United States District Court, D. New Mexico
FILBERT C. VIALPANDO, Plaintiff,
CHEVRON MINING, INC., Defendant.
ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
R. Baldock United States Circuit Judge.
Filbert C. Vialpando, a retired coal miner, filed a motion
for summary judgment (Doc. 11) against his former employer,
Defendant Chevron Mining, Inc., to recover twenty percent
additional compensation and interest under the Black Lung
Benefits Act (BLBA) 30 U.S.C. §§ 901-944 for
untimely payment of benefits. Vialpando asserts he is
entitled to twenty percent additional compensation plus
interest from Chevron for late monthly benefit payments from
February 2011 to December 2017. In response, Chevron filed a
motion for summary judgment (Doc. 15) against Vialpando
arguing it timely made the benefit payments. The
cross-motions for summary judgment ask this Court to decide
whether Chevron is obligated to pay Vialpando a twenty
percent penalty and interest on any or all the benefits
awarded under the BLBA. For the following reasons, the Court
grants-in-part and denies-in-part Vialpando's motion and
grants-in-part and denies-in-part Chevron's motion.
Filbert Vialpando worked for Chevron Mining, Inc. at the York
Canyon coal mine in New Mexico. After nearly 29 years working
as a coal miner, Vialpando contracted pneumoconiosis, a
disease commonly known as “black lung.” In
February 2011, Vialpando filed a claim for benefits under the
Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA) with the U.S. Department of
Labor Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. OWCP
administers the Labor Secretary's programs under the
BLBA. A year later, the OWCP Director issued a Proposed
Decision and Order awarding Vialpando black lung benefits
dating back to February 2011. The Proposed Decision and Order
awarded Vialpando $12, 197.90 in back payments and ordered
Chevron to continue to pay benefits to Vialpando at the rate
of $938.30 per month. The Proposed Decision and Order also
warned Chevron that it would be liable for additional
compensation and interest if Chevron failed to timely pay the
declined to pay benefits and timely sought a formal hearing
before an administrative law judge (ALJ) contesting the
benefits award set forth in the OWCP Director's Proposed
Decision and Order. Shortly after Chevron requested a formal
hearing, the OWCP Director sent Chevron an Initial
Determination, which acknowledged Chevron's timely
request for a formal hearing, calculated the benefits owed to
Vialpando, and instructed Chevron to begin payments to
Vialpando. As in the OWCP Director's Proposed Decision
and Order, the Initial Determination warned Chevron that it
would have to pay additional compensation and interest if it
failed to begin payment ordered by the OWCP Director's
Proposed Decision and Order. On the same day the OWCP Director
sent the Initial Determination to Chevron, the OWCP Director
also sent a letter to Vialpando informing him the Black Lung
Disability Trust Fund would prospectively pay Vialpando his
benefits from the date of the Initial Determination
“until [Vialpando's] claim is finally
decided” because Chevron “declined to make
payment to [Vialpando] until the issue is finally
resolved.” Doc. 11-4 at 1. The Trust Fund paid
Vialpando interim monthly benefits from February 2012 until
November 2017 when Chevron refused to pay.
September 2014, at a hearing before an ALJ, both Vialpando
and Chevron presented evidence and arguments. Two years
later, in its June 2016 Decision and Order Awarding Benefits,
the ALJ found Vialpando qualified as totally disabled due to
pneumoconiosis, awarded Vialpando benefits under the BLBA,
and ordered Chevron to commence payment to Vialpando dating
back to February 2011. On June 20, 2016, the OWCP Director
received the ALJ's Decision and Order Awarding Benefits.
Chevron then timely appealed the ALJ's decision to the
U.S. Department of Labor's Benefits Review Board (BRB).
In July 2017, the BRB affirmed the ALJ's Decision and
Order Awarding Benefits.
December 27, 2017, the OWCP Director issued a final
calculation of benefits, which stipulated Chevron pay the
following: (1) $976.40 per month in monthly benefits under
the BLBA beginning December 2017 to Vialpando, (2) $11,
259.60 for unpaid, past-due monthly benefits from February
2011 to January 2012 to Vialpando, (3) $66, 781 reimbursement
to the Trust Fund for interim benefit payments made by the
Trust Fund to Vialpando from February 2012 to November 2017,
and (4) $958.26 to the Department of Labor for medical and
travel expenses it incurred regarding Vialpando's claim.
Thereafter, Chevron paid Vialpando and the Trust Fund within
thirty days of the December 27, 2017 letter and began making
monthly payments to Vialpando.
brings this action to enforce payment of additional
compensation and interest arising from Chevron's alleged
late payment of monthly benefits awarded under the BLBA from
February 2011 to December 2017.
Standard of Law
judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). The moving party bears the burden to show the absence
of a genuine issue concerning any material fact. Celetox
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A genuine
issue of material fact exists “if the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Where, as here,
we are presented with cross-motions for summary judgment, we
must view each motion separately, in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences
in that party's favor.” Boyz Sanitation Serv.,
Inc. v. City of Rawlins, 889 F.3d 1189, 1195 (10th Cir.
2018) (quoting Manganella v. Evanston Ins. Co., 702
F.3d 68, 72 (1st Cir. 2012)).
Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA) seeks “to provide
benefits . . . to coal miners who are totally disabled due to
pneumoconiosis.” 30 U.S.C. § 901. Operators who
employ coal miners covered by the BLBA are required to
compensate disabled miners for medical problems and
disabilities related to pneumoconiosis. The BLBA incorporates
significant portions of the Longshore and Harbor Workers'
Compensation Act (LHWCA), including the disputed provision,
33 U.S.C. § 914(f), which provides a twenty percent
penalty for failure to timely pay compensation:
If any compensation, payable under the terms of an award, is
not paid within ten days after it becomes due, there shall be
added to such unpaid compensation an amount equal to 20 per
centum thereof, which shall be paid at the same time as, but
in addition to, such compensation, unless review of the
compensation order making such award is had as provided in
section 921 of this title and an order staying payment has
been issued by the Board or court.
33 U.S.C. § 914(f), incorporated by reference
into the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. §§
932(a), (d). Section 914(f) is designed to “ensure that
individual coal operators rather than the [Black Lung
Disability Trust Fund] bear the liability for claims arising
out of such operators' mines to the maximum extent
feasible.” Old Ben Coal Co. ...