7th Circuit declines to overturn mine’s fine for safety violation

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the petition for judicial review filed by a company that runs a southern Indiana mine, finding sufficient evidence supports fining the company for violating federal regulation requiring a protective mound along an elevated roadway.

Peabody Midwest Mining LLC asked the 7th Circuit to take a look at the order issued by an administrative law judge that fined the company $4,329. Inspectors went to Peabody’s Gibson County mine and found that “berms” – the protective mounds – were too low along certain roadways. At a follow-up visit, an inspector found no berms or inadequate berms along a “bench” – a ledge cut into the side of the pit. The ledge was created to move a dragline, a massive piece of excavating equipment.

The inspector cited the mine, concluding the berm violation was significant and substantial because the lack of a berm could result in a permanently disabling injury. During the move of the dragline, other vehicles traveled around the dragline, either moving the berm to allow the dragline to pass or smoothing out the land where the dragline had passed and rebuilding the berm. The concern was these vehicles were too close to an edge of the mine without a protective mound.

An administrative law judge upheld the decision, finding the bench to be a roadway even while the dragline was moving because other rubber-tired vehicles used the path. She also determined the remaining berms were not high enough and fined the company. Peabody petitioned for review by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which sent the case back for further review to the ALJ. She again upheld her decision and the commission declined to review her order again.

The 7th Circuit also declined Tuesday to review the matter. The judges determined that substantial evidence supports the commission’s determination that the continuous use of the bench by service or haulage trucks left unchanged the status of the bench as a roadway, even during the dragline move. Peabody claimed the bench did not qualify as a roadway during the dragline’s move. The judges also found evidence to credit ALJ’s conclusion that the mine violated regulations by failing to maintain a berm on two-tenths of a mile of the bench, citing the testimony of the inspector.

The case is Peabody Midwest Mining LLC, formerly doing business as Black Beauty Coal Co. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, and Secretary of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, 13-1659.



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