Birgitt Eysselinick v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, US Dept. o

[B]Case Name: *[/B][I]Birgitt Eysselinick v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, US Dept. of Labor
[/I][B]Date Decided: [/B]November 12, 2009
[B]Court: [/B]U.S.D.C. Southern District of Texas
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Harmon
[B]Citation: [/B]2009 WL 3837370 (S.D. Tex.)[B]Background:
[/B]This case involves the wife, Birgitt Eysselinick (“Birgitt”) of a deceased defense contractor who committed suicide as a result of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder arising from his employment. Birgitt made a claim for death benefits pursuant to the Longshore Harboer Workers’ Act. (“LHWCA”).

Before this Court are Magistrate Judge Stacy’s Memorandum and Recommendation, recommending that a decision by the Benefit Review Board (BRB) denying benefits for decedent’s suicide.

*An administrative law judge upheld the BRB’s decision finding that the suicide was a result of willful intention.

[/B]Did the Administrative Law Judge err when it determined that decedent’s suicide was a result of willful intention and therefore denied plaintiff’s claim for benefits?

[/B]First, Birgitt contended that at no time during the proceeding that she was afforded the applicable presumption of 33 USC §920(d) which states, in any proceeding for the enforcement of a claim it shall be presumed in the absence of [I]evidence to the contrary [/I]that the injury was not occasioned by the willful intention of the injured employee to injure/kill himself.

The Supreme Court has held this to mean that this provision controls the result where there is an [I]entire lack of competent evidence[/I]. ([I]296 U.S. 280 (1935)[/I]. As such, this court found that the presumption did not apply to the ALJ’s findings because of a Dr’s expert testimony concluding that there was insufficient evidence of PTSD.

Second, Birgitt argued that the ALJ erred in finding that the suicide was an “impulse type action”. However, this court found that the evidence presented before the ALJ laid out substantial support of the finding that the suicide was a result of willful intention.

Moreover, Birgitt contended that the suicide could have also resulted from depression and not PTSD. However, Birgitt failed to present any evidence alluding to depression and focused solely on PTSD, resulting from decedent’s work in Iraq. Ultimately, Birgitt cannot raise an argument not brought before the ALJ.

Birgitt ultimately contended that the ALJ *improperly weighed the evidence. However, claims under the Longshore Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act requires the BRB to accept the findings of the ALJ unless they are not supported by substantial evidence considered as a whole. The BRB does not have the statutory authority to review the ALJ’s factual findings [I]de novo[/I].

Ultimately, this Court upheld the BRB’s denial of benefits to plaintiff under the LHWCA.

When one makes a claim for benefits under the LHWCA, they go before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who is bound by the statute in which the claim is invoked, here the LHWCA was invoked. After the ALJ makes his/her recommendation it will be submitted to the Benefits Review Board (BRB) who, under the LHWCA , can overturn an ALJ’s findings of the evidence only upon a clear error of the law. Once this stage is over, either party can appeal the BRB’s determination to a district court to determine whether the decision was incorrect based upon the ALJ’s findings. [/B]

[B]Here, the plaintiff was unable to show that the ALJ ruled contrary to the evidence presented and the District Court affirmed the BRB’s decision. [/B]

[B]Steve Gordon [/B]