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Western Oilfields Supply Co. v. Secretary of Labor and Federal Mine Safety

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

January 7, 2020

Western Oilfields Supply Company, doing business as Rain for Rent, Petitioner
v.
Secretary of Labor and Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, Respondents

          Argued September 24, 2019

          On Petition for Review of a Decision of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission

          Byron J. Walker argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Tim Boe.

          Daniel Colbert, Attorney, U.S. Department of Labor, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Ali A. Beydoun, Counsel, Appellate Litigation. John T. Sullivan, Attorney, Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, and Andrew R. Tardiff, Attorney, U.S. Department of Labor, entered appearances.

          Before: Garland, Chief Judge, Srinivasan, Circuit Judge, and Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          Garland, Chief Judge

         Petitioner Western Oilfields Supply Co., doing business as Rain for Rent, mounts ambitious statutory and constitutional challenges to a $116 fine under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. We deny the petition for review, taking the opportunity to clear up some confusion about the rights the Act grants mine operators.

         I

         Under the Mine Act, the Secretary of Labor is responsible for setting health and safety standards to govern the nation's mines and mine operators. 30 U.S.C. §§ 803, 811. An "operator" is defined to include "any owner . . . or other person who operates . . . a . . . mine or any independent contractor performing services . . . at such mine." 30 U.S.C. § 802(d). The Act requires the Secretary to make frequent inspections each year, without advance notice, id. § 813(a), and authorizes the Secretary to do so without a warrant, see Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S. 594, 596 (1981). On the ground, the Secretary's responsibilities are carried out by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). 29 U.S.C. § 557a. If an owner or operator violates a health or safety standard, a MSHA inspector may issue a citation. 30 U.S.C. § 814(a). The cited party may then challenge that citation before an administrative law judge (ALJ), see id. § 815(d); before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, in the Commission's discretion, id. § 823(d)(2); and ultimately before this court (or the court of appeals for the circuit in which the violation is alleged to have occurred), id. § 816(a)(1).

         Our cited party, Rain for Rent, rents pumps for use in mines. Those pumps require maintenance, which it also provides. On February 8, 2017, Rain for Rent employee Jaime Tejeda drove a company truck to a quarry operated by Lhoist North America of Arizona, Inc., to perform maintenance on a pump that he had previously installed. After parking the truck, Tejeda went into the mine office to sign in for the day's work.

         At that same moment, a MSHA inspector was waiting in the parking lot to meet mine representatives for the second day of an 11-day routine inspection. Seeing the truck rock back and forth, the inspector suspected that Tejeda had neglected to set the parking brake, a violation of a safety standard governing unattended vehicles. See 30 C.F.R. § 56.14207. The inspector walked over to the truck and tried to spot the state of the parking brake through the window. When that failed, he opened the door. As he suspected, the parking brake was not set. When Tejeda returned to his truck, he found the inspector photographing the brake and, after a brief exchange, was presented with a citation.

         Rain for Rent unsuccessfully raised a storm of objections to the citation in a hearing before an ALJ. The Commission declined to exercise discretionary review, and the ALJ's decision therefore became the final decision of the Commission. See 30 U.S.C. § 823(d)(1); Commission Notice (J.A. 123). Thereafter, Rain for Rent petitioned for our review.

         II

         In this court, Rain for Rent has raised only three objections to the Commission's decision.[1] We consider them below, "review[ing] the Commission's legal conclusions de novo, and its findings of fact for substantial evidence." Sec'y of Labor v. Keystone Coal ...


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