Pauley v. Bethenergy Mines Inc.
United States Supreme Court
PAULEY v. BETHENERGY MINES INC.
No. Nos 89-1714, 90-113 and 90-114 Argued: Feb. 20, 1991. --- Decided: June 24, 1991
Congress created the black lung benefits program to provide compensation for disability to miners due, at least in part, to pneumoconiosis arising out of coal mine employment. The program was first administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) under the auspices of the then-existent Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), and later by the Department of Labor (DOL). Congress authorized these Departments, during their respective tenures, to adopt interim regulations governing claims adjudications, but constrained the Secretary of Labor by providing that the DOL regulations "shall not be more restrictive than" HEW's. As here relevant, the HEW interim regulations permit the invocation of a rebuttable statutory presumption of eligibility for benefits upon introduction by the claimant of specified medical evidence, 20 CFR § 410.490(b)(1), and a demonstration that the "impairment [thus] established . . . arose out of coal mine employment (see §§ 410.416 and 410.456)," § 410.490(b)(2). The referred-to sections presume, "in the absence of persuasive evidence to the contrary," that pneumoconiosis arose out of such employment. Once a claimant invokes the eligibility presumption, § 410.490(c) permits the SSA to rebut the presumption by two methods. In contrast, the comparable DOL interim regulations set forth four rebuttal provisions. The first two provisions mimic those in the HEW regulations. The third provision permits rebuttal upon a showing that the miner's disability did not arise in whole or in part out of coal mine employment, and the fourth authorizes rebuttal with evidence demonstrating that the miner does not have pneumoconiosis. In No. 89-1714, the Court of Appeals concluded that the DOL regulations were not "more restrictive than" the HEW regulations by virtue of the DOL's third rebuttal provision, and therefore reversed an administrative award of benefits to a claimant found to qualify under the HEW regulations, but not under the DOL provisions. In Nos. 90-113 and 90-114, the Court of Appeals struck down the DOL regulations as being "more restrictive than" HEW's, reversing DOL's denial of benefits to two claimants whose eligibility was deemed rebutted under the fourth rebuttal provision.
Held: The third and fourth rebuttal provisions in the DOL regulations do not render those regulations "more restrictive than" the HEW regulations. Pp. 695-706.
(a) The Secretary of Labor's determination that her interim regulations are not more restrictive than HEW's warrants deference from this Court. Deference to an agency's interpretation of ambiguous provisions in the statutes it is authorized to implement is appropriate when Congress has delegated policy-making authority to the agency. See, e.g., Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 866, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 2793, 81 L.Ed.2d 694. Here, since the relevant legislation has produced a complex and highly technical regulatory program, requiring significant expertise in the identification and classification of medical eligibility criteria, and entailing the exercise of judgment grounded in policy concerns, Congress must have intended, with respect to the "not . . . more restrictive than" phrase, a delegation of broad policy-making discretion to the Secretary of Labor. This is evident from the statutory text in that Congress declined to require that the DOL adopt the HEW interim regulations verbatim, and from the statute's legislative history, which demonstrates that the delegation was made with the intention that the black lung program evolve as technological expertise matured. Thus, the Secretary's authority necessarily entails the authority to interpret HEW's regulations and the discretion to promulgate interim regulations based on a reasonable interpretation thereof. Pp. 696-699.
(b) The Secretary of Labor's position satisfies Chevron 's reasonableness requirement. See 467 U.S., at 845, 104 S.Ct., at 2783. Based on the premise that the HEW regulations were adopted to ensure that only miners who were disabled due to pneumoconiosis arising out of coal mine employment would receive benefits, the Secretary interprets HEW's § 410.490(b)(2) requirement that the claimant demonstrate that the impairment "arose out of coal mine employment" as comparable to DOL's third rebuttal provision, and views subsection (b)(2)'s incorporation by reference of §§ 410.416 and 410.456 as doing the work of DOL's fourth rebuttal method, in light of the statutory definition of pneumoconiosis as "a . . . disease . . . arising out of coal mine employment." This interpretation harmonizes the two interim regulations with the statute. Moreover, the Secretary's interpretation is more reasoned than that of the claimants, who assert that the HEW regulations contain no provision, either in the invocation subsection or in the rebuttal subsection, that directs factual inquiry into the issue of disability causation or the existence of pneumoconiosis. The claimants' contention that § 410.490(b)(1) creates a "conclusive" presumption of entitlement without regard to the existence of competent evidence on these questions is deficient in two respects. First, the claimants' premise is inconsistent with the statutory text, which expressly provides that the presumptions in question will be rebuttable, and requires the Secretary of HEW to consider all relevant evidence. Second, although subsection (c)'s delineation of two rebuttal methods may support an inference that the drafter intended to exclude other methods, such an inference provides no guidance where its application would render a regulation inconsistent with the statute's purpose and language. The fact that the SSA, under the HEW regulations, appeared to award benefits to miners whose administrative files contained scant evidence of eligibility does not require the Secretary to forgo inquiries into disability causation and disease existence. The claimants' argument that HEW omitted such inquiries from its criteria based on a "cost/benefit" conclusion that the inquiries would engender inordinate delays yet generate little probative evidence finds scant support in contemporaneous analyses of the SSA awards; disregards entirely subsequent advances in medical technology that Congress could not have intended the HEW or the DOL to ignore; and is based on the unacceptable premise that the Secretary must demonstrate that her reasonable interpretation of HEW's regulations is consistent with HEW's contemporaneous interpretation of those regulations. Pp. 2535-2539.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.
Mark E. Solomons, for Bethenergy Mines, et al.
Christopher J. Wright, for the Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, U.S. Dept. of Labor.
Julian N. Henriques, Jr., for Harriet Pauley, et al.
Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
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