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Morton v. Delta Mining Inc.

decided as amended june 12 1974.: March 20, 1974.

ROGERS C. B. MORTON, SECRETARY OF INTERIOR, UNITED STATES DEPT. OF INTERIOR
v.
DELTA MINING, INC.; UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT IN NO. 73-1752; ROGERS C. B. MORTON, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR V. G.M.W. COAL COMPANY, INC.; UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT IN NO. 73-1753; ROGERS C. B. MORTON, SECRETARY OF INTERIOR, UNITED STATES DEPT. OF THE INTERIOR V. EDWARD MEARS, EARL BENCE, CHARLES J. MEARS, MURRAY MARTIN, ROCCO YANITY, CASMER YANITY, AND TONY YANITY, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS PARTNER T/D/B/A M.Y. COAL COMPANY UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT IN NO. 73-1848



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA D.C. Civil Nos. 73-857, 72-890, 72-928

Adams, Hunter and Weis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Adams

Opinion OF THE COURT

ADAMS, Circuit Judge:

The question on this appeal is whether, under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act,*fn1 the Secretary of Interior may assess civil penalties against mine operators without making and publishing factual findings. The district court, in which the Secretary sought enforcement of assessment orders against the defendant mining companies,*fn2 held that the orders were invalid because of the absence of such findings, and the Secretary appealed.

The Act was passed in 1969 to "protect the health and safety of the Nation's coal miners."*fn2a At various times during 1971, inspectors of the Bureau of Mines, Department of Interior, entered and inspected the coal mines operated by the various defendants, seeking to determine the extent of compliance or non-compliance with the Act, and with the regulations promulgated thereunder.*fn3 During the course of these visits the inspectors detected a number of violations of the Act or the regulations. In each such instance, an inspector served the defendant in question with a notice of the infraction. Each notice stated that the particular violation had to be abated by a certain date. On the date set for abatement, the inspector returned to the mine and, upon determining that the violations had in fact been abated, furnished the defendant with a notice to that effect.

After the abatement of each violation and the notification of the defendant involved, the local office of the Bureau of Mines sent copies of the notices of violation and abatement to the Bureau's central office in Washington, D.C. There an Assessment Officer reviewed the various notices and sent proposed penalty assessment orders to the defendants.*fn4

The proposed penalty assessment orders informed each defendant that the Assessment Officer, after giving "due consideration" to certain statutory criteria, intended to assess civil penalties in various amounts; that the defendants could protest the assessments in writing; and that the defendants had a right, secured by statute, to request hearings. Each defendant protested the orders.*fn5 However, the Assessment Officer did not consider that a reduction in the size of the penalties was called for, and he accordingly notified the defendants of his affirmance of the proposed orders.

The defendants were also notified, upon affirmance of the proposed orders, that they had 15 days in which to request a hearing, and that upon their failure to do so within the prescribed time the proposed orders would become the final orders of the Secretary. No hearings were requested and the final orders of the Secretary were entered. When the defendants failed to pay the assessments set forth in the final orders, this action for enforcement was brought in the district court.*fn6

Section 109(a) (3) of the Act*fn7 provides in part as follows:

"A civil penalty shall be assessed by the Secretary only after the person charged with a violation under this chapter has been given an opportunity for a public hearing, and the Secretary has determined, by decision incorporating his findings of fact therein, that a violation did occur and the amount of the penalty which is warranted, and incorporating, when appropriate, an order therein requiring that the penalty be paid. . ..Any hearing under this section shall be of record and shall be subject to section 554 of Title 5."

Section 109(a) (1)*fn8 enumerates six factors to be considered by the Secretary in determining the amount of any penalty assessment:

"In determining the amount of the penalty, the Secretary shall consider the operator's history of previous violations, the appropriateness of such penalty to the size of the business of the operator charged, whether the operator was negligent, the effect on the operator's ability to continue in business, the gravity of the violation and the demonstrated good faith of the operator charged in attempting to achieve rapid compliance after notification of a violation."

The proposed orders of assessment which the defendants received from the Assessment Officer were on preprinted forms which recited, in some instances, that the six factors set out in the statute had been considered.*fn9 The final orders entered by the Secretary did not mention the six statutory criteria at all, but merely set forth the Secretary's finding that a violation "did, in fact, occur."*fn10 The defendants contend, and the district court agreed that in omitting from the final orders express findings of fact relating to the statutory criteria for determining the amount of penalty, ...


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