January 22, 2007
Skidmore, Chevron and More
In A.T. Massey Coal Co. v. Holland, __F.3d __, 2006 WL 3746139 (4th Cir. Dec. 21, 2006), the majority held that an interpretation by the Commissioner of Social Security over the term "reimbursement" in the federal Coal Act was not entitled to deference under either Chevron (because there had been no express or implied delegation) or Skidmore. The Chevron point is probably right, but the interesting thing is the Skidmore discussion. Skid more deference was appropriate, the majority held, only if the agency had developed a body of experience and informed judgmetn to which courts and litigants may properly resort for guidance. It found that lacking because the agency had interpreted the statute without relying on the sources (context and legislative history) which the majority found were the right sources to use: "in twice [interpreting the statute] the Social Security Administration has, without conducting a review of the Coal Act and its contexts, developed virtually no experience..."
The dissent, however, relying on the fact that dictionary definitions disagreed on the definition and the statute had split the circuits found the statute ambiguous, rejected the contextual arguments relied on by the majority, and found that the agency's interpretation was the same one he would have reached, and so didn't have to rely on Skidmore.
So, if the dissent is correct, the agency properly didn't rely on context, and under the majority's approach Skidmore would compel deference....
My guess is the supremes will take this one. Half of America is a named party to this case, which has to win for longest caption in the world, if someone has that on their blog.
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