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
GENESIS ALKALI, LLC
Docket No. WEST 2020-0156-M
A.C. No. 48-00152-503109
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. (2018) (“Mine Act”). On January 15, 2020, the Commission received from Genesis Alkali, LLC (“Genesis”) 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 November 5, 2019, and became a final order of the Commission on December 5, 2019. Genesis contends that due to a temporary change in its administrative staff, it inadvertently sent its contest of the proposed assessments for Citation Nos. 9348735 and 9348741, along with its payment for the remaining violations on the same proposed assessment, to MSHA’s St. Louis address instead of its Arlington office. After checking MSHA’s Data Retrieval System on December 29, 2019, Genesis discovered that the two citations it intended to contest were pending payment. The operator asserts that it notified counsel, who subsequently filed this motion to reopen. The Secretary confirms that Genesis submitted payment and does not oppose the request to reopen, but urges the operator to take steps to ensure that future penalty contests are timely filed.
Having reviewed Genesis’s request and the Secretary’s response, we find that Genesis failed to timely contest penalties through inadvertence or mistake, and that such inadvertence or mistake constitutes good cause to reopen the penalty proceeding. 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/ 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
Erik Dullea, Esq.
Ephraim Hintz, Esq.
Husch Blackwell LLP
Emily Scott, Esq.
Office of the Solicitor
Chief Administrative Law Judge Glynn Voisin
Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission
Office of Civil Penalty Compliance
Mine Safety and Health Administration