The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has released three summary decisions which each affirm disabled coal miners’ awards of federal black lung benefits. These opinions suggest that the court sees no merit to the coal companies’ arguments concerning application of the 15-year presumption, the companies methods for rebutting the presumption, and the ALJs’ decisions of how to weigh the medical evidence.
In each case, the Fourth Circuit dispensed with oral argument and issued a one paragraph, per curiam decision that essentially says that the Benefits Review Board got it right.
The three cases are:
- West Virginia CWP Fund v. Director, OWCP [Adkins] (Fourth Circuit decision here; Benefits Review Board decision here)
- Elk Run Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP [Harvey] (Fourth Circuit decision here; Benefits Review Board decision here)
In each case, the Board rejected arguments that the ALJ improperly limited the company’s ability to rebut the 15-year presumption, unconstitutionally applied the 15-year presumption to a pending case, and incorrectly weighed the medical evidence.
The Fourth Circuit appears to consider the coal industry’s arguments to be meritless and not worth the time for oral argument or even for writing an unpublished opinion. This conclusion is reinforced when these three cases are considered with the Fourth Circuit’s recent summary decisions in West Virginia CWP Fund v. Matlick (see previous post) and Consolidation Coal Co. v. Gilbert (see previous post).
Hopefully these decisions will signal to the coal companies and their insurance carriers that these issues are not worth appealing.
Congratulations to the claimants’ attorneys for their success on behalf of their clients (Leonard Stayton for Mr. Adkins, Joe Wolfe & Ryan Gilligan for Mr. Harvey, and John Cline for Mr. Reed) and to the Department of Labor’s Solicitors Office for its success in each case.