Sixth Circuit Draws Tighter Boundary Around MSHA Jurisdiction

The federal courts rarely full stop the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s pursuit of jurisdictional manifest destiny, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had no qualms about doing so recently in Maxxim Rebuild Co., LLC v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n (6th Cir. 2017) 848 F.3d 737 (Maxxim). For background, briefly, MSHA has in a series of administrative and court decisions expanded its jurisdiction to include workplaces and activities that no layperson would consider a mine or mining. It appears that MSHA pushed too far here.

In Maxxim, MSHA argued that it had authority to inspect and issue citations to a machine shop that repairs mining equipment. The shop is not located on or adjacent to a working mine. More specifically, MSHA took the position that it has jurisdiction over any facility that makes or repairs equipment used in mining operations, even if the facility is not part of or adjacent to a working mine. MSHA asserted, further, that its jurisdiction extends to all facilities and equipment used in or to be used in the work of preparing coal or other minerals.

The problem with MSHA’s read of the law is obvious, and called out bluntly by the Court: if MSHA were allowed to extend its jurisdiction to off-site shops and off-site equipment, “the language of the statute provides no stopping point, leaving the scope of its jurisdiction to the whims of the Secretary.” If the Maxxim shop were held subject to MSHA because it repaired equipment that could be used in mining, then the same logic would extend MSHA’s jurisdiction to the manufacturers of that equipment, and to the manufacturers of components used to manufacture that equipment, and so forth - a real example of a legal “slippery slope”.

The Court’s decision draws a bright line around MSHA jurisdiction – facilities not engaged in mining or mineral processing that are not part of or adjacent to a working mine are not subject to MSHA.

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