. at 632. As such, we are not presented with a "question
in respect of a claim" within the meaning of § 919(a)
because all questions regarding Ricks's LHWCA compensation claim
have already been resolved. See, e.g., BethEnergy,
32 F.3d at 847-48. Consequently, the ALJ and the Board lacked
authority to adjudicate the Maryland-TESI/Trinity contractual
dispute in this case.
Because we find the Director's jurisdictional
challenge to the actions of the ALJ and the Board to be meritorious,
we need not and do not address the merits of this case. Therefore,
the parties' claims are to be dismissed without prejudice and
may be filed in a court of general jurisdiction.
For the foregoing reasons, we GRANT
the petition for review, VACATE the Board's decision, and REMAND
with instructions to reinstate the original decision of the ALJ
holding Trinity alone liable, as employer and self-insurer, under
the LHWCA and ordering Trinity to reimburse Maryland for compensation
paid to Ricks and to dismiss without prejudice the claims regarding
the contractual indemnification provisions for lack of jurisdiction.
Each party shall bear its own costs.
1. Circuit Judge
of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting by designation.
2. TESI, Trinity,
and Maryland will be collectively referred to hereinafter as
3. The Supreme
Court has held that the Director may appear as a respondent before
the courts of appeals. SeeIngalls Shipbuilding Inc. v. Dir.,
Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, Dep't of Labor, 519 U.S.
248, 265-266 (1997).
4. The class
of land-based workers who perform a variety of tasks for, on,
and around vessels were commonly known as "longshoremen."
See 1 Thomas J. Schoenbaum, Admiralty and Maritime Law
§ 7-1, at 380 (3d ed. 2001). The term "longshore"
was substituted for "longshoremen" in the 1984 amendments.
See Pub. L. No. 98-426, 98 Stat. 1639, 1654 (1984).
5. Section 919(a),
"Filing of claim," reads in full:
Subject to the provisions of section
913 of this title a claim for compensation may be filed with
the deputy commissioner in accordance with regulations prescribed
by the Secretary at any time after the first seven days of disability
following any injury, or at any time after death, and the deputy
commissioner shall have full power and authority to hear and
determine all questions in respect of such claim.
33 U.S.C. § 919(a).
6. Section 919(d),
"Provisions governing conduct of hearing; administrative
law judges," reads in full:
Notwithstanding any other provisions
of this chapter, any hearing held under this chapter shall be
conducted in accordance with the provisions of section 554 of
Title 5. Any such hearing shall be conducted by a [sic] administrative
law judge qualified under section 3105 of that title. All powers,
duties, and responsibilities vested by this chapter, on October
27, 1972, in the deputy commissioners with respect to such hearings
shall be vested in administrative law judges.
33 U.S.C. § 919(d) (footnote
7. The Director
notes that the Pilipovich decision was also appealed on
jurisdictional grounds, but the case settled on the eve of oral
argument before this court.
8. Although the
Director thoroughly briefed his jurisdictional challenge, the
parties did not respond to the issue in their initial briefing
to this court. During oral argument, when pressed by the panel,
the parties put forth the arguments described infra in
the text, and Trinity included some of these arguments in its
response to the Director's supplemental brief (filed after oral
9. Although Board
decisions regarding questions of law are entitled to no deference,
see supra Part II, we briefly discuss some relevant
decisions only to demonstrate that Trinity and the Board's reliance
on those decisions is flawed. In Rodman v. Bethlehem Steel
Corp., the Board held that an ALJ had jurisdiction "to
merely adjudicate those limited insurance contract disputes
which arise out of or under the [LHWCA], the resolution
of which are necessary in order to determine compensation liability
in claims under the [LHWCA]."  16 Ben. Rev. Bd. Serv.
(MB) 123, 126 (emphasis added). In addition, the Board has acknowledged
that an ALJ has jurisdiction to resolve issues regarding insurance
contract coverage when determining the responsible employer or
carrier under the LHWCA. See Barnes v. Ala.
Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Corp.,  27 Ben. Rev. Bd.
Serv. (MB) 188, 191, available at 1993 WL 404281, at *3
(stating that the ALJ "has the power to hear and resolve
insurance issues which are necessary to the resolution of a claim
under the [LHWCA]" (emphasis added)).
We need not and do not address these
decisions. They are inapposite to this case. No party here contends
that the resolution of those contractual questions that were
addressed by the decisions of the ALJ and the Board after remand
is required to determine compensation liability under the LHWCA
in the first instance, a determination that was made in the initial
decision of the ALJ.