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American Coal Co. v. Mine Safety and Health Administration

February 19, 2010

THE AMERICAN COAL COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION, RICHARD STICKLER, KEVIN G. STRICKLIN, ROBERT L. PHILLIPS, DAVID L. WHITCOMB, KEITH ROBERTS, AND STEVE MILLER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Defendants, including the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), move that the Court dismiss the suit of the American Coal Co. for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 10.) Finding that the Court has jurisdiction but that the suit fails to state a claim, the Court will grant in part defendants' motion.

A. Introduction and Procedural Background

The American Coal Co. is a coal mine operator. The MSHA is the federal agency responsible for administering the provisions of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1977 (Mine Act). § 301(a), 29 U.S.C. § 557a (2006). These responsibilities include inspecting mines and enforcing health and safety regulations. The other defendants are employees of the MHSA, and are named in their official capacities.

On November 17, 2008 American Coal sued the MSHA alleging that it employed a citation quota that caused inspectors to issue baseless citations to American Coal.*fn1 American Coal's complaint alleges the following:

On December 13, 2007, Defendant Miller, a Coal Mine Inspector,stated to employees of American Coal that his MSHA superiors had directed him to issue 0.4 citations per inspection hour. American Coal alleges that, according to publically available MSHA data, violations found per inspection hour were 0.23 in 2007, and hovered around 0.17 violations per inspection hour from 2000 to 2004. American Coal alleges that since November 2007, the 0.4 citation per hour quota has resulted and will continue to result in baseless citations being issued against American Coal. These citations may result in the company going out of business.

On January 1, 2009, Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (12)(b)(6) (Doc. 10), and filed a memorandum in support of their motion (Doc. 11). On March 25, 2009, American Coal filed a response in opposition to Defendants' motion (Doc. 23). On April 9, 2009, Defendants replied to American Coal's response (Doc. 28). On April 14, 2009, American Coal filed a sur-reply (Doc. 34).

B. Analysis

1. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allows a party to move to dismiss a claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009).Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may only exercise jurisdiction where it is specifically authorized by federal statute. Evers v. Astrue, 536 F.3d 651, 657 (7th Cir. 2008). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is required if the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.When ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, "a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Id. at 656.A "district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists." Id. at 656--57.

Defendants' first challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction is that statute dictates that Counts I and II be resolved through the administrative review process and that exclusive jurisdiction over Count III is in the Court of Appeals. They also argue that the claims are not ripe for judicial review. The Court will consider ripeness first.

Ripeness

The issue of ripeness centers on the notion that courts should not render a decision absent a real need to resolve a real dispute. Wis. Cent., Ltd. v. Shannon, 539 F.3d 751, 759 (7th Cir. 2008). Whether a case is ripe for review depends upon whether the issues are fit for judicial determination and the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration. Id. In determining whether an issue is fit for judicial determination the court must first look at whether the issues are sufficiently concrete at this time to prevent the Court from entangling itself in an abstract disagreement over administrative policies. Bethlehem Steel Corp. v. EPA, 536 F.2d 136, 160--61 (7th Cir. 1976).

Defendants contend that the issues presented here are not fit for judicial determination. American Coal has direct challenges to the citations issued that are pending before the Administrative Law Judges. Defendants argue that determining whether the quota has caused inspectors to issue unfounded citations requires waiting for final disposition of the administrative citations against American Coal. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. 11.) It does not. The final disposition of an individual citation is merely evidence towards proving the alleged pattern of wrongdoing caused by the quota. Additionally, waiting for more evidence would be of scant value. Mines must be inspected at least twice per year. Mine Act § 103(a), 30 U.S.C. § 813(a).The alleged quota will produce baseless citations at each inspection. According to Defendants, American Coal's challenges to citations issued in late 2007 were still pending in January 2009. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. 12.) Since citations are issued more than once a year and challenges apparently take longer than a year, as long as the quota remains in effect there will always be citations pending against American Coal. American coal seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, not a ...


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