Unanimous decisions from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Commission are rare, but on July 11, 2019, the Commission ruled 5-0 to reverse an Administrative Law Judge’s finding of a fall protection violation in Sims Crane because the ALJ improperly shifted the burden of proof. Vacating the decision before it, the Commission found that the ALJ focused upon Sims’s counterarguments without determining whether the Secretary proved his claims by a preponderance of the evidence. The Commission then held that the Secretary failed to establish that a danger of falling existed as a violation of section 56.15005 requires. It vacated the Secretary’s citation without remand.
On June 11, 2019, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion vacating the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (“MSHA”) 2018 rule (“2018 Amendment”) entitled, Examinations of Working Places in Metal and Nonmetal Mines, codified at 30 C.F.R. § 56/57.18002, see 83 Fed. Reg. 15,055 (Apr. 9, 2018). In so doing, the D.C. Circuit ordered the reinstatement of MSHA’s January 23, 2017 version of the rule (“2017 Standard”), which revised the previously existing workplace examination standard at 30 C.F.R. § 56/57.18002.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has launched a pilot program for Part 100 conferencing in the hopes of reducing the number of contested citations. Under the pilot program, which will run from April 1 – June 30, 2019, MSHA will hold conferences with operators with the understanding that the goal of the conference is to reach a negotiated settlement before the contest process begins. During the conference, the operator and MSHA would negotiate both paper changes and penalty amounts for all citations conferenced. If a resolution is reached, both parties would sign an agreement indicating the terms of the settlement and that the operator agrees not to contest the citations or assessments before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (“FMSHRC”). If a settlement is not reached, the operator would retain its contest rights before the FMSHRC. The pilot program applies only to 104(a) citations that are not subject to a special assessment.