Helen Mining Co v. Elliott, No. 16-1058 (3d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Elliott worked in a coal mine until 1993 and developed a chronic cough. Three after his retirement, he developed more acute breathing problems. Elliott sought Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901–45, benefits in 2012. Helen Mining conceded it was the responsible employer, but challenged Elliott’s entitlement to benefits. The parties stipulated that Elliott had a totally disabling respiratory impairment. Because Helen Mining conceded disability and because Elliott demonstrated more than 15 years of employment, the ALJ determined that section 921(c)(4) applied and that the other elements, including causation, would be presumed, and shifted the burden to Helen Mining. Helen Mining offered the opinions of two doctors, attributing Elliott’s respiratory impairment to adult-onset asthma unrelated to coal dust exposure. The ALJ did not find their testimony persuasive, concluded that Helen Mining had failed to rule out coal dust-induced pneumoconiosis as a cause of Elliott’s disability, and awarded benefits. The Benefits Review Board upheld the award. The Third Circuit affirmed, upholding the application of the 2013 regulation, specifying the standard a coal mine operator must meet to rebut the presumed element of disability causation, 20 C.F.R. 718.305(d)(1). The regulation permissibly fills a statutory gap and Helen Mining did not meet that rebuttal standard.