Fourth Circuit Summarily Affirms Subsequent Widow Claim (Dominion Coal Corp. v. Compton)

On January 27, 2014, in Dominion Coal Corp. v. Compton (decision here), the Fourth Circuit summarily affirmed a decision granting the black lung benefits survivor claim of Virginia Compton, the widow of coal miner Johnny Compton.

In an unpublished, per curiam decision, the Fourth Circuit reaffirmed that a previous denial in a survivor claim does not prohibit a subsequent claim that is based on the Affordable Care Act’s changes to the Black Lung Benefits Act.  (As discussed in a previous post, the changes known as the “Byrd Amendments” have a provision that benefits survivors—often widows—of miners who were receiving benefits when the miner died.)  The Fourth Circuit had previously issued a published opinion resolving this issue in Union Carbide Corp. v. Richards, 721 F.3d 307 (4th Cir. 2013).

In Dominion Coal Corp. v. Compton, the Fourth Circuit also held that the onset date for Mrs. Compton’s benefits is not limited by the date that the Affordable Care Act uses to determine when claims qualify for more favorable treatment.  In other words, as long as a survivor’s claim was filed after that date (January 1, 2005), then the typical rule from 20 C.F.R. § 725.309(d)(5) applies:  a survivor receives benefits beginning the month after the miner died, but when a subsequent claim is involved, then benefits begin the month after the final denial of the previous claim.  As a result, even though Mr. Compton died in July 1994, the onset date for Mrs. Compton’s benefits was set as October 1999, the month after the her first claim was last denied.  The Fourth Circuit rejected Dominion Coal’s argument that January 2005 should be substituted for October 1999.

This decision is not a surprise, but congratulations to Joe Wolfe and Ryan Gilligan for their success on behalf of Mrs. Compton.

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