510 U.S. 200 (1994), 92-896, Thunder Basin Coal Co. v. Reich

Docket Nº:Case No. 92-896
Citation:510 U.S. 200, 114 S.Ct. 771, 127 L.Ed.2d 29, 62 U.S.L.W. 4058
Case Date:January 19, 1994
Court:United States Supreme Court

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510 U.S. 200 (1994)

114 S.Ct. 771, 127 L.Ed.2d 29, 62 U.S.L.W. 4058




Case No. 92-896

United States Supreme Court

January 19, 1994

Argued October 5, 1993



Petitioner mine operator's nonunion work force designated two employees of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) to serve as miners' representatives under 30 U.S.C. § 813(f). Claiming that the designations compromised its rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), petitioner refused to post information about the representatives as required by a regulation issued by the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), 30 CFR § 40.4. Rather, petitioner filed suit in the District Court and obtained an injunction preventing enforcement of 30 CFR pt. 40. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that district court jurisdiction was precluded by the administrative-review scheme of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. (Mine Act or Act), under which challenges to enforcement measures are reviewed by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and then by the appropriate court of appeals. The court rejected petitioner's contention that requiring it to challenge the MSHA's interpretation of 30 U.S.C. § 813(f) and 30 CFR pt. 40 through the statutory-review procedures would violate its rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.


1. The Mine Act's statutory-review scheme precludes a district court from exercising subjectmatter jurisdiction over a pre-enforcement challenge to the Act. Pp. 207-218.

(a) In cases involving delayed judicial review of final agency actions, this Court finds that Congress has allocated initial review to an administrative body where such intent is fairly discernible in the statutory scheme. Whether a statute is intended to preclude initial judicial review is determined from the statute's language, structure, and purpose, its legislative history, and whether the claims can be afforded meaningful review. P. 207.

(b) Although the Mine Act is facially silent about pre-enforcement claims, its comprehensive enforcement structure demonstrates that Congress intended to preclude challenges such as the present one. The

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statutory-review process does not distinguish between pre-enforcement and postenforcement challenges, but applies to all violations of the Act and its regulations. The Act expressly authorizes district court jurisdiction in only two provisions, which respectively empower the Secretary to enjoin habitual violations of health and safety standards and to coerce payment of civil penalties. Mine operators enjoy no corresponding right but must complain to the Commission and then to the court of appeals. Pp. 207-209.

(c) The Mine Act's legislative history confirms the foregoing interpretation by demonstrating that Congress intended to channel and streamline enforcement, directing ordinary challenges to a single review process. Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 142-144, 155- 156, distinguished. Pp. 209-212.

(d) Petitioner's claims are of the type that Congress intended to be addressed through the statutory-review process and can be meaningfully reviewed under the Mine Act. The NLRA claims at root require interpretation of the parties' rights and duties under § 813(f) and 30 CFR pt. 40, and as such arise under the Act and fall squarely within the expertise of the Commission, which recently has addressed the precise NLRA claims presented here. As for petitioner's due process claim, the general rule disfavoring constitutional adjudication by agencies is not mandatory, and is perhaps of less consequence where, as here, the reviewing body is not the agency itself but an independent commission established exclusively to adjudicate Mine Act disputes. The Commission has addressed constitutional questions in previous enforcement proceedings and, even if it had not, petitioner's claims could be meaningfully addressed in the Court of Appeals. Pp. 212-216.

2. The Court need not consider petitioner's contention that, because the absence of pre-enforcement declaratory relief before the Commission will subject petitioner to serious and irreparable harm, due process requires district court review. The record contains no evidence that petitioner will be subject to a serious prehearing deprivation if it complies with § 813(f) and 30 CFR pt. 40 by posting the designations. The potential for abuse of the miners' representative position appears limited, and petitioner has failed to demonstrate that any such abuse could not be remedied on an individual basis under the Mine Act. Nor will petitioner face any serious prehearing deprivation if it refuses to post the designations while challenging MSHA's interpretation. Although the Act's civil penalties unquestionably may become onerous if petitioner chooses not to comply, full judicial review is available before any penalty must be paid. Under the Act, petitioner is neither barred as a practical matter from all access to the courts nor put to a constitutionally

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intolerable choice between compliance and potent coercive penalties. Pp. 216-218.

969 F.2d 970, affirmed.

Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined, and in which Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined except for Parts III-B, IV, and V. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined, post, p. 219.

Wayne S. Bishop argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Charles W. Newcom, Stewart A. Block, and Thomas F. Linn.

Deputy Solicitor General Wallace argued the cause for respondents. On the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, William K. Kelley, Allen H. Feldman, and Nathaniel I. Spiller. [*]

Justice Blackmun delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we address the question whether the statutory-review scheme in the Federal Mine Safety and Health Amendments Act of 1977, 91 Stat. 1290, as amended, 30 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. (1988 ed. and Supp. IV) (Mine Act or Act), prevents a district court from exercising subjectmatter jurisdiction over a pre-enforcement challenge to the Act. We hold that it does.


Congress adopted the Mine Act "to protect the health and safety of the Nation's coal or other miners." 30 U.S.C. § 801(g). The Act requires the Secretary of Labor or his representative to conduct periodic, unannounced health and

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safety inspections of the Nation's mines.[1] Section § 813(f) provides:

"[A] representative of the operator and a representative authorized by his miners shall be given an opportunity to accompany the Secretary or his authorized representative during the physical inspection of any coal or other mine . . . for the purpose of aiding such inspection and to participate in pre-or post-inspection conferences held at the mine."

Regulations promulgated under this section define a miners' representative as "[a]ny person or organization which represents two or more miners at a coal or other mine for the purposes of the Act." 30 CFR § 40.1(b)(1) (1993).

In addition to exercising these "walk-around" inspection rights under § 813(f), persons designated as representatives of the miners may obtain certain health and safety information[2] and promote health and safety enforcement.[3] Once the mine employees designate one or more persons as their representatives,

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the employer must post at the mine information regarding these designees. 30 CFR § 40.4.

The Secretary has broad authority to compel immediate compliance with Mine Act provisions through the use of mandatory civil penalties, discretionary daily civil penalties, and other sanctions.[4] Challenges to enforcement are reviewed by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, 30 U.S.C. §§ 815 and 823, which is independent of the Department of Labor, and by the appropriate United States court of appeals, § 816.


Petitioner Thunder Basin Coal Company operates a surface coal mine in Wyoming with approximately 500 nonunion employees. In 1990, petitioner's employees selected two employees of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), who were not employees of the mine, to serve as their miners' representatives pursuant to § 813(f). Petitioner did not post the information regarding the miners' representatives as required by 30 CFR § 40.4, but complained to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)[5] that the designation compromised its rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). App. 31. The MSHA district manager responded with a letter instructing petitioner to post the miners' representative designations. Id., at 49.

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Rather than post the designations and before receiving the MSHA letter, petitioner filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming for pre-enforcement injunctive relief. Id., at 6. Petitioner contended that the designation of nonemployee UMWA "representatives" violated the principles of collective-bargaining representation under the NLRA as well as the company's NLRA rights to exclude union organizers from its property. Id., at 9-10. Petitioner argued then, as it does here, that deprivation of these rights would harm the company irreparably by "giv[ing] the union organizing advantages in terms of access, personal contact and knowledge that would not be available under the labor laws, as well as enhanced credibility flowing from the...

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