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Jordan v. United States Department of Labor

September 5, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Edward F. Shea United States District Judge


A hearing occurred in the above-captioned matter on September 4, 2008, in Spokane. Tom H. Foulds appeared on behalf of Plaintiff Jack L. Jordan; Rolf H. Tangvald appeared on behalf of Defendant United States Department of Labor. Before the Court were Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Ct. Rec. 82) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Ct. Rec. 79). After reviewing the submitted material and relevant authority and hearing oral argument, the Court is fully informed. This Order serves to memorialize and supplement the Court's rulings.

I. Background

A. EEOICPA Statutory Background

In 2000, Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 ("EEOICPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 7384, et seq. EEOICPA provides benefits to individuals with illnesses caused by exposure to radiation and other toxic substances in the course of their work related to the nuclear weapon production and testing programs of the United States Department of Energy or its predecessor agencies. 42 U.S.C. § 7384.

EEOICPA Part B allows covered employees or their eligible survivors to receive a $150,000 lump-sum payment and medical benefits for certain illnesses from radiation, beryllium, or silica exposure while working at DOE facilities. 20 C.F.R. § 30.0. EEOICPA Part E allows covered employees or their eligible survivors to receive lump-sum payments and medical benefits based on a worker's permanent impairment and/or calendar years of qualifying wage-loss. Id.

The Department of Labor ("DOL") is primarily responsible for administering EEOICPA Part B and E claims. Any person seeking benefits must file a claim with the DOL's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs ("OWCP"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 30.100 & 30.101. If a person claims to be a deceased employee's survivor, sufficient evidence of the claimed relationship must be furnished.

After reviewing a claim, the OWCP issues a recommended decision.

20 C.F.R. § 305. The claimant then has sixty (60) days to file objections with the Final Adjudication Branch ("FAB"). 20 C.F.R. § 310. The FAB will consider a claimant's objections and hold a hearing, if requested, before issuing the final agency decision. 20 C.F.R. §§ 30.314 & 30.316. An OWCP recommended decision automatically becomes the final agency decision one year after the agency receives the claimant's objections. 20 C.F.R. § 30.316(c). This provision safeguards against unnecessary agency delay.

B. Plaintiff's EEOICPA Claims

On October 15, 2002, Plaintiff filed an EEOICPA Part B claim seeking benefits for his late uncle's death from lung cancer. Plaintiff's uncle was a former worker at the Hanford Nuclear Site and qualified for EEOICPA benefits. Plaintiff claimed he was an eligible surviving child because he had a parent-child relationship with his uncle.

On December 17, 2002, the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation ("DEEOIC") recommended denying Plaintiff's Part B claim for failure to establish that he is an eligible surviving child. A month later, the FAB vacated the recommended decision, remanding the claim for further development.

On April 12, 2003, Plaintiff sent additional information to the DOL, including why he considered his uncle a father. On September 23, 2003, the Chief of the Branch of Policies, Regulations and Procedures (a division of the DOL) concluded Plaintiff, in the absence of additional information, does not qualify as an eligible surviving child. On October 3 and 21, 2003, the DEEOIC sought additional information about Plaintiff's relationship with his uncle. Plaintiff did not respond.

On June 9, 2005, Plaintiff's representative informed the DEEOIC that his client wished to file a Part E claim. The DEEOIC received Plaintiff's Part E claim the following week. On October 27, 2005, the DEEOIC requested additional documentation to show proof of adoption.

The following week on November 3, 2005, Plaintiff's representative sent a letter to the DEEOIC arguing that Plaintiff qualifies as an eligible surviving child based upon a Washington Supreme Court case released that day discussing de facto parentage. On November 16, 2005, the DEEOIC recommended denying Plaintiff's Part B and Part E claims. This recommendation did not fully address Plaintiff's recently raised legal arguments.

On January 12, 2006, Plaintiff objected to the recommendation and requested an oral hearing, which took place on March 30, 2006. At the hearing, Plaintiff's representative raised the de facto parent legal argument.

On July 15, 2006, the FAB forwarded Plaintiff's claim to the DEEOIC's Branch of Polices, Regulations and Procedures ("BPRP") requesting guidance on Plaintiff's legal arguments. On December 12, 2006, the BPRP requested a legal opinion from the Office of the Solicitor of Labor ("SOL"). On February 26, 2007, the SOL issued a legal memorandum briefing Plaintiff's arguments. The following week, the BPRP sent the legal memo to the FAB, satisfying the FAB's earlier request for legal guidance.

Meanwhile, the DEEOIC's recommended decision automatically became the final agency decision on January 17, 2007. Plaintiff sought judicial review with this Court on March 9, 2007. On April 30, 2007, the Director vacated the DOL's final agency decision, remanding the case to fully consider Plaintiff's recent raised de facto parentage argument. After reviewing Plaintiff's arguments, the DOL issued its final agency decision denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits on November 7, 2007. (Ct. Rec. 34.)

II. ...

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