WASHINGTON, DC 20004-1710




















Docket No. LAKE 2016-399

A.C. No. 33-01159-400683




BEFORE:  Althen, Acting Chairman; Jordan, Young, and Cohen, Commissioners






            This matter arises under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C.  § 801 et seq. (2012) (“Mine Act”). On August 3, 2016, the Commission received from Ohio Valley Coal Company (“Ohio Valley”) 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 another 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 January 10, 2016, and became a final order of the Commission on February 9, 2016. Ohio Valley asserts that the Notice of Contest in this matter was mistakenly mailed to the wrong address because at the time the instant assessment was issued, the company was in the process of changing safety directors. In filing the Notice of Contest, the new safety director inadvertently relied upon mailing labels that listed MSHA’s previous address. Ohio Valley did not learn about the error until the Notice of Contest was returned undelivered on February 19, 2016. The safety director corrected the address and resent it the same day. He further avers that he did not learn that MSHA did not accept the notice of contest as filed until late July 2016. Thereafter, Ohio Valley promptly filed its motion to reopen. Following this event, Ohio Valley implemented remedial measures to ensure that all relevant parties were aware of MSHA’s change of address. The Secretary does not oppose the request to reopen.


            Having reviewed Ohio Valley’s request and the Secretary’s response, we find that the operator’s failure to properly file its contest was the result of an inadvertent mistake. 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. Accordingly, consistent with Rule 28, the Secretary shall file a petition for assessment of penalty within 45 days of the date of this order. See 29 C.F.R. § 2700.28.




/s/ William I. Althen

William I. Althen, Acting Chairman




/s/ Mary Lu Jordan

Mary Lu Jordan, Commissioner




/s/ Michael G. Young

Michael G. Young, Commissioner




/s/ Robert F. Cohen, Jr.

Robert F. Cohen, Jr., Commissioner




Christopher D. Pence, Esq.

Hardy Pence PLLC

500 Lee Street, East, Suite 701 (25301)

Post Office Box 2548

Charleston, WV 25329-2548


W. Christian Schumann, Esq.

Office of the Solicitor

U.S. Department of Labor

201 12th St. South, Suite 500

Arlington, VA 22202-5450


Chief Administrative Law Judge Robert J. Lesnick

Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission

1331 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Suite 520N

Washington, DC 20004-1710


Melanie Garris

Office of Civil Penalty Compliance

Mine Safety and Health Administration

U.S. Department of Labor

201 12th St. South, Suite 500

Arlington, VA 22202-5450