Cutting a suggested fine in half and voicing disappointment over the agency’s pursuit of such a trivial infraction, a judge has accorded MSHA a grudging win in a court case over a minor paperwork violation against a former aggregate producer.

In June 2013, an MSHA inspector determined Kanaval’s Excavating & Gravel, a New York sand and gravel operator, had filed its employment report for the fourth quarter of 2012 13 days late. Under section 50.30(a) of MSHA’s Part 30 regulations, operators must file the 7000-2 report form within two weeks of the end of the preceding quarter, in this case, January 15, 2013. The inspector’s citation characterized the violation as moderate negligence, and the agency assessed a $100 fine.

According to the operator’s 7000-2 report, one miner on average worked at Kavanal’s mine during that quarter, for a total of 72 hours. The operator sought to have the citation vacated, objecting to enforcement of the requirement at a single-person mine that was closed for the season in January 2013. The mine shut down altogether this past January.

MSHA filed a motion for summary judgment, which included a request that the level of negligence be reduced to low. Administrative Law Judge Alan Paez on October 24 granted the motion, but, after considering the penalty criteria, cut the fine to $50. He noted that the operator, which had a history of compliance with the requirement, had addressed the oversight without a reminder from MSHA. ALJ Paez described the gravity of Kanaval’s mistake as “negligible” and recognized the mine’s small size.

ALJ Paez also expressed disappointment with MSHA’s handling of the case. “I further note that, although the Secretary has prosecutorial discretion, the fact that he dedicated the Solicitor’s resources toward a case of such insignificance is disappointing. The case is exactly the type of matter that likely would have been resolved quickly through one of MSHA’s closeout conferences.”

He continued, “We live in a world bound by a scarcity of time and resources. Resources spent pursuing this matter are thus unavailable for the pursuit of serious violations that could have a real impact on miner safety and health.”