Antelope Coal Company/Rio Tinto Energy Am. v. Goodin

Decision Date03 March 2014
Docket NumberNo. 12–9590.,12–9590.
Citation743 F.3d 1331
PartiesANTELOPE COAL COMPANY/RIO TINTO ENERGY AMERICA, Petitioner, v. Rolland E. GOODIN; Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor, Respondents.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

William S. Mattingly, Jackson Kelly PLLC, Morgantown, WV, for Petitioner.

Jared L. Bramwell, Kelly & Bramwell, Draper, UT, for Respondent Rolland E. Goodin.

Sean Bajkowski, Counsel for Appellate Litigation (M. Patricia Smith, Solicitor of Labor, Rae Ellen Frank James, Associate Solicitor, and Rita A. Roppolo, Attorney, with him on the briefs), United States Department of Labor, Office of the Solicitor, Washington, DC, for Respondent United States Department of Labor.

Before KELLY, McKAY, and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.

MATHESON, Circuit Judge.

Rolland E. Goodin worked at surface coal mines for 25 years and smoked cigarettes for more than 40 years. He developed a respiratory condition and filed for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (“BLBA”). 30 U.S.C. §§ 901, et seq. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) awarded Mr. Goodin benefits. His employer, Antelope Coal Company/Rio Tinto Energy America (Antelope), appealed, and the Department of Labor Benefits Review Board (“Review Board”) affirmed the grant of benefits. Antelope filed this petition for review of the Review Board's order.

Antelope's primary argument is that the ALJ wrongly limited its options to rebut a regulatory presumption that Mr. Goodin's work as a coal miner caused his respiratory condition. Specifically, it argues 20 C.F.R. § 718.305(d), 1 a rule limiting the type of evidence that may be used for rebuttal, should not apply to coal mine operators like Antelope. Alternatively, Antelope argues even if the rule applies, the ALJ's findings and explanation concerning the cause of Mr. Goodin's disability were incomplete. Exercising jurisdiction under 33 U.S.C. § 921(a), we deny Antelope's petition.

I. BACKGROUND

We begin with the relevant statutes and regulations and then turn to the facts and procedural history of Mr. Goodin's case.

A. Legal Background

Congress enacted the BLBA in 1969 to compensate miners who develop pneumoconiosis—black lung disease. The BLBA provides benefits to coal miners who become totally disabled from pneumoconiosis. Five parts of the BLBA and regulations are particularly relevant here.

1. Elements of a Claim

To obtain benefits under the BLBA, a claimant must prove: (1) he or she suffers from pneumoconiosis; (2) the pneumoconiosis arose out of coal mining employment; (3) he or she is totally disabled due to a respiratory or pulmonary impairment; and (4) pneumoconiosis is a substantially contributing cause of his or her total disability. See20 C.F.R. §§ 725.202(d)(2), 718.204(c)(1); 30 U.S.C. §§ 902, 921; Energy West Mining Co. v. Oliver, 555 F.3d 1211, 1214 (10th Cir.2009).

2. Pneumoconiosis Defined

The BLBA recognizes two types of pneumoconiosis: clinical and legal. Clinical pneumoconiosis refers to diseases the medical community recognizes as pneumoconiosis, which includes “conditions characterized by ... the fibrotic reaction of the lung tissue to ... deposition [of particulate matter] caused by dust exposure in coal mine employment.” 20 C.F.R. § 718.201(a)(1).

Legal pneumoconiosis, added in 1978, 30 U.S.C. § 902(b), is “any chronic lung disease or impairment and its sequelae2 arising out of coal mine employment. This definition includes, but is not limited to, any chronic restrictive or obstructive pulmonary disease arising out of coal mine employment.” 20 C.F.R. § 718.201(a)(2). This encompasses “a broader class of lung diseases that are not pneumoconiosis as the term is used by the medical community.” Andersen v. Dir., OWCP, 455 F.3d 1102, 1104 (10th Cir.2006). “Arising out of coal mine employment” means the disease or impairment is “significantly related to, or substantially aggravated by, dust exposure in coal mine employment.” 20 C.F.R. § 718.201(b).

3. The 15–year Presumption

The BLBA created a presumption that a miner is disabled due to pneumoconiosis when he or she has worked for 15 years in underground coal mines or substantially similar conditions and is totally disabled from a respiratory or pulmonary condition (the “15–year presumption”). In other words, a miner who proves 15 years of coal mine work and total disability is entitled to a presumption that the remaining elements of his claim are established. This presumption expired in 1982. 30 U.S.C. § 921(c)(4) (2006).

In 2010, Congress adopted the Byrd Amendments to the BLBA as part of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), Pub.L. No. 111–148, § 1556, 124 Stat. 119, 260 (2010). The amendments reinstated the 15–year presumption for claims filed after January 1, 2005. See30 U.S.C. § 921(c)(4) (2012).3

Section 921 provides that the Secretary of Labor can rebut the 15–year presumption only by proving (1) the claimant does not have pneumoconiosis, or (2) the claimant's impairment “did not arise out of, or in connection with, employment in a coal mine.” Id. § 921(c)(4). In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled the rebuttal limitations apply only to the Secretary and do not apply to coal mine operators. Usery v. Turner Elkhorn Mining Co., 428 U.S. 1, 34–37, 96 S.Ct. 2882, 49 L.Ed.2d 752 (1976).4

4. Rule-out Standard

The U.S. Department of Labor (the Department) maintains that a rule-out standard applies to the second method of rebuttal, requiring proof that rules out any connection between the claimant's disability and coal mine employment. SeeRegulations Implementing the Byrd Amendments to the Black Lung Benefits Act: Determining Coal Miners' and Survivors' Entitlement to Benefits, 78 Fed.Reg. 59,101, 59,107 (Sept. 25, 2013). Some courts have agreed. See, e.g., Peabody Coal Co. v. Hill, 123 F.3d 412, 417–18 & n. 9 (6th Cir.1997); Rose v. Clinchfield Coal Co., 614 F.2d 936, 939 (4th Cir.1980). This standard derives from 20 C.F.R. § 718.305(d) (2010), which, before its revision in 2013, stated, “Where the cause of death or total disability did not arise in whole or in part out of dust exposure in the miner's coal mine employment ... the presumption will be considered rebutted.” Id. (emphasis added).5

Although we have not addressed whether the rule-out standard applies to rebuttal of the 15–year presumption, we have held that a rule-out standard applied to a similar presumption of pneumoconiosis arising from proof of total disability and 10 years of coal mine employment. See Rosebud Coal Sales Co. v. Weigand, 831 F.2d 926, 928–29 (10th Cir.1987). That presumption was based on a now-defunct interim regulation that contained identical language to § 718.305(d) (2010). See id. To rebut that presumption, we said employers must show that “total disability or death of the miner did not arise in whole or in part out of coal mine employment.” Id. at 928 (emphasis added) (quoting interim regulation 20 C.F.R. § 727.203(b)(3) (1987)). The employer must “rule out any relationship between the disability and the coal mine employment.” Mangus v. Dir., OWCP, 882 F.2d 1527, 1529 (10th Cir.1989) (citing Rosebud Coal Sales, 831 F.2d at 928). We see no reason to interpret § 718.305(d) (2010) or the revised § 718.305(d)(1)(ii) (2013) any differently and hold the rule-out standard applies here. See Big Branch Res., Inc. v. Ogle, 737 F.3d 1063, 1071 n. 5 (6th Cir.2013) (noting the rule-out standard is consistent with the revised regulation).

5. The October 25, 2013 Final Rule

After Congress enacted the ACA, the Department issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the Byrd Amendments. See Regulations Implementing the Byrd Amendments to the Black Lung Benefits Act: Determining Coal Miners' and Survivors' Entitlement to Benefits, 77 Fed.Reg. 19,455 (proposed Mar. 30, 2012). The comment period closed May 29, 2012. Id. at 19,456. The Department issued its Final Rule on September 25, 2013, with an effective date of October 25, 2013. See Regulations Implementing the Byrd Amendments to the Black Lung Benefits Act: Determining Coal Miners' and Survivors' Entitlement to Benefits, 78 Fed.Reg. 59,101 (Sept. 25, 2013). 6 The Final Rule revised two sections of the regulations that are relevant to this case: 20 C.F.R. § 718.305(b)(2),7 which defines when working conditions are substantially similar to underground mining; and § 718.305(d)(1),8 which governs the permissible methods of rebuttal.

B. Factual and Procedural History

Mr. Goodin worked at surface coal mines, including the Antelope Coal Mine in Wyoming, from 1981 to 2006, when he retired because of respiratory health issues. On May 14, 2007, Mr. Goodin appliedfor BLBA benefits. As Mr. Goodin's last employer, Antelope is the named operator for his claim. A Department ALJ heard his case in Casper, Wyoming on October 20, 2010.

1. Evidence Presented to the ALJ

At the hearing, Mr. Goodin testified in person about his working conditions at surface coal mines in the various positions he held, which included warehouse worker for four to five years, equipment operator for 11–12 years, and equipment oiler in the mine pit for nine years. We will discuss Mr. Goodin's working conditions in more detail later in the opinion. He also testified about his forty-year smoking history, stating that he started smoking in his 20s, tried to quit multiple times, and successfully quit in 2004 or 2005. He smoked, on average, a pack of cigarettes each day.

The parties introduced conflicting medical evidence regarding (1) readings of chest x-rays and CT scans; (2) results from pulmonary function tests and arterial blood gas studies; (3) interpretations of patient history; (4) statistical reasoning; and (5) diagnoses.

a. Mr. Goodin's Medical Evidence

Mr. Goodin submitted Dr. Andras Bodoni's and Dr. Cecile Rose's medical reports and deposition testimony, Dr. Donald Smith's treatment records, and additional x-ray and CT scan interpretations.

Dr. Bodoni, board-certified in internal medicine, examined Mr....

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