FEDERAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH REVIEW COMMISSION
1331 PENNSYLVANIA AVE., N.W., SUITE 520N
WASHINGTON, DC 20004-1710
SECRETARY OF LABOR,
MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH
VICTORY ROCK TEXAS, LLC
Docket No. WEST 2020-0090-M
A.C. No. 41-05101-486904
BEFORE: Rajkovich, Chairman; Althen and Traynor, Commissioners
BY THE COMMISSION:
This matter arises under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. (2012) (“Mine Act”). On November 19, 2019, the Commission received from Victory Rock Texas, LLC, (“Victory Rock”) a motion seeking to reopen a penalty assessment that had become a final order of the Commission pursuant to section 105(a) of the Mine Act, 30 U.S.C. § 815(a).
Under section 105(a) of the Mine Act, an operator who wishes to contest a proposed penalty must notify the Secretary of Labor no later than 30 days after receiving the proposed penalty assessment. If the operator fails to notify the Secretary, the proposed penalty assessment is deemed a final order of the Commission. 30 U.S.C. § 815(a).
We have held, however, that in appropriate circumstances, we possess jurisdiction to reopen uncontested assessments that have become final Commission orders under section 105(a). Jim Walter Res., Inc., 15 FMSHRC 782, 786-89 (May 1993) (“JWR”). In evaluating requests to reopen final orders, the Commission has found guidance in Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, under which the Commission may relieve a party from a final order of the Commission on the basis of mistake, inadvertence, excusable neglect, or other reason justifying relief. See 29 C.F.R. § 2700.1(b) (“the Commission and its Judges shall be guided so far as practicable by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure”); JWR, 15 FMSHRC at 787. We have also observed that default is a harsh remedy and that, if the defaulting party can make a showing of good cause for a failure to timely respond, the case may be reopened and appropriate proceedings on the merits permitted. See Coal Prep. Servs., Inc., 17 FMSHRC 1529, 1530 (Sept. 1995).
Records of the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) indicate that the proposed assessment was delivered on April 19, 2019, and became a final order of the Commission on May 19, 2019. Victory Rock’s motion says that the proposed assessment in this matter was delivered after it believed it had successfully contested the citation. It says it mistakenly paid the penalty, believing it was due in another case, after receiving MSHA’s July 5, 2019, delinquency notice to the operator.
The motion includes completed contest and remittance forms, and states that the operator’s check for the uncontested penalties was mailed at the same time as its notice of contest and was deposited by MSHA. However, the operator does not provide proof of delivery of the notice of contest. The Secretary does not oppose the requests to reopen, but urges the operator to take steps to ensure that future penalty contests are timely filed.
Having reviewed Victory Rock’s request and the Secretary’s response, we find that the operator has sufficiently explained its failure to timely contest the citations at issue as the result of inadvertence, mistake, and excusable neglect. The operator states that it was confused about the status of its contest, and provides facts that support this contention. This is a pro se operator with one other pending motion to reopen and no history of other defaults or motions to reopen in the past 24 months.
In the interest of justice, we hereby reopen this matter and remand it to the Chief Administrative Law Judge for further proceedings pursuant to the Mine Act and the Commission’s Procedural Rules, 29 C.F.R. Part 2700.
/s/ Marco M. Rajkovich, Jr.
Marco M. Rajkovich, Jr., Chairman
/s/ William I. Althen
William I. Althen, Commissioner
/s/ Arthur R. Traynor, III
Arthur R. Traynor, III, Commissioner
Distribution (by e-mail):
Victory Rock Texas, LLC
Emily Toler Scott, Esq.
Office of the Solicitor
Chief Administrative Law Judge Glenn Voisin
Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission
Office of Civil Penalty Compliance
Mine Safety and Health Administration