Peabody Coal v. OWCP

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 04-01-2014
  • Case #: 12-70535
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Pregerson for the Court; Circuit Judges Murguia, and Christen
  • Full Text Opinion

The Administrative Procedure Act is not violated when an ALJ relies on the regulatory preamble to the Black Lung Benefits Act when using it to understand medical issues and his award determination is based on supporting substantial evidence.

After developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from working as a coal miner for Peabody Coal Company (“Peabody”), Robert Opp (“Opp”) filed a disability benefits claim in 2000 against Peabody claiming he was entitled to benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972 due to legal pneumoconiosis. However, the Black Lung Benefits Act does not allow claimants suffering from legal pneumoconiosis to receive benefits until 2001. The Benefits Review Board reviewed the claim and remanded the case three times to an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who considered the regulatory preamble to the Black Lung Benefits Act when reviewing the medical literature and the opinions of medical experts regarding Opp’s condition. The ALJ concluded that Opp’s condition resulted from his coal mine employment, not his prolonged smoking, and ordered Peabody to pay Opp’s widow the benefits Opp was entitled to. Peabody petitioned for review of the order alleging that the ALJ violated the Administrative Procedure Act when he relied on the regulatory preamble in his award decision. However, the court determined that the ALJ could rely on the preamble to understand the medical condition at issue and that the ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, Peabody’s petition for review was denied. Petition DENIED.

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