West Virginia CWP Fund v. Stacy, No. 11-1020

Decided Dec. 7, 2011

The Black Lung Benefits Act (“BLBA”) as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provides that an eligible survivor of a miner who was receiving benefits at the time of his death is automatically entitled to survivors’ benefits without having to establish that the miner’s death was due to pneumoconiosis. The Benefits Review Board (“BRB”) ruled that under the BLBA, Respondent Elsie Stacy, a widow of a miner, was entitled to survivors’ benefits. Petitioner West Virginia Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis Fund challenges the PPACA’s restoration of this provision.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found no merit in Petitioner’s arguments, and affirmed. Petitioner first contended that retroactive application of the automatic survivorship provision to claims filed after January 1, 2005 violates substantive due process because Congress did not provide any legitimate purpose for making the legislative retroactive and arbitrarily chose January 1, 2005 as the operative filing date. The court noted that a conclusion that retroactive application of the BLBA provision violates substantive due process would invite the invalidation of all retroactive acts and therefore rejected this claim. Petitioner also argued that the retroactive application of the BLBA provision constitutes an unlawful taking of its property under the Fifth Amendment. However, the BLBA merely requires Petitioner to pay money and does not infringe any specific, identifiable property interest, therefore the takings clause is inapplicable. Petitioner further asserted that the reinstatement of the BLBA provision should not apply to Respondent’s claim because the operative filing date for determining eligibility is the date the miner’s claim was filed, not the date the survivor’s claim was filed. However, the court deferred to the Director of the BRB’s interpretation of the provision, noting that this interpretation was supported by the plain language of the statute and, unlike Petitioner’s interpretation, maintained consistency with the rest of the statute. Petitioner’s final argument was that the reinstated provision in the BLBA conflicted with other provisions in the statute. However, because the reinstated provision is the most recent amendment to the BLBA, it overrides any conflicting language in the statute. Therefore, the court affirmed judgment of the BRB for Respondent.

Full Opinion

-Sara I. Salehi

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