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Decker Coal Co. v. Pehringer

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Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 20-71449

Opinion Date: August 16, 2021

Judge: Richard C. Tallman

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Personal Injury, Public Benefits

Decker employed Pehringer at its Montana open-pit surface mine, 1977-1999. There were periods when Pehringer did not work, including a roughly three-year-long strike. For most of his mining career, Pehringer was regularly exposed to coal dust while working primarily as a heavy equipment operator. After being laid off in 1999, Pehringer was awarded Social Security total disability benefits. He never worked again. In 2014 a month before his sixty-fifth birthday, Pehringer sought black lung benefits, citing his severe COPD, 30 U.S.C. 923(b). A physician determined that “Pehringer is 100% impaired from his COPD” and that coal “dust exposure and smoking are significant contributors to his COPD impairment.”

The Benefits Review Board affirmed a Department of Labor (DOL) ALJ’s award of benefits. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, first rejecting a constitutional challenge to 5 U.S.C. 7521(a), which permits removal of an ALJ only for good cause determined by the Merits Systems Protection Board. DOL ALJ decisions are subject to vacatur by people without tenure protection; properly appointed, they can adjudicate cases without infringing the President’s executive power. The ALJ did not err in adjudicating Pehringer’s claim nor in rejecting untimely evidentiary submissions. Decker did not rebut the presumption of entitlement to benefits after a claimant established legal pneumoconiosis and causation, having worked for at least 15 years in substantially similar conditions to underground coal mines.

This case law update is brought to you by Freeway Law auto accident and personal injury lawyers in Orange County. The following is not one of our cases, but it is of some significance, and we thought we should share it with our readers for informational purposes. The information above is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as legal advice.

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