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Federal appeals court unanimously rules Kentucky mine operator illegally gave advance notice of inspection to miners underground

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has ruled unanimously that the operator of a Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, coal mine violated the federal Mine Safety and Health Act more than a decade ago by giving underground miners advance notice that mine inspectors were conducting an inspection.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on May 11, 2022, is the latest action in long-standing litigation involving an incident on April 20, 2012, at the Paradise No. 9 mine, operated by KenAmerican Resources Inc.

During a statutorily required inspection, U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors were monitoring a phone used to contact miners underground when, as they prepared to descend, they overheard someone down in the mine ask the dispatcher on the surface level if they “have company outside,” to which the dispatcher responded affirmatively.

MSHA inspectors then issued a citation to KenAmerican Resources Inc. for providing advance notice of an inspection. Federal law prohibits mine operators from such notice.

The mine operator appealed the citation, arguing the law against giving advance notice of an inspection does not apply to mine operators. They also argued that they had only provided advance notice that MSHA was “at the mine,” and had not provided advance notice of an inspection. The operator also argued the citation violated their free-speech rights.

“The 6th Circuit has reaffirmed that KenAmerican Resources Inc.’s actions violated federal law,” said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. “Mine workers are safer when federal inspectors can see mine conditions as they exist on a day-to-day basis, not when conditions have been altered to avoid violations.”

In its decision, the court rejected all arguments made to challenge the citation and held that the law plainly prohibits operators from providing advance notice. The court also found the case’s facts clearly show the mine’s operator provided advance notice that MSHA inspectors were conducting an inspection.

“Our statutorily mandated inspections are at the heart of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement program. This decision affirms MSHA’s ability to conduct inspections without interference from mine operators as Congress intended,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Christopher J. Williamson.

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