WASHINGTON – Federal coal mine regulators say Massey Energy should challenge their actions before an independent commission, not in federal court.
A suit Massey filed in June belongs at the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, the Mine Safety and Health Administration told U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.
"If a district court determines that Congress has vested initial review of an action in an administrative body, it must dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction," Christopher Hall of the Department of Justice wrote on Aug. 24.
The review commission is independent of the mine safety agency and the Department of Labor, he wrote.
He derided Massey's allegations as "vague to the point of intangibility."
Massey sued the safety agency two months after an explosion at Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 miners.
The suit seeks greater control over ventilation and other safety systems.
It claims regulators violate Massey's due process rights and jeopardizes its interests.
It accuses the safety agency of leveraging vast authority through "economic arm twisting and regulatory coercion."
It claims the agency acts outside its authority in denying permit applications.
It asserts a constitutional right to a hearing on ventilation.
In response, the agency argues that all claims belong in the review commission.
"Only the commission has the authority to actually impose civil penalties proposed by the Secretary," Hall wrote.
"The commission is also empowered to grant temporary relief to an operator pending review of most orders," he wrote.
"An operator may challenge an adverse commission in the appropriate court of appeals," he wrote.
Massey's claim that the agency refused to approve its ventilation plan falls neatly within the commission's expertise, he wrote.
"Consideration of such a claim would simply require the commission to review the negotiations between the operator and MSHA to determine whether each had satisfied its obligation to consult in good faith," he wrote.
He wrote that Massey alleged facts that were barren of detail.
"Indeed, it appears that plaintiffs have actively avoided making any detailed factual allegations for some reason," he wrote.
"Plaintiffs conspicuously fail to allege anywhere in their complaint that defendants have actually issued a formal denial as to any of their proposed ventilation plans," he wrote.