Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit summarily affirmed the awards of benefits in the claims of Greley Justus (who passed away in 2011 after filing his fifth claim) and his widow Carolyn Justus. The Fourth Circuit’s decision in Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Director, OWCP [Justus] (No. 14-1549) is available here.
The case has minimal precedential value and is largely limited to its facts.
As presented by the coal company and its insurer in their brief before the Fourth Circuit, the two issues were:
Did the Administrative Law Judge err as a matter of law in determining that the claimant and the deceased miner were entitled to benefits under the Federal Black Lung Benefits Act by failing to consider the miner’s ailing cardiac condition in determining whether claimant proved that the miner was totally disabled due to a respiratory impairment prior to his death?
Does substantial evidence support the Administrative Law Judge’s finding that the miner was totally disabled due to a respiratory impairment prior to his death?
The Fourth Circuit rejected both arguments saying simply: “Our review of the record discloses that the Board’s decision is based upon substantial evidence and is without reversible error. Accordingly, we deny the petition for review for the reasons stated by the Board.”
From a quick skim of the Board’s & ALJ Henleys’s decisions, it appears that Judge Henley found that Mr. Justus was disabled based on a qualifying exercise blood gas study, Dr. Forehand’s opinion, and the fact that Mr. Justus was on oxygen 24/7, even though his resting blood gas and pulmonary function studies did not produce qualifying values. This disability finding triggered the fifteen-year presumption, which remained unrebutted. The ALJ noted Dr. Hippensteel’s contrary disability opinion (which said that Mr. Justus’s health problems were based on serious heart conditions), but gave it little credit because the ALJ said Dr. Hippensteel did not address why Mr. Justus’s COPD & CWP did not prevent him from returning to work.
Mrs. Justus was awarded benefits under the automatic entitlement provision as 30 U.S.C. § 932(l).
The Board’s decision is available here.
The ALJ’s decision is available here.
Congratulations to Joe Wolfe for his success on behalf of Mrs. Justus before the Fourth Circuit and to Seth O’Quinn (a lay representative with Stone Mountain Health Services) for his success on behalf of Mrs. Justus before the ALJ. (Mrs. Justus was not represented before the Board and the Department of Labor’s attorneys did not participate in the case at any level.)