Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121 (1997)

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

No. 96-272. Argued March 17, 1997—Decided June 19, 1997

Respondent Rambo, injured while doing longshore work for petitioner

Metropolitan Stevedore Company, received a compensation award under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA or Act), based on the parties' stipulation that he had sustained permanent partial disability. After Rambo acquired new skills as a longshore-crane operator and began making about three times his preinjury earnings, Metropolitan moved to modify his LHWCA award. Despite an absence of evidence that Rambo's physical condition had improved, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ordered his benefits discontinued because of his increased earnings. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, but the Ninth Circuit reversed on the ground that LHWCA § 22 authorizes modification of an award only for changed physical conditions. This Court in turn reversed in Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 515 U. S. 291, holding that the Act's fundamental purpose is economic, 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 the statutory scheme allows for modification, id., at 296-298, even without any change in physical condition, id., at 301. On remand, the Ninth Circuit again reversed the order discontinuing compensation. It recognized that when a worker suffers a significant physical impairment without experiencing a present loss of earnings, there may be serious tension between § 8(h)'s mandate to account for disability's future effects in determining wage-earning capacity (and thus entitlement to compensation), and § 22's prohibition against issuing any new order to pay benefits more than one year after compensation ends or an award denial is entered. The court reconciled the two provisions by reading the Act to authorize a present nominal award subject to later modification if conditions should change. It held that the order discontinuing benefits was based on the ALJ's overemphasis on Rambo's current status and failure to consider his permanent partial disability's effect on his future earnings, and remanded the case for entry of a nominal award.

Held: 1. A worker is entitled to nominal compensation under the LHWCA when his work-related injury has not diminished his present wage-


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