Southard v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs

Decision Date16 April 1984
Docket NumberNo. 82-3653,82-3653
PartiesEdwin SOUTHARD, Petitioner, v. DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROGRAMS, et al., Respondents.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Dixie R. Satterfield (argued), Safford & Satterfield, Bowling Green, Ky., for petitioner.

Denise Butler Hart (argued), J. Michael O'Neill, U.S. Dept. of Labor, Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Before JONES and KRUPANSKY, Circuit Judges, and SPIEGEL, District Judge. *

SPIEGEL, District Judge.

The petitioner, Edwin Southard (Southard), seeks review of a final decision of the Benefits Review Board (Board) denying his claim for benefits. We grant the petition and remand.

Southard applied for benefits pursuant to the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. Secs. 901-945 (Supp. V 1981), on June 15, 1979. His claim was denied by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs and Southard requested a hearing.

A hearing was conducted before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on January 29, 1981. Evidence at the hearing disclosed that Southard was 65 years old and his wife was his sole dependent. It was undisputed that Southard was employed as a coal miner for three years, from 1933 to 1935, inclusive. From 1935 to approximately 1951, Southard worked for two different coal retailers in Detroit, Michigan. His jobs with these employers consisted of unloading coal from railroad cars into trucks or storage piles, and delivering the coal to consumer homes. Southard's coal dust exposures, while unloading the coal and upon entering basement coal bins to deliver the coal, were extremely heavy.

From 1951 to 1974 Southard repaired machinery in Kentucky. Since 1974 he has done light work repairing electrical motors on a part-time basis. Southard was not exposed to coal dust from 1951 until the hearing date.

Southard is 67 years old. He is unable to perform any strenuous activity now, and he works irregularly. He has been diagnosed as suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) found "[w]ith respect to the question of whether the claimant is afflicted with pneumoconiosis, the record contains substantial evidence that the claimant has a severe respiratory impairment and a finding by a board certified radiologist that he is afflicted with the disease." The ALJ concluded, however, that Southard's employment with the two coal companies in Detroit did not constitute employment as a coal miner. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that the only relevant work was Southard's three year coal mining stint in the 1930's. Based on this premise, the ALJ held there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Southard's impairment was related to his coal mine employment, and denied the claim. The Board affirmed the ALJ decision and this petition ensued.

This Court is presented with two questions on review. First, Southard claims that he is entitled to the presumption of causation found at 30 U.S.C. Sec. 921(c)(1), and the companion regulation, 20 C.F.R. Sec. 718.203(b). Second, if Southard is not entitled to the presumption, we are confronted with whether substantial evidence supports the decision that no causal relationship was established.

1. Applicability of the Causation Presumption

The Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. Secs. 901-945 (Supp. V 1981) (Act), provides benefits to coal miners or their survivors for pneumoconiosis contracted by the miner as a result of coal dust exposure in the mines. To assist claimants in establishing benefit entitlement, Congress enacted certain presumptions of disease and disease causation. Relevant to this appeal is the causal presumption of 30 U.S.C. Sec. 921(c)(1):

If a miner who is suffering or suffered from pneumoconiosis was employed for ten years or more in one or more coal mines there shall be a rebuttable presumption that his pneumoconiosis arose out of such employment.

See 20 C.F.R. Sec. 718.203(b) (1980).

Southard possessed three years of uncontested "coal mine employment." The ALJ held that he was not entitled to the above-quoted presumption because he was not a "miner" during the years he worked for the Detroit coal retailers. He therefore lacked the requisite ten years of coal mine employment needed to trigger the presumption.

Southard asserts that his work for the Detroit coal companies constituted employment as a miner for purposes of the Act. The following statutory provisions are pertinent:

(d) The term "miner" means any individual who works or has worked in or around a coal mine or coal preparation facility in the extraction or preparation of coal. Such term also includes an individual who works or has worked in coal mine construction or transportation in or around a coal mine, to the extent such individual was exposed to coal dust as a result of such employment.

30 U.S.C. Sec. 902(d).

(2) For purposes of subchapters II, III, and IV of this chapter, "coal mine" means an area of land and all structures, facilities, machinery, tools, equipment, shafts, slopes, tunnels, excavations, and other property, real or personal, placed upon, under, or above the surface of such land by any person, used in, or to be used in, or resulting from, the work of extracting in such area bituminous coal, lignite, or anthracite from its natural deposits in the earth by any means or method, and the work of preparing the coal so extracted, and includes custom coal preparation facilities;

(i) "work of preparing the coal" means the breaking, crushing, sizing, cleaning, washing, drying, mixing, storing, and loading of bituminous coal, lignite, or anthracite, and such other work of preparing such coal as is usually done by the operator of the coal mine.

30 U.S.C. Sec. 802(h)(2) and (i) (Supp. V 1981).

Southard argues that his work with the Detroit retailers falls within the definition of "work of preparing the coal" because some portion of his work consisted of storing, loading, and unloading coal. He further asserts that the Detroit facilities are "coal mines" within the meaning of the Act because the work of preparing coal was performed. Therefore, he alleges, he is also included in the definition of a "miner" because his activity in moving coal to consumer homes was "transportation in or around a coal mine."

The statutory definition of a miner contains two elements; work in a coal mine, or "situs," and performing coal extraction or coal preparation work, a "function" requirement. Amigo Smokeless Coal Co. v. Director, 642 F.2d 68 (4th Cir.1981). In this case, we believe that Southard fails to establish the "function" prong of the definition.

We acknowledge petitioner's contention that a "coal mine" is basically defined by the work that is performed. Under the Act, the definition of a coal mine is inextricably related to function: "[C]oal mine means an area of land and all structures ..., and other property real or personal ... used in, or to be used in, or resulting from the work of extracting ... and the work of preparing the coal." 30 U.S.C. Sec. 802(h)(2).

Nevertheless, we reject Southard's argument that he was involved in the "work of preparing the coal" while employed by the Detroit retailers. Southard's work in Detroit was not the preparation of coal because the coal was already prepared and in commerce upon its arrival at the retailers' facilities. As the Fourth Circuit noted in Roberts v. Weinberger, 527 F.2d 600, 602 (4th Cir.1975), coal is extracted and prepared when it is "in condition for delivery to distributors and consumers," and a mine extends "at least to the point where the coal is processed and loaded for further shipment." Preparation of coal occurs precedent to its retail distribution and consumption. Although impractical perhaps, it is nevertheless conceivable that coal could be extracted in one state, and prepared in another. Such was not the case here. The Detroit companies were themselves purchasers of prepared coal. In Johnson v. Weinberger, 389 F.Supp. 1296 (S.D.W.Va.1974), the benefits claimant worked for approximately 30 years at a chemical plant, shoveling coal onto a crusher for conveyance to the mill, and unloading carloads of "bug dust" coal that arrived in railroad cars. The district court stated:

While there is no question that plaintiff worked in an atmosphere which was filled with coal dust, the work he performed was not the preparation of coal as contemplated by the applicable law and regulations. "Preparation of coal" relates to the preparation of coal brought out of the mine prior to its shipment and use in related commercial facilities. In the instant case, plaintiff did not prepare coal after extraction from the mine in order to ship it to a commercial user. He was, in fact, the employee of a commercial user.

Id. at 1298.

In this case, it is clear the coal was extracted and prepared before it reached the retailers in Detroit, Michigan. Southard's work unloading and stockpiling the coal was therefore not coal preparation. The Detroit retail facilities fail to meet the "function" prong of the coal mine definition. We, therefore, do not confront whether Southard's transportation activities occurred "in and around a coal mine." 30 U.S.C. Sec. 902(d).

2. Causation

There is no question that Southard is totally disabled by pneumoconiosis within the meaning of the Act. In the absence of the above-referenced presumption, however, Southard must also establish a causal relationship between his three years of coal mine employment and the disease. 30 U.S.C. Sec. 901(a).

The regulations pertinent to establishing causation state:

Sec. 718.201 Definition of pneumoconiosis.

For purposes of the Act, "pneumoconiosis" means a chronic dust disease of the lung and its sequelae, including respiratory and pulmonary impairments, arising out of coal mine employment. * * * For purposes of this definition, a disease "arising out of coal mine employment" includes any chronic pulmonary...

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