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Stephens v. U.S. Department of Labor

United States District Court, D. Columbia

November 23, 2015

RAYMOND W. STEPHENS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Defendant

          Raymond W. Stephens, Plaintiff, Pro se, Sarasota, FL.

         For U.S. Department of Labor, Defendant: Damon William Taaffe, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC USA.

         MEMORANDUM OPINION

         AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Raymond W. Stephens, Jr. filed suit against the United States Department of Labor (DOL), alleging that DOL acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner when it denied his petition to reopen his claim for benefits under Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § § 7384 et seq. (EEOICPA).

         Stephens initiated litigation against the DOL in 2008. Compl. ¶ 4; Stephens v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, 571 F.Supp.2d 186, 186 (D.D.C. 2008), aff'd, 384 Fed.Appx. 5 (D.C. Cir. 2010). In his first pro se complaint, Stephens asserted that the DOL wrongfully denied him benefits under the EEOICPA, a federal law that " provides benefits to individuals with illnesses caused by exposure to radiation and other toxic substances during the course of their work for the United States Department of Energy ('DOE') and some of DOE's contractors and subcontractors." Stephens, 571 F.Supp.2d at 189. The district court found that the denial of benefits was not arbitrary and capricious, because the facility where Stephens was employed did not qualify as a " DOE facility" under the statute. Id. at 189, 195; 42 U.S.C. § 7384l(12). Since that ruling, Stephens has fought to uncover new evidence that would prove that the DOE had a " proprietary interest" in his former employer, the Loral American Beryllium Company, which would qualify it as " DOE facility," and entitle him to benefits under Part E. Id. at 189; 42 U.S.C. § 7384l(12).

         In March 2012, Stephens petitioned to reopen his claim before the DOL, and the agency denied his request. Compl. ¶ 6. After Stephens acquired further information through a Freedom of Information Act request, he submitted another petition to reopen his Part E claim in October 2014. Compl. ¶ 10. On December 2, 2014, DOL denied that petition as well, Compl. ¶ 12, and this lawsuit followed.

         Since the agency's denial of Stephens's petition to reopen his claim does not constitute a reviewable agency action, and since the decision to reopen is committed to the agency's discretion, the Court will grant defendant's motion to dismiss.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Statutory and Regulatory Background

         The EEOICPA was enacted to compensate workers who suffer from illnesses related to their exposure to radioactive substances at government weapons-production facilities. 42 U.S.C. § § 7384, 7384d(b). The statute provides benefits to employees of the Department of Energy as well as of certain of its contractors and subcontractors. 42 U.S.C. § § 7384d(c), 7384 l (7). As passed in 2000, the statute provided in Part B that covered employees would receive a $150,000 lump-sum payment, in addition to medical benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 7384s-t. President Clinton designated the DOL as the agency responsible for administering the compensation program. Exec. Order No. 13,179; 65 Fed.Reg. 77487 (Dec. 7, 2000).

         The President's 2000 Executive Order directed DOL to " promulgate regulations for the administration of the Program." Exec. Order No. 13,179; 65 Fed.Reg. 77487 (Dec. 7, 2000). In 2002, DOL issued final regulations pursuant to the Executive Order. See 67 Fed.Reg. 78874-01 (Dec. 26, 2002). Those regulations provide that an employee may file a claim for benefits under the statute with the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (" OWCP" ) of the DOL. 20 C.F.R. § § 30.100(a)--101(a). The OWCP issues a recommended decision on a claim and forwards it to the Final Adjudication Branch (" FAB" ). 20 C.F.R. § 30.300. The claimant may object to OWCP's recommended decision, and may request a hearing before the FAB. Id. The FAB may then issue a final decision, which is subject to judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § § 30.316, 30.319(d).

         After the FAB issues its final decision, a claimant may file a request to reopen the claim, " provided that the claimant also submits new evidence of either covered employment or exposure to a toxic substance . . . ." 20 C.F.R. § 30.320(b). " If the Director [for Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation] concludes that the evidence submitted or matter identified in support of the claimant's request is material to the claim, the Director will reopen the claim . . . ." 20 C.F.R. § 30.320(b)(1). The regulations provide that the " decision whether or not to reopen a claim under this section is solely within the discretion of the Director for Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation and is not reviewable." 20 C.F.R. § 30.320(c).

         The EEOICPA was amended in 2004 to add Part E, which provides additional coverage for certain DOE contractors for permanent impairment and/or wage loss due to a covered illness that resulted from work-related exposure to a toxic substance at a DOE facility. 42 U.S.C. § 7385s; see H.R. 4200, 118 Stat. 1811 (2004). Under Part E, a " person adversely affected or aggrieved by a final decision of the Secretary under this part may review that order in the United States district court . . . ." 42 U.S.C. 7385s-6a.

         II. Factual Background & ...


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