Washington & Lee University has a nice piece on their website about W&L School of Law’s Black Lung Legal Clinic.
The article focuses on the oral argument made by third-year law student, Paul M. Wiley, in the significant case of Minich v. Keystone Coal Mining Co. before the Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board.
As the article explains:
Paul Wiley, a third-year student in the Black Lung Clinic at Washington and Lee School of Law, recently argued one of the most complex and important legal questions in black lung litigation today.
. . .
For his argument, Wiley represented the interests of James Minich, who worked for 30 years as an underground coal miner and is now totally disabled. Minich was awarded black lung benefits by the administrative law judge, but as is common in these cases, his former coal company appealed the award to the Benefits Review Board (BRB). The BRB hears appeals from the decisions of administrative law judges regarding black lung benefits claims and other statutes administered by the Department of Labor.
. . .
After recommending the clinic take the case earlier in the fall, Wiley had only 45 days to prepare the appeal and write the brief before finally making his argument in December. In an unusual move, the BRB posed three questions it wanted the advocates involved in the case to answer. Central to the BRB’s questions was the issue of what must the coal company prove to overcome the rebuttable presumption?
Wiley and the advocates for the other parties in the case faced over an hour of questioning from the judges of the Benefits Review Board. Wiley reminded the BRB that the changes to the Black Lung Benefits Act under consideration were meant to make the complex and technical system of black lung benefits more favorable to disabled miners. Wiley, quoting Senator Robert Byrd, reminded the BRB that the Amendments to the Act “were meant to stop quibbling with dying men.”
Minich is indeed an important case. It looks to be the Board’s definitive interpretation of the rebuttal standard that applies to fifteen-year presumption cases. As the article says, the case is still pending at this point.
The brief prepared by W&L’s clinic is available below. I consider it one of the best briefs on the issue and recommend it to all lawyers and lay reps who are dealing with debates about the proper rebuttal standard. (Full disclosure: I provided my thoughts on the issue to the director of the clinic, but I authored no part of the brief.)
Glad to see that the Paul Wiley, Tim MacDonnell, and the rest of the clinic is getting some much-deserved attention.