Peabody Twentymile Mining v. Secretary of Labor, No. 17-9540 (10th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Peabody Twentymile Mining, LLC (“Peabody Twentymile”) operates the Foidel Creek Mine, a large underground coal mine in Colorado. The mine uses over one thousand ventilation stoppings to separate the fresh intake air from the air flowing out of the mine that has been circulated through areas where extraction is occurring. In 2014, an inspector for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) issued a citation to Peabody Twentymile for a violation of the federal law requiring permanent ventilation stoppings to be “constructed in a traditionally accepted method and of materials that have been demonstrated to perform adequately.” MSHA alleged Peabody Twentymile was using polyurethane spray foam to seal the perimeter of a permanent concrete block ventilation stopping. Peabody Twentymile unsuccessfully contested the citation and civil penalty before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ relied on the preamble to the ventilation stopping regulation, which listed six “traditionally accepted construction methods,” to determine that Peabody Twentymile’s method of constructing concrete block stoppings was not “traditionally accepted” and was subject to a $162 fine. Peabody Twentymile then petitioned the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (the “Commission”) for review, and the Commission issued an evenly split decision, causing the ALJ’s decision to stand. Peabody Twentymile thereafter petitioned the Tenth Circuit for review of the ALJ’s decision. The Tenth Circuit concluded Peabody Twentymile’s construction method was “traditionally accepted” by MSHA under the unambiguous meaning of that phrase, it reversed the ALJ’s decision and vacated the citation.