Sixth Circuit Reject’s MSHA’s Claims That It Has Jurisdiction Over Coal Mining Machine Shop

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In a case argued on February 1, 2017 and decided on February 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that Maxxim Rebuild Co., LLC’s small manufacturing facility located in Sidney, Kentucky is not a “coal mine” subject to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) jurisdiction. Following workplace safety inspections of this facility, MSHA issued several notices of violation to Maxxim: (a) the absence of a written hazardous chemicals communication plan; (b) a dirty bathroom; (c) an accumulation of oil, fuel and dust on a Caterpillar 988 loader; and (d) citations in connection with a heater and boiler at the facility. Each citation referenced a pertinent MSHA rule which Maxxim challenged before an Administrative Law Judge, who ruled that the shop was “a coal or other mine” under the Section 802(h) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, 30 U.S.C. §§ 801 et seq. (the Act). The Commissioner later upheld this ruling. The case is Maxxim Rebuild Co., LLC, v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Comm’n.

The Sixth Circuit subjected the Section 802(h)(1) of the Act to a painstaking review, and concluded that MSHA’s jurisdiction is limited to only such facilities if they are in or adjacent to a working mine. Maxxim’s facility has seven workers and makes and repairs mining equipment for Alpha Natural Resources (Alpha), Maxxim’s parent company, and the facility is not located adjacent to or part of a working coal mine. Moreover, The Sixth Circuit concluded that the alleged workplace safety violations are, in truth, subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) jurisdiction, and the Sixth Circuit reminds the reader that these violations refer to problems with bathrooms, welders, loaders, heaters and safety plans, and are not related to equipment sold to Alpha, which actually operates coal mines. The Sixth Circuit concludes that the Congress could not have intended to transform such a machine shop into a coal mine simply because it makes equipment that is used or is to be used in a coal mine.

To the extent that this decision conflicts with a 2000 decision of the Commission (e.g., Secretary of Labor, Mine Safety & Health Administration v. Jim Walter Resources, Inc.), the Sixth Circuit rejected those rulings as well: “We of course are not bind by an incorrect Commission decision.”

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