A federal district court recently rebuffed a claimant’s attempt to skirt the Act’s appeal mechanisms by filing a purported enforcement action in federal court.
The claimant worked for the Marine Corps Community Service, an entity of the Defense Department. Following a hearing, the administrative law judge ordered the employer to to pay the claimant temporary disability compensation, to reimburse her reasonable medical expenses, and to provide future reasonable and necessary medical expenses. The employer appealed the ALJ’s decision. The Benefits Review Board mostly affirmed the decision, but remanded the claim to the ALJ to reconsider the ruling of a continuing loss of wage-earning capacity. On remand, the employer sought not only a reconsideration but a modification of the order. The ALJ modified the order, and both the employer and claimant appealed to the BRB.
While the BRB appeal was pending, the claimant filed a lawsuit in the federal district court seeking enforcement of the ALJ’s order under Section 21(d), and also seeking additional benefits for pain management and attorneys’ fees, and alleging claims for negligence and misrepresentation against the carrier. The carrier filed a motion to dismiss, alleging failure to state a claim or a lack of jurisdiction. In ruling on the motion, the court noted that an ALJ’s decision may be appealed to the BRB. Thereafter, the BRB decision becomes “final” 30 days after it is filed in the District Director’s office, unless a party seeks reconsideration from the BRB. Under the statutory scheme, under Section 21(d), once the order “has become final,” a party may seek “enforcement, not review,” of the order. The federal district court determined that the order at issue was not final, and held that “this court lacks jurisdiction over plaintiff’s request for enforcement of an order that is not yet final.”
The district court also found that it lacked jurisdiction over the claimant’s request for pain management benefits, attorneys’ fees and late fees. The court said it lacked jurisdiction over the non-final orders regarding the fees and penalties, and that the request for pain management essentially sought a modification rather than enforcement of an order. The court also found that the claims for negligence and misrepresentation related to the merits of the compensation due, an issue over which the court lacked jurisdiction. As a result, the court dismissed the claimant’s entire lawsuit.
Warner v. Contract Claims Servs., 7:17-CV-17-FL (E.D.N.C. Nov. 3, 2017); 2017 WL 5075250; 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 182567
© 2018 Ira J. Rosenzweig