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Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor v. Timber Savers

December 3, 2010

HILDA L. SOLIS, SECRETARY OF LABOR,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR PLAINTIFF,
v.
TIMBER SAVERS, INC., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order pursuant to Section 108(a)(1) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. §818(a)(1), and Rule 65(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Dkt. 2). The Court held oral argument on the motion on December 2, 2010.*fn1 The Court has considered the parties' submissions and oral arguments, and now issues the following Memorandum Decision and Order.

BACKGROUND

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) of the Department of Labor seeks to conduct a health and safety inspection of the Rock Solid mine in Weippe, Idaho, operated by Defendant Timber Savers Inc., under the authority of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. §§ 801-965. Compl. ¶¶ VII-IX. Timber Savers refuses to allow inspection of the mine, despite attempts by several MSHA representatives to persuade the company to permit inspection and contest the infractions, if any, that it might receive as a result of that inspection. Id. ¶¶ X, XII. Timber Savers maintains that the mine does not fall under the Act and that it will not permit inspection of the mine until it is ordered by the Court to do so. Drummond Aff. ¶¶ 6-7.

Plaintiff Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, now seeks to compel Timber Savers to grant entry to the Rock Solid mine for health and safety inspections by MSHA pursuant to the Mine Act.*fn2

LEGAL STANDARD

The United States Supreme Court recently reiterated the standard for a preliminary injunction in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 129 S.Ct. 365, 374 (2008). A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that: 1) it is likely to succeed on the merits; 2) it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; 3) the balance of equities tips in its favor; and 4) an injunction is in the public interest. A preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right." Id. at 376. In each case, courts "must balance the competing claims of injury and must consider the effect on each party of the granting or withholding of the requested relief." Id. The standard for issuing a temporary restraining order is identical to the standard for a preliminary injunction. Lockheed Missile & Space Co., Inc. v. Hughes Aircraft Co., 887 F.Supp. 1320, 1323 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

While generally a party seeking a preliminary injunction must meet the standard requirements for equitable relief, the Ninth Circuit has allowed flexibility when an injunction is sought to prevent the violation of a federal statute and that statute specifically provides for injunctive relief, and has not required a showing of irreparable harm. See U.S. v. Estate Preservation Services, 202 F.3d 1093, 1098 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Trailer Train Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 697 F.2d 860, 896 (9th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 846 (1983)). Here, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act provides for injunctive relief in exactly these circumstances: when a mine operator refuses to permit inspection of the mine and when he interferes with the carrying out of the provisions of the Mine Act. See 30 U.S.C. § 818(a)(1), 818(a)(1)(B)-(D); Herman v. Commonwealth Edison, 1998 WL 794335 at *1 (N.D. Ill. September 28, 1998) (finding that 30 U.S.C. § 818 specifically provides for injunctive relief and applying a relaxed requirement for the initial showing of irreparable harm where mine owner denied MSHA access to perform inspection).

Defendant argues that the Mine Act does not specifically provide for injunctive relief to prevent violations of the Act, and thus, the Secretary must show a likelihood of suffering irreparable harm before obtaining preliminary relief. Defendant attempts to distinguish § 818 from the statutes at issue in Trailer Train Co. and Estate Preservation Services by arguing that the statutes in those cases involved authorization of injunctive relief for the specific purpose of preventing a violation of the statute.*fn3 In contrast, Defendant argues, § 818 does not specifically authorize the district court to grant injunctive relief to prevent violation of the statute.

Section 818 provides:

[T]he Secretary may institute a civil action for relief, including a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or any other appropriate order in the district court of the United States . . . whenever such operator or his agent --

A) violates or fails or refuses to comply with any order or decision issued under this chapter . . .,

B) interferes with, hinders, or delays the Secretary or his authorized representative . . . in carrying out the ...


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