7th Circuit denies petitions seeking review of mine safety regulations

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Friday found that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration acted within its statutory and constitutional authority in demanding review of employee medical records to ensure mines were not under-reporting injuries or illnesses.

In October 2010, the MSHA acted on a new and broader interpretation of existing regulations that would allow inspectors to review employee medical and personnel records to ensure mines were accurately reporting miner injuries or illnesses. This review would be on top of the requirement that mine operators provide injury and illness reports.

When two mine operators refused to provide the records, MSHA issued citations and fines. The mine operators argued that MSHA isn’t authorized to require them to produce records beyond those that regulations specifically require them to maintain. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and an administrative law judge found the document demands and enforcement to be lawful. The mine operators and a group of mine employees sought review by the 7th Circuit. The miners intervened before the commission to raise personal privacy challenges to the documents.

The petitioners argued (1) that MSHA does not have the authority to require mines to comply with the demands under the Mine Safety Act or relevant regulations; (2) that the relevant regulation, 30 C.F.R. § 50.41, is not a reasonable interpretation of the Mine Safety Act and was not properly promulgated; (3) that the document demands infringe the mine operators’ Fourth Amendment right not to be searched without a warrant; (4) that the demands violate the miners’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights in their medical records; (5) that the daily penalties MSHA imposed for failure to comply violate the mine operators’ Fifth Amendment right to due process of law; and (6) that the demands conflict with a variety of other federal and state laws.

In a 57-page opinion authored by Judge David Hamilton, Big Ridge Inc., Jerad Bickett, et al. v. Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, et al., 12-2316, 12-2460, the 7th Circuit denied the petitioners request for review, agreeing with the commission that MSHA acted within its statutory and constitutional authority in demanding information that would allow MSHA to verify the accuracy of the mine operators’ injury reports and in issuing citations and fines when the operators did not comply.

The MSHA’s record demands do not conflict with federal and state laws as the petitioners and amicus National Mining Association argued, Hamilton wrote. The Mine Safety Act preempts state privacy laws in the event of any conflict, and the Americans with Disabilities Act’s and the Family and Medical Leave Act’s confidentiality requirements would not be violated by disclosure to MSHA pursuant to these orders.

“The records that MSHA seeks from mine operators are reasonably necessary for the agency to be able to fulfill its responsibility to protect miner safety and health. Without the records, significant numbers of mine-related injuries and illnesses may go unaccounted for, and mines operating under risky and hazardous conditions may continue to do so without sanction. In light of the long history of mine accidents and illness, Congress has given the Secretary and MSHA powerful tools to protect miners. Those tools include the demands to inspect documents at issue here,” he wrote.



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