N. Fork Coal Corp. v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n, Nos. 11–3398

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtGRIFFIN
Citation691 F.3d 735
PartiesNORTH FORK COAL CORPORATION, Petitioner, v. FEDERAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH REVIEW COMMISSION; Secretary of Labor; Mark Gray, Respondents.
Decision Date14 August 2012
Docket NumberNos. 11–3398,11–3684.

691 F.3d 735

NORTH FORK COAL CORPORATION, Petitioner,
v.
FEDERAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH REVIEW COMMISSION; Secretary of Labor; Mark Gray, Respondents.

Nos. 11–3398, 11–3684.

United States Court of Appeals,
Sixth Circuit.

Argued: July 19, 2012.
Decided and Filed: Aug. 14, 2012.


[691 F.3d 737]


ARGUED:Stephen M. Hodges, Penn, Stuart & Eskridge, Abingdon, Virginia, for Petitioner.
Robin Rosenbluth, United States Department of Labor, Arlington, Virginia, for Respondents. ON BRIEF:Stephen M. Hodges, Timothy W. Gresham, Penn, Stuart & Eskridge, Abingdon, Virginia, for Petitioner. Robin Rosenbluth, United States Department of Labor, Arlington, Virginia, Tony Oppegard, Lexington, Kentucky, Wes Addington, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Inc., Whitesburg, Kentucky, for Respondents.

Before: SUTTON and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges; and HOOD, District Judge.
*

GRIFFIN, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which SUTTON, J. and HOOD, D.J., joined.
SUTTON, J. (pp. 744–47), delivered a separate concurring opinion.

OPINION

GRIFFIN, Circuit Judge.

This case involves a complaint of employment discrimination filed by Mark

[691 F.3d 738]

Gray with the Secretary of Labor (“Secretary”) pursuant to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (the “Mine Act” or “Act”), as amended, 30 U.S.C. §§ 801–965. Following a determination that Gray's complaint was not “frivolously brought,” Gray was granted temporary reinstatement. 30 U.S.C. § 815(c)(2). Thereafter, following an investigation of Gray's allegations, the Secretary determined that a violation of the Mine Act had not occurred. Accordingly, the Secretary denied Gray's complaint, concluding that a discrimination action on Gray's behalf was not warranted. The instant case presents the issue of first impression of whether the Mine Act mandates that an employee's temporary reinstatement continue after the Secretary determines that his complaint lacks merit. We hold that the Mine Act does not require such continued temporary reinstatement.

I.

In 1977, the Mine Act was enacted to address the “urgent need to provide more effective means and measures for improving the working conditions and practices in the Nation's coal [and] other mines in order to prevent death and serious physical harm[.]” 30 U.S.C. § 801(c). One important provision of the Act prohibits employment discrimination as a reprisal for making safety-related complaints. Id. § 815(c)(1). This prohibition was intended to encourage miners to play an “active part in the enforcement of the Act” and protect them “against any possible discrimination which they might suffer as a result of their participation.” S.Rep. No. 95–181, at 35 (1977), reprinted in 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 3401, 3435.

Under the Mine Act, a miner believing that he was subjected to prohibited employment discrimination may file a complaint with the Secretary. 30 U.S.C. § 815(c)(2). If the Secretary determines that the complaint is not “frivolously brought,” she must request the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (the “Commission”) to order the miner's temporary reinstatement “pending final order on the complaint.” Id. Thereafter, the Secretary conducts an investigation to determine whether she will pursue the discrimination complaint on behalf of the miner. Id. If the Secretary finds that no Mine Act violation occurred, the miner may bring an action on his or her own behalf. Id. § 815(c)(3). Under either circumstance, the merits of the miner's discrimination complaint is resolved by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), with further discretionary review provided by the Commission. 29 C.F.R. §§ 2700.69, 2700.70. Parties aggrieved by the Commission's final order may seek additional review in the federal courts of appeals. 30 U.S.C. § 816.

II.

On May 15, 2009, North Fork Coal Corporation (“North Fork”) fired Mark Gray, a roof bolter employed in its No. 4 mine. Gray thereafter filed a discrimination complaint with the Secretary, alleging he was terminated for making safety-related complaints. Finding that Gray's complaint was not “frivolously brought,” the Secretary filed an application for his temporary reinstatement, and an ALJ granted the request. The parties jointly requested that Gray's reinstatement be economic, foregoing his return to the mine.

Following her investigation into Gray's termination, the Secretary informed the ALJ that she would not be pursuing the discrimination complaint. Soon thereafter, the ALJ issued an order dissolving Gray's temporary reinstatement. On December 30, 2009, Gray filed a discrimination action on his own behalf.

On January 8, 2010, the Commission granted discretionary review of the ALJ's

[691 F.3d 739]

dissolution of Gray's temporary reinstatement. Thereafter, in a split decision, the Commission reversed the ALJ's order, holding that temporary reinstatement was required to continue until Gray's individual action was resolved by final order. Two commissioners based this holding on the plain language of § 815(c), while a concurring third commissioner found § 815(c) to be ambiguous, requiring deference to the interpretation of the Secretary. The two dissenting commissioners asserted that the plain language of § 815(c) required the dissolution of temporary reinstatement when the Secretary decided not to pursue the miner's complaint. North Fork thereafter filed a petition for review before this court.

III.

“The standard under which [we review] the Commission's order is governed by the Mine Act and general administrative law principles [.]” Pendley v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n, 601 F.3d 417, 422 (6th Cir.2010). “[We review] the Commission's decision and not the underlying decision of the ALJ[.]” Id. Questions of law are reviewed de novo. Id. at 423. When in conflict, the Secretary's reasonable interpretation supercedes that of the Commission. Id. at 423 n. 2 (citing Sec'y of Labor ex rel. Bushnell v. Cannelton Indus., 867 F.2d 1432, 1435 (D.C.Cir.1989)).

When reviewing an agency's interpretation of statutory language, we are presented with two questions. “First, always, is the question whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.” Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842–43, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984). However, “if the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.” Id. at 843, 104 S.Ct. 2778.

IV.

Section 815(c)(2) states in relevant part:

Any miner ... who believes that he has been discharged, interfered with, or otherwise discriminated against by any person in violation of this subsection may, within 60 days after such violation occurs, file a complaint with the Secretary alleging such discrimination. Upon receipt of such complaint, the Secretary shall forward a copy of the complaint to the respondent and shall cause such investigation to be made as he deems appropriate. Such investigation shall commence within 15 days of the Secretary's receipt of the complaint, and if the Secretary finds that such complaint was not frivolously brought, the Commission, on an expedited basis upon application of the Secretary, shall order the immediate reinstatement of the miner pending final order on the complaint. If upon such investigation, the Secretary determines that the provisions of this subsection have been violated, he shall immediately file a complaint with the Commission, with service upon the alleged violator and the miner, applicant for employment, or representative of miners alleging such discrimination or interference and propose an order granting appropriate relief. The Commission shall afford an opportunity for a hearing (in accordance with section 554 of Title 5 but without regard to subsection (a)(3) of such section) and thereafter shall issue an order, based upon findings of fact, affirming, modifying, or vacating the Secretary's proposed

[691 F.3d 740]

order, or directing other appropriate relief.

30 U.S.C. § 815(c)(2) (emphasis added). Also relevant to this petition is § 815(c)(3), which provides:


Within 90 days of the receipt of a complaint filed under paragraph (2), the Secretary shall notify, in writing, the miner, applicant for employment, or representative of miners of his determination whether a violation has occurred. If the Secretary, upon investigation, determines that the provisions of this subsection have not been violated, the complainant shall have the right, within 30 days of notice of the Secretary's determination, to file an action in his own behalf before the Commission, charging discrimination or interference in violation of paragraph (1). The Commission shall afford an opportunity for a hearing (in accordance with section 554 of Title 5 but without regard to subsection (a)(3) of such section), and thereafter shall issue an order, based upon findings of fact, dismissing or sustaining the complainant's charges and, if the charges are sustained, granting such relief as it deems appropriate.... Proceedings under this section shall be expedited by the Secretary and the Commission. Any order issued by the Commission under this paragraph shall be subject to judicial review in accordance with section 816 of this title.

Id. § 815(c)(3). This case turns on the proper interpretation of the phrase “pending final order on the complaint” contained in § 815(c)(2). The Secretary reads the term “complaint” to mean the miner's underlying discrimination complaint, whether it is litigated by the Secretary under § 815(c)(2) or the miner under § 815(c)(3). North Fork asserts that the term “complaint” refers to that filed by the Secretary before the Commission, and not to the separate “action” filed by the miner under § 815(c)(3).


From 1978 to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
39 practice notes
  • In re Patriot Coal Corp., Case No. 12-51502-659
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Eighth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • May 29, 2013
    ...U.S.C. and 30 U.S.C.§§ 801-965). 15. 20 C.F.R. § 725.202(d)(2). 16. North Fork Coal Corp. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Comm'n, 691 F.3d 735, 738 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing 30 U.S.C. § 801(c)). 17. 30 U.S.C. § 811(a). 18. Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-16......
  • Cobra Natural Res., LLC v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n, No. 13–1406.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • January 27, 2014
    ...If the Secretary instead determines that a violation has not occurred, the temporary reinstatement ends. See N. Fork Coal Co. v. FMSHRC, 691 F.3d 735, 744 (6th Cir.2012).B. Russell Ratliff, a southern West Virginia coal miner, was an equipment operator at Cobra's Mountaineer Mine in Mingo C......
  • In re Patriot Coal Corp., No. 12–51502–659.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Eighth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • May 29, 2013
    ...U.S.C. and 30 U.S.C. §§ 801–965). 15.20 C.F.R. § 725.202(d)(2). 16.North Fork Coal Corp. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Comm'n, 691 F.3d 735, 738 (6th Cir.2012) (citing 30 U.S.C. § 801(c)). 17.30 U.S.C. § 811(a). 18. Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95–164, ......
  • Sexton v. Panel Processing, Inc., No. 13–1604.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 9, 2014
    ...that the word ‘interest’ in the National Bank Act is unambiguous ..."); North Fork Coal Corp. v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n, 691 F.3d 735, 740 (6th Cir.2012) (the fact that the phrase "pending final order on the complaint" of 30 U.S.C. § 815(c)(3) "does not have a plain meaning......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
39 cases
  • In re Patriot Coal Corp., Case No. 12-51502-659
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Eighth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • May 29, 2013
    ...U.S.C. and 30 U.S.C.§§ 801-965). 15. 20 C.F.R. § 725.202(d)(2). 16. North Fork Coal Corp. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Comm'n, 691 F.3d 735, 738 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing 30 U.S.C. § 801(c)). 17. 30 U.S.C. § 811(a). 18. Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95-16......
  • Cobra Natural Res., LLC v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n, No. 13–1406.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • January 27, 2014
    ...If the Secretary instead determines that a violation has not occurred, the temporary reinstatement ends. See N. Fork Coal Co. v. FMSHRC, 691 F.3d 735, 744 (6th Cir.2012).B. Russell Ratliff, a southern West Virginia coal miner, was an equipment operator at Cobra's Mountaineer Mine in Mingo C......
  • In re Patriot Coal Corp., No. 12–51502–659.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Eighth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • May 29, 2013
    ...U.S.C. and 30 U.S.C. §§ 801–965). 15.20 C.F.R. § 725.202(d)(2). 16.North Fork Coal Corp. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Comm'n, 691 F.3d 735, 738 (6th Cir.2012) (citing 30 U.S.C. § 801(c)). 17.30 U.S.C. § 811(a). 18. Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, Pub. L. No. 95–164, ......
  • Sexton v. Panel Processing, Inc., No. 13–1604.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 9, 2014
    ...that the word ‘interest’ in the National Bank Act is unambiguous ..."); North Fork Coal Corp. v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n, 691 F.3d 735, 740 (6th Cir.2012) (the fact that the phrase "pending final order on the complaint" of 30 U.S.C. § 815(c)(3) "does not have a plain meaning......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT