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Ballou v. Enterprise Mining Co., LLC

Supreme Court of Kentucky

March 23, 2017

RAY BALLOU APPELLANT
v.
ENTERPRISE MINING CO, LLC; HON. ROLAND CASE, ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE; WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD; AND KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL APPELLEES

         ON APPEAL FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-000812-WC WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD NO. 13-WC-00049

         AFFIRMING

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Thomas Wayne Moak Moak & Nunnery, PSC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE, ENTERPRISE MINING CO., LLC: Hugh Brettelle Stonecipher Tighe A. Estes Fogle Keller Purdy, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE, KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Andy Beshear James Robert

          OPINION

          KELLER JUSTICE

         An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that Ray Ballou has a radiographic classification of category 1/1 coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) with spirometric test values that exceed 80%. Based on those findings, the ALJ awarded Ballou retraining incentive benefits (RIB). However, because of Ballou's advanced age, the ALJ found that Ballou could not receive those benefits unless he participated in an approved retraining or educational program. Ballou challenges the constitutionality of the RIB statute's age classifications. Having reviewed the record and the arguments of the parties, we affirm the holding by the Court of Appeals that those age classifications are constitutional.

         I. BACKGROUND.

         The parties do not dispute the underlying facts. Ballou, who was born on June 10, 1942, has a 9th grade education and has not received his GED. He worked as an underground coal miner from 1982 until 2012 and was 69 years of age when last exposed to coal dust. Ballou timely filed his occupational disease claim, and the parties filed various medical reports in support of and in opposition to that claim. Based on the evidence, the ALJ found that Ballou has category. 1/1 coal workers' pneumoconiosis but no breathing impairment, and the ALJ awarded benefits pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 342.732(1)(a). However, because Ballou was more than 65 years of age, the ALJ determined that Ballou could only receive those benefits if he participated in an approved retraining or educational program. As noted above, the only issue before this Court is whether the age classifications in KRS 342.732 violate Ballou's right to equal protection. We set forth additional background information as necessary below.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW.

         The issue Ballou raises is one of law, which we review de novo. See U.S. Bank Home Mortgage v. Schrecker, 455 S.W.3d 382, 384 (Ky. 2014).

         III. ANALYSIS.

         KRS 342.732 provides in pertinent part as follows:

(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, income benefits and retraining incentive benefits for occupational pneumoconiosis resulting from exposure to coal dust in the severance or ...

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