Kleppe v. Delta Mining, Inc.
423 U.S. 403 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kleppe v. Delta Mining, Inc., 423 U.S. 403 (1976)

Kleppe v. Delta Mining, Inc.

No. 74-521

Argued October 6, 1975

Decided January 26, 1976

423 U.S. 403

Syllabus

Section 109(a)(1) of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 requires the Secretary of the Interior, in determining the amount of the civil penalty against a coal mine operator for violations of the Act, to consider the history of previous violations, the appropriateness of the penalty to the size of the business, whether the operator was negligent, the effect on his ability to continue in business, the gravity of the violation, and the operator's good faith in attempting to comply after notification of a violation. Section 109(a)(3) requires that the penalty be assessed only after the operator

"has been given an opportunity for a public hearing and the Secretary has determined, by decision incorporating his findings of fact therein, that a violation did occur, and the amount of the penalty which is warranted."

Respondent mine operators protested assessed penalties but did not request formal adjudication, and after they refused to pay the assessments, the Secretary brought suits against them in the District Court seeking enforcement of the assessments. The District Court entered judgments in favor of respondents on the ground that the assessments were not supported by adequate findings of fact, and was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

Held: Section 109(a)(3) does not compel the Secretary to support each penalty assessment order with express findings of fact concerning the violation and the amount of the penalty, absent a request by the mine operator for an administrative hearing. National Independent Coal Operators' Assn. v. Kleppe, ante p. 423 U. S. 388. Pp. 423 U. S. 407-411.

(a) A protest against a penalty assessment, as opposed to a request for a hearing, does not necessarily trigger an administrative review, but the amount of the penalty is subject to de novo review in the district court whether or not a hearing was held. Pp. 423 U. S. 407-408.

(b) It is not significant that the proposed assessment orders contained merely pro forma recitations that the six factors specified

Page 423 U. S. 404

in § 109(a)(1) had been considered, or that the Secretary's final orders did not mention such factors, but merely set forth his finding that a violation did, in fact, occur. Although express findings are generally required for judicial review of an administrative determination based on a substantial evidence test, here the operators can contest the amount of the penalty without a hearing by refusing to pay it, thus, invoking the right to a de novo trial in the district court; moreover, when an operator is informed as to the details of a violation, § 105's administrative procedures come into play, and appellate review is available. Pp. 423 U. S. 408-409.

495 F.2d 38, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except STEVENS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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