Mullins Coal Company, Inc of Virginia v. Director, Office of Workers Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor, No. 86-327

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which, REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN
PartiesMULLINS COAL COMPANY, INC. OF VIRGINIA, et al., Petitioners v. DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, et al
Docket NumberNo. 86-327
Decision Date14 December 1987

484 U.S. 135
108 S.Ct. 427
98 L.Ed.2d 450
MULLINS COAL COMPANY, INC. OF VIRGINIA, et al., Petitioners

v.

DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, et al.

No. 86-327.
Argued Oct. 14, 1987.
Decided Dec. 14, 1987.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 25, 1988.

See --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 787.

Syllabus

Section 203(a) of the Secretary of Labor's "interim regulations" governing black lung benefits claims filed between July 1, 1973, and April 1, 1980, provides that a claimant who engaged in coal-mine employment for at least 10 years is entitled to an "interim presumption" of eligibility for disability benefits if he meets one of four medical requirements: (1) a chest X-ray "establishes" the presence of pneumoconiosis; (2) ventilatory studies establish the presence of any respiratory or pulmonary disease of a specified severity; (3) blood gas studies demonstrate an impairment in the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the blood; or (4) other medical evidence, including the documented opinion of a physician exercising reasonable medical judgment, establishes a totally disabling respiratory impairment. Section 203(b) provides that "all relevant medical evidence shall be considered" in the adjudication of a claim, and that the interim presumption is rebutted if the evidence establishes: (1) that the claimant is doing his usual or comparable work; (2) that he is capable of doing such work; (3) that his disability did not arise, even in part, out of coal-mine employment; or (4) that he does not have pneumoconiosis. At the hearing on respondent Ray's 1976 claim, the record proved that Ray had 16 years of coal-mine employment and contained one qualifying and seven nonqualifying X-ray interpretations, two qualifying and four nonqualifying ventilatory studies, and one qualifying and five nonqualifying physicians' opinions. After weighing the evidence, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held that Ray was not entitled to the benefit of the interim presumption, and issued an order denying benefits, which the Benefits Review Board affirmed. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, rejecting the Secretary's position that § 203(a) requires the claimant to establish one of the qualifying facts by a preponderance of the evidence. The court held instead that a single item of qualifying evidence is always sufficient to invoke the interim presumption, and, upon finding that the presumption had been invoked in this case by the two qualifying ventilatory studies and the qualifying physician's opinion, remanded for the

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ALJ to determine whether the presumption had been rebutted by Ray's employer.

Held: Section 203(a) requires that the claimant establish at least one of the qualifying facts by a preponderance of the evidence. Pp. 146-160.

(a) Section 203(a)'s plain language does not mandate that the interim presumption be invoked on the basis of a single item of qualifying evidence. The Court of Appeals' reading of § 203(a)(1) as though it merely requires X-ray evidence of the presence of pneumoconiosis ignores the fact that § 203(a)(1) expressly requires an X-ray that actually "establishes" the presence of the disease. It is not the X-ray in isolation that establishes that presence; rather, the regulation must, at a minimum, have reference both to the X-ray itself and to interpretations by qualified experts. The Secretary's view of the regulation, which would render some evidence inadmissible for certain aspects of rebuttal, is not inconsistent with § 203(b)'s requirement that "all relevant evidence shall be received" in adjudicating a claim, since nothing in the Secretary's position prevents all relevant evidence from being considered at some point in the proof process, and nothing in the regulation requires that all relevant medical evidence be considered at the rebuttal phase. Moreover, the Secretary's interpretation is not rendered internally inconsistent by his position that, if the claimant invokes the presumption by establishing the existence of pneumoconiosis under § 203(a)(1), the employer may not try to disprove the disease under § 203(b)(4), since nothing in the regulation requires each rebuttal subsection to be fully available in each case. Furthermore, the Secretary's position will not permit an employer to prevail solely on a single negative X-ray interpretation in violation of a statutory provision prohibiting claim denials on that basis. Thus, the Secretary's interpretation of § 203 is entirely consistent with the regulation's text. Pp. 146-152.

(b) The Court of Appeals erred in finding that the legislative history of the black lung benefits statutes requires a single-item-of-evidence invocation burden. Section 203(a)'s interim presumption derives directly from, and is substantially similar to, an interim presumption for black lung claims promulgated by the Social Security Administration (SSA), under which SSA ALJs have routinely weighed the evidence at the invocation stage without judicial objection and often with explicit court approval. Pp. 152-155.

(c) The fact that a single item of qualifying evidence may often be sufficient to invoke the interim presumption does not compel the conclusion that such evidence must always be sufficient. The factual understanding underlying the presumption that it is highly probable that a long-term coal miner is totally disabled by pneumoconiosis arising from his employment if he can prove any of the regulation's medical require-

Page 137

ments—is not present when the claimant merely offers a single item of qualifying evidence that is overcome by more reliable conflicting evidence. Similarly, the policy concern underlying the presumption—that long-term miners who are truly diseased should not have to undertake the difficult task of proving that their diseases are totally disabling and coal-mine related, or that they are in fact pneumoconiosis—is not implicated if a miner is not actually suffering from the type of ailment with which Congress was concerned. Thus, the Secretary's reading of the interim presumption's invocation burden is eminently reasonable and deserving of substantial deference. Pp. 156-160.

785 F.2d 424 (CA4 1986), reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which, REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined.

Mark E. Solomons, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Michael K. Kellogg, Washington, D.C., for federal respondent supporting the petitioners.

C. Randall Lowe, for respondents.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1978 the Secretary of Labor promulgated "interim regulations" to govern the processing of claims for black lung benefits filed between July 1, 1973, and April 1, 1980. See

Page 138

20 CFR pt. 727 (1987). Section 203 of those regulations prescribes five ways in which a claimant may prove that he is entitled to an "interim presumption" of eligibility. The question in this case concerns the burden of proof that the claimant must satisfy to invoke the presumption. The Court of Appeals held, Stapleton v. Westmoreland Coal Co., 785 F.2d 424 (CA4 1986) (en banc) (case below), that a single item of qualifying evidence is always sufficient whereas the Secretary of Labor contends that his regulation requires the claimant to establish at least one of the five qualifying facts by a preponderance of the evidence. Because we are not persuaded that the Secretary has misread his own regulation, we reverse.

I

Although some aspects of the black lung benefits program are rather complex, its broad outlines and relevant statutory provisions can be briefly described. Prolonged exposure to coal dust has subjected hundreds of thousands of coal miners to pneumoconiosis—a serious and progressive pulmonary condition popularly known as "black lung." The tragic consequences of this crippling illness prompted Congress to authorize a special program for the benefit of its victims in 1969. Because that program has been developed through several statutory enactments,1 different rules govern claims filed during different periods of time. Those filed prior to July 1, 1973, were processed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

Page 139

(HEW); when allowed, these "Part B" claims were paid from federal funds.2 "Part C" claims 3 are those filed on or after July 1, 1973; they are paid by private employers or by a fund to which the employers contribute, and they are administered by the Director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (the Director) pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Labor (the Secretary). Part C of the program includes two subparts: claims filed after April 1, 1980, which are governed by "permanent criteria," 4 and those filed prior to April 1, 1980, which are governed by the "interim regulations" at issue in this case. Despite the "interim" designation, these regulations are extremely important because they apply to about 10,000 pending claims.

There is no dispute about the Secretary's authority to promulgate the interim regulations.5 Nor is there any suggestion that they violate any express statutory command. The statute does require the Secretary to establish criteria for eligibility that "shall not be more restrictive than" the criteria that the Secretary of HEW had established for the administration of the Part B program,6 but the Court of Appeals did not hold that § 203 violates this standard. The statute also requires that "all relevant evidence" shall be considered, but it is clear that the regulation is consistent with that requirement 7—the only dispute is over how much of the

Page 140

relevant evidence may be considered in determining whether the interim presumption shall be invoked. Thus,...

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840 practice notes
  • W.Va. CWP Fund v. Bender, No. 12–2034.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 2, 2015
    ...id.; see also Stiltner, 86 F.3d at 339 (describing the interim presumption); Mullins Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 484 U.S. 135, 138–39, 108 S.Ct. 427, 98 L.Ed.2d 450 (1987) (explaining the applicability of interim versus permanent regulations to certain types of clai......
  • D.A. v. Bridger Coal Co.,, BRB 08-0500 BLA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Black Lung Complaints
    • October 26, 2009
    ...aff'g in part and rev'g in part Nat'l Mining Ass'n v. Chao, 160 F.Supp.2d 47 (D.D.C. 2001); Mullins Coal Co. of Va. v. Director, OWCP, 484 U.S. 135, 11 BLR 2-1 (1987), reh'g denied, 484 U.S. 1047 (1988). To date, the Director has failed to execute this responsibility by prescribing a clear ......
  • Daily Servs., LLC v. Valentino, No. 13–4157.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • July 30, 2014
    ...and liens by Bureau employees—renders it foreseeable to the state that its employees would not follow state law. Cf. id. at 133, 108 S.Ct. 427 (recognizing that “the very nature of mental illness makes it foreseeable” that an erroneous deprivation of liberty could occur notwithstanding the ......
  • Labelle Processing Co. v. Swarrow, No. 95-3116
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 12, 1996
    ...courts have long acknowledged that pneumoconiosis is a progressive and irreversible disease. See Mullins Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP, 484 U.S. 135, 151, 108 S.Ct. 427, 436, 98 L.Ed.2d 450 (1987); Kowalchick v. Director, OWCP, 893 F.2d 615, 621 (3d Cir.1990); accord Back v. Director, OWCP, 79......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
839 cases
  • W.Va. CWP Fund v. Bender, No. 12–2034.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 2, 2015
    ...id.; see also Stiltner, 86 F.3d at 339 (describing the interim presumption); Mullins Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 484 U.S. 135, 138–39, 108 S.Ct. 427, 98 L.Ed.2d 450 (1987) (explaining the applicability of interim versus permanent regulations to certain types of clai......
  • D.A. v. Bridger Coal Co.,, BRB 08-0500 BLA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Black Lung Complaints
    • October 26, 2009
    ...aff'g in part and rev'g in part Nat'l Mining Ass'n v. Chao, 160 F.Supp.2d 47 (D.D.C. 2001); Mullins Coal Co. of Va. v. Director, OWCP, 484 U.S. 135, 11 BLR 2-1 (1987), reh'g denied, 484 U.S. 1047 (1988). To date, the Director has failed to execute this responsibility by prescribing a clear ......
  • Daily Servs., LLC v. Valentino, No. 13–4157.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • July 30, 2014
    ...and liens by Bureau employees—renders it foreseeable to the state that its employees would not follow state law. Cf. id. at 133, 108 S.Ct. 427 (recognizing that “the very nature of mental illness makes it foreseeable” that an erroneous deprivation of liberty could occur notwithstanding the ......
  • Labelle Processing Co. v. Swarrow, No. 95-3116
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 12, 1996
    ...courts have long acknowledged that pneumoconiosis is a progressive and irreversible disease. See Mullins Coal Co. v. Director, OWCP, 484 U.S. 135, 151, 108 S.Ct. 427, 436, 98 L.Ed.2d 450 (1987); Kowalchick v. Director, OWCP, 893 F.2d 615, 621 (3d Cir.1990); accord Back v. Director, OWCP, 79......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Agency Deference After Kisor v. Wilkie
    • United States
    • The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy Nbr. 18-1, January 2020
    • January 1, 2020
    ...358–59 (1989); Gardebring v. Jenkins, 485 U.S. 415, 429–30 (1988); Mullins Coal Co. of Va. v. Dir., Off‌ice of Workers’ Comp. Programs, 484 U.S. 135, 159 (1987); Lyng v. Payne, 476 U.S. 926, 939 (1986); Fid. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. De la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 158 n.13 (1982); Blanding v. ......

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