Jones Bros., Inc. v. Sec'y of Labor, No. 17-3483

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtSUTTON, Circuit Judge.
Citation898 F.3d 669
Parties JONES BROTHERS, INC., Petitioner, v. SECRETARY OF LABOR, Mine Safety and Health Administration; Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, Respondents.
Decision Date31 July 2018
Docket NumberNo. 17-3483

898 F.3d 669

JONES BROTHERS, INC., Petitioner,
v.
SECRETARY OF LABOR, Mine Safety and Health Administration; Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, Respondents.

No. 17-3483

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Argued: April 26, 2018
Decided and Filed: July 31, 2018


ARGUED: Noelle Holladay True, RAJKOVICH, WILLIAMS, KILPATRICK & TRUE, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, R. Eddie Wayland, KING & BALLOW, Nashville, Tennessee, for Petitioner. Cheryl C. Blair-Kijewski, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Arlington, Virginia, Joshua M. Salzman, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Respondents. ON BRIEF: Noelle Holladay True, RAJKOVICH, WILLIAMS, KILPATRICK & TRUE, PLLC, Lexington, Kentucky, R. Eddie Wayland, Michael D. Oesterle, Laura M. Mallory, Benjamin S. Morrell, KING & BALLOW, Nashville, Tennessee, for Petitioner. Cheryl C. Blair-Kijewski, Ali A. Beydoun, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Arlington, Virginia, for Respondents.

Before: GUY, SUTTON, and COOK, Circuit Judges.

SUTTON, Circuit Judge.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation hired Jones Brothers to repair a

898 F.3d 672

portion of a state highway in Tennessee. The company drilled and blasted a pit less than a mile from the highway, extracting thousands of tons of graded solid rock to fill the collapsed bed that previously supported the highway. The Mine Safety and Health Administration imposed a few thousand dollars in civil penalties on Jones Brothers for failing to comply with safety requirements established by the agency. An administrative law judge from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission upheld the penalties, and the Commission affirmed. Because the administrative law judge was an inferior officer of the United States, and because she was not appointed by the President, a court of law, or the head of a department, as the Constitution demands, we vacate the Commission’s decision and remand for fresh proceedings.

I.

In early 2015, the Tennessee Department of Transportation contracted with Jones Brothers to repair a portion of State Route 141 in DeKalb County, Tennessee, after a portion of the highway slid into the Coney Fork River. Tennessee agreed to pay the company $14.25 per ton for 68,615 tons of graded solid rock.

By August, the company had identified a site to supply rock to re-fill the bed of the road. The site was within a mile of the road. The company cleared the trees, brush, and dirt from the site and flattened the land. Then it excavated rock from the site by drilling and blasting the area. Jones Brothers used a "slotted bucket" to separate dirt and other small materials from the rock. A.R. at 204–05. The company loaded the final product onto trucks and hauled it along a closed public road to the repair area.

In April 2016, Danny Williams, an inspector with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, visited the site. He identified several failings: that the company did not notify the Administration before starting the operation, did not maintain proper safety equipment, and did not train its employees properly. He issued nine citations and imposed $2,940 in civil penalties.

Jones Brothers challenged the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s power to issue the citations before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent agency responsible for reviewing the Administration’s actions. See 30 U.S.C. § 823. A Commission administrative law judge rejected the argument on the ground that the site was "a coal or other mine" under the Administration’s jurisdiction. Id. § 803. So did the Commission itself. Jones Brothers petitioned this Court for review of the Commission’s decision. See id. § 816.

II.

Before reaching the merits of Jones Brothers’ Appointments Clause challenge, we must consider whether the company forfeited the issue. That question requires some background to answer.

The Mine Act grants the Mine Commission the authority to appoint administrative law judges to adjudicate enforcement actions. Id. § 823(b)(2). Any person affected or aggrieved by an administrative law judge’s decision may petition the Commission for review of that decision. Id. § 823(d)(2)(A)(i). Among other things, he may argue that the decision is "contrary to law" or that a "finding or conclusion of material fact is not supported by substantial evidence." Id. § 823(d)(2)(A)(ii). Anyone aggrieved by a Commission decision may petition for judicial review of the decision in the circuit where the violation occurred. Id. § 816(a)(1).

898 F.3d 673

To ensure that the Commission has the first opportunity to correct its own errors and to advance the efficient disposition of litigation, the Mine Act imposes two exhaustion requirements. If a claimant fails to bring a challenge before the administrative law judge, it is forfeited before the Commission "[e]xcept for good cause shown." Id. § 823(d)(2)(A)(iii). A different requirement applies in the court of appeals: "No objection that has not been urged before the Commission shall be considered by the court, unless the failure or neglect to urge such objection shall be excused because of extraordinary circumstances." Id. § 816(a)(1).

Jones Brothers did not mention the Appointments Clause issue in front of the administrative law judge. Before the Commission, the company identified the constitutional issue. In full, it said: "In addition to the arguments set forth below, Jones Bros. also recognizes that there is currently a split among the Circuit Courts of Appeal as to whether administrative law judges, who are not appointed by the President, may constitutionally decide cases brought before them." A.R. at 258.

This sequence of events triggers three interrelated questions: Did Jones Brothers have an obligation to exhaust a constitutional claim like this one? If so, did its identification of the issue suffice? If not, does the "extraordinary circumstances" exception apply?

Did Jones Brothers have an obligation to exhaust this constitutional claim? Yes.

The answer requires some elaboration, as the statute does not spell out whether an aggrieved party must raise constitutional claims before the Commission. Here is what it says:

Petitions for discretionary review shall be filed only upon one or more of the following grounds:

(I) A finding or conclusion of material fact is not supported by substantial evidence.

(II) A necessary legal conclusion is erroneous.

(III) The decision is contrary to law or to the duly promulgated rules or decisions of the Commission.

(IV) A substantial question of law, policy or discretion is involved.

(V) A prejudicial error of procedure was committed.

30 U.S.C. § 823(d)(2)(A)(ii).

What does the Mine Act mean when it refers to a decision "contrary to law" or a decision involving a "substantial question of law"? In one sense, the Constitution is a law, indeed our country’s highest law. At first glance, one thus might read the statute to require exhaustion of any and all legal claims, whether arising under the Constitution, a statute, a regulation, or federal common law.

But it is perilous to pluck words from a statute and define them in isolation. A word’s setting often offers the most promising insights about its meaning. Two features of this setting stand out. This administrative agency, like all administrative agencies, has no authority to entertain a facial constitutional challenge to the validity of a law. An administrative agency may not invalidate the statute from which it derives its existence and that it is charged with implementing. See Mathews v. Diaz , 426 U.S. 67, 76, 96 S.Ct. 1883, 48 L.Ed.2d 478 (1976) ; Weinberger v. Salfi , 422 U.S. 749, 765, 95 S.Ct. 2457, 45 L.Ed.2d 522 (1975) ; Johnson v. Robison , 415 U.S. 361, 368, 94 S.Ct. 1160, 39 L.Ed.2d 389 (1974) ; Pub. Util. Comm’n v. United States , 355 U.S. 534, 539–40, 78 S.Ct. 446, 2 L.Ed.2d 470 (1958).

898 F.3d 674

Each of the three branches of the federal government, it is true, has an independent obligation to interpret the Constitution. But only the Judiciary enjoys the power to invalidate statutes inconsistent with the Constitution. See Marbury v. Madison , 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177–78, 2 L.Ed. 60 (1803).

We thus could not fault a petitioner for failing to a raise a facial constitutional challenge in front of an administrative body that could not entertain it. See McCarthy v. Madigan , 503 U.S. 140, 147–48, 112 S.Ct. 1081, 117 L.Ed.2d 291 (1992). To hold otherwise would be to stretch forfeiture beyond its breaking point. We must read the statute in light of its constitutional setting: The Mine Act establishes an agency dispute-resolution scheme of limited scope. In that context, "questions of law" include only those legal claims the Commission is fit to decide and fix. See Plaquemines Port, Harbor & Terminal Dist. v. Fed. Mar. Comm’n , 838 F.2d 536, 544 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (Bork, J.); Motor & Equip. Mfrs. Ass’n v. EPA , 627 F.2d 1095, 1114–15 (D.C. Cir. 1979).

Another feature of this statutory setting suggests that there is no exhaustion requirement, and thus no forfeiture penalty, with respect to facial constitutional claims. Keep in mind that the statute does not just refer to preserving issues of "law" in...

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172 practice notes
  • Greer v. United States, No. 16-4755
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • September 12, 2019
    ...Id. (quoting Wood v. Milyard , 566 U.S. 463, 473, 132 S.Ct. 1826, 182 L.Ed.2d 733 (2012) ); see Jones Bros., Inc. v. Sec’y of Labor , 898 F.3d 669, 677–78 (6th Cir. 2018). In fact, the government’s position is particularly brazen here; the government asks us to excuse its forfeiture, then t......
  • Cochran v. U.S. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n, 19-10396
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • December 13, 2021
    ...presents a true constitutional dispute before the Judiciary steps in to decide those weighty issues." Jones Bros., Inc. v. Sec'y of Lab., 898 F.3d 669, 676 (6th Cir. 2018). Allowing separation-of-powers claims to evade the judicial review scheme that Congress created gets constitutional avo......
  • Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2018-2140
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit
    • March 23, 2020
    ...Intercollegiate Broad. Sys., Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Bd. , 684 F.3d 1332, 1342 (D.C. Cir. 2012) ; Jones Bros., Inc. v. Sec’y of Labor , 898 F.3d 669, 679 (6th Cir. 2018).IIWhen an officer’s appointment violates the Appointments Clause, courts "try to limit the solution to the problem, sev......
  • Bailey v. Little T Coal Co., 20-0302 BLA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Black Lung Complaints
    • December 21, 2021
    ...Considering its contrary position under these circumstances thus would condone sandbagging. See, e.g., Jones Bros. v. Sec'y of Labor, 898 F.3d 669, 677 (6th Cir. 2018) (refusing to consider a position not raised below because "[w]e have repeatedly held that a party forfeits any allegations ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
174 cases
  • Greer v. United States, No. 16-4755
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • September 12, 2019
    ...Id. (quoting Wood v. Milyard , 566 U.S. 463, 473, 132 S.Ct. 1826, 182 L.Ed.2d 733 (2012) ); see Jones Bros., Inc. v. Sec’y of Labor , 898 F.3d 669, 677–78 (6th Cir. 2018). In fact, the government’s position is particularly brazen here; the government asks us to excuse its forfeiture, then t......
  • Cochran v. U.S. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n, 19-10396
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • December 13, 2021
    ...presents a true constitutional dispute before the Judiciary steps in to decide those weighty issues." Jones Bros., Inc. v. Sec'y of Lab., 898 F.3d 669, 676 (6th Cir. 2018). Allowing separation-of-powers claims to evade the judicial review scheme that Congress created gets constitutional avo......
  • Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 2018-2140
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit
    • March 23, 2020
    ...Intercollegiate Broad. Sys., Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Bd. , 684 F.3d 1332, 1342 (D.C. Cir. 2012) ; Jones Bros., Inc. v. Sec’y of Labor , 898 F.3d 669, 679 (6th Cir. 2018).IIWhen an officer’s appointment violates the Appointments Clause, courts "try to limit the solution to the problem, sev......
  • Bailey v. Little T Coal Co., 20-0302 BLA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Black Lung Complaints
    • December 21, 2021
    ...Considering its contrary position under these circumstances thus would condone sandbagging. See, e.g., Jones Bros. v. Sec'y of Labor, 898 F.3d 669, 677 (6th Cir. 2018) (refusing to consider a position not raised below because "[w]e have repeatedly held that a party forfeits any allegations ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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