United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
October 16, 2015.
Petition for Review of an Order of the Federal Mine Safety
and Health Review Commission.
Carson was on the brief for petitioner.
Mayor, Attorney, and W. Christian Schumann, Counsel, U.S.
Department of Labor, were on the brief for respondents. John
T. Sullivan, Attorney, Mine Safety and Health Review
Commission, entered an appearance.
KAVANAUGH and WILKINS, Circuit Judges, and EDWARDS, Senior
Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge :
Petitioner Cactus Canyon Quarries, Inc. (" Cactus
Canyon" ) operates a surface non-coal mine that is
required to comply with safety and health standards
promulgated by the Secretary of Labor under the Federal Mine
Safety and Health Act of 1977 (the " Mine Act" ),
30 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. In May 2013, a mine
inspector for the Mine Safety and Health Administration
(" MSHA" ) issued seven citations to Cactus Canyon
for violations of those standards. Cactus Canyon then sought
to contest the citations before the Federal Mine Safety and
Health Review Commission (" Commission" ). After
the case was assigned to an Administrative Law Judge ("
ALJ" ), but before any hearings were held, the Secretary
decided to vacate the citations and moved to have the ALJ
dismiss the proceedings. Over the objection of Cactus Canyon,
the ALJ dismissed the case without indicating whether the
with or without prejudice. Following dismissal, Cactus Canyon
filed an application for the award of attorney's fees
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (" EAJA" ),
which was opposed by the Secretary. The ALJ denied the
application for fees, concluding that Cactus Canyon was not a
" prevailing party." The Commission declined to
review the ALJ's decision. Cactus Canyon now seeks review
of the denial of attorney fees.
EAJA provides for the award of attorney's fees in an
agency adjudication " to a prevailing party other than
the United States . . . unless the adjudicative officer of
the agency finds that the position of the agency was
substantially justified or that special circumstances make an
award unjust." 5 U.S.C. § 504(a)(1). The Secretary
opposes the petition for review principally on the ground
that Cactus Canyon was not a " prevailing party"
within the meaning of the EAJA. In advancing this position,
the Secretary (as did the ALJ) cites the Supreme Court's
interpretation of " prevailing party" in
Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia
Department of Health & Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598,
121 S.Ct. 1835, 149 L.Ed.2d 855 (2001). Cactus Canyon
contends that the ALJ should not have applied
Buckhannon 's interpretation of "
prevailing party" to Cactus Canyon's fee
application. Cactus Canyon further contends, however, that it
should be awarded fees even if Buckhannon controls
the disposition of its fee application.
made it clear that Buckhannon 's interpretation
of " prevailing party" controls in the application
of fee-shifting statutes, including the EAJA, unless there is
some " good reason" for doing otherwise.
See Green Aviation Mgmt. Co. v. FAA, 676
F.3d 200, 202-03, 400 U.S.App.D.C. 151 (D.C. Cir. 2012).
Cactus Canyon has offered no " good reason" to
justify a different approach in this case. Therefore,
following this court's precedent in Turner v.
National Transportation Safety Board, 608 F.3d 12, 391
U.S.App.D.C. 90 (Cir. 2010), we are constrained to hold that,
because it is not a " prevailing party," Cactus
Canyon is not eligible for fees. Accordingly, the petition
for review is denied.
the Mine Act, every surface coal or other mine, such as the
one operated by Cactus Canyon, must be inspected at least
twice a year to ensure compliance with the Secretary's
mandatory safety and health standards. 30 U.S.C. §
813(a). On May 20, 2013, MSHA Inspector Michael Sonney
conducted an inspection of Cactus Canyon's mine and
issued Cactus Canyon seven citations under section 104(a) of
the Mine Act, 30 U.S.C. § 814(a), for violations of the
Secretary's standards. The MSHA proposed a $100 penalty
for each violation. Exercising its right under the Mine Act,
Cactus Canyon sought to challenge the seven citations and
accompanying penalties before the Commission.
after the case was assigned to an ALJ, counsel for the
Secretary learned that Inspector Sonney was no longer
employed by the MSHA and was thus unavailable to testify at a
hearing. The Secretary pursued the possibility of a
settlement with Cactus Canyon, but settlement negotiations
failed. Because Inspector Sonney remained unavailable to
testify, the Secretary elected to vacate the citations rather
than litigate the matter before the ALJ.
Secretary then filed a motion requesting that the ALJ dismiss
the proceedings. Cactus Canyon opposed the Secretary's
motion by filing a " motion for judgment," asking
the ALJ to render a judgment in Cactus Canyon's favor.
Cactus Canyon ...