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Yatsko v. Office of Workers Compensation Programs

April 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, J.


Before the Court is Plaintiffs' request for declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, Plaintiffs seek a judicial order enjoining the Defendants from denying the payment of benefits to the Plaintiffs under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act ("EEOICPA"), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 7384, et seq., which is administered by the United States Department of Labor ("DOL"). (Compl.*fn1 ¶ 1.) For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' request is denied.


Plaintiffs, John S. Yatsko and Samuel H. Moatz, are residents of the Reading, Pennsylvania area and former employees of NGK Metals Corporation ("NGK") and its predecessors, which contracted with the Department of Energy ("DOE") to manufacture beryllium at a facility in Reading (the "Reading Plant"). (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4, 13, 20.) Plaintiffs allege that they contracted illnesses as a result of exposure to beryllium.*fn2 (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4, 12-13.) As a result of Plaintiffs' claims, the DOL's Office of Workers Compensation Programs ("OWCP") awarded Plaintiffs medical benefits. (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 21.)

On June 4, 2003, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County against a number of companies, including NGK, arising from their exposure to beryllium in Reading (Compl. ¶¶ 15, 22.), alleging that Plaintiffs "resided and/or worked in close proximity to the [Reading P]lant, and/or had contact with others who worked within the Reading Plant," (AR*fn3 at 000137, ¶ 55; 000435, ¶ 55), and that "[d]uring each of the plaintiffs' residence and/or employment and/or contact with persons who were employed at the Reading Plant, they were exposed to unlawful, dangerous and unhealthful emissions resulting in serious and permanent injury, or the need for medical monitoring . . . ." (AR at 000138, ¶ 65; 000436, ¶ 65.) Plaintiffs also alleged that "occupational and non-occupational exposure" resulted in their diagnosed illnesses. (AR at 000142, ¶ 80(a); 000445, ¶ 80(ooo).)

In response, on December 28, 2005 and March 28, 2006 respectively, because of Plaintiffs' failure to dismiss disqualifying tort suits in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 7385d, the OWCP vacated its Orders granting Plaintiffs benefits. (AR at 000207-000211; 000621-000625.) On January 31, 2006, the OWCP issued a new recommended decision to terminate Yatsko's benefits. (AR at 000614-000618.) Thereafter, Yatsko submitted written objections. (AR at 000521-000595.) A final decision denying Yatsko's claims and retroactively terminating his medical benefits, effective June 22, 2003, was issued on March 22, 2007. (AR at 000374-000378.)

On April 16, 2006, the OWCP recommended terminating Moatz's benefits effective June 4, 2003. (AR at 000200-000204.) Although Moatz objected to the OWCP's initial decision, (AR at 000179-000196), Moatz's benefits were terminated, effective June 4, 2003, on September 16, 2006. (AR at 00042-00046.) On October 12, 2006, Moatz requested that the OWCP reconsider its final decision. (AR at 000016-000026.) The OWCP denied the reconsideration request on August 3, 2007. (AR at 000011-000012.)

On January 12, 2009, Plaintiffs filed the instant action, claiming that the retroactive termination of their payments is in direct contravention of a memorandum opinion by an Associate Solicitor for Employee Benefits for the Department of Labor (the "Depenbrock Memo") and, therefore, is "not in accordance with law under 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)." (Compl. ¶¶ 18, 25, 27, 30.)


In October 2000, Congress enacted the EEOICPA for the purpose of compensating individuals with illnesses attributable to exposure to toxic substances, such as beryllium, while working for DOE facilities or facilities of designated DOE contractors, subcontractors, and vendors. See 42 U.S.C. § 7384, et seq. Under this Act, Yatsko and Moatz were entitled to lifetime medical benefits for treatment of their conditions. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 7384i, n, and s.

However, the EEOICPA expressly bars an otherwise eligible individual who files suit against his employer for an occupational-based beryllium-related illness after December 28, 2001 from receiving benefits if that individual's suit remains pending after April 20, 2003, or thirty (30) months after the individual is diagnosed with CBD or BS, whichever date is later.*fn4 See 42 U.S.C. §§ 7385b, d. In essence, the statute requires individuals suffering from occupational illnesses to choose between collecting benefits from the DOL or recovering damages from their employers. Non-occupational injuries may be litigated regardless of the status of an employee's occupational exposure claim.


The applicable portion of the EEOICPA does not contain a standard of review provision. Therefore, the Court must look to the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06, to determine the appropriate standard of judicial review of this agency action. See Delaware Citizens for Clean Air, Inc. v. Administrator U.S. E.P.A., 480 F.2d 972, 975-76 (3d Cir. 1973).

In the present case, the question is whether the DOL's decision was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). Under this standard, the agency's action is presumed valid, SBC Inc. v. FCC, 414 F.3d 486, 496 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. v. FCC, 168 F.3d 1344, 1352 (D.C. Cir. 1999)), and will be considered arbitrary and capricious only where it is not supportable by record evidence, or if it is "without reason, unsupported by substantial evidence or erroneous as a matter of law." Pinto v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 214 F.3d 377, 393 (3d Cir. 2000) ...

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