In a short, unpublished decision (decision here), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a widow’s award of black lung benefits under the Affordable Care Act despite her previous unsuccessful claim for survivor’s benefits.
In Peabody Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP [Hill], Judge White authored an opinion (joined by Judges Daughtrey & Cook) which reaffirmed that a previous denial of survivor’s benefits does not bar a widow whose husband was receiving black lung benefits at the time of his death from being awarded benefits based on the Affordable Care Act’s revival of the “automatic entitlement” provision at 30 U.S.C. § 932(l).
Previously this year, the Sixth Circuit issued a holding on this issue in Consolidation Coal Co. v. Maynes, 739 F.3d 323, 325 (6th Cir. 2014), (see previous post here).
There is only a slight difference in the Sixth Circuit’s holding today and its holding in Maynes: In Maynes, the company based its challenge on theories of res judicata and separation of powers; however, in Hill the company added a due process theory.
However the addition of a due process theory made no difference. The court stated:
[O]ur conclusion that the Board’s decision does not offend principles of finality disposes of that argument too. See RAG Am. Coal Co. v. Office of Workers’ Comp. Programs, 576 F.3d 418, 428 n.6 (7th Cir. 2009) (dismissing a similar due-process argument, stating “RAG’s claim that the refusal to apply ordinary principles of finality denies it due process of law is nothing more than a variation of its res judicata argument which we have already addressed”)
This decision does not break much ground, but it is good to see the court reaffirm Maynes because there other cases currently on the court’s docket raising the same issue.
Mrs. Hill was not represented by an attorney. Congratulations to Barry H. Joyner of the Department of Labor’s Solicitor’s Office for his work on behalf of the Department.