NINTH CIRCUIT HOLDS DEFENSE BASE ACT’S ZONE OF SPECIAL DANGER APPLICABLE TO LOCAL NATIONALS

Claimant, a citizen of the Marshall Islands, was employed as a civilian defense contractor based in the Kwajalein Atoll, which houses the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site.  Claimant was hired as a painter and was given a four-day overnight assignment to paint and repair the Gagan Island pier.  While on Gagan Island, Claimant and co-workers resided in Employer’s trailer, which had limited space and food.  Claimant, as was culturally customary for Marshallese, engaged in reef fishing after hours to catch and eat the fish within the local body of water.  The DBA employer had a policy of prohibiting reef fishing during work hours.  While reef fishing on Gagan Island after hours, Claimant slipped and fell, cutting his right foot.  This injury became infected and ultimately resulted in the amputation of Claimant’s right leg below his knee.

 

Claimant sought benefits pursuant to the Defense Base Act as an extension of the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.  The Employer denied benefits asserting that the zone of special danger did not apply to local nationals, but only to foreign nationals.  The ALJ and BRB disagreed with Employer and awarded benefits.  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the award of benefits.

 

The Ninth Circuit held that the plain language of the DBA does not distinguish between employees sent abroad from their home country and local nationals.  Further, the court held that Congress implicitly endorsed applications of the zone of special danger to local nationals, citing to O’Leary, the United States Supreme Court case that first articulated the zone of special danger in 1951.  Further O’Leary and its progeny did not distinguish between employees sent abroad and local nationals, as Claimants’ domiciles are never broached in those cases.  The Ninth Circuit, however, did note in dicta that if Claimant were injured at home in his living room instead of injured during a four-day overnight work assignment on an uninhabited island with restricted access, then the zone of special danger would not likely apply.

 

Chugach Management Services v. Jetnil & Director, OWCP

Ninth Circuit Finds DBA Claimant Failed to Establish Employee-Employer Relationship

The Ninth Circuit recently addressed the employer-employee relationship required in a claim under the Defense Base Act.  Claimant worked as a contractor truck driver with the U.S. military in Iraq.  In 2005, he was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) and filed a claim under the DBA.  Claimant named his employer as Theodor Wille Intertrade, GmbH (TWI), a Swiss corporation that did business in Iraq as Servco Solutions, LLC (Servco).  TWI/Servco controverted the claim and denied Claimant was its employee.

 

The claim was submitted to the Administrative Law Judge on briefs.  Judge Paul Johnson reviewed multiple deposition transcripts (including two from the Claimant) and affidavits and denied the claim on the grounds that Claimant had failed to establish that there was an employer-employee relationship.  Claimant appealed to the Benefits Review Board, which affirmed Judge Johnson’s decision.  Claimant then appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

The Claimant testified that he was working for TWI/Servco or one of its subsidiaries and that he took instruction from a TWI/Servco employee, Eddie Nagel.  He also submitted a signed declaration from a friend who confirmed these allegations, as well as a letter of recommendation from Mr. Nagel on TWI/Servco letterhead.  Judge Jonnson discounted Claimant’s testimony based on multiple inconsistencies at his two depositions, gave no weight to the signed declaration, and credited Mr. Nagel’s explanation that he wrote the letter out of sympathy, but did not supervise the Claimant.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed the ALJ’s findings because the credibility determinations were not in conflict with the record and held that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s finding that Claimant was not an employee of TWI/Servco.

 

Mikha v. Director, OWCP

Benefits Review Board To Enforce Attorney Fee Petition Deadline

The Clerk of the Benefits Review Board has issued a notice to the community that the Board has reviewed its policy concerning handling of untimely attorney fee petitions. Effective March 1, 2017, attorney fee petitions must be filed within the time limits established in 20 C.F.R. §802.203(c) and 802.219(e). The Board will not consider a late filed attorney fee petition absent a valid basis for late filing, which must be specifically requested and will be considered on a case by case basis. This serves notice to claimants’ counsel that late attorney fee petitions will not be permitted as a matter of practice, as has been done in the past.

Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §802.217, any out of time request must be submitted as a separate motion directed to the Clerk of the Board. Untimely filings are not allowed unless found to be “warranted.”

Longshore Act Penalties Increased For 2017

The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment And Improvements Act of 2015 requires the Department of Labor to annually adjust its civil monetary penalty levels for inflation. On January 13, 2017, DOL promulgated a final rule adjusting penalties for 2017. The new penalties are:

Failure or late filing of Form LS-202: $22,957
Failure or late filing of Form LS-208: $297
Minimum Penalty for Discrimination: $2,296
Maximum Penalty for Discrimination: $11,478

These increased rates are effective January 13, 2017.