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Where 30 U.S.C.S. § 921(a) speaks of an individual who is or was employed in a coal mine, the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) has substantially altered the phraseology to an individual who is working or has worked as an employee. 20 C.F.R. pt. 410.110, subpt. j (1979). Having introduced the word "employee," which nowhere appears in the relevant portion of the statute, the Secretary has also prescribed that it refers to a legal relationship under the usual common-law rules.
Appellant former miner had worked at a coal mine, which he and his family eventually bought and later incorporated. Appellant developed a respiratory impairment and sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972, 30 U.S.C.S. §§ 901-945. 30 U.S.C.S. § 921(c)(4) provided a presumption of pneumoconiosis if the miner was employed for 15 years or more in underground coal mines and evidence showed respiratory impairment. The administrative law judge(ALJ) of appellee Secretary of Health and Human Services found that appellant was not employed for 15 years or more under 20 C.F.R. pt. 410.110, subpt. j because he was self-employed or a major stockholder of the corporation for much of that period. The ALJ denied appellant's claim for benefits, and the district court found that substantial evidence supported the denial.
Could a miner, who had worked in a mine that he later bought and owned, recover benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972?
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted that in 1978, Congress amended the definition of “miner” and made unmistakable its intent that self-employed miners be eligible for black lung benefits. According to the Court, Congress intended the Black Lung Benefits Act to benefit all persons who contracted lung disease as a result of their work in coal mines. The Court found that the current version of the statute emphasized one who "worked" in a coal mine, rather than one "employed" in a coal mine. As such, the Court reversed the decision of the lower court.