The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Antelope Coal Co./Rio Tinto Energy America v. Goodin on Monday, March 3, 2014.
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”). An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) awarded 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 was that the ALJ wrongly limited its options to rebut a regulatory presumption that Goodin’s work as a coal miner caused his respiratory condition. It argued 20 C.F.R. § 718.305(d), a rule limiting the type of evidence that may be used for rebuttal, should not apply to coal mine operators like Antelope.
The Tenth Circuit first held that to rebut the presumption that a coal miner is disabled under the BLBA due to a respiratory or pulmonary condition when he has worked for 15 years in underground coal mines or substantially similar conditions, the employer must rule out any relationship between the disability and the coal mine employment. This is known as the “rule-out standard.” The second method to rebut the presumption is to prove the claimant does not have the lung condition pneumoconiosis.
The court held there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s conclusion that Antelope failed to rebut the presumption under either method and that the ALJ had not limited Antelope’s rebuttal evidence. It found Antelope’s remaining arguments lacked merit. The court denied Antelope’s petition for review.