The opinion of the court was delivered by: OBERDORFER
This action is before the Court on cross-motions of the parties for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
The Federal-State Extended Unemployment Compensation Act
(the Act) was enacted in 1970. It provides thirteen additional weeks of unemployment compensation benefits to workers covered by the program when unemployment reaches certain high levels specified in the statute. Congress has provided detailed "trigger" mechanisms to indicate when extended benefits are to become available. The central element in the trigger mechanisms is the insured unemployment rate IUR) as defined in section 203(f) of the Act.
Section 203(f) of the Act provides:
For purposes of subsections (d) and (e), the term "rate of insured unemployment' means the percentage arrived at by dividing
(A) the average weekly number of individuals filing claims for weeks of unemployment with respect to the specified period, as determined on the basis of the reports made by all State agencies (or, in the case of subsection (e), by the State Agency) to the Secretary, by
(B) the average monthly covered employment for the specified period.
In regulations issued at the time the statute was enacted, the Secretary of Labor specified that the numerator used in determining the IUR was to include all claimants for unemployment benefits whether paid under regular state unemployment compensation laws, under special state laws providing for state financed additional benefits in periods of high unemployment, or under the Act itself.
On January 3, 1980, the Secretary of Labor promulgated a new regulation which redefined the numerator of the trigger fraction.
Effective February 3, 1980, all unemployed workers claiming "extended benefits" under the Act or "additional benefits" under state law would be excluded from the calculation of that rate of insured unemployment. As a result, the States of Maine and New Jersey have triggered off the extended benefits program. This has occurred despite an increase in the unemployment rate in New Jersey from 6.6% to 8.4% during the period that the extended benefits program was triggering off.
The plaintiffs claim that the regulation which redefined the IUR conflicts with the Act. As the Supreme Court has stated in a variety of contexts, a question of statutory construction should begin with an examination of the language of the statute itself. See, e.g., Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 568, 99 S. Ct. 2479, 2485, 61 L. Ed. 2d 82 (1979); Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 689-690, 99 S. Ct. 1946, 1953-54, 60 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979); International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Daniel, 439 U.S. 551, 564-565, 99 S. Ct. 790, 799-800, 58 L. Ed. 2d 808 (1979).
The challenged regulation purports to interpret the words "individuals filing claims for weeks of unemployment" found in § 203(f) in such a way that would exclude individuals who were filing certain types of claims. The statute, however, appears clear and unambiguous and does not provide for,
nor does it require, interpretation. An individual who files a claim for benefits under the extended benefit program is no less an individual filing a claim for unemployment than one who files a claim for unemployment under the "regular" scheme. "Reinterpretation" of the phrase in question is therefore a departure from the plain language of the Act. If the Act is to be amended, Congress, not the Secretary, must do the amending.
More significant here is the fact that in the regulations implementing the statute issued soon after its enactment, the Secretary of Labor interpreted the words "individuals filing claims . . ." to include those filing for extended and additional benefits. 36 Fed.Reg. 46, 49 (Jan. 5, 1971). Since that time, Congress has reexamined the Act several times and has several times adjusted the trigger mechanism. For example, Congress has suspended the operation of the 120% requirement.
In addition, Congress in 1976 added the provision which permitted the individual states to trigger on when the IUR reaches 5%, without regard to the 120% requirement.
On all these occasions the 1971 regulation was before the Congress. A regulation change could have affected the amendments Congress enacted. Thus, there is evidence that, while considering these changes, Congress relied upon the fact that "individuals filing claims for . . . unemployment" would include those who were receiving extended benefits and additional state benefits.
The Supreme Court has frequently held in cases such as this one arising under the Internal Revenue Code that:
(A) long-standing administrative interpretation, applying to a substantially reenacted statute, is deemed to have received congressional ...