The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Denies UMWA, et al. Writ of Mandamus Action for Emergency Temporary Standards to Address COVID-19
July 23, 2020
In June, the United Mine Workers of America, International Union and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO/CLC filed a petition for a writ of mandamus on June 15, 2020, to require the Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) to act in response to COVID-19. The petition invoked the extraordinary relief of mandating that the Assistant Secretary issue emergency temporary standards that would become effective on passage. The United Mine Workers of America (“UMWA”) then filed a lawsuit seeking a writ of mandamus from the DC Circuit Court ordering the Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) to issue an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) regarding safety protocols addressing COVID-19 on mine sites.
On July 16, 2020 the Court issued a decision stating that it would not order MSHA to issue an ETS. The Court’s reasoning was based in the question: was MSHA’s decision not to issue an ETS sufficiently supported by the record? In the Court’s estimation, MSHA’s position that existing regulation and authority to enforce safety standards on mine sites is sufficient to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This decision is consistent with the Court’s ruling in a nearly identical case seeking to force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to issue an ETS. However, it is important to note that the Court did not close the issue completely. At the end of the decision, the Court states that due to the dynamic nature of the pandemic, UMWA may renew its petition if existing safety procedures from MSHA “prove inadequate.” As a result, MSHA may yet issue, or be forced to issue, an ETS.