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Cactus Canyon Quarries, Inc. v. Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission & Secretary of Labor

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

April 19, 2016

CACTUS CANYON QUARRIES, INC., PETITIONER
v.
FEDERAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH REVIEW COMMISSION AND SECRETARY OF LABOR, RESPONDENTS

         Submitted October 16, 2015.

          On Petition for Review of an Order of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

         Andy Carson was on the brief for petitioner.

         Philip 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.

         Before: KAVANAUGH and WILKINS, Circuit Judges, and EDWARDS, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

Page 13

          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 dismissal was

Page 14

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.

          The 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.

         We have 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.

         I. Background

          Under 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.

         Shortly 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.

         The 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 ...


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