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NATIONAL COAL ASSN. v. MARSHALL

March 23, 1981

NATIONAL COAL ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff,
v.
Ray MARSHALL, Secretary, United States Department of Labor, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case is before the Court on defendants' ripe motion to dismiss the case. Defendants have alleged several grounds for dismissal. The Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction because plaintiff's claims are not justiciable, and does not reach the merits of the remaining grounds.

 I.

 Plaintiff is an association which represents coal mine operators. Plaintiff alleges that the defendants' administration of the Black Lung Benefits Program (the Program) has resulted in the improper granting of benefits to tens of thousands of claimants. Plaintiff asks this Court to undertake a massive review of the manner in which the defendants administer the Program which pays over a billion dollars per year in benefits to thousands of coal miners and their families out of a special fund called the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (the Fund).

 The original Black Lung Benefits Act became a law in 1969. Its stated purpose was to

 
Provide benefits, in cooperation with the States, to coal miners who are totally disabled due to pneumoconiosis and to the surviving dependents of miners whose death was due to such disease; and to ensure that in the future adequate benefits are provided to coal miners and their dependents in the event of their death or total disability due to pneumoconiosis.

 Title IV, Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. 30 U.S.C. § 901, et seq.

 Experiences under the 1969 Act during the 1970's indicated that adequate benefits were not being provided to those who suffered from black lung. Accordingly, Congress passed amendments in 1972 and 1977 which significantly liberalized benefit entitlement and expedited the claims adjudication process. *fn1" Congress reformed evidentiary and eligibility requirements, gave broad authority to the Secretary of Labor to develop and promulgate appropriate medical criteria for filed claims, eliminated certain restrictions on the filing of claims, and established penalties to be imposed on coal mine operators for failure to meet their obligations. In 1977, Congress directed that all of the previously pending and denied claims should be revaluated under the new medical criteria. 30 U.S.C. § 945.

 The 1977 amendments also created the Fund in order to transfer more of the responsibility for black lung benefit payments from the federal government to the coal industry. With minor exceptions all black lung benefit claims are paid by an individual coal mine operator (operator claim) or by the Fund (Fund claim). The Fund is primarily available to pay the claims of miners whose coal mine employment terminated before January 1, 1970, or whose employment terminated thereafter but for whom a responsible coal mine operator cannot be identified, or for whom a responsible coal mine operator has been identified but operator declines to make payment upon an approved claim within 30 days. 30 U.S.C. § 934(a)(1) and (2).

 A coal excise tax finances the Fund. Coal mine operators must pay a tax of 50 cents per ton of coal from underground mines and 25 cents per ton of coal from surface mines, not to exceed two percent of the sales price. 26 U.S.C. § 4121. If the tax payments do not match the financial obligations of the Fund, the general treasury of the United States advances money to the Fund to be repaid from future coal tax revenues with interest. The Fund has not proved self-sufficient and is nearly $ 2 billion in debt. Payouts now exceed expected revenues by about $ 500 million per year. Plaintiff fears its members will be required to make up this difference eventually.

 The Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury control the Fund. The Secretary of Treasury is the managing trustee and reports to Congress annually on the condition and operations of the Fund.

 Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief and a writ of mandamus to redress alleged economic harm which has resulted from the defendants' "improper waste of assets of the ... Fund." Amended complaint at 1-2. Specifically, the amended complaint charges that as a result of unauthorized policies, practices, and procedures, *fn2" defendants routinely award benefits to persons who have not established their eligibility (count one) and make overpayments of benefits (count two). Finally, plaintiff contends that plaintiff's members are beneficiaries or grantors of the Fund and that defendants' waste of the Fund's assets breaches fiduciary duties and responsibilities which defendants, as Trustees, owe plaintiff's members (count three).

 II.

 Justiciability is a threshold requirement arising out of the Article III "case or controversy" clause. Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 95, 88 S. Ct. 1942, 1949, 20 L. Ed. 2d 947 (1968); O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 493, 94 S. Ct. 669, 674, 38 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1974). Claims are considered nonjusticiable where: (1) their resolution requires decisions which are not matters of judicial expertise but are matters of management, public policy or technical expertise; (2) the relief requested usurps the functions of a coordinate branch of government; or (3) the relief requested is not judicially ...


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