United States v. Lorenzetti

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Lorenzetti
LOCATION: Culpeper County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 83-838
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 467 US 167 (1984)
ARGUED: Apr 23, 1984
DECIDED: May 29, 1984

ADVOCATES:
Carolyn F. Corwin - on behalf of the Petitioner
Carolyn Frances Corwin - on behalf of the petitioner -- rebuttal
Charles Sovel - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Lorenzetti

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 23, 1984 in United States v. Lorenzetti

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in United States against Lorenzetti.

Ms. Corwin, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Carolyn Frances Corwin:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The question raised in this case concerns the interpretation of 5 U.S.C. 8132, the reimbursement provision of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act.

Under Section 8132, a federal employee who has suffered a work-related injury, who has received FICA benefits on account of that injury, and who sues and recovers from a third party in connection with that injury, must reimburse the federal government out of his third party recovery.

The question here is whether that statutory duty to reimburse exists when state law provides that the third party recovery may not include damages for medical expenses and lost wages.

Respondent is a government employee who was injured in a work-related automobile accident.

He received FICA benefits in the amount of approximately $2,000 which allowed him to pay for his medical expenses and made up for his lost wages.

Respondent then sued the driver of the other car and eventually settled for $8,500.

The Secretary of Labor sought reimbursement for the FICA benefits that had been paid out in the amount of approximately $1,600, which represented the FICA benefits less a reasonable attorney's fee.

Even though Respondent's recovery was more than five times the amount that the Secretary of Labor was seeking to be reimbursed, Respondent took the position that he did not have a duty to reimburse because his settlement did not include amounts that represented medical expenses and lost wages.

That is because the Pennsylvania no-fault insurance statute abolishes tort liability for economic losses, including medical expenses and lost wages, that fall below the ceiling set by the Pennsylvania statute for no-fault coverage.

The district court held nevertheless that the statute Section 8132 did require Respondent to reimburse, citing the Ostrowski case from the Sixth Circuit.

The Third Circuit reversed and explicitly rejected the Ostrowski case.

In the Third Circuit's view, the federal government was to be a model employer and that that was Congress' intent underlying the statute.

For that reason the Third Circuit thought that Section 8132 ought to be interpreted so that a federal employee would be at least as well off as an employee covered by the state workers' compensation system.

Because the Pennsylvania courts had held that under the state workers' compensation law a compensation carrier would not be subrogated to the rights of an employee in a situation like that of respondent, the court concluded that the Section 8132 of the federal statute should not... should be read in an analogous manner to the Pennsylvania law.

Our position in this case is a straightforward one.

First, we think that the language of Section 8132 on its face requires reimbursement from Respondent to the federal government.

Second, we think that contrary to what the court of appeals believed, the result is consistent with the purposes that underlie the reimbursement provision.

Now, the language of Section 8132 seems clearly to require reimbursement from anything that an employee recovers from a third party on account of his work-related injury.

That is how the Secretary of Labor has always read this statute.

Section 8132 refers to money or other property an employee recovers--

William H. Rehnquist:

What part of 8132 are you reading from?

Carolyn Frances Corwin:

--Well, I'm referring to the language that... that talks about money or other property, and that... that comes within the first sentence.

You have to go down several lines.

William H. Rehnquist:

That's quite a sentence.

Carolyn Frances Corwin:

It is a long sentence.

William H. Rehnquist:

Okay.

It's six lines.