The 4th Circuit denies a coal company’s petition to review the Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission’s citations for four uncontested violations of the Federal Mine Safety & Health Act of 1977 as “significant and substantial” under 30 U.S.C. § 814(d)(1).
Three violations were “permissibility” violations, involving inadequately sealed enclosures of electrical equipment, and one was an “accumulations” violation, involving the piling of coal dust on a conveyor belt. Petitioner Knox Creek argues that, with respect to each violation type, the commission either applied an erroneous legal standard or improperly reweighed the administrative law judge’s evidentiary findings.
Regarding the permissibility violations, we conclude the commission should have applied the legal standard advocated by the Secretary of Labor, but that the outcome is unaffected when the proper standard is applied.
Regarding the accumulations violation, we conclude the commission applied the correct legal standard, one also endorsed by the Secretary. And nowhere did the commission improperly reweigh evidence.
The disputed standards relevant to both the permissibility and accumulations violations each implicate the commission-developed test under Sec’y of Labor v. Mathies Coal Co., 6 FMSHRC 1 (1984), for consideration of whether a violation is S&S. Under Knox Creek’s interpretation of Mathies, compliance with some mandatory safety standards could preclude an S&S finding for the violation of an entirely separate mandatory safety standard. We find the Secretary’s interpretation is persuasive and consistent with both commission precedent and legislative intent. And nowhere did the commission improperly reweigh evidence. On the contrary, the commission’s decision with respect to both the permissibility and accumulations violations did not question even one of the ALJ’s factual findings. Rather, the commission’s reversal turned on the correction of legal error.
Applying the correct legal standard to the facts surrounding the four violations at issue here compels the conclusion that the commission reached: those violations were significant and substantial under 30 U.S.C. § 814(d)(1).
Petition for review denied.
Knox Creek Corp. v. Sec’y of Labor (Wynn) No. 14-2313, Jan. 21, 2016; On Petition for Review; Mark E. Heath for petitioner; Philip E. Mayor for respondent. VLW 016-2-009, 37 pp.