Search form

Rail Company Gets Split Decision in Mine Jurisdiction Case

  • August 12, 2015

A locomotive repair shop operated by a South Dakota railroad company is not under the jurisdiction of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, even though the company and an adjacent mine share common ownership, but the railroad firm itself is under MSHA jurisdiction because it is an independent contractor providing mine-related services, Judge L. Zane Gill of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission has ruled. Secretary of Labor v. Ellis & Eastern Co., CENT 2014-0451 (July 27, 2015).

The case involved a jurisdictional challenge by Ellis & Eastern Co. (E&E) to a March 2014 citation MSHA wrote for an alleged failure to set a parking brake on a truck in E&E’s maintenance shop. E&E contended that neither the shop nor the company fell under MSHA’s jurisdiction.

Prior to 2010, the shop had been inspected only by the Federal Railway Administration (FRA). However, that year, MSHA issued two citations following an inspection. Both citations were subsequently vacated over concerns that E&E had not received sufficient notice of MSHA’s jurisdiction. At that time, however, the federal safety agency put E&E on notice it had jurisdiction over E&E’s tracks, railcars, and maintenance shop.

On a daily basis, E&E moves empty railcars from its shop to the mine’s screening and washing area. There, the cars are loaded, then moved by E&E on the mine’s private tracks to facilities operated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which is under FRA’s jurisdiction.

MSHA provided three justifications for its jurisdictional claim. First, it claimed the shop was a mine, according to Gill, because “[e]ssentially, the Secretary argues that miner safety is affected by the condition of the train tracks and railcars because miners daily load the locomotives. Therefore, the building in which the trains are maintained should be under MSHA supervision.” But Judge Gill declined to accept that argument. “The shop where the citation was issued only repairs locomotives, over which MSHA has no jurisdiction,” he concluded.

MSHA further claimed that E&E’s trains are mining equipment, and therefore it has authority over the railroad shop as part of its general jurisdiction over maintenance areas. The Mine Act defines a mine as including the work of preparing extracted minerals and goes further to define mineral preparation, in part, as the loading of minerals. But, Judge Gill noted, in this case, the loading is done by miners, not E&E’s railway workers. He added that loading is incidental to the primary purpose of the railcars, which is transportation, and referenced a 1982 Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission ruling. “Similarly, based on the nature of E&E’s business, its vehicles are properly viewed as railroad, rather than mining, equipment,” he said.

Curiously, the judge also disputed MSHA’s jurisdictional claim by stating that “none of E&E’s railroad vehicles enter the quarry extraction area.” However, Judge Gill had stated previously the railcars travel to an area of the mine where screening and washing are done, work considered part of the extraction process.

MSHA’s final argument was that E&E and the quarry operator should be considered integral components of a single operation because both are controlled by the same parent company. As such, it argued, MSHA has jurisdiction over the railroad company by virtue of its authority over the mine operator. Judge Gill set aside the agency’s contention for several reasons: lack of evidence that separation of the two businesses represented an attempt to limit liability, the existence of clear physical boundaries between the two, and evidence that “[b]oth corporations have sufficiently diverse holdings and interest to merit treatment as distinct companies.”

E&E had also argued it was not an independent contractor, and thus its MSHA-provided independent contractor identification number should be revoked. Judge Gill denied the request. He pointed out that independent contractors were those who performed services at a mine beyond a trivial level. That distinction did not apply to E&E, he said, because the company maintained a continuing presence at the mine through the daily drop off and shipment of railcars.

©2015 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is prohibited without the express prior written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C., a law firm with more than 900 attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries. Having built its reputation on providing premier workplace law representation to management, the firm has grown to include leading practices in the areas of government relations, healthcare and sports law. For more information, visit www.jacksonlewis.com.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

January 23, 2019

U.S. House Committee to Focus on Workforce Protections

January 23, 2019

Signaling a renewed emphasis on workforce protections at the opening of the 116th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives has changed the name of its committee with jurisdiction over labor matters back to the Committee on Education and Labor. It was called the Committee on Education and the Workforce when Republicans held the... Read More

January 7, 2019

2019: The Year Ahead for Employers

January 7, 2019

Over the past year, state and local governments responded in a variety of ways to national policy, and the midterm elections painted a picture of what’s in store for employers in 2019 and beyond. Jackson Lewis’ annual report outlines upcoming issues, trends, legislation and regulations employers need to be aware of in the coming year... Read More

January 2, 2019

Retail Industry Workplace Law Update – Winter 2019

January 2, 2019

Class Action Trends Report The latest issue of our quarterly report on developments in class action litigation focuses on “joint employers” and covers the following topics: Are you my employer? A patchwork of tests Only in California Prevention pointer Read the Report … OSHA: Certain Safety Incentive Programs, Post... Read More

Related Practices