Barnhart v. Sigmon Coal Co., 534 U.S. 438 (2002)

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

No. 00-1307. Argued November 7, 2001—Decided February 19, 2002

The Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act of 1992 (Coal Act or Act) restructured the system for providing private health care benefits to coal industry retirees. The Act merged the 1950 and 1974 Benefit Plans—which were created pursuant to collective-bargaining agreements between the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and coal operators—into a new multiemployer plan called the UMWA Combined Benefit Fund (Combined Fund). See 26 U. S. C. 9702(a). That fund is financed by annual premiums assessed against "signatory coal operators," i. e., those who signed any agreement requiring contributions to the 1950 or 1974 Benefit Plans. Where the signatory is no longer in business, the Act assigns liability for beneficiaries to a defined group of "related persons." See 9706(a), 9701(c)(2), (7). The Act charges the Commissioner of Social Security with assigning each eligible beneficiary to a signatory operator or its related persons, 9706(a); identifies specific categories of signatory operators (and their related persons) and requires the Commissioner to assign beneficiaries among these categories in a particular order, ibid.; and ensures that if a beneficiary remains unassigned because no existing company falls within the categories, benefits will be financed by the Combined Fund, see 9704(a), (d), 9705(b). Shortly after respondent Jericol Mining, Inc. (Jericol), was formed in 1973 as Irdell Mining, Inc., Irdell and another company purchased the coal mining operating assets of Shackleford Coal Co., which was a signatory to a coal wage agreement while it was in business. Among other things, they assumed responsibility for Shackleford's collective-bargaining agreement with the UMWA. There was no common ownership between Irdell and Shackleford. Irdell subsequently changed its name, operating as the Shackleford Coal Co. until 1977, when it again changed its name to Jericol. Between 1993 and 1997, the Commissioner assigned premium responsibility for 86 retired miners to Jericol under 9706(a)(3), determining that as a "successor" or "successor in interest" to the original Shackleford, Jericol qualified as a "related person" to Shackleford. All of these retirees had worked for Shackle-ford, but none of them had actually worked for Jericol. Jericol and respondent Sigmon Coal Company, Inc., a person related to Jericol under

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