Barnhart v. Peabody Coal Co., 537 U.S. 149 (2003)

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OCTOBER TERM, 2002

Syllabus

BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY v. PEABODY COAL CO. et al.

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

No. 01-705. Argued October 8, 2002—Decided January 15, 2003*

Under the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act of 1992 (Coal Act or

Act), the Commissioner of Social Security "shall, before October 1, 1993," assign each coal industry retiree eligible for benefits under the Act to an extant operating company—a "signatory operator"—or a related entity, which shall then be responsible for funding the beneficiary's benefits, 26 U. S. C. 9706(a). Assignment to a signatory operator binds the operator to pay an annual premium to the United Mine Workers of America Combined Benefit Fund (Combined Fund), which administers the benefits. The premium has up to three components, a health benefit premium, a death benefit premium, and a premium for retirees who are not assigned to a particular operator, but whose benefits are paid from the Combined Fund as if they were assigned. An important object of the Coal Act was providing stable funding for the health benefits of such "orphan retirees." Although signatory operators will only be required to pay an unassigned beneficiaries premium if funding from the United Mine Workers of America 1950 Pension Plan (UMWA Pension Plan) and the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund (AML Fund) runs out, each signatory operator's unassigned beneficiaries premium is based on the number of its assigned beneficiaries, such that the signatory with the most assigned retirees would be required to cover the greatest share of the benefits payable to unassigned beneficiaries. In two separate actions before different District Courts, respondent companies challenged initial assignments made to them after the October 1, 1993, deadline, claiming that the date set a time limit on the Commissioner's assignment power, so that a beneficiary not assigned on that date must be left unassigned for life. If the challenged assignments are void, the corresponding benefits must be financed by transfers from the UMWA Pension Plan, the AML Fund, and, if necessary, unassigned beneficiaries premiums paid by signatory operators to whom

*Together with Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security v. Bellaire Corp. et al. (see this Court's Rule 12.4), and No. 01-715, Holland et al. v. Bellaire Corp. et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

149

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