October 20, 2021

Volume XI, Number 293

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Supreme Court to Consider Appealability of Railroad Retirement Board Decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the second of several ERISA disputes this term, the first issue we discussed as the term began, October 5, 2020.  Monday, November 2, 2020, the Justices will consider whether the Railroad Retirement Board’s denial of a claimant’s request to open a prior benefits decision is a “final decision” reviewable by the courts in Salinas v. U.S. R.R. Ret. Bd. (No. 19-999).

The issue before the Court is a straightforward question of statutory interpretation. Section 355(f) of the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) provides that any claimant, certain railway labor organizations, certain of the claimant’s employers, “or any other party aggrieved by a final decision under [§ 355(c)]” may obtain a court review of “any final decision of the Board” if they follow the prescribed claims procedures.

The Board construes the provision as limiting court review to the types of final decisions listed in § 355(c) of the RUIA. In support of its position, it argues that the term “other” in the phrase “any other party aggrieved by a final decision under [§ 355(c)]” indicates the other categories in the list of individuals or entities that can seek review also must have been “aggrieved by a final decision under [§ 355(c)].” Since § 355(c) does not encompass decisions regarding reopening claims, there is no right to appeal such a decision. This construction is appropriate, the Board said, because reopening of claims is a matter of “agency grace,” not a statutory requirement.

The petitioners disagree, contending the phrase “any final decision” in § 355(f) means just that – every decision is a claimant’s “last stop” at the administrative level, including a denial of a request to reopen a claim. They argue that the Board’s limited reading of the statute cuts off claimants’ recourse in the courts prematurely, potentially depriving them of benefits owed to them but mistakenly denied and violating “bedrock principles of agency accountability.”

The issue before the Court is narrow but significant. The Board administers billions of dollars of retirement, disability, sickness, and unemployment benefits each year for hundreds of thousands of claimants under the RUIA and Railroad Retirement Act. A Supreme Court order limiting the availability of judicial review to a discrete list of decisions, as the Board argues is appropriate, would have a profound impact on those claimants.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2021National Law Review, Volume X, Number 306
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About this Author

Associate

Lindsey H. Chopin is an Associate in the New Orleans, Louisiana, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a member of the firm’s ERISA Complex Class Action, Employee Benefits and Class Action groups.

Ms. Chopin focuses her practice on the defense of complex ERISA class-actions filed against public and private single employer ERISA plan sponsors and fiduciaries, as well as multi-employer plans and fiduciaries and ERISA plan services providers.  She has litigated a wide variety of class action claims, including 401(k) fee claims,...

504-208-1755
Principal

Stacey C.S. Cerrone is a Principal in the New Orleans, Louisiana, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Her practice focuses on representing employers in workplace law matters, including preventive advice and counseling.

Practices

  • Employee Benefits

Admitted to Practice

  • 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, 1998
  • 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2014
  • Louisiana - E.D. La., 1999
  • Louisiana - M.D. La., 1998
  • Louisiana - W.D. La., 1998
  • Louisiana, 1998
504-208-1755
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