Skip to content
Scales of Justice U.S. Department of Labor
Office of the Solicitor
Division of Mine Safety and Health

What's new in the MSH Division?
Quick Jump - Litigation    Rulemaking    Criminal Activities

LITIGATION
 

Twentymile Coal Co., FMSHRC Nos. WEST 2008-788-R etc.  On June 13, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving three safety violations consisting of accumulations of coal dust in an underground coal mine in Colorado.  The Commission affirmed the judge’s findings that one of the violations was “significant and substantial,” and that two of the violations were “unwarrantable failures to comply,” within the meaning of the Mine Act.  The Commission vacated the judge’s finding that two of the violations were “significant and substantial” and remanded the case to the judge for further analysis.

Connolly-Pacific Co., FMSHRC No. WEST 2011-1238.  On June 13, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving a stone quarry in California.  The Commission affirmed the judge’s findings that the operator violated three safety standards because its mining method failed to maintain the stability of a highwall.  Instead of maintaining the stability of the highwall, the operator allowed rock to slide down the highwall to be removed by a loader, and used a spotter to warn the loader operator when the highwall was unstable.  The Commission also affirmed the judge’s finding that the MSHA inspector acted within his discretion in issuing an imminent danger withdrawal order, and held that the judge did not commit reversible error in the way she conducted the hearing or in relying on an extra-record publication in her decision.

Mach Mining, LLC, FMSHRC No. LAKE 2009-427.  On June 2, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving a violation of an MSHA standard under which the operator of an underground coal mine is required to maintain a passable escapeway to the surface.  The Commission affirmed the judge’s finding that the violation resulted from “high negligence” on the operator’s part.  More specifically, the Commission found that the company president and mine superintendent was aware of the violative condition, and that his negligence was not mitigated by the fact that he was assertedly unaware of the standard’s requirements.  The Commission also affirmed the judge’s finding that the violation was not “significant and substantial” within the meaning of the Mine Act.

Big Ridge, Inc., FMSHRC Nos. LAKE 2009-490 etc.  On May 23, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving a violation of MSHA’s lifeline standard.  The Commission applied Cumberland Coal Resources, LP v. FMSHRC, 717 F.3d 1020 (D.C. Cir. 2013), and held that consideration of whether escapeway violations are “significant and substantial” under Section 104(d)(1) of the Mine Act must be done in the context of an emergency.  The Commission affirmed the judge’s finding that a 20-foot gap in a heavy-traffic intersection in a secondary escapeway adjacent to a belt entry was “significant and substantial.”

Black Beauty Coal Co., FMSHRC No. LAKE 2009-565.  On May 23, 2014, the Commission issued a second decision involving a violation of MSHA’s lifeline standard in which the Commission again applied Cumberland Coal Resources and held that consideration of whether escapeway violations are “significant and substantial” under Section 104(d)(1) of the Mine Act must be done in the context of an emergency.  The Commission affirmed the judge’s finding that a 110-foot gap in the lifeline was “significant and substantial.”

Secretary of Labor on behalf of Reuben Shemwell v. Armstrong Coal Co., FMSHRC No. KENT 2013-362-D.  On May 13, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving an agreement settling a complaint issued by the Secretary alleging that the mine operator violated the interference provision of Section 105(c)(1) of the Mine Act by filing a state court “SLAPP” suit against a miner because he filed a discrimination complaint against the operator.  The judge rejected the agreement on the grounds, inter alia, that the agreement’s exculpatory language was such that this and other operators would not be dissuaded from filing similar suits in the future, and that the agreement’s reduction of the operator’s penalty from $70,000 to $35,000 was unjustified.  The Commission rejected the judge’s reasoning, concluding that the agreement as a whole contained “sufficient consideration and deterrent effect to protect the public interest,” and approved the agreement.

Manalapan Mining Co., FMSHRC No. KENT 2008-737.  On April 30, 2014, the Commission issued a decision in a case that was decided twice by the judge and appealed twice by the Secretary.  In his first decision, the judge found that the operator committed two violations of an MSHA safety standard, but found that the violations were not “unwarrantable failures to comply” within the meaning of the Mine Act.  The Secretary appealed both of the judge’s no-unwarrantable-failure findings.  The Commission sustained the appeal and remanded the case to the judge to reconsider both of his no-unwarrantable-failure findings.  On remand, the judge found that the first violation was an unwarrantable failure.  As to the second violation, however, the judge, instead of reconsidering his no-unwarrantable-failure finding, reconsidered his finding of a violation and found that there was no violation.  The Secretary appealed the judge’s finding of no violation.  The Commission sustained the appeal; concluded that the judge violated the “law of the case” doctrine by reconsidering his finding of a violation; reinstated the judge’s finding of a violation; and again remanded the case to the judge to reconsider his no-unwarrantable-failure finding.

Sequoia Energy, LLC, FMSHRC No. KENT 2008-1059.  On April 23, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving a coal preparation plant in Kentucky.  The judge reduced four penalties proposed by MSHA primarily on the ground that they were significantly greater than penalties previously proposed by MSHA for similar violations.  The Secretary appealed primarily on the ground that the judge erred because the amount of previously proposed penalties is not one of the penalty factors specified in Section 110(i) of the Mine Act.  The Commission declined to reach that argument and instead ruled that the judge erred because he failed to recognize that the previous penalties were proposed under a different penalty scheme than the four penalties in this case.  The Commission also ruled that the judge failed to adequately explain his findings that the negligence and gravity levels of the four violations in this case were reduced by mitigating circumstances.  The Commission remanded the case to the judge to reassess the penalties after considering the change in the penalty scheme and explaining his findings regarding gravity and negligence. 

Mach Mining, LLC v. Secretary of Labor, 134 S.Ct. 1873 (2014).  On April 21, 2014, the United States Supreme Court denied the operator’s petition for a writ of certiorari regarding Mach Mining, LLC v. Secretary of Labor, 728 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2013). 

Wake Stone Corp., FMSHRC No. SE 2010-95-M.  On April 18, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving two citations alleging violations of 30 C.F.R. 56.14132(a) at a crushed stone quarry consisting of failure to maintain the service horns on two vehicles in functional condition.  The Commission ruled (1) that Section 56.14132(a) is a strict liability standard, i.e., unless the equipment has been taken out of service for repair, Section 56.14132(a) is violated whenever equipment is not in functional condition, and (2) that Section 56.14132(a) is violated regardless of whether the mine operator has had an opportunity to conduct a pre-operational examination of the equipment under 30 C.F.R. 56.14100(a).

Dickenson-Russell Coal Co. v. Secretary of Labor, 747 F.3d 251 (4th Cir. 2014).  On March 27, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision involving the reporting requirement at 30 C.F.R. 50.20(a).  Section 50.20(a) states that “each operator shall report each accident, occupational injury, or occupational illness at the mine.”  In this case, the owner-operator failed to report an accident but argued that it was not required to do so because a contractor at the mine had already done so.  The Court held that, under the plain language of Section 50.20(a), the owner-operator was required to report the accident regardless of whether the contractor had done so.

Cobra Natural Resources, LLC v. FMSHRC (4th Cir. 2014).  On March 24, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied the mine operator’s petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc of the Court’s decision in Cobra Natural Resources, LLC v. FMSHRC, 742 F.3d 82 (4th Cir. 2014), holding that the Court lacked jurisdiction to review a temporary reinstatement order in a discrimination case.

In the Matter of Andalex Resources, Inc., DOL Nos. 2009-MSA-2 etc.  On March 14, 2014, the Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health issued a decision affirming a U.S. Department of Labor administrative law judge’s decision affirming the action of the Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health in revoking previously-granted modifications of the application of several safety standards at two underground coal mines in Utah.  The mines have been nonoperational and sealed for approximately 5 years.  The Administrator asserted that the mines’ prolonged inactivity and inaccessibility constituted a change in circumstances warranting revocation of the modifications.  The Assistant Secretary agreed, stressing that the operator itself indicated that, if the mines are reopened, mining conditions may be different than when they were closed.  The Assistant Secretary stated that, if the mines are reopened and mining conditions are not different, the operator may re-petition for the modifications and such should be given expedited consideration.

Hopkins County Coal, LLC v. Secretary of Labor, 557 Fed.Appx. 515 (6th Cir. 2014).  On March 3, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision involving the mine ventilation plan at an underground coal mine in Kentucky.  The Court affirmed the judge’s decision, which the Commission declined to review, holding that the MSHA District Manager did not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner in insisting that the mine operator revise the existing plan provisions setting the maximum line curtain distance, the minimum line curtain air volume, and the minimum scrubber air volume.

Black Castle Mining Co., FMSHRC Nos. WEVA 2006-891-R etc.  On February 12, 2014, the Commission issued a decision involving a surface coal mine in West Virginia.  A dozer operator drove his dozer into a buried gas pipeline, ruptured the pipeline, and died in the ensuing fire.  MSHA cited the mine operator and a mine supervisor for a violation of 30 C.F.R. 77.1713(a) consisting of failure to conduct an adequate workplace examination, i.e., failure to adequately mark the location of the pipeline.  The Commission affirmed a judge's decision vacating the citation on the ground that the pipeline was not in an "active working area" within the meaning of the standard.

Raw Coal Mining Co. v. Secretary of Labor, 553 Fed.Appx. 340 (4th Cir. 2014).  On February 4, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision affirming a Commission decision denying a mine operator’s request to reopen a penalty assessment that became a final Commission order because it was not timely contested.  The operator argued that the Commission erred by failing to consider whether the operator acted in good faith and whether the Secretary would be prejudiced by reopening.  The Court held that the operator’s argument was not properly before the Court because it was not raised before the Commission. 

Cobra Natural Resources, LLC v. FMSHRC, 742 F.3d 82 (4th Cir. 2014).  On January 27, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision in a discrimination case.  The case was before the Court on the mine operator’s appeal of a Commission decision holding that, when the operator claims during a temporary reinstatement proceeding that the discharged miner’s temporary reinstatement should be tolled because the miner would subsequently have been lawfully laid off, the Secretary’s claim to the contrary should be evaluated under the “not frivolously brought” standard that traditionally applies in temporary reinstatement proceedings.  The Court held that it did not have jurisdiction to consider the operator’s appeal because the Commission’s decision did not constitute a final order and did not qualify for review as a non-final order under the collateral order exception to the finality requirement.

Wolf Run Mining Co., FMSHRC Nos. WEVA 2007-600 etc.  On December 23, 2013, the Commission issued a decision involving the mine operator's failure to immediately report the fatal 2006 explosion at the Sago Mine to MSHA and the mine rescue team as required by MSHA accident-reporting regulations.  At issue on appeal were the judge's findings that the violations, though committed, did not involve unwarrantable failures and high negligence.  The Commission held that the judge erred because he (1) miscalculated the time at which the operator's reporting duty commenced, and hence miscalculated the length of the operator's reporting delay; (2) treated the intentional nature of the operator's reporting delay as a mitigating factor; (3) treated the fact that the explosion occurred on a federal holiday as a mitigating factor; and (4) failed to consider the fact that, when the operator finally attempted to report the explosion, it relied solely on an off-site management official who had limited knowledge of the explosion and limited information and resources available to him at home.  The Commission reversed the judge's decision, reinstated MSHA's unwarrantable failure and high negligence designations, and assessed MSHA's proposed penalties. 

Lafarge North America, FMSHRC No. CENT 2010-4-M.  On December 11, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in a fair notice case.  The Commission vacated a judge's decision vacating four safety violations on trucks because the Commission found that, in finding that the operator did not have fair notice of MSHA's position, the judge misapplied the "reasonably prudent person" fair notice test.  The Commission remanded the case to the judge to apply the test correctly. 

Spartan Mining Co., FMSHRC No. 2009-403.  On December 11, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in a significant and substantial ("S&S") case.  The Commission, applying Cumberland Coal Res., L.P. v. FMSHRC, 717 F.3d 1020 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (directional lifeline decision on assuming the occurrence of an emergency in determining whether a violation of an emergency standard is S&S), upheld the judge's determination that two escapeway violations were S&S.

Revelation Energy, LLC, FMSHRC No. KENT 2011-71-R.  On November 20, 2013, the Commission issued a decision holding that a blasting event that occurred on the mine site, and sent a 2-ton rock flying into a neighboring residential yard off the mine site, was a "mine accident" within the meaning of Sections 3(k) and 103(k) of the Mine Act.  The Commission (1) held that the blasting event was a mine accident, even though "a separate portion of the accident, i.e., the rock entering the yard, occurred outside of the mine," because "the launching of the rock took place inside of the mine;" (2) accepted the Secretary's interpretation that the term "mine accident" in Sections 3(k) and 103(k) encompasses an event "that is similar in nature to, or presents a similar potential for injury or death as, the events specifically listed in Section 3(k)" (i.e., mine explosion, mine ignition, mine fire, or mine inundation); and (3) rejected the contention that, in interpreting Sections 3(k) and 103(k), the Secretary is limited by the definition of "accident" set forth in 30 C.F.R. 50.2(h) (setting forth 12 criteria for determining whether an accident is reportable). 

Mach Mining, LLC, FMSHRC No. LAKE 2009-324-R.  On September 19, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in a case involving an underground coal mine in Illinois.  The Commission, reversing the judge's decision, held that a violation of an MSHA safety standard consisting of failure to record in the weekly examination log that a primary escapeway was cluttered for 120 feet with crib ties, concrete blocks, a gob pile, take-up track, and water was an "unwarrantable failure to comply" within the meaning of the Mine Act.  The Commission reversed the judge's finding of no unwarrantable failure because it reversed the judge's finding that the weekly examiner's belief that the escapeway's condition was not hazardous was objectively reasonable.

Mach Mining, LLC v. Secretary of Labor, 728 F.3d 643 (7th Cir. 2013).  On August 26, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a decision in this case involving a ventilation plan dispute at an underground coal mine in Illinois.  The Court upheld the MSHA district manager's actions in refusing to approve various aspects of the mine operator's proposed ventilation plan.  In doing so, the Court ruled (1) that the district manager's actions were to be reviewed under the "arbitrary and capricious" standard and (2) that the district manager took the actions he took only after engaging in good-faith negotiations.

Performance Coal Co., FMSHRC No. WEVA 2008-1825. On August 2, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in this case arising at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. MSHA initially proposed a civil penalty of $4,329 but, in the post-hearing brief, MSHA proposed a civil penalty of $34,653. The judge failed to address the post-hearing proposal of $34,653, and instead assessed the penalty of $4,329. The Commission held that the judge erred by failing to discuss the Secretary’s argument in support of an increased penalty, and remanded the case to the judge with instructions to do so.

Oak Grove Resources, LLC, FMSHRC Nos. SE 2009-261-R etc. On July 25, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in this safeguard case. The issue was whether the judge erred in finding that a safeguard notice was invalid because it failed to adequately identify the hazard at which it was directed. In a two-to-one decision, the Commission held that the safeguard notice adequately identified the hazard -- it referred to a locomotive pushing two loaded supply cars -- and that it was not required to also describe the potential risks and harms associated with the hazard. The Commission remanded the case to the judge to determine whether the safeguard notice was violated.

Prairie State Generating Co., LLC, FMSHRC Nos. LAKE 2009-711-R etc. On July 16, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in this case involving a ventilation plan and roof control plan dispute at an underground coal mine in Illinois. In a two-to-one decision, the Commission: (1) affirmed the judge’s action in applying the “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review to MSHA’s disapproval of the operator’s proposed plans, (2) affirmed the judge’s action in upholding MSHA’s disapproval of the proposed use of extended 40-foot cuts, 20-foot-wide entries, and 68-foot-long diagonals at intersections, (3) vacated the judge’s action in upholding MSHA’s disapproval of the way the proposed plans dealt with ventilation quantities, red zone issues, the number of turns in crosscuts, curtain setback, installation of mesh in-cycle roof protection, and limitation of the number of times a roofbolter can operate downwind of a continuous miner on shift, and remanded to the judge to adequately explain her upholding of MSHA’s disapproval with regard to those issues, (4) affirmed the judge’s action in upholding MSHA’s application of MSHA’s Extended Cuts Procedure Instruction Letter (“PIL”) to the mine, and (5) affirmed the judge’s action in excluding evidence regarding approved plans at other mines using extended cuts, a study on the use of 40-foot extended cuts, and NIOSH studies on 40-foot extended cuts .

S&S Dredging Co., FMSHRC No. SE 2007-447-M. On July 11, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in this case involving a violation of a safety standard consisting of defective steps on a wheel loader. The judge vacated the significant and substantial (“S&S”) designation on two grounds: (1) that the injuries that were reasonably likely -- sprains and a broken ankle -- were not reasonably serious because there was no evidence that they would require hospitalization, surgery, or a long period of recuperation and (2) that the bottom step was only 1 foot off the ground. The Commission ruled that the judge erred in three respects: (1) he applied an incorrect legal standard in determining whether the injuries were reasonably serious -- the Commission has held that muscle strains, sprained ligaments, and fractured bones are reasonably serious, (2) his finding that the injuries would not require a long period of recuperation was inconsistent with his finding that the injuries included a broken ankle, and (3) his finding that the bottom step was only 1 foot off the ground ignored the fact that the bottom step was unusable and that the lowest step that was usable was 3 feet off the ground. The Commission affirmed the S&S designation and remanded the case for assessment of an appropriate penalty.

Secretary of Labor on behalf of Darrick Piper v. Ken American Resources, Inc., FMSHRC No. KENT 2013-751-D. On July 3, 2013, the Commission issued a decision in this case in which the operator argued that an individual who alleged that he had been discriminatorily laid off for engaging in statutorily-protected activity at the mine was not eligible for temporary reinstatement because the fact that he had been laid off made him no longer a “miner” within the meaning of Section 105(c)(2) of the Mine Act. The Commission has held that only a “miner” is eligible for temporary reinstatement under Section 105(c)(2); Section 3(g) of the Mine Act defines a “miner” as “any individual working in a . . . mine.” The Commission held that under the circumstances -- where the allegation of discrimination related back to and was connected with events that took place when the individual was actively working at the mine -- the individual was a “miner” within the meaning of Section 105(c)(2).


RULEMAKING

 

Final Rule – Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust Monitors.  On May 1, 2014, MSHA published in the Federal Register a final rule entitled “Lowering Miners' Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust, Including Continuous Personal Dust Monitors.”  79 Fed. Reg. 24,814 (May 1, 2014).  The final rule revises MSHA’s standards on miners’ occupational exposure to respirable coal mine dust to lower the exposure limits, provide for full-shift sampling, redefine the term “normal production shift,” and add re-examination and de-certification requirements for persons certified to sample for dust and maintain and calibrate sampling devices.  In addition, the rule provides for single shift compliance sampling by MSHA inspectors, establishes sampling requirements for mine operators’ use of the continuous personal dust monitor (CPDM), requires operator corrective action on a single, full-shift operator sample, changes the averaging method to determine compliance on operator samples, and expands requirements for medical surveillance of coal miners.

Notice – Criteria to Certify Coal Mine Rescue Teams.  On December 27, 2013, MSHA published in the Federal Register a notice to inform the public that MSHA updated its underground coal mine rescue team certification criteria.  78 Fed. Reg. 79,010 (Dec. 27, 2013).  The MINER Act requires that all underground coal mines have available two certified mine rescue teams, and requires that MSHA update every 5 years the criteria to certify the qualifications of these teams.  Under MSHA's implementing standards, one of the criteria for a mine operator to certify the qualifications of a coal mine rescue team is that team members are trained annually on advanced mine rescue topics.  MSHA updated the prescribed instruction guides for annual training of coal mine rescue teams to provide more hands-on advanced mine rescue practical skills training to enhance team performance when responding to an actual mine emergency. 

Final Rule – Pattern of Violations ("POV").  On January 23, 2013, MSHA published in the Federal Register a final rule entitled "Pattern of Violations."  78 Fed. Reg. 5,056 (Jan. 23, 2013).  The final rule revises MSHA's regulation to simplify the POV criteria, improve consistency in applying the POV criteria, and more effectively achieve the Mine Act's intent that the POV provision be used to address mine operators who have demonstrated a disregard for the health and safety of miners.


CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES

 

United States v. Paul R. Pinet; United States v. Barry Fitzgerald.  On June 19, 2014, Paul R. Pinet, owner and operator of Premier Corrosion Protection Services, Inc., a central Florida contracting company that provided its services to phosphate mines, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  In his plea agreement, Pinet admitted to conspiring with Barry Fitzgerald (an MSHA-approved miner safety and health instructor, who pleaded guilty to similar charges on May 15, 2014) to purchase MSHA training certificates for Premier’s miners needing mandatory new miner and annual refresher training, knowing that such training was not in fact being given to miners.  At sentencing, Pinet and Fitzgerald each face a maximum of 5 years of imprisonment on the conspiracy charge.

United States v. Elmer Fuller; United States v. A B & J Coal Co.  On April 29, 2014, Elmer Fuller, owner of A B & J Coal Co., an operator of an underground coal mine in southwest Virginia, was sentenced in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia for obstructing an MSHA investigation and for federal tax evasion.  Fuller acknowledged lying to MSHA about who had illegally wired electrical connections to a belt feeder, creating the risk of injury or death to miners.  The Court sentenced Fuller to 3 months of imprisonment followed by 2 years of supervised release, and a $3,000 fine for lying to MSHA.  His company, A B & J Coal Co., was sentenced to 1 year of probation and a $25,000 fine.  The Court also sentenced Fuller to 3 months of imprisonment for tax evasion, to be served concurrently with his 3-month imprisonment term for lying to MSHA.  Fuller had paid all back taxes owed prior to the sentencing hearing.

United States v. Sean A. Chase.  On April 7, 2014, a federal grand jury sitting in Wheeling, West Virginia, handed down a 30-count felony indictment against Sean Chase, a foreman at the Tunnel Ridge Mine, an underground coal mine in northern West Virginia.  The indictment charges in 29 counts that Chase made false representations and certifications in mine examination records when he signed those records knowing that he was not qualified to do so.  The indictment also charges in one count that Chase lied to MSHA in claiming that he was certified as an underground foreman by the state of West Virginia.  If convicted, Chase faces up to 5 years of imprisonment on each of the 30 charges.

United States v. James Allen Cress, Jr.  On February 12, 2014, James Allen Cress, Jr. entered a guilty plea to one felony count in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and was sentenced by the Court.  Cress admitted that he had certified electrical examination records as a qualified electrician at Cumberland River’s underground coal mine, knowing that in fact he was not qualified by the state of Kentucky to perform such examinations.  The Court sentenced Cress to 9 months of home detention and 5 years of probation.

United States v. Oril C. Dent.  On January 24, 2014, a 1-count felony information was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana charging Oril C. Dent, an MSHA-approved safety instructor, with selling training certificates for required annual refresher hazard training to coal haulage truck drivers.  The information alleges that, between October 2011 and April 2012, Dent signed numerous certificates certifying that training had been provided, knowing that no actual training was provided.  If convicted, Dent faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. 

United States v. Craig Belcher.  On January 6, 2014, Craig Belcher was sentenced in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, having previously pled guilty to feloniously providing false statements on a document required to be maintained under the Mine Act.  Belcher, who had been hired to work as an underground coal mine foreman at Spartan Mining Company's Road Fork No. 51 mine, knew that he had not been certified as a foreman by the state of West Virginia when he completed and signed onshift and preshift examination reports between January 2009 and July 2010.  The Court sentenced Belcher to 21 months in federal prison. 

United States v. Hills Coal Co.; United States v. David Grigsby.  On December 17, 2013, after 2 days of trial before a jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at the conclusion of the government's case, the judge granted a defense motion for a verdict of acquittal of 13 charges against Hills Coal Company, Inc., and mine foreman David Wayne Grigsby.  Grigsby and Hills Coal, through its agent Grigsby, had been charged with willfully failing to provide guarding along a belt conveyor and falsifying the daily examination book by failing to record that the required guarding was not provided.  The judge determined that the government's evidence did not establish that Grigsby knew that the cited area of the belt required guarding; he therefore dismissed the willful failure to provide guarding charge and dismissed all the related falsification charges for Grigsby's failure to record the guarding violations in the examination book.

United States v. AB&J Coal Co.; United States v. Elmer Fuller.  Pursuant to a plea agreement, on November 13, 2013, AB&J Coal Company, Inc., plead guilty in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia to a single misdemeanor count of willfully violating Mine Act mandatory safety standards when, in 2009, its agent illegally wired an electrical connection to a belt feeder without any ground fault (short-circuit) protection and without a fire suppression system in the primary escapeway.  At the same proceeding, mine superintendent Elmer Fuller plead guilty to 2 felony counts: (1) for federal tax fraud and (2) for lying to an MSHA investigator when he stated that he had legally wired the referenced belt feeder.

United States v. David C. Hughart.  On September 10, 2013, David C. Hughart, a former Massey Energy official and president of White Buck Coal Company, was sentenced in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia after earlier having plead guilty to 2 federal charges that he plotted with other company officials to violate Mine Act safety standards and then cover up the resulting workplace hazards.  Hughart, the highest ranking Massey official to be prosecuted to date, admitted that, between 2000 and 2010, he conspired to provide miners with advance notice of MSHA inspections and violate mandatory safety standards.  Hughart also implicated both higher and lower Massey officials in the wrongdoing.  The Court sentenced Hughart to 42 months in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release (probation). 

United States v. Manalapan Mining, LLC. On July 11, 2013, Manalapan Mining, LLC, operator of an underground coal mine in eastern Kentucky, was sentenced in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, having earlier plead guilty to 2 counts of a multi-count indictment: (1) for willfully allowing miners to work under unsupported roof and (2) for willfully failing to correct hazardous rib conditions before allowing miners to work in the affected area during several weeks in 2011. Three individual agents were previously sentenced on May 29, 2013, in relation to the same crimes. The Court sentenced Manalapan to a $150,000 fine, payable in $5,000 monthly payments, and 3 years of probation.