On October 14, 2014, the Court issued its second Order List for the 2014 term. One of the cases that the Supreme Court denied was Lincoln v. Director, OWCP.
Lincoln was an interesting case that involved the attorneys fee provision of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) and the meaning of the term “compensation.” The facts of Lincoln are fairly straight forward. The employee filed a hearing loss claim on May 24, 2011. Initially, the employer filed a notice of controversion stating that the hearing loss was noise-induced, but it needed additional information to determine the correct disability payment. On June 14, 2011, the district director served notice that the claim was filed. Then, on July 7, 2011, the employer voluntarily paid employee $1,256.84, amounting to compensation for “0.5% [binaural] hearing loss” and the equivalent of one week of permanent partial disability benefits under the maximum compensation rate.
The dispute in this case arose after the claimant’s attorney filed a petition for attorney’s fees. The employer opposed the petition, arguing that fees were not owed due to non-compliance with the LHWCA’s attorney fee statute, 33 U.S.C. § 928. Fees were not owed under Section 28(a) because “compensation” had been paid within thirty days of receiving notice of the claim from the district director. Further, the employer argued that fees were not owed under Section 28(b) because an informal conference had never taken place. The district director, Benefits Review Board, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit disagreed.
The Fourth Circuit’s decision explores the definition of “compensation.” The claimant argued that the $1,256.84 payment was not an actual payment of “compensation,” as intended by the LHWCA. The argument was reminiscent of a fairly recent case, Green v. Ceres Marine Terminals, where the employer paid $1 in “compensation,” but the BRB held that the $1 payment was not “true” compensation. The Fourth Circuit distinguished Lincoln from Green, finding that the $1 payment in Green was “untethered to the underlying claim,” but that the $1,256.84 payment in Lincoln was “directly tied to Lincoln’s alleged injury.”
Now that the Supreme Court has denied review, Lincoln is over.
(Note: I first published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore, and Defense Base Act Blog.)