A decision today by the United States Supreme Court impacts administrative law judges serving in the Department of Labor who adjudicate claims under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Defense Base Act.
Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission
On June 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, which questioned the constitutionality of the SEC’s ALJs. The defendant in the case, who had been charged with securities violations and was found guilty by an ALJ following a hearing, claimed that the system for appointing ALJs is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that ALJs appointed by the SEC are “Officers of the United States” and therefore subject to the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Under that clause, only the President, courts of law, or “Heads of Departments” may appoint officers. Because the SEC’s ALJs were not appointed correctly, Mr. Lucia claimed the proceedings against him were invalid and unenforceable.
The Supreme Court, in a 7 to 2 ruling, found that ALJs are “Officers of the United States” who must be appointed by one of the enumerated constitutional positions. Because the ALJ in question was not properly appointed, the ruling issued was vacated. Further, because the ALJ was “tainted” by the proceedings, if the SEC wants to re-file the charge against Mr. Lucia, a different ALJ must handle the matter.
Impact on Adjudicating claims under lhwca and dba
How does this impact ALJs serving in the Department of Labor who adjudicate claims under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Defense Base Act? The same rationale applies to the manner of appointment of DOL ALJs as exists in the SEC. The Supreme Court’s ruling means that any matter under the LHWCA or DBA considered by an ALJ not constitutionally appointed by the President or the Secretary of Labor could be rendered void by a dissatisfied party. For any Decision & Order that is not yet final, an aggrieved party can seek to have that Decision & Order vacated as having been issued by an unconstitutional trier of fact. Presuming that the Secretary of Labor will now constitutionally re-appoint the sitting DOL ALJs, any such claim would have to be re-tried before a different, untainted ALJ.
This has the potential to literally clog the already crowded dockets of ALJs adjudicating claims under the LHWCA and DBA, causing even greater delays in finalizing claims. If you have questions about the application of this decision on claims under the LHWCA or DBA, please contact our offices.