Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Fourth Circuit rejects Pittston's constitutional attack on the Coal Act

In The Pittston Co. v. U.S., the Fourth Circuit in an opinion by Judge Niemeyer joined by Judge Traxler, with Chief Judge Wilkins concurring in part and dssenting in party, affirmed the dismissal of Pittston's constitutional challenge to the Coal Act. The Coal Act was the legislative bail-out at the end of the 1988 National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement to fund health benefits of the UMWA Funds beneficiaries. Its somewhat controversial feature is the reachback mechanism, to find employers to pay for benefits. The reachback was ruled to be unconstitutional in the extreme circumstances of the Eastern Enterprises case, but none of the many subsequent constitutional challenges to the Act have succeeded.

Chief Judge Wilkins concurred on the constitutional issues, but would have held that the reassignment of some retirees to Pittston was improper under the Act. (So, the outcome wasn't really 2-1, it was more like 2.9-0.1.)

Wade Massie from Abingdon argued for Pittston in the case.

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