Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 515 U.S. 291 (1995)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1994

Syllabus

METROPOLITAN STEVEDORE CO. v. RAMBO et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 94-820. Argued April 25, 1995—Decided June 12, 1995

Respondent Rambo received a disability award under the Longshore and

Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) for an injury he sustained while working for petitioner as a longshore frontman. Subsequently, he acquired new skills and obtained longshore work as a crane operator, earning more than three times his preinjury earnings, though his physical condition remained unchanged. Petitioner filed an application to modify the disability award under LHWCA 22 on the ground that there had been a "change in conditions" so that Rambo was no longer disabled. An Administrative Law Judge terminated the disability payments, and the Benefits Review Board affirmed, relying on its 1984 Fleetwood decision that a change in wage-earning capacity is a change in conditions under 22. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that 22 authorizes modification only where there has been a change in an employee's physical condition.

Held: A disability award may be modified under 22 where there is a change in an employee's wage-earning capacity, even without any change in the employee's physical condition. Pp. 294-303. (a) A narrow reading of the phrase "change in conditions" is not supported by the Act's language, structure, and purpose. Section 22's use of the plural "conditions" suggests that Congress did not intend to limit the bases for modifying awards to a single condition, such as an employee's physical health. Rather, under the normal or natural reading, the applicable "conditions" are those that entitled the employee to benefits in the first place, the same conditions on which continuing entitlement is predicated. This interpretation is confirmed by the language of LHWCA 2(10) and 8(c)(21), which make it clear that compensation, as an initial matter, is predicated on loss of wage-earning capacity and should continue only while the incapacity to earn wages persists. Thus, disability is in essence an economic, not a medical, concept. The Act's fundamental purpose is to compensate employees for wage-earning capacity lost because of injury; where that capacity has been reduced, restored, or improved, the basis for compensation changes and modification is permitted. Pp. 294-298. (b) The legislative history also does not support a narrow construction of 22. Congress' decision to maintain a 1-year limitations period

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