The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Bridger Coal Co. v. United States Dep’t of Labor on Tuesday, February 28, 2012.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the panel decision. Under the Black Lung Benefits Act, a coal miner who is totally disabled due to pneumoconiosis from coal mine employment is entitled to lifetime benefits. If the miner dies due to pneumoconiosis from coal mine employment, the miner’s surviving spouse is entitled to benefits. Pursuant to the Act’s administrative provisions, an Administrative Law Judge awarded lifetime benefits to Merrill D. Lambright and survivor benefits to his widow in 2005. Lambright’s claims arose out of his employment with Petitioner Coal Company. In 2006, a three-member panel of the U.S. Department of Labor Benefits Review Board vacated the ALJ’s decision and remanded for reconsideration. In 2008, the ALJ denied benefits on both the lifetime and survivor claims. In 2009, a three-member panel of the Board reversed this decision and reinstated the 2005 ALJ’s award of benefits. On reconsideration en banc, the full five-member Board was unable to reach a disposition in which at least three permanent members concurred. As a result, the 2009 panel decision stood. Petitioner appeals, challenging the scope of the 2009 panel’s authority to review the 2008 ALJ decision, the standard used in determining whether to award benefits, and the onset-date determination. The Court affirmed the 2009 panel decision.