CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.
Plaintiffs, trustees of the United Mine Workers of America 1950 Benefit Plan and Trust (the "Plan"), claim to have paid out over $27,000 for black lung related medical expenses of miners who worked for Amax Coal Company, Inc. ("Amax"). The trustees seek reimbursement from Amax alleging
The trustees brought suit in federal district court as subrogees to the miners' rights against Amax, alleging that the company had been unjustly enriched by the Plan's payment of the black lung related expenses of the company's former employees. The district court granted Amax's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, ruling that under the BLBA the trustees could only sue in district court to enforce a final compensation order obtained through prescribed procedures and that the trustees' attempted invocation of the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act ("ERISA") and federal common law was insufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction on the district court. The trustees then brought this appeal. We affirm.
Section 422 of the BLBA, 30 U.S.C. § 932(a) (1982 & Supp. IV 1986), incorporates the claims procedures set forth in the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (the "LHWCA"), 33 U.S.C. §§ 918-928 (1982 & Supp. IV 1986). The procedures outlined in the LHWCA and in the procedural regulations for the black lung benefits program strictly limit claimants' access to federal district court. District courts decide disputes over black lung benefits awards only when a claimant sues to enforce "a compensation order making an award, that has become final" — that is, an administrative award that has not been appealed within the required time or with respect to which all appeals have been exhausted.
The trustees contend, and Amax does not dispute, that the Deputy Commissioner has found Amax liable for the black lung related medical expenses of the miners named in this action and that these determinations have become final. However, Amax does dispute the trustees' contention that the company can be sued in federal district court and forced to pay particular medical bills not yet certified under 20 C.F.R. Part 725 as having been incurred in the treatment of black lung disease. Amax points out that section 725.707 of the regulations establishes an administrative process for resolving disputes over whether particular expenses were incurred in the treatment of black lung disease. Section 725.707, like the mechanism for resolving the threshold questions of miner eligibility and company liability, provides for initial action by the Deputy Commissioner to be followed by ALJ review, Benefit Review Board review and appeal to the courts of appeals. 20 C.F.R. § 725.481, .707 & Part 802 (1988).
The district court concluded, and we agree, that a claimant, whether a miner or a subrogee to a miner, does not possess a
The trustees advocate, in effect, that we construe the jurisdiction of agency adjudicators narrowly to enable district courts to alleviate the agency's work load, notwithstanding that the determinations at issue involve the application of detailed administrative guidelines in a highly technical area. This approach is unsupported by common sense, the language of section 725.707 or, insofar as we have been able to determine, by any judicial or administrative construction of the black lung benefits regulations. Even the trustees' professed concern about delaying individual miners' claims is unpersuasive.
The trustees also argue that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction because the complaint states claims "arising under" federal law within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. section 1331. In particular, the trustees assert that the complaint sets forth claims arising under ERISA and federal common law. The trustees are not entirely clear about the sense in which their claims arise under ERISA, but they cite provisions requiring fiduciaries to administer funds in accordance with plan documents and prohibiting any use of fund assets that would "inure to the benefit of an employer." See 29 U.S.C. §§ 1103(c)(1), 1104(a)(1)(D) (1982).
We find the trustees' arguments unconvincing. To establish a cause of action in district court under section 1331 the trustees must show first that their action against Amax "arises under" ERISA or federal common law and second that section 1331 jurisdiction is not preempted by a
Id. at 1029. ERISA, and any interstitial principles of federal common law that supplement ERISA may affect the fund's status as subrogee, but this would appear to be a subsidiary issue that the trustees have raised at this juncture only by anticipating Amax's defenses. The mere relevance of ERISA and federal common law to the trustees' claims does not establish that these claims "arise under" those bodies of law. See Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 10, 103 S.Ct. at 2846; see also Gully v. First Nat'l Bank in Meridian, 299 U.S. 109, 116, 57 S.Ct. 96, 99, 81 L.Ed. 70 (1936) ("A suit does not arise under a law renouncing a defense, though the result of the renunciation is an extension of the area of legislative power which will cause the suitor to prevail.").
Even if the trustees' claims did arise under ERISA or federal common law, section 1331 would not supersede the provisions of LHWCA, as incorporated by the BLBA, that call for exclusive jurisdiction in the courts of appeals over disputes concerning specific medical expenses. Tremont Mining held that "where black lung benefits are at issue, jurisdiction is not available under section 1331 because it was `supplanted by the provisions for exclusive Court of Appeals review.'" 835 F.2d at 1030 (quoting Compensation Dep't of Dist. Five, United Mine Workers v. Marshall, 667 F.2d 336, 339 n. 7 (3d Cir.1981)); accord Connors v. Allied Chem. Corp., 676 F.Supp. 114, 117 (S.D.W.Va.1987). The Trustees distinguish Compensation Department, which involved only BLBA issues, from Tremont Mining, which, like the present case, involved ERISA and federal common law issues as well, and argue that the latter was wrongly decided. According to the trustees, Compensation Department properly held that the BLBA's
This distinction does not change the result. Generally, when jurisdiction to review administrative determinations is vested in the courts of appeals these specific, exclusive jurisdiction provisions preempt district court jurisdiction over related issues under other statutes. "The policy behind having a special review procedure in the first place ... disfavors bifurcating jurisdiction over various substantive grounds between district court and the courts of appeals." City of Rochester v. Bond, 603 F.2d 927, 936 (D.C.Cir.1979); see, e.g., United Transp. Union v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 822 F.2d 1114, 1120-21 (D.C.Cir.1987), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 108 S.Ct. 700, 98 L.Ed.2d 651 (1988); Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. EPA, 485 F.2d 780, 783 (D.C.Cir.1973); see also General Fin. Corp. v. FTC, 700 F.2d 366, 368 (7th Cir.1983) (litigant "may not bypass the specific method that Congress has provided for reviewing adverse agency action simply by suing the agency in federal district court under [section] 1331 or 1337; the specific statutory method, if adequate, is exclusive"); Assure Competitive Transp., Inc. v. United States, 629 F.2d 467, 471 (7th Cir.1980) ("a special statute vesting jurisdiction in a particular court cuts off the jurisdiction other courts might otherwise have under a more general statute").
The trustees contend that recovery from Amax could depend on the terms of the 1950 Plan or on the scope of the trustees' authority under ERISA, questions on which the special expertise of the Deputy Commissioner, ALJs and Benefits Review Board members has little bearing. But the cases do not support ignoring statutory provisions that call for exclusive review simply to avoid presenting administrative decision-makers with unfamiliar legal issues. In Environmental Defense Fund, for example, the plaintiff was precluded from going into district court to challenge the EPA's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. A district court suit would have circumvented provisions of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act which called for appellate court review of administrative decisions made under that Act. 485 F.2d at 783. The focus is not on the agency's familiarity with particular legal questions, but on its ability to produce the kind of record that will permit adequate appellate review of the questions. See, e.g., City of Rochester, 603 F.2d at 936-37; Environmental Defense Fund, 485 F.2d at 783. Although we are handicapped somewhat by the vague terms in which the trustees describe their reliance on ERISA and federal common law, we are unaware of any reason why administrative procedures cannot produce an adequate record upon which this court can resolve any ERISA or federal common law issues.
To be sure, the reach of a given exclusive jurisdiction provision is sometimes open to dispute. The circuit courts have split, for instance, on whether the exclusive jurisdiction of the Civil Aeronautics Board over airline mergers bars district court actions by employees claiming that a merger has violated employment rights. Compare, e.g., Carey v. O'Donnell, 506 F.2d 107, 110 (D.C.Cir.1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1110, 95 S.Ct. 783, 42 L.Ed.2d 806 (1975) with Clayton v. Republic Airlines, Inc., 716 F.2d 729, 731-32 (9th Cir.1983). In the present context, however, the conclusion that the exclusive review provisions of the LHWCA would preempt district court jurisdiction even if the trustees claim for reimbursement could be said to have arisen under ERISA and federal common law is reinforced by section 514(d) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1144(d) (1982). Section 514(d) provides that nothing in ERISA "shall be construed to alter, amend, modify, invalidate, impair, or supersede any law of the United States ... or any rule or regulation issued under any such law." The trustees address themselves to a narrow, redacted version of this broad provision, arguing that district court jurisdiction would not "invalidate"
The judgment of the district court is
The trustees repeatedly cite to part II.B. of the lead opinion in Northeast Department as support for their contention that there is a broad federal common law of pension benefit plans which provides a basis for section 1331 jurisdiction in this case. See Brief for Appellees at 7, 9-10. One quotation from part II.B. of the lead opinion is introduced with the phrase "[a]s one court held in analogous circumstances." The trustees fail to mention, despite conspicuous caveats in the Northeast Department opinions, that only Judge Becker found that the case arose under a broad federal common law of employee benefit plans. See Northeast Dep't, 764 F.2d at 147 n. 1 ("part IIB reflects the views only of Judge Becker"); id. at 151 ("[p]art IIB reflects Judge Becker's theory"); id. at 164 (Sloviter, J.) ("I do not join in Part II.B. which represents only Judge Becker's view."). We hope that counsel for appellants will exercise greater care in the future in their representations of legal authority.
If this case presented questions arising under ERISA or federal common law and if the Department of Labor were incapable of producing a record that would allow an appellate court to resolve these issues, it might have been appropriate for the district court to retain jurisdiction while the Department of Labor reviewed the contested bills. There is no indication, however, that the Department of Labor will be unable to produce the factual record needed to resolve any conceivable ERISA and federal common law issues. Thus, even if the ERISA and common law claims were within the scope of section 1331, resort to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction would only have delayed final resolution of the Trustees' claims. Amax would have been entitled to exhaust its appeals on the classification of particular medical bills, including review in the court of appeals, before the district court took up any remaining legal issues. See Pennsylvania R.R. Co. v. United States, 363 U.S. 202, 205-06, 80 S.Ct. 1131, 1133, 4 L.Ed.2d 1165 (1960).