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McNeely v. United States Department of Labor

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 8, 2014

MARTHA J. McNEELY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ET AL., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Re: Docket Nos. 30, 31)

PAUL S. GREWAL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Martha J. McNeely, pro se, brings this action challenging the Department of Labor's decision denying her application for survivor benefits under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. She also seeks to reverse the DOL's decisions on her claims under the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act. The parties cross-moved for summary judgment based on the administrative record and appeared for a hearing. Having considered the papers and arguments of the parties, the court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff seeks survivor benefits for her father, Harold O. McNeely, Sr., under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. The EEOICPA compensates Department of Energy workers who contract certain medical conditions[1] because of their exposure to radiation or toxic substances on the job.[2] EEOICPA also provides benefits to the workers' families if the workers pass away from the illness. Workers and their families can seek recovery under any of several "Parts" of the Act, each of which has distinct eligibility requirements.[3]

Mr. McNeely worked for the DOE for a total of six years, split between two separate periods. His first employment period ran from October 13, 1947 to January 23, 1952, and his second from August 29, 1955 to August 4, 1956.[4] Twenty-four years after he left the DOE, Mr. McNeely was diagnosed with skin cancer.[5] According to Plaintiff, at some point, he also suffered from salivary gland, esophageal, lung, thyroid, and oral cancer, as well as mesothelioma and asbestosis.[6] Nine months after his skin cancer diagnosis, Mr. McNeely died of arteriosclerosis.[7] After his death, Plaintiff filed three separate claims for survivor benefits under the EEOICPA: two under Part B and one under Part E.[8] Ultimately, the DOL denied all three of these claims.[9]

While one of her claims was pending before the DOL, Plaintiff requested an amendment to Mr. McNeely's employment records under the Privacy Act.[10] She sought to establish that Mr. McNeely had spent almost three more years in jobs covered by the EEOICPA than the record reflected.[11] Because the sources of Plaintiff's information were beyond those that the DOL is required to consider, the DOL denied this request.[12] Plaintiff appealed, and the Solicitor of Labor upheld the DOL's decision to deny amendment on December 20, 2013.[13]

Plaintiff then brought her case to federal court on July 29, 2013.[14] She asks the court to reverse the DOL's decisions regarding her benefit claims under the EEIOCPA. She also seeks amendment to the DOL's record of Mr. McNeely's employment and damages for alleged violations of the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act.[15] Both parties now cross-move for summary judgment based on the administrative record.[16]

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard For Reviewing the DOL's Decisions

This court has the authority to review the DOL's denials of benefits under the Administrative Procedure Act.[17] Where the district court is reviewing an agency determination under the APA, [18] the scope of the court's review is "confined to the administrative record" and the court generally does not engage in fact finding.[19]

Under the APA, the court must "hold unlawful and set aside" any agency action it finds to be "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law."[20] The arbitrary and capricious standard is highly deferential, requiring the court to affirm administrative decisions so long as the agency articulates a rational connection between the facts found and decisions made.[21] The court grants particular deference if the challenged administrative decision required a heightened degree of technical expertise.[22]

Summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is appropriate where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." As there are no disputes of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate for resolution of this case.

1. Standard For Part B Benefits

To recover benefits under Part B of the EEOICPA, "[t]he claimant bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of each... criterion necessary to establish eligibility."[23] One such ...


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