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Myers v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

June 8, 1993, Argued ; March 1, 1994, Decided ; March 1, 1994, Filed

Nos. 92-5812, 92-5813, 92-5814, 92-5816

Opinion

 [***3]   [*892]  SUHRHEINRICH, Circuit Judge. The issue presented is whether, under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680 (the "FTCA"), the United States may be held liable for the deaths of plaintiffs' decedents caused by a methane explosion in a Tennessee coal mine operated by Grundy Mining Company (Grundy). The district court dismissed plaintiffs' cases for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding plaintiffs had not alleged facts sufficient to bring their claims against the United States within the limited waiver of sovereign immunity embodied in the FTCA. 2 We AFFIRM.

 [**2] 

 [***4] I.

The wives and duly appointed administratrices of six miners killed in a 1981 explosion in a Tennessee coal mine filed suit against the United States, 3 alleging that the negligence of certain inspectors from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), a division of the Department of Labor, 4 caused the fatal explosion. Four of these plaintiffs filed timely notices of appeal and, by stipulation of the parties pursuant to Rule 3(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, their appeals have been consolidated in this court for purposes of argument and opinion.

  [**3]  

On December 8, 1981, miners working in Grundy Mine Number 21, as part of a planned expansion, drilled through from the working face of the mine into an abandoned, mined-out area. The abandoned area, which had been sealed off and could not be inspected, contained a dangerous concentration of methane gas. The methane gas began seeping into the active area of the mine where it was immediately detected. Rather than plug the hole or evacuate the mine, Grundy's foremen and superintendents ordered a larger hole cut into the working face so that the methane, trapped in the abandoned area of the mine, could dissipate and be ventilated out through the active portions of the mine. Grundy's ventilation system, however, was  [*893]   [***5]  inadequate for this task and the concentration of methane gas at the working face of the mine soon reached dangerous levels. This methane gas and the airborne coal dust needed only a single spark--apparently supplied by a miner's forbidden use of a cigarette lighter--to explode killing plaintiffs' decedents and seven other miners in the area.

MSHA inspectors, in the wake of this disaster, inspected the Grundy mine and determined that a number of safety violations contributed  [**4]   to the explosion. The MSHA report concluded:

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17 F.3d 890 *; 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS 3494 **; 1994 FED App. 0070P (6th Cir.) ***; 1994 OSHD (CCH) P30,357

BARBARA G. MYERS, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Charles R. Myers (92-5812); JOYCE ANN LAYNE ROLLINS, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Darrell Glenn Rollins (92-5813); CONNIE RANCENE KILGORE PARSON DYKES, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Gaylon L. Parson (92-5814); GEORGIA RUTH NOLAN HENRY, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Harvey J. Nolan, Jr. (92-5816), Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant-Appellee.

Subsequent History:  [**1]  Rehearing Denied July 25, 1994, Reported at: 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS 20281.

Prior History: ON APPEAL from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. District No. 88-00102. R. Allan Edgar, District Judge.

Disposition: AFFIRMED

CORE TERMS

discretionary, miners, inspections, compliance, state-law, monitor, ventilation, samaritan, explosion, mandatory, withdrawal, sovereign, coal, methane, imminent, vaccine, abated

Energy & Utilities Law, Mining Industry, Federal Mine Safety & Health Act, General Overview, Labor & Employment Law, Occupational Safety & Health, Administrative Proceedings, Administrative Law, Sovereign Immunity, Governments, Federal Government, Claims By & Against, Torts, Federal Tort Claims Act, Exclusions From Liability, Discretionary Functions, Civil Procedure, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Liability, Jurisdiction, Public Entity Liability, Local Governments, Elements, Duty, Proof, Violations of Law, Standards of Care, Standards of Care, Appropriate Standard, Safety Codes, Statutes, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Causation, Ordinances, Compliance Enforcement, Inspections, Oil, Gas & Mineral Interests, Transportation Law, Air & Space Transportation, Airports, Governmental Liability