Active: The Supreme Court granted, vacated, and remanded (GVR'd) the case. The lower court will now reconsider the case without giving deference to the government.

KC Transport is a family-owned, independent trucking company serving a wide array of customers from its five locations in southern West Virginia and Virginia. Its truck fleets provide a variety of hauling services, including coal, earth, and gravel.

Trouble began for KC Transport in 2019, when a federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspector showed up at the company’s Emmett, WV, facility. The arrival of a federal regulator who inspects mines under the federal Mine Act was unexpected and unusual.

The MSHA, which operates under the U.S. Department of Labor, had never before inspected the Emmett facility—for good reason. The Emmett facility parks, maintains, and repairs trucks that are occasionally hired to haul coal. Its property is neither on a mine nor attached to one; the closest mines are several miles away.

Nevertheless, the MSHA inspector, originally looking for two trucks cited during an inspection miles away, cited the company on the spot for repairing trucks without putting blocks around the wheels. The citations carried a civil penalty of $3,908 and $4,343.

KC Transport contested the citation, arguing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission that its trucks and repair shop are not a “mine” under the Mine Act. The ALJ disagreed, claiming the trucks and the repair shop were too connected to the mining process to be excluded from MSHA oversight.

On appeal, a divided Federal Mine Safety Commission reversed the ALJ’s decision and vacated the two citations. The Labor Secretary in turn appealed to the DC Circuit Court, arguing even though the trucks being repaired were not hauling coal or driving on a haul road, just being parked at a repair shop makes both the trucks and the maintenance yard a “mine” subject to federal regulation.

The DC Circuit—in a divided decision—threw out the Commission’s ruling. Thus, at all levels—the ALJ, the Commission, the DC Circuit—everyone rejected the Secretary’s broad reading of the Mine Act. But rather than decide how far beyond the physical confines of mines the Labor Department may regulate, the court tasked the Labor Secretary with deciding its own limits.

In kicking the statutory interpretation back to the enforcing agency, the court brought out the troublesome offspring of the Chevron deference doctrine, the so-called Chevron Step One-and-a-Half. Under Chevron Step One-and-a-Half, courts give the litigating agency yet another chance to explain why its broad reading of the statute is reasonable. This turns statutory interpretation, in the words of now-Chief Justice John Roberts, into a “ping-pong game.” And it requires small businesses like KC Transport to bounce from ALJ to Commission to court and back, all so the courts can place an uninvited thumb on the scale in favor of the government.

It’s bad enough that courts so easily accept an agency’s word on what constitutes a “mine.” But the implications of this regulatory wordsmithing stretch far beyond just trucks.

Under the Labor Secretary’s reasoning, once a piece of equipment is used in mining, federal jurisdiction attaches to that equipment and follows it wherever it goes. Every truck will become a rolling mine and local diners and hardware stores could become “mines,” subject to surprise inspections and punishment. MSHA inspectors could simply decide on a whim to follow any equipment used in mining far from any mining sites to private toolsheds, hardware stores, or diner parking lots and surprise private citizens and businesses with unreasonable inspections and citations.

Represented by Pacific Legal Foundation at no charge, KC Transport is asking the Supreme Court to abrogate the Chevron Step One-and-a-Half doctrine and decide the scope of MSHA’s authority under the Mine Act, and thus strengthen the separation of powers by limiting MSHA’s grandiose view of its own power.

In June 2024, the Court overturned Chevron in Loper Bright v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Department of Commerce and, in July, sent KC Transport’s case back to the lower court. Now they will get a fair day in court.

What’s At Stake?

  • Federal courts have a duty to interpret the meaning of statutes—a duty they can neither outsource nor delegate to an agency.
  • No amount of wordsmithing can turn a truck or a truck repair shop into a coal mine just because the truck happens to haul coal. The government cannot redefine statutory language to expand its regulatory authority.

Case Timeline

April 24, 2024
PLF's Reply Brief
Supreme Court of the United States
April 15, 2024
Government's Reponse Brief
Supreme Court of the United States
March 15, 2024
Amicus Brief from Advancing American Freedom
Supreme Court of the United States
March 13, 2024
Amicus Brief from Advance Colorago Institute
Supreme Court of the United States
February 12, 2024
Petition for Writ of Certiorari
Supreme Court of the United States