Which Court Has Jurisdiction for DBA Claims?

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently addressed the Defense Base Act’s Judicial Proceedings provision, 42 U.S.C. § 1653(b), to determine whether the initial review of decisions of the Benefits Review Board (“BRB”) must occur in courts of appeals or in district courts.  The DBA incorporates by reference Sections 18 (enforcement) and 21 (review of compensation orders) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, but those statutes were revised more recently than the DBA’s Judicial Proceedings provision.  Drawing upon this conflict, the Second Circuit determined that the DBA was ambiguous as it pertained to the initial review of Orders.  Accordingly, the court could engage in an interpretation of the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1653.

Ultimately, the Second Circuit determined that “the location of the ‘office of the Deputy Commissioner [now designated the District Director] whose compensation order is involved,’ as set forth in the DBA, establishes the pertinent geographical jurisdiction of the appropriate court of appeals.  It is because the District Director who served the orders in this case is located in New York that [the Second Circuit had] jurisdiction here.”  Finally, the Second Circuit determined that it, and not the district court, had jurisdiction to conduct the initial review of the BRB decisions.

Service Employees Int’l, Inc. v. Dir., OWCP, — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 547517 (2d Cir. 2010).

Comment: If jurisdiction can only exist in the Circuit in which a Department of Labor Compensation District exists, then only the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, Eleventh and D.C. Circuits would ever have jurisdiction.  This is because there are only Compensation Districts in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Norfolk, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle, Long Beach and the District of Columbia.  In other words, the Third, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Circuits would never have jurisdiction.