Continuing a pattern discussed in a post from two weeks ago—this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has summarily affirmed two awards of black lung benefits despite challenges by the coal company responsible for payment.
Both of this week’s decisions were joined by Judge Niemeyer, whose concurring opinion in Mingo Logan Coal Co. v. Owens, 724 F.3d 550, 559 (4th Cir. 2013) made him appear to be receptive to the coal company’s arguments against applying § 411(c)(4) of the Black Lung Benefits Act to operators. Judge Niemeyer’s summary rejections of this argument in both of this week’s cases suggests that he is comfortable with the majority approach of generally applying § 411(c)(4) to operators.
This week’s two cases are:
- Consolidation Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP [Lake] (decision here)
- holding that the Benefits Review Board correctly determined (Board decision here) that the rebuttal provisions of § 411(c)(4) apply to operators and substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s weighing of the medical evidence in favor of the miner.
- Laurel Run Mining Co. v. Maynard (decision here)
- holding that the Benefits Review Board correctly determined (Board decision here) that the rebuttal provisions of § 411(c)(4) apply to operators, the Affordable Care Act applies to pending cases (whether or not the Department of Labor promulgated regulations implementing the changes), and substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s weighing of the medical evidence in favor of the widow.
This makes the court’s seventh decision in the past three months that has affirmed a black lung benefits award in the most summary way possible: dispensing with oral argument and denying the petition in an unpublished, one-paragraph, per curiam decision.
How much longer will the coal companies’ insurance carriers pay for appeals that the court sees no merit in?
Congratulations to Heath M. Long for his success on behalf of Mr. Lake, Leonard Stayton for his success on behalf of Mrs. Maynard, and the Department of Labor’s Solicitor’s Office for its success on behalf of the government in both cases.